Monday, September 30, 2013

Russell Shorto on Liberty and Individuality

Anne Frank in 1941
Frans Dupont/Anne Frank House
New York Times

In the guise of a travel article, "The Ghosts of Amsterdam" (NYT, September 27, 2013), Russell Shorto pens a lovely, meditative piece on the intimate connection between liberty and individuality, concluding with thoughts on the symbolic meaning of Amsterdam triggered by a walk taken there by him and his daughter:
Eva and I walked past the Anne Frank House . . . and found a canal-side cafe. Of course, our walk had been in part a typical parental ploy to instill something meaningful in a child. I asked Eva what she thought about it. She answered by saying, "Have you read Oliver Sacks? He's amazing."

I instantly recognized the non sequitur as a classic teenage gambit to thwart parental pedagogy, but it still worked. I was disoriented: surely it hadn't been that long ago that she was enthralled by "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Since when had she grown up to become a reader of neuroscientific case studies? Who was this person?

Then I recalled something that Otto Frank had written. He was the only member of the family to survive the war. He'd been stunned when he read the diary that his teenage daughter had left behind, and said it made him feel that he had never really known her.

What surprised him, was, I think, the very thing that made the diary an international sensation. It vividly displays both what Amsterdam's history has always been about and what the Nazi occupation so vibrantly threatened: the mysterious complexity that is the individual human being.

This girl who would soon have the life crushed out of her represents not just the others who died without leaving words behind, but all of us. She showed us what human individuality is. And she did it, surprisingly enough, in the same way Rembrandt did: by painting a portrait.

As her father was shocked, and embarrassed, to discover, her diary reveals a full, deep, complicated person, who insists on continuing with her adolescent's journey of self-discovery even as the swastikas paraded by outside: "It's funny, but I can sometimes see myself as others see me. I take a leisurely look at the person called 'Anne Frank' and browse through the pages of her life as though she were a stranger."

If ghosts who represent stages in the rise of individual freedom still haunt the streets of Amsterdam, making the city itself far greater than the sum of its museums and tourist sites, for me the spirit of this girl stands out above all the others because, in addition, she showed how fragile that freedom is.
At a time when theocratic views pressed upon the world by fanatics who would murder, and have murdered, to kill liberty and individuality, we should reflect deeply on Shorto's words . . .


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bearcat?! I thought you said Beercat!


As I -- blithely unaware of carefully watchful eyes -- sat relaxed, casually reading the weekend New York Times, the cat called "Scat" crept surreptitiously up on my beer . . .

Fortunately for me, he was caught in that very criminal fact!

My wife's acute eye and quick response captured the guilty kitty red-nosed!

Confronted with this incontrovertible evidence, Scat reacted with . . . utter indifference.

Burdened by neither shame nor guilt, our sociopathic felines act solely upon their will to power, a truly Nietzschean species that fears neither God nor the Devil, nor even us . . .

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mere Islamophobia?

Abdirizak Bihi
The Daily Caller

According to Charles C. Johnson, the "Somali-American leader [Abdirizak Bihi] . . . 'tried to warn America' about homegrown radicalization" (The Daily Caller, September 23, 2013), but was thwarted by CAIR, one of whose leaders says, "Who cares?":
The Council on American Islamic Relations repeatedly tried to stop a Minnesota community leader from warning about the dangers al-Qaida-linked group posed to the Somali-American community prior to the Kenyan mall massacre.
The Council on American Islamic Relations -- that's CAIR -- is the very group that tried to thwart Abdirizak Bihi's work against the Al-Qaida-style Islamism of Somali-American radicals espousing the views of Al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group that recently attacked the mall in Kenya for three days and killed so many people, but CAIR doesn't care:
[T]he Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has blocked his efforts for years, telling law enforcement agencies . . . that he doesn't know the Somali community and calling him "an Islamophobe" in a recent report.
Naturally, Bihi has to be an Islamophobic Muslim, for he must know from other sources that not Islamist ideology, e.g., the views of Al-Qaida, but rather political economy is the crucial factor in Islamic radicalization, as reported by such mainstream journalism as Reuters in, for example, Pascal Fletcher's "Analysis: Nairobi mall attack strikes at Africa's boom image" (Reuters, September 23, 2013)
From Mali to Algeria, Nigeria to Kenya, violent Islamist groups -- tapping into local poverty, conflict, inequality or exclusion but espousing a similar anti-Western, anti-Christian creed -- are striking at state authority and international interests, both economic and political.

John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, said he believed insurgents like those who rebelled in Mali last year, the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamist sect and the Nairobi mall raiders were also partly motivated by anger with what he called "pervasive malgovernance" in Africa.

"This is undoubtedly anti-Western and anti-Christian but it also taps into a lot of deep popular anger against the political economy in which they find themselves, in which a very small group of people are basically raking off the wealth," he said.
There's just one problem with this analysis -- if political economy is the crucial factor, why aren't non-Muslim groups mired in poverty also reacting with similar levels of violence? Maybe because Al-Shabab -- like Islamist groups generally -- is motivated by enmity toward non-Muslims, as reported by Memri (Special Dispatch No. 5458, September 26, 2013), which quotes them:
xi) Our enmity towards Hindus is not due to the Kashmir issue; our enmity towards America is not due to Iraq and Afghanistan; the enmity between us and the Jews is not due to the Palestine; the real cause is that they do not accept our system and Islam.

xii) Our enmity towards them (the non-believers) will continue even if they renounce all their crimes.

xiii) Enmity towards infidels is a must. It is part of our faith. Islam says the Muslims should stay away from the infidels and their countries.

xiv) The best way to get rid of them (infidels) is to continue jihad until the Allah's faith (Islam) is completely enforced all over the world.
Religiously inspired enmity, not poverty, is the factor, but since the issue of economics has been raised, how do -- for instance -- Christians correlate to economic factors? Not only do they not turn to violence, they apparently respond in constructive ways, as implied in a report by Kate Tracy, "As Christians Rise or Fall, So Do 100 Country Credit Ratings" (Christianity Today, September 25, 2013), citing the work of Dutch researcher Dick Slikker:
"Changes in the percentage of Christians within a society exert a measurable correlated influence of the economic well-being of that society."

"When using total Christian populations per country, statistically significant positive linear correlations were obtained in seven out of eight combinations of data source, rating agency and either five- or ten-year interval." Slikker notes in his abstract.

Furthermore, within the three subsets of Christianity studied -- Protestants, Catholics, and evangelicals -- it was evangelicals that proved to have the highest rate of correlation with economic wellbeing.
Christianity thus seems to be good for the economy of a country. One implication could be that poor Christians work rather than fight. So much for the poverty-breeds-violence thesis. How might one explain the violence of such groups as Al-Shabab, Al-Qaida, etc.? I suggest that we look closely at the religious belief systems themselves if we really want to understand the violent actions of religious groups.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Photos from Jim Scott's 80th Birthday

Jeanie Scott Oliver has sent me some photos from Mr. Scott's birthday party. This first one shows her younger sister Susie sitting next to the birthday boy himself. As can be seen from the decorations, this was a colorful get-together!

