Saturday, August 31, 2013

Leading Korean Mathematician Advises: Read Novels, Watch Movies

Hwang Jun-muk
Korea Herald

The prominent Korean mathematician Hwang Jun-muk -- interviewed by Oh Kyu-wook -- offers some unusual advice in "Mathematicians must be storytellers" (Korea Herald, August 28, 2013):
A good mathematician requires not only techniques but also creativity . . . . [Hwang Jun-muk] perhaps inherited his creative side from his parents. His father is traditional Korean music composer and "gayageum" master Hwang Byung-ki and his mother is one of the country's leading authors, Han Mal-sook.

"Thanks to my parents, I read a lot of books at home in my childhood. That may help me now when I present my ideas to others."

"I had a chance to talk to high school students, and I told them read novels as well as watch movies a lot to practice and improve their skills to present their ideas well in a simple and interesting way . . . . [This is] important to be a good mathematician," he added.
Why such advice?
The ability to tell stories is needed among mathematicians in Korea where the subject is still deemed boring and learned by rote, said the nation's top academic in the field.

Korean students are among the top performers in international mathematics contests, but they lag far behind in terms of interest and passion, which may account for the relatively modest performances by professional Korean researchers in the world . . . . "When I prepare for a presentation, I think hard to put my ideas into a good, interesting story. If you put all mathematical proofs just in order and present it to your audience, it will be extremely boring . . . . Korean mathematicians have good techniques and knowledge and made progress in research, but they are still not good at making a story (in comparison to Western powerhouses for advanced mathematics)."
Mathematics taught through stories! That's an unexpected reply to my query! Here's the crux of the problem:
A key stumbling block is the current educational curriculum, which has traditionally emphasized only problem-solving techniques. Also, many Korean mathematicians do not learn how to present their ideas.
In short, Hwang says that the Korean pedagogical system does not encourage creativity and the inspiration that comes with good teaching, and that means, even for mathematicians, telling stories. Is he right? Well, he surely knows more about this than I do.

But I wish the article had given an example of a story Hwang might use to teach mathematics . . .

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Dario Rivarossa, Artist and Translator, Reviews The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

Gren Spider
Dario Rivarossa

Another five-star review of my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, has appeared on Amazon:
"In the beginning there was the Word," and rarely has the Word found such a captive fan as Prof. Horace Jeffery Hodges: a keen reader of both holy and horror texts, and a writer who weighs every term. Thank God, in an era like this in which words are sold in bulk! The novel -- in this version, illustrated by the well-known Surrealist and comic artist Terrance Lindall -- reinterprets the fundamental myth of Man's Fall on the basis of the Bible and western literature in what may look like a parody but, on closer inspection, is a refined tribute. Hodges is a king of puns, and his pun-theism provides here a brilliant new episode in a literary Fantasy-Christian tradition that includes Milton, Blake, Tolkien, and CS Lewis.
I suppose I must again offer full disclosure. Dario Rivarossa, another friend of mine, posted this kind review, but I do believe he means what he writes and isn't just being nice because we're friends.

Incidentally, if I'm king of puns, Dario is the emperor! He's also an artist, a translator, and an all-around Renaissance man . . .

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Spot the Bigoted, Idiotic Jerkwad!

I noticed a jump in the number of visits to my blog recently, and upon checking my site meter for clarification, I discovered that visitors were being sent from another blog, one that had linked to my recent post on Islamophobia, so I clicked over to the other blog, only to find these words in a blog entry:
A brainless jerkwad who has the gall to call all Muslims stupid is so idiotic that he doesn't even know the difference between ethnicity and religion. This is as blatant a case of projection as I have ever seen. And I'm sorry for linking to yet another idiot but the world has got to know its bigots.
I won't link to the blogger who posted this since I wouldn't want that individual to receive nasty comments. Readers can peruse my blog entry on Islamophobia to arrive at their own conclusions as to whom the insults are directed at, but I think that "brainless jerkwad" refers to Richard Dawkins and "another idiot" means me, which implies that Dawkins is also an idiot, but what does "jerkwad" mean? I had to check slang dictionaries to be certain about the specific meaning of that one -- though I had a general idea from looking at its roots -- and I learned that it means semen caught in tissue paper.

At such a seminal stage of development, one lacks any organs at all, so I'd argue that "brainless" is redundant here and that Richard 'Haploid' Dawkins would anyway be even less than an idiot! But since I'm an unqualified idiot, my IQ may reach as high as 30! Why, that's the mental age of a three-year-old child! I at least have a brain and am therefore brighter than Dawkins! Smart enough to be a bigot!

But why isn't Jeffrey Tayler included among us jerkwads, idiots, or bigots? Or is he implicated by the company he keeps? Birdbrains of a feather flop all together?

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Leo Strauss and the Art of Writing?

Leo Strauss
From Jenny Strauss Clay
New York Times

In the New York Times Sunday Book Review is an interesting article by Steven B. Smith, "Hidden Truths: Two Books About the Legacy of Leo Strauss" (August 23, 2013), which makes the following point:
Like all serious teachers, Strauss developed followers, and like all disciples these have split over the meaning of their teacher's work. Was Strauss on the side of the ancients or the moderns? Was he a defender of biblical revelation or philosophical rationality? Was he, as he often said, a "friend of liberal democracy" or its most severe critic?
The point about followers commonly disagreeing over a teacher's intellectual legacy is true, though I'd wager that such antithetical disagreement is rather rarer.

