Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"'Music Banned?' I thought you said, 'Music Band'!"

Music Banned

On June 23, 2015, Memri reported, "ISIS Decorates Streets With Anti-Musical Instruments Ads":
On June 22, 2015, the press office of ISIS's Tigris (Dijla) Province in Iraq published three pictures of public billboards. The first one warns against use of musical instruments and includes a Hadith which states: "Some groups from my nation will regard musical instrument as permissible."
Hmmm . . . "Some . . . will regard musical instrument as permissible." "Instrument," eh? Yeah, I can see the use of the singular "instrument" as a problem. But I doubt ISIS was making a grammatical point. Rather, ISIS was drawing attention to the fact that it considers music impermissible! Based on this hadith, apparently.

But what exactly does this hadith mean? Look again: "Some groups from my nation will regard musical instrument[s] as permissible." Sounds like a statement of fact to me. I see no clear rejection of music, not even an insinuation that music is forbidden. But perhaps ISIS wants to make a subtle point:
"Some groups from my nation will regard musical instruments as permissible, and other groups from my nation won't. We're one of those groups that won't. In fact, we're one of those groups that will kill you if you try. So, play it safe, not music! This has been a public service announcement of the ISIS Ministry of Silly Walks and Serious Consequences."
Actually, to be serious, I recognize that several hadith do forbid music, and this one probably does, too.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

A Novelist Appears . . . Tim Fitts

Tim Fitts

I received a note just recently from a novelist telling me that he likes a story by Jang Jung-il that my wife and I translated:
My name is Tim Fitts, and I am a novelist currently living in Philadelphia. I wanted to drop a quick note and say that I just picked up When Adam Opens His Eyes, and from the first page, am really enjoying the voice and character. I'm constantly looking for new books to teach in my classes here and will spend the next month organizing my fall reading list.
He also mentioned a novel of his to be translated into Korean, The Soju Club, which will apparently appear in Korean before it appears in English. I hadn't heard of Mr. Fitts, so I looked him up and quickly saw that he is an up-and-coming writer who has published in well-known literary journals, such as Granta, which informs us:
Tim Fitts lives and works in Philadelphia with his wife and two children. His stories and photography have appeared in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, The New England Review, CutBank and others.
The Korea connection behind his soju novel? He has taught here, the last time in 2005. For more on the man, Google his name. He doesn't seem to have a website, but his name does appear on a variety of literary journal sites . . .

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Microbiota: Influence on our Brains?

Illustration by Andrew Rae

Peter Andrey Smith, reporting for the NYT, asks, "Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?" and answers, "The rich array of microbiota in our intestines can tell us more than you might think" (June 23, 2015). Smith introduces us to the work of Dr. Mark Lyte, a pioneer in this field:
Mark Lyte . . . [is interested in the] digestive tube . . . of all vertebrates . . . [for their] vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.
This sounds fascinating. And there's more:
Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety.
So if your gut disagrees with you, it might be right and you wrong:
It has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals - an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin - originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals.
And thus also turn to interest in the role of these microbes in our mental health and intellectual wealth. Some may say we're chasing a chimera. I say: "Exactly!"


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Women of Hell and Virgins of Paradise

In MEMRI TV Clip No. 4973, the "Egyptian Imam Abu Mu'adh Al-Dardiri Extols The Pleasures Of Paradise[, stating that a] . . . Man Will Have 100 Virgins In One Morning."

But first, from the hadith, bad news for women:
In a recent Friday sermon, Imam Abu Mu'adh Al-Dardiri said that out of every 100 dwellers of Hell, 30 are men and 70 are women . . . . "Most of those who will enter the gates of Hell are women. Most of the dwellers of Hell are women. Out of every 100 dwellers of Hell, 30 are men and 70 are women. In other words, for every three men in Hell there are seven women.
More women are headed for hell, I guess, if we can believe Muhammad. And that's not all - also  from the hadith, bad news for the virgins of Paradise:
Al-Dardiri further said, citing the Prophet Muhammad, that in Paradise, a man will have the strength of a hundred men and will have a hundred virgins in a single morning . . . . "The Prophet Muhammad said, with regard to the black-eyed virgins of Paradise: 'A man will lie on his back in Paradise for 70 years...' He will enjoy those virgins of Paradise on a regular basis."
Eventually, though, the tables will turn - along with other furniture, like beds - for the virgins will have had enough:
"[B]ut at some point, a virgin will come to him, and will slap him on the shoulders."
The bed has clearly turned, for the man is no longer on his back, else he could not be slapped there. What kind of an unexpected slap is this? Al-Dardiri tries to explain it away as a kind kind of slap:
"This is a pampering slap, a slap of love. Some men like this. A man likes to be slapped by a woman, as long as it's not on the neck."
Sorry, Dardiri, this one's a slap on the neck - the back of the neck - and this "slap of love" signals that sadomasochism is now to begin, with the virgins in charge, and that's when the man finds out that the virgins of Paradise are really the women of Hell (thereby explaining why there are so many of them), and boy has their time come!

According to Memri, this 'sermon' was preached at Al-Salam Mosque in Giza, Egypt, on May 8 and afterwards posted on the Internet, which is why we are now confronted with this nonsense that passes for a sermon in Islam. Exactly what sort of moral lesson are we supposed to draw from this foretaste of glory divine?

