Saturday, January 31, 2015

Response to one of Bill Vallicella's "Observations on Free Speech"

Appearances are Deceiving
Google Images

In a blog post titled "Observations on Free Speech" (January 28, 2015), my friend Bill Vallicella makes the following observation:
5. One who defends the right to free speech by identifying with adolescent porno-punks and nihilists of the Charlie Hebdo ilk only succeeds in advertising the fact that he doesn't understand why this right is accorded the status of a right.
I am one of those who identified myself with Charlie Hebdo (CH) - "Je suis Charlie" - so I suppose I need to clarify my position.

First, I was identifying with CH on its legal right to publish images of Muhammad, not its natural right to do so. The magazine's legal right to depict images of Muhammad was threatened by murderous Islamists bent on restricting freedom of expression by terrorizing free people from depicting Muhammad in any way whatsoever.

Second, I grant that the images of Muhammad appearing in CH are offensive, but are they pornographic? I have not seen those images, so I am accepting the reports of others and assuming that the images are offensive. But pornography is defined as "the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience," and that doesn't seem to be the case with CH, so far as I can judge from what others say about the CH images.

Third, the Islamists' target was not limited to CH. Rather than being narrowly focused like an assassin's attack, the concentric circles of the Islamists' target were far more encompassing than that, circumscribing so many of us within their circumferences as to terrorize potentially everyone into submitting to shariah's prohibition against depicting Muhammad's image in any way. In that sense, we were all already 'Charlie.' By standing up and saying "Je suis Charlie," I was showing my recognition that the terrorists also have the rest of us in their scope and would therefore see our defiance against their terror.

Fourth, this was an extreme situation - people had been brutally murdered for images they had drawn. Ordinarily, I would not identify myself with cartoonists of the sort who work at CH, but under the extreme circumstances, I did so to oppose terrorism and defend free speech.

My position, I suppose, is a pragmatic one of the sort that arises in political action. I am against Islamists. Their violence against free speech as practiced by CH makes no distinctions among the various sorts of images that might be drawn to depict Muhammad. Any depiction at all warrants the death penalty for the artist. Allow me to cite here one of Bill's earlier blog entries, in which he wrote: "In reaction to the murderous attack by Muslim terrorists on Charbonnier and Co. at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, many have jumped on the 'I am Charlie' bandwagon. It is quite understandable." I don't know if Bill meant any of the points I have raised in his use of the term "understandable," but I hope I have made my choice understood.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Night Out With Former Students: Craftworks Taphouse

Craftworks Taphouse

At the Taphouse yesterday evening, I spent over four hours talking with two former students of mine from the time when I taught a few courses at Yonsei's Underwood College. They enjoyed my approach to classtime activities - discussion based rather than lecture debased - and insisted that I was one of the few professors who used that approach,

Here they are, with me in the middle:

Hazhir Afzali and Raymond Rohne

These two were special students - inquisitive and curious - and they worked hard to do well, which they did do, too. Moreover, I've lately learned that both intend to pursue doctorates - Hazhir in business, Raymond in art. We didn't really talk so much about those plans, but I hope they accomplish what they set out to do.

They want to treat me do dinner next time, which is generous of them - if I can only find time before the semester begins  . . .

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Personhood: Going to the Dogs?

Cathleen Kaveny

In a blog post on "The Status of Animals" (Commonweal, January 27, 2015), the Catholic scholar Cathleen Kaveny, a Boston College professor who studies the interconnections of of law, religion, and morality, wrote the following about her dog Molly:
Over the past several months, I have been increasingly convinced that Molly is a person - a non-human person, but a person nonetheless. She has emotions. She has moods. She has reason, and will. She has goals - and she pursues them with astonishing success.
Is she building a legal case for the personhood of dogs? Hmmm . . .

Anyway, in a comment to Kaveny's remarks, Joseph A. Komonchak, a professor emeritus of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and an expert on Vatican II, wrote the following about a dog with whom he used to play frisbee:
We once had a brown Labrador Retriever who would fetch for hours. One day I threw a frisbee and she raced after it. It happened to land, upside-down, near a tennis ball that had occupied her at another time. She looked from ball to disk, from disk to ball, and then picked up the ball, placed it in the disk, picked up the disk, and trotted back to me with both treasures. Surely a sign of some intelligence.
Significantly so, I'd say. Dogs are truly special. For more on dog intelligence, see Wikipedia - and be amazed.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Webtoons - Cho Seok's Sound of Your Heart

Korean Webtoons in English

In yesterday's JoongAng Daily, I was surprised to see an article by Hong Joo-Hee and Jin Eun-Soo titled "Webtoons aim to draw in more overseas readers" reporting on Korean webtoons in English. What especially interested me was Cho Seok's Sound of Your Heart because it's my son En-Uk's favorite webtoon. For two or three years now, En-Uk's been coming up to me and showing me the series in Korean, which he tries to translate into English, not always with perfect success, but the humor comes through. Oddly, despite its prominence in the image above. nothing is said about The Sound of Your Heart in the article.

Let's therefore go to the website and see more:

The site says this:
While it may seem like a mere depiction of everyday life, The Sound of Your Heart is a comedy filled to the brim with wit, sarcasm and parody. It gives no regard for the probable or realistic - it is a series of absurd situations that is sure to get a laugh out of every reader willing to suspend their sense of reality.
That certainly fits what En-Uk has been translating for me! Check it out - in English!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Korean Literature Translated by Sun-Ae and Me: Now Available Online

Sun-Ae and I recently finished a couple of translations, and these are now ebooks published by LTI Korea, the first being Shin Chae-ho's Dream Sky - as seen above - which begins this way:
It was a day of some month in the year 4240 since Dangun's founding of Gojoseon, or 1907 by the Western calendar. I do not recall if the place was in Seoul, or somewhere abroad, but I saw myself as Hannom seated upon a room-sized flower blooming on a several thousand furlong branch of a Rose of Sharon.