The second photograph -- I don't know the actual sequence -- shows Mr. Scott extinguishing his candles (and not even having to use a fire extinguisher, despite the fears of Pete Hale!).

Here's a gift Mr. Scott enjoyed, "a left-handed gun belt with holster for the gun that [his grandson] Sach gave to him," as Jeanie explained in her email (hence the quotation marks).

Below, we see Susie again, this time visiting with my brother John, a classmate of hers in the Salem school system, from which they graduated around 1980, I think.

More visiting below, this time between John's wife, Sandy, and Mr. Scott -- though this looks like a quiet moment to me . . . possibly a pose?

Finally, here's the birthday greeting sent from Deva Hupaylo (rounding out the ones from Pete Hale and me):
Dear Mr. Scott,

Thanks for setting higher standards for the students in your classes in 1974-76. I often think of conversations which we had in class and on the . . . [Physics and Trigonometry] trip to the State Fair in your car. Small things impact the future, and your influence is now affecting world events through one small treaty in The Hague. I wish you many happy days teaching your grandchildren and others around you.

Best always,

My old friend Deva, as long-time readers will know, heads the Industry Verification Branch at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which means she's a very busy lady these days, dealing with Syria. Wish her luck . . .

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Great Day at the Brooklyn Book Festival . . .

Carter Kaplan and Bienvenido Bones Banez

The artist Terrance Lindall sent the above photo of Kaplan and Banez in the WAH booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival, where they were displaying a copy of the third volume of the literary anthology Emanations, published by International Authors. Lindall added the following words:
Carter Kaplan and Bienvenido Bones Banez representing the WAH Center with Emanations: Third Eye (purchase on Amazon), the definitive contemporary surrealist edition . . . Surreal Armageddon!
Kaplan also sent a report:
As you know, last Sunday International Authors had a display at the Brooklyn Book Festival. I am happy to report that things went very well. should like to thank Kristine Shmenco and Bien Banez for their help staffing the table. Also, I wish to acknowledge the generosity of Yuko Nii and Terrance Lindall of the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center, who made our presence at the Festival possible. Yuko and Terrance have been very kind to International Authors over the years, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are very grateful for having such good friends!
For more details and several photos, visit Kaplan's blog. Meanwhile, John Williams, writing "The Lit Set's Day in the Sun" (NYT, September 23, 2013), describes the general scene:
The festival is geared toward a low-tech, indie crowd. Many display booths feature smaller publishers, literary magazines and used-book dealers, and not many gadgets or corporate brands are in sight.
That explains the presence of International Authors. Incidentally, a number of my poems appear in this volume of Emanations, and readers with some connection to Korea will be interested to know that one of the poems concerns one man's fantasy about the Korean singer Insooni.

Amazon's "Look Inside" function is activated for a peek within the book . . .

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pete Hale sends birthday greetings to Mr. Scott!

Mr. Jim Scott
Cowboy, Artist, Musician, Mathematician

My old Ozark friend Pete Hale also sent Mr. Scott birthday greetings for his 80th year and gave permission to post the missive here:
Hi Jim, and congratulations on your big birthday -- that cake must be HUGE! Jeff was kind enough to alert me to your upcoming celebration from afar, and I can only wish that I was able to attend personally (and perhaps bring along an appropriate fire extinguisher). But if nothing else, this Devil's tool, the Internet, will have to suffice (and boy, I tell you, it really is devilish, as I just somehow lost the veritable Great American Email that I'd just finished on my infernal iPad, and thus my now thrashing away somewhat less-heartedly on an actual, comparatively trustworthy Personal Computer, instead . . . sigh -- it was really great, you'll just have to trust me. I feel like Fermat and his stinkin' theorem, minus the margin or the theorem. Some of what follows attempts to regurgitate it, at any rate . . .).

Well, where to start. (That, by the way, is the same as I started this paragraph out in my GAE . . . anyhow.) You're my favorite teacher I've ever had, period, if you don't count Mrs. Fowler in 4th grade, which I don't since that was really sort of a crush. But in some sense, my relationship with you was also something of a crush (after multiple years of my older sister Nancy telling me, "He's the greatest! You won't believe it!" and of course she was right), albeit a more intellectually driven one. From the moment you met us all, you treated us like actual adults (most unusual . . .), and your penchant for talking so wondrously about so many and varied things, up to and including what you were actually "teaching," was something completely new under the sun for all of us. You changed our galoot Arkie kid lives, plain and simple.

Your sudden demonstration of one-armed pull-ups with your fingertips on the edge of the door frame in the school "Ping Pong Room" remains one of the most astounding things I've ever witnessed in my life. It was like when Bob Dylan came into the studio about 3-4 albums into his career and sat down and started playing the piano expertly -- nobody knew he could even play the thing! Extra points were awarded for the dropped-jaw reactions from the various tough-guy dudes in attendance at the time, too. Most excellent. Thanks for that.

Your physics final exam that you administered unto us remains the best and most memorable final exam I ever expect to participate in, when you loaded us all into the back of your old pickup (". . . is he going to, uh, take us out into the woods and kill us, perhaps??") and had us build sailboats and try to tack them against the wind on that little pond nearby, in order to instill at least a little bit of actual physical understanding of vectors. I've related this tale to many a physicist over the years at this point, and it invariably results in a rather awed and hushed response, generally along the lines of, ". . . none of my physics teachers ever did anything like that . . ." Yeah, well. You weren't at Salem HS in 1976, either, evidently.

I reckon that you, Bucky Fuller, and Jack Nicklaus have created whatever in the heck I am at this point, for better or worse. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide who was the most important! I don't know what I would have ended up doing with my life if I hadn't had the good fortune to have encountered you at the exact right moment back then, but I have to assume it wouldn't have turned out nearly as fun and interesting as it has been so far. So thanks for that, too, and I hope you have a truly great day and stay firmly in the saddle for plenty more just like it! Pete
Nice letter . . . outdoes mine by a long shot . . .

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cousin James in the News . . .

