Sunday, November 30, 2014

You BETTER watch out!

Santa Clauses
Google Images

Santa Claus is coming to town, and he's bringing along a few friends, so we'd better figure out his intentions.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
You better watch out!
You better not cry!
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why!
Santa Claus is coming to town!
Ah, now, we see. Santa comes with friends, but he's not friendly. He has his cohorts making demands in threatening language, telling us we'd "better" do as they say. Well, don't give in to such threats! That only encourages more of the same. In fact, Santa and his red-coated friends will not readily back down, even when confronted by resistance:
He's making a list!
And checking it twice!
Gonna find out!
Who's naughty and nice!
Santa Claus is coming to town!
We expected this, of course. When Santa and his thuggish friends see their initial threat dismissed by a confident people, they hide their dismay beneath false bravado and claim to be making a list of their friends and enemies. We, in turn, must maintain vigilance and courage!
He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake!
Mindless threats, this time backed up with a ludicrous claim of omniscience, as though such a groundless boast could subdue us!
Oh! You better watch out!
You better not cry!
Better not pout!
I'm telling you why!
Santa Claus is coming to town!
Santa Claus is coming to town!
Idle, repetitious threats, by now ignorable. Let us enjoy our freedom, fruit of our united vigilance, and have a safe, un-Santanic Christmas!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Frosty the Snowman" - The Evil Behind the False Jollity

Frosty the Snowman
Does "Pied Piper" ring any Christmas bells?
Google Images

Yesterday, we looked closely at the outrageous immorality of the Rudolph song, and we're looking today at an even more evil song, this one about a Christmas interloper from Hell:
Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the snowman was a jolly, happy soul,
with a corncob pipe and a button nose
and two eyes made out of coal.
Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale they say.
He was made of snow but the children
know how he came to life one day.
Came to life? All abruptly and all? Hardly a fairy tale! And with those coal-dark eyes, more like a nightmare! And the thing smokes, too, despite being frozen! Rather demonic!
There must have been some magic in that
old silk hat they found,
for when they placed it on his head,
he began to dance around.
Magic? Dark magic, I'd say! Undoubtedly, the hat was cursed!
Oh, Frosty the snowman
was alive as he could be,
and the children say he could laugh
and play just the same as you and me.
See how this insidious song brings "you and me" into its spellbinding realm? Now, think about that line "alive as he could be." Does it not imply that this 'snowman' is not entirely alive? That it might need to feed on the life of others? That it might need "you and me"?
Thumpity thump thump,
thumpity thump thump.
Look at Frosty go
Thumpity thump thump,
thumpity thump thump.
over the hills and snow.
We might hope we're now rid of this abominable snowman, but despite its thumpity-thumping all over the hills, we find in the next stanza that it's still around:
Frosty the snowman knew
the sun was hot that day,
so he said,
"Let's run, and
we'll have some fun
now before I melt away."
Before it melts away? We can only hope.
Down to the village
with a broomstick in his hand,
running here and there,
all around the square, saying,
"Catch me if you can."
The broomstick should be a clue to the 'witchy' character we're dealing with.
He led them down the streets of town
right to the traffic cop,
and he only paused a moment when
he heard him holler, "Stop!"
For Frosty the snow man
had to hurry on his way.
But he waved goodbye. saying.
"Don't you cry,
I'll be back again some day."
We see the sort of evil Frosty's leading these children into, flagrantly challenging the authority of the law! And even threatening to return!
Thumpity thump thump,
thumpity thump thump.
Look at Frosty go
thumpity thump thump,
thumpity thump thump
Over the hills and snow!
The way it's behaving, looks to me like Frosty the "No-Man" isn't about to melt any time soon - certainly not that frozen soul with its chilly jollity. The thing may seem to be thumpity-thumping away, but it'll be back! We know because it headed for the hills once before - most likely to reconstitute itself with snow - and was yet mysteriously again here among us!

As though it had never left . . .


Friday, November 28, 2014

Getting into the Spirit of Christmas . . .

Rudolph, the Bloody-Nosed Reindeer
Google Images

Christmas is approaching in all its post-Thanksgiving glory, and what could be more glorious than Rudolph's strobe-flashing nose? Soooo . . . let's take a look at the lyrics of "Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer" and get into the spirit of Christmas:
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall?
The most famous reindeer of all?
Listen fella, I didn't even recall most of those first eight till you recited them! You sure they're all American? Those names look foreign . . . Anyway, here comes that infamous interloper to tradition now:
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Has a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.
Hard to imagine that a shiny nose actually 'glows'. Shiny, fine, but glows? Well, maybe if this little newcomer was hitting on too much of the eggnog!
All of the other reindeers
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
And Santa didn't notice this abuse? Or didn't care? Or was some sort of distant paternal figure?
Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?
Oh, so now that he needs that 'shiny' nosed one, the plump elf is all polite and flexible. The other reindeer, too:
Then all the reindeers loved him,
And they all shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You'll go down in history!
Hypocrites! What the perditionating infernality are we supposed to gain from this story? What moral lesson does it teach? What are we to tell our kids? That they can ridicule some poor soul to their heart's content, but if they suddenly need that person for some reason, they can just start shouting praises, and all abuse is forgiven?


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Global Warning: "If the ocean was whiskey . . ."

All Dried Out!
New York Times

Just look at what global warming is doing to the oceans! Thank goodness I'm on the ball and ready to shout out a global warning! Red hot arctic seas - heat goes up, you know! Underwater mountain ranges exposed in all their now-naked uprightness! Other stuff I don't know what are!

Just kidding. The images are the dried residues left at the bottom of whisky glasses:
Ernie Button, a photographer in Phoenix, found art at the bottom of a whisky glass. Howard A. Stone, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at Princeton, found the science in the art. (Kenneth Chang, "Art in a Whisky Glass, Neatly Explained," New York Times, November 24, 2014)
Button first noticed the residual patterns in a shot glass:
Eight years ago, Mr. Button was about to wash the glass when he noticed that leftover drops of Scotch had dried into a chalky but unexpectedly beautiful film. "When I lifted it up to the light, I noticed these really delicate, fine lines on the bottom," he recalled, "and being a photographer for a number of years before this, I'm like, 'Hmm, there's something to this.'"
He eventually found the right man of science to study the strange effect:
Mr. Button typed "fluid mechanics" and "art" into Google. Up popped a list of search results that included Dr. Stone.