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Growing older . . . and hearing voices from the past

"Switch Your Land"
Google Images

As I lay dining on a piece of toast while bedridden with my stomach virus, an old Swiss-German friend with the ever surprising surname "d'Aujourd'hui" was writing me an email:
High Jeff,
Well, that would be nice, in general, but while sick, I had no desire for any chemically induced buzz. Nevertheless, Ms. d'Aujourd'hui continued:
I was thinking about you, asking myself how you might be going. I saw Antonia today, Monica's friend in Fribourg. Maybe you remember her . . .
By the time I read her entire email, I was able to answer. I didn't say, well, I'm going . . . going . . . though not yet gone. I instead replied reasonably to Ms. d'Aujourd'hui's question:
Yes, I remember Antonia. I admit I had to reflect a bit to do so, but that seems to be a matter of getting older - in my case anyway.
Ms. d'Aujourd'hui went on to inform me:
I'm at Zürich for work. And I'm astonished how lively this city is. There are so many people here from all over the world. Summer is really nice here; everybody is outside, gathering in the parks, swimming in the river and the lake. I stay at my brother’s flat; my son is living here, so it is a nice occasion to spend some hours together.
I was at work, too, although in Seoul, and I told her:
At the moment, I'm preparing for my 9 a.m. course, an intensive class on writing. Expository, not creative. Occasionally, I have to correct students' pronunciation, so I sometimes do your [sort of] work, if you're still doing Logopaedie . . . . I still read the IHT - though it's now the INYT - so I know that Zürich is a bustling place, and so is Basel, with its yearly art fair (or whatever it's called). Once in a great while, there's an article that mentions Fribourg.
Ms. d'Aujourd'hui soon signed off:
A lot of Swiss greetings . . . . hope you're as fine as you can be!!
I did the same:
I suppose I'm doing as well as the last time we communicated, though a bit less so. You seem to be doing well. I hope you are.
And so it goes as our past fills up with more and more of our less and less time . . .

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Snuff already with the flu!

Hillbilly  Nose Candy

Still not up to it . . . but maybe by tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Too ill to blog . . .

Bedridden with Anxiety

Actually, my condition isn't anxiety, but stomach flu, and I've been bedridden for the past 18 hours . . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Islamist Sarcasm Society - Loads of Fun . . . Re-Loads, too!

How Ironic

You'd think the Islamic State would be too busy in its genocidal war of theocratically based imperialism to have time for humor, and you'd be right, but there is time for sarcasm, irony's blunt, crude, unoriginal second cousin with a loud voice and just enough memory to mock your words:
A recent development in ISIS supporters' use of social media to recruit fighters and raise funds is their use of humor and sarcasm to defend the organization, spread its ideology, and criticize its opponents. At least two pro-ISIS Facebook accounts currently use a variety of visual tools to this end, including comic strips and memes . . . . The "5elafa [Caliphate] Sarcasm Society" and "ISIS Comic" pages have been actively posting pro-ISIS content such as these. ("ISIS Supporters On Facebook Use Humor, Sarcasm To Propagate ISIS Message," Memri, June 18, 2015)
That man above in the burqa is laughing his head off just to think that if he can only get the infidels to laugh their heads off, then he and his jihadi friends can use the time saved from decapitation duty for other genocidal fun and games .  . .

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Monday, June 22, 2015

ISIS: Depends on What "is" is . . .

ISIS Child Soldiers
Google Images

I recently read two different articles with very similar advice on how to deal with ISIS, i. e., the Islamic State. Clint Watts, writing for Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, delineates "Four Key Drivers For Eroding ISIS" (June 15, 2015), and Frank R. Gunter, writing for FPRI E-Notes, offers the Islamic State a stark choice, "ISIL Revenues: Grow or Die" (June 2015).

Both agree that to survive, the IS needs to continue expanding. Therefore, says Watts:
"Let Them Rot" . . . [i.e., use] containment to establish conditions by which ISIS destroys itself from within . . . . To this point, it appears that the U.S.-led coalition, either by choice or more by default, is pursuing a modified "Let Them Rot" strategy. But officials and the public grow impatient while the media reinforces the belief [that] ISIS is the next al Qaeda - a misguided one in my view. The headlines will lead you to believe that ISIS can only be defeated by a major military campaign. And counterinsurgency proponents are likely drooling for another opportunity to employ their beloved Field Manual 3-24. But defeating ISIS via external force will be a long battle, and one that perpetuates the jihadi belief that the West denies their vision. The U.S. should seek to destroy the idea of an Islamic State altogether, and to do that ISIS must fail by its own doings, not from outside forces. The recipe of the the "Let Them Rot" strategy should be followed: contain ISIS advances, starve them of resources, fracture their ranks, and exploit through alternative security arrangements.
Similarly, says Gunter:
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL [i.e., the Islamic State]) is the ultimate predatory state. It has been able to obtain vast amounts of financial and other resources in a relatively short period of time by theft or extortion. However, its revenues are mostly unsustainable. As a result, like other extreme predatory states, it must either rapidly expand or slowly die. Coordinated activities by the anti-ISIL coalition can accelerate this loss of revenues and substantially weaken the ISIL proto-state . . . . [T]his financial unsustainability is a critical vulnerability of ISIL . . . . [The Islamic State] will respond to the expected loss of revenue. They may ratchet up the level of extortion in ISIL-occupied territory, accepting a rise in the hostility of the occupied population in order to obtain a short-term boost in revenues . . . . Another option is that ISIL may execute raids outside its current territory intended not to permanently seize cities or towns but rather to . . . . steal everything of value . . . . and then return to ISIL-controlled territory. This possibility emphasizes the most important element of an anti-revenue strategy[, namely,] . . . . deny ISIL any further geographic expansion in order not only to prevent humanitarian tragedy but also to thwart the looting of banks, farms, and businesses . . . . The ISIL proto-state must either grow or die. Preventing that growth will strangle ISIL.
Interestingly, Watts notes that the US-led operation against ISIS is - whether by chance or design - pursuing the right policy, but success might take some time. The time taken is precisely what most concerns me. I look at that photo above and wonder what sort of jihadi we face in the future.