Col. James C. Hodges
NJ Spotlight

Uncle Cran can once more take pride in his youngest son -- and does so, forwarding the details to Cousin Bill and and me. Our Cousin James is again in the news. Journalist Tara Nurin, in "Profile: Top Brass at New Jersey's Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst" (NJ Spotlight, September 18, 2013), reports:
Col. James C. Hodges leads the Department of Defense's only tri-service joint base, which is, by some measures, the biggest in the country.
I actually knew that already -- and blogged on it -- but I'm always pleased to hear more. By "tri-service," incidentally, Nurin means Army, Navy, and Air Force. To carry out that complex sort of job, Cousin James has to be an educated, but practical man, and he seems well prepared:
Raised in rural Arkansas, Hodges graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in civil engineering and immediately applied his training to a career in the military. While serving in the Air Force, he earned a master's degree in engineering and policy from Washington University in St. Louis and another in organizational management from George Washington University. He held a variety of engineering-related and leadership posts for the air force and NATO until 2011, when he took over as Commander of the 6th Mission Support Group at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
See? Very practical, very educated, as I've been finding out over the past decade or so. Although we both grew up in the same part of Arkansas, I was twelve years older and gone by the time he was making his mark in sports and academics, so he was just a little cousin when I was still in the Ozarks. Now, however, he's risen far above my station in life, so I reckon I'm the little cousin! But even though he's gone far, he's still a country boy at heart:
What he likes about New Jersey: "I'm from a small town in Arkansas," he said. "I thought coming to New Jersey, I'd be surrounded by the urban pace of New York and Philadelphia. But I was quite pleasantly surprised at the quantity and beauty of the farms and fields right around here. It's quite nice to get out and see that while having all the expected conveniences here, too."
I wouldn't have expected that either about New Jersey. Anyway, I'm glad to hear that Cousin James is doing well. I really only got to know him when he was stationed in Korea, back in 2000, but we've kept in touch, and I occasionally forward him historical and poli-sci articles relevant to the military and foreign policy, and I'm impressed that he always finds the time to read and comment on them.

Meanwhile, Cousin Bill replies to Uncle Cran's missive:
An informative interview, appreciate you forwarding same. Now, if . . . [you, U]ncle Cran will, on future visits to Ft Dix, refrain from submitting to an interview, expect Cousin James to someday be wearing a star on the epaulette.
In other words, if Uncle Cran doesn't get quoted saying something embarrassing, Colonel James might very well rise again in rank, i.e., to a one-star general . . . and possibly higher.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Gastronomy - The Laws of Interstellar Gastric Flux . . .

In the Bowels of the Universe
Google Images

Yesterday's blog post explored the importance of amplituhedrons for quantum physics. Today's entry deplores the space between any two randomly chosen Michelin-starred extraterrestrial restaurants, an interstellar space invariably filled with gas generated by Michelin-starless greasy-spoon hole-in-the-wall eateries called "Mom's."

A lot of noise is made about such restaurants at the bitter end of the universe, but even if you feel that tug of the final singularity attracting you to try the unique inedibles offered at such an eatery, e.g., Frank Zappa's Montana-grown dental floss, just remember the advice of Nelson Algren, who formulated what has come to be known as the First Law of Interstellar Gastric Flux: "Never eat at a place called Mom's."

This has been a public-service announcement of the Gastronomical Posterior Astronomy Society . . .


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mystic Crystal Revelation . . .

Illustration by Andy Gilmore
Quanta Magazine

If Natalie Wolchover is right in "A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics" (Quanta Magazine, September 17, 2013), then we are approaching the mind's true liberation in quantum physics:
The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like "amplituhedron," which yields an equivalent one-term expression.
Apparently, this amplituhedron enables physicists to calculate answers on paper that were previously too difficult for computers. To wit:
The amplituhedron looks like an intricate, multifaceted jewel in higher dimensions. Encoded in its volume are the most basic features of reality that can be calculated, "scattering amplitudes," which represent the likelihood that a certain set of particles will turn into certain other particles upon colliding. These numbers are what particle physicists calculate and test to high precision at particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
I don't really understand this, but the paragraph seemed to be saying something important, so I copied and pasted it for the benefit of the many individuals far smarter than I am.

And rather than embarrass myself attempting any summary, I'll just point to the illustration above, presumably the summary already summarized . . .


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mr. Scott Turns 80 . . .

Mr. Jim Scott
Eternal Teacher

My genius high school math teacher, Jim Scott, who taught not only mathematics but also music and art, along with physics as well, celebrates his 80th birthday Saturday, September 21, 2013, Arkansas time, so I and two other students -- Deva and Pete -- have each written him a letter of appreciation. Here's mine:
Dear Mr. Scott,

Unlike Deva and Pete, I've moved away from the fields of math and science, but your influence on me might be even more direct because I worked for you as a chainman on your land-surveying team that summer of 1976, just after my freshman year at Baylor, back when I was only nineteen years old and thought I knew everything. I especially recall one conversation that you, Denny Wilkins, and I had. We were eating lunch in May's Café and discussing values and life's meaning, and you asked me what I wanted from life.

I reflected for a moment, then answered, "Peace of mind."

You retorted, "You can have that with a cup of coffee!"

At the time, I thought you were making a joke at my expense -- and I don't doubt that you were, because Denny laughed -- but with the passage of time, I came to see that you were also utterly serious . . . and that you were right. With a cup of coffee, you really can have peace of mind.

And with a great cup of coffee, you can even have peace on earth! (If only I could get Deva to test this theory in Syria . . .)

Another conversation I recall was from high school, though you and I were out on some unlikely pretext in your old pickup truck that bore the poetic warning, "Smoking is dangerous to your health and wealth." We briefly discussed that reminder of mortality and penury -- which you’d written when you'd given up smoking, but which remained there to plague you when you again took up the habit -- then we moved to other topics. You talked about mathematics and remarked that you probably should have instead pursued a higher degree in molecular biology or somesuch because the ground in mathematics had been fairly well tamped down already, so there wasn't much left to accomplish. I took your words to mean that if you couldn't do something fundamental in a field, then you just weren't interested.

Well, perhaps you didn't find anything fundamental to do in math, but you've accomplished a lot through the influence you've had on your many grateful students. We learned rigor and discipline under your tutelage, but also the importance of humor, creativity, and critical thinking.

And those are all fundamental to a proper education.

I began this letter to you by suggesting that "your influence on me might be even more direct" than your influence on Pete and Deva, but supposing that this is not the case, your influence on me has at least been more far-reaching, because I've gone halfway around the world in my career, and we know from geometry -- literally, "earth-measure" -- that one can't, without a great increase in acceleration (you do the math), get any further from Salem than that!

So if you ever feel you ought to have made a bigger mark in the world, just remember that your mark is still being made in many places, including not only Colorado and The Netherlands, but also even Korea.

Your Eternal Student,

I can't attend his celebration, unfortunately, since I'm halfway around the world, but somebody will read this letter aloud for the gathering . . .

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Are We Chimeras?

