Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Memri on the Refugee Crisis and the Islamic State's Embarrassment . . .

In Memri's Inquiry and Analysis Series Report No. 1187, "The Islamic State's Frantic Response To The Wave Of Refugees Fleeing Syria" (September 28, 2015), Research Fellow R. Green notes the Islamic State's embarrassment:
In response to the refugee crisis involving the migration to Europe of hundreds of thousands of people from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the Islamic State (ISIS) has launched a large-scale media campaign urging Muslims not to seek refuge in the West but rather to come to the territories under its control. As part of the campaign, ISIS has released 13 videos and has published numerous articles and pamphlets; additionally, its activists have flooded social media with this message, including with a Twitter campaign under the hashtag "Refugees - to where?"

The massive scale of the media output on this issue shows that ISIS sees the Syrian wave of migration to Europe as an acute challenge. ISIS leaders see this challenge as twofold: It undermines ISIS propaganda that promotes ISIS as a burgeoning state to which Muslims are flocking, and it constitutes an actual demographic problem.

ISIS's migration campaign has revolved largely around a negative message, namely condemnation of those who choose to flee to the West and an assertion that migration to Europe and the West will only bring the refugees further misfortune. Moreover, ISIS and its supporters stress all Muslims' obligation to perform hijra (migration) to the Islamic State, and the view that Muslims who live elsewhere are neglecting their religious duties.
For R. Green's analysis in more concrete detail, go to the report, where you'll find confirmation of what I wrote earlier, much to a certain troll's dismay.

But the Islamic State's embarrassment notwithstanding, the refugee crisis poses potential problems. The families should be cared for, but young single men should, by and large, be stopped. I've read enough reports to make me distrust them. They throw rocks and excrement in protest, cry out "Allahu Akbar when angered and fighting, and openly speak in Arabic about robbing the infidels and raping infidel women. Europe doesn't need more young men like that.

Another problematic group are the estimated 30 percent of the refugees from states other than Syria, some of them from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These groups were previously headed for Australia, but the Aussies put a stop to that, so they've headed west . . . and West. My understanding is that many of these are economic 'refugees.'

Moreover, even many of the Syrian refugees generally were already safe in Jordan and Turkey, places where they should, by international law, remain.

Not everybody can be let in, or borders mean nothing.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Babies: Spitting Images?

Evil Eye?
Or its nemesis?

In the Spectator's letters section for September 26 (2015), a Mr. Frederick Andrews, living in Asvestohori, Greece, responds to Rod Liddle's desire to spit on babies - or was Liddle's desire more to spit on their parents? - with an open invitation to come to Greece:
Sir: If Rod Liddle really feels tempted to spit on babies (19 September), he should move to Greece - here everybody does it. It is an age-old custom, in order to prevent the child being cursed by the Evil Eye. My Greek wife's aunt caused wide-eyed panic on visiting our firstborn in hospital when she 'pth-pitt'ed at each bundle of joy.
Spitting on babies outside of Greece is a sure-fire way to get the parents' dander up, but one has to wonder about the Evil Eye's perceptiveness if it hasn't by now cottoned on to what the Greeks are up to with this spitting business.

Myself, I don't believe in the Evil Eye, but I'm told that unbelief makes no difference - it's looking for me anyway - so just to be safe, I'm keeping an eye out for it.

That Evil Eye just better watch out for the evil "I" . . .


Monday, September 28, 2015

Troll: FAIL!

Internet Troll
Google Images

Readers may recall that I posted an NPR report some days ago in which the Islamic State was shown to let slip its embarrassment at seeing so many Sunni Muslims fleeing Syria for Europe rather than for the Islamic State's territory. Deborah Amos, writing for the NPR, published her article, "The Flood Of Syrian Refugees Puts ISIS On The Defensive," on September 22, 2015 and said:
[T]he Islamic State is cranking up its propaganda campaign . . . . [because the] refugee crisis is also becoming a crisis for ISIS, as Syrians reject the group's claim that the so-called caliphate offers a safe haven, and the refugees instead opt for the dangerous journey to Europe . . . . [Recently,] ISIS has put out almost a dozen videos with messages that denounce the refugees, threaten them with the horrors of living among "unbelievers" and plead with them to join the caliphate . . . . The media coverage of the refugee exodus is impossible to ignore even in areas under ISIS control.
The NPR clearly approved of the Islamic State's embarrassment:
[No] amount of propaganda videos can counter the image of desperate Syrian families on the move with their children, willing to sacrifice everything on the gamble for a better future in Europe.
But a troll stopping by at my blog felt compelled to leave a snarky comment without even having understood the post:
Yeah, they'll never live down that kind of embarrassment. And NPR journalists are expressing their disapproval. Shoooey, boy! We really got 'em on the run!
NPR journalists expressing disapproval? No, thou fool! The NPA reporter and - by extension - a number of other NPR journalists were expressing approval! I responded by first quoting the commenter on the NPR's alleged disapproval:
"NPR journalists are expressing their disapproval."
Impressed by the troll's obtuseness, I replied:
Surely you don't mean the NPR is aligned with the Islamic State.
The troll probably didn't mean that, but wrote out of misplaced confidence and blinkered, ignorant confusion, mistakenly misreading as disapproval what was actually approval of the Islamic State's embarrassment. See just how wrong wrong can be? In this case, 180 degrees wrong! Can one get more wrong than that?

For the rest of the story, go to the old post . . .

