Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ben Hale's Faustian 'Dilemma'?

Pulitzer Prize
Ungiven in 2012

Regular readers will already have met Ben Hale from my blogging on the man -- first son of one of my boyhood Ozark friends, Pete Hale -- and as readers will therefore know from my blogging, Ben is a literary phenomenon, with a great work of literature as his first novel (The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, Twelve, 2011) . . . though who am I to judge, not being one of the 20 judges on the Pulitzer committee? But for that matter, who are they to judge since they failed to decide on any book as recipient of the prize this year?

Ben also distrusts the literary choices agreed upon by committees, and in "A Passion for Immortality: On the Missing Pulitzer and the Problem with Prizes" (The Millions, May 29, 2012), he explains why, based in part on his experience as judge on a committee of critics choosing which stories to select for publication in a literary journal. But that's not the most interesting part of his article, at least not for me, though I've been on similar literary committees. I rather more enjoyed a 'dilemma' that he set up for us readers near the end:
Here's a question. Imagine Satan were to appear in a sulfurous cloud as the host of some Faustian game show, on which the contestants, who are artists at inchoate and uncertain stages of their careers, are forced to confront interesting spiritual dilemmas. Old Scratch says to the Young Writer, I offer you a choice between two fates. In the first, he says -- and this seductive vision appears in an orb of smoky light hovering above his outstretched claw -- your books are met with blazing success. Every critic fawningly gushes over your work. You're heralded as a genius. You're interviewed on TV and on widely-syndicated NPR programs, your phone won't stop ringing with interview requests. Packed houses at every reading you give. The New York Times Best-Seller List. The money rolls in, you easily clear your outrageous advances. You win the National Book Award, you win the National Book Critics Circle Award, you win the PEN/Faulkner, you win the Orange Prize if you’re a woman, you win the Pulitzer. The movies based on your books hit the screens with famous actors and actresses playing your characters, and everyone says the books were so much better. This is your life. But! -- and the vision vanishes -- know this: after you die, after your life of literary celebrity, interest in your work will fade. None of the shadows you made will stick to the cave walls because, in the end, none of the cave-dwellers was moved to chalk its outline when it was there. Over time, the world will forget you. Or, behind door number two . . . The world, if it ever knew you, will forget you in your own lifetime, and you will die in obscurity, uncelebrated, unfulfilled, destitute, and bitter. But! -- in the years following your death, your work will be rediscovered, and one of your books in particular will even become a classic that lives on for many generations and forever changes the landscape of our collective imagination.

Dear Reader -- and possible Writer -- which would you choose? I know which I'd choose!

Actually, I don't. Not as the choice is set up. I need to know one more thing. Am I a great writer? If I'm not great, but only mediocre, I'd choose the first fate, for I'd not only enjoy a successful life now, I wouldn't suffer in hell for inflicting my mediocrity forever upon the literary world, as I'd soon enough be utterly forgotten. I'd suffer in hell, of course, for making a Faustian bargain with the devil -- and getting out of that sort of contract is damned difficult without a great lawyer like Daniel Webster -- but I at least wouldn't have the greater sin upon my guilty conscience!

But if I were a great writer . . . which fate to choose? While I ponder this dilemma, let's peek ahead at Ben's answer:
Now, both of these are rare and lucky fates . . . . But I'd like to think that any artist who is truly interested in art would choose the second option in a heartbeat. I know I would, and I'm not too humble to say so. It's the first option, not the second, that's the Faustian bargain: heaven on earth, hell for dessert.

Okay, that's Ben's answer, and it's a noble one -- assuming that one is assured of one's genuine literary greatness and that one is forced to choose one or the other of the dilemma's two horns.

But I think I have a third choice -- for one is never forced to make deals with the devil -- and that choice is to reject the dilemma, tell Satan that I don't want either fate, but prefer instead that my literary life and literary afterlife both be determined by the choices of readers, "and fit audience find, though few."

We'll see how that turns out . . .

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gay Marriage: The Direction of History?

In the Balance
Photo by Nicholas Blechman

In an otherwise fascinating NYT article by Bill Keller, "A Brief for Justice Kennedy" (May 27, 2012) , speculating upon how Justice Kennedy might vote on gay marriage, I encountered some expressions concerning the justices of the Supreme Court as a whole that -- speaking as a historian -- I dislike:
They can thwart history. They could rule that states are free to recognize only heterosexual marriages. This would be a disheartening setback, though I imagine it would energize the movement for marriage rights.

They can postpone history. This is the easy way out. The court could endorse the narrowly worded appellate court ruling on Prop 8, either by actively affirming it or simply declining to hear it. By restoring marriage rights in California, this would instantly double, to 23 percent, the percentage of Americans living in states that treat gays as equals. But it would put off the day when this right is afforded to all Americans.

What do I dislike? The expressions "thwart history" and "postpone history" for their implication that history has a direction. If history did have a direction -- say, an inevitable progression toward some earthly utopia -- we could simply sit back and wait for that couture-in-the-future to arrive, but it has no direction other than the one we press for. Otherwise, the struggle for human rights in this world wouldn't be so hard.

To be fair, I suppose that some individuals who use a phrase like "the wrong side of history" intend it as shorthand for "contrary to the aims toward which we have been striving" -- which, of course, raises the question of who "we" is, but leave that aside for now.

Personally, I expect gay marriage to be legalized nationwide in the US relatively soon. The younger generation sees it as a civil rights issue -- even a human rights issue -- and this tends to be the case among evangelicals as well. The older generation of evangelicals treated gay rights as something to oppose in the culture wars, but the younger generation has grown up knowing openly gay individuals and lacks animus toward them. Churches, even the conservative ones, are often more open about sexual issues these days. I've heard entire sermons on addiction to pornography in which preachers acknowledge that the percentage of those addicted is identical among non-Christians and evangelical Christians. My point is that sexuality is discussed explicitly among evangelicals these days with an openness and degree of understanding that would have shocked evangelicals of the 1980s.

Evangelicals know that gays attend church, even conservative churches -- this recognition stems from the greater openness about sex -- and I rarely hear even older evangelicals express animus toward gays. Not that they approve of the lifestyle, but they often understand that gays probably aren't choosing to be homosexual, not anymore than a heterosexual made a choice to be straight. They accept the orientation but oppose the act. That's the older generation of evangelicals, I emphasize. The younger generation tend to agree that the private acts of gays are nobody's business, that gay sexuality is an issue between a gay individual and God, precisely as with other sexual issues among consenting adults.

Such are my impressions, anyway. There are probably statistics on this, but I've not looked for any since I wanted this post to be based on my own subjective impressions, but if any knowledgeable people can link to stats on this issue, feel free, for I'm curious if my impressions correspond to larger trends among evangelicals or if they imply that the evangelical churches I've attended have instead been outliers.

But I suspect that evangelicals in the West are simply reflecting the larger cultural shift . . .

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"The devil -- or hell -- is in the details!"