Mr. Button emailed. Dr. Stone responded.

"I remember it wasn't clear what we were looking at," Dr. Stone said.
And they're still not entirely sure what they're looking at, as you'll learn if you go to the story itself. And if you go to Ernie Button's site, you'll see many more images.

As for the ocean as whiskey, here's the song.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I've heard of tree huggers, but . . .

Richard Torres and Blushing Bride
Google Images

. . . few of them get serious enough to tie the knot! Richard Torres, however, has just married a tree:
Peruvian environmental activist Richard Torres . . . pose[s] for a photo during a symbolic marriage to a tree . . . . Torres invited [people] . . . to care for trees . . . . Torres says that he intends to take his message of saving the environment to other Latin American countries. (Yahoo News, 2014)
He's actually an infamous tree-polygamist and has probably married a whole forest by now. That's what made the above photo from Google Images possible - it shows an earlier wedding, and I needed a photo because the image at the Yahoo site was worthless.

Just like a polygamist's wedding vow . . .


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Lying about Dylan . . .

David Kenny, in a New York Times column, "Freewheelin': Bob Dylan, Jonah Lehrer and the Truth" (August 2, 2012), notes the irony of Jonah Lehrer making up quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan:
He earned a place among journalism’s shamed stars by playing it fast and loose in a story, coincidentally enough, about a cultural icon known for liking his facts slippery.
Lehrer, who ought to have been teaching us to imagine how creativity works, instead taught us a moral lesson by way of a bad example, lying about a creative artist known for being a man with a penchant toward 'telling stories' about himself:
In 2004, when Bob Dylan published his memoir, "Chronicles: Volume One," it was hailed for its striking candor. In it, he tells the story of arriving in New York and hitting it big in the 1960s, and about losing his way and rediscovering himself in the 1980s. The critics cheered. Finally, the Sphinx was telling it like it was.

Dylan obsessives knew better than to take him at his word. This was the master fabulist, a man of many masks, king of the tricksters, and memoir is the least dependable of genres.
Everyone knows Dylan 'lies', but he's a creative artist writing a memoir, so he gets a free pass, whereas Lehrer . . .
. . . was working in nonfiction rather than memoir, where scenes and dialogue are understood to be reconstructed from memory rather than from rigorous reporting.
In short, Lehrer was 'creative', but no artist, so bye-bye Bro-Jo.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Michael Butterworth Exhibition: International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester

Michael Butterworth
Prior Incarnation
The One on the Left
Photo by Ben Blackall

My friend Carter Kaplan - the intellectual and pragmatic force behind the Emanations anthology series - has informed me of a Michael Butterworth Exhibition of writings and art that is currently taking place in Britain and may even come to America. Moreover, the first volume of Emanations is also included and on display, as seen here, though I wasn't able to download a photo (which explains the 1998 photo above).

This exhibition is sponsored by The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, and is titled the Butterworth/Savoy Exhibition, with photos visitable here on Gareth Jackson's Flicker site.

Michael published an exceptionally impressive story - "Das Neue Leben," in the first of the Emanations anthologies - that plays upon old conspiracy theories in its portrayal of Hitler as having escaped the destruction that he had brought down upon Germany and living in genteel, though obscure comfort in his jungle mansion in South America, with a faithful German as 'lover' and an enormous, sinister serpent as pet.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Never 'trust' Dylan . . .

Stuart Ostrow
Google Images

In Present at the Creation, Stuart Ostrow swears that Bob Dylan is 'telling a story' about being invited by Archibald MacLeish:
"Archie's letter said that he'd like to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me composing some songs for a play he was writing . . . ." Baloney. MacLeish never asked Bob Dylan to collaborate on Scratch.
Click on the link and read more of Ostrow's account, which is more about how Ostrow invited Dylan to work with them on the play . . .


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Funny how things return . . . or the times, they aren't a-changing . . .

Archibald MacLeish

In Chronicles, Volume 1, Bob Dylan reminisces about Archibald MacLeish, who 'wrote' Dylan a letter, inviting collaboration:
Archie's letter said that he'd like to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me composing some songs for a play that he was writing, called Scratch, based on a Stephen Vincent Benet short story. (Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1)
That collaboration never transpired, but of interest to me is that the short story by Benet was "The Devil and Daniel Webster," the tale that so deeply influenced my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer.

And I've used a MacLeish poem, "The End of the World," as the 'prescript' to a new story of mine . . .

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Bob Dylan telling stories . . .

Bob Dylan

Seth Rogovoy, writing in Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet (Scribner, 2009), reviews volume one of Dylan's memoires and pegs him as a "storyteller":
The most striking thing about Chronicles is how it introduces an entirely new voice - that of Bob Dylan, the colorful, garrulous storyteller. *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn't adhere to the facts* is the language that he uses to recount his life and times, and the detours and byways down which he leads the reader, through literature, music, philosophy, and life's learned lessons. (Rogovoy, Bob Dylan, 280)
The term "storyteller" here means someone who misleads the reader in entertaining ways, and having read a bit of Dylan's Chronicles myself, I'd say that he 'misleads' with a nod and a wink, signaling to the wary reader that he's not as good as his word, he's better than that. A passage early in volume one makes this clear when Lou Levy, a higher-up in Leeds Music Publishing company, gives Dylan a big break and tells the head of publicity for Leeds, Billy James, to have a talk with Dylan and write promotional material on him for a press release:
Billy dressed Ivy League like he could have come out of Yale - medium height, crisp black hair. He looked like he'd never been stoned a day in his life, never been in any kind of trouble. I strolled into his office, sat down opposite his desk, and he tried to get me to cough up some facts, like I was supposed to give them to him straight and square. He took out a notepad and pencil and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Illinois and he wrote it down. He asked me if I ever did any other work and I told him that I had a dozen jobs, drove a bakery truck once. He wrote that down and asked me if there was anything else. I said I'd worked construction and he asked me where.


"You traveled around?"


He asked me about my family, where they were. I told him I had no idea, that they were long gone.

"What was your home life like?"