Perhaps we should attribute these radically opposed disagreements to Strauss's putting into practice the insights of his most prominent text, Persecution and the Art of Writing, in which he argues that a serious writer writes not openly, but esoterically, layering a work with multiple meanings, hiding them under allusion, irony, contradiction, and paradox.

But would such a reading be a hermeneutic of suspicion . . . or of belief?

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jeffrey Tayler on "Islamophobia"

In the Salon article "Richard Dawkins is not an Islamophobe" (August 24, 2013), the writer Jeffrey Tayler argues that Nathan Lean's recent "attack on the renowned atheist" Dawkins as an Islamophobe is nothing more than an attempt "to squelch honest conversation about religion" in general and about Islam in particular.

The proximate cause for Lean's ire was Dawkins tweet on August 8th that, "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though." Lean was not the sole critic, of course. Dawkins was widely criticized. But as Tayler notes, Dawkins has a point:
The fact Dawkins presents -- that so few Muslims have won Nobel Prizes -- does raise legitimate . . . questions that Dawkins himself addresses in a blog post about the controversy he stirred up by his tweet. He points out that in view of the grandiose claims advanced by some Muslims for the "science" contained in the Quran, it's rather depressing to note that not much by way of science has come out of the Muslim world in the past 500 years, and it behooves us, and certainly Muslims, to ask why. Dawkins also wonders why Jewish people, with infinitesimal demographic stature, have won 120 Nobels, whereas the 1.6 billion-strong Muslim world can boast of only 10 (and six of those were Peace Prizes).
The question is legitimate. The general response, however, has been to call anyone raising the question an Islamophobe, and Lean is particularly apt to do so, having written an entire book on The Islamophobia Industry. Tayler dismisses this label as unworthy of being taken seriously:
"Islamophobia" is nothing more than a quack pseudo-diagnosis suggesting pathological prejudice against, and fear of, a supposedly neutral subject, Islam, in the way agoraphobic folk cringe at open places or claustrophobes dread an elevator. Based on the erroneous premise that those who criticize Islam are somehow ill, the term, along with its adjective "Islamophobic," should be banished from our lexicon as pernicious to rational thinking. People, regardless of race or creed, deserve equal rights and respect; religions, which are essentially hallowed ideologies, merit no a priori respect, but, rather, gimlet-eyed scrutiny, the same scrutiny one would apply to, say, communism, conservatism or liberalism. No one has a right to wield religion as a shield -- or as a sword . . . . Surely, Lean imagined that he could mount the podium shouting "Islamophobe!" at Dawkins and hold forth unopposed, or he would not have ventured into print with such a maladroit, bungling critique. But the age of politically correct timidity in the face of religious zealots and their apologist shills has, thankfully, come to an end.
Political correctness in its death throes? Let's hope so. But I would point out that the word "Islamophobia" is only superficially used as designating a pathology. Its deeper use is as a term of moral opprobrium, condemning the supposed Islamophobe as one whose illness rightfully invites disdain, as in "That's sick."

Not diagnosis, but exclusion, banishment to the intellectual equivalent of a lepers' isle . . .

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Matthew Schrier's Conversion to Islam: Cynical? Stockholm Syndrome? Or Nonpathological?

Matthew Schrier
New York Times

Was Matthew Schrier cynical, pathological, or nonpathological in his conversion decision while a captive of Islamist jihadists in Syria? Consider the following sequence described by C. J. Chivers in "American Tells of Odyssey as Prisoner of Syrian Rebels" (New York Times, August 22, 2013). First, some torture:
Now was Mr. Schrier's turn.

Wearing masks, his jailers led him out, sat him down and forced a car tire over his knees. They slid a wooden rod behind his legs, locking the tire in place. Then they rolled him over. Mr. Schrier was face down on a basement floor, he said, legs immobilized, bare feet facing up.

"Give him 115," one of his captors said in English, as they began whipping his feet with a metal cable.

When the torture ended Mr. Schrier could not walk.
Then, 'conversion':
Mr. Schrier converted to Islam in March, he said, which improved his relations with the kidnappers and brought an added benefit: His jailers gave him something to read, an English-language Koran.
Finally, freedom:
[His] cell was in a basement; the mesh and welding on one window was damaged and had been only partially repaired.

Mr. Schrier . . . unraveled wires, opening a hole large enough to fit his head and one arm. But he got stuck and had to return inside and rewire the mesh . . . . After a few days, . . . Mr. Schrier opened a larger hole . . . . Mr. Schrier said, he pushed both arms out and followed with his head.

He passed through.
The article doesn't say anything about the reasons for Mr. Schrier's so-called 'conversion' -- we're left to wonder if he was cynical or caught up in profound psychological identification with his captors, a pathology known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Jihadists often pressure their non-Muslim captives to convert, promising them better treatment. There are even cases of forced conversions, as with Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig back in 2006. The two journalists were held at gunpoint and forced to recite the shahada, Islam's conversion formula.