A few days ago, I blogged on finding the devil in the details of Dostoevsky's writings, only to discover -- through the assistance of regular reader and redoubtable scholar, Erdal -- that the devil was missing in one of the details! With Erdal's help, followed up by research of my own, I've rectified that problem, so here is a list of selected quotes from nine of Dostoevsky's novels:
1. The Brothers Karamazov: "I am Satan, and nothing human is alien to me." (Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto.)

2. Notes from Underground: "Devil only knows what desire depends upon . . ." (хотенье . . . черт знает от чего зависит)

3. The Idiot: "Devil knows what's going on now . . ." (черт знает что такое теперь происходит)

4. The Eternal Husband: "I can go to the devil, sir, but let's first have a drink!" (Я могу убраться к черту-с, но сперва мы выпьем!)

5. Demons: "This town is like hell carried in a basket, but shaken." (здешний город -- это всё равно, что черт в корзине нес, да растрес.)

6. The Gambler: "To hell with this wretched zero!" (Брось этот пакостный зеришко к черту!)

7. Humiliated and Insulted: "To hell with philosophy! Drink, my dear!" (К черту философию! Buvons, mon cher!)

8. Crime and Punishment: "When reason fails, the devil helps!" (Не рассудок, так бес!)

9. The House of the Dead: "It's truly got the devil in it . . ." (точно бес в него влез)

The attentive reader will have noticed that the devil still doesn't appear in all of these details. That's partly because the Russian term chjert/chjertu (черт/черту) can be translated as "devil" or "hell." Numbers 6 and 7 could say "devil," as in "to the devil." Even number 5 is sometimes translated as "devil," as in "It's as if the devil carried this town around in a basket and shook it." One could thus get the devil into nearly all of the details. In the Latin quote from The Brothers Karamazov, however, we find "Satan," which is not exactly "devil," but is of course the proper name for the chief of the devils (though in Hebrew, the word simply means "adversary"). The Russian term bjes (бес) can be translated as "demon," "devil," or "fiend," and I obviously prefer "devil."

Thus the revised saying: "The devil -- or hell -- is in the details!" Thanks again to Erdal for his work in finding several of these for me and for inspiring me to figure out how to check the original Russian myself. Russian experts are welcome to offer better translations for the quotes.

The secret behind this obsession with the devil and hell in Dostoesky will be revealed sometime in the not-too-distant future . . .

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Sam Harris: Career-Suicidal Intellectual Theorist?

Sam Harris
Profile: Incendiary Public Intellectual

I don't follow any bloggers or tweeters or anyone, but I do regularly read a few public intellectuals because they write stuff that gets my attention, and Sam Harris is one of these few. He recently encountered a bit of resistance to a couple of his posts:
I recently wrote two articles in defense of "profiling" in the context of airline security . . . , arguing that the TSA should stop doing secondary screenings of people who stand no reasonable chance of being Muslim jihadists. I knew this proposal would be controversial, but I seriously underestimated how inflamed the response would be. Had I worked for a newspaper or a university, I could well have lost my job over it.

I told you he was career-suicidal! Best to stand your distance from the man, or you'll go up in smoke with him, either when he goes off on some sensitive issue or when some opponent drones on to him in response.

But if you're a foolhardy mensch, go over to his blog and read "To Profile or Not to Profile? A Debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier" (May 25, 2012), in which he writes:
I am not proposing a mere correlation between extremist Islam and suicidal terrorism. I am claiming that the relationship is causal. There are many ways to see this, and not too many ways to credibly deny it . . . .

The first sign of a religious cause comes from what the terrorists say of themselves: al Qaeda and its sympathizers have not been shy about discussing their motives in public. The second indication is what they say when they think no one is listening. As you know, we now have a trove of private communications among jihadists. The fine points of theology are never far from their thoughts and regularly constrain their actions. The 19 hijackers were under surveillance by German police for months before September 11, 2001 . . . . Islam was all that these men appeared to care about.

And we should recall how other people behave when subjected to military occupation or political abuse. Where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? They have the suicide part down, because they are now practicing a campaign of self-immolation -- which, being the incendiary equivalent of a hunger strike, is about as far from suicide bombing as can be conceived. And where is that long list of Palestinian Christian suicide bombers you've been keeping in your desk? Now would be a good time to produce it. As you know, Palestinian Christians suffer the same Israeli occupation. How many have blown themselves up on a bus in Tel Aviv? One? Two? Where, for that matter, are the Pakistani, Iraqi, or Egyptian suicide bombers killing for the glory of Christ? These Christian communities are regularly attacked by suicidal jihadists -- why don't they respond with the same sort of violence? This is practically a science experiment: We've got the same people, speaking the same language, living in the same places, eating the same food -- and one group forms a death cult of aspiring martyrs and the other does not.

As I've written elsewhere, it isn't impossible to conceive of Tibetan Buddhists practicing suicide bombing or of Middle Eastern Christians practicing terrorism at the same rate as their Muslim neighbors, but Islam offers a doctrine of jihad and martyrdom that makes such behavior perfectly understandable. And, again, it is the reason that jihadists themselves give for their actions.

There may be a conflation of "cause" and "reason" in this early passage in which Harris sets forth his basic position, for he states that "between extremist Islam and suicidal terrorism . . . . the relationship is causal," but also says that the "doctrine of jihad and martyrdom . . . . is the reason that jihadists themselves give for their actions" (italics mine). That looks like a conflation of two concepts that I would keep distinct, but I suppose that Harris is using the language of statistical analysis in referring to a "causal" relationship. I prefer, however, not to say that suicide bombers are being causally driven by extremism; rather, I favor language emphasizing the fact that they're making culpable choices based on reasons grounded in Islamist doctrines.

But that's perhaps a minor point to raise here, and I see no need to press it. I've yet to finish reading the debate -- a longish one -- but wanted to note this point merely in passing. I'm more curious what Harris and Schneier have to say about profiling. I don't know much about this issue, but I wonder what the problem with profiling is for those who oppose it. Don't we profile all the time in crimefighting? When a married woman is murdered, isn't the husband automatically one of the primary suspects since there's a strong statistical correlation between murdered wives and murdering husbands? I've put that a little crudely, partly because I'm not steeped in the literature on this, but isn't this a sort of profiling -- the husband is a suspect simply for the fact of being a husband. That is, he fits a profile.

Or do I misunderstand?

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

John Grisham's Calico Rock, Arkansas?

Calico Rock on White River

Of all the unexpected book reviews to peruse, I never expected one about a John Grisham novel to focus on Calico Rock, Arkansas! The last time the 'Rock' got that much attention was when it served as the background to Bootleggers, a film -- not very good -- from my high school days in the early 1970s that proved popular in the Ozarks due to being set in that tiny Ozark town.

Well, the book review is of Grisham's Calico Joe and is written by Los Angeles Times reviewer Chris Erskine, "'Calico Joe' by John Grisham hits for average" (May 19, 2012), a review title hinting that the book isn't great. At any rate, here's the core of the review, the Calico Rock part:
"Calico Joe" is the first-person account of a fictionalized beaning of a Chicago Cubs prodigy by the name of Joe Castle, by way of Calico Rock, Ark. After being called up suddenly by the Cubs, Castle, soon dubbed "Calico Joe," gets off to a roaring start. After 11 games, he has 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He's hitting a ridiculous .725 and leading the Cubs to first place in their division (an accomplishment almost as remarkable as a .725 average). The baseball world believes it may be witnessing the next Ty Cobb. Or perhaps his better.