Chimera of Arezzo

We may all be chimeras! Not the mythical sort depicted above, but the sort defined by scientists as "a single organism . . . composed of two or more . . . populations of genetically distinct cells" (Wikipedia). But why do I say we may all be chimeras? An article by Carl Zimmer titled "DNA Double Take" (NYT, September 16, 2013) informs us that "scientists are discovering that -- to a surprising degree -- we contain genetic multitudes." Walt Whitman would be proud! But I find this fact a bit scary, especially when I read the following:
One woman discovered she was a chimera as late as age 52. In need of a kidney transplant, she was tested so that she might find a match. The results indicated that she was not the mother of two of her three biological children. It turned out that she had originated from two genomes. One genome gave rise to her blood and some of her eggs; other eggs carried a separate genome.
Apparently, she and her nonidentical twin fetus had combined early in the womb. I wonder how doctors decided which genome the woman really was. The one making up the larger proportion? Suppose one's fat cells were a different genome -- lose weight and become a different person! Chimeras, by the way, don't result solely from two different genomes combining during early fetal development:
Women can also gain genomes from their children. After a baby is born, it may leave some fetal cells behind in its mother's body, where they can travel to different organs and be absorbed into those tissues. "It's pretty likely that any woman who has been pregnant is a chimera," Dr. Randolph said.
Evidence? Consider:
As scientists begin to search for chimeras systematically -- rather than waiting for them to turn up in puzzling medical tests -- they're finding them in a remarkably high fraction of people. In 2012, Canadian scientists performed autopsies on the brains of 59 women. They found neurons with Y chromosomes in 63 percent of them. The neurons likely developed from cells originating in their sons.
Foreign genomes get into our bodies in other ways, too, and can be a factor in various diseases, or even if not malignant -- and most apparently are not -- can distort the results of forensic DNA tests used as courtroom evidence, but some foreign genomes can also even be helpful. The article touches on all of this.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Philip Murray-Lawson Interviews Michael Butterworth - Plus a GS Announcement on Steve Aylett's Book Project

Michael Butterworth
British Fiction Writer
Evolution-ABC Blog

The British writer Philip Murray-Lawson interviews Michael Butterworth and tells me (and others) in an email:
Michael discusses the inspiration behind his early writing, the relevance of New Worlds, and his contributions to Emanations.
Both Murray-Lawson and Butterworth are contributors to Carter Kaplan's Emanations anthologies, whose Third Eye has recently been published, as I've already announced in a previous blog entry. As for New Worlds, that was a British Science fiction magazine published mostly in the years of the mid-twentieth century and which favored experimental writing. Anyway, here's the part of the interview by Murray-Lawson that concerns Emanations:
PML: How did you come across Dr Carter Kaplan and Emanations?

MB: I think Carter came across me, which is what is surprising about him, as to all intents and purposes I had stopped writing. He had been in touch with Savoy Books sporadically down the years, and one day about four years ago, I think some time in 2009, we each received a personalised post card -- David [Britton], myself, John Coulthart and Kris Guidio. He was canvassing material for Emanations. His card arrived at the right moment when I was attempting to find a new direction for myself.

PML: Do you see a direct link between New Worlds and Emanations?

MB: In a way, the Emanations series is an entirely unexpected continuation of the 'New Wave' spirit. Not in the true original sense, of course, which was the result of a conjunction of so many things that were happening at the time -- things that 'hadn't yet happened so they could', if you see what I mean, such as the 'happening' in the world of Michael Moorcock! But in the surreal stoical modernist post-modernist sea-of-post-post-modernism sense that Emanations has made its own. It is still resolutely declaring that there is an avant garde, and it seems happy to publish an increasingly wide range of writers wearing enquiring or experimental hats.

PML: How does your writing for New Worlds and Emanations compare?

MB: My early career writing for New Worlds -- and God it does seem a very long time ago now -- was still-born, because although it had made an impact at the time, I didn't find a way of capitalising on that. I now have the opportunity of putting into print the fiction and poetry I wrote in the 60s and 70s that I was pleased with but which never saw publication. Under the tutelage of the expert and surreal Dr Kaplan, to whom I am eternally grateful, these stories are now seeing the light of day.
Readers interested in the full interview can follow the link to Part One (soon to be followed by Part Two).

Meanwhile, I have been contacted -- along with others associated with Emanations -- by another British writer, Steve Aylett, who wants to publish a book with crowdfunder publishers Unbound on the subject of creative originality. He's titled the book Heart of the Original, so if you're interested in the topic, follow this link to learn more.

And I might as well put in a plug for my own novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, now advertised on Facebook and available at Amazon.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Platoon Kunsthalle in Seoul?

A recent student of mine informed  me of an interesting event coming up from September 24 to October 2 in the Platoon Kunsthalle here in Seoul, a philosophical event involving presentations by Alain Badiou (France), Slavoj Zizek (Slovenia), and Wang Hui (China):
I'm a student who took Academic English last semester, majoring [in] fashion . . . I'm not sure if you would remember . . . Anyways, Slavoj Zizek is visiting Korea to have a conference at Kyunghee University, and there is going to be an event at Platoon Kunsthalle for three days. I was asked by a friend who organizes this event if I could invite professors who would be interested in this event, and I thought you might be interested....

Platoon Kunsthalle is a very 'German' venue (founded and run by German people), and they have great German tap beers, which is rare in Seoul (so I've heard . . .)
Unfortunately, I probably can't make the event (though it appears to last longer than three days), and I regretfully told the student so, to which she replied:
It's unfortunate that you cannot make it to the event! However, Platoon is a very interesting venue, and you should check out the place . . .
If only I had wealth and leisure, I could enjoy these events. A Kunsthalle, incidentally, is something like an art museum, but without the permanent exhibition. As for "platoon," it's a military term for a unit comprising from two to four squads and having anywhere from twenty-six to sixty-four soldiers, and what it has to do with art, I don't know. Maybe this is just one more example of postmodernist influence. Or does it resonate with the also intrinsically military expression "avant garde"? Here's what the Platoon Kunsthalle has to say about itself:
PLATOON KUNSTHALLE opened its doors on 11th april 2009. PLATOON KUNSTHALLE is set up in seoul as a space for subculture in asia. its programmatic orientation towards cultural movements beneath the radar creates a dynamic space where new ideas are born and presented . . .
Go to the link for more, though there appears to be no explanation for the choice of "Platoon."

