Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On My Hermeneutical Thickheadedness

College Ranking
The New Yorker

Although he published it two years ago, I've only recently read Malcolm Gladwell's excellent 'deconstruction' of college rankings, "The Order of Things: What college rankings really tell us," in The New Yorker (February 14, 2011), but I'm not here this morning to summarize his argument. Rather, I'm here to confess my obtuseness in trying to distinguish Gladwell's use of "heterogeneous" and his use of "comprehensive." Ironically, I was baffled by Gladwell's attempt to clarify the distinction between "heterogeneous" and "comprehensive" through his example of car rankings. Here are two passages that were at the crux of my confusion:
In other words, in trying to come up with a ranking that is heterogeneous -- a methodology that is broad enough to cover all vehicles -- Car and Driver ended up with a system that is absurdly ill-suited to some vehicles.

. . .

A ranking can be heterogeneous, in other words, as long as it doesn't try to be too comprehensive. And it can be comprehensive as long as it doesn't try to measure things that are heterogeneous. But it's an act of real audacity when a ranking system tries to be comprehensive and heterogeneous -- which is the first thing to keep in mind in any consideration of U.S. News and World Report's annual "Best Colleges" guide.
These two passages appeared about a page apart, and I had to ponder the two for a while -- maybe half an hour -- before I figured out that the "all" of "all vehicles" in the first passage did not identify the same thing as the "comprehensive" of the second passage

From other passages, I came to understand that whereas "heterogeneous" referred to two or more categories grouped together, "comprehensive" referred to all variables. The "all" of "all vehicles" in fact referred to all vehicles in all categories -- hence "all" in this case meant "heterogeneous" (categories) and didn't imply "comprehensive" (variables). (Another way to consider this is in logical terms of objects and properties, e.g., a sports car and a family car being two objects from different categories, but acceleration and fuel efficiency being two properties considered as variables.) What finally enlightened me was this third passage between the other two:
A heterogeneous ranking system works if it focusses just on, say, how much fun a car is to drive, or how good-looking it is, or how beautifully it handles. The magazine's ambition to create a comprehensive ranking system -- one that considered cars along twenty-one variables, each weighted according to a secret sauce cooked up by the editors -- would also be fine, as long as the cars being compared were truly similar.
This in-between passage -- as I began focusing more attention on it -- finally clarified things for me, but only as I began to relinquish my assumption that "all" implied "comprehensive."

That's how thickheaded I am . . .


Monday, April 29, 2013

Uncle Cran (The Old *Art) Hodges: At Work on His Man-Cave

Uncle Cran is still busy on his Arkansas farm back in the Ozarks. I reckon The Old *Art's work is never done. But maybe if he'd work a little faster . . . Be that as it may, he claims to be nearing completion of his Man-Cave, and he does have photographic evidence, albeit no evidence that he's actually working:

Man-Cave Photo?

That's the first photo -- and now for the first claim:
The Man-Cave/Kitcheonette is almost done.
Er . . . don't know how to break this to you, Uncle Cran . . . but a Man-Cave ain't got no 'Kitch-E-O-nette'! If you aren't careful, you'll soon be quoting T. S. Eliot on Grishkin and her maisonette!
Gay has been cracking the whip lately, so we are down to just a few items like light fixtures, switch covers, and formica for the cabinets.
A Man-Cave ain't the sort of place that a Cave-Man shares possession of with his woman! And if anybody's gonna be cracking a whip, well . . .
I just finished the base trim this morning, and Gay has unpacked her suitcases, and won't leave me, . . . for the moment anyway. As soon as I notice her repacking, I'll finish the job.
Uncle Cran! You make this so-called 'Man'-Cave sound like a gift to your woman! Don't you realize it's a Cave-Man's place, one he's taken for himself?
If you notice, just beside the water heater, I can move the trash can, and there is a small area just large enough to sit down in, that I can make into my man cave, some time in the distant future.
Eh? Do I hear aright? An admission that this already-built stuff ain't no true Man-Cave? Speaking of which, what's the price of admission for you?
You will also note that the dining table has only two chairs . . . (not saying that there is any kind of hint regarding company coming to visit, of course).
I'm concerned about that second chair, Uncle Cran. While I'd like to believe it's for you propping your feet upon, I have a sneaking suspicion of a different use . . .
We got a good rain yesterday and last night, about 1.75 inches.
In the Man-Cave?! Or the Woe-Man-Cave . . . or whatever you're calling it, after all. But what I really want to know is why, after all those years of carpentry work, you still haven't learned to put a roof on first!
Or pastures and hay fields are really growing.
Or? You got a good rain OR your fields are growing? Is this some sort of tricky logical puzzle?
We mowed our yard last week, and now it is ready again.
Ready for what -- rain . . . or growing?
We found enough wild asparagus in our yard and down the roadway to have two meals.
Sounds like you're letting the yard run wild! What next? Poke salat?
We haven't had time to put out a garden, and the ground is so saturated, with more rain forecast, that we don't know when we can get one planted.
Just let that wild yard grow your food this year, Uncle Cran.
That's pretty much the news down on the farm.
And stupefying news it was, too . . . so lets take a gander at the second photo:

Woe-Man-Cave Photo

This photo reveals most clearly that a Man-Cave this space ain't. With the first photo, one might be fooled, but not with this second photograph. This space is obviously domesticated . . . and so is Uncle Cran.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

North Korean Markets and the Power of Money!

North Korean Market
Illustration by Sung Choi

Jang Jin-sung, a former North Korean official who defected to the South, has written a fascinating account of his training and of his reasons for defecting in an article, "The Market Shall Set North Korea Free" (New York Times, April 26, 2013). Let's first look at the sort of governmental work he used to do in North Korea:
All of us at the United Front Department -- also known as "the window into and out of North Korea" -- learned three tenets of diplomacy by heart: 1. Pay no attention to South Korea. 2. Exploit Japan's emotions. 3. Ply the United States with lies, but make sure they are logical ones.

Kim Jong-il stressed the importance of these three tenets as the framework within which we were required to implement his vision for Pyongyang's foreign relations. North Korea's dealings with South Korea, Japan and the United States always hewed closely to these principles.

Our department's mission was to deceive our people and the world, doing what was necessary to keep our leader in power. We openly referred to talks with South Korea as "aid farming," because while Seoul sought dialogue through its so-called Sunshine Policy, we saw it as an opening not for diplomatic progress but for extracting as much aid as possible. We also successfully bought time for our nuclear program through the endless marathon of the six-party talks.
These three tenets fit with what I've seen, except that the North doesn't completely ignore South Korea. How could it in its "aid farming" of the South? I'm guessing that this point could have been better translated, perhaps as "Don't take South Korea seriously" or "Treat South Korea as illegitimate." The other two tenets are quite clear, but I never would have induced them on my own, so I'm glad to have come upon this article. How did Mr. Jang break free from his ideological thinking? Through a process like something out of 1984:
Although in my job I had access to foreign media, books with passages containing criticism of our Dear Leader Kim Jong-il or his revered father, Kim Il-sung, had large sections blacked out. One day, out of deep curiosity, I made up an excuse to stay behind at work to decipher the redacted words of a history book.