Suddenly, the heavens above opened, a reddish light streamed forth, and there appeared in the sky in the form of soft clouds a heavenly being. He wore the traditional Korean hat gat glowing with splendor, was clad in the traditional Korean overcoat durumagi glowing with even more glorious light, and was seated but wielding a sword of lightning in the right hand. He spoke in a thunderous voice.

"For humans, fighting is the only way to live. If they win, they survive, but if they lose, they die. That is the Lord's order."
This can be read online for free - just click on the title above. The other ebook (or estory) is Yang Geon-sik's Sad Contradiction.

This one begins as follows:
At dawn, after dreaming a deranged and tumultuous dream and tossing and turning even after waking, I finally got up, but with my head as heavy as if it were being pressed down, and I felt uneasy, with no desire to do anything, so I sat in the room just blankly facing my writing table with its scattering of books. A Japanese edition of Dostoevsky's Humiliated and Insulted, a book I had been reading with pleasure these days, was lying on the table, but having no desire to read it at the moment, I began on impulse to smoke Oryukbon and Asahi cigarettes. Releasing the blue smoke was like letting out a great burp that filled the room and seemed to press my head down even more, almost unbearably. As I stood up and looked briefly out the window, I saw a clear sky. Turning my gaze back to the room, I was struck by the portrait hanging on the west wall – a half-length painting of the Russian literary giant Maxim Gorki. I suddenly felt lightheaded and flopped down onto the floor.
Again, those of you interested in reading more can click on the title above. Already, I can see changes I would make in some of the phrasing. For instance, I'd try not to begin Dream Sky with the word "It" (e.g., "One day in the year 4240 . . ."), and I'd cut the first, very long sentence of Sad Contradiction into two or three sentences (e.g., after "got up" and after "uneasy"). As I noted in my keynote address last June, proofreading a text is a neverending process reminiscent of Zeno's paradoxes . . .

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Ronald J. Granieri on a True Quote for the EU: Franz Josef Strauß

Franz Josef Strauß (1982)
(September 6, 1915 - October 3, 1988)

I've just read Ronald J. Granieri's "Europe: What Went Wrong?" (E-Notes, January 2015), and amidst the problems that threaten the European project, Granieri notes at least one undeniable truth, a truth uttered by the German politician Franz Josef Strauß, who despite numerous brushes with scandal and despite his Bavarian provincialism, considered himself, above all, a European:
One hears the skeptics more, of course, especially in [the US] . . . , and especially among those who consider themselves to be practical realists. They dismiss Europe as a chimera and praise the nation-state, even as individual European nation-states obviously cannot stand up to the continental challenges of China, Russia, India, and even the United States - none of which are nation-states on the classical European model. We do not have any leaders of the practical stature of the great Bavarian conservative statesman Franz Josef Strauss, who rejected "the idea that any European state - no matter its name, no matter how glorious its history, no matter how impressive its traditions - will be recognized in Moscow as an equal partner. One cannot ignore the laws of mathematics."
I count myself among those who want the EU project to succeed - one of the reasons being the one noted above in the words of Franz Josef Strauß, that only Europe as a whole has sufficient weight for dealing not only with Russia, but also with China, India, and even the US - but I think that Islamist-driven Islamization (within and without Europe) is not taken seriously enough by Granieri. If the EU fails, we may be watching not merely the collapse of one, but rather of two intertwined civilizations, Western and Islamic . . .

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Michael Butterworth's Book Publisher Exhibit: Savoy Press

Green Frog?

Michael Butterworth's exhibition of books from his publishing company, Savoy Press, has made its way to America, specifically, to Kent State University - as can be seen at Carter Kaplan's blog.

Butterworth - as many will recall - wrote the brilliant if melancholy story "Das Neue Leben" ("The New Life"), a dark tale of Hitler's survival and his obscure retreat somewhere in the nearly impenetrable Amazon jungle, accompanied by a 'manservant' and an enormous serpent.

Privately, Butterworth told me that he had initially intended to write a novel - but stopped at a short story! The result is so good, I assured him, that he should return to his original aim and write the novel.

Incidentally, despite the title, "Das Neue Leben," the story is told in English, not German . . .

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

-ists responsible for latest terrorist atrocity?

Some political leaders responding to recent terrorist attacks in Western countries pointed to -ISTs belonging to -ISM as the responsible party and promised that the -ISTs who carried out the attacks will be specifically identified and targeted.

Among the -ISTs who might have attacked are lone wolves radicalized by -ISM, -ISM, or -ISM, all of the Middle East.

However, the -ISM of northern Nigeria has taken credit for inspiring the attacks. While this is a distant possibilty, the larger -ISM, to which the Nigerian -IST faction belongs, is more likely to have played a role in the -IST terrorist actions.

But Pakistani -ISMs also claim a role, as do Southeast Asian -ISMs.

To be fair, of course, we must acknowledge that any -ISM at all could be responsible, the vast majority of them having nothing to do with the -ISM that has nothing to do with -ISMLAM.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Islamist Violence: Does Some Religious Ideology Motivate It?