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mary Karr: Dissing John Ashbery

John Ashbery

In the NYT Sunday Book Review "By the Book," The writer Mary Karr tells all, when asked to identify the book she found most "Disappointing, overrated, just not good," or more directly:
What book do you feel you were supposed to like but didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
Karr hesitated, but then spoke forthrightly, not about a book, but about a man, the poet John Ashbery:
I feel like a turd naming names, but the poet John Ashbery's reputation is inflated enough to take it. He's a smart guy with a genius ear for music. In my besotted youth, I wrote a 100-plus-page essay on "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror," then later recanted. His poems are about (he admits this) zippo, and his seductive voice is the most poisonous influence in American poetry. You know those page-long pieces of his in The New Yorker you can't comprehend? Neither can anybody else. A brilliant, modest guy, immensely charming, but the most celebrated unclothed emperor in U.S. letters today - an invention of academic critics.
That's no way to talk about friends! Ah, I see. Her "besotted" youth. She loved him. This sounds like unrequited love, the root of all evil!

Moreover, he looks a little taken aback in that photo . . .


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Uncle Harlin's 692nd Bird: The Rufous-Backed Robin

Rufous-Backed Robin

Dan Kopp, one of my late Uncle Harlin's birding friends, provided me with a link to a brief article about Harlin: "Life Lister Almost 700 – Birds, That Is!" Field Notes: For Members of the Nature Conservancy in Arizona (Spring 2015). Here are some of those field notes:
[O]n January 17, [2015,] 87-year-old Harlin Perryman came to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve from his home in Sacramento, California. He was searching for the rufous-backed robin, which would be the 692nd bird on his life list . . . . Jim and Gloria Lawrence, the bird walk leaders that morning, directed Harlin to the preserve's Spring Trail, where they had seen that bird earlier in the morning. Once there, Harlin saw his 692nd bird . . . . "Harlin got the bird bug when he was 67 . . . . He was out cycling and was almost hit by a bird with red on its wings. He wasn't sure what it was, so he bought a birding identification book and was hooked . . . . Harlin has a big smile and enjoys telling his story, which is an inspiration to all of us who became interested in birding late in life," [says Keith Krejci, the preserve's site host].
Apparently, Harlin had been visiting the preserve for the past twenty years. The article has a photo of Harlin smiling big and looking very Cherokee. I don't know if the photo was recent, and I wish I could reproduce it here, but I can't do that with pdf files. Go there, and take a look.

I wonder if Harlin reached 700 . . .

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Sliders - Who likes 'em?

Dr. Boli
Out and About

Dr. Boli is conducting "A COMPLETELY SCIENTIFIC INTERNET SURVEY" and invites all his regular readers to respond in the blogpost's comments section. The topic under investigation is "sliders" - but I can't say much more than that since his post was eight paragraphs long and looked too hard to read. I had an opinion, nonetheless, and voiced it, but I didn't read the others' opinions since I care only about my own. Anyway, here's what I wrote:
I had no time to read Dr. Boli's post, but I'll reply anyway.

The slider doesn't bother me as much as the spitball. The latter is actually against baseball rules, and even if throwing spitballs did extend Preacher Roe's pitching years, I never could quite accept that about the man – though I liked him otherwise and played Little League in Preacher Roe's Park. Once in a while, he'd come watch us play.

But sliders? They're legit. So, they're okay.
I'm sure everyone will agree with me, but I'm waiting to see the final results of Dr. Boli's scientific survey . . .


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Refugees Embarrass the Islamic State . . .

Deborah Amos
Google Images

Deborah Amos, writing for NPR, says, "The Flood Of Syrian Refugees Puts ISIS On The Defensive" (September 22, 2015):
[T]he Islamic State is cranking up its propaganda campaign . . . . [because the] refugee crisis is also becoming a crisis for ISIS, as Syrians reject the group's claim that the so-called caliphate offers a safe haven, and the refugees instead opt for the dangerous journey to Europe . . . . [Recently,] ISIS has put out almost a dozen videos with messages that denounce the refugees, threaten them with the horrors of living among "unbelievers" and plead with them to join the caliphate . . . . The media coverage of the refugee exodus is impossible to ignore even in areas under ISIS control . . . . [Here are the] titles of [five] . . . recent videos:
— [1] Dear Refugees, Hear It From Us

— [2] And He Will Replace You With Other People

— [3] Advice To The Refugees Going To The Countries Of Disbelief

— [4] Would You Exchange What Is Better For What Is Less

— [5] Warning To The Refugees Of The Deceptions Of The Crusaders
[But no] . . . . amount of propaganda videos can counter the image of desperate Syrian families on the move with their children, willing to sacrifice everything on the gamble for a better future in Europe . . . . More than 4 million Syrians have fled the country since the war began in 2011 and nearly 8 million are displaced inside the country. Together, these 12 million Syrians account for more than half of the country's prewar population of about 23 million.
The five titles do reflect confusion on the part of the Islamic State. The second title clearly threatens the refugees with Allah's wrath, telling the Muslims among the refugees that Allah will discard them in favor of others, the others being converts to Islam, presumably. Other titles plead with the refugees - number one pretty clearly, for instance, and perhaps number four. There are also advice (number three) and warning (number five).

I'm glad ISIS doesn't know what to do with their embarrassment. Let the Islamic State keep stumbling over such things . . .

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Culture of Victimhood?