I locked the office door and put the pages against a window. Light from outside made the words under the ink perfectly clear. I read voraciously. I stayed late at work again and again to learn my country's real history -- or at least another view of it.

Most shocking was what I discovered about the Korean War. We had been taught all of our lives how an invasion by the South had triggered the conflict. Yet now I was reading that not only South Korea but the rest of the world believed the North had started the war.
Mr. Jang's experience reminds me of 1984's main character, Winston Smith, a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth whose thought crime of paying too close attention to information he was supposed to be fighting against led him to rebel, though I suppose the Smith character's job would be more like that of the person responsible for blacking out the forbidden passages in books containing criticism of the Kim family. Be that as it may, Mr. Jang's curiosity ultimately led him to an escape from the North. And he offers some rather intriguing hope:
The social effect of the rise of the market has been extraordinary: The umbilical cord between the individual and the state has been severed. In the people's eyes, loyalty to the state has been replaced by the value of hard cash. And the U.S. greenback is the currency of choice.

Trading with their U.S. dollars . . . for Chinese products, North Koreans have come to recognize the existence of leaders greater even than the Kims. Who are these men gracing U.S. bank notes? North Koreans now see that loyalty to the supreme leader has brought no tangible benefits; yet currency bearing the faces of American men is exchanged for many things: rice, meat, even a promotion at work.
An insight that I never would have imagined -- images on currency leading to political heresy -- because the dollar buys more than the image of a Kim! I'll never look at money in quite the same way again.

I also learned of a website on North Korea that posts articles by North Korean defectors: New Focus International. Mr. Jang is the is editor in chief.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Criticism: Erotic or Martial Arrow to Heart of Literary Work?

Eli Park Sorensen
Korea Herald

Eli Park Sorensen -- assistant professor at SNU's College of Liberal Studies and a specialist in comparative literature, postcolonial thought, and cultural studies -- has published another interesting article, "Complex art of interpreting literature," in the Korea Herald (April 25, 2013), from which I excerpt the following on literary ambiguity and critical clarity:
Writers . . . have always had a troubled relationship with their critics; a love-hate relationship that often involves hostility, sycophancy or mischief. But writers and critics need each other. Criticism without a literary work seems like a contradiction in terms; a literary work without criticism is typically a sign of insignificance, failure. Writers may loathe the criticism of their works, while critics may loathe the literary works. Without the existence of both, however, it would be hard to recognize the texts as -- respectively -- literary works or critical pieces.

But why do we adhere to the notion that a literary work needs commentary and interpretation -- that it cannot be read independently, unaccompanied by criticism? And why is it that we rarely, if ever, read criticism -- a comment on another text -- as a literary work? . . . The simple answer is that literary works are never quite what they initially appear to be. Interpreting a literary work thus involves more than merely understanding what the text literally attempts to do or say. The literary work invites criticism and interpretation. As a critic, one accepts this invitation to engage with the literary work's otherness, its ambiguity. The literary work's ambiguity haunts us, like a ghost whose presence we desperately attempt to capture and strap down, once and for all.
I'm curious about Sorensen's remark that "Without the existence of both [literature and criticism], however, it would be hard to recognize the texts as -- respectively -- literary works or critical pieces." Does he mean that without criticism, literature would not be recognizable? This seems unlikely, since we'd still recognize stories as stories and read them even if there were no criticism -- and most people do read them without reading criticism -- so he may mean that we wouldn't truly understand them as literary works. By that, I mean that we'd miss their ambiguity. This point of ambiguity is clearly what Sorensen is getting at in his first question above: "But why do we adhere to the notion that a literary work needs commentary and interpretation -- that it cannot be read independently, unaccompanied by criticism?" His answer, "that literary works are never quite what they initially appear to be," implies a literary work's "ambiguity."

But what about his second question: "[W]hy is it that we rarely, if ever, read criticism -- a comment on another text -- as a literary work?" I don't find a clearly explicit answer in Sorensen's article, but I think that I know the answer. Aside from the fact -- a significant one -- that we read many literary works simply for the stories that they tell, we also read stories as literary works to appreciate their ambiguity. A great literary work may have multiple levels of meaning, and we read for those meanings. Criticism generally tries to clarify precisely what those meanings are, but to do so, the criticism itself must remain as unambiguous as possible, and this explains why we do not "read criticism . . . as a literary work."

Or rarely do. Perhaps Mary Ruefle's "writing on writing" -- of which she says, nevertheless, that "writing is writing" -- is one of those rare examples of criticism as literary work, by which I refer to her Madness, Rack, and Honey (page VII).

And on a different sort of textual ambiguity, see my post of two months ago on Professor Lee Jae-min and textual interpretation in law, where the point -- unlike the literary critic's judgment in clarifying the fact of ambiguity -- is the legal theorist's judgment in clearing away ambiguity itself . . .

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Not Joking! Choking!

No Charade!
Cartoon by Tom Spetter

On Monday the 22nd, the EPO gave its midterm exams, and to relax after our proctoring, we professors went out for a late lunch and drinks. I was finished eating and was enjoying my second margarita, into which I'd squeezed the juice of the attached lemon, when a lemon seed got caught against the end of my straw, checking and thereby disrupting the flow of frozen margarita through the straw and down my throat, a consequence that somehow resulted in a drop of frozen margarita slipping past my epiglottis and into my lungs.

The combination of the cold ice and the lemon-lime concoction made me inhale sharply, worsening the situation by freezing up my breathing rhythm and leaving me for several moments incapable of exhaling, and I didn't want to inhale again.

One of my friends, Professor Cho, was sitting across the table from me, watching and wondering what was wrong. Another professor, one to my left, asked, "Are you okay?"

I coughed a tiny splutter, managed to exhale a little, inhale a little, exhale a little more, inhale, then utter in a guttural, scratchy voice, "I'm okay . . ."

At that point, Professor Cho gave me a drink of her water, which was exactly what I needed. I thanked her -- and later sent an email to thank her again:
Thanks for saving me from choking today!
She replied with concern:
Did I really help? I may have watched you struggle for a bit too long . . .
I assured her:
You helped at the right moment. There was nothing to do prior to that point other than watch me live or die.
And today's Garfield comic was apt . . .


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Religious freedom not a zero-sum game?