Thomas L. Friedman

In his New York Times column titled "Say It Like It Is" (January 20, 2015), Thomas Friedman reacts with criticism at the attempt to shift attention from Islam whenever Islamists strike with terrorist jihadi violence:
I am all for restraint on the issue [of blaming Islam], and would never hold every Muslim accountable for the acts of a few. But it is not good for us or the Muslim world to pretend that this spreading jihadist violence isn't coming out of their faith community. It is coming mostly, but not exclusively, from angry young men and preachers on the fringe of the Sunni Arab and Pakistani communities in the Middle East and Europe.
I'm glad Friedman didn't limit Muslim extremism to the Middle East and Pakistan, for there's also Boko Haram in Nigeria, and similar if less brutal groups in Southeast Asia, and as Friedman points out, we can't pretend that this violence is not coming from the Muslim community . . . so why do we pretend? Friedman cites Asra Q. Nomani on why we pretend, namely, because of bullies who 'protect' the image of Islam:
[B]ullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism . . . . [The bullies] cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.
To which, Friedman adds:
I know one [writer] in particular [who walks on eggshells].
He means himself.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Call It Courage" - Commonweal Editors on Charlie Hebdo

In an article titled "Call It Courage: You Don't Have to Like Charlie Hebdo to Admire It," The Editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal (January 20, 2015) had this to say:
After the January 7 attack on the offices of the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, . . . an expression of solidarity soon began appearing on banners, public monuments, and social media: "Je suis Charlie." Never mind that many of those who repeated these words - including many Americans - had never seen the publication, and would likely find it offensive if they did. Even if the slogan seemed a little too easy, the solidarity was genuine. In targeting Charlie Hebdo for having published irreverent cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the terrorists, Cherif and Saïd Kouachi, not only attacked a legendary journalistic institution, well known in France if not elsewhere; they also attacked a principle central to all liberal democracies: the freedom to speak one’s mind, to write and, in this case, draw freely, without fear of being either locked up or gunned down . . . . [O]ne can admire its staff for their willingness to go on doing what they knew might get them killed, for refusing to let zealots armed with Kalashnikovs determine the boundaries of permissible discourse. Ross Douthat of the New York Times put it well when, after conceding that "a society’s liberty is not proportional to the quantity of blasphemy it produces," he went on, "If publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you are striking a blow for freedom, and that's precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense" . . . . [T]here is . . . a risk of underreacting to this latest outbreak of violence, by treating it as if it were an isolated event rather than part of a much larger pattern. A few weeks earlier, twenty-three people were injured in Nantes and Dijon when two "lone wolf" terrorists drove their vehicles into crowds of Christmas shoppers. Around the same time, an Islamicist took eighteen hostages in a Sydney café; two of them were killed. Two months before that, a down-at-heels Muslim convert killed a Canadian reservist at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The list goes on. Some of these attacks may have been planned and funded by terrorist organizations in the Middle East; others appear to have been alarmingly spontaneous. But they were all inspired by the same poisonous ideology, which turns alienated and insecure young people into suicidal jihadists. It is no good pretending this ideology will disappear or cease to afflict us if only the Charlie Hebdos of the world can be persuaded to exercise a little more tact and self-restraint. The groups behind these attacks are demanding vengeance or submission, not better manners.
Commonweal is a very liberal Catholic magazine, but it sees the problem quite clearly in this instance: courtesy will not satisfy these Islamist ideologues; only resistance will keep such wolves from the door, whether they be lone or in packs.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ewha Writing Intensive Seminar (EWIS) - One Student's Feedback

Brain Science
"To get ahead, you gotta have connections!"

Here is some feedback from one of my EWIS students - a wonderful student who worked very hard improving her brain science article:
I am sure your class is the best English class that I've ever taken. While making [my] portfolio [now], I am feeling a sense of satisfaction for the article. There are so many corrections. Even though it differs . . . [from] your field, I am impressed [by] your interest in my article. Through the . . . [corrections,] I le[a]rned a lot . . . . I think writing a good article is the hardest thing in the world. I didn't even know that great writing skill . . . in English is the most important qualification to be a good scientist . . . . I realized that in order to write a good article it is important to read a lot, think a lot and write a lot. I've been learning a lot from you . . . . I already miss our EWIS class [now that it's over]. I feel like . . . I should write a new paragraph and attend the class tomorrow morning! . . . Thank [you] for [the] EWIS class.
Other students also wrote kind emails to me, but this student said the nicest things. I call her a "student," but she finished her doctorate in biology last year, so I suppose she's really more of a colleague.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks out to defend free speech

British Prime Minister David Cameron

The pope recently compared insulting a religion with insulting someone's mother - and remarked that anyone insulting his mother could expect a punch in the nose. I had a mental image of the pope smashing his fist into someone's face. Rather disconcerting! Perhaps a cartoon of Pope Francis doing exactly that?

In an interview with British Prime Minister David Cameron ("PM[, down] on Pope['s] comments[, insists]: 'There is a right to cause offence,'" January 18, 2015), the BBC noted that the pope's words seemed to give some justification for violence in response to an insult directed at one's religion, especially when the pope added that "religions should be treated with respect, so that people's faiths were not insulted or ridiculed."

When Cameron was asked his opinion, he replied:
I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone's religion.

I'm a Christian - if someone says something offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society I don't have a right to, sort of, wreak my vengeance on them.
I'm glad Cameron said that, and that he said it directly in response to the pope. Cameron added that "as long as publications acted within the law, they had the right to publish any material, even if it was offensive to some."

Right. No one should have the legal right not to feel insulted.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Some lines from my new, uncanny story . . .