Odd, that the article doesn't ever broach the issue, not even to let readers know if Schrier's conversion was possibly nonpathological and genuine, and if so, for what reasons . . .

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Daniel Acosta on Art and Science: The Golden Ratio

My old Baylor friend Daniel Acosta, who double-majored in biology and English literature, now works as a gastroenterologist in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he often muses on art and science and writes about his musings for a "local medical magazine," the Coastal Bend Magazine, in which he some time ago published a piece titled "The Chambered Nautilus," partly inspired through a trip taken by him and his wife to an isolated bed-and-breakfast place in the Texas Hill Country, where he glimpsed a 'miracle':
One morning as I sat on the porch sipping my coffee, something that lay on the fence caught my eye. It was a beautiful fossilized seashell, a chambered nautilus well preserved by Time's loving hands. The owner of the place told me "Oh yeah, I found those laying around here, I guess this place lay under the sea a long time ago." He kindly gave me one as a gift. When I first held the fossil in my hand I tried to contain my joy, as I wanted to blurt out like Everyman in the old English play and say, "This matter is wondrous, precious!" The chambered nautilus has always fascinated me for its immeasurable beauty, its unique blend of mathematical construct and natural artistry. Now I begin to imagine that this fossil represented the most primordial form of the shell, the Ur-Nautilus itself. Here, despite the layers of millions of years that it had sat on this Central Texas soil, one could make out in its primitive form the wonderful logarithmic spiral that is the mathematical basis of the shell's architecture. I took my treasure home and it now sits proudly on my bookshelf at home next to a modern day chambered nautilus.

The logarithmic spiral of the chambered nautilus is of course one of the most exquisite examples of the Golden Ratio. The Golden ratio is that magical irrational number which is the mathematical basis of the logarithmic spiral that we see in seashells, whirlpools, the spiral construct of a pine cone and the phyllotaxic arrangement of leaves in many plants. The number was first discovered by Euclid in 300 BC when he defined how to divide a line into "the mean and extreme ratio." Namely, that "A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater segment to the lesser."


That simply means that the ratio of the line AB to AC is equal to the ratio of AC to CB. The number of this ratio, it turns out is an irrational number with the value of 1.61803 ad infinitum (much like pi is an irrational number of 3.14 ad infinitum). In fact, the Golden Ratio is also called phi (with its corresponding Greek symbol).
The miracle glimpsed was, of course, the spira mirabilis, a fossilized version of the modern-day exemplar that sits on Danny's bookshelf, as depicted in the photo above, which he recently sent me.

I am fortunate to have friends in the sciences with such broad educations as Danny Acosta and, naturally, Pete Hale, both of whom combine art and science in their lives . . .

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ken Askew, Former White House Speechwriter, Recommends The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

At last appears a review of my book on the Amazon site, and I couldn't ask for a more positive recommendation:
Horace Jeffrey Hodges is the Umberto Eco of beer novels. And a whole lot funnier. He's also a terrific storyteller, not to mention a teacher. I learned something on every page and enjoyed every lesson. Highly recommended.
Short but sweet, though my name should read "Horace Jeffery Hodges," but I certainly won't quibble. Full disclosure, however: The reviewer, Ken Askew, is an old friend who goes all the way back to my Baylor days. But I believe he wouldn't have praised my novella if he didn't mean it.

Ken, by the way, is himself an excellent writer with a stellar career in speechwriting and has published a long, very funny article on his experiences as a speechwriter, "Confessions of a Wounded Speechwriter," of which the most humorous anecdote concerned a whistle-stop tour by the elder Bush during the 1992 re-election campaign:
[I]f I never write another successful speech, Bush [at least] provided me with the high point of my career.

It happened during the desperate last days of perhaps the worst-run presidential re-election campaign in recent history, when some genius in our camp decided Bush should embark on a whistle-stop tour through the heartland. The team rounded up a train, gussied it with bunting and POTUS (President of The United States) was off and running, sort of.

The trick to campaign speeches is to string a couple dozen policy ideas together, each pearl a standalone point so the press gets to choose its bits. It helps to punch each pearl with a one-line zinger.

One idea before us this particular day was the long-standing Democratic control of Congress -- 38 years. In a moment of giddy fatigue, I threw out the line, "Thirty-eight years? That's 266 dog years!" It was so lame we put it in triple brackets to flag it for the president's review and moved on to the next idea. What I failed to understand was the president's fascination with dogs. Dogs are completely wonderful, according to Bush. He loved the line.

He used it at 8 a.m. to a crowd of half-asleep supporters at the first whistle-stop. It met with confused silence. What did the leader of the free world just say? Something about Congress and dog years?

On the way to the next scheduled stop, the president retired to the back of the train with his #2 pencil and wrote furiously.

Next stop, he tried the joke again. Again, confused silence. A sprinkling of polite titters. Back in the train, he barked out requests for more facts and figures. Next stop, lo and behold, the same dog-year joke, the same response. But this time, a paragraph later, POTUS describes the Pentagon budget in dollars, multiplies it by seven and calls it dog-dollars. The crowd begins to catch on.