Some of us will live to see what IS is further on down the line . . .


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Afternoon Delight: Patbingsu

Sun-Ae and I went out for some patbingsu (팥빙수) on Saturday afternoon - a treat for me because my semester just ended Friday and my summer session starts Monday morning.

As you see from the first photo below, I was hungry:

Ice Cream - The Hunger

One could say I was rather mad with hunger. Insane with ice-cream craving. Crazed, even! I tried some . . . and smiled, as the next photo shows:

Ice Cream - The Smile

The patbingsu turned out to be one of the new kinds, this one using shavings of frozen condensed milk - I'm guessing - a bit rich, but a new treat and new taste adventure.

Let the summer session begin!

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Universe: A Safe Place?

The Economist
June 13, 2015

In an anonymous article, "Trigger-unhappy" (The Economist, June 13th, 2015), I'm told that free speech is threatened on American campuses by 'activists' who view anything provocative as a violation of students' right to feel 'safe':
A crucial word . . . [on campuses these days] is "safe". Campus activists have stretched the meaning of safety from an important but second-order concern - shielding students from serious harm - to a defining ambition for any well-run academy. From town-sized public universities to tiny liberal-arts colleges, students have declared and administrators accepted that teachers or visiting speakers should aim for a psychologically safe learning environment, avoiding ideas or imagery that might prove distressing.

Activists sometimes organise campus "safe spaces" where students may flee alarming material. Door-stickers denote full-time safe zones for specific groups, such as gay and transgender students, or religious non-believers [i.e., non-religious people]. Demands have multiplied for "trigger warnings" - a device first seen in self-help and feminist internet forums, signalling content that may trigger painful memories - to be applied to challenging books, films or lectures.
Well, the universe is a scary place, but be careful, students, you might get what you're after, namely, a less-safe place as a university professor someday:
[Critics] see a reap-what-you-sow irony, as politically correct culture warriors of the 1980s and 1990s are devoured by their own heirs . . . . An online essay headlined "I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me" went viral.
How terrifying. But what's really going on? According to the Economist:
At root this is a fight about power, with feelings wielded as weapons.
That sounds accurate enough (with even professors claiming to 'feel' terrified), and it leads to this warning:
Students should beware of winning too many victories. A perfectly safe university would not be worth attending.
I spent three years at a university where the social studies group criticized the philosophers group for daring to question political correctness! "But . . ." I wanted to exclaim, "but that sort of questioning is what philosophers are supposed to do!" To their credit, the philosophers shrugged off the complaints and questioned political correctness anyway, so I didn't need to do any exclaiming.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows my view on free speech: entirely for it. I've not taught in American universities since the 1980s, so I don't know how accurate this Economist article is, though I suspect there's some exaggeration about students' views on restricting free speech.

But I'm willing to hear from readers with firsthand experience . . .

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Friday, June 19, 2015

'Cradle Christians' - Going? Going? Gone?

Cradle Christians
Institute for Global Engagement/Cradle Fund
Sarah, a 95-year-old refugee in Erbil (December 2014)
She died March 2015

IGE president Chris Seiple wrote this article some two weeks back and titled it "The Last Gasp of the Cradle Christians?" (Christianity Today, June 8, 2015). Here's how he sees things:
The story never changes. Whenever ISIS terrorists approach an Iraqi or Syrian village, Christians are given a fateful choice: They can stay and pay a tax to ISIS. They can convert to Islam. They can be martyred as Christians. Or, they flee.
And this is ISIS at its most benevolent. Theoretically, Jews get the same treatment, but probably not actually so these days. Other religions have no right to exist at all under the rule of ISIS, which is why the Yazidis were taken captive - the men slaughtered, the women and children enslaved. And ISIS claims that in doing this, it is simply following Sharia, i.e., Islamic law.

Perhaps we should believe them?

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Egyptian Cleric Mostafa Al-Adwy: Turn About is Not Fair Play

Moustafa Al-Adwy

Rather, turn away is fair play.

We see in Memri (May 16-31, 2015), Clip No. 4947, that "Egyptian Cleric Mostafa Al-Adwy Explains Jihad, States: Christians Cannot Promote Their Religion in Muslim Countries":
[As for defensive jihad against an invader,] the Muslims must fight this enemy, or serve the people fighting, so that they can continue their Jihad . . . . Offensive Jihad, on the other hand, occurs when we want to conquer some country. May Allah facilitate the Muslim conquest of all the infidel countries. In offensive Jihad, we raid a country. If we call upon them to convert to Islam and they refuse, we raid their country, in order to oust their leaders, and usher people in droves into Islam . . . . [As for the Christian, his religion] is false to begin with . . . . I am a Muslim, and . . . talk . . . in the language dictated by my religion . . . . I have [divine] orders. I do not have an opinion of my own in this. Allah said: "Fight them so there will be no strife."
That's quite clear, then. Al-Adwy admits he doesn't think for himself, but only follows the "dictates" of his religion, which he says encourages the spread of Islam - either through persuasion or through offensive jihad - but doesn't allow Christians to spread their religion..