I told him I'd been kicked out.

"What did your father do?"


"And your mother, what about her?"


"What kind of music do you play?"

"Folk music."

"What kind of music is folk music?"

I told him it was handed down songs. I hated these kind of questions. Felt I could ignore them. Billy seemed unsure of me and that was just fine. I didn't feel like answering his questions anyway, didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody.

"How did you get here?" he asked me.

"I rode a freight train."

"You mean a passenger train?"

"No, a freight train."

"You mean, like a boxcar?"

"Yeah, like a boxcar. Like a freight train."

"Okay, a freight train."

I gazed past Billy, past his chair through his window across the street to an office building where I could see a blazing secretary soaked up in the spirit of something - she was scribbling busy, occupied at a desk in a meditative manner. There was nothing funny about her. I wished I had a telescope. Billy asked me who I saw myself like in today's music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn't see myself like anybody. The rest of it, though, was pure hokum - hophead talk. (Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, Simon and Schuster: New York, 2004, pages 7-8)
In short, Dylan told Billy James a pack of entertaining lies, and he did so because he "didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody." People want a story anyway, so he gives them one.

But Dylan is primarily a songwriter and performer, and he is better known as a storyteller in his songs. One blog post by Jason Boog, "Best Bob Dylan Songs That Tell a Story" (Galleycat, June 15, 2011) lists 24 of his best storytelling songs.

As regular readers know, I've already blogged on one of these, namely, Isis.

UPDATE: The text had "Less important than how closely he adheres to the facts", but after checking with Mr. Seth Rogovoy, I've edited to reflect what he intended to write: *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn't adhere to the facts* . . .

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Congratulations to Suh Ji-moon

Suh Ji-moon (Middle) and Other Winners
Winners of 12th Korean Literature Translation Award
Mahmoud Abdel Ghaffar and Cho Hee-sun on Left
Suh Ji-moon in Middle
Im Yun-jung and Maria Kuznetsova on Right
Photo: LTI Korea

My literary friend from my Korea University days, Professor Suh Ji-moon, received a prize for her translation of Kim Won-il's book House with a Sunken Courtyard, as reported by Ahn Sung-mi in "Translation award honors Suh Ji-moon" (Korea Herald, November 18, 2014):
When emeritus professor Suh Ji-moon first began translating Korean literature into English in the 1970s, she used to write by hand or use a typewriter, which required writing and retyping over and over again before submission.

Though times have changed, the prominent Korean scholar with a 40-year career in teaching, research and literary translation still admits that translating is difficult, often accompanied by frustration and distress. Yet, it is a fulfilling experience, just like a time-consuming and strenuous search for hidden jewelry.

Now, the 66-year-old scholar has received an award for her efforts. On Monday, Suh won the top prize at the 12th annual Korean Literature Translation Awards for translating Kim Won-il's "House with a Sunken Courtyard" into English. The award is given by Korea’s state-run Literature Translation Institute of Korea.
Ji-moon actually allowed me to take a look at the translation in manuscript, and I could already see its very high literary quality rendered in her excellent translation - plus, the story was enthralling! I encourage everyone to read it!

Moreover, she worked upon the translation at a difficult time of her life, as the article relates, so for acess to the entire article, which gives more details, click here.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sunni Muslims in Mosul: "considering becoming . . . atheist"

Thomas L. Friedman

In an op-ed piece, "Who Are We?" (New York Times, November 15, 2014), by Thomas L. Friedman, a writer whose columns I ordinarily just skim (no offense intended, Mr. Friedman, I do a lot of skimming), I found the stunning words that I've cited above and now explain below:
Rasha al-Aqeedi is an Iraqi editor from Mosul working at Al-Mesbar. She has stayed in touch with people in Mosul since ISIS took over. "What is happening," she told me, is that the Sunni Muslim population of Mosul "has now awakened from the shock. Before, people would say, 'Islam is perfect and [the outside world] is after us and hates us.' Now people are starting to read the books that ISIS is based on. I hear from people in Mosul who say, 'I am considering becoming an atheist.'"
Why do I call these words "stunning"? Because this means that some educated Muslims in ISIS-dominated territory are looking into the sources of the Islamic State, probably in an attempt to refute ISIS ideology, but are discovering that ISIS is correctly reporting what these sources say, and the problem is that these sources are classic early Muslim writings: the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah.

As classics, such books cannot be shrugged off, as though the Islamists who call themselves ISIS are extremists at the margins of Islam. No, Islamists are radicals at the core of Islam. Some moderate Muslims living in Mosul recognize this, and those moderates considering atheism to be a proper response have decided that Islam itself is incapable of reform.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Strange things in a new book . . .

I've just finished reading Michel Faber's recent novel about interstellar mission work (yes, sharing Christ with space aliens), and it's outstanding, though not perfect - I'd say 4.5 stars out of 5 on the Amazon ranking (though the readership gives 4).

I was relieved that the story didn't take a Heart-of-Darkness turn, though I feared for a while that it might - and maybe it will, if Faber writes a sequel.

I did think there were a couple of implausible coincidences in the story - you know, the coincidence that gets a character out of trouble. Unless I misread . . .

By the way, Faber gives credit in his Acknowledgements to the people who worked at Marvel Comics, and his reference to the 1960s and 1970s means that he and I were reading the same comics at the same time, more or less:
I would like also to express my appreciation for the team of writers, pencilers and inkers who worked at Marvel Comics during the 1960s and 1970s, giving me such enjoyment as a child and ever since. All the surnames in The Book of Strange New Things are based on theirs, sometimes slightly altered or disguised, sometimes not.
Faber says more, but what am I, your secretary?! Go read the book for yourself!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Bob Dylan as Storyteller

Photo by Ken Regan, Fall 1975
Rolling Thunder Revue

The song "Isis," the second track on Dylan's album Desire, was co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, as was also the case with "One More Cup of Coffee," a song I recently blogged on. You can listen to the song here, and follow with these lyrics, to which I've added punctuation:
I married Isis on the fifth day of May,
But I could not hold on to her very long,
So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong.

I came to a high place of darkness and light.
The dividing line ran through the center of town.
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right,
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.