His story is told by Paul Tracey, son of Warren, a head-hunting power pitcher for the New York Mets who has more losses than wins and more anger than talent. Warren Tracey would be the one to end Joe Castle's career. While a young Paul watches in the stands, Warren aims a fastball at the head of Paul's boyhood hero, sending him into a coma and to the brink of death. In 1973, the storied career of Joe Castle comes to a tragic close after a mere 38 games.

Warren claims the bean ball was unintentional. Paul, a longtime victim of his abusive father's hate-filled tactics, knows better.

Jump ahead almost four decades and Joe Castle is a barely functional high school groundskeeper back in his hometown of Calico Rock; Warren Tracey is dying of cancer. Paul's dream/goal is to see his father apologize to Castle before he dies, an idea that the gruff old former ballplayer scoffs at.

In vintage Grisham fashion -- few authors can build to a crescendo the way he does -- the story picks up pace. Without revealing a rather satisfying ending, he plays good notes on the power of forgiveness, for the son, the dying pitcher and Calico Joe himself.

Oddly, this rather positive core of the review doesn't seem to fit the review's title. No matter. I'll probably never read the book. No time. It interested me because Calico Rock is in the area where the Cherokee side of my family settled after the Trail of Tears, just upstream from Sylamore, the part of the White River Hills near where resided my part-Cherokee grandmother's Cherokee aunt, Mary Black, who lived in the Sylamore Hills around 1910 in a log cabin without a floor, and who still sat cross-legged on the hard dirt and had jet-black hair at 70, or so my grandma told me.

I credit the LA Times for this review, but I actually read it in this weekend's Korea Herald . . . of all places to find a reference to Calico Rock, for which we can credit the effective fact of Grisham's fame and the circumstantial fact that he hails from Arkansas.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The devil is in the details . . .

A Youthful Fyodor Dostoevsky (1847)
Portrait by Konstiantyn Trutovsky

I've had a devilish time lately with a number of diabolical quotes from Dostoevsky's novels, but perhaps some kind soul can help me out in my quest. The first quote is Latin and poses no problem, either in its location or its translation, but the eight that follow lie beyond my ken:
"Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto." - Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

1. Notes from Underground: "The devil only knows what choice depends upon . . ."

2. The Idiot: "The devil knows what it all means!"

3. The Eternal Husband: "I can go to the devil, sir, but let's first have a drink!"

4. Demons: "As if the devil had carried the town in a basket and scattered it about . . ."

5. The Gambler: "To the devil with that zero!"

6. Humiliated and Insulted: "The wary old devil had become so sensitive . . ."

7. Crime and Punishment: "Where reason fails, the devil helps!"

8. The House of the Dead: "As though possessed by a devil . . ."

These are the quotes, but they're from English translations, slightly modified for effect, but what do they correspond to in the original Russian, I wonder, and are they adequately translated?

Any readers out there who can judge? If some kind connoisseur of Dostoevsky's works could provide the original Russian and a closer translation, I'd be forever grateful . . .

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Yi Kwang-su Portrait by Billy Childish

Yi Kwang-su
Billy Childish

A Korea Herald article by Lee Woo-young ("British artist brings two celebrated Korean writers into his world," May 24, 2012) caught my attention yesterday, for it introduced me to the British artist Billy Childish, whose painting of the Korean novelist Yi Kwang-su is reproduced above. The article tells us:
The multi-talented British artist Billy Childish sheds new light on . . . Yi Kwang-su . . . at his first exhibition in Seoul . . . . Studying the . . . literary works and life, Childish has translated the . . . artistic agonies into [a portrait] . . . . Childish . . . has captured the suffering [that] the [writer] . . . might have endured during the turbulent years of the late Joseon period and the Japanese colonial era between the late 1890s and 1945.

"Yi Kwang-su's life seems to be very much like that of some important European writers who have been at first uplifted, then dropped for their supposed collaboration with an occupying enemy -- I'm thinking of L.F. Celine, and Knut Hamsun in particular. I love those writers, and Yi Kwang-su seems to be a parallel," Childish said.

Yi Kwang-su is famous for his novel "Heartless," regarded as Korea's first modern work of fiction. But he was at the same time criticized as pro-Japanese during Japanese rule.

This grabbed my attention because my wife and I translated Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil on a grant from the Korea Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) over a year ago, and the effort got me interested in this novelist . . . not that I know very much about the man. The exhibition of the portrait and other works by Childish looks interesting, and I might try to go if I can find time by June 3, closing date for the exhibition, "Strange Bravery," at the Gallery Hyundai in Jongno, Seoul.

As for our translation of The Soil, it received some encouraging words from one of the judges, who wrote, "The translator is a master of the English style," but we don't know if any publishers in the States see a market for this novel in the English-speaking world, though the KLTI seeks publishers of novels translated on its grants.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Islamist Persecution of Non-Muslims . . .

Benedict Rogers

Since Ayaan Hirsi Ali's February report in Newsweek about Islamism's global war on Christians, I've noticed that this issue is getting more press. Just two days ago, I read in the International Herald Tribune of "Indonesia's Rising Religious Intolerance," an op-ed piece by Benedict Rogers (May 21, 2012) that can be found online at the New York Times site. The article is about broader Islamist mistreatment of minorities, but it cites persecution of Christians as part of this larger pattern, a problem that Mr. Rogers describes from his recent visit to Indonesia:
[On] Sunday, I joined a small church in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta, for a service, but found the street blocked by a noisy, angry mob and a few police.

The church, known as HKBP Filadelfia, was forced to close a few years ago, even though the local courts had given permission to open. The local mayor, under pressure from Islamists, has declared a "zero church" policy in his area. For the past two months, the congregation has been blocked from worshiping in the street outside their building, and the atmosphere has grown increasingly tense.

When I was there, I felt it could have erupted into violence at any moment. The radicals in control of the loudspeaker shouted "Christians, get out," and "anyone not wearing a jilbab (headscarf), catch them, hunt them down" . . . . Another church, GKI Yasmin in Bogor, an hour from Jakarta, has approval from the Supreme Court to open, but the local mayor, again under pressure from Islamists, refuses to allow it. A district mayor is in defiance of the Supreme Court, and no one says a word . . . . In Aceh, 17 churches were forced to close.

I met other church pastors who talked about their churches being closed, and a woman, the Rev. Luspida, who was beaten while one of her congregation was knifed. "We have no religious freedom here anymore," she told me. "We need to give a message to the president. He cannot say the situation is good here. We need to remind him our situation is very critical, and he should do something for the future of Indonesia. Support from outside is very important to pressure the president."