You get the picture. By day's end the speech was crammed with facts and figures, each multiplied by seven. Dog-years. Dog-dollars. Dog-this. Dog-that. And as the train pulled out of the last station at dusk, the crowd was actually chanting, "Twenty-eight more years! Twenty-eight more years!"

Parturientes montes murem ridiculosum pepererunt: The mountains went into labor and there emerged a ridiculous mouse. It was my finest seven hours.

Until the next morning, when The New York Times, front page below the fold, suggested perhaps the leader of the free world had lost his mind. Time to rewrite.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ken Askew, humorist and gentleman . . .

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Camille Paglia: Ever Bracing to Read!

In Tracy Clark-Flory's recent Salon interview of Camille Paglia, the ever-bracing Paglia -- who seems to be channeling Samuel Huntington, at least in part -- had this to say about global threats faced now and in the future:
The escalating instability not just in Egypt but throughout the Mideast is very ominous. There is a clash of cultures brewing in the world that may take a century or more to resolve -- and there is no guarantee that the secular West will win . . . . The true mission of feminism today is not to carp about the woes of affluent Western career women but to turn the spotlight on life-and-death issues affecting women in the Third World, particularly in rural areas where they have little protection against exploitation and injustice.
These two statements come in response to different questions, but they deserve to be tied together, for Islamism -- though Paglia wasn't focusing solely on specifically this -- poses the greatest threat to the successful secularism of the West and to the rights of women around the world.

And to be frank, Islam itself hasn't done much in the world recently for either secularism or women's rights . . .

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Translating Yi Gwang-su: The Soil

Yi Gwang-su

I finally finished proofreading Yi Gwang-su's novel The Soil, or rather, I stopped my proofing upon reaching the last word in the novel, for the proofreading process is truly endless -- ever approaching 'perfection,' but never attaining it, like a protagonist in one of Zeno's Paradoxes. Consider this paragraph:
The train was running on the steel bridge of Salyeoul Village. "Salyeoul! How lovely is that name!" Sung looked down at the water flowing under the bridge. Dark water still wore the summer night. As his eyes followed its course upstream, the milky-white fog of the valley, more typical of early autumn, grew visible. Over the moisture-soaked ground and over the softly murmuring water, the white fog was spreading, one of the most evocative beauties of nature.
For instance, take this part: "Salyeoul! How lovely is that name!" I'd now be tempted to remove "is": "Salyeoul! How lovely that name!" Or rewrite these words: "Dark water still wore the summer night." I might now try: "The dark water was still clothed in summer night." I could do much the same with every line. From: "As his eyes followed its course upstream, the milky-white fog of the valley, more typical of early autumn, grew visible." To: "As his eyes followed the watercourse upstream, the milky-white fog of the valley, more typical of early autumn, grew visible." And from: "Over the moisture-soaked ground and over the softly murmuring water, the white fog was spreading, one of the most evocative beauties of nature." To: "Over the moisture-soaked ground and over the softly murmuring water, the white fog was spreading, a most evocative beauty of nature." Combined, along with still other changes, including small changes in already altered phrses:
The train was crossing the steel bridge near Salyeoul Village. "Salyeoul! How lovely that name!" Sung looked down at the water flowing under the bridge. The dark depths were still clothed in summer night. As his eyes followed the watercourse upstream, the milky-white fog of the valley, more typical of early autumn, grew visible. Over the moisture-soaked ground and over the softly murmuring water, the white fog was spreading, a most evocative beauty of nature.
Does that sound better? Readers are also free to try their hand at this . . .

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How People Love Craft . . .

H. P. Lovecraft

I was just today reflecting on my debt to H. P. Lovecraft's works for my Bottomless Bottle of Beer novella, and what should I come across in my daily newspaper reading, but none other than a report on NecronomiCon, "the largest celebration ever of his work and influence"! You, too, can read about this -- if you dare -- in the Associated Press report, "NecronomiCon to celebrate work, influence of early 20th century horror writer HP Lovecraft" (Washington Post, August 2013), by Michelle R. Smith:
Lovecraft's fans want to give the writer his due, and this month are holding what they say is the largest celebration ever of his work and influence. It's billed the "NecronomiCon," named after a Lovecraft creation: a book that was so dark and terrible that a person could barely read a few pages before going insane. The Aug. 22-25 convention is being held in Providence, where he lived and died -- poor and obscure -- at age 46 in 1937 . . . . He combined horror with science fiction and developed what is commonly referred to as cosmicism, the idea that man is inconsequential in the universe, that there are forces that defy human understanding in the cosmos, represented by gods or creatures who are far more powerful than us but also indifferent to us. To them, we are like ants or specks of dust. When we get in their way, we will be destroyed.
Some of these Lovecraftian ideas appear in my novella:
Mr. Webster explained, "Lovecraft, of course . . . . When I was reading his stories, I looked him up in Providence. He knew of me through Stephen Benét, a friend of mine, so he was willing to meet. That was during the time of my research on horror stories. Howard intrigued me because of his obsession with forbidden knowledge. He felt, and I use this word advisedly, he felt with his entire being that some knowledge was deadly. To know it is to be fatally marked. I recognized the connection to the scriptural story of forbidden fruit, though Howard always claimed a more direct genealogy to the Prometheus myth. But I gather you aren't very familiar with these old stories," he observed, lowering upon me a critical eye. I shook my head. "Well, that's unfortunate. Anyway, I learned that many of Howard's stories originated in dreams, and he considered those dreams -- nightmares, really -- to be inklings of forbidden truths. He died young, so perhaps he was on to something there." Mr. Webster shook his head at that unhappy thought and changed the subject.
And, of course, the central obscure object of desire in my novella -- Shoggoth's Old Peculiar -- comes from Lovecraft by way of Neal Gaiman. Anyway, I only learned of this convention on the 20th of August (2013), Seoul Time, so I wouldn't be able to make the convention even if I were the sociable sort, for it's coming up too soon, and hey, this is crazy, but here's the website, so call them maybe.