A man in the corner approached me for a match.
I knew right away he was not ordinary.
He said, "Are you looking for something easy to catch?"
I said, "I got no money." He said, "That ain't necessary."

We set out that night for the cold in the North.
I gave him my blanket, and he gave me his word.
I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "We'll be back by the fourth."
I said, "That's the best news that I've ever heard."

I was thinking about turquoise, I was thinking about gold,
I was thinking about diamonds and the world's biggest necklace.
As we rode through the canyons through the devilish cold,
I was thinking about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless.

How she told me that one day we'd meet up again,
And things would be different the next time we wed,
If I only could hang on and just be her friend.
I still can't remember all the best things she said.

We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice.
He said, "There's a body I'm trying to find.
If I carry it out, it'll bring a good price."
It was then that I knew what he had on his mind.

The wind, it was howling, and the snow was outrageous.
We chopped through the night, and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died, I was hoping that it wasn't contagious,
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty.
There was no jewels, no nothing - I felt I'd been had.
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly,
When I took up his offer, I must've been mad.

I picked up his body, and I dragged him inside,
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover.
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied,
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her.

She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise,
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed.
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.
I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead.

She said, "Where ya been?" I said, "No place special."
She said, "You look different." I said, "Well, I guess."
She said, "You been gone." I said, "That's only natural."
She said, "You gonna stay?" I said, "If you want me to, yes."

Isis, oh Isis, you mystical child,
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled,
On the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain.
There it is, the entire song, a great story sung by a great storyteller! But why do I call this song a story? Because things happen in a sequence that fulfills our expectations, expectations set up with the first line: "I married Isis on the fifth day of May." You see? Something happened. We hear the line and wonder, "What's next?" Dylan tells us: "But I could not hold on to her very long." What happened then. Dylan continues to tell us . . .

Very different than "One More Cup of Coffee," which offers a portrait of a lady: "Your breath is sweet / Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky / Your back is straight your hair is smooth / On the pillow where you lie." Nothing's happening in this scene. Nothing much happens in the entire song. In that song, we're between stories, maybe, but we'll never know what those stories are.

Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pleasant Jihadi Dreams . . .

Glorious Jihad

Memri (November 4, 2014, Clip No. 4585) recorded the words of "Islamic scholar [Hussein Muhammad Hussein] Pledg[ing] Allegiance to ISIS Emir Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Live on Al-Jazeera TV," and the man said a number of politically incorrect things about Islam that we aren't supposed to believe, let alone mention, but that he can say because he's an Islamist:
[A]ll the Arab peoples yearn for the rule of Islamic law . . . . Allah be praised, he gave me the honor to pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, whether people like it or not . . . . Jihad is a duty carried out by the Caliphate . . . . Capturing infidel women is permitted by Islamic law . . . . Islam functions as both a religion and a state . . . . [The plan of ISIS is to] establish the Islamic State . . . . [in] all the Muslim countries . . . . The world is divided into two camps - the camp of heresy and the camp of faith. The infidels are the enemies of the Muslims . . . . If the whole world is infidel, we will be hostile toward it . . . . The world consists of Muslims and infidels. We are here, and they are there. We rule the Muslim lands, but if you attack us, you will see nothing but war - you and your lackeys . . . . The peoples that are not yet governed by the Caliphate yearn for it . . . . All of them, without exception. They yearn for the rule of Islamic law. Yes, [they yearn for] the beheading of the infidels, lowlifes, and criminals.
Very pleasant dreams . . . for Hussein Muhammad Hussein and other Islamists. Very unpleasant nightmares for the rest of us, but good to know what Islamists want. They certainly aren't trying to hide their aims, though they still practice deception. Hussein says that if non-Muslims attack the Islamic State, there will be war against the non-Muslims, but he doesn't add that there will be war against the non-Muslims anyway.

It's a game of heads I win, tails you lose . . .

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yi Yook-sa: The Vertex

The Vertex
Yi Yook-sa
Translated and Introduced by Sung-Il Lee
Google Images

I had a surprise awaiting me when I stepped into the EPO yesterday, a copy of the poetry book depicted above, personally sent to me by the translator Sung-Il Lee himself - the Beowulf translator I've mentioned before - who wrote these words:
For Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges,
With best wishes,
Sung Il Lee
November 8, 2014
That was very kind of him. I'll have to treat him to a coffee, or a lunch, sometime soon.

Here's one of the poems:

Disheveled mane,

Eyes that have lost their luster,

Hair standing like chesnut bur -

Ah, horse, weary of a long journey!

Horse, worn with continual whipping!

Languidly drooping,

Tail falling down, as if lifeless,

Yet, hooves glistening in the frost -

Ah, horse, ready to scatter the clouds!

White horse, neighing to the New Year!
Nicely done! Thank you Professor Lee. Written by Yi Yook-sa in 1930, translated into English and published now, in 2014 . . .

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Friday, November 14, 2014

"I have seen the future, it is murder"

Smarter Weapons
Long Range Anti-Ship Missile
Designed to Maneuver without Human Control
Photo Credit: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Speaking of the Singularity and Deep Learning, let's listen to what John Markoff has to say on "Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill" (NYT, November 11, 2014):
On a bright fall day last year off the coast of Southern California, an Air Force B-1 bomber launched an experimental missile . . . . Initially, pilots aboard the plane directed the missile, but halfway to its destination, it severed communication with its operators. Alone, without human oversight, the missile decided which of three ships to attack . . . . Warfare is increasingly guided by software . . . . [S]ome scientists say, arms makers have crossed into troubling territory: They are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target . . . . As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control - or to defend against . . . . After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets . . . . Britain's "fire and forget" Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets . . . . In recent years, artificial intelligence has begun to supplant human decision-making in a variety of fields, . . . [b]ut technological advances [are occurring] in three particular areas[, namely, in] . . . [n]ew types of radar, laser and infrared sensors[, all of which] are helping missiles and drones better calculate their position and orientation. "Machine vision," resembling that of humans, identifies patterns in images and helps weapons distinguish important targets. This nuanced sensory information can be quickly interpreted by sophisticated artificial intelligence systems, enabling a missile or drone to carry out its own analysis in flight.
Reading of such technological developments, I can almost imagine the reality of the Terminator movies' dystopian vision of a future ruled by military machines!