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Emanations: Third Eye: Now at Amazon

Emanations: Third Eye
Amazon Books

Carter Kaplan has just announced that Emanations: Third Eye is now published and available for purchase at Amazon Books. Among its many literary offerings is Le Roy "Tuck" Tucker's essay "A Different Drummer," a tribute to a 26-year-old African American jazz drummer named Eldeen McIntosh, whom Tuck met in 1952 when both were drafted into the Marines and went through boot camp together. Like all of Tuck's writing, the essay is beautifully written, greatly amusing, and deeply moving. Here's the beginning, drawn from one of the final manuscripts Tuck sent me (so the published version might differ somewhat):
One day in the spring of 1952 at the very height of the hostilities in Korea, I received a postcard which informed me that my friends and neighbors back in Arkansas had selected me to represent them in the armed forces. I was twenty-one years old, happily married for going on three years, solidly employed at General Motors Truck and Coach in Pontiac, Michigan. Pat and I had a nice apartment, our own furniture, a 1947 Buick and a small but growing bank account. After a few weeks, having disposed of our furniture and informing the personnel office that I would be otherwise occupied for a while, we were back in Arkansas passing time and dreading the fateful day. On May 28 I was transported to Little Rock by bus where I met with a Marine recruiter, a sergeant and clearly a nice guy, who said, "Well, you're going into the military, Tuck." I liked for people to call me Tuck. Nobody who is named Le Roy wants to be called that. That's why I took him to be a good guy. "What part of the military suits you best?" he asked.

"I want to go into the army and after boot camp I plan on going into the paratroopers," I replied, just as quickly and straightforwardly as it can be done. I was being drafted and so that meant the army, didn't it? About then I started getting an uneasy feeling about the guy, like he wasn't interested in me the way it seemed at first, like he had already finished deciding about me and was finished with it.

"The Air Bourne, well I will be damned. Why would you want to do that?" he asked.

"I don't want to do that. What I want to do is to go home. But I have to do this whether I want to or not, so I aim to get my feet wet," I replied.

I could tell that he liked that. He took that official-looking paper that was there on his desk, and he made a real small notation like a little squiggle on the upper right-hand corner of it, and then he said "Tuck you are on your own for now. Could you meet me right here at eight a.m. tomorrow morning?"

That had a bad sound to it. I was pretty sure I had made a mistake. But I was after all a civilian, and how could he deny a man the right to jump out of airplanes in the service of his country if that was what he wanted to do. Just being a Marine recruiter shouldn't give him any right to stop a feller from being a paratrooper if he wanted to bad enough and if he was willing to endure all that hard work and to take all that risk.

Him being a Marine sergeant sort of put me on edge alright, even if he was a nice, friendly one. And now there I was, all full of doubt and worry even though nothing had happened so far, nothing at all. I had clung to a bit of hope that maybe I could convince that nice sergeant otherwise, in case he wanted to send me off to the Marines, but in fact he didn't look much like my idea of persuadable, and I couldn't take my mind away from that little squiggle that he made on that paper. I was thinking that he didn't actually write anything. It was a little signal to his self and I could tell by the way that Marine sergeant acted that he wasn't interested in showing it to me. Sixty years have passed and even now that sergeant making that little sign to himself is as clear as day to me. I never got to actually see it and read it, not that I know of anyway, but I can tell you exactly what it meant. It said that I was going into the Marine Corps and that after today I would be all done making my own decisions for a while. The next morning that nice Marine sergeant said "Well Tuck, we have decided to put you in the Marine Corps. Now what do you plan to do in there?"

My answer went about like this. "I have already learned that I am not in charge of anything. I plan to do exactly what the Marine Corps tells me to do." That was the perfect answer for the moment, the only correct one, I think . . .
A few paragraphs later, Tuck introduces us to Mr. McIntosh, but I'll leave that and the thirty-three remaining pages of the essay for you to discover on your own by purchasing the anthology.

Among other writings by various authors, the anthology also contains several of my poems . . .

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Monday, September 16, 2013

A Different Take on 'Sex Slaves'

"mine-forged manacles"
Google Images

I've occasionally posted entries about sharia's rulings on the permissibility of sex slaves, but I don't recall any posts of mine about sadomasochistic sex slaves, so in the spirit of equal coverage, here's a report on the topic, "S and M Slaves Sue Over Slave Labour" (The Austrian Times, September 11, 2013):
[Angry sadomasochists] are suing a dominatrix who promised them the thrill of a kinky life as slaves on her farm -- and then put them to work harvesting her crops . . . . Instead of whips and chains, the slaves found themselves pulling carrots and chopping wood.
But I don't quite understand. As dominatrix, she was the sadist, so the slaves must have been the masochists. Why, then, didn't they enjoy the abuse? Note that they didn't immediately rebel:
"After a day or two they realised they'd been had and walked out."
I'm assuming that two days are meant. If they needed more than five minutes on this particular farm to figure out that "sex slaves" meant "slaves of the male sex," not "slaves for sex," then they must have derived some satisfaction in submitting to the dominatrix. But you just can't please folks these days:
"[O]ne of them filed a complaint of illegal prostitution."
Can that hold up in court? I thought the men's real complaint was that there wasn't any prostitution going on.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nonlinearity: E-Books vs. Physical Books?

The Reading Device: A Short History
Illustration by Joon Mo Kang
New York Times

Lev Grossman, writing two years ago in "From Scroll to Screen" (NYT, September 2, 2011), made an incisive point about e-books and physical books:
We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet's underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don't turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term. It's no wonder that the rise of e-reading has revived two words for classical-era reading technologies: scroll and tablet. That's the kind of reading you do in an e-book.

The codex is built for nonlinear reading -- not the way a Web surfer does it, aimlessly questing from document to document, but the way a deep reader does it, navigating the network of internal connections that exists within a single rich document like a novel. Indeed, the codex isn't just another format, it's the one for which the novel is optimized. The contemporary novel's dense, layered language took root and grew in the codex, and it demands the kind of navigation that only the codex provides. Imagine trying to negotiate the nested, echoing labyrinth of David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" if it were transcribed onto a scroll. It couldn't be done.
Nonlinear reading is easier in a codex than in an e-book, as I've recently discovered, though I'm happy with my e-books' convenience in other respects even though the e-book poses difficulties for "a single rich document like" my novella, given the "way a deep reader . . . [reads] it, navigating the network of internal connections" that offer the joy of enjoyment in reading.

I think, however, that solutions will be devised to overcome the e-book's limitations and render its reading fully as easy as a physical book.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Post-Apocalyptic Miltonic Times?