But even if not, Cthulhu will be calling you . . .

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Heffalump Strikes Again!

Elephant Smack!

One of my former students sent me this photo of her altercation with an Asian Elephant, and she wrote:
I'll send you an amusing picture of me in Phuket which was taken during my family trip this summer!

Hope this picture makes you laugh. ;)
Seeing nothing funny in this attack by a wild elephant, I responded:
Did that elephant really punch you in the mouth?
Jae Youn replied:
Wow! I thought of it as more of a kiss . . .

But that's an interesting interpretation ;)

You are always funny!! ha-ha :D
But that's obviously no kiss! It's a hard smack on the lips! There could be blood-uh! Not funny!

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Proofing The Soil

Although this image above already appears on Amazon, the book is not yet in print. In fact, I'm in the middle of proofing it -- I've reached page 401 and have 338 more pages to proof.

Here's what Amazon says of the book:
A major, never before translated novel by the author of Mujông / The Heartless -- often called the first modern Korean novel -- The Soil tells the story of an idealist dedicating his life to helping the inhabitants of the rural community in which he was raised. Striving to influence the poor farmers of the time to improve their lots, become self-reliant, and thus indirectly change the reality of colonial life on the Korean peninsula, The Soil was vitally important to the social movements of the time, echoing the effects and reception of such English-language novels as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.
And that's all I have time for today since I need to return to proofreading . . .

Sunday, August 18, 2013


An intellectual dialogue over the concept of "directangular" . . .

Jeanie: "I tell you, it was directangular!"

En-Uk: "Was it truly directangular?"

Mr. Scott: (under his breath) "There is no directangular, not as Jeanie meant it . . ."

Mr. Scott: (thinking) "Maybe if I just ignore this issue of directangular . . ."

Mr. Scott: "Okay, I'll say it plain as day -- there is no directangular in that sense!"

Mr. Scott: "Just ask a creature with horse sense about directangular."

Horse: "Mr. Scott's right -- there is no directangular of that sort!"

En-Uk: "But Jeanie was so sure. Let's put the question of directangular to Nature."

Sa-Rah: "Nature is rendering her decision on directangular."

Sa-Rah: "Well, Nature seems to be telling us that crawdads aren't directangular . . ."

But the search continues . . .

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Limits to Therapeutic Worldview?

Breaking Bad
Christianity Today

Back in the 1980s, in Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah examined the limits of what is at times called the "therapeutic worldview," namely, that view of human evil that imagines treating it in purely therapeutic terms, as though that evil were merely a pathology from which a person needs to be healed, with no moral judgment rendered.

Recently, I read a review of the television series Breaking Bad that shows how its creator, Vince Gilligan, also sees the limits of that view: David Zahl, "The Frightening -- But Biblical -- Moral Logic of 'Breaking Bad'" (Christianity Today, August 9, 2013):
Anguished after committing murder in cold blood, Walt's long-suffering former-student-turned-accomplice Jesse Pinkman attends a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in hopes of finding relief. After Jesse shares a thinly veiled version of his own crime, the group leader counsels self-acceptance. "We're not here to sit in judgment," he says, to which Jesse explodes:
Why not? Why not? . . . If you just do stuff and nothing happens, what's it all mean? What's the point? . . . So no matter what I do, hooray for me because I'm a great guy? It's all good? No matter how many dogs I kill, I just -- what, do an inventory, and accept?
Jesse rejects a world in which his transgression garners no consequence or cost. He seems to know that clemency must have some basis, that as much as we might wish it were so, absolution cannot be conjured out of thin air, at least not if it is going to address a truly guilty conscience.
Zahl, as might be expected, has the answer in his review for Jesse's dilemma, but he's not too heavy-handed about that answer, and the review itself has merit.

Full disclosure: I've never watched even a YouTube clip of Breaking Bad . . .