Those of us who are keeping track of radical Islam's fortunes in various parts of the world have long noticed and commented upon this pattern of Islamist intimidation of religious minorities, especially with respect to Christians, for the Islamists seem to have particular animus against Christianity, perhaps because the West is the old enemy that resisted successfully for so long and even turned back the spread of Islam into Europe during Medieval and Early Modern times, a humiliation exacerbated by the West's colonization of Muslim countries in the later Modern period.

Postcolonial guilt has perhaps previously blunted Western criticism of radical Islam, but a new generation has grown up without a sense of that guilt, and people are talking . . .

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Murad Wahba on Democracy and the Islamists . . .

Murad Wahba

The Egyptian philosopher Murad Wahba -- a Copt, if I've found the right source -- was recently interviewed on Sada Al-Balad TV on April 20, 2012, translated courtesy of Memri Special Dispatch No. 4744 (May 21, 2012), and I've summarized his remarks on the Islamists in Egypt and what they have in store if they attain power. He first offers his views on democracy:
Democracy has four components . . . : Secularism and relative thinking . . . [and] a social covenant . . . [and e]nlightenment . . . . Enlightenment is thwarted all the time . . . . [Islamists] eradicate any sign of rational thinking. As for liberalism -- there is no room for individualism.

I'm not sure which of these are the four components -- I count as many as seven -- but I find odd that he doesn't mention rule of law, human rights, political equality, or the ballot, plus a number of other things that I would consider essential to democracy. Perhaps that is often the way with interviews -- they broach some point, only to meander away from it. Nevertheless, Wahba offers an apt warning about the Muslim Brotherhood:
If . . . the Muslim Brotherhood takes over the state institutions, it will mean the Islamization of the country and of society. When that happens, the army, which is a state institution, will undergo Islamization willy-nilly . . . . [Therefore, i]f the Muslim Brotherhood takes over the presidency, it will herald the beginning of a comprehensive process of Islamization, from top to bottom."
He's right. The Islamists will not rush, of course. Sharia requires time, enough time for the young to be indoctrinated and willing to support the more brutal of Islam's laws on criminal punishment, namely, the hudud penalties.

But even before introduction of the hudud laws, Sharia would forbid equality of men and women, Muslim and Christian, believer and infidel . . .

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just as I was starting to respect business school . . .

Hard Slog to Learning Management
Photo by Lisa Mintzberg
New York Times

In the past few years, I had begun to re-evaluate my long-ago undergraduate disdain for university business schools, but a business school professor himself now tells me I'm wrong to think I was wrong, or so reports D. D. Guttenplan in "The Anti-MBA" (NYT, May 20, 2012):
A professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal, Dr. [Henry] Mintzberg holds two graduate degrees in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But since at least 2004, when he published his book "Managers Not M.B.A.s," he has acquired a hard-earned reputation as the scourge of conventional management education. The rise of the business-school-trained M.B.A., he says, is "a menace to society."

"The philosophy of the case study method is that you simulate management practice on the basis of reading a 20 page study. George W. Bush went to Harvard Business School and I don't think he even read 20 pages. But he's a good example of how disastrous that approach can be," Dr. Mintzberg said.

Professor Mintzberg may be right about the case-study method, for all I know, but he's wrong to use President Bush as an example if he doubts that Bush read even twenty pages. Assuming he's even right about Bush's laziness, then our ex-president didn't do the homework and can't be used as an example of what's wrong with the MBA system. Perhaps the good professor suffers from B.D.S., a condition that blocks rational thinking about George W. Bush, else he'd realize that only an assiduous student can be used as an example for what's wrong with the case-study method of management training. But I have to admit that Professor Mintzberg's course in management training seems to belong to a small category of special management courses that offer a lot of fun in the learning process:
Of all the management courses in all the world, there are probably a few others that tell students they will need hiking boots and waterproof jackets.

There may be a few that put "The Prelude," the 19th-century poet William Wordsworth's autobiographical masterpiece, on their reading lists, or that drag high-flying executives to a Quaker meeting for a period of silent reflection . . . . [Professor Mintzberg's International Masters Program in Practical Management, for its part,] is a 16-month course whose most recent session began last week with a module here in the Lake District of England . . . . [T]he program's five modules take place in Brazil, Britain, Canada, China and India. Each lasts 10 days, is delivered by a different academic partner and is devoted to a different management mind-set. The most recent [British] module, run by Lancaster University Management School, was intended to foster the "reflective mind-set."

The participants will meet next in Montreal, where the focus will be on the "analytic mind-set," followed by a stint at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, where they will develop their "worldly mind-set" . . . . After India, the next session is at the Renmin University School of Business in Beijing, where the students explore ideas of collaboration and cooperation from a Chinese perspective. Finally the students meet at the Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janiero to look at how to manage continuity and change and other aspects of the "action mind-set."

The article doesn't specify the Beijing module's "mind-set," though I'm guessing it isn't "guanxi mind-set" or "maiguan mind-set," unless "collaboration" and "cooperation" are code words, respectively, but if there's hiking and drinking involved in all of these modules, then the experience is perhaps rather like what the Koreans call "Membership Training," which might clarify why "LG and the Korean steel manufacturer POSCO each sent a group of executives to the most recent program in Britain."

I can't imagine they were sent to learn about guanxi or maiguan . . .

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Monday, May 21, 2012

By bullet if not ballot . . .

Al-Misri al-Yawm

The Arab Spring threatens to turn unseasonably hot, as we learn from the Egyptian newspaper Al-Misri al-Yawm (The Egyptian Today), by way of Michael Rubin, "Islamists Threaten Insurgency Should Secularists Win Egypt Election" (Commentary, May 20, 2012). Rubin tells us:
On May 19, Islamic Jihad Organization member Shaykh Usamah Qasim took to the pages of Al-Misri al-Yawm to warn that Islamists would not tolerate a victory by any of the non-Islamist candidates.

Quoting directly from Al-Misri al-Yawm (translation via Open Source Center):
The victory of former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq or former Arab League chief Amr Musa in the coming presidential elections would lead some Islamic and non-Islamic groups to respond with "armed action." "Thus, the fate of any of them who reaches the presidency will be like that of former President Anwar al-Sadat, who was assassinated," Qasim said.

In other words if the non-Islamists win . . . they lose.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

NYT on China's 'Princeling' Network

Despite my recent blog entry on China's so-called 'Princelings,' in which I side with that disinterested venture capitalist in Shanghai, Mr. Eric X. Li, who assures us that the 'Princelings' are a myth, I see from this weekend's International Herald Tribune that David Barboza and Sharon LaFraniere are perpetuating the myth: "'Princelings' in China Use Family Ties to Gain Riches," which can be read online at the New York Times site. These two 'reporters' tell us:
[E]vidence is mounting that the relatives of . . . current and former senior officials have also amassed vast wealth, often playing central roles in businesses closely entwined with the state, including those involved in finance, energy, domestic security, telecommunications and entertainment. Many of these so-called princelings also serve as middlemen to a host of global companies and wealthy tycoons eager to do business in China.