Vandemar and Croup
Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

Kropot and Vladimir teach our hero how to smoke a cigar:
“Let’s smoke,” said Kropot. Drawing forth from his pocket a pair of small scissors with blades curving claw-like against each other, he made several awkward passes at trimming his cigar, but his long fingernails interfered each time, and his frustration grew.

Also impatient with Kropot’s lack of progress was Vladimir, who reached for the small scissors with an enormous hand. “Let me do that,” he growled.

“You’re no better at it,” Kropot retorted, jerking the scissors away from the outstretched hand, but nothing could escape Vladimir’s reach, and he easily pulled the scissors away from a glowering Kropot, yet fared even worse, as his huge fingers refused to fit into the handles’ eyes. In defeat, the two turned to me.

“But I know nothing about this,” I protested as Vladimir placed the scissors in my hand.

“Learn,” Kropot said. “We’ll explain.”

“You see that rounded end?” said Vladimir, pointing at my cigar. “That’s the cap. Never cut off more than that, or you’ll get into the binder leaf and lose some of the draw.”

“Or even worse,” Kropot interjected, “see your cigar unravel.”

“Where does the cap end?” I asked.

“There’s a line,” Kropot explained. “Look closely, you’ll see it just above the shoulder.”

“Shoulder, cap, but no head?” I asked.

“Right,” Vladimir confirmed. “This is decapitation, not beheading.”

“Correct me if I err,” snorted Kropot, “but I don’t believe those two words differ in meaning.”

“I should care what you believe?” rumbled Vladimir. “Correcting you would mean working overtime.”

“My belief isn’t the issue,” Kropot retorted. “Check your dictionary.”

“Ah, dictionaries,” Vladimir scorned. “Do they get their meanings from God?” He paused. “Not as if that would make any difference.”

“When you use a word,” said Kropot, in an equally scornful tone, “does it mean just what you choose it to mean?”

“Of course not!” Vladimir objected. “Only an egghead would assert such a cracked idea! I draw meaning from the word itself. Behead. Remove the head. Decapitate. Remove the cap.”

“Such willful error!” Kropot fumed.

“You should know!” Vladimir retorted. “Except that you are once again wrong!”

“Every word you state is wrong,” Kropot replied, “including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

Vladimir looked annoyed. “And,” he commenced, “the –”

“Excuse me,” I said, interrupting Vladimir, “but these are ready for smoking.”

They looked where I was pointing. Three clipped cigars lay balanced on the rim of a clean crystalline ashtray. The two querulants retrieved their cigars, inspected them carefully, and grunted their approval.

“Good job,” Kropot commended.

“Fast learner,” Vladimir admitted.

“Despite being dizzy with success,” I replied, “so I must’ve had good teachers.”

They produced ghastly smiles.
There's more where that came from, but you'll have to wait a few weeks, at least.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The troll's one good question . . .

The anonymous troll who attacked me recently posed one question worthy of response, and I post it here in more courteous form than originally posed:
[Can one not] in any way be critical of the way the atrocious attacks in Paris are instrumentalized without endorsing the actions of murderers? . . . [Can one not] be critical of the #jesuischarlie campaign and condemn Islamic terrorism?
Certainly, one can criticize "the #jesuischarlie campaign and condemn Islamic terrorism." One can legitimately critique Charlie Hebdo's immature political 'pornography,' for example, while rejecting Islamist terrorism. My friend Bill Vallicella does so explicitly, but in a thoughtful manner:
[P]erhaps a little thought should be given to the question whether one ought to endorse a political pornographer.
I respect such scruples. I even understand them. But I think that . . .
. . . as far as the Islamists are concerned, we 'infidels' are already 'Charlie,' so I set aside my reservations in light of this horrific terrorist attack and declare - as I did before - "Je suis Charlie."
If the troll had been polite in his disagreement - as my friend Bill was - I'd have replied to his query equally courteously, but I have no obligation to respond to some anonymous internet troll's dyspeptic, querulous, insulting questions.

I am, however, greatly indebted to my anonymous troll, whose discourteous misbehavior inspired this recent series of blog entries, for which I am truly grateful . . .


Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Troll's Approach to 'Discussion'

In a recent defense of free speech - "Yes, we have the right to insult!" - I made the following remarks urging solidarity with Charlie Hebdo against the Islamists who would limit our freedom to express ourselves:
That's why today I say, "Je suis Charlie," and I call upon everyone, especially all Westerners, to stand up in solidarity and express these words of identification: "I am Charlie."

Be brave. Speak out. Stand firm. The terrorists cannot kill us all.
In response came these words from an anonymous commenter:
disingenous rhetoric is no less disingenuous accompanied by a veneer of (in no way unjustified) indignation
Was this individual addressing me and my choice of wording? Was my 'rhetoric' dishonest? Was my 'indignation', though not 'unjustified,' diminished to mere 'veneer' on my 'disengenuous' 'rhetoric'? This ill-mannered manner of initial confrontation is what my friend Kevin Kim identifies as the first indication that one is dealing with a troll:
Trolls begin conversations in a posture of attack, which is one way to know they are trolls.
My anonymous troll thus began with an attack on my honesty, and I called the troll on it:
If anonymous meant that I am the disingenuous one, then that's hardly the way to initiate a discussion - starting off with an ad hominem attack calling me a liar.
The troll attempted a fine distinction:
what was called disingenuous was the rhetoric,, one's style of composition is hardly identical with one's own intentions
Unfortunately for the troll, that distinction doesn't work in this case, for I meant what I said, and the troll - being no one's fool - knew this fact quite well. The troll certainly knew that calling my "indignation" merely a "veneer" was insulting and that calling my "rhetoric" simply "disingenuous" was equally - if not more - insulting.