Most interesting of all, he makes no attempt to hide the fact that "jihad" is used primarily to mean war, and thus differs to little or no degree from how the Shariah judges of the Islamic State interpret Islamic law.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why Bone Clocks Works . . . for Some

Revealing the Mechanism Edition

Some critics of David Mitchell's novel The Bone Clocks pan the story as poor metaphysics, but I think the story works . . . if you fall in love with Holly Sykes, as does just about every other male character in the book.

Even the sociopath Hugo Lamb falls for her, and admits as much to Marinus when the latter asks him why he hadn't escaped the collapsing Chapel through a mechanism that only one individual could use, why he had instead held back, hidden himself, and let Holly use it.

Lamb replies that Marinus need only think back to Holly's memory of the encounter with Lamb in a snowed-in alpine village so many years before.

Doubtless, Marinus recalled the memory he had seen in scanning Holly's mind, a scene that was really none of his business, he admits, but he had watched Lamb through Holly's memory, seeing "what muffled, baffled joy shines in the young man's eyes. He loved her, too."

When Marinus acknowledged what he'd seen, Lamb tells him, "Now you have your answer," then adds his continued regard for Holly in saying, "Did you see her lay into Constantin? Irish blood, Gravesend muscle. Talk about breeding."

It's now Marinus's turn for further astonishment: "You stood by and watched that?"

"Never been the have-a-go-hero type, me."

"Constantin recruited you. She was the Second Anchorite."

"I've always had a problem with authority figures," Lamb explains, then asks one more thing, about Holly, "Did she love me too, Marinus?"

Like him, we never hear the answer . . .


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Footloose and Fantasy Free!

Mr. Asghar Bukhari

According to Stephanie Linning, writing for the Daily Mail Online, a British Muslim claims "It's a 'Shoeish conspiracy'"! Oh, why do people always blame the poor downtrodden 'Shoeish folk'? As if the blamers had evidence. Oh, wait, this guy has evidence, namely, a missing shoe:
A British Muslim campaigner faced online ridicule after he claimed 'Zionists' had sneaked into his home and stolen a single shoe.

In a public Facebook post, Asghar Bukhari, a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, said someone had tried to intimidate him by taking his footwear as he slept.

He wrote: the 'game was simple - to make me feel vulnerable in my own home', before adding 'it is not the first time I have heard this happening'.

He ended by urging readers to share the message.
Let me get this straight. Some 'Zionist' recently sneaked into Mr. Bukhari's living quarters to steal a single shoe, and Mr. Bukhari says, "[I]t is not the first time I have heard this happening."

Eh? You've heard this happening before? The 'Zionist' is careless enough to awaken you on more than one occasion, yet you LIE in bed and allow him to run off with a single shoe?

Cowardly of you, but we feel your pain, Mr. Bukhari, as you can see here.


Monday, June 15, 2015

If there be pineapples, why not peachapples?

And God said, "Cain't have none!"
Image by Vickie Tseng

I attended a conference on Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea (MEMESAK) on Saturday and presented a paper with the longest title you ever saw in your life:

The Peach/Apple in John Milton's Paradise Lost, Andrew Marvell's "The Garden,"
T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": Etymology and Sin

Here's the opening paragraph:
The "peach" as a symbol in works of the Western imagination has a longstanding tradition of polysemous meanings, much more subtle than its "cousin," the apple. Yet, these two fruits have been conflated in some works of the greatest writers in English literature, as well as in the works of some artists. The peach/apple relationship appears particularly significant in works of three great poets of the English language, representing early modernity and modernity in English literature, far apart in time and aesthetics: John Milton's Paradise Lost, Andrew Marvell's "The Garden," and T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." It also appears in the works of two artists: the Symbolist Georges de Feure and the Surrealist Matthew Skenandore. A study of the etymology and moral/religious associations of these two fruits -- the first two set in a type of an Edenic garden and the third in an arid landscape suggesting the absence of a garden -- supported by an analysis of the paintings of de Feure and Skenandore will illustrate how and why the peach is used in these works as a subtle substitute for the apple, a symbol of Original Sin and other types of transgression.
The paper is one that I co-authored with Salwa Khoddam, of Oklahoma City University, and since she knows more than I do, any and all mistakes are my own.

The paper will be published in the MEMESAK journal . . . after a few cosmetic alterations.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Too Much Light

A Light Repast
Daily Mail Online
June 11, 2015

Mother of Invention! Islam can reform!
"Muslims in the Arctic Circle forced to come up with new rules for Ramadan when they are banned from eating during the day . . . because the region has 24-hour sunshine"
Yes, Islam has seen the light and changed the rules about eating during Ramadan!

Now, if Islam could just make a few other changes . . .