Christianity Today Review

There's a new book out on the worldwide persecution of Christians, which I'll need to read sometime, but until then, I rely upon reviews, like this on by Robert Joustra, "Religious Freedom Is Not a Zero-Sum Game" (Christianity Today, April 22, 2013), which looks at the approach taken by Paul Marshall, Nina Shea, and Lela Gilbert, of the Hudson Institute:
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea . . . . [in] Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians . . . . focuses on Christians -- and rightly so, they argue, because Christians are, by some estimates, the target of as many as 75 percent of the acts of religious persecution worldwide. But this is not an isolated argument. Nor do the authors make the mistake of imagining Christians are the only victims. In fact, their deliberate appeal to American Christians on behalf of Christians is every bit a strategy for combating persecution in general. Religious freedom is not a zero-sum game . . . . [T]he authors address radical Islam and its manipulative use of blasphemy and apostasy laws. They call attention to the systematic suppression of religious freedom in lands where these laws are enforced, the attempt by some Islamic governments to have them enforced elsewhere, and the scandalous silence that persists around them . . . . The motivation for Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea is not about co-religious privilege . . . . The motivation is about religious freedom for all, regardless of religion.
But what if, for Islam -- and certainly for Islamists -- religious freedom means sharia? Wouldn't that imply a zero-sum game, i.e., more freedom for Islamists to practice their religion entails less freedom for other religions? If Islamists are not allowed to enforce apostasy laws -- the penalty for leaving Islam is death -- then Islamists' religious freedom is curtailed.

Speaking of apostasy, here are two stories of apostates in Iran: one about a man, the other about two women.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just a moment with Mary Ruefle . . .

Mary Ruefle
CavanKerry Press

A few days ago, I quoted Mary Ruefle on her sense of the "moment":
[W]e have only fragments -- but even this seems fitting, for what is the moment but a fragment of greater time? (Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, 13)
Now that I'm re-reading her book, I learn the size of that fragment:
Okay, three seconds -- as the approximate duration of the present moment has been defined -- not quite the speed of light, but about the time it takes to look at the moon. (Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, 17)
I'd never heard this fact before -- or maybe I heard in a moment of distraction and thus didn't hear -- so I looked it up and found a book by Peter Swirski, Literature, Analytically Speaking, that speaks of this established fact:
A good place to start may be with the research into the duration of the present moment originally conducted by Frederick Turner and Ernst Poppel. In a series of experiments, subjects were asked to reproduce the duration of a light signal or a sound or else to respond to the dilations of time intervals in the so-called metronome test (designed to measure the extent to which people subjectively group intervals). These early experiments have established what, since then, has been confirmed by a multitude of studies in developmental and adult psychobiology: the duration of the personal subjective "now."

It turns out that in most people the dimension of the present moment is about three seconds, although for some it can be about a half-second shorter or longer. (Swirski, Literature, 163-164)
Apparently, this fact holds for -- among other things -- poetic recitation, and Swirski informs us that Miroslav Horlub (whom we also met on this blog) inferred that the three-second line appears to be a "carrier wave" in poetry throughout various language systems (164-165).

What's the practical significance of this fact? I don't know. Maybe practice reciting poetry in units of the moment? Translate poetry that way as well?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bernard Lewis on Islamic Radicals in the West

Bernard Lewis

In yesterday's post, I posed the query as to what in Islam makes it so susceptible to political misuse, and in perhaps oblique response, long-time reader and occasional commentator Erdal linked to an article in Die Welt (The World) by Bernard Lewis, "Drei Phasen des islamischen Kampfes" (April 20, 2013), which translates as "Three Phases of the Islamic Struggle," and I will quote the German, then offer a translation, of a few relevant passages:
Der Angriff vom 11. September 2001 war offenkundig . . . als Beginn . . . gedacht. Der Krieg sollte mitten ins Feindeslager getragen werden. In den Augen einer fanatisierten und entschlossenen Minderheit von Muslimen hatte schnell darauf die . . . Welle des Angriffs begonnen: die Angriffe auf Europa. In diesem Zusammenhang sollten wir uns nichts vormachen: Diesmal nehmen die Attacken verschiedene Formen an, genauer -- zwei Formen: Terror und Migration . . . .

Ich möchte Ihre Aufmerksamkeit . . . auf einige . . . bedeutsame Faktoren lenken. Einer davon ist der neue Radikalismus in der islamischen Welt, der in verschiedenen Ausformungen auftritt: bei Sunniten, insbesondere Wahhabiten, und iranischen Schiiten seit der iranischen Revolution. Wir erleben das befremdliche Paradox, dass die Gefahr, die vom islamischen Radikalismus oder einem radikalen Terrorismus ausgeht, in Europa und Amerika weit größer als im Nahen Osten und Nord-Afrika ist, wo man weit besser darin ist, Extremisten unter Kontrolle zu halten.

Der Wahhabismus hat vom Prestige, vom Einfluss und der Macht des Hauses Saud profitiert, das die Heiligen Stätten des Islam und die jährliche Pilgerreise kontrolliert und enorme Einnahmen aus dem Ölgeschäft zur Verfügung hat. Der Fall der iranischen Revolution liegt anders. Der Begriff Revolution wird im Nahen Osten oft gebraucht. Er ist nahezu der einzige allgemein akzeptierte Titel der Legitimation. Doch die iranische Revolution ist eine echte Revolution im Sinn der französischen oder russischen . . . . [Sie] hatte . . . enorme Auswirkungen auf die ganze Region, mit der die Iraner im Diskurs stehen -- also: auf die islamische Welt . . . .

Den islamischen Radikalen ist es gelungen, in Europa einige Verbündete zu finden. Um sie zu beschreiben, muss ich die Begriffe rechts und links verwenden, die zunehmend in die Irre führen. Sie sind schwer auf die heutigen Verhältnisse im Westen anzuwenden. Und sie sind kompletter Unsinn, wenn man sie auf die unterschiedlichen Zweige des Islam appliziert.

Die islamischen Radikalen haben eine gewisse Anziehungskraft auf die antiamerikanische Linke in Europa, für die sie gewissermaßen an die Stelle der Sowjetunion getreten sind. Die antisemitische Rechte sprechen sie an, weil sie in deren Weltsicht an die Stelle der alten Achsenmächte treten. So haben sie in beiden Gruppen Unterstützer gefunden. Bei manchen Europäern wiegt der Selbsthass schwerer als ihre Loyalität der eigenen Gesellschaft gegenüber.
Roughly translated, this says:
The attacks of September 11, 2001 were clearly intended as . . . the beginning . . . . The war should be carried into the midst of the enemy camp. In the eyes of a fanatical and resolute minority of Muslims, the . . . wave of the attack had started quickly: the attacks on Europe [and the US]. In this context, we should not delude ourselves: This time, the attacks take various forms, more precisely -- two forms: terrorism and migration . . . .

I want to draw your attention. . . to some. . . significant factors. One of them is the new radicalism in the Islamic world, which occurs in various forms: from Sunnis, particularly Wahhabis, and Iranian Shiites since the Iranian Revolution. We experience the strange paradox that the threat posed by Islamic radicalism or radical terrorism in Europe and America is far greater than in the Middle East and North Africa, where the extremists are far better kept under control.