Thus the method of a troll: attack, deny; attack, deny; attack, deny . . .


Friday, January 16, 2015

Albertus Boli Offers a Narrative No-No?

Albertus Boli turns out to have a simple rule of thumb for determining the answer to the question, "WILL DR. BOLI READ YOUR NOVEL?"
It may surprise you to hear that Dr. Boli can tell by the first three words of the book whether he will enjoy the rest of the novel. It is a very simple test: Are the first three words a character's first and last name followed by a verb? [e.g., "Zachary Mulligan turned . . ."] If so, Dr. Boli will set the book aside unread.
Ann Othuerflop responded:
"Waking up in his grave, Zachary Mulligan turned out not to be dead." – would you read a novel that began like this?
I (Jeffery Hodges) found that an interesting question and so posted a variant:
Waking up in his grave, Zachary Mulligan turned out not to be dead. Not yet, anyway.
Albertus Boli observed:
This appears to be the end as well as the beginning of a very, very short story.
I (Jeffery Hodges) agree that this is true - and was intended as such - though a bad writer could easily drag the story out to great lengths. But for stark brevity, Dr. Boli should read my blog post on "Shortest Short Stories"
Here's my entry for the shortest fairy tale ever:
Once upon a time, they all lived happily ever after.
Surely, this is the shortest of fairy tales still recognizably a complete fairy tale.
Albertus Boli might, however, ache for some longer tale, and for that ache, he needs my tonic water, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer . . .

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Against Terrorists' Expectations?

Je Suis Charlie?
Photo: Splash News

I doubt that this is what the terrorists wanted:
The first edition of Charlie Hebdo published since last week’s deadly attack by Islamist gunmen sold out within minutes at newspaper kiosks around France on Wednesday, with readers queuing up for copies to support the satirical weekly. ("Charlie Hebdo 'All Is Forgiven' edition sells out in minutes," The New York Post, Reuters, January 14, 2015)
I notice that the individual in the photo is holding three copies! But there are plenty more:
A total of 5 million copies of the so-called "survivors' edition" are to be printed, dwarfing the normal 60,000 print run.
Why are people buying it? Here's why:
"I've never bought it before, it's not quite my political stripes, but it's important for me to buy it today and support freedom of expression," said David Sullo, standing at the end of a queue of two dozen people at a kiosk in central Paris.
If I were in France, maybe I'd also buy a copy to defend freedom of expression, even though "it's not quite my political stripes" either, and I strongly doubt the 'humor' would make me laugh.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Solidarity for Free Expression

Insults Verboten?
Google Images

Bill Vallicella raises a few crucial questions about identifying oneself with "Charlie Hebdo":
In reaction to the murderous attack by Muslim terrorists on Charbonnier and Co. at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, many have jumped on the "I am Charlie" bandwagon. It is quite understandable. But perhaps a little thought should be given to the question whether one ought to endorse a political pornographer . . . . Might there be something called toleration extremism? Might it be that while one has a legal right to publish almost anything, one has a moral obligation to exercise restraint? Why do we value freedom of speech? Is it valuable as an end in itself or only as a means to valuable ends? Is it reasonable to maintain that any and all public self-expression is a good just in virtue of its being self-expression? I hope to say something about these questions in the next few days. Meanwhile, please think a bit before trumpeting your identity or rather solidarity with 'Charlie.'
I think these are important points. I personally dislike the pornographic satire sketched by Charlie Hebdo. I don't even think it's funny. Moreover, this blog of mine being a family-safe website, I won't be posting any images from Charlie Hebdo here. I like Bill's distinction, namely, "that while one has a legal right to publish almost anything, one has a moral obligation to exercise restraint." My solidarity with Charlie Hebdo therefore lies in my support for free expression even when that expression is insulting. I have previously - in a different context - given some thought to the freedom to insult, as can be read here:
One significant issue that arises is the status of insults. Should they be accepted speech? . . . . [Yes,] insults should in fact be protected speech in a culture of discourse because feeling "insulted" is a purely subjective reaction. Some might feel insulted by the application of critical principles to the study of religion, but that cannot justify any right to physically attack the one applying such principles. Moreover, even calculated insults play a role in literature and the arts and ought to be protected speech. What about ad hominem attacks? Should they be permitted? Yes. Strictly speaking, personal attacks stand mostly outside a culture of discussion, for they are usually poor arguments for or against a substantive position. But they should be protected speech. Absent that protection, even a substantive statement could be taken as an insult, so if insults are not protected speech, substantive arguments could be forbidden. In a hierarchical society, for example, the substantive words of an individual lower in the hierarchy could be taken as insulting if such words merely question the views of someone higher. (Horace Jeffery Hodges, "Points Toward a Culture of Discussion," Resolution of Conflict in Korea, East Asia and Beyond: Humanistic Approach, The Academy of Korean Studies, 2012)
Again, personally, I prefer not to insult people - and I definitely dislike being insulted - but I think that insults should be free, legally protected speech. And in the present circumstances, though I don't like Charlie Hebdo's crude and insulting pornographic satire, and though I understand why some would rather not express solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, as far as the Islamists are concerned, we 'infidels' are already 'Charlie,' so I set aside my reservations in light of this horrific terrorist attack and declare - as I did before - "Je suis Charlie."