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Catch-22: Not the Novel, but Something Far Worse . . . Reality

I had an interesting exchange with a company that I'll call "Permission Impossible" - the exchange began as follows:
Dear Permission Impossible:

I have not used your services since 2012. I have forgotten my password and the answers to the two security questions. As a result, I cannot reset my password. What can I do?
Permission Impossible responded with alacrity:
Dear H. Jeffery Hodges,

Thank you for contacting Customer Support. I am happy to assist you with your account. I understand from your email that you have forgotten your password and security question answers. Please contact us via phone for us to further assist you. To contact us by phone:
Log in to your account.
That sort of advice doesn't pass the Turing Test, but I replied with utmost courtesy:
Logging in is the problem. I can't log in because I've forgotten my password and my security question answers.
I've not yet heard back from the friendly Catch-22 folks who work in the Customer Support Department of Permission Impossible. They probably think I'm some sort of smart-assed dumbass.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Another poetic allusion in David Mitchell's Bone Clocks

Rare Iceland Forest
Google Images

Here's another literary allusion that Mitchell works into his own literary work:
HALFWAY ALONG OUR JOURNEY to life's end I found myself astray in a dark wood. This fork in the path, these slender birches, that mossy boulder tilted upwards, like a troll's head . . .
Most readers will recognize the allusion, so I won't insult anybody's intelligence by spelling it out, because - "Damn anything new to everyone!" - you ought to know already . . .

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

David Mitchell plays around with a bit of poetry in The Bone Clocks: A Novel

Emily Dickinson
Google Books

David Mitchell takes the thoughts of one of his protagonists, Crispin Hershey, and segues into a bit of poetry in The Bone Clocks: A Novel, following the . . .
. . . spirals [of] Hershey's absent mind, known only unto squirrels and crows; the Hudson River stately winds between the Catskills' pigeon-toes; a train's revealed, a train's obscured, a quote around a broken cup, "I like to see it lap the miles and lick the valleys up."
Those quotation marks reveal Mitchell to be alluding to an Emily Dickinson poem:
I like to see it lap the Miles -
And lick the Valleys up -
And stop to feed itself at Tanks -
And then - prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains -
And supercilious peer
In Shanties - by the sides of Roads -
And then a Quarry pare

To fit it's sides
And crawl between
Complaining all the while
In horrid - hooting stanza -
Then chase itself down Hill -

And neigh like Boanerges -
Then - prompter than a Star
Stop - docile and omnipotent
At it's own stable door -
Dickinson seems to be describing the 'iron horse' - ironically enough, for Crispin Hershey's train of thought has gone off track.

But what's this ungrammatical "it's" doing in the poem? Twice even! Doesn't Dickinson know the difference the contraction "it's" and the possessive "its"? How could she call herself a poet if she gets "it" wrong?

Just kidding . . .

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rainey Knudson on "The Cult of Memory at Texas A&M"

The Mustangs of Freedom
Tearing Down the Wall

Despite her 'worst' intentions, Rainey Knudson - in "The Cult of Memory at Texas A and M" (Glasstire, June 7, 2015) - can't help but say some good things about Texas A and M:
[T]o this outsider anyway, the A and M campus feels unattractive, humorless and a little silly. They have more bronze statues than you can shake a stick at, there are overbearing messages of social conservatism everywhere, and if you're interested in good art, you're out of luck, at least in the public spaces. These people couldn't paint bigger targets on themselves for ridicule if they tried, right? And yet: the president of the school famously leaves the door to his house on campus unlocked. Students and faculty will tell you not to lock your car, that you could leave a computer lying somewhere on campus and it would still be there when you get back. And it would. That's the flip side to all the sanctimoniousness at A and M: there really is a palpable, profoundly likeable sense of honor at the place (and I'm not just saying that because it's one of their six core values that's repeated all over campus).
See? A and M is 'likable enough.' That's my summation of Knudson's view, and I agree with her view - speaking as the Baylor alum I am, required by long tradition to be anti-A-and-M - and yet, like Knudson herself, acknowledge their sense of honor. And there's more from Knudson:
Recently, an artist who taught at both UT Austin and A and M told me that, while the UT students were far more urbane and sophisticated than A and M students, they were also more disinterested and seen-it-all-jaded. Whereas the A and M students, with their earnestness and ingrained respect for authority, were more attentive and worked harder. My friend was somewhat at a loss as to which was preferable.
If only Christina Rees - Knudson's colleague at Glasstire - could have been as gracious about art in the Ozarks . . .

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Elinor Burkett, a Wronged Woman, Says Transgender Individuals Not Born in the Wrong Body

Image by Julie Doucet

In "What Makes a Woman?" (NYT, June 6, 2015), Ms. Elinor Burkett lets Bruce - I mean Caitlyn - Jenner have a piece of her mind when Ms. Jenner claims that her own "brain is much more female than it is male" even though Jenner was born with a male body. Ms. Burkett responds:
I have fought for many of my 68 years against efforts to put women - our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods - into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes. Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side - people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination - are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us.

That's the kind of nonsense that was used to repress women for centuries. But the desire to support people like Ms. Jenner and their journey toward their truest selves has strangely and unwittingly brought it back.

People who haven't lived their whole lives as women, whether Ms. Jenner or . . . [others], shouldn't get to define us. That's something men have been doing for much too long. And as much as I recognize and endorse the right of men to throw off the mantle of maleness, they cannot stake their claim to dignity as transgender people by trampling on mine as a woman . . .

The "I was born in the wrong body" rhetoric favored by . . . trans people doesn't work . . . and is . . . offensive, reducing us to our collective breasts and vaginas . . .