"Snowman wakes before dawn"
By Jason Courtney

I'm still reading Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake, in which Snowman, so-called because of his whiteness and sensitivity to the sun, recalls his pre-apocalyptic lover in his post-apocalyptic time, and imagines her saying:
Paradice is lost, but you have a Paradice within you, happier far. (Oryx and Crake, 362)
Snowman imagines this because all he has left of her are memories and fantasies, though he is not happier, but sadder by far, so these words are questionable. This line, however, recalls Milton's line (587) in a passage of Paradise Lost 12.581-587:
. . . onely add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add vertue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come call'd Charitie, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier farr.
That's also questionable, I suppose, but what isn't? There's another direct allusion in Oryx and Crake to Milton's epic poem, one I noted mentally, thinking I would remember, but I now can't recall what it was! Perhaps some reader can jog my memory. Speaking of drawing upon Milton, I do so in my novella several times, as here:
I fixed my gaze on the drink, reflecting that this proffered taste hadn't come quite so freely as I had initially anticipated, but to obtain an entire bottle for a few drops of blood was surely a good bargain and therefore a wise choice. So thinking, I reached across the table in that moment and plucked the oddly heavy bottle from where it invitingly sat. Intent now wholly on a taste and regarding nothing else, I poured the big glass full to the brim with the heavy, dark beer and took a sip. It had the kind of flavor that one could describe as full-bodied, but there was also a possible hint, strangely enough, of something eldritch and gamey . . . something redolent of goat. Maybe satyrical? Was that even a word? And where had I picked up "eldritch"? I sipped again. No, no gamey taste at all. I had been in error. The flavor was delightful, as if the brewed barley had come from a perfect garden of earthly delights. Whether the bottle was truly so good, or merely fancied as such due to my thirst, I now drank greedily, without restraint, knowing not the drinking depth of that bottle, which easily filled the glass a second time full, again to the brim with the dark, strong beer. Downing it all, I poured another, and another, and another. Satiate at length and heightened with the alcohol, jocund and boon, feeling as though all of nature were as trembling with intoxication as myself, I thought, "Ah, virtuous drink, I now know, what I earlier held in obscure infamy, defaming at a glance Shoggoth's Old Peculiar, to be a blessing in disguise, for experience is the best teacher of wisdom in this, as in all things."
Homework for my readers: Identify my Miltonic sources, and other sources, for that matter. Not that anybody is interested . . .

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Amanda Lindhout learns about "those whom your right hand possesses"

Amanda Lindhout
Steve Carty

I recently read a review, "Journey Into Darkness" (NYT, September 6, 2013), by Eliza Griswold, of a book, A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, that I'll likely never read. The review dips into the book to tell of Lindhout's captivity in Somalia, an imprisonment for 460 days! At one point, fearful of being raped by her captors, she expresses interest in converting to Islam, but in reading the Qur'an, she encounters some troubling verses, as noted by Griswold:
Conversion was, at first, a gambit to save their lives. Reading and memorizing the Koran, however, became a form of solace. They studied not as believers, but as prosecutorial lawyers looking for chapters and verses with which to make a case for their safety. As Lindhout puts it: "I read the book in hopes of using their religion to talk my way out." She searched desperately to find words that forbade her captors from violating her. Instead, she discovered verses that suggested the opposite. The first of her rapists arrived.
Apparently, she didn't convert (though the review doesn't clarify), or she might have avoided rape. Anyway, here's what Lindhout herself says in her book about what she read in the Qur'an:
The Arabic phrase for captives or slaves was "those whom your right hand possesses." The book [i.e., the Qur'an] was explicit about what possession meant: You were basically owned by your captors. There were verses instructing that captives be treated with kindness and granted freedom if they were well behaved. There were others that made clear that a female captive was fair game sexually. In a couple of verses where the Koran forbade men to have sex outside of marriage, there was a worrisome little clause tacked on at the end: "except with those whom your right hand possesses." (A House in the Sky, page 170)
I expected as much, for I'm familiar with the verses. Captive women who are non-Muslims can be used as sex slaves, according to Sharia, a point I've noted before on this blog. Female journalists who are non-Muslims must therefore be especially wary of reporting in unstable Muslim countries where Islamists are fighting for Sharia enforcement . . .

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Pigoon, balloon, pigoon, balloon"

Deviant Art

I'm currently reading Oryx and Crake, the first volume of Margaret Atwood's dystopian trilogy, and though I wasn't sure I'd like it -- as with her Handmaiden's Tale, which I appreciated but did not truly enjoy -- I actually am caught up in the story, which is rather frightening in a number of ways, particularly in its depiction of transgenic pigs called pigoons:
The goal of the pigoon project was to grow an assortment of foolproof human-tissue organs in a transgenic knockout pig host -- organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses, of which there were more strains every year. A rapid-maturity gene was spliced in so the pigoon kidneys and livers and hearts would be ready sooner, and now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. (page 25)
That sort of transgenic research is going on in our real world, so the dystopian future is readily conceivable. Yet, the pigoons seem more intelligent than ordinary pigs, in the eyes of five-year-old Jimmy (who is fated to survive and experience the post-apocalyptic world):
But the adults were slightly frightening, with their runny noses and tiny, white-lashed pink eyes. They glanced up at him as if they saw him, really saw him, and might have plans for him later. (page 29)
The artist Jason Courtney has imagined the appearance of the pigoons, though his above image of the creature would seem to be a composite one that draws upon various passages in the novel, for the pigoons little Jimmy saw were still far more pig-like. The artist may have been thinking of a later passage:
"It's the neuro-regeneration project. We now have genuine human neocortex tissue growing in a pigoon. Finally, after all those duds! Think of the possibilities, for stroke victims, and . . ." (page 63)
This is from Jimmy's teenage years, though perhaps some of the earlier experiments were not total neuro-regenerative failures, given the apparent intelligence noticed by Jimmy. As a much older man living in the post-apocalyptic wilds (an earlier passage, but a later point in the story), Jimmy learns that he has to face untamed pigoons, apparently grown even more intelligent, if we can assume that human neocortex tissue is now growing in their brains:
[O]ne morning he'd woken to find three pigoons gazing in at him through the plastic. One was a male; he thought he could see the gleaming point of a white tusk. Pigoons were supposed to be tusk-free, but maybe they were reverting to type now they'd gone feral, a fast-forward process considering their rapid-maturity genes. He'd shouted at them and waved his arms and they'd run off, but who could tell what they might do the next time they came around? (page 33)
And there must be even worse transgenic creatures roaming these future badlands . . .

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sara Low: 9/11 Memorial for 2013

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I devote a blog entry to Sara Low, a young woman with whom my brother Tim was acquainted. She was a native of Batesville,  Arkansas and was working as a flight attendant on the first plane hijacked by the Al Qaeda Islamist terrorists and used as a missile to destroy the World Trade Center.

Her hometown also remembers her annually, by hosting a five-kilometer race through its city streets because Sara was a runner on the track team when she attended school there. Here is a photo of Sara from her high school graduation:

This photo was first shown on my 2008 commemoration of Sara, so if you click on the link you can read what I wrote then. You can also search my blog for yearly entries on Sara, if you have time and inclination.

I didn't know Sara personally, so these blog entries are just a small part of her legacy, and I wanted to show that others also remember her, and in a way far greater than my small, annual commemoration.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

MaddAddam: Is There Also a Palindromedary?