For freedom.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Live Moral Questions

Bill Vallicella
Maverick Philosopher

My friend Bill Vallicella - the Maverick Philosopher - asks some very live moral questions about Islam in his recent blog post "There is No Provision in Islam for Mosque-State Separation":
Islam is totalitarian in a two-fold sense. It aims to regulate every aspect and every moment of the individual believer's life . . . . But it is also totalitarian in a corporate sense in that it aims to control every aspect of society in all its spheres . . . . Islam, therefore, is profoundly at odds with the values of the West. For we in the West, whether liberals or conservatives, accept church (mosque)-state separation. We no doubt argue heatedly over what exactly it entails, but we are agreed on the main principle . . . . that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . ." [But is] Islam - pure, unEnlightened, undiluted, fundamentalist, theocratic Islam - deserving of First Amendment protection? We read in the First Amendment that Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion. Should that be understood to mean that the Federal government shall not prohibit the establishment and free exercise of a totalitarian, fundamentalist theocratic religion . . . ? Note also that Islam is not a religion like Buddhism or Christianity. It is as much a political ideology as a religion . . . . The USA is a nation with a secular government. Suppose there was a religion whose aim was to subvert our secular government. Does commitment to freedom of religion enjoin toleration of such a religion? As a religion, Islam is the worst of the great religions; as a political ideology, however, it is a formidable enemy. If it prevails, we and our values lose. Are we under some sort of obligation to tolerate that which would destroy us and our way of life? Or does toleration have limits?
The growth of Islam in the West thus resurrects moral questions about religious toleration, the secular state, free speech, and more.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Dead Moral Questions? If Only!

The anonymous troll of our recent past initially 'linked' to this post by Fredrik deBoer on "Dead Moral Questions":
One point that, I hope, runs through a lot of my work is the use and abuse of dead moral questions. In that, I mean the tendency for political types to bring a lot of rhetorical and mental weight to bear on questions that are not politically live, in any meaningful sense. This focus is always an attempt to hide something, always undertaken in service to some other agenda than actually defending the positions which do not require defending . . . . That's what's happening today in regards to the terrorist attacks in France. We are having a series of loud, impassioned, righteous conversations about questions like "Should people murder?" and "Should we have the right to publish cartoons?" We're debating, in other words, dead moral questions, and for the same reason we always do: because that debate allows us to ignore the ones that might lead us to a different place than the celebration of our own liberal righteousness. To read the people writing about this attack, this is the fundamental question at hand: were these killings OK? If that were actually a moral question worth asking, then it would provoke disagreement. And yet I see no disagreement. None at all.
I suppose one question to pose in response to this part of deBoer's post is to ask who "we" refers to. If we restrict ourselves to Westerners, we'll generally get a response in favor of free speech, though with a significant number adding "but" Charlie Hebdo crossed a line because depicting Muhammad is forbidden by Islamic law, and we should respect Muslim sensitivities.

Such sensitivities in this case mean Islamic law. What is the punishment according to Islamic law? Death. Depicting Muhammad is blasphemy, and blasphemy merits a death sentence.

Opinions about open free speech and the rightness of killing blasphemers might have been dead moral questions in the West for some time, but these 'dead' questions are currently being resurrected as the percentage of Muslims in Western countries increases.

If "we" includes Muslims living in the West, then these two questions about free expression and death for blasphemers are hardly dead.

If only they were . . .

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ave, Kevin Kim on Insulting and Free Speech

My friend Kevin Kim yesterday cited Ali Rizvi's criticism of people who concede that the recent killings at Charlie Hebdo were terrible and then add "but" a line was crossed when Muhammad - whose image is forbidden to be depicted - was satirized repeatedly in caricature, a thing vastly offensive to Muslims (from whom violence is to be expected, apparently). To such 'but-ridden' people, Ali retorts, "Without the freedom to offend, there is no freedom of speech." Kevin then linked to my two prior posts making much the same point:
A similar point was recently made by my friend Jeff Hodges, and for his trouble he now finds himself being hectored by a troll who is obviously a member of the "but" crowd. Trolls begin conversations in a posture of attack, which is one way to know they are trolls. To be both a troll and a "but"-head, though, is a truly sad state of affairs.
What I truly admire in Kevin's writing is his skill at concisely encapsulating the essential point that, once stated, is clearly the essential point, as in his observation that "Trolls begin conversations in a posture of attack, which is one way to know they are trolls."

Exactly right.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Disingenuous Rhetoric?

Disingenuous Trollcat

Yesterday's post defending free speech against Islamist terrorists received a puzzling, anonymous comment:
disingenous rhetoric is no less disingenuous accompanied by a veneer of (in no way unjustified) indignation
This comment was accompanied by an unlinked link - maybe too much trouble for the anonymous individual? I decided to help the person out:
Here's your link, properly linked.

And here's your statement, properly written: "Disingenuous rhetoric is no less disingenuous accompanied by a veneer of (in no way unjustified) indignation."

Perhaps you could unpack that for readers here. Are you implying that Fredrik de Boer is disingenuous?
No response so far. But perhaps the implication was not about de Boer. Maybe the anonymous statement was directed at me.

If anonymous meant that I am the disingenuous one, then that's hardly the way to initiate a discussion - starting off with an ad hominem attack calling me a liar.

Such a conversation as that never makes any real progress, and if that's the game, I refuse to be drawn in.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Yes, we have the right to insult!

"I am Charlie (Hebdo)"

By now, most readers will have seen news of the horrific terrorist attack upon the offices and personnel of the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo in which at least 12 individuals were murdered, four of whom were sought out by name.

The attack was carried out by two French Islamist gunmen in revenge for Charlie Hebdo's satire of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, whose likeness is forbidden by Islamic law to be depicted.