This is the future . . .

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Singularly Deep Learning

Roh Soh-yeong
Director, Art Center Nabi

I read in yesterday's JoongAng Ilbo an article by Roh Soh-yeong on "The advent of 'Singularity 99'" (November 12, 2014), beginning with these fateful words:
Pandora's box is finally open: 2014 is likely to be recorded as the year that humanity has crossed the river of no return. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come out of the box. With the name tag, "Deep Learning," the AI technology that resembles the human thinking and decision-making process has been introduced. Just as a network of countless neurons perceives, processes and judges information, a computer can perceive, infer and decide by itself. The future when a computer surpasses human thinking is approaching.
I wasn't aware that 2014 is so significant, though I've previously encountered the term "singularity," but not the expression "Deep Learning." Maybe because it "has been introduced" only recently? "Singularity" refers to the moment that AI "surpasses human intelligence," as Ms. Roh explains - and as I've known for some time - but she never again refers to "Deep Learning." I therefore turned to Wikipedia:
Deep learning . . . is a set of algorithms in machine learning that attempt to model high-level abstractions in data by using model architectures composed of multiple non-linear transformations.
Hmmm . . . I'm not sure I followed all that, but I do understand that it has something to do with Al Gore's rhythm, which is rather machine-like, and that's maybe enough for me to know, in order to know that I want no part of such a future, no matter what wonderful things that imminent future's super-intelligent, Al-Gore-rhythmic, calculating cyborgs can do, for example, take away my job, take away my future, leave me redundant!

But who says computers will outpace human intelligence? Biogeneticists will be monkeying around - so to speak - with improving human intelligence as well.

We'll be getting a lot smarter, too, I fear.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Secret Agent Man: Dark Knight in the Dark Web

Before he went underground . . .
Lawrence Baldwin, left
Defcon, Las Vegas in 2002
Credit YouTube

Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Goldstein introduce us to an unusual man fighting crime on the dark net: "On the Hunt for Wall St. Hackers, but Not the Spotlight" (New York Times, November 9, 2014).
Lawrence Baldwin is a dark hero of the Internet whom you have probably never heard of[, but a] decade ago, Mr. Baldwin made a name for himself and his Atlanta-based security firm . . . . [a]nd then he seemed to disappear . . . . For the past seven years, several security consultants and former law enforcement personnel say, Mr. Baldwin has immersed himself in the so-called dark web, using what most describe as unorthodox methods to gather intelligence about online financial crime . . . . To his supporters, Mr. Baldwin, who has a degree in computer science from the University of Hartford, is something of a secret agent. "He has eyes directly on the perpetrator," said one security expert who did not want to be identified because of Mr. Baldwin's preference for a low profile . . . . [and a]nother described his work as "very cloak and dagger." All agree that the intelligence he provides is very effective. "I would take his intelligence over anyone else's any day of the week," another said . . . . All of this has created a market for a handful of consultants like Mr. Baldwin who go undercover and track the criminals' activity in real time . . . . [Thus] "Baldwin stands out because he provides actionable intelligence," said Avivah Litan, a security analyst with Gartner, the research firm. "It's exact, it's original and he barely charges for it, whereas other firms repackage intelligence from many sources" . . . . Two people familiar with his methods said that Mr. Baldwin's company maintains listening posts on Internet service provider networks and infects tools used by criminals, like underground botnets - networks of infected computers - to see what criminals are collecting and where they are collecting it from. He has also developed a web of contacts across industries and knows who is stealing information . . . . A few years ago, law enforcement officials spoke to Mr. Baldwin to ensure he understood what he could do without breaking the law, according to two people briefed on the conversation. One concern is that while Mr. Baldwin has a record of developing intelligence on hacker activity, the information cannot be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding because of his methods, and the confidential relationships he uses to gather it . . . . Early in his career he worked at BellSouth, helping to introduce its dial-up network. Immediately, hackers tried to break in. What began as a curiosity - figuring out who they were and how they attacked their victims - became his life's work . . . . Mr. Baldwin stands out as a "boy scout" who simply wants to catch criminals and routinely shares information free . . . . He works closely with the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance, a nonprofit based in Pittsburgh that brings together law enforcement, private industry members, security consultants and academic scholars to share information to prevent and mitigate the threats. The group works closely with many American banks and corporations and has received contributions in recent years from Bank of America, Microsoft and Symantec.
So . . . why haven't we heard much about this man? Because, in a rare answer to the query, he says:
"I'm not a press hound . . . . There are serious personal safety issues to consider."
In other words, he's made a lot of enemies of the very dangerous kind, so why are we drawing attention to him?

Good question. This post will self-destruct in five seconds . . .


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Censorship of State . . .

Nineteenth-Century French Engraving Protests Censorship
The Censor with his Scissors is on the Left
Library of Congress

Alberto Manguel has written a fascinating article reviewing Robert Darnton's Censors at Work (NYT, November 7, 2014), for Darnton shows that censors often acted as copy editors - or even as literary critics!
[W]hat exactly is censorship? This is the question with which Robert Darnton, the foremost historian of the book and the art of reading, begins his enthralling new volume . . . . Most historians of censorship, like Fernando Báez in his excellent "A Universal History of the Destruction of Books," assume that the censor's task has always been to forbid and destroy. Darnton shows that this is not the case . . . . He begins by looking at a book printed in Paris in 1722 that carries the "approbation and privilege of the king." These approbations, as Darnton notes, qualify as censorship because they were "delivered by royal censors" . . . . [R]ather than what modern readers would expect from a censoring hand, they are something closer to our present-day blurbs. One of these censors, a professor at the Sorbonne, notes: "I had pleasure in reading it; it is full of fascinating things." Another, a theologian, remarks with obvious delight that a book inspired "that sweet but avid curiosity that makes us want to continue further." As Darnton makes clear, censorship under the Bourbon monarchy was not a system of limitations; it was a way of channeling the power of print through the figure of the king and his representatives, asserting royal authority over everything, even the word. Royal censors were not mainly on the outlook for subversive voices: instead, they worked like copy editors, concerned with matters of style, grammar, readability and originality of thought, even going so far as correcting spelling and redoing math. A book approved by the king should not be badly written . . . . [C]ensorship in 18th-­century France manifested itself primarily as a sort of literary criticism.
Now, I've got it, the reason for my novella's modest sales - I lack a censor! Down with the corrupt novella titled The Bottomless Bottle of Beer! Bring on the censors!