Andrew Sean Greer tells us in a book review, "Final Showdown" (NYT, September 6, 2013), that Margaret Atwood has published the third volume of her apocalyptic trilogy, this third one depicting a post-apocalyptic, biogenetically transformed world: MaddAddam (the first two volumes being Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood). I've not read any of the three, but I want to read them all after reading this:
Atwood's prose miraculously balances humor, outrage and beauty. A simple description becomes both chilling and sublime: "They set out the next morning just at sunrise. The vultures that top the taller, deader trees are spreading their black wings so the dew on them will evaporate; they're waiting for the thermals to help them lift and spiral. Crows are passing the rumors, one rough syllable at a time. The smaller birds are stirring, beginning to cheep and trill; pink cloud filaments float above the eastern horizon, brightening to gold at the lower edges." In so much genre fiction, language is sacrificed to plot and invention. It's a pleasure to read a futuristic novel whose celebration of beauty extends to the words themselves. And words are very important here; by the moving end of "Madd­Addam," we understand how language and writing produced the beautiful fiction that described our ­beginnings.
I read these words and ordered the first volume as an e-book on my iPad -- and that's why I'm blogging on this review today.

Well, that and because I liked the Buzelli art above . . .

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Scatnapping: Four Studies in Scatology . . .

The new kitty, Scat, is taking over. Fearless, it approaches the two grown cats to play, or steal their food! Impudent, it climbs onto my lap every time I sit down to read or write. The adult cats and I enjoy peace only when Scat naps. We call it "Scatnapping"!

Below, you will find four studies of Scatnapping:

Scatnapping 1

Scatnapping 2

Scatnapping 3

Scatnapping 4

Scat looks harmless, and -- like the planet earth -- mostly is, but when the creature remains too long on the sofa, or too long on my lap, out comes the poo at the end, signifying both scatology and eschatology!

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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Humor: It's a gas!

Wrong Script
Free Dictionary

Many, many years ago, back when I was single and even girlfriendless in a callous, cold, uncaring world, an acquaintance asked me why I didn't have a girlfriend. I explained:
"I want only a deep spiritual relationship with a woman, but I don't have that kind of money!"
My interlocutor gave me a puzzled look. He was German.

A different time, I actually had a girlfriend, a Swiss-German girlfriend, who asked me if I believed in astrology. I said:
"No, but I'm told it works even if you don't believe in it!"
She gave me a puzzled look. As I said, she was Swiss-German.

Not that Germans have no jokes. They do. But German jokes are nothing to laugh at . . .

So . . . what is humor? I recently read an article on the subject, "Laughter and the Brain," by Richard Restak (The American Scholar, Summer 2013), which said -- among other things -- the following about humor:
All humor involves playing with what linguists call scripts (also referred to as frames). Basically, scripts are hypotheses about the world and how it works based on our previous life experiences. Consider what happens when a friend suggests meeting at a restaurant. Instantaneously our brains configure a scenario involving waiters or waitresses, menus, a sequence of eatables set out in order from appetizer to dessert, followed by a bill and the computation of a tip. This process, highly compressed and applicable to almost any kind of restaurant, works largely outside conscious awareness. And because our scripts are so generalized and compressed, we tend to make unwarranted assumptions based on them. Humor takes advantage of this tendency. Consider, for example, almost any joke from stand-up comedian Steven Wright, known for his ironic, deadpan delivery:
- I saw a bank that said "24 Hour Banking," but I didn't have that much time.

- I bought some batteries, but they weren't included. So I had to buy them again.

- I washed a sock. Then I put it in the dryer. When I took it out it was gone.

- I went into a store and asked the clerk if there was anything I could put under my coasters. He asked why I wanted to do that. I told him I wanted to make sure my coasters weren't scratching my table.
In each of these examples, everyday activities are given a different spin by forcing the listener to modify standard scripts about them.
Of the four jokes, I find the first funny, but the other three merely amusing. I wonder why? Wrong scripts for the latter three?

But about Germans . . . I was only joking. They actually do have a sense of humor. Let me tell you a German joke . . . Hmmm . . . I ought to be able to come up with one . . . Well, let me do some research on that and get back to you.

Meanwhile, this meteorological report just in: Humor no longer a fluid! In fact, it's a gas! Global warming blamed!


Saturday, September 07, 2013

On Especially Hating Misanthropes . . .

From an announcement in Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine (Thursday, September 5, 2013), we learn that:
The Fraternal and Benevolent Order of Misanthropes is Now Rejecting Applications.

To expedite your rejection, please leave your application in the box marked "Applications" to the left of the front door, not the box to the right of the front door, which is clearly marked "U.S. Mail," and for heaven's sake how much more obvious could we make it to you morons?
Well, while I have no love for humanity, I especially hate misanthropes! Not that I'd wish them any ill -- my contribution would be far more active than simple, ineffective wishes! I thus have zero interest in their "Fraternal and Benevolent Order," and I gave them a piece of my mind about their 'advice' on submitting an application for rejection:
And if I put it in the box to the right, it'll be . . . what, rejected? Couldn't you misanthropes come up with a more efficient system for rejecting applications? But don't fret! I won't even be applying! I hope that doesn't mean you'll be offering me membership, because if you do, I'll just throw that offer right back in your faces! In fact, I hope you do offer me membership so I can do exactly that!
But I'll not hold my breath waiting while these misanthropes ponder if they hate me enough to not offer me membership or enough to offer me membership . . .


Friday, September 06, 2013

Hashem Saleh: On the Need for 'Deconstructing' Islamism . . .

Hashem Saleh
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat
London, August 30, 2013