Wahhabism has benefited from the prestige, the influence, and the power of the House of Saud, which controls the holy sites of Islam and the annual pilgrimage and has available the enormous revenues from its oil business. The case of the Iranian Revolution is different. The term revolution is often used in the Middle East. It is almost the only generally accepted title of legitimization. But the Iranian Revolution is a genuine revolution in the sense of the French or Russian . . . . [It] had . . . a huge impact on the whole region, with which the Iranians are in discourse -- i.e., on the Islamic world . . . .

Islamic radicals have managed to find some allies in Europe. To describe this, I have to use the [political] concepts right and left, which increasingly lead astray. They are difficult to apply to the current situation in the West. And they are complete nonsense when they are applied to the different branches of Islam.

The Islamic radicals have a certain attraction to the anti-American Left in Europe, for whom the Islamic radicals have effectively taken the place of the Soviet Union. The anti-Semitic right speaks to them because Islamic radicals take the place of the old Axis powers in the anti-Semitic right's worldview. So, Islamic radicals have found supporters in both groups. For some Europeans, self-hatred outweighs loyalty to their own society.
Lewis thus analyzes Muslim immigration to the West as a trend that the Islamic radicals (i.e., those whom I usually call "Islamists") intend to make use of in their long war with the West, and perhaps this is what Erdal was considering as a possible response to my question about what in Islam makes it susceptible to political misuse, i.e., the large number of Muslims in the world, and now in Europe, such even a statistically small percentage can be a large actual number.

But what radicalizes the Islamic radicals, and what leads them to consider Islamically legitimate such towering acts of terror as the 9/11 attacks? And what is there about the Western far left and radical right that makes Islamic radicals appear worthy of allying with?

I wish Lewis had said more about these issues.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

On not going out on a limb . . .

Fragment of Pressure Cooker Bomb

When I first heard that two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the second bomb about thirteen seconds after the first, I instantly formed an opinion about the probable identity of who was responsible but kept it mostly to myself and refrained from posting a blog entry. After the two brothers who carried out the attack were identified as Islamist terrorists, I read what my friend Kevin Kim had posted about the news:
As I tried to say earlier, theories that the Boston Marathon bombing were somehow linked to home-grown Tim McVeigh types or to Kim Jeong-eun (for God's sakes, what??) were asinine, as were the calls for "open-minded" consideration of who the guilty parties might be. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this was another instance of Islamic extremism, and sure enough, the perpetrators -- caught with incredible swiftness by local and federal law-enforcement authorities -- turned out to be two disaffected Chechen Muslims who were both biological brothers and brothers in arms. One sibling is now dead; the other was caught while bleeding from wounds suffered during a firefight.
I then left the following comment to Kevin's post:
Because there were two explosions, the terrorist attack fit the Islamist method of operations -- kill innocents by surprise, then kill the innocents running to help.

I mentioned the point to a colleague at work, but I didn't blog on the point because I didn't want to chance being wrong and accused of prejudice.
Kevin replied in a follow-up comment:
I think the only people who'd have accused you of prejudice are members of the PC brigade who deliberately refuse to put 2 and 2 together. You've zeroed in on exactly the evidence that convinced me this attack was Islamist.
I'm gratified to have good company. When I told my wife about the bombing, I said that I suspected Islamist terrorists because of the two bombs. A couple of days later, I spoke with an Ewha colleague who'd studied at Harvard and thus knows the bombed area, and I mentioned my observation to her. She's also not a "Politically Correct" type, so my reasoning immediately clicked with her.

I therefore agree with Kevin that the Islamist character of this terrorist attack was clear from the start, and most of us know this, if not for the pattern -- the two bombs -- then for the sheer likelihood of the act itself, given that the vast majority of terrorist attacks these days are carried out by Islamists, a fact that has surely forced itself into everyone's mind by now even if people disagree on "root causes."

As for root causes, those would differ from individual to individual, but the crucial question is this: what is there in Islam that makes its teachings apparently so susceptible to misconstrual and misuse by fanatics?

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ruefle: "another catches fire"

Samuel Pepys
Portrait by John Hayls

I've started re-reading Mary Ruefle's recent book, Madness, Rack, and Honey, and since I'd only just finished it the day before, I was struck by what was surely an intended resonance:
In poetry, the number of beginnings so far exceeds the number of endings that we cannot even conceive of it. Not every poem is finished -- one poem is abandoned, another catches fire and is carried away by the wind, which may be an ending, but it is the ending of a poem without end. (Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, 1)
The resonance was with a journal entry lifted from The Diary of Samuel Pepys and placed between the last essay and the "Acknowledgments:
Then we fell to talking of the burning of the City; and my Lady Carteret herself did tell us how abundance of pieces of burnt papers were cast by the wind as far as Cranborne; and among others she took up one, or had one brought her to see, which was a little bit of paper that had been printed, whereon there remained no more nor less than these words: "Time is, it is done." (Samuel Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, quoted by Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, 311)
But what is time?
For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not. Yet I say with confidence, that I know that if nothing passed away, there would not be past time; and if nothing were coming, there would not be future time; and if nothing were, there would not be present time. Those two times, therefore, past and future, how are they, when even the past now is not; and the future is not as yet? But should the present be always present, and should it not pass into time past, time truly it could not be, but eternity. If, then, time present -- if it be time -- only comes into existence because it passes into time past, how do we say that even this is, whose cause of being is that it shall not be -- namely, so that we cannot truly say that time is, unless because it tends not to be? (St. Augustine, The Confessions, Book 9, Chapter 14, edited by Philip Schaff)
Ruefle disagrees?
[W]e have only fragments -- but even this seems fitting, for what is the moment but a fragment of greater time? (Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, 13)
Does the moment tend not to be, an infinitesimal, or is it a fragment, a temporal atom? In either case, my allotted time is up . . . for today.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Tree of Unknowable Noumenon