Don't Mr. Barboza and Ms. LaFraniere know that the redoubtable Mr. Eric X. Li has stated that these "assumptions are disconnected from reality and need to be debunked"? Apparently not, for they cite him nowhere despite quoting his nemesis, Minxin Pei, whose disinterestedness I've already challenged in my blog entry on the so-called 'Princelings.' Here's what they quote from Mr. Pei:
"Whenever there is something profitable that emerges in the economy, they'll be at the front of the queue," said Minxin Pei, an expert on China's leadership and professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. "They've gotten into private equity, state-owned enterprises, natural resources -- you name it."

But Mr. Eric X. Li has already shown that these so-called 'Princelings' are experts in the positions they hold, that they've worked hard for the money -- so hard for the money -- and you better treat them right!

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

No Theory of Mind?

Austistic (Yellow) and Non-Autistic (Blue) Brain Activity
Image from Wikipedia

I receive unsolicited emails from all sorts of newspapers and journals allowing me to read their articles for free, perhaps because of my daily blogging, but I'm merely guessing about that. Anyway, an email arrives at least once a week from the Catholic magazine Commonweal, and just this morning -- conveniently for me -- came a copy with an article by Edward T. Wheeler on "Moths and Eyes" (May 14, 2012), dealing with Tolstoy, sort of, but which included a brief passage on autism that caught my attention:
I happened to see an episode of Charlie Rose's show that focused on the brain, in particular the psychology, neurophysiology and the genetics of autism. In the course of the discussions, the researchers gathered around Rose's table agreed that the chief manifestation of autism is the inability of one so affected to create a mental map, a theory of mind, for those with whom they have relationships. Quite simply those with autism do not look in the eyes of another person and cannot anticipate the path or greater map along which a conversation might go. Hence they remain disconnected, isolated, not able to enter properly into dialogue.

Does one need a "theory of mind" to interact with other persons? I can't even say that I have a theory of mind, in the sense of any rationally coherent understanding of what the mind is and how it relates to the brain, but I don't think those researchers meant a theory of mind in that sense. They must have meant that those with autism lack the understanding that others have minds. Autistics thus have no 'theory' that others have minds. A better word than theory is "recognition." The non-autistic of us, at some point in our development, come to recognize that others have minds. And we look into each other's eyes, unlike the autistic among us.

I've noticed that dogs look into our eyes and seem to understand us. Perhaps they also recognize that we have minds. This implies that dogs have minds, but I've never noticed whether dogs look into each other's eyes or not. They seem more focused on humans than on each other, and they not only look at what we point to when we point, they even know to look at what we look at when we look without pointing.

Cats sometimes look into our eyes, but they don't understand pointing or know to look where we look. At least, I've never noticed that they do, but perhaps a reader has experienced this? If so, this would likely be with highly unusual, individual cats, not with cats as a species.

What of other animals? My children have a pet hamster that lives all alone in its cage. I sometimes take it out and let it enjoy the mammalian comfort of being held, but it never stops to gaze into my eyes, nor would it ever look where I point or where I look, other than randomly.

See what I'm pointing at in today's random entry?

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Princelings, Princelings . . . Whom to Believe?

Bo Xilai

Most of us who keep up with the news have read more than we even want to know about Bo Xilai and China's so-called 'princelings' . . . so let's read some more. Eric X. Li, a venture capitalist in Shanghai who often writes for the Korea Herald, tells us in "The myth of the princelings in China" (May 6, 2012) that there's nothing truly amiss in contemporary China:
The Bo Xilai saga of power, wealth, corruption and murder has brought the issue of China’s princelings (offspring of the Communist Party's former and current senior leaders) to the front and center of the international discourse on contemporary China . . . . Many commentators, including some leading political analysts on China, are framing the princelings as if they are . . . influencing policies in their favor and pushing for promotions of candidates who represent their interests. There is no empirical evidence to support such a conceptual framework . . . . [T]hey are nothing like . . . the oligarchs of post-Soviet Russia . . . . Among the ones who are successful, many have indeed excelled on merit [and some have] moved up the ladder through apparently only hard work and merit . . . . [U]pward mobility, both political and economic, is the underlying force of China's vitality. The current Politburo, the country’s highest ruling body, consists of 25 members. Only five of them come from backgrounds of power. The remaining 20, including the president and the premier, come from completely ordinary families. In the larger Central Committee, those with privileged backgrounds account for a much smaller percentage . . . . In economics, if one goes down the list of China’s richest, a vast majority of them are entrepreneurs who started with nothing . . . . Chinese society in general is rather sanguine about the privileges of princelings and the newly rich alike. Perhaps it is a sign of maturity . . . . A healthy society exercises moderation and tolerance towards privilege as long as mobility is sufficient, which is certainly the case for contemporary China.

Well, that's all good to know, i.e., that Chinese society is largely a meritocracy, the Communist Party, the Politburo, and the Central Committee included. Mr. Li is so persuasive -- and an expert, too, as one who has undoubtedly risen on merit alone as a venture capitalist in Shanghai -- that we probably need not venture beyond his expertise in asking questions . . . but let's do it anyway. Minzin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, tells us in "The myth of Chinese meritocracy" (JoongAng Daily, May 17, 2012) that much is amiss in contemporary China:
Political scandals sometimes perform a valuable function in . . . . debunk[ing] political myths central to the legitimacy of some regimes . . . . One enduring political myth that went down with Bo [Xilai], the former Communist Party boss of Chongqing municipality, is the notion that the Party's rule is based on meritocracy . . . . Bo personified the Chinese concept of "meritocracy" -- well-educated, intelligent, sophisticated and charming (mainly to Western executives). But, after his fall, a very different picture emerged. Aside from his alleged involvement in assorted crimes, Bo was said to be a ruthless apparatchik, endowed with an outsize ego but no real talent. His record as a local administrator was mediocre . . . . Unfortunately, Bo's case is not the exception in China, but the rule. Contrary to the prevailing perception in the West (especially among business leaders), the current Chinese government is riddled with clever apparatchiks like Bo who have acquired their positions through cheating, corruption, patronage and manipulation . . . . [M]any Chinese officials use fake or dubiously acquired academic credentials to burnish their resumes. Because educational attainment is considered a measure of merit, officials scramble to obtain advanced degrees in order to gain an advantage in the competition for power . . . . Of the 250 members of provincial Communist Party standing committees, an elite group including party chiefs and governors, 60 claim to have earned PhDs . . . . [O]nly 10 of them completed their doctoral studies before becoming government officials . . . . If so many senior Chinese officials openly flaunt fraudulent or dubious academic degrees without consequences, one can imagine how widespread other forms of corruption must be . . . . [One] common measure used to judge a Chinese official's "merit" is his ability to deliver economic growth. On the surface, this may appear to be an objective yardstick. In reality, GDP growth is as malleable as an official's academic credentials [and i]nflating local growth numbers is so endemic that reported provincial GDP growth data, when added up, are always higher than the national growth data, a mathematical impossibility . . . . [A]s competition for promotion within the Chinese bureaucracy has escalated, even fake academic credentials and GDP growth records have become insufficient to advance one's career. What increasingly determines an official's prospects for promotion is his guanxi, or connections . . . . [P]atronage, not merit, has become the most critical factor in the appointment process. For those without guanxi, the only recourse is to purchase appointments and promotions through bribes . . . . [a] practice . . . called maiguan, literally "buying office" . . . . Given such systemic debasement of merit, few Chinese citizens believe that they are governed by the best and the brightest. But astonishingly, the myth of a Chinese meritocracy remains very much alive among Westerners who have encountered impressively credentialed officials like Bo. The time has come to bury it.