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Ozark Dinner at Home of Uncle Woodrow and Aunt Pauline

The other day about 11 in the morning Seoul time, I called my brother John in my hometown, hoping to talk with my wife, expecting her and the kids to be home around 9 in the evening Salem time, but they had not yet left the feast at the home of my Uncle Woodrow and Aunt Pauline, a feast that began like this:

That looks like a pretty hearty meal, and Sa-Rah has to do all she can to beat En-Uk to the table first:

Apparently, she succeeds:

But En-Uk recovers and steps up to the plate:

The sit-down meal looks more civilized:

Afterwards, Sa-Rah reports to Uncle Woodrow on how she won three plane tickets on the EBS Quiz Show:

Cousin Martha listens to the same tale, though rather more skeptically:

Aunt Virginia is all smiles, perhaps laughing at a clock that's right only twice a day:

And that's all I have to show until my wife provides more photos, perhaps when she and the kids arrive this Friday evening . . .

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Verlyn Klinkenborg on E-Books

To Have But Not Hold?
Amazon Preview

Verlyn Klinkenborg has some bad news for my e-book . . . well, for all e-books:
I finish reading a book on my iPad -- one by Ed McBain, for instance -- and I shelve it in the cloud. It vanishes from my "device" and from my consciousness too. It's very odd.
Um . . . just a brief aside, but does that "It's" misfire? Twice before ("it" and "It"), this pronoun refers back to the term "e-book," but the pronoun here ("It's") would seem more generally meant to refer back to the experience of reading, shelving, and 'banishing' the e-book. Could one better say: "How very odd"? Or does Klinkenborg literally mean that the e-book itself is very odd? It's possible . . . Anyway, back to his observations:
When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book -- its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed. Amazon reminds me that I've already bought the e-book I'm about to order. In bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time, books I've already read on my iPad.
Though he says he remembers only the text of an e-book, even that doesn't seem tightly fixed, or he wouldn't need reminding by Amazon not to order an e-book he already has!

Whichever the case -- remember or not -- Klinkenborg, in "Books to Have and to Hold" (New York Times, August 10, 2013), conveys bad news for my own e-book, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. It is eminently -- and imminently (but not quite immanently) -- forgettable!

Now, what was I talking about? Ah, yes, being wedded to the physical book . . .

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ahmad Akkari: Former Islamist Now Supports Free Speech?

Ahmad Akkari
Google Images

The Washington Post has recently published an AP report, "In surprise reversal, Danish Muslim leader regrets role in rage over Muhammad cartoons" (August 9, 2013), in which Ahmad Akkari speaks of his changing views on Islamism:
Danish Muslim leader [Ahmad Akkari] . . . seven years ago traveled the Muslim world fueling the uproar over newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad . . . . [by acting as] a leading critic of the Danish cartoons . . . [and by sparking] fiery protests in Muslim countries [and serving as] . . . . the spokesman for a group of imams who led the protests against the drawings in Denmark [when they] traveled to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria to elicit support, saying the Danish government wouldn't listen to their concerns.

Their journeys helped turn the dispute into an international crisis. Dozens were killed in weeks of protests that included violent attacks against Danish missions in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Tiny Denmark found itself on a collision course with the Muslim world.
I think most of us remember that Islamist violence threatening free speech in the West. Interestingly, Akkari himself now opposes the views he held at that time:
"I want to be clear today about the trip: It was totally wrong," Akkari told The Associated Press this week. "At that time, I was so fascinated with this logical force in the Islamic mindset that I could not see the greater picture. I was convinced it was a fight for my faith, Islam."

He said he's still a practicing Muslim but started doubting his fundamentalist beliefs after a 2007 trip to Lebanon, where he met Islamist leaders.

"I was shocked. I realized what an oppressive mentality they have," Akkari said.
Akkari now apparently supports free speech:
Once a leading critic of the Danish cartoons, which sparked fiery protests in Muslim countries, Lebanese-born Ahmad Akkari now says the Jyllands-Posten newspaper had the right to print them.
Why the about-face? In his visit to Lebanon, he encountered Islamists even more radical than he was, and he probably realized that any disagreement with them would be settled through violence rather than dialogue, which likely gave him perspective on his own role as an oppressive Islamist opposed to a free society.

But I'm merely guessing . . .

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Art and Science: Examples

Venus Dome
Michael Brown

The Mike Weiss Gallery, located in New York City, regularly sends me emails announcing exhibitions and recently sent an announcement of Schematics and Silhouettes, "Michael Brown's first solo exhibition with the gallery." Gazing at the above structure, among others, I was reminded of Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity icosahedrons, tetrahedrons, hemispheres, and spheres, and sure enough, some of Brown's "work envisions massive structures built into the landscape and recalls the synergetic work of Buckminster Fuller, perhaps embodying its own never-realized blueprint." Talk about being on the mark!

I therefore sent an email to the very person who introduced me to Fuller, my old friend Pete Hale (father of the famous Benjamin Hale), who is now a physicist, but even as a young teenager, he was already reading Fuller's impenetrable prose -- so block-full of nominalized phrases and clauses (even if Fuller himself did seem to be a verb) -- and was already understanding enough of Fuller's message to construct his own tensegrity models! In my email, I told him:
Thought this might interest you.
Soon replying, Pete wrote:
Thanks, it does indeed, thanks for sending the link. Very cool stuff.