In the article "Arab Intellectual Calls For Theological-Cognitive Revolution To Extricate Arab World From Backwardness, Crises, And Internecine Warfare," Memri (Special Dispatch No. 5433, September 4, 2013) introduces another liberal Muslim thinker, the Syrian Hashem Saleh, currently living in Morocco. I've excerpted from Memri's excerpts:
[T]here are currently terrifying clashes . . . in . . . [Arab] countries -- because the . . . {Muslim Brotherhood, among other Islamist groups,} is holding back . . . progress towards modernity, tolerance and liberty . . . . How then can we make peace with ourselves? How can we solve the problem of religious and sectarian struggles while we are still stuck in the theological stage of takfir [accusing the other Muslims of apostasy] . . . ? When two Germans meet in China or Japan or at the ends of the earth, do you think that the first question that pops into their minds is the other's religion -- whether he is a Protestant or [perhaps] a stubborn Catholic? Absolutely not! This does not enter their minds at all, while this would be the first question to pop into the mind of a Syrian or Lebanese, or any Arab, upon encountering a [fellow Arab] in Paris . . . . The reason for this is that Germany solved the problem of sectarianism -- first of all from a theoretical standpoint . . . and subsequently from a political standpoint . . . . [However], we need only return to the 17th century in order to find a mire of destructive religious wars, when a Protestant could not countenance a Catholic, and vise versa. They fought and slaughtered each other over [the issue of] identity, as we are currently doing. This [intolerance] continued to plague them for the entire duration of the 18th century. Otherwise, the need for the Enlightenment would not have arisen . . . . Must we wait 200 years in order to solve the problem of sectarianism? The answer is no, [and this] for two reasons. First, because we are living in the era of the information revolution, which abbreviates times and distances. Therefore, something that once took 200 [years] to digest can [now] be digested in half a century. Second, because we are [currently] immersed in global modernity, and development is therefore accelerated. The Western and Eastern superpowers keep an eye on us and we can do or say nothing [without their knowledge]. Until recently, in particular before September 11, [2001], the sheikhs in the mosques could malign other faiths [and say] whatever they fancied, without criticism {but no longer} . . . . There is a third reason as well -- namely that the achievements of the advanced countries are available to us, thus sparing us the necessity to invent or reinvent anything . . . . Nevertheless, this does not mean that the sectarian problem . . . will be solved within two or three years. This is a huge and critical historical problem that will not be easily solved, [certainly] not in the space of one or two generations. I wish I were wrong, but what increases my pessimism is that, hitherto, it has been taboo in the Muslim world to apply the method of critical historical [analysis and use it to challenge] our entrenchment in tradition . . . . Without applying the deconstructionist method to tradition, we will not be able to rid ourselves of the alienating takfiri approach to religion that excludes the other.
May there be more such Muslim intellectuals as Hashem Saleh! I think, however, that his analogy between the current-day violence in Islam and the early-modern wars of religion in the West does not strictly hold. Christianity has had its brutal phases, but its core texts generally emphasize peaceful relations, even love of enemies! Strange doctrine, but there it is. Consequently, Christian violence is due to radicalism at the extremes of the religion. Islam has a bigger problem, for its core texts legitimize violent force in spreading Islamic belief. Islamism is thus radicalism at the core of Islam.

Violence in Islam will therefore be harder to 'deconstruct' . . .

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Kitty Named "Scat"


On Sunday, we were 'blessed' with a new cat. I had just finished my workout and was settling down with a Carlsberg beer and the New York Times, when my son came and informed me that a cat was caught in some bushes. I replied that I doubted the cat was actually caught. En-Uk then explained that the cat was a kitten and was crying to get out. I decided to go check, and I found the kitty pictured above. It was not trapped but frightened, and I could see that it had been a pet discarded. I reached down for it, and it came to my hand, so we brought it home, where we fed and washed it.

I told my son that because we already have two cats (Goya and Angi), we would have to give the tiny kitten to the Humane Society, or the Korean equivalent. En-Uk didn't protest, but his face said no. He called his big sister, Sa-Rah, who rushed home to play with the new feline, and I saw that we had a problem. I left a note for my wife -- who would be returning late in the evening from a meeting -- to explain the rescue and suggest that she call the Korean humane society the next day, Monday.

By Monday, the kids were in revolt over the kit, and my wife discovered that the animal rescuers won't rescue a rescued animal. We were stuck with the beast.

Tuesday, the kids were brainstorming about names. I insisted on "Scat." They didn't know what "scat" meant. En-Uk checked his smartphone dictionary, looked up, and asked, "poo"? I admitted that meaning as well, but told him to keep checking. He soon figured out the intended meaning.

"This way," I told the kids, "every time we call the kitty, we'll be ordering it to 'Run Away!' Eventually, it might get the message."

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Hani Nakshabandi: Islamophobe?

Hani Nakshabandi

The writer Hani Nakshabandi expresses Islamophobic doubts that Muslim Spain was a cultural light unto Europe:
I believe that we, who oppose occupation, practiced the same kind of occupation ourselves. We fought against the French occupation of North Africa, and against the French and British occupation of the Levant, but we practiced the same type of occupation in Spain . . . . Everything that is written in our history books should be reexamined. We present Europe as if it had been immersed in darkness and ignorance, until we came along and ushered in an era of light . . . . [I]n Saudi Arabia, we still have villages with no electricity. Wherever you go in the Arab world . . . you see villages where people still live like cavemen, yet you say that we ushered civilization into Europe?! . . . I lived in Spain . . . Well, I didn't really live there, but I visited there a lot, and I went to the museums and libraries. What kind of civilization did the Arabs leave behind in Andalusia? Cordoba . . . . is a Spanish city. What new things did [the Arabs] leave there? Even the Umayyad Mosque was a church they turned into a mosque, just like the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, which still bears the hallmarks of a church to this day . . . . Who created the image of Andalusia that we have in our minds? People attack me because their image of Andalusia is the Andalusia of songs and of dancing women or the Andalusia that they see on TV soap operas -- with water fountains, trees, and beautiful women . . . . This is not Andalusia. Andalusia was a real political tragedy [for the Spanish]. It is not true that the Arabs spread Islam there. Is Spain a Muslim country? It is the pinnacle of Catholicism in the world. ("Saudi Author Hani Nakshabandi: We Should Reexamine Our History Books, The Arabs Were Occupiers In Spain," Memri, Special Dispatch No. 5431, September 2, 2013)
How Islamophobic of Mr. Nakshabandi! Everyone knows that Andalusia was Europe's intellectual center, that the Muslims brought enlightenment to a continent groping in the darkness of ignorance (jahiliyya). The poor, deluded man must be suffering from Islamophobia, an irrational fear of Islam. Except that he's a Saudi Muslim:
Hani Nakshabandi was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He edited Sadiyah, a London-based Arab women's magazine, then moved to live and work in Dubai, editing Al-Majallah magazine and presenting a television news show. He has two novels, Ikhtiras [The Interloper] and Sallam, excerpted here, both with Dar al Saqi. (Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, Banipal 34, "The World of Arab Fiction," 2013)
As a Muslim, albeit a liberal one, Nakshabandi can't be an Islamophobe. But I do wonder if he's entirely right about Muslim Spain. While the Muslim presence was an occupation and suppressed Christians and Jews as dhimmis, Islamic Spain was at times a center of learning and intellectual exchange, as often happens within empires . . . or so I read in my history-of-science days. Perhaps there's been some historical revisionism since my student years, but that sort of revising goes back and forth, and there's usually a bone of contention with a bit of meat on it, else there'd be nothing to argue about.

Whatever one might think about Andalusia -- or any other Muslim issue -- both Muslims and non-Muslims should be free to express their opinions openly without charges of 'Islamophobia' or, far worse, being charged with 'hate speech' for criticizing Islam.

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