Whom to believe? Personally, I trust the venture capitalist in Shanghai, Mr. Eric X. Li, who's living, working, and investing in what Alan Greenspan might call China's 'exuberant' economy, rather than some elite fellow like Professor Minxin Pei, who's living, teaching, and writing columns in the United States, a corrupt country where, as Mr. Li notes, "advantages are even institutionalized, such as legacy admission programs at U.S. Ivy League universities"

An easy call . . .

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Teacher's Day: Noteworthy Notes . . .

Teacher's Day
"Have you been nibbling
on my giant Hershey's chocolate bar?"
Celebrated May 15th in Korea

One of last winter's students who's studying graphic design and has aesthetic flair surprised me by leaving a birthday gift and card for me in the English Lounge this week:
Mr. Hodges
I made the flower from scratch. I hope you like it. And I know my gift is so random. You can give the lip balm to your daughter.

The flower turned out to be for Teacher's Day, the day after my birthday, and it read "Happy Teacher's Day. From Minji." I also received some kindhearted Teacher's Day notes from two students in my current Academic English class:
Hello, Professor! I am Jiwon Song from your Academic English class. HAPPY Teacher's Day! And thank you very much for teaching us with excellence.

Dear Professor H. J. Hodges,
Happy Teacher's Day!!! Thanks for imparting lots of knowledge and insights into my life. I really enjoy and appreciate your teachings. May you have a great day ahead!
Yours Sincerely,
Agnes Loh Yuan Qi

Agnes doesn't really need to learn much from me, given her Singapore education and her excellent English, but I also received a collective note from the Ewha Voice, where I do some editing work and 'teach' reporters -- who do need some help -- to write clearly, concisely, and with verve!
Dear Professor Hodges
Happy Teacher's Day
We always appreciate your passion and contribution to Ewha Voice! With all respect.
Ewha Voice

Passion? My wife was a little suspicious of that term -- until I explained that it can also mean "suffering." Anyway, the appreciation was nice to hear, from all of the students who gave cards of praise. I hope that the praise is deserved on my part! I'm tempted to reply to each student by quoting Eve from Paradise Lost 9.615-616 and suggest to each student that "thy overpraising leaves in doubt / The virtue of that Fruit" of knowledge that I've imparted.

But I'd best not raise doubts about my 'virtue' . . .

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Noteworthy 'Progress' in Korean Leftist Politics . . .

Oxymoronic 'United Progressive' Party Brawl

As the above photo suggests, the United Progressive Party (UPP) may be a party, but it's hardly united or progressive, though -- as journalist Lee Hoo-Jee reports -- this so-called "Progressive party [is] on [the] verge of collapse" (Korea Herald, May 13, 2012), so there's at least some movement. Let's look a bit more closely at what's taking place -- and be aware that the reporter is using "mainstream" where "majority" would be more appropriate:
The UPP's mainstream party members clashed violently with the non-mainstream members at the central committee meeting convened to discuss the replacement of the current leadership with an interim emergency committee.

The mainstream members, also known as the "National Liberation" group, have refused to accept the party's internal investigation that ruled there were widespread irregularities during the voting of candidates for the party's proportional parliamentary seats. One of the winners of the proportional seat on the UPP ticket is Lee Seok-gi, who is considered one of the key NL factionists.

"They have now shown the public clearly that they will attempt to protect their status at all cost," said Yoon Pyung-joong, a politics professor at Hanshin University.

"It is a great shame as it was indeed an epochal development in Korean politics when the UPP came out the third largest parliamentary bloc (in the general elections), enabling aligned moves by various progressive forces in the future, which also reflected the spirit of the times."

That analysis comes from my old friend Professor Yoon Pyung-joong, whom I got to know during my three years at Hanshin University and who was one of the Leftist protesters against the rightwing dictatorship in Korea during the 1970s and 1980s but who has moved to the center over the past 15 years or so. His point is that the National Liberation faction of the UPP has thrown away the far Left's opportunity for political participation by demonstrating that it will turn to violence even against fellow Leftists to force its way. At issue is a vote-rigging scandal among Leftists that has already caused great dissatisfaction in Korea. I'm guessing that the NL's violent response to the findings of the UPP's own investigation implies that the NL itself is culpable for a lot of the vote-rigging.

Indeed, if reporter Kim Hee-jin is correct -- "UPP's internal meltdown was a long time coming" (Korea JoongAng Daily, May 14, 2012) -- the NL is hardly a democratic faction, but rather a group willing to play dirty for political power:
[B]ehind the vote-rigging debate is a significant ideological gap between the UPP members.

They were mostly former socialist student activists during the democratization movement in the 1970s and 1980s, but split into two groups: the so-called National Liberalization (NL) group, which followed North Korea's juche (self-reliance) ideology, and the Marxist-Leninist group called the People's Democracy (PD).

The party's largest faction is made up of former members of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance, a regional chapter of NL members based in eastern Gyeonggi. Lawmaker-elect Lee Seok-gi is reportedly the leader of the alliance.

Although the two groups fought against the dictatorial administrations in the 1970s and 1980s and have some common policies such as advocating for minorities and labor activists, the PD members still haven't agreed on the largest faction's fringe, far-left socialism and reunification ideology that would have Pyongyang absorb the South.

The three co-chairmen of the UPP are also divided: co-chairwoman Lee Jung-hee is with the NL and Rhyu and Sim the PD.

"The NL members are biased toward pro-North ideology and it doesn't fit with today's democracy," said Shin Yul, a politics professor at Myongji University. "But the PD group is relatively rational, following European socialism, and they are critical of North Korean economics and politics."

Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo told reporters on May 5 that he is aware of the political ideology of the so-called NL members.

"I spent a year with the NL members in prison, so I know them very well through conversation," Kim said. "They think those who don't follow the [North Korean] leader are traitors. They also think they could do whatever the 'dear leader' said and not feel guilty."

The upshot is that whereas the People's Democracy group is a Marxist-Leninist faction that has evolved into something of a reformist party in a development that perhaps reflects (albeit more rapidly) the history of the European Social Democrats, the National Liberalization (NL) group is a hardcore Leftist faction that has failed to develop, toes the North Korean line, and makes no commitment to liberal democracy, but is instead fuly prepared to use violence to protect its political advantage gained in the recent elections, an advantage that looks to me to have been gained through vote-rigging by the NL itself, given its rejection of the UPP's own investigation. If the NL is willing to attack and brutally beat fellow Leftists, imagine how they'd treat their ideological opponents on the right!

Click on all three articles to read more -- that includes the link below the photograph -- and if anyone knows more about this NL group, let us know whether the initials stand for "National Liberation" or "National Liberalization."

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Big Fifty-Five!