Gazing Upon the Ding-an-Sich
Beckett and Giacometti

I've borrowed this image from the site of Paul McVeigh, who tells us:
Beckett and Giacometti in the latter's studio in Paris in 1961, looking at the Tree that Giacometti has just made for Waiting for Godot. Ironically, there is no photo of the Tree itself and, since it ended up being stolen, we can only guess at what it looked like.
Or perhaps, as in Kantian philosophy, the two were envisioning the Tree as the Ding-An-Sich -- the Thing-Per-Se, the unknowable noumenon -- the object as it is in itself, independent of the mind, as opposed to a phenomenon, which can be apprehended, and that is why we cannot see the Tree. Where did McVeigh obtain this photograph? Perhaps from Mary Ruefle:
One photograph I adore, and keep always by me, shows Samuel Beckett, Albert Giacometti, and a young critic/admirer whose name I do not know standing in a gallery where Giacometti's set for Waiting for Godot is on display (though you can't see it) -- a single tree. If you know Giacometti's work, you can imagine it. The photo was taken in the early sixties, before Giacometti died, and in it Beckett and Giacometti are looking up, up, up at the tree: Beckett has the look of someone praying before a crucifix, and Giacometti has a slightly more self-conscious look, as if admiring the thing but also hoping someone else might see in it what he sees in it -- which is only natural, as he himself made the thing; and the young critic/admirer is not looking at the thing at all, he is looking at Beckett and Giacometti. He is much, much younger than they are, and he does not see the Thing; he sees the two men instead, because it is obvious he mistakes them for the Thing, and he is not there to see the Thing, he is there to see what he takes for the Thing, the two men. While the two men are looking at the Thing. (Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, page 301)
We do not see "the young critic/admirer" described by Ruefle. We will have to take her word for the fact of his merely phenomenal existence. But Ruefle's 'word' is at times hard to take since she plays with them and their meanings. For example, why does she write, "The photo was taken in the early sixties, before Giacometti died"? Look at the photo. Does Giacometti not look alive? He of course is not yet dead! If she had written, "The photo was taken in 1961, five years before Giacometti died," the statement would have been readily understandable. Also banal, mundane, quotidian. She would never have written such words. Instead, she wrote something far more baffling . . . and intriguing.

I reached the end of Ruefle's book, page 309, yesterday evening -- actually, just the end of her lectures, for she has a bit more to say after those. But page 309 is end enough to recall beginnings, such as pages 1-2, where she writes:
Paul Valéry also described his perception of first lines so vividly, and to my mind so accurately, that I have never forgotten it: The opening line of a poem, he said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before, and the poet's task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.
You have found here only the fruit left by Giacometti's missing Tree, and if you are a poet, you know the task that lies before you now . . .

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Friday, April 19, 2013

North Korea Looks to the Future

North Korea's High-Tech Military
Guard Tower on Banks of Yalu River
Photo by Jacky Chen, Reuters
Chicago Tribune

Everyone knows that "A picture is worth a thousand words," so take a close look at the photo above. Either North Korean scientists have advanced their military technology so far that they've developed invisible binoculars, or . . . they haven't, and that soldier's using his hands as make-believe binoculars, like I used to do as a kid. Such fantasy binoculars would fit well with the North's description of its military's ability to deliver a "sledgehammer blow" to its enemies and of its supposed nuclear capability as a "treasured sword." I can just visualize the North's army peering at the enemy through imaginary binoculars as its soldiers prepare to rush forward into battle armed with sledgehammers and swords!

I found the above image in the Chicago Tribune, accompanied by the article from which I drew the expressions "sledgehammer blows" and "treasured sword" ("North Korea demands end of sanctions if U.S. wants dialogue," April 18, 2013), but the photo there has been changed, so go here instead.

The North's military, of course, is not truly to be laughed at, not when it has over ten thousand artillery pieces aimed at Seoul . . .

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Liar! Liar!

Mary Ruefle
Photo by Marco40134

Here follows a lengthy lecture by Mary Ruefle on lying, which you can also read in Madness, Rack, and Honey (page 264):
In this lecture I only lie three times. This is one of them.
What!? You're here already? You must have read too quickly! Go back and read the entire lecture again! Take your time! Think it through!

To be frank, I misquoted Ruefle's first sentence. She actually wrote, "In this lecture I lie only three times."

You can report my distortions here.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Extension of 'Man' . . .

Mary Ruefle

I'm still reading Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey, and I read the lines below yesterday on the subway, and they struck me because I recently edited a philosopher's paper that was making a similar point:
Writing and reading are ways the brain can contain itself outside of itself. If you can't remember the ingredients you need to make dinner you make a list and voilá -- a bit of your brain gets carried outside of itself. Eventually -- more millenia -- books came into being, and the human brain was able to keep expanding. A book is a physical expansion of the human brain. It is not an object to be treated lightly. When you hold a book in your hands, you are holding a piece of cerebrum in your hands. (267-268)
The philosopher gave a similar example, but was more concerned with showing that smartphones are extensions of our brains.

Somehow, I'm reminded of McLluhen . . .

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Short Report from Uncle Cran

Aunt Gay and Uncle Cran

I received an email from Uncle Cran, who along with Aunt Gay has been visiting his son, Cousin James, and James's family, and here's what Uncle Cran has to say:
James took a picture of some old couple walking on the Gulf beach at St. Petersburg,

Uncle Cran is right. He's surely not that man in the photo. I think I know who that old man is, though. Let us recall this anecdote of Uncle Cran single-handedly taking down a barn, as described in his previous report:
Just as I was finishing getting the roofing off the sheds, I heard two guys across the street at the back door of the bank talking. One said, "Just look at that old f*rt. He gets around like a young man". I knew they weren't talking about me, as I'm only 73. I decided [they] were looking up the hill just behind where I was working, and [I] saw a man doing some work up there, and [realized] that I had misunderstood the man [at the bank]. He actually said, "Just look at that old Art. He gets around like a young man." I don't know this Art, or what he was doing, but he sure impressed those guys.
The man in that photograph above is definitely "Old Art." The image rather reminds me of Grant Wood's American Gothic, minus the house and pitchfork, so this is "Old Art" in a secondary sense . . .

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Burrowing further into Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey

My own madness is that I'd rather read than do anything else but write, except that the world I've 'chosen' to live in expects me to earn my living and support my family and act like the responsible person I'm not, so I expend most of my scraped-together sense of responsibility on reading and re-writing other people's writing. In short, I edit, a kind of madness. I'd rather be writing like Ruefle:
"The Burrow" was in one of our textbooks. As the class sat reading silently, the silence seemed different. I was infuriated by my inability to understand what was happening in the story. What was happening? Deep inside myself I could not believe that anyone else was actually reading. I was convinced that a mistake had been made, that the printing plates -- for I pictured them as such -- had gotten smashed and all mixed up. There was a mistake. Was I the only one who noticed? Hadn't the teachers bothered to read the story? Their secret was out! There was a very special kind of attention that only I was able to pay to the story -- it was absurd. And then I had a moment of doubt. Who wrote this? Perhaps he was the mistake, and not the story. I sat in the silent classroom and I heard all kinds of things -- I heard the non-ticking clock tick, and the sweat beginning to form on my body, and the window glass was about to break into pieces. The pencil sharpener on the wall was salivating. I flipped to the back of the book where there were brief paragraphs about each of the authors, who they were, where they came from, what they wrote. Yes, I was certain now, the mistake was not in the story, but in its author. There was a mistake in the man. There had to be a mistake in the man because I was told where and when he wrote but not why. And of all the stories in our book, this was the one that remained starved and unfed unless I learned why he wrote it at all. I decided to hate the author. I decided to hate the author because he made me feel as if all my life I had been waiting for something to happen, and it was happening and it was not going to happen. It was many years before I understood that this was the secret labyrinth of reading, and there was a secret tunnel connecting it to my life. (189-190)
A couple of years back -- if I'm not mistaken -- on this blog appeared a commentator of literary ability named Daniel Richter who liked Kafka and crafted a blog titled "The Burrow of Bucephalus," twining two Kafka tales, "The Burrow" and "The New Lawyer," for the latter introduced Alexander's horse as a lawyer.