My friend Malcolm Pollack has recently noted a scholarly article on some topics he has long blogged about, so I went to the article itself, "Microaggression and Moral Cultures," written by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, published in Comparative Sociology (Volume 13, Issue 6, pages 692-726), and available online (through my university, anyway). I have skimmed the article and found the following interesting passage under the heading "A Culture of Victimhood":
A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization . . . . [The culture of victimhood] emerges in contemporary settings, such as college campuses, that increasingly lack the intimacy and cultural homogeneity that once characterized towns and suburbs, but in which organized authority and public opinion remain as powerful sanctions. Under such conditions complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood because the moral status of the victim . . . has risen to new heights.
Those embedded in a culture of victimhood thus seek to emphasize their weakness and therefore appeal to a powerful authority to guarantee justice, even for what are called microaggressions. But where do we find this culture of victimhood?
The culture of victimhood is currently most entrenched on college campuses, where microaggression complaints are most prevalent. Other ways of campaigning for support from third parties and emphasizing one's own oppression . . . . [T]he narrative of oppression and victimization is especially congenial to the leftist worldview . . . . But insofar as they share a social environment, the same conditions that lead the aggrieved to use a tactic against their adversaries encourage their adversaries to use that tactic as well . . . . Naturally, whenever victimhood . . . confers status, all sorts of people will want to claim it. As clinical psychologist David J. Ley notes, the response of those labeled as oppressors is frequently to "assert that they are a victim as well." Thus, "men criticized as sexist for challenging radical feminism defend themselves as victims of reverse sexism, [and] people criticized as being unsympathetic proclaim their own history of victimization" . . . . An example of the latter can be seen in an essay in The Princeton Tory by student Tal Fortgang, who, responding to the phrase "check your privilege," which he says "floats around college campuses," recounts his own family's many victimizations - a grandfather who did hard labor in Siberia, a grandmother who survived a death march through Poland, and others shot in an open grave.
I have a point of disagreement on the authors about Tal Fortgang. They maintain that he "recounts his own family's many victimizations," presumably so that he might gain the moral status of victimhood. I disagree. Mr. Fortgang was pointing to the hardships his family endured, but not to attain the status of victimbood. Rather, he wanted to emphasize the strength that characterized his family and that motivated them to overcome hardship. His message? Stop claiming victimhood and start seeking victory on your merits.

At least, that's how I read things . . .


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Our Limited Time . . .

Yi Mun-yol at home in Icheon, Gyeonggi
Photo by Kwon Hyuk-jae
JoongAng Daily

The novelist Yi Mun-yol reveals his recent bout with cancer to Shin June-bong, of the JoongAng Daily in an interview, "Author mulls future of Korean literature" (September 21, 2015):
Thankfully, it didn't spread to other organs, so I don't need to go through chemotherapy. At the end of this month, I am scheduled to have MRI and CT scans. I will know the exact situation by then . . . . [In the meantime, doctors] made a 5-centimeter (2-inch) incision in my stomach, put four robotic arms into it and then cut out the cancer cells . . . . I wasn't myself for the next 10 days. A lot of thoughts crossed my mind. First, I realized the fact that I have become really old [67 years], and then the fact that I haven't got much time left. Then I started to prioritize what I have to do. That was really important because I don't have forever to do all of the things I have wanted to do.
Worst of all, he had to stop drinking! Temporarily, he hopes:
It has been about 100 days since I quit drinking. When the checkup result at the end of this month turns out to be positive, I am going to resume it a little. It would be so unfortunate to not be able to drink for the rest of my life.
That would indeed prove tragic, so get well soon, Mr Yi Mun-yol. I'd like to have another drink with you sometime.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Barry Welsh reviews Mark James Russell's magical novel Young-hee and the Pullocho

Barry Welsh
Google Images

Barry Welsh, writing 10 Magazine's October 2015 Book Review, lauds Mark James Russell's magical novel Young-hee and the Pullocho, which I've previously reviewed here, and the passage below is in part what Welsh had to say:
Young-hee and the Pullocho is a success on all fronts. Russell has a vivid imagination and describes Young-hee's journey across the strange, magical land [of Korean mythology] with wit and charm. The characters too, are fantastic. Young-hee herself is a tough, modern heroine but also insecure. Her journey is, of course, really a journey of self-discovery. The travelling companies she picks up along the way, Samjogo the three legged crow and Tiger, are alternately hilarious and heartbreaking. The story itself is genuinely magical with some excellent twists and compelling detours. Perhaps best of all are the myths and legends that Russell scatters throughout the book. For this reader there were echoes of the Narnia series, Pan's Labyrinth, and Neil Gaiman. If you are a fan of any of those things then I suggest you join Young-hee on her adventure. Highly recommended.
I second that. The novel tells a great story in the genre of fantasy - though also borrowing from science fiction in the description of an observatory - that keeps the reader treading eggshells upon tiptoe to avoid dire danger . . . if I might mangle metaphors.

My advice: read the tale . . .

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Where's Weiwei?

With Wally?

Apparently not.

In Beijing?

No, not right now.

At Wikipedia?

Well, he was . . . earlier.

In London?

Yes, everywhere there. Or so says Rakewell, writing for Apollo Magazine:
Seeing as circumstances have prevented Ai Weiwei from getting out much over the past few years, it's perhaps unsurprising that the artist has been taking advantage of his trip to London.

Since Ai arrived in Rakewell's home town last week for his forthcoming Royal Academy show, barely a moment has passed that hasn't resulted in a new Instagram post. From the day he arrived, when we were treated to a fetching set of topless selfies, the artist's camera phone has been working overtime.
Go there, too, and see Weiwei at ease at work in a self-reflective mood. But who - you ask - is Rakewell? Well, he's the new guy on the street, or as Apollo Magazine introduces him:
Introducing Rakewell, Apollo's wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
Make note of it!

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Migrants Refuse Asylum in Denmark?

Jake Burman reports that "Migrants REFUSE to claim asylum in Denmark" (Express, September 17, 2015). Why the refusal?
"[B]ecause they don't get enough BENEFITS!"
Refugees from Middle Eastern countries - like war-torn Syria - are demanding they are allowed to go to Sweden or Finland because the terms of asylum are more favourable . . . . Asylum seeker Marwen el Mohammed said there are two reasons migrants do not want to go to Denmark . . . . [He] claimed the first reason is that "the salary for refugees decreased about 50 per cent from 10,000 kroner (£1,000) to about 5,000 (£500)" . . . . [and the] second is that Finland and its neighbouring countries allow migrants' families to join them within two or three months - but under Denmark's new laws they have to wait a year before they are able to join their loved ones . . . . Danish authorities agreed to cut social benefits for new refugees by 50 per cent while foreign nationals must wait at least five years for a permanent residence permit - and they must be able to speak Danish . . . . [Other] EU countries have began to adopt a hardline approach to the migrant crisis, with borders across Europe being slammed shut over the last 24 hours to quell the impossible flow of migrants entering Europe.
The demand for asylum in Sweden and Finland rather than Denmark makes the migrants sound as though their situation is less than dire, but one could argue that they are just being rational in asking for the best for them and their families.