Looking to the Future

I turned 55 yesterday, still mobile but feeling old, and by a happy coincidence was invited -- along with my lovely wife, Sun-Ae Hwang -- to share lunch paid for by a friend from my days at Korea University, Professor Suh Ji-moon, expert in English literature who also translates literary works of Korean into English.

We ate at a 'green' restaurant called Seven Springs -- by which is meant wellsprings of water, I presume, rather than the green season repeated seven times -- a restaurant located on the underground level of the Hungkuk Life Insurance Building, easily located by its trademark statue out front, Jonathan Borofsky's gigantic steel Hammering Man, who is constantly pounding away noiselessly like clockwork on a job never quite done, as if only to pass the time.

In the photo above, you see me and a friend -- a rather colorful character, I must admit -- in the lobby of the Hungkuk Life Insurance Building. My friend is seated on the Cologne Pagoda constructed by Kang Ik-Joong (강익중) and is using specially made binoculars to peer into my future, but said it was like seeing through a glass darkly, so I don't know what to expect in the next few years, though I anticipate changes.

At any rate, a belated Happy Birthday to me! Enjoy your time here . . .

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Monday, May 14, 2012

"Bottom, thou art translated!"

Titania adoring the Ass-headed Bottom
Oil on Canvas, c. 1790

I recall reading somewhere of an erroneous German translation for the English expression "Out of sight, out of mind," the German effort being "Blind und verrückt," i.e., "Blind and crazy." My thoughts turned to this yesterday evening as I was reading former AP correspondent Michael Johnson's op-ed piece, "Reading Pushkin in Brussels" (NYT, May 11, 2012), for he notes various attempts at translating Alexander Pushkin's poetry from Russian into other languages, efforts that have occasioned clashes among literary titans:
No collision, however, quite matches the celebrated duel between Vladimir Nabokov and the critic Edmund Wilson over Nabokov's 1964 translation of Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin."

That translation followed one by Walter Arndt, which Nabokov had fiercely denounced. Arndt, he wrote, made "idiotic" errors, confusing a husband with a lover and an arrow for a gun. A famous opening line of Onegin, "My uncle has most honest principles" was rendered by Arndt "My uncle, decorous old prune."

When Wilson sprang to Arndt's defense and assailed Nabokov's translation, Nabokov rounded on Wilson for his inadequate Russian. Nabokov recalled trying to teach Wilson how to read Russian aloud but both collapsed in stitches at Wilson's "endearing little barks."

The moral of this little tale? Don't attempt to translate a genius unless you, too, are a genius. Bonus moral: Don't defend the ridiculous lest you, too, be ridiculed!

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Puzzling Gertrude Stein: A Year and a Day of "Sacred Emily"?

Gertrude Stein

A graduate student whom I know introduced me to Gertrude Stein's poem "Sacred Emily," a 367-line poem of obscurity if I ever read one! Exactly 367 puzzling lines like "Electrics are tight electrics are white electrics are a button" and "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." I know the poem is precisely 367 lines because the student mentioned the fact. I know further because I've counted. Twice. Why? Because I wondered if it were actually 365 or 366, either of which might signify one exact year. But it's 367 lines. Why? A year and a day? Does it start out on January 1st and end on January 1st the next year? An entire year and a new beginning? I searched to see if any scholar had written on this but found nothing.

On an distantly 'unrelated' note, I came across an article that goes with the above photo of Stein wearing a rare smile: "Tender buttons to push: Gertrude Stein's overlooked political past" (National Post, October 18, 2011), by Robert Fulford, who -- prompted by Barbara Will's Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ and the Vichy Dilemma (Columbia University Press, 2011) -- asks a very good question:
Among the facts most people know about Ezra Pound, his attraction to Italian fascism and his hysterical anti-Semitism rank near the top of the list, whatever his accomplishments as a poet. Those who revere Martin Heidegger's philosophy aren't allowed to forget that he passionately identified with Hitler. Art lovers who admire Filippo Marinetti, the founder of the Italian Futurist school, know that he was also a propagandist for Mussolini.

There are other poets and philosophers and high-grade intellectuals who spent decades of the 20th century in thrall to fascism or communism. The intersection of art and totalitarianism is a dangerous site for reputations. Anyone studying modern culture arrives reluctantly yet inevitably at this hard truth.

But Gertrude Stein? She rarely appears in that light. Among the millions who know about her, who can [mis]quote "A rose is a rose is a rose" and even make a stab at defining its meaning, very few understand that her political record is shadowed by fascist connections . . . .

Stein, while a modernist in literature, saw herself as a conservative[, was a friend of the Nazi collaborationist Bernard Faÿ,] and believed France should be conservative. The most powerful right-wing publicist was Faÿ’s friend, Charles Maurras, who believed France had been degraded by Jews, Freemasons, Protestants and foreigners.

How could Stein, a foreigner as well as a Jew, maintain genial relations with people holding that view?

How indeed? It is inexplicable. But historical truth is often ineluctable, particularly the historical truth of personal motivations to people's actions, and emphatically so with such a puzzler of poetic puzzles as the affable, ineffable Gertrude Stein.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grave News about Jesus in Japan . . .

Christ's Grave Notice
Photo by Andrew Pothecary

Graphic designer Andrew Pothecary, an occasional photographer, took the above photo for a CNN report offered in an article, "Did Jesus Christ live and die in northern Japan?" (CNN Global Experiences, February 16, 2012). The short answer, of course, is "No" -- and the long answer is "Hell No!" -- but this 'grave' notice begs to differ:
When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years. He went back to Judea at age 33, and engaged in his mission. However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ's preaching. Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross. His younger brother, Isukiri casually took Christ's place and ended his life on the cross.

Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan. He settled right here in what is now called Herai Village, and died at the age of 106.

On this holy ground, there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri.

The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ.

I suppose I should try to figure out precisely how this legend came about, but I lack the time and energy. Supposedly, according to Pothcary, "a local Shinto priest came across the 'evidence' now housed in the museum in 1935." I think Pothecary means that the Shinto priest came across some document in 1935. I suspect that the Shinto priest read some Gnostic writings, for a few Gnostic texts speak of Judas Iscariot (i.e., Isukiri) as being crucified instead of Jesus. The identification of Judas as Jesus's brother might stem from the Gospel of Thomas, which -- if I recall -- refers to "Judas Thomas" (a different Judas) as the brother of Jesus. The name "Thomas" is Aramaic, by the way, and means "twin" (rendered in the Greek version as "Judas Didymus," i.e., "Judas the Twin"). Somebody has undoubtedly looked into all this, so I need not do so.

As for the 'grave' notice, I like how Judas "casually" takes the place of Jesus on the cross -- I can just imagine Judas walking up to the arrested Jesus and saying, "Hey, Bro, I'll take it from here, 'cause I'm feelin' kinda guilty 'bout betrayin' you an' all . . ."