In the passage above, a young Ruefle decides that Kafka was a mistake. Not just his story, but the author himself. A measure of his greatness, I suppose. But was Kafka a mistake? Or was Ruefle? Is Richter? Am I? And if we are . . . then whose?

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Seoul Incarnate!

Seoul's Gangnam
Photo by Zeng Han
NYT Magazine

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting, if somewhat superficial, article on Seoul by Phoebe Eaton, cleverly titled "The Reincarnation of Seoul" (March 22, 2013):
"Pali! Pali!" everybody likes to say. Faster! Faster! South Korea has been sprinting down the road to recovery since the end of the Korean War. As fast as PSY's "Gangnam Style" anthem, mocking Seoul's Ferrari-and-furs nouveaux riches, galloped to the top of the Western music charts this year, the city has emerged as one of the most hip (and most underrated) cultural capitals in the world. Cruise-line-proportioned flagships, architecturally bombastic headquarters, museums celebrating traditional houses to handbags, haute and hot restaurants are all competing for the attention of its 10 million increasingly affluent residents.

Koreans have the reputation for being nose-to-the-grindstone, study-smarties. But looking around Seoul today, one can only conclude they're ready to enjoy themselves. It's no longer the city voted least favorite layover in the Far East. Let everyone rabbit on about how places like Shanghai are The Future: Seoul residents are smarter dressers; its restaurants feel more fussed over, more daring; and after an early force-feed of education, everyone's creative, individualist side is emerging.

South Korea never just apes the West but puts its own topspin on music, fashion, food, technology. Apple may have won its patent-infringement lawsuit against Samsung, but Samsung's Galaxy S III is neck and neck with the iPhone 5 in stores, early to the notion that people wanted smartphones with bigger screens. Samsung has overtaken Sony as the world's biggest maker of TVs. "Apple takes forever to develop a jewel of a phone, but Samsung, they just throw it out there. Bam-bam-bam!," says the architect Euhlo Suh. "People don't like this feature? Let's make another one. Bam-bam-bam!"

That's just the hardware. Content has arrived, too. The cultural wave rolling from these shores already has a name -- hallyu -- literally, the Korean Wave, coined by awestruck Chinese who were the first to acknowledge Korea's revised profile in Asia. Its "K-pop" music and television shows have been embraced with such a Pacific Basin bear hug that money from these sectors alone buoys South Korea's economy by $4.5 billion a year. This year, Korean directors transitioned from Hallyuwood to Hollywood, and will open their first English-language films, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nicole Kidman.
Seoul is reincarnating itself as a world-class city with daring architecture and an eye for art and fashion. Quite an exciting place to be right now, even for an old man like me! The article doesn't exactly do the city justice, but it's a fun read, especially for a resident foreigner who can chuckle over exaggerations like "the all-powerful mayor" and "the economy-minded socialist government" -- meaning the city government, of course, which has a mayor with leftist views, but Seoul doesn't have a socialist government, nor is the mayor omnipotent, so Ms. Eaton is perhaps joking? Pyongyang, Seoul ain't.

I'd comment more on the article, but I'm too busy, and you can click on over there and read for yourself, or go directly to the interactive slide show, or even plan your itinerary of where to eat, drink, and stay on a visit to Seoul.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mary Ruefle: "far far away"

Mary Ruefle

I'm continuing to cleave a way for myself through Ruefle's thronging words, quoted, or her own, in Madness, Rack, and Honey (208), and I came upon these words of hers reminding me of something:
When I was forty-five years old, I woke up on an ordinary day, neither sunny nor overcast, in the middle of the year, and I could no longer read. It was at the beginning of one of those marvelous sentences that only Nabokov can write: "Mark felt a sort of delicious pity for the frankfurters . . ." In my vain attempts I made out felt hat, prey, the city of Frankfort. But the words that existed so I might read them sailed away, and I was stranded on a quay while everything I loved was leaving. And then it was I who was leaving: a terror seized me and took me so high up in its talons that I was looking helplessly down on a tiny, unrecognizable city, a city I had loved and lived in but would never see again. I needed reading glasses, but before I knew that, I was far far away. (184)
The memory springing up was an experience from my ninth summer, halting in the hot sunlight as I plowed my grandmother's large garden and watching an enormous, white-hooded eagle fly overhead and catch my overheated imagination . . . an experience I later, much, much later, spoke of in a poem:
On Big Creek Ridge

The summer I plowed grandma's far garden,
an eagle caught my eyes with curved talons.
I glimpsed an obscured form against brown ground
stretching curious furrows straight and long.
I showed it to a stranger, the lover of a Japanese woman I knew in Berkeley, and he pointed out to me that the curious furrows were not just of the plowing I'd been doing, but even more of my own brow, furrowed in curiosity.

And I'm now far, far away . . .

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Andrei Lankov on North Korea's Bluff of War

Professor Andrei Lankov

I wasn't going to write more on North Korea's bluster, but after posting my opinion yesterday, I discovered a column in The New York Times by an acquaintance of mine, Professor Andrei Lankov, who echoed my views, not that he was borrowing from me, of course, for he's a far more informed scholar than I'll ever be. Anyway, the article -- titled "Stay Cool. Call North Korea's Bluff." (April 9, 2013) -- in an expansion on this title, says the following:
[T]here is almost nothing particularly unusual in the recent developments. In the last two decades, North Korea has on various occasions conducted highly provocative missile and nuclear tests and promised to turn Seoul into a sea of fire. Now it has declared its withdrawal from the 1953 armistice agreement that ended fighting in the Korean War but not the war itself. It has denounced American and South Korean military exercises as an act of war. And on Tuesday, North Korea told foreigners in the South to look for shelter or consider evacuating because the Korean Peninsula could soon be engulfed in nuclear war. This time, the tune is being played louder, but that is the only real change.

A closer look at North Korean history reveals what Pyongyang's leaders really want their near-farcical belligerence to achieve -- a reminder to the world that North Korea exists, and an impression abroad that its leaders are irrational and unpredictable. The scary impressions are important to North Korea because for the last two decades its policy has been, above all, a brilliant exercise in diplomatic blackmail. And blackmail usually works better when the practitioners are seen as irrational and unpredictable.