But mass migration is a potential problem some twenty years from now, as the second generation reaches adulthood, for we've already seen how alienated and even radicalized such young people are in various cities of Europe. That's one of the reasons I liked Abdallah Schleifer's suggestion that the EU support refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey so that the refugees can return home in Syria when the Islamic State (aka ISIS) is defeated.

But there's an even more pressing problem, according to "Lebanese education minister Elias Bou Saab [who warns that] . . . thousands of ISIS 'radicals' were among the 1.1 million Syrians currently in migrant camps," as reported by Burman in an article, "400 ISIS killers with hatred of West among 20,000 refugees heading for Britain" (Express, September 15, 2015). How does Saab know?
"My gut feeling is ISIS are facilitating an operation. To go to Europe and other places."
Oh. I'd rather hoped for some hard evidence. I don't doubt that ISIS is sending terrorists, but I'd like to have more solid evidence than some Lebanese politician's bowel movements . . .

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Stephen Greenblatt on Teaching Shakespeare Today

Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt, in "Teaching a Different Shakespeare From the One I Love" (New York Times, September 11, 2015), tells us that college students today approach Shakespeare differently than did his generation:
But as I have discovered in my teaching, it is a different Shakespeare from the one with whom I first fell in love. Many of my students may have less verbal acuity than in years past, but they often possess highly developed visual, musical and performative skills. They intuitively grasp, in a way I came to understand only slowly, the pervasiveness of songs in Shakespeare's plays, the strange ways that his scenes flow one into another or the cunning alternation of close-ups and long views. When I ask them to write a 10-page paper analyzing a particular web of metaphors, exploring a complex theme or amassing evidence to support an argument, the results are often wooden; when I ask them to analyze a film clip, perform a scene or make a video, I stand a better chance of receiving something extraordinary. A student with a beautiful voice performed Brahms's Ophelia songs, with a piano accompaniment by another gifted musician. Students with a knack for creative writing have composed monologues in the voice of the villainous Iago, short stories depicting an awkward reunion of Shylock and his daughter, Jessica, or even additional scenes in Shakespearean verse.
Not a bad trade-off, I'd say . . . except that'd be to betray the Shakespeare I also love.

I wonder if that trade-off can be done with Milton . . .

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Give me Stalin and Saint Paul . . .

Dove of the Revolution
Photo by Christopher Herwig
The Spectator

Roland Elliott Brown, writing for The Spectator of the 12th September 2015, reports in "The caravanserai of the motor age" on the Soviet Union's "whacky bus shelters," like the one above, which is so horrible, it's even more horrible than it actually is! This dove - possibly even a 'pig eon' - has such powerful wings that it reminds me of Milton's lines to the Divine Spirit in the first few lines of Paradise LostBook One:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant:
Yes. Right. The vast abyss of the Soviet Union. Got it knocked up. Or out. But don't you sort of miss the Soviet Union, over what we've got now? Give me back the Berlin Wall.

But no, we have to muddle on toward The Future . . .

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Culture of Discourse: Student Silence

Image from Suggested Keywords

The JoongAng Daily recently announced that "Korean classrooms in Korea lack discussion" (September 14, 2015), offering an example:
Oh Soo-young, who attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 2013 as an exchange student, was posed a question by the professor in the first class she attended.

The teacher - who had memorized all the students' names - then continued to ask questions during the lecture. Whenever the students disagreed with one another, the presentation would shift into a debate.

"At first, I hesitated because I was worried about giving the wrong answer," the 24-year-old said. "But I got used to the debates after a while."

After finishing a semester abroad, her classes back in Korea were a marked turnaround from those in the United States. The professors simply read their written lectures, from beginning to end, off an overhead projector screen. And seldom did they pose questions to the class. When they did, they were mostly rhetorical.
I've been talking about this problem for years now - though, for the record, many Koreans have, too, so I'm not alone. I've incorporated discussion into all my classes over my years in Korea, but getting Korean students to talk is like pulling teeth! I should acknowledge, though, that Koreans are getting better as they slowly stop worrying about "giving the wrong answer."

But they were still worrying about that nearly ten years ago, when I taught a bit at Yonsei's Underwood International College. I had several non-Korean students who were happy to discuss, but one bright Korean student would hardly speak. I couldn't seem to encourage him, and he remained silent most of the time. About a year ago, I had dinner with a couple of the non-Korean students, and I asked them why the Korean student wouldn't speak. One of the two - an American - replied, "Because he couldn't predict what you would say next."

I hadn't thought of that, but I think the American man was spot on.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Genuine Simulation . . . or Artificial Art?

Photo by Glasstire

When I was thirteen years old and in the eighth grade, my science teacher, Mr. Coy Ferguson, warned us students about the sort of tricks developed to sell shoddy merchandise, and he gave an example of senior students buying class rings from a jewelry salesman who stoutly affirmed that the gemstone was "a genuine simulated diamond." The salesman emphasized "genuine" and mumbled "simulated."