Please . . .

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Coffee . . . just one more cup


Lately, this Dylan song has been playing in my head, partly because I listened again and again to the album Desire back in the mid- to late seventies:
"One More Cup Of Coffee"

Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie
But I don't sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee 'fore I go.
To the valley below.

Your daddy he's an outlaw
And a wanderer by trade
He'll teach you how to pick and choose
And how to throw the blade
He oversees his kingdom
So no stranger does intrude
His voice it trembles as he calls out
For another plate of food.

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee 'fore I go.
To the valley below.

Your sister sees the future
Like your mama and yourself
You've never learned to read or write
There's no books upon your shelf
And your pleasure knows no limits
Your voice is like a meadowlark
But your heart is like an ocean
Mysterious and dark.

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee 'fore I go.
To the valley below.
But why the current mental replay? Maybe because of the mystery of life and love . . . but also because I drink so much coffee these days . . .

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

Biking on a Busy Day . . .

We went biking yesterday together, Sun-Ae and I, something we've not had time to do for a couple of years now, so busy we've been with our editing and translation work, and we saw both old and new scenes on our bike trip up the Jungnang Stream to a pathside place where we used to stop for lunch and beer, back when we had more time, and the woman there, the proprietress of the outdoor food-and-drink place, was glad to see us, and maybe for the final time since we have so little time to spare for such trips, and little time for stopping and taking a few photos, such as this one of a fisher bird of some sort:

He looks like a lone sentry in a landscape of Brutalist architecture, awaiting friend or foe, but encountering us, a couple of puzzling creatures who capture him in this, his De Chirico moment.

And then, there's this:

Reeds that grow between biker and stream . . . albeit with highrise apartments looming in the obscure distance . . .

'Twas a chilly day, but worth the trip.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Problem with Quoting the Qur'an

Professor Robert George

Professor Robert George of Princeton University, who recently gave the 18th Annual Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs in Philadelphia on October 6, 2014, has posted that lecture - "The State Of International Religious Freedom and Why It Matters" - online through FPRI's E-Notes (November 2014):
[A]uthenticity and integrity are directly threatened whenever there is coercion or compulsion in matters of faith or belief. Indeed, coercion does not produce genuine conviction, but merely pretense and lack of authenticity. A coerced faith is no faith at all. So, as the Qu'ran says, "there can be no compulsion in religion."

Compulsion may cause a person to manifest the outward signs of belief or unbelief, but it cannot produce the interior acts of intellect and will that constitute genuine faith. Therefore, it is essential that freedom of religion include the right to hold any belief or none at all, to change one's beliefs and religious affiliation, to bear witness to these beliefs in public as well as private, and corporately as well as individually, and to act on one's religiously-inspired convictions about justice and the common good in carrying out the duties of citizenship. And it is vital that religious liberty's full protections be extended to those whose answers to life's deepest questions reject belief in the transcendent.
Professor George is right, of course, that there should be no compulsion in religion. Unfortunately, he cannot draw upon the Qur'an for support since that peaceful verse has been abrogated by the many so-called "sword verses." Perhaps he even knows this, but is using the opportunity to note the implication of forcing a religion upon someone: hypocrisy. He goes on to condemn the Islamic State as yet another instance of modern totalitarianism:
No civilized religion - certainly no creed in the tradition of ethical monotheism - including Islam, ever stood in principle, as the Nazis and Communists did, and as the "Islamic State" does today, for what amounts to sheer, unadulterated nihilism - the idea that any and every means - torture, rape, prostitution, drug sales, the slaughter of innocent children and defenseless elderly people, genocide - may be carried out in the cause of regional hegemony and, ultimately, world domination. No world religion ever granted any human being, group, or government the permanent right in principle to flout any rule, break any law, or commit any atrocity at will. In other words, the struggle we face is not that of one religion against another, nor of religion against humanity. Rather, it is a struggle that pits lawlessness and tyranny against basic decency and dignity. And in this struggle, reformers must be applauded for their resolute stand not only to reform and clarify from within, but to stand against the hijacking of Islam by those driven by the same impulse that drove the likes of Hitler and Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot. They must rip away radical Islamism's religious mask - revealing its idolatrous soul before the world.
Brave words. But is Professor George right? What if Islamism, including that of the Islamic State, is not extremism at the margins of Islam, but simply radicalism at Islam's core? What if the Qur'an, the hadith, and the sunnah indeed offer support for what Professor George calls "sheer, unadulterated nihilism"?

What then?

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Christianity Disappearing in the Mideast? - Not So Fast!

Philip Jenkins
Baylor University

Writing for Christianity Today (November 4, 2014) and discussing the extinction of Christianity in some of its homeland (currently controlled by the brutal, genocidal Islamic State), Philip Jenkins asks, "Is This the End for Mideast Christianity?" He says, "No," and explains himself:
[W]e are still witnessing a striking upsurge of Christian numbers in some of the most unlikely settings, almost entirely as a result of immigration. Look at Saudi Arabia, a land of 28 million people where Islam is the only permitted religion. Consequently, official sources list the country as 100 percent Muslim.

In reality, Saudi Arabia is only one of many Middle Eastern countries that have imported millions of poor foreigners to perform menial jobs over the years. Many of those immigrants are African and Asian Christians, including many Filipinos. As they do not officially exist as Christians, they have zero right to practice their faith, even in private. But exist they do. By some estimates, Saudi Arabia's Christian population is about 5 percent of the whole, perhaps 1.5 million people.

Other Gulf nations are more honest about just how religiously diverse they have become. Christians - mainly guest workers - probably make up 7 percent of the population of the United Arab Emirates, and 10 percent of Bahrain or Kuwait. Those are nations where Christianity scarcely existed 100 years ago.
Jenkins is perhaps too optimistic. Power rests with these states' Muslim rulers, and little would be needed to drive the powerless Christians out.