Bruce Jenner [said] . . . that what he looked forward to most in his transition was the chance to wear nail polish, not for a furtive, fugitive instant, but until it chips off. I want that for Bruce, now Caitlyn, too. But I also want her to remember: Nail polish does not a woman make.
I think Ms. Burkett meant to say that "Nail polish does not make a woman." Get that syntax right, Burkett! Aren't women supposed to be better at language than men? Oops, that was sexist of me. But I reckon my slip means Ms. Burkett is right after all - there are no male or female brains since a woman can mangle syntax (though her "hoary stereotype" wordplay shows off her semantic talent).

Anyway, you can't be born in the wrong body, says Ms. Burkett, no matter what you trans folks think or feel about it. Speaking of thinking and feeling, trans people are writing fiction about their experience of being in the wrong body, or so I infer from reading Alexandra Alter's article "Transgender Children's Books Fill a Void and Break a Taboo" (NYT, June 6, 2015).

Oh, just in case of misunderstanding, my remark about Ms. Burkett's syntax was a joke . . . though I do wonder why she felt the need to wax 'poetic' and invert the sentence structure. And yes, I know she wasn't making a 'hoary' pun, either.

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Monday, June 08, 2015

A 'Precious' Plot Spoiler from David Mitchell's Bone Clocks

Not Hugo Lamb
L. A. Times

Some days earlier than the scene we're going to look at in a moment, a certain Fitzsimmons asks a circle of friends what love is. Hugo Lamb, a main character and brilliant sociopath, admits that he has no idea because he's never been in love. But he then meets his match in the decidedly brilliant but non-sociopathic Holly Sykes and falls for her completely, sinker, line and hook:
I'd [now] tell Fitzsimmons et al that love is fusion in the sun's core. Love is a blurring of pronouns. Love is subject and object. The difference between its presence and its absence is the difference between life and death. Experimentally, silently, I mouth, I love you, to Holly, who breathes like the sea. This time I whisper it, at about the violin's volume: 'I love you.' No one hears, no one sees, but the tree falls in the forest just the same.
Except that another choice is looming, a Faustian choice posed by someone in a Land Cruiser, a radical transformation beyond good and evil . . . though it's actually a choice to be evil, and in an interior monologue, Lamb talks himself out of being in love with Holly:
I remember holding Holly in my arms, earlier.
But it's the feeling of love that we love, not the person.
It's that giddy exhilaration I just experienced, just now.
The feeling of being chosen and desired and cared about.
It's pretty pathetic when you examine it clearheadedly.
So. This is a real, live Faustian pact I'm being offered.
I almost smile. Faust tends not to have happy endings.
But a happy ending like whose? Like Brigadier Philby's?
He passed away peacefully, surrounded by family.
If that's a happy ending, they're fucking welcome to it.
When push comes to shove, what's Faust without his pact?
Nothing. No one. We'd never have heard of him. Quinn.
Dominic Fitzsimmons. Yet another clever postgrad.
Another gray commuter, swaying on the District Line.
The Land Cruiser's rear door clunks open an inch.
He gets in, and thus does Hugo Lamb give in to temptation, to a Faustian bargain favoring deathlessness over love.

Except that he never truly falls out of love with Holly and expresses it years later in a vital way that she never knows . . . but enough plot spoilers for today.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

Harlin Jackson Perryman: 1927-2015

About a month ago, on May 10th, my brother Shan emailed to let me know that our maternal uncle Harlin had died:
Mom just called to inform me Uncle Harlin died. After lunch he died peacefully in his sleep. He was active to the very end, walking, birding, reading, etc. I knew you would want to know having been closer to him than any of us. He was a remarkable man in many ways.
He was remarkable. A man of many interests, he had a powerful mind to match. In addition to knowing more about law than any man I'd ever met, he was also an amateur expert on wine, birds, and chess, among other things, and he had a professional interest in history:
"French Nationalism and Foreign Policy from September 20, 1792 to January 31, 1793: The Patriotism of the French Leaders and the Policy Followed by the Convention"
Harlin Jackson Perryman
University of Arkansas, 1952
246 pages
He had, in fact, gotten a scholarship for Pennsylvania State University:
Harlan (sic) Perryman, who was a very sharp student, got a good fellowship at Pennsylvania State University.
But he couldn't get along with his adviser, who thought all Southerners were stupid - or treated them that way - so Harlin returned to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he seems to have gotten his master's degree. He then served a term as an elected member of the Arkansas Legislature, for which the above photograph was made, afterwards returning to Fayetteville for a law degree.

He and I had a number of discussions about history, and he always knew the details better than I did. This was during my time at Berkeley, for he and I lived close enough for me to visit him and Aunt Betty. He worked as a lawyer in San Jose, if I recall, and he was involved in advising the California Democratic Party, which he also served as treasurer. His politics were middle-of-the-road, so far as I could tell. I do recall that he didn't like "crazies," a label that he applied to the emotion-based politics of the left - and of the right, for that matter.

In many ways, he remained a man of the Ozarks, living in California's coastal-range Santa Cruz Mountains and chopping his own firewood. He was enough Cherokee to be recognizably Indian (despite that retouched photo above), and he stood an imposing six feet and three or four inches and looked pretty strong from the physical work he did in chopping wood to keep his home warm, and he believed to some degree in an earlier America's sense of frontier justice. He once told me, "A little violence never hurt anybody." But he was a peaceful man and laughed to show that he wasn't completely serious. He even laughed when I retorted that he was "a professional hillbilly." But he wouldn't have had to work hard at being one, for he retained his Ozark accent all his life.