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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Day LeRoy Tucker Batted Against Preacher Roe

Preacher Roe

About three-and-a-half years ago, I wrote an obituary for the old major league baseball pitcher from my region of the Ozarks, Preacher Roe, and a few days ago, my literary friend LeRoy Tucker had occasion to read it . . . and respond:
I got to thinking about those old days just as I do a lot anyway but this caused me to think about Preacher Roe more. He taught school, Phys Ed, which meant coaching but I think he did a little classroom also. That was at Hardy. I was in Ash Flat. Lots of lies have been told about that rivalry, lots of fights that never happened. We were a friendly bunch. We knew each other well and there wasn't a single fight. Ash Flat almost always had the better team. I've always believed that winning the state tournament as in [my fictionalized story published in] Climax 1 made them feel invincible.

On one occasion we played baseball. Preacher was there passing through between spring training and regular season. We started practically begging him to pitch. He did it. I actually played a game against Preacher. He gave each of us one big fat pitch. I hit a soft line drive right back to Preacher. Willy Oyler got into his and knocked it a mile. That was it. Much later I was told that Preacher couldn't throw hard, no fast ball. It sure seemed fast to me. I could hear it hiss as it passed. Big wide curve. Of course he wasn't really throwing hard that day.

I have lots and lots of Preacher Roe stories. They were told and retold for years.

Well, put them together and tell them to everybody . . . or fictionalize them in a Climax 2 collection! Even if most folks these days never heard of the Preacher, they'll be entertained by your stories.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

'Thrown-Away' General Picked Up by Yale

Stanley A. McChrystal
Photo by Andrew Sullivan
The New York Times

I was wondering what had become of General McChrystal after his resignation due to repercussions from his interview with Rolling Stone while directing the counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. Now, thanks to Elisabeth Bumiller's article of May 6, 2012 for the New York Times, "After War Room, Heading Ivy League Classroom," I know what has become of him: He's teaching a course at Yale! Talk about going out with style.

During his wartime duties in Afghanistan, McChrystal was known for his advocacy of forging relationships to fight insurgencies, so he teaches a course in leadership that helps students investigate this theme:
The theme in his case studies in leadership is that personal relationships matter . . .

He also seeks to establish good relations with his students:
His teaching style is loose: he wears khakis and open-necked shirts, insists that the students call him Stan, prods quiet students into talking and invites them all for runs with him and on overnight field trips to Gettysburg.

He's also known for "heading out to a New Haven bar for beers with his students," so I suppose he's preparing for the day he has to assign grades. With the good relations he's established, he can hope to preclude any potential student insurgency in his classroom due to any low marks he may have to assign.

He's also managed to avoid any general student insurgency at Yale, though this seems more to do with the fact that students differ these days from the countercultural students of my undergraduate years . . .

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Kevin Barry: Narrator in City of Bohane?

I have the photo above from Sheila Langan's article "Young Irish Writers Part 1: Kevin Barry" (Irish Central, Friday, January 21, 2011), and it's worth a quick read, but what I want to talk about is something else. A couple of days ago, I asked about the narrator of, and in, Kevin Barry's novel, City of Bohane -- is he an older Barry, I asked. Well, I have some ambiguous evidence about that in the narrator's remarks upon overhearing the shrieks of solidarity between the whores of Northside and Trace:
I could hear them from the back room of the Ancient and Historical Bohane Film Society as I sat late and drank exquisite Portuguese wine direct from the neck of the bottle, and you may trust, as ever, that I made careful notes.

Beyond the shrieks, the river carried as ever from Big Nothin' its black throbbing.

Oh and heed this, my fiends, my tushies, my gullible children:

There was nothing good coming in off that river.

In addressing his fiends, tushies, and children, I don't think he's speaking directly to us readers. But let's keep our ears wide open.

What? You say you're not actually reading City of Bohane? You therefore can't keep your ears open? Unheard of!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Guess I need to read Wodehouse . . .

Boris Johnson
Andrew Parsons / i-Images for Newsweek

Sunday evening, my daughter and I read a recent Newsweek article about the Tory party's politically ambitious loose cannon, Boris Johnson, by Greg Williams, "Why London Mayor Boris Johnson Worries Tory Leaders" (April 30, 2012), or rather, my daughter read the article, aloud, while I listened and corrected her articulation, along with fulfilling my role as offline dictionary and encyclopedia, until we reached this:
Most Londoners have never met anyone quite like the 47-year-old Johnson. He's practically a P.G. Wodehouse character, a bumbling, disorderly member of the upper class, except Johnson is genuinely erudite and fiercely ambitious -- and he rides the streets of London on a bicycle.

Sa-Rah stopped reading and asked:
"What's a 'Wodehouse' character?"

I couldn't answer that with Johnson's own erudition, but attempted to bull my way through by restating the passage itself:
"Wodehouse," I explained, "was a British writer who wrote humorous stories about eccentric upper-class characters, inept figures who were somewhat shambolic, like Johnson except they're not as well read as he is."

As you see, I strove for a polished response. Didn't help. Sa-Rah cottoned on that I was bluffing:
"Have you actually read Wodehouse, Daddy?"

"Uh . . . no, but I intend to . . ."

Soon, maybe. I have to stay a step ahead of my daughter -- who, by the way, was caught at school surreptitiously reading a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover! The study hall teacher confiscated the book.

Good! I've not yet read that novel . . .

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Narrator in City of Bohane

Kevin Barry

I have the photo above from The Short Review, and that's all I know about that. I also don't know the narrator of City of Bohane, though he addresses himself to me (not by name) and seems to have intimate knowledge of everybody in the book, even their thoughts, which can sound a bit rough and profane, so be forewarned, depending on the passage quoted, such as the following one offering a glimpse of two killers and the dog that accompanies them:
Smoketown juddered. The girls called out and the barkers hollered. Dreams were sold, songs were gargled, noodles were bothered. Wolfie Stanners and Fucker Burke and the Alsatian bitch Angelina melted back into the night, and as they passed me by, I saw the true-dark taint in their eyes.

It is at this hour that I like to walk the S'town wharfs myself. I like to look out over the river to the rooftops of the Back Trace and the Northside Rises beyond.

I like to see the river fill up with the lamps of the city. (Kevin Barry, City of Bohane, page 74)

Who is this fellow? A guy, I presumed from the get-go, and I was right -- I think -- for the individual has a business in the Back Trace, a small business known as The Ancient and Historical Bohane Film Society, and says only rarely does a good-looking woman drop by to see a film from the old days. But he only tells us this on page 178.

So . . . how does he know others from the inside, as here, where he knows exactly what the main character -- Gant Broderick -- is feeling:
The tang of stolen youth seeped up in his throat with the rasping burn of nausea . . . (page 12)

How does he know such things unless he's the author, Kevin Barry himself, but if so, then as an 84 year-old-man since Barry was born in 1969 and the story is set in 2053? Maybe, if the narrator is that old, too. And possibly Mr. Barry will let us know if the narrator is an older Mr. Barry, for he says in the interview linked to above:
I'm afraid I have to make a confession . . . . I've been haunting bookshops and hiding . . . as I spy on the short fiction section and see if anyone's tempted by my sweet bait.

Well, I'm tempted, so come out of your hiding place and let me and my readers -- who might just become your readers -- know the truth!

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