Just look how quickly the Islamic State ridded itself of Christians, and recall that Saudi Arabia is just as Salafi as the Islamists conquering territory in Syria and Iraq.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

"Everything you know is wrong" - and I've got proof!

Mr. Right
Noah Smith

In an article worthy of Firesign Theater, Noah "Rain-On-Your-Parade" Smith, writing for Bloomberg View, informs us that "Bad Data Can Make Us Smarter" (October 23, 2014). Excellent! I consider myself invited to do my best to do my worst in my future scholarly publications. But why is this true?
The number of published papers has exploded over the past century, but the statistical techniques used to judge the significance of a finding haven't evolved very much. The standard test of a scientific hypothesis is the so-called t-test. A t-test will give you a p-value, which is supposed to be the percent chance that the finding was random. So if you run a test and get a p-value of 0.04, many people will take that to mean that there is only a 4 percent chance that the finding was a fluke. Because 4 percent sounds like a low-ish number, most researchers would call such a finding "statistically significant."
But "most researchers" would be wrong! Har-har-har!
Now, if there were only one scientific test of one hypothesis in all of human history, a p-value of 0.04 might be just as interesting as it looks. But in the real world, there are many many thousands of published p-values, meaning that a substantial number must be flukes. Worse, since only the tests with significant p-values tend to get published, there's a huge selection bias at work - for every significant p-value you see in a paper, there were a bunch of tests that didn't yield an interesting-looking p-value, and hence weren't able to make it into published papers in the first place! This is known as publication bias. It means the publication system selects for false positives.
Uh-oh . . . I've been regularly publishing a couple of times a year for over ten years.
But it gets worse. Because the set of tests that researchers run isn't fixed - since researchers need to publish papers - they will keep running tests until they get some that look significant.
Gee . . . I don't even run tests.
Suppose I ran 1,000 tests on 1,000 different totally wrong hypotheses. With computers, this is easy to do. Statistically, maybe about 50 of these will look significant with the traditional cutoff of 5 percent. I'll be able to publish the 50 false positives, but not the 950 correct negative results!
As I noted above, I don't even run tests. Is that better or worse?
This is data-mining, and there's essentially no way to measure how much of it is really being done, for the very reason that researchers don't report most of their negative results. It isn't an ethics question - most researchers probably don't even realize that they're doing this. After all, it's a very intuitive thing to do - look around until you see something interesting, and report the interesting thing as soon as you see it.
You see? I told you: "Everything you know is wrong" - and I've got proof!


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A Mug Like Me . . .

Starbucks Mug
Korean Script Introduction

Some weeks back, I must have helped a former student of mine with an application (though I don't recall), and because her application was successful, she bought the nice mug you see above and 'gifted' me with it. Well, not exactly that one - the one she bought sat unphotographed on my desk while I was scanning Google Images for its facsimile.

The cup displays the prefatory remarks of King Sejong explaining his reasons for 'inventing' the Korean alphabet, which he named "Hunminjeongeum," but which later Koreans wisely renamed "Hangeul" so that dumb foreigners like me could pronounce it.

I'm really grateful to my ex-student because this mug looks just about right for holding a beer, and in that way, it's a mug like me . . .

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

British Left Begins to See the Light . . .

Kurdish Defender Against Islamic State
Photo: Fabio Bucciarelli/Getty
The Spectator

The Left has been very conspicuously silent about Islamism for many years now, but some Leftists appear to be waking up to the danger, now that the Islamic State has made Islamism's genocidal, misogynistic, theocratic imperialism all but impossible to ignore. Still, one can't but be surprised to hear this critique from the Left.

Nick Cohen's headline in The Spectator says it all: "Solidarity for the Kurds from - er - the British left. This is is not a misprint" (November 1, 2014).

Cohen then quotes Gary Kent - of the Labour Friends of Iraq - who simply admits:
The Labour movement has been behind the curve in getting behind the Kurds and our grassroots plea for practical action now aims to galvanise solidarity to avert further genocide and horrific crimes against women by Isis.
The Labour Friends of Iraq then get down to nitty-gritty:
We, non-Kurdish members of the British Labour Party and Trade Unions, are calling for an urgent and significant increase in the support from Britain and other countries to the people defending the world against the onslaught of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The Kurds of Kobani, Rojava and the Kurdistan Region, including Yezidis, Christians and other minorities, are on the front line of a global battle against the vilest fascism of our age. We must help them, we must call on the world to help them, and this help must be given by whatever means necessary. The Labour movement is an internationalist movement which understands deeply the plight of those who suffer under tyranny. We must now stand united in our efforts to secure changes to current UK government policy in this conflict.

The images of grandmothers and grandfathers fighting, and often dying, alongside their younger families is something almost impossible for us in Britain to comprehend. The tales of beheadings, the abandoned dead bodies of women with their breasts cut off, men with their eyes gouged out, sex slavery, genocides and mass executions, and reports of the burning skin of possible acid attacks are too horrific for the British Left to give a half hearted response, or worse.

We in Britain are privileged to live in a peaceful, liberal, secular and democratic society, and we must never forgot that such a society had to be fought for, won and defended. It did not happen through some passive progressive evolution, but was won and preserved through progressive politics, through agitation, and most recently through war against Nazism. Now, a powerful horror is being unleashed into the world by ISIS, who believe they are carrying out divine work. They will not give up, they will not stop. They have to be taken on, and defeated, and this has to be done intellectually, spiritually, and practically. The Labour Party does not turn away from those in need. We help. And we must do so with great urgency now.
Maybe the British Left will also learn to look at the Islamists at home in Britain and realize that critics of radical Islam are not suffering from some illness called "Islamophobia." If the Left now is going to support the fight against Islamism abroad, they'll also need to take the fight to the homefront. Too often, the Muslim leaders they talk to and listen to are not genuine moderates, but Islamists posing as moderates. The Left needs to listen to what these 'moderates' say in their own languages, for they often turn out to immoderates . . .

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Superfluous us, I see?