Put bluntly, North Korea's government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.
That's enough for me to make my basic point, namely, that my opinion is not idiosyncratic, but is shared by others, even by experts such as Professor Lankov, so stay cool, everyone, and don't worry about the North starting a war.

Meanwhile, readers and visitors with an interest in more details should go on to read the article itself.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

What North Korea Wants to Gain by Threats of Nuclear War

Kim Jong-un with Scepter
"Oh . . . right. That's west. I forgot we're North Korea."
Picture: AP
April 4, 2013
Metro News

Does North Korea want war?

Family and friends back in the States and other places have been sending me worried emails, asking if I'm afraid the North Korean regime might start a war, so I thought I might as well quell the fears of others by assuring everybody that war is the last thing that North Korea wants since that would likely bring its entire system down, thereby ending the elite's luxurious lifestyle and effectively rendering them powerless and subject to judgment for their crimes against their own people.

But if they don't want war, what's all the bluster about?

It's an old game carried to unprecedented extremes this time. For too long, the North would fabricate a crisis whenever it needed food aid or political concessions or something else from the outside world. The world would grow alarmed and offer something. The North would accept and be on good behavior for a while . . . until it needed something new, when it would fabricate another crisis.

But why are they sounding so much more extreme this time?

Two reasons.

First, the game isn't working this time because everybody's figured out how it works and everyone now refuses to play the game, so the North is trying harder to scare everybody into fearing the bluster is genuine.

Second, Kim Jong-un needs to look tough, and what's more, given his youth and inexperience, he has to look even tougher to get the respect of the military, the party, and the people.

So . . . has he gone too far to back down since he's receiving nothing from the outside world?

He hasn't gone too far, and he won't have to back down at all. He has claimed that the yearly, routine, defensive Field Training Exercise (FTX) conducted by South Korea and the United States is a preparation for invasion of the North using nuclear weapons, so when this exercise is finished, he will be able to claim that North Korea's resolve and military power, based on its own nuclear weapons program, intimidated the imperialistic Americans and saved the North from invasion.

That's how I see things, so you can all stop worrying about me . . . unless Kim Jong-un miscalculates, goes insane, or turns out to be really, really stupid.

In which case, thanks for your loyal readership . . .

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kanan Makiya's Mea Culpa?

Saddam Toppled
April 9, 2003
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Kanan Makiya, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University and the author of Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, which I'm familiar with, and Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World, which I don't know, has written an article, "The Arab Spring Started in Iraq" (The New York Times, April 6, 2013), expressing a degree of regret for his role in getting the US involved in the Iraq War:
Both the George W. Bush administration and the Iraqi expatriate opposition to Mr. Hussein -- myself included -- grossly underestimated those costs [of the war's aftermath] in the run-up to the 2003 war. The Iraqi state, we failed to realize, had become a house of cards.

None of these errors of judgment were necessarily an argument against going to war if you believed, as I do, that overthrowing Mr. Hussein was in the best interests of the Iraqi people. The calculus looks different today if one's starting point is American national interest. I could not in good conscience tell an American family grieving for a son killed in Iraq that the war "was worth it."

We didn't know then what we know today. Some, including many of my friends, warned of the dangers of American hubris. I did not heed them in 2003.

But the greater hubris is to think that what America does or doesn't do is all that matters. The blame for the catastrophe of post-2003 Iraq must be placed on the new Iraqi political elite. The Shiite political class, put in power by the United States, preached a politics of victimhood and leveraged the state to enrich itself. These leaders falsely identified all Sunni Iraqis with Baathists, forgetting how heavily all Iraqis, including some Shiites, were implicated in the criminality of Mr. Hussein's regime.

Although I always feared, and warned in 1993, that the emergence of sectarian strife was a risk after Mr. Hussein's fall, my greatest misjudgment was in hoping that Iraq's new leaders would act for the collective Iraqi good.
I think we've all emerged from the Iraq experience wiser, if sadder. I remember that Kanan Makiya analyzed the 9/11 hijackers' so-called 'suicide note' and demonstrated its meaning as a religious document, but I also recall him from my Berkeley days in the 1980s, when my friend and flatmate Scott Corey, writing a doctoral thesis on political violence, read his book Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq and talked to me about it. That was a different world, a time of great hope in the future, when a man named Fukuyama could promise the end of history as the passing of political violence and the onset of a capitalist, democratic peace, and one could imagine that even Saddam Hussein would be peaceably gone with the winds of changes. But then came the Gulf War , then Bosnia, then 9/11, then Afghanistan and Iraq, and the future now looks like a quagmire in which we'll be stuck fighting Islamists for God knows how long.

It's enough to make one wish to stand "athwart history, yelling Stop," except that there's no place to stand, and history won't stop, for "a storm is blowing from Paradise," blowing so forcefully that we're all of us -- Buckleys and Benjamins -- being swept helplessly along . . .

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Software to Grade Essays?

Photo by Gretchen Ertl

Here's an exciting, maybe alarming, development reported by John Markoff: "Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break" (New York Times, April 4, 2013)
Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the "send" button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program.

And then, instead of being done with that exam, imagine that the system would immediately let you rewrite the test to try to improve your grade.
Maybe we won't have to imagine much longer, because . . .
EdX, the nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer courses on the Internet, has just introduced such a system and will make its automated software available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it. The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks.
That sounds too good to be true, but I'll leave the article for interested readers to follow up on. Even if the EdX system can deliver, I doubt the software will be able to handle essays by Korean students for a good while. Of course, I've been known to be wrong.

If only there were a software program to check for that sort of wrongness . . .

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Feminists Finally Protest Against Islamism?

Amina Tyler
The Atlantic

A photojournalist report, "Femen Stages a 'Topless Jihad,'" in The Atlantic (April 4, 2013) focuses on women going topless in protests across Europe to declare a 'jihad' -- or "struggle" -- against Islamism in demonstrations over the disappearance of a Tunisian, Amina Tyler, who had posted nude photos of her torso online to express her opposition to the Islamist political party currently in power there in the aftermath of the so-called "Arab Spring":
Earlier today, members of Ukrainian feminist group Femen staged protests across Europe as they called for a "topless jihad." The demonstrations were in support of a young Tunisian activist named Amina Tyler. Last month, Tyler posted naked images of herself online, with the words "I own my body; it's not the source of anyone's honor" written on her bare chest. The head of Tunisia's "Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," reportedly called for Tyler to be stoned to death for her putatively obscene actions, lest they lead to an epidemic. Tyler has since gone quiet, leading some to fear for her safety.
Stoning, of course, is a great virtue, certainly as opposed to the horrible vice of naked breasts! Speaking of which, there's a necessary warning to those who wish to see the report:
[One can click on the link to see] images from Femen's protests today in Sweden, Italy, Ukraine, Belgium, and France. A warning, nearly every photo depicts nudity, and most contain offensive language.
Feminism in the West had long gone silent on Islamist oppression of women -- after being attacked for 'neocolonial' attitudes -- so I think that we should all be happy to see that changing, whatever we might think about nude protests.