I can't remember if I've run by you my recent sudden revisit (if "recent sudden" includes revisiting something I've not touched for about forty years!) of things tensegritive? You might recall those Bucky Fuller things I made back in the day made of wooden dowels and wire, right? Well, recently for no real reason I can figure, I suddenly found myself wanting to go back and build a "big" one. So, I did, a few weeks back. Some entertaining machining (the end caps), some dirt-cheap farmer's aluminum irrigation tubing (or piping, maybe more accurate; 2" OD x ~ 40" long) that probably weren't so cheap by the time I finished with them, some nice stainless eye bolts offa eBay, and some nice shiny wire from an old electric fence charger I used to have (don't ask), and voila, there you go! This is the "classic" icosahedron, though more properly actually a truncated tetrahedron, celebrated for its "simple as it gets" depiction of our good old three-dimensional world: two parallel struts per dimension, each mutually orthogonal. I love these things, I have to admit. So anyhow, now this one is sitting out on our patio, proudly taking up space.
I do indeed recall those early Bucky spheres, especially the fact that I accidentally broke one! Pete was describing how stable the spheres are, so I said, "Even if I smash it to the floor?" And I smashed it to the floor! Hah! Not so stable! As I said, an accident . . . Anyway, Pete supplied a photo of this "recent sudden" construction, so I asked permission to post it, to which Pete assented:
Sure, no problem using it however you'd like. I have some dim aspirations of upgrading the "tendons" to use super-strong, pliable multi-strand stainless steel aircraft control cable (actually quite inexpensive, and beautiful), which I think would get it to a point that it would be "viable" to bring to my little city's attention, with respect to a pretty serious outdoor art (sculpture) effort they have here (i.e., local art all up and down the Main Street of town; Lafayette's got a strong local art presence, etc.). Kind of tricky to work with though, so maybe here when I've got more time again, I hope. When you get all 24 of the tendons just right, and very tight, the entire thing globally "rings like a bell", which is a very cool effect. So anyhow, that's the latest on that thing.
Just as this blogpost promises: science and art! Like the music of the spheres! Here's the photo:

Pete Hale

Pete's right. These things are beautiful! Wonder how stable this big one is . . . But let's focus on the beauty of tensegrity structures, as Pete did when he showed a work of art recognized officially as art by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Leo Villareal's Bucky Ball:

Bucky Ball

I think the photo was taken by Pete himself, for he writes:
While digging this photo [of my Icosahedron] up, I happened upon another, of a stunning thing that sits outside at the really magnificent "Crystal Bridges" fine art museum in Bentonville AR (are you familiar with the place? When the question of just what those Waltons do with all that money comes up, all you got to do is tell them, "Well, this, for one" . . .). (Yeah, yeah, that, and worldwide hegemony, complete soulless destruction of the working class, etc. etc.) It is quite a marvel, if you're into such things . . .
I'm into looking at such things, and these reminded me of an earlier blogpost on Edgar Meyers, a retired scientist now into making large-scale molecular art! I sent a link to Pete, who got quite excited about the artwork:
Oh my, those ARE some marvelous things Meyers is creating there! Fantastic. It's also super-cool to see someone generate art like that using CNC [computer numerical control] techniques, I'll have to direct a number of CNC freak friends to that. (More than one of whom are constantly trying to talk me into going there, so far unsuccessfully . . . stinkin computers, I about get my fill of them, as it is . . .). I'll also have to see if my friend/partner Sammy Henderson (born in Delight AR, physics PhD TAMU about 1986 I believe) knows him.

His designs remind me strongly too of scanning tunneling microscopy [STM] images; a good few years ago I was crazy to build my own such instrument (which, amazingly, really can be done, with some care), but that one guttered out on me unfortunately. Tho, I do still have a small pile of stuff that I gathered up to do it. STM is the ground-breaking first-ever technique that permitted direct (well, as direct as quantum mechanics allows I suppose) imaging of individual atoms. I always figured it'd be mighty cool to gin that up at home, and look at atoms . . . !
For readers who missed the scientific art of Meyers, here's his website. Go there, admire, and encourage . . . if you're so inclined.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Down on the Farm with Uncle Cran

Today, Gypsy Scholar brings to readers the occasional Ozark farm report issued randomly by Uncle Cran, and replete with photos! First comes En-Uk's driving lesson:

According to Uncle Cran:
En-Uk was leery about driving the ATV, but this morning he finally got his nerves calmed and made a couple of rounds in the yard, with Sa-Rah doing the "back seat driving" and showing him what to do.
Sa-Rah has no qualms about taking control:

As Uncle Cran tells us:
Sa-Rah is a brave girl. She is ready to give the cows their ration of range cubes.
She heads out on her job:

Uncle Cran explains:
As you can see, the cows are ready and waiting, but Sa-Rah thought I should drive and distribute the feed. Since no one else was available to make a photo, there's no picture of us doing the actual feeding.
We'll have to assume they did the deed -- and just skip to the next activity:

Ah, my mysterious wife:
I thought we should send you a picture of Sun-Ae, as she is the mysterious lady who seldom gets into the picture album, since she is doing most of the picture taking. Sa-Rah is getting ready to take her for a drive across the field.
The two next appear far off in the field:

Only now does Uncle Cran note the danger:
Bravely driving past the cow herd they are going across the 50 acre pasture. Sa-Rah drove her mom all over the field. She must have been driving pretty fast, as when they were was off in the distance, I thought I heard Sun-Ae scream once.
Despite the risk, they appear to be surviving:

Uncle Cran admits to uncertainty:
[The photo before this one] may have been on their return trip . . . . I am not sure about that.