Well, that ruse is still used, as Rainey Knudson shows in "How to Make a Painting in the 21st Century" (Glasstire, September 12, 2015), for if you look carefully at the image above - just click on it - you'll see these words:
This certificate hereby verifies the authenticity of the accompanying hand painted fine arts reproduction.
In short, the art purchased from 1st Art Gallery is an authentic reproduction, also known as a genuine simulation. What makes this gallery's art authentically genuine? Here's what:
Enclosed is your handmade oil painting reproduction. Please unwrap it slowly and carefully. Because it can take up to 6 months for the paint to fully dry, do not be alarmed if some of it has been attached to the protective plastic cover sheet as this is completely normal. Please keep in mind that this painting was custom made for you by a real artist who painted it for at least ten days.
Don't be concerned if some of the paint "has been attached" to the plastic cover? The passive voice here - which I've put into quotation marks - implies that somebody intentionally attached paint to the plastic! This is normal? If so, I can only infer that it's part of the product's 'authenticity.' Most important, however, is "that this painting was custom made for you by a real artist who painted it for at least ten days." Ten days, eh? Nine just wouldn't be good enough. No 'real artist' at 1st Art Gallery is going to set any production records, but true art can't be rushed.

If you're interested in the artwork produced for Glasstire by 1st Art Gallery, just click here, and scroll down. Or go directly here.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Christian Hype on Arabian Peninsula?

Arabian Peninsula
(In Green)

Christianity Today reporter Jayson Casper, posting from the United Arab Emirates on September 11, 2015, offers some counter-intuitive news, and this headline says it all, right?
"Why Christianity Is Surging in the Heart of Islam"
Well, not quite all. A subtitle is needed:
"Medical missions and market dynamics lead to millions of believers in the Arabian Peninsula."
Readers would naturally infer that millions of Muslims in "the Heart of Islam," i.e., Saudi Arabia, are converting to Christianity, partly due to medical missions established by Christians. That, however, would be a hasty conclusion, for consider one Christian's remark about living in a Muslim country just next door to "the heart of Islam," but freer than Saudi Arabia, i.e., the United Arab Emirates (UAE):
"I don't feel fully free. You can definitely tell you are living in a Muslim country."
So . . . where are all these millions of Christians, and who are they?
[M]illions of foreign workers [are] transforming the former desert oasis into a global center for business and travel. The UAE's Dubai is the fifth-fastest-growing city in the world; its population is now more than 80 percent migrant . . . . [As for the Arabian Peninsula,] the Pew Research Center numbers Christians . . . at 2.3 million . . . . [and the] Gulf Christian Fellowship . . . estimates 3.5 million.
Neither of those numbers sounds particularly impressive. Notice also that the numbers are estimates dependent upon Christians migrating to the Arabian Peninsula for work, not due to Muslims converting to Christianity. Let's look even more closely at the numbers:
These migrants bring the UAE's Christian population to 13 percent, according to Pew. Among other Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar are each about 14 percent Christian, while Oman is about 6 percent. Even Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest cities (Mecca and Medina), is 4 percent Christian when migrants are counted.
These percentages also fail to impress. And there are restrictions:
[While in] Bahrain and Kuwait, Muslims can [at least] enter church compounds[, in] . . . Qatar, guards allow only foreigners.
And we already know that conversion from Islam to Christianity is a death sentence. As for the Christian migrants, ethnic cleansing could easily drive them out if Islamists were to have their way:
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti (the nation's highest official of religious law) has called for all churches in the peninsula to be destroyed.
And he means in the other countries on the Arabian Peninsula, for Saudi Arabia already has no churches. Moreover, if there were mass conversions among Muslims anywhere on the Arabian Peninsula, the relative tolerance would change as fast as a smile can turn to a frown. Even the rest of the article, which tries to offer a feel-good report on the role of medical missions and global capitalism, admits the difficulties faced by Christians, but I'll leave all that for interested readers to peruse.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trying to Read Master and Commander . . .

On the recommendation of my friend Sperwer, I'm currently reading Patrick O'Brian's naval novel Master and Commander, the first volume in the Aubrey-Maturin series, and after struggling through more than 100 pages of mostly obscure nautical terminology, I dashed off a terse email to Sperwer, titling it "Flummoxed!":
Following your advice. Reading Master and Commander. Didn't realize the book was in a foreign fecking language!
And how did my friend Sperwer reply? Why, with evil, maniacal laughter, that's how:
Just listen to that. Laughing at my poor linguistic skills. Well, I'll show him. I'll learn this foreign fecking language and read this godforsaken book!

Take that, Sperwer!


Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Literary Gift . . .

Regular readers will recall that a writer named Tim Fitts contacted me a few weeks ago out of common interests in Korea and literature, for he was reading Jang Jung-Il's story When Adam Opens His Eyes - which Sun-Ae and I translated - and he thought to get in contact, which led to this gift of his story "Sand on Sand Yellow," which begins this way:
The three friends, cruising on I-40 between Cameron, Arizona and Los Angeles, found themselves discussing the Old Testament practice of sequestering women outside the city walls during menstruation . . .
I don't want to give away any plot spoilers, so I'd better stop here since the story is only 23 pages, but if that first sentence gets you interested, then you'll want to voraciously ingest the entire melancholy baby!

Not that Leon Redbone has anything to do with this story . . .

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering 9/11 . . .

Sara Low

On September 13, 2006, I first blogged on Sara Low. Some readers may recall those words from back then:
On my 9/11 post, my brother Tim left this comment:
It's hard to believe it has been five years since 9/11. Thinking about Sara, a flight attendant I knew from Batesville, who died on Flight 11.
Astonished, I responded:
Tim, I had no idea that you knew someone who died in the 9/11 attacks.

I'm sorry to hear this. Was she a close friend?
To which, Tim said:
I know Sara's father well and knew Sara when she was in her teens and early 20s. She was an intelligent and beautiful person who deserved better than her tragic end.
Five years have passed, but only now have I learned that one of my own brothers knew someone not far from our hometown of Salem who was killed on September 11, 2001.