Islamists want to restrict free expression, not only free speech among Muslims but also among 'infidels,' especially among Western infidels, who know that free speech means the right to insult, or it means nothing at all.

That's why today I say, "Je suis Charlie," and I call upon everyone, especially all Westerners, to stand up in solidarity and express these words of identification: "I am Charlie."

Be brave. Speak out. Stand firm. The terrorists cannot kill us all.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Deputy Emir of al-Hesbah: Fool for a Cigarette?

Dangerous Smokes

In a report for the International Business Times, Gianluca Mezzofiore informs us that the "Isis chief executioner [was] found beheaded with [a] cigarette in his mouth" (January 6, 2015):
In a grotesque twist of the saying "live by the sword, die by the sword", an Islamic State [IS] executioner in Syria who carried out beheadings for the jihadist group has been found [decapitated] . . . . The body of the Egyptian man, known to be the deputy emir of the feared al-Hesbah (or Hisbah) force in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, was recovered near a power plant in al-Mayadeen city . . . . Hisbah is IS's religious police who perform the role of enforcing the group's twisted version of sharia in the self-styled caliphate . . . . The corpse showed signs of torture and carried the message "This is evil, you Sheikh" written on it. The severed head also had a cigarette in its mouth. It is unclear who carried out the decapitation but the message was obvious.
No, that's not correct. If the perpetrator is unclear, then so is the message. From Mezzofiore's further words on the subject, we can see that he thinks the Islamic State itself beheaded its own deputy emir of al-Hesbah when the man was caught smoking:
Islamic State's . . . ban on cigarettes is one of its signature polices. It has imposed a strict set of Sharia laws barring the use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in the territories it has conquered . . . . IS has declared smoking "slow suicide" and demands that "every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity is disobeying God".
Mezzofiore's view is clear, despite his explicit words to the contrary, for he states his point as follows:
It is unclear who carried out the decapitation but the message was obvious.

Islamic State's . . . ban on cigarettes is one of its signature polices.
Mezzofiore says the message is obvious, namely the ban on cigarettes, a sequence of statements implying that the ban applies to everyone, regardless of status. In other words, the IS executed its own deputy emir of al-Hesbah for smoking. But Mezzofiore is wrong. The Islamic State did not do this, for it would have executed the deputy emir publicly to make a point about its moral rigor even on smoking. The deputy emir was tortured and killed by some opposition force - or even more likely by relatives of someone executed for smoking. Brutality engenders brutality. The Islamic State will eventually be so hated that this sort of revenge killing will happen repeatedly. I recall a similar case in Afghanistan. An executioner's young son was murdered in revenge for his father's brutality.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Feeling a little homesick for the Ozarks . . .

I've visited the Ozark town of Eureka Springs, but that was a long time ago, and I was too young and ignorant to appreciate it, though I recall that my grandma was enthralled by the place - she spoke especially fondly of a hotel whose every floor was at ground level due to the steep hillside 'hollar' within which the hotel nestled.

The internet allows me a 'virtual' visit, and nothing can beat just gazing at this autumnal photo:

Click on the image for higher resolution and get a better view of the church, which I don't recognize and which also is not identified in the accompanying article.

Sun-Ae and I will be visiting the Ozarks this summer, but we probably won't visit that part of Arkansas, just my hometown, Salem, in the central part of the Ozarks.

But perhaps one of my readers knows this autumnal scene? Jay? Bill?


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

More on Sex Slaves in the Islamic State

Mark Schliebs, writing in The Australian (January 2, 2015), cites an Australian jihadist fighting for the Islamic State, Abu Khalid, on the view that "Female slavery [is] the biggest honour for non-Muslim women":
Abu Khalid - who in June appeared in an Islamic State propaganda video but did not speak in it - made the comments after a non-Muslim girl asked him about his dancing abilities. "You should come to the Islamic state!" he said to the girl. "You can be a sabaya (slave), much more honour then (sic) being used and abused."

He then told another man that non-Muslim women "know their men's ain't treating them well". "Being a sabaya is the biggest honour for them And Allah knows best!"

The comments were made after Islamic State forced women and children of the Yazidi ­religious sect to be slaves who are often subjected to rape.

At least four Australian fighters have been identified as having Yazidi slaves, and horrific stories of their treatment - ­including sexual abuse - have emerged in recent weeks.

Last month, former Sydney boxer Mohamed Elomar uploaded a photo of a woman he said was one of seven Yazidi slaves he owned, telling Twitter followers he would sell her for $2500 and that "she won't dis­sapoint (sic) you".
There is no honor in being subjected to slavery, and that goes double or more for sex slavery. Islamists never honor infidels; they humiliate infidels. There mere fact that this needs to be said, that a refutation has to be made, shows how retrograde Islamist thinking really is.

At least, we can see the mental poverty of the dangerous fools focused upon in this article. We have to worry all the more, however, about the even more dangerous, intelligent Islamists out there, and not fall into a false sense of security based upon stupid Islamists like Abu Khalid and Mohamed Elomar.

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Monday, January 05, 2015

Yuko Nii: Artist, Renovator, and Director of the WAH

Beauty of Artifacts
Click Link to View Gallery 
Photo by Amy Finkel/Gothamist

Shayla Love, writing for the Gothamist in her article "Inside Williamsburg's Hidden Time Capsule: Kings County Savings Bank," introduces to a woman most of us here at Gypsy Scholar know only through our contact with Terrance Lindall. That woman is Yuko Nii, an artist who came to the States 50 years ago:
Nii moved to the United States in 1963 from Tokyo, transferring from a Tokyo university to come to Berkeley, California where her father's friend was a professor. She had $200 in her pocket when she arrived. She immediately wanted to experience the American counterculture she had heard about, and visited San Francisco. She then transferred to Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and majored in fine arts. To stay in the US, she had to continue her education, and in 1966, she moved to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn to attend Pratt.