Illustration by Paul Sahre

For the New York Times, Marcel Theroux reviews "Michel Faber's 'Book of Strange New Things'" (October 30, 2014):
At the outset of Michel Faber's latest novel, "The Book of Strange New Things," its protagonist, Peter Leigh, is about to venture into space. Peter is a pastor who has been selected to travel to a newly colonized planet at the request of its native population. His official job title is "minister (Christian) to indigenous population." His vocation will set new records for both missionary work and long-distance relationships: Peter is going to be separated by light-years from his wife, Beatrice. Leaving Bea; their cat, Joshua; and a 21st-century planet Earth where the current sense of climatic and geopolitical chaos has been magnified by a couple of sadly too-­plausible degrees, Peter heads off to take up his new ministry . . . . [T]he ingredients of "The Book of Strange New Things" . . . . include a planet, named Oasis by the mysteriously acronymed corporation (USIC) that runs it; a complacent and incurious human work force at a base on the nascent colony; a predecessor [pastor] who has gone missing in unexplained circumstances; and an inscrutable alien people . . . . [R]eaders . . . will recognize the method: taking a standard science fiction premise and unfolding it with the patience and focus of a tai chi master, until it reveals unexpected connections, ironies and emotions. "The Book of Strange New Things" squeezes its genre ingredients to yield a meditation on suffering, love and the origins of religious faith. As Faber reminds us, the phrase in the Old Testament that is variously rendered as "of old" or "long ago" in different versions means, in Hebrew, something closer to "from afar." It is as though the moral precepts that govern much of the world's behavior are derived from far-off and alien civilizations.
That word would appear to be rachowq [רָחוֹק]: "remote, far, distant, distant lands, distant ones."
Peter's mission, which he takes to with great enthusiasm, is to satisfy the Oasans' mysterious hunger for religious instruction. Not the least of the obstacles is the Oasan language, which thanks to their strange physiognomy "sounded like a field of brittle reeds and rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete." On the page, this is rendered by an unfamiliar orthography that transmits an alien shock to the reader . . . . Their bizarre appearance aside, the calm, agrarian life of the Oasans so closely resembles a Christian ideal that it risks making Peter's preaching redundant. But as the novel goes on, it becomes clear that the Oasan condition is in its way as unenviable as the human one.
That sounds intriguing. We travel halfway around the universe, only to learn that we are superfluous, as lost in the distance as we are at home - such is our message. What need, then, to go anywhere?

Still, I might learn something, so I'll probably order this book . . .

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

"Christians never say goodbye!"

"Parting is such sweet sorrow . . ."
Christianity Today

. . . or so said the Christian thinker and writer C. S. Lewis, in his final parting from his friend Sheldon Vanauken.

Other Christians, however, take a different position:
Avoiding goodbye when we have to move and face the prospect, in some cases, of never seeing each other again in this life denies the importance of our bodily life together. Brushing over "farewell" denies that the pain of separation is real - that no matter how many texts or phone calls or Facebook updates we share, we won't be available for each other in the same way anymore.

One Christian who understood this better than most was pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Separated from his friends and family when he was arrested during World War II, Bonhoeffer wrote, "[T]here is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply persevere and endure it." (Wesley Hill, "Saying Goodbye for Good," Christianity Today, October 31, 2014)
This is true. Some dear friends we will never see again. As Mattie put it in True Grit, "Time just gets away from us."

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

For Those in Despair over Democracy . . .

Larry Diamond
Hoover Institute

. . . there's a man here to offer encouragement.

In the FPRI's E-Notes (October 2014), Larry Diamond - Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy - writes on "Reviving the Global Democratic Momentum," thereby offering encouragement and hope for those of us who still believe in the diffusion of liberal values:
If we want to promote democracy in the Arab world for the long run, we should invest very heavily in Tunisia in every possible way, because what the Arab world most needs now is one example of a decent, functioning democracy that can serve as a lesson, an inspiration, and a point of diffusion for the region . . . . I know the counter-argument. There is only so much money. How are we going to help people who have nothing - no financial resources, no protection for their human rights, and little or no democracy - if we dilute the available democracy assistance resources by devoting some of them to countries that are, comparatively, much better off? . . . [And more is needed than money, for] we cannot win the struggle for democracy unless we also wage a vigorous struggle for liberty and human rights. Too many governments in the world - not just blatant autocracies but electoral authoritarian regimes, illiberal democracies, and even some democracies we think of as liberal - are moving backwards to constrain and punish freedom of speech, freedom online, freedom to organize and assemble, and freedom to receive funding from and form partnerships with international democratic actors. We need to use our tools of conventional diplomacy, public diplomacy, aid and trade relations, and other forms of leverage to call out and condemn these regressions, and to try to defend the individuals and organizations that are bravely working to make their societies freer and more accountable . . . . It is a completely false and self-defeating notion to think that, in the era of China's rise and Russia's belligerence, we have no more leverage in the world . . . . Finally, let us always remember one thing, above all else. We have the better set of ideas. Democracy may be receding in practice, but it is still ascendant in peoples' values and aspirations . . . . Democracy remains the only broadly legitimate form of government in the world, and there is a growing hunger - including in authoritarian regimes like China, Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam - to understand what democracy is, and how it can be structured to operate effectively. We need to respond to and stimulate this appetite for democratic understanding. We need a comprehensive effort to translate into a number of critical languages a wide range of philosophical, historical and analytical works on the meaning and forms of democracy, democratic culture, democratic transitions, democratic constitutional designs, electoral systems, political parties, civil society, systems of horizontal accountability, civil-military relations, and so on. We should be arranging to distribute these translated works for free on the Internet, to develop different levels of instruction in democracy for citizens at different levels of knowledge and need, and to offer a wide range of massive, open online courses on various topics and issues related to democracy . . . . We should bet heavily on this battle of information and ideas. It is a battle we can win. The one ultimate trump card we have is the diffuse global recognition that democracy is the ideal form of government, the only permanent basis of ruling legitimacy.
Professor Diamond has much more to say on how to spread democratic ideas, so maybe there's hope. I agree with his basic assumption, that the real battle for democracy is a battle of ideas. Interesting that he doesn't mention Islam or even Islamism - though he refers to the Arab world several times. His emphasis on conducting the battle for ideas through the internet, however, shows that he has Islamists in mind, for that's precisely what they are doing, along with their physical battles for territory, of course.

We might not persuade the jihadis, but we can perhaps counter their efforts to radicalize others. That's the real battle.

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