Sara died when she was only 28 and deserves a far better tribute than I can give, for I didn't know her, but I can at least add this post to her memory.
That's what I wrote back then, posting those words five years after 9/11. We the living are now heading into the tenth year since I first posted on this particular 9/11 tragedy. I think that this year's blogpost on the memory of Sara Low will be my last public memorial, though I'm sure that I will always think of her on 9/11 because of the personal link through my brother Tim.

Peace to all of good will . . .

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

"God also will contact you"


I recently sent to a couple of English journals here in Korea a couple of lit-crit articles I'd like to see published. One journal has replied - but in Korean! My Korean language skills are atrociously bad, so I would rely on my wife, but she's out at the moment. Fortunately, Gmail offers instant translation, so I'm clicking "Translate" and getting the following message, presumably via Google Translate, so I'm slightly redacting to protect the journal's good name, particularly since the journal has no responsibility for Google's weird translation results:

Good morning? English . . . of Korea is the editorial board.

The teacher who submitted papers commissioned a review to consider the expertise of scholars in five minutes. He believes that examination deulkkeseo wiwonnim give us a fair and professional examination.

English . . . of Korea haejusimyeon edit any review wiwonnim deulkkeseo in accordance with the provisions of the Registration Committee Commentary contributor[.] God also will contact you.

Thank you.

Korea . . . of English . . . Editing Committee Dream
I'm a bit concerned to read that God is going to contact me, but also a bit disappointed that He hasn't yet done so, even though more than five minutes have passed by now. But perhaps the delay is my own fault. The message does say, "The teacher who submitted papers commissioned a review to consider the expertise of scholars in five minutes." Am I supposed to have commissioned a review?

But before I go about the business of commissioning "a review to consider the expertise of scholars in five minutes," I'd better wait for my wife to return and translate the original Korean, just to be sure.

Unless God gets here first . . .


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Rushdie on PEN American Center and Charlie Hebdo

Salman Rushdie

Alexandra Alter recently interviewed "Salman Rushdie on His New Novel, With a Character Who Floats Just Above Ground" (New York Times, September 4, 2015), and along with Rushdie's words on his novel were some words from him about free speech, words motivated by Alter's query:
Q. You were very vocal in supporting the PEN American Center's decision to honor the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this year, something that some other writers, including Peter Carey and Francine Prose, opposed, because they said the magazine perpetuated bigoted ideas. Were you surprised to be on the other side of an ideological divide from some of your peers?

A. I could not believe it. Still can't believe it. So many writers who are old friends. It was really shocking. Now, of course, the lasting damage is in some of those friendships. I haven't seen any of them, nor have any of them been in touch with me. I felt a sense of injustice, that these people were executed for drawing pictures. If we're a free-speech organization, how can we not be on their side? For Mr. Carey to say to The New York Times that he didn't see it as a free-speech issue, I thought, "What?"

Q. He's a friend of yours, right?

A. Well, was. It's bewildering and saddening.
I'm glad Rushdie supports free speech so unreservedly. He has to. of course, due to the fatwa against him for his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Like Rushdie, I am also - and always - surprised to hear writers speak out against free speech.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Problem with Nationalism?

Joseph Roth

Writing for the New York Times (September 3, 2015), George Prochnik reviews Michael Hofmann's translation of Joseph Roth's long lament over the fall of the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire in "The Hotel Years":
He had a passion for hotels, which he considered remnant microcosms of that multiethnic ideal savaged by the Great War. In an essay titled "Arrival in the Hotel," Roth proudly enumerates the nationalities represented at one establishment: "The waiter is from Upper Austria. The porter is a Frenchman from Provence. The receptionist is from Normandy. The headwaiter is Bavarian. The chambermaid is Swiss. The valet is Dutch. The manager is Levantine; and for years I've suspected the cook of being Czech." Its guests, who included "Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists," found themselves in the hotel "slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land," seemingly restored by these precincts to "what they should always be: children of the world."
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was not only multiethnic, it was multicultural in a way that almost worked - having worked for about 1000 years - because it was European and unified by loyalty to the Christian emperor, but the rise of ethnic nationalism put an end to all that and engendered genocidal ethnic cleansing at the 20th-century's beginning that was picked up again in the Balkan wars of the 20th-century's end.

In raising resistance to radical Islamism, then, one should be wary about inflaming ethnic tensions . . .

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Monday, September 07, 2015

Abdallah Schleifer on the EU's 'Refugee' Crisis

Abdallah Schleifer

Abdallah Schleifer, writing for Al Arabiya News, says, "EU migrant crisis: Enough rhetoric, time for solutions" (August 31, 2015), and he makes a couple of sensible points, the first about the trafficking of refugees from the Middle East to Europe:
The UNHCR said implementation this year of EU Search and Rescue Operations (SRO) has probably saved tens of thousands of lives. This is an attempt to make the EU look better compared to last year's supposed callousness, but it only deepens the crisis of massive illegal migration [because] . . . . for traffickers, SROs mean they can now cram even more migrants into even cheaper boats, because if they begin to sink they will transmit distress signals and a vessel will turn up to save the passengers.
This means the trafficking of more 'refugees,' or "migrants," as Schleifer to call them. What's the solution? Schleifer looks ahead:
When peace comes to Syria, those who have fled to neighboring countries are far more likely to return home than those who have made it to Europe, and the Jordanian, Lebanese and Turkish authorities will do whatever is necessary to make them return. So the EU should massively invest in dramatically improving the conditions and size of refugee camps in those countries, while making it more difficult to cross into Europe.
In other words, the EU should treat them as refugees deserving support if they've taken refuge in a neighboring country where refugee camps already exist, but treat them as illegal migrants if they avoid or leave those camps and head for Europe. This sounds like a sensible idea to me, far better in the long run.