But this is after their lengthy tour, and return to the driveway.
I see no driveway, just an enormous field, but who am I to doubt Uncle Cran's word? Anyway, more photos are promised:
Sun-Ae had her camera with her, but I am not sure when she will send them. She has made several snapshots while here with us.
If she sends them, I will post . . .

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer: Only 20 Feet from Stardom . . . Briefly

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer
Amazon Kindle Free Preview

A couple of days ago, my novella was 20 Feet from Stardom, but in the weirdest category! As I noted in emails to friends:
Although there are no readers' reviews yet, for a brief shining moment, the BBB was -- rather oddly -- a 'bestseller' in the Kindle category of Fantasy Superhero:
"Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77 in Kindle Store: Kindle eBooks: Literature: Fiction: Fantasy: Superhero"
I'll need to re-read my own story looking for that occulted superhero . . .
But near fame is fleeting, for by the time I contacted friends to brag to, my novella was already slipping:
PS But the ranking is constantly changing (now 84) . . .
Apparently, a book need not sell many copies to make the top hundred seller list in a sufficiently minor category. But which character is a 'superhero'? The only individual who qualifies as a hero, I suppose, is Dan Webster, who does seem gifted with a super-vivifying power, in the sense that he survived his own death. His 'heroics,' however, consist in his rhetorical powers of persuasion, which -- though impressive -- are not superhuman, nor are they the sort of power one expects in a superhero.

I hope all visitors to this blogpost are by now sufficiently intrigued to read my novella and offer their opinion to this overwhelming question: "Who is the fantasy superhero in The Bottomless Bottle of Beer?"

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

My Wife and Kids Visiting the Ozarks . . .

Last Redoubt of Western Civilization?

My wife finally took some photos and some time to forward the images to me. The picture above is of the Great Wall of the Ozarks. The wall was never finished, which explains how we hillbillies originally got in . . .

Sa-Rah and En-Uk Practice Sign Language

Preparing to communicate with my local hillbilly relatives, my children rehearse the intricate semaphore of sock, tissy, phone -- or something like that, some sort of pidgen language developed for intercommunication . . .

En-Uk Takes a First Step

Hardest of the steps to take in establishing contact with the resident hillbillies is that initial step!

Ritual Bath: En-Uk and Sa-Rah Adjust the Holy Goggles

Before outsiders can be fully trusted, they must undergo "some farcical aquatic ceremony," a ridiculous event that is taken very seriously and never ridiculed.

Trusted Members of the Tribe

En-Uk and Sa-Rah now belong to my Ozark Family! Sun-Ae's fate remains obscure to the camera, but the smiles seem friendly enough . . .

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Science and Humanities . . . Together!

Professor Choe Jae-chun
Photo by Kim Myung-sub
The Korea Herald

Professor Choe Jae-chun, interviewed by Oh Kyu-wook in "An evangelist of science, humanities convergence" (The Korea Herald, August 8, 2013), reminds me why I chose history of science for my graduate degrees:
Choe's talent crosses disciplines. The renowned animal behavior expert, ecologist and bio-sociologist has built a career far beyond the stereotypes of a scientist.

He first came to prominence in 2005 by introducing Korea to the concept of consilience -- linking together principles from different disciplines -- after translating "Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge" (1998) by Edward O. Wilson, the doyen of sociobiology, under whom he studied at Harvard.

Trumpeted as a map to a Theory of Everything, Wilson's magnum opus describes the synthesis of knowledge from different fields and gave a fresh impetus to interdisciplinary studies in Korea's academia in which high walls divided natural, social and human sciences, blocking collaboration and progression.
I'm totally in favor of cross-disciplinary communication, even collaboration when possible, but the risk is that one discipline will attempt to dominate (and guess which one when sociobiology's one of the disciplines!). At its best, however, the cross-disciplinary effort is uplifting:
Choe was named a junior fellow of the Michigan Society of Fellows and taught at the University of Michigan from 1992 to 1994. He said his three years in Michigan were among the best times of his life.

"There were about 12 junior fellows, all with different backgrounds, when I was there. We had lunch together every Wednesday, and every time we discussed different subjects."

"One day we brought up the question of why the middle class exists. We couldn't finish the discussion after lunch and continued it until 2 a.m. the next morning."

He said he realized the importance of integrated studies while discussing more than 200 subjects with his fellow scholars.

"I really miss that time. I wish we could do the same thing here," he said.
Although I never took part in a discussion that lasted fourteen hours, I've often participated in long, wide-ranging conversation on various topics, both as an undergraduate student in Baylor University's Honors Program and as a graduate student in UC Berkeley's History of Science Office, so I know very well what Professor Choe misses.

Sometime, perhaps, Professor Choe Jae-chun can preside over long conversations at Ewha Womans University, where he teaches, and if those conversation take place in English, I would hope to be there among the discussants . . .

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