Nii needed a way to earn money, but didn't want a job that would take time away from her painting. She started to buy run-down buildings; the first was in Ironwood, Michigan. She liked to buy in northern states, where she would escape the heat of Brooklyn summers. After she bought a building, she would renovate it with her own hands.

She said that when she was seven years old, her parents renovated their house in Tokyo. She already had an interest in art and in sculpture - carpentry seemed to her like a form of both.

"They treated me like a little assistant," she said. "Instead of going to school, I always waited for the workers to come. And then they taught me how to use particular Japanese saws and then hammers and so on. Ever since, I'm fascinated by the things which are behind the wall."

Each time she renovated a building, she would create a studio on the first floor for herself. With her artist's sensibilities, the renovations transformed the places she bought. She would rent out the houses, and live off the rent.

"I even changed the windows, can you imagine?" she said. "Amazing what you can do when you are young. Especially artists. We are obsessed."
The rest of the article tells the story of this remarkable woman, so go read it! And should you choose to support the  WAH, click here.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Isaiah with Two Angels?

Isaiah with Two Angels
Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina
Google Images

I received a gracious, if belated (unless 362 days early!), Christmas card from a very dear old pearl of a friend yesterday, the 3rd of January, 2015, the card showing Isaiah and two angels . . . except I see only one angel and no Isaiah! Let's try again:
Isaiah with Two Angels
Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina

Still just one angel . . . but the other one, I guess . . . so let's try again:

Isaiah with Two Angels
Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina

Now, we have it - the two angels! But why two angels? Well, the word "angel" means "messenger," and my friend cited two Bible verses, Isaiah 7:14 and John 1:14:
Isaiah 7:14 - Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
But he was officially named "Yeshua," so let's stipulate "Immanuel" as a nickname (meaning "God with us," perhaps reflected in "dwelt among us"), or even shorter: "Manuel." Note that I refuse to pun on "manual," as in manual labor such as carpentry, even though this would help bring us full circle, for I'm not a full-fledged punster - that prank rank of 'wordiness' waits until I receive my angel wings.

If I do . . .

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Racist Hadith? Maybe not entirely . . .

Racist Hadith?
MEMRI Report #4686
Saudi Fighter in Syria Glorifies Martyrdom
Even Black Men Get into Paradise
The Internet
December 12, 2014

The following Hadith perhaps isn't racist despite sounding as if it might be:
"A black man came to see the Prophet Muhammad in one of his raids, and asked him: 'What will I get if I fight those people with you?' The Prophet Muhammad said to him: 'You will go to Paradise.' The man said 'Oh Prophet of Allah, I am black, I smell bad, and I have no money. If I am killed, will I still go to Paradise?' The Prophet Muhammad said: 'Yes. I swear by Allah.' Then the man said: 'Allah will surely witness what I will do.'
Watch the entire video here, and judge for yourself. There seems to be some presupposition that blackness raises a barrier against entry into paradise. Islam's prophet assures the black man that martyrdom overcomes the disadvantages of color, smell, and poverty.

Interpretation of this Hadith could go one way or the other, depending upon who holds the presupposition that blackness is a barrier.

Any thoughts, anyone?

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Friday, January 02, 2015

Why do I feel something is missing . . .

. . . ah, now I remember: 'Tis-'Twas New Year's Day! So . . .

. . . from Google Images, a documentary shot of the 'War on Alcohol,' I reckon.

Anyway, a New Year's greeting for all of you in this world, perhaps timely on the other side of the International Dateline, though Johnny Come Be-Latedly here in Seoul . . .


Thursday, January 01, 2015

The 'Annoyment' of Philosophy

I'm now reading Howard Jacobson's novel The Finkler Question, and it's a humorous read so far - though I've not gotten far into the book, and in fact only so far as the passage below, which reaches with effort to succeed in stretching onto page 27 - anyway, a humorous read, so humorous in the aforesaid "passage below" that I laughed out loud on the subway train to Ewha early in the morning and so alarmed the few passengers sharing the same car with me that they must have concluded I "was in fact quite mad":
Every few years [Julian] Treslove decided it was time he tried philosophy again. Rather than start at the beginning with Socrates or jump straight into epistemology, he would go out and buy what promised to be a clear introduction to the subject - by someone like Roger Scruton or Bryan Magee, though not, for obvious reasons, by [his friend] Sam Finkler. These attempts at self-education always worked well at first. The subject wasn't after all difficult. He could follow it easily. But then, at more or less the same moment, he would encounter a concept or a line of reasoning he couldn't follow no matter how many hours he spent trying to decipher it. A phrase such as 'the idea derived from evolution that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis' for example, not impossibly intricate in itself but somehow resistant to effort, as though it triggered something obdurate and even delinquent in his mind. Or the promise to look at an argument from three points of view, each of which had five salient features, the first of which had four distinguishable aspects. It was like discovering that a supposedly sane person with whom one had been enjoying a perfectly normal conversation was in fact quite mad. Or, if not mad, sadistic. (Jacobson, The Finkler Question, pages 26-27)
I laughed out especially loud at the last three sentences, and laugh again now that I re-view the passage. And I hope you also will laugh at the humor in the passage since I took pains to type it out and painstakingly checked to see that I got it, without typo, completely right!

But maybe the humor for me is that I've experienced exactly this maddening reaction in reading complex philosophical arguments!

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