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Sunday, September 06, 2015

Dr. Aziz Mustafa: Poet and Physician

Dr Aziz Mustafa
Evolution's Everywhere

One of our several Emanations writers, Philip Murray-Lawson, who blogs at Evolution's Everywhere, has recently posted an interview: "Poetry, Medecine and Mensa in Kosovo - Dr Aziz Mustafa" (September 2, 2015). Dr. Mustafa is also a writer, and a few of his poems have been translated into English for publishing in Emanations.

He even provided a short poem for this interview with Murray-Lawson, a poem written 22 years ago, when Dr. Mustafa was about 40, I guess, because 40 is considered the halfway mark in life, so he titled it "Half Life" (if I might take the liberty of capitalizing the word "life"):
Half Life
The half of my life passed,
Doing continues sins,
Will I have the other half,
To expiate them?
An interesting little poem, but I wonder if "continues" is the right term. Shouldn't that be "continuous"? I'd also delete a couple of commas and insert a period, as here:
Half Life
The half of my life passed
Doing continuous sins.
Will I have the other half
To expiate them?
As for capitalizing the first word of each line . . . that is a poetic convention. But I'd suggest the following:
Half Life
The half of my life passed
doing continuous sins.
Will I have the other half
to expiate them?
This is the sort of thing I spend a lot of time doing - no, not expiating my sins, but editing texts by other people - so I hope my suggested changes won't be taken amiss.

I could even get it to rhyme . . . but I won't go that far.

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

A Request on Hemenway's Debut . . .

As regular readers know, I posted a quite positive review yesterday on Gypsy Scholar of Arna Bontemps Hemenway's debut literary work, but I didn't stop at that, for I pasted part of my review at Amazon.

Unfortunately, I can't access my Amazon review. The Amazon site claims to have five reviews - mine being the fifth - but mine takes the fifth, I suppose, and doesn't pop up to say anything!

Could some honest soul check and see if my review is visible yet?

I'd be much appreciative . . .

Update: Problem solved by editing and re-submitting.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Arna Bontemps Hemenway's Literary Book Debut: Elegy on Kinderklavier

Arna Bontemps Hemenway

I'm reading a collection of short stories by Arna Bontemps Hemenway - in fact, the stories comprise his literary debut as a book writer, or even as a "bookwriter," depending on how literally we take the title, Elegy on Kinderklavier (Sarabande Books, July 15, 2014). The man's name, "Arna Bontemps Hemenway" - the middle name "Bontemps," anyway - makes me wonder if he's at least partly a 'good-time' Cajun. No offense intended - I'm a good-time hillbilly, moi.

Anyway, I was curious about trying out his work because he's been praised to the heavens for this book's literary style and because he teaches creative writing at my alma mater, Baylor University, which is perhaps consistent with being "praised to the heavens." Here's a sample I thought interesting since it sparks memories my own experience from a few graduate seminars in which I sat and listened to feminist analysis that seemed intended to challenge men to defend themselves from the critique being directed their way and at the same time seemed intended to undermine any right for men to defend themselves at all, but that was likely all due to my own male-ist insecurities and masculinist assumptions, of which feminism has made me so well aware:
Abrams had assumed Lara was a lesbian mostly because she had a girlfriend, and a face that featured prominent, martial cheekbones. She was writing her thesis on some inherently boring, ultraspecific example of gender politics in government language usage, and her comments in seminar were always throbbing with disgust and carefully curated anger. Abrams hated her. He hated her comments. He hated gender politics in general, and especially her diluted third-wave, recherché feminism which was really, he'd always suspected, just a collection of exceedingly normal personal anxieties. He had no idea what Lara was really like, or where she'd come from. He only really knew that she'd gone to Brown.
This is from the story titled "The IED." Abrams, now on patrol in Iraq, has just stepped on one of these improvised explosive devices, and his life is passing before his eyes even before the coming of the explosion that he knows is coming. I thought the sample interesting in part because I've also sometimes wondered if some sorts of feminism are nothing more than "a collection of exceedingly normal personal anxieties," but also by the fact that scenes of Lara flashed before his mind's eye in his final moments.

As for literary quality, I was unsure at first. I felt that some expressions didn't sound quite right, for example: "word . . . petered out"; "the crowd got up and petered away"; and the dinner petered out." Almost as if written by a non-native speaker. Or have I - living abroad so long - become that stranger? But aside from this occasional weird linguistic experience, the stories drew me into them and grew so much in depth and power that I sometimes felt I were reading David Mitchell's writing, though I wouldn't wish to conflate their respective artistry.

Reading recommended. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Rand Richards Cooper on PC

The novelist Rand Richards Cooper has recently published an article titled "Political Correctness" (Commonweal, September 1, 2015) to explain it to folks who don't know what it means:
The m.o. [- modus operandi, the usual way of doing things -] on today's campuses, at least among the humanities, features the elevation of group identity politics, with a special focus on oppression, and the use of academic discourses to apply an analysis of systemic power relations to individual interactions and (especially) utterances. The goal seems to be to cleanse public discourse, and even campus itself, of anything ideologically adverse . . . . [There have been] disinvitations of Condi Rice, Christine Lagarde, George Will and others as campus speakers. When I was at college, we eagerly invited speakers whose ideologies we were hostile to (Antonin Scalia, Cal Thomas, etc), and then debated them. Christine Lagarde is the head of an organization whose workings are central to the global economy. The student group whose protests led her to withdraw blamed her for "the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide." That doesn't sound like an attitude of eagerness for inquiry.
Cooper's right, of course, and he's explained political correctness perfectly. He's even endured it:
People seem to be spending a good deal of time waiting for other people to transgress, so that they can pounce. When I was visiting writer at an elite liberal arts college I published a fictional narrative with a black man as the protagonist (I am white). I was assailed by a progressive political scientist (also white) for my "audacity" in presuming to inhabit the point of view of the African-American underclass; he cheerfully skewered the story as an act of cultural and political appropriation. These tropes are common.
I've tolerated political correctness at times, for much of it is about courtesy, but when it suppresses free speech, the time is right to fight back hard.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Hal Brands on a 'Lesson' of the Cold War