The "Femen" -- by the way -- are a Ukrainian Feminist group, so if this is what it takes to wake Western Feminists up, then the Femen are welcome!

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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Upstarts Adapting Milton's Paradise Lost

The Milton List received a notice from a group of actors and actresses who plan an adaptation of Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost, with the performance to take place on May 4, 2013 in New York City:
I am a graduate of Yale and I wanted to let you know about an upcoming performance that The Milton Society may be interested in. Back in December, I, along with 25 other artists, began working on a theatrical adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost. The group of actors includes both newcomers and Broadway veterans. It was a daunting challenge, but under the direction of our fearless leader, Juilliard alum Michael Barakiva, we've been meeting regularly to abridge the epic poem into a fully palatable extravaganza for the stage. Now, six months later, we're ready to share the fruits of our labor with a concert reading on May 4th in New York City. We would love to share this event with you and we hope you may be able to contact your members. Please email me with further questions. Here is a link to our site.
That was sent from Lauren Coppola, one of the actresses, and because I'm interested in adaptations of Paradise Lost, I clicked on the link she provided and found the photograph above, along with these words:
The Upstart Creatures formed in December of 2012 to adapt John Milton's Paradise Lost for the stage. We are a group of artists that share the desire to create an epic experience, feeding our audience's body and soul. The current phase of our adaptation will culminate in a day-long concert reading of our adaptation, complete with two meals that will be prepared and served by the company on Saturday, May 4th in a church in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Food, you say? And not forbidden? Truly not? Twice? Sounds tempting. Plane fare is a bit steep for my tastes, though I'm sure I'd love the Upstarts' far-above-plain fare, but perhaps someone in New York City -- say Terrance Lindall -- could find time to attend and even report back.

Meanwhile, there's always this other adaptation of Milton, available here.

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Secrets . . .


I'm still reading Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey, and I just finished the chapter "Secrets," in which she writes:
The words secret and sacred are siblings. (p. 81)
Wonderful alliteration. A wonder is also sacred, though not all so sacred as it once was, before its secular wound, which will not heal, what used to be "not become whole," a resonance of holy, and we are back to sacred. And secret. And siblings. All so sibilant.

Secret has deep roots:
Middle English, from Old French, from Latin sēcrētus, from past participle of sēcernere, to set aside : sē-, apart; see s(w)e- in Indo-European roots + cernere, to separate; see krei- in Indo-European roots
The meaning "to set aside" comes close to the meaning of the Hebrew word for holy, qodesh, "to set apart," and is, anyway, the meaning given for sacred: "Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of a deity."

So . . . a secret, set apart, is sacred . . .

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Tim Ernst: Slot Canyon Falls

Tim Ernst

Since I can't actually live in the Ozarks, I do so vicariously, partly through emails from Uncle Cran about his farm and Cousin Bill about his gardening and partly through visiting Tim Ernst's website for his fine photographs of Ozark wonders in the wilderness, like this waterfall and pool situated in a hard-to-reach hollow, about which he himself has some words to say:
It took me three tries to reach this waterfall, and I've only been to it once. The route up through the narrow, SLICK, slot canyon is tricky, dangerous, and not recommened. After fighting the swift current, and making my way up the canyon without the use of any handholds (the canyon walls are very smooth and there is nothing to grab), the passage was blocked with a giant boulder. I had to climb up on top of the boulder and found this scene, which is one of my most favorite waterfall images of all time. Enjoy!
Mr. Ernst has even more to say in his entry for April 1, 2013:
I was out yesterday exploring a new area in the wilderness and found a waterfall . . . . It was a neat waterfall -- probably 25-30 feet tall -- but I could see there was something else above it -- the large sheer bluffface was broken into at least two different levels, and I wanted to get up onto that second level to see what was going on.

I worked my way along the base of the bluff a couple hundred yards to where I found a spot where an old log had fallen from above and provided a conduit for me to climb up onto the next level . . . One up on the ledge I started to make my away along the base of the new bluff back towards the waterfall . . . . and I just had to stop and shake my head and smile a little bit in wonder. There was an overhang at the bottom of the bluff about three feet tall, and it went back in a couple of feet. I love to follow along the bases of blufflines like this one - there is frequently interesting stuff right there along the ledge . . . . Another hundred yards later I came around a bend in the bluff and there it was -- the second layer of the waterfall, and this one was more beautiful than the first, spilling into an emerald pool, and surrounded by painted sandstone bluffs. That was the end of the ledge, and there was not way to climb up farther -- which I really needed to do because it looked like there might be a THIRD waterfall up there!

So I retraced my steps . . . and continued exploring along the base of the bluff until I found a spot where I could make my way all the way up to the top of the big bluff. Once on top I sat down on a moss-covered boulder and got an incredible view out across the landscape that was spread out before me. The sun was shining and it was just one of THOSE moments out there in the middle of the wilderness -- it was so serene and beautiful.

A little while later I made my way along the top of the big bluffline until I came to the waterfall drainage, and sure enough, there was indeed a third waterfall -- but it was actually down below me, and I never could find a way to get down onto the hanging bench that it poured onto.
Mr. Ernst's quest this time thus ended in failure, sadly -- but he still got a beautiful picture for his trouble, though whether of the second or third pool, I can't securely determine, but I think it's the second, insofar as I can judge from his description.

I sorely wish I could hike such paths as his off-the-path walks . . .

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Precision Dragon Flies . . .


The New York Times has a fascinating piece on dragonflies by Natalie Angier, "Nature's Drone, Pretty and Deadly" (April 1, 2013). Among the various intriguing skills is the dragonfly's incredible flying ability:
Dragonflies are magnificent aerialists, able to hover, dive, fly backward and upside down, pivot 360 degrees with three tiny wing beats, and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, lightning for an arthropod. In many insects, the wings are simple extensions of the thoracic box and are moved largely as a unit, by flexing the entire thorax. In the dragonfly, the four transparent, ultraflexible wings are attached to the thorax by separate muscles and can each be maneuvered independently, lending the insect an extraordinary range of flight options.
Back in my Ozark childhood, I would watch dragonflies do these very maneuvers, not that I realized at the time that they were sometimes flying upside down, but I did see them dive, hover, and suddenly dart backwards through the air with extraordinary quickness, acceleration, and speed. You can watch some of this, too, for the article has a number of time-lapse images showing their flight ability in slow motion, so take a look. The US military is certainly looking:
Perhaps not surprisingly, much dragonfly research both here and abroad is supported by the United States military, which sees the insect as the archetypal precision drone.
That's not just for its flying, but for its combination of skills, including extraordinary eyesight and a 95 percent kill rate when it takes off after prey!

The future is a different, dangerous country we're headed for . . .

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