Although we kept in contact throughout my time in Europe - he and Aunt Betty even visited me when I lived in Tuebingen, Germany - and though I took Sun-Ae to meet him and Betty in 1995, when he and I, along with our spouses, drank an expensive Rothschild red wine to celebrate my doctorate and marriage, we lost contact when my work took me to parts of the world other than Europe. I tried several times to track down his email address, but I could never find one, though I did find this:
Monday February 18[, 2013]. Melody and I had an adult bald eagle at Mather Lake at about 9:30 a.m. It was at first perched, but it began flying around the lake. Apparently it left soon after because we did not see it again until we left at about noon. Harlin Perryman. Sacramento
Melody was his adopted daughter, a daughter from Aunt Betty's first marriage, but I found neither his email address nor hers in my searches. I wish I knew more about him, but I found no obituary. Perhaps this is the closest thing to that. If so, and if others who knew Uncle Harlin wind up here looking for him, then please leave a comment and add what you know.

Meanwhile, Uncle Harlan, rest in peace.

Update: See more here.

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Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Impossible Rears Its (Beautiful?) Head!

Lymphatic System
Maps of the Lymphatic System
Old (Left) and New (Right)

With a hat-tip to Malcolm Pollack, who hat-tipped JK, who found the article:
* Vessels directly connecting brain, lymphatic system exist despite decades of doctrine that they don't

* Finding may have substantial implications for major neurological diseases

* Game-changing discovery opens new areas of research, transforms existing ones

* Major gap in understanding of the human body revealed

* 'They'll have to change the textbooks'
Or so say Jonathan Kipnis, Antoine Louveau, Kevin Lee, et al., of the University of Virginia Health System, in "Missing link found between brain, immune system - with major disease implications," as provided by Eureka Alert.

Read the surprising results!


Friday, June 05, 2015

Review: Mark Russell's First Novel, Young-hee and the Pullocho

Some readers may recall that I was invited by Mark Russell about a month ago to partake of drinks and delicacies at the book launch of his first novel, Young-hee and the Pullocho. He invited me because we'd had a passing acquaintance some years back in journalism - the X-pat Files or somesuch for the Korea Herald - and we knew of our mutual predilection for reading good literature.

I had accepted the invitation despite some apprehension, for I knew I'd be expected to post a review - and what if the story were flawed . . . or not flawed, but nevertheless not my sort of literature?

I need not have worried. The tale is excellent . . . and even my sort of literature.

I won't give away any plot spoilers in this review. Sufficient unto the day is this: The protagonist, Young-hee, has lost some irreplaceable something or other in the magical world of East Asian fairy tales and must set off on a quest for a legendary root similar to, but stronger than ginseng, a root known as "pullocho," to trade for the irreplaceable thing she has lost.

Will she succeed in a land not only magical but also as dangerous as many a fairy tale can be? I should add that we learn much about the fairy-tail creatures in this novel by the brief retellings of old East Asian fairy tales interspersed throughout the book, usually at the end of a chapter. I wish only that Mr. Russell had included a glossary of words and expressions unfamiliar to readers who aren't East Asian, and perhaps he will do so in a later edition.

Hint, hint . . .

Even without a glossary, the story is fully intelligible and will fascinate adults as well as children. It ought to prove as successful as another book I've recently read that also mines fairy tales - albeit Western ones - for a story.

Five stars, and best hopes for Mr. Russell's success!

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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Milton's Complex Epic

Jessica Martin

Jessica Martin extends her analysis to "John Milton, part 2: marrying the epic with the sacred" (Guardian, December 5, 2011) by focusing on how Milton handled two falls:
Milton folds together two stories focused on different heroes, placing them in balance. On one side, and opening the poem, the defeated figure of Satan following a first great fall, his fall from heaven. Corrupted by overweening ambition, morally tormented, subtle and charming, Satan presents like a melange of the best villains of the stage-plays of Milton's youth; but his strand of the story follows the epic tradition.

To him belongs the journeys, the politics, the battles, a growing insupportable self-knowledge that will, eventually, diminish him to almost nothing. He travels to encounter and corrupt his opposite numbers, the counter-heroes Adam and Eve - united where he is solitary, ignorant where he is knowing, happy where he is miserable. Their meeting will result in the poem's second and very different fall, raising Adam and Eve separately and for different reasons to tragic stature. Out of its disaster, as out of Troy's burning, we see them at the beginning of an odyssey. Their final "wandering steps and slow" will walk them out of the poem and into history, an untold journey leading humanity - eventually, eventually - into the embrace of a lost beloved.
Interesting. I wish I had more time to analyze this, but not today.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Well, I'll be damned, here comes your ghost again . . .

Adam and Eve and the Archangel Michael
Gustave Dore

Milton's, I mean.