Hal Brands

Hal Brands, a senior fellow for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), has published an article on "American Grand Strategy: Lessons from the Cold War" (E-Notes, August 2015). Brands finds eight lessons, but his second lesson interests me:
Lesson 2: American engagement is the bedrock of international stability

A second key debating point regarding U.S. grand strategy today involves the question of what this defense spending and global engagement actually buy in terms of securing the international order. Does U.S. engagement foster stability and peace, as American officials have long claimed? Or does it primarily invite blowback and other undesirable behavior, as critics allege? The history of the Cold War lends some support to both arguments, but the balance lies overwhelmingly with the former perspective.
Perhaps the lesson from the history of the Cold War applies solely to the Cold War's history. Here's the support for stability:
U.S. global engagement during the Cold War was a response to the fact that the absence of such engagement had helped cause the catastrophic instability of the interwar era. And during the Cold War, it was precisely the U.S. decision to embrace the responsibility of organizing and protecting the non-communist world that allowed key regions like Europe and East Asia - particularly the former - to break free of their tragic pasts and achieve remarkable levels of stability. U.S. policy helped deter Soviet aggression and dissuade other disruptive behavior; it helped mute historical frictions between countries like Germany and Japan, on the one hand, and their former enemies, on the other; it helped foster the climate of security in which unprecedented economic growth and multilateral cooperation could occur. U.S. policy was not the only factor in these achievements, but it was the common thread that connected them.
This is a fact about the past. American engagement in the world during the Cold War is properly seen to have been a force for international stability. But does this fact about the past permit us to apply the same reasoning today? Brands himself asks this question:
What relevance does this history have for grand strategic debates in a period that seems so different from the Cold War? The relevance is simply to remind us that stability - and all of the blessings that stability makes possible - is not an organic condition of the international environment. Rather, it must be provided by powerful actors who are willing to confront those forces - national rivalry, aggression by the strong against the weak - that have, historically, so often pushed international relations toward instability and conflict. At a time when many of those forces again seem to be rearing their heads from East Asia to Eastern Europe - and when there is still no compelling candidate to replace Washington as primary provider of international stability - this lesson is especially important to bear in mind.
Brands's answer seems to be that since nobody else can provide stability, only the US can. That is not a very compelling argument. In a sense, the Cold War itself provided stability, a framework that pushed the two sides to find mutual benefit in agreements. Our opponents at that time were not suicidal. Today, however, we face enemies who are not rational in the sense that the Soviet Union was. The Islamic jihadists say that they love death, which makes them irrational from a secular perspective. American intervention against jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq have not stabilized the forces of order but have strengthened those of disorder. Maybe the rule of tyrants like Saddam Hussein kept order in their world comparable to how the rule of Communist dictators like Stalin kept order in theirs. Perhaps the order sought would have to have been kept by a certain distance of disengagement.

But it's too late for that now, so we face the dilemma of engaging and bringing more chaos or of disengaging and leaving more chaos. So . . . which is the lesser chaos?

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Helfont on Islam vs. Islamism

Samuel Helfont

Samuel Helfont has recently published an article for the think tank FPRI (Foreign Policy Research Institute) on "Islam and Islamism: A Primer for Teachers and Students" (FootNotes, Vol. 20, No. 9, August 2015).

He distinguishes between Islam as practiced in various parts of the world versus Islam as enjoined by the Quran and other early Muslim texts, and he notes the multiplicity of interpretations, which is all well and good, as always.

But when he comes to the distinction between Islam and Islamism, he recognizes a problem:
Islamists often refer to themselves simply as Muslims and they claim that those who oppose their ideas also necessarily oppose Islam. They root their ideas in a particular reading of history. If Muhammad combined political and religious authority, then how could Muslims disavow the role of politics in Islam? This is a powerful argument.
Indeed, it is powerful. We must also add that since Muhammad combined military and religious authority, then Muslims can also hardly disavow the role of the military in Islam, especially since war is politics by another name, at least if one means foreign policy. This is also a strong argument. But Helfont again takes refuge in multiple interpretations:
Yet, the Islamist reading of the past has been selective. No consensus has ever existed on what Islam is, let alone on its relationship to politics . . . . Islamism had its genesis in modern debates about political identity. And despite the fact that Islamists have used classical Islamic texts to make arguments, their ideas sometimes had no precedent in Islamic history.
But he acknowledges still another problem:
This does not imply that Islamists are wrong or that their logic is invalid. If it is difficult to know what Islam is, it is also hard to determine what it is not . . . . Islamist claims about Islam are just as legitimate as any other.
Yet, he again takes refuge in Islamism's lack of consensus:
Nevertheless, it should be recognized that, despite Islamist assertions, no consensus among those who identify as Muslims exists with regard to the relationship between Islam and politics. Nor is it possible to read the classical Islamic texts and come away with an unambiguous understanding of Islamic politics.
Nevertheless, Helfont sees Islamism as a large problem:
As such, Islamists remain a subset of the larger Islamic community. How large a subset is not easy to determine. Partly, this is due to the difficulty in demarcating the lines between Islam and Islamism. Islamists claim that they are simply Muslims who recognize the essential role of politics in their religion . . . . Islamists appear to be either a minority, or a slight majority in most Arab countries.
That's a lot of Islamists. We have reason to be concerned as states in the Middle East collapse and Islamists are drawn into the power vacuum and take advantage of the chaos to send jihadists hidden among the refugees headed for Europe.

Bad times ahead . . .

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