But how the hell did I ever miss Jessica Martin's "John Milton, part 1: a puzzling epic of heaven and hell" (Guardian, November 28, 2011) and seven subsequent parts? Here's a passage to sample, a passage in which Martin wonders what Milton was up to in his poem, and she's not the only one:
Marvell was one of the first to express . . . in print [unease at what Milton was up to]; he was certainly not the last. We find versions of it all over the reception of Milton's poem. In the responses, for example, of Blake, or Shelley, who saw in Milton an unconscious defence of Satan; in the hostile reaction of William Empson to Milton's depiction of God; in the lively deliberate humanist borrowing of Philip Pullman. All these, and many more, see in Paradise Lost a vast, trickily hybrid production which does something other than it says on the tin. They don't all see the problem to lie in the same place, and most of them conclude that Milton was doing the world some sort of service anyway. But that Milton's eye was (at least) double they agree. Frequently they decide that Milton failed - but only just - to write into the poem the explicit critique of its theodicy which they personally held and would now go on to explain better. Poets themselves for the most part, they nevertheless betray from time to time the wishful hint that if Milton had stuck to the "cool element" of prose his theological position would have been a bit easier to nail.
Maybe I follow along and see if she nails Milton. We'll find some diamonds along the way, but hopefully no rust . . .

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

John Heilbron: On Galileo and the Catholic Church

Pope Francis: Wave of the Future?
Photo by Wally Santana
Associated Press

Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein, in his article "Climate of Change: The Catholic Church's Dance with Science" (Associated Press, May 27, 2015), quotes my history-of-science professor from my Berkeley days, John Heilbron, on the Church's relationship with science:
The Catholic Church "has got an uneven and not always congenial relationship with science," said science historian John Heilbron, who wrote a biography of Galileo. But after ticking off some of the advances in science that the church sponsored, the retired University of California Berkeley professor emeritus added, "probably on balance, the Catholic Church's exchange with what we call science is pretty good."
So . . . why the brouhaha over Galileo way back when?
Galileo was put under house arrest for the rest of his life after he continued to publish work showing the Earth orbiting the sun, despite warnings from the pope and the Inquisition. But it was more than a theological issue, said Heilbron . . . . It was partially a personality conflict between Galileo and Pope Urban VIII, former friends. The pontiff felt betrayed personally by the astronomer because Galileo had promised to include in a postscript the pope's philosophy that contradicted Galileo's work, Heilbron said. Galileo didn't. And it was also about geopolitics, because the church was trying to fight back against the Protestant Reformation and felt the need to show that it would not permit dissent, he said.
This means that while the Catholic Church might not necessarily have been against science, the Church didn't especially distinguish itself in the Galileo story. For readers interested in more about this story, see my blog entry on Heilbron's biography of Galileo

Or check out Amazon, where I've also posted the review.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Clint Watts: 'We have met the enemy, and he is us'?

Clint Watts

Recently in Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, Clint Watts asks, "Are We Our Own Worst Enemy? The Problems in Countering Jihadi Narratives and How to Fix Them." I was particularly intrigued by one approach he describes as a way to discourage the radicalization of Muslims by the Islamic State:
Pinpoint Vulnerable Audiences: Identify those radicalizing online communities of ISIS enthusiasts most attracted to ISIS content . . . . Develop engaging "telenovela" style defector video content: Defector accounts . . . remain the most effective counter narrative . . . . [The] ISIS defector content must be able to engage the radicalizing individual[s] and sustain their attention. I . . . propose the development of three dramatic retellings of actual defectors and foreign fighters lost amongst different jihadi conflicts, illuminating ISIS and al Qaeda's betrayal of their own principles and troops. I would script out three, "telenovela" style videos that would initially stand-alone but would later be networked together . . . . [These] videos would not be fiction, but instead dramatic retellings of actual debacles involving foreign fighters. I'd recommend . . . three movies . . . describ[ing] the treachery of three fratricidal jihadi campaigns:
Tentative Title: "Fitna" – Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS foreign fighters killing each other in Syria

Tentative Title: "Bandit" – AQIM's fracturing, infighting and criminality as they are overrun by French forces in Mali.

Tentative Title: "Ansaris and Muhajirs" – al Shabaab's killing off of their own foreign fighters and clan based infighting inside the group.
Each of these movies would be provided in different languages to more directly appeal to specific radicalizing audiences and they would illuminate several themes of folly and despair encountered by actual foreign fighters embroiled in these jihads.
How would these stories be shown? As follows:
Each of the videos would follow a similar build up . . . . The videos would need to appear, in at least the first three episodes, to be somewhat sympathetic to joining a jihad - tracing the introduction, immersion and initial reception of a foreign fighter. After three episodes, dreams of jihad glory would fade as softer themes undermining ISIS enter the storyline - foreign fighters participating in criminal activity for example. As the story continues, the video would shift to real stories of horrid ISIS behavior - barbaric torture, sexual enslavement, killing of innocent women and children. The video series would conclude with a foreign fighter watching the fratricidal killing of a fellow foreign fighter at the hands of a corrupt jihadi leader. The foreign fighter would manage to defect from ISIS to return home, finding he had shamed his family.
Are these movies fiction? No, not exactly that, the "videos would not be fiction," rather, "dramatic retellings":
Engaging videos, mirroring the production format and quality of ISIS and describing the horrors experienced by ISIS defectors provide the ideal vector for engaging those in the 'Radicalizing' stage of ISIS recruitment.
In other words, dramatize the actual experience of disillusioned foreign fighters. Watts points out that such a program would not cost much, and hints that if the government won't, or can't, produce such a program, then perhaps someone private might fund one.

As for today's blog heading . . . well, I'm on a Pogo shtick.

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