Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wife Gone, Feeling Single! . . . Not.

Sun-Ae is taking a month off to conquer South America with three Korean friends, one of whom lives there - in one of those countries straddling the equator, I think. If I recall, the country is called "Aguador" because the water there can't decide whether to drain clockwise or counter, so it just backs up and floods the whole country. Anyway, Sun-Ae took this bus yesterday morning:

Not all the way to the S.A., of course, just to the airport (see the word AIRPORT in all caps on the bus window nearest us onlookers). Here (pace Heraclitus) is the same bus from the front:

This is the most dangerous part of her trip - braving Korean highways! Travel mercies! (She made the airport trip successfully, by the way.) One last photo, depicting the "unbearable lightness of being" - borne not only by the one traveling, but also by the one left behind:

Like ghosts, we scarcely exist at all! In case you are wondering, that image is our reflection in one of the bus stop shelter's glass walls, which was displaying an ad for Art Decaux. Yes, "Decaux," not "Deco."

I wonder what they meant . . .


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Robert Spencer: Insight and Insult

Remember Bowe Bergdahl, the naive young man who took a hike away from his U.S. army base while serving in Afghanistan? He was grabbed by the Taliban, held captive for some years, and tormented with ridiculous questions. Beckie Strum, of the New York Post (December 24, 2015), reports Bowe Bergdahl as saying: "Taliban asked me if Obama is gay,"
"They ask you, is Obama gay and sleeps with men?"
They ask you this over and over and over and over again. Sounds worse than waterboarding! More seriously, Robert Spencer steps in to offer some plausible analysis as to why the Taliban posed this question:
If Bergdahl is telling the truth, it is unlikely in the land of bacha bazi that these Taliban members were objecting to sleeping with men. They were asking if Obama was gay, i.e., did he sleep only with men - which exclusivity they would equate with weakness. Beyond lurid curiosity, they were most likely asking Bergdahl if the President was truly as weak as he appeared to be.
Spencer is an intelligent, educated fellow with a lot of serious insight - especially insight into Islam - so he may well be right on this point, but he then diminishes his gravity with this crude sight gag:

Spencer detests President Obama so much that he can't resist an opportunity to ridicule him even at the cost of making himself look bad. This is not a unique instance, either. Spencer always chooses the least flattering photo of Obama.

I'll keep reading Spencer for his important insights, and generally ignore his insults - not insults of me, of course, for he certainly doesn't know me - but I couldn't let this one pass, it was just too crude not to call him on it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Michael G. Chivers: Clever Writer!

I'm reading a fascinating, frightening tale - "The Squalling Terror" - told by Michael G. Chivers in Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5, and in a single sentence, he ties a sight gag to a pun that shows why the object described can never be of practical use to anybody:
One of the items looked like an ivory d*ldo of unfeasible proportions, covered in impenetrable script. (page 246, bowdlerizaton mine)
The writing here is very clever (I chuckled aloud on the subway) and implies a control over wording that goes deep into the sentence. I refer mainly to the term "impenetrable," which can suggest that the d*ldo does not function properly - as we already know from the other significant term, "unfeasible." One has to misread, of course, to impart this meaning to "impenetrable" - i.e., 'not penetrate able' - but let's be generous with our man.

Anyway, I'm still reading, and enjoying the story . . .


Monday, December 28, 2015

Transcendent Moment: Insadong Street Singer

Street Singer

Sun-Ae and I joined my friend Seung-Tae and his wife Saturday evening in Insadong for dinner in a colonial-era building that houses a restaurant. After a wonderful meal with fine conversation, we strolled through Insadong's streets, somewhat aimlessly, taking in whatever we encountered of the commonplace and letting it pass through, when we suddenly heard the strains of a most famous Edith Piaf chanson:
Non je ne regrette rien . . .
A moment of transcendence as the four of us stopped simultaneously, amidst others stopping all around, each listener caught up by the street singer's lovely rendition, and I recalled the musings of Holly Sykes on transcendence:
"What if . . . what if Heaven is real, but only in moments? . . . . Like the best song anyone ever wrote, but a song you only catch in snatches, while you're alive, from passing cars, or . . . upstairs windows when you're lost . . ."
That's from David Mitchell's novel Bone Clocks. Anyway, for those of you too young to know of Edith Piaf, go here and listen.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Another Mr. Em?

The Initial Malthusian

I've just finished reading Robert Meadley's short story, "Meeting Dr. Malthusian," which takes up the first 24 pages of Emanations 2 + 2 = 5. I enjoyed the tale, and not only because the devil-figure-and-spirit-guide - Dr. Malthusian himself - signs off on the final line of the final page as his initial, "M." I also found these lines on page 14 eerily appropriate to our times:
In a dismal suburb, we met a man killing prostitutes.
Why are you doing that, I asked in a spirit of scientific enquiry.
Because God told me to, he said.
Truly? Directly? God's rules? "Ich bin so groß als Gott, er ist als ich so klein" (I am as Large as God, He is as small as I). The Islamic State, writ small?


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Owl of Minerva?

Long-Eared Owl

A big hat-tip to Malcolm Pollack for directing me to Raffi Khatchadourian, staff writer at The New Yorker since 2008, who has written a near epic-length article - "The Doomsday Invention" - about the futurologist, Nick Bostrom, a genius who worries that superintelligent machines may assume control of their own evolution and not only surpass us but even dominate us, so Bostrom is putting his own formidable intellect to work at determining how to avoid such domination, which he discusses in his book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.

For those of us who put off thinking about this 'problem,' Bostrom offers a 'fable' about how the sparrows learned a 'good' answer on how to protect their species from harm at the talons and beaks of owls:
[Bostrom's] book begins with an "unfinished" fable about a flock of sparrows that decide to raise an owl to protect and advise them. They go looking for an owl egg to steal and bring back to their tree, but, because they believe their search will be so difficult, they postpone studying how to domesticate owls until they succeed [in obtaining the egg]. Bostrom concludes, "It is not known how the story ends."
Why no ending to the story? Because they learned the wisdom of owl domestication only at dusk?


Friday, December 25, 2015


Merry Christmas 2015
Happy New Year 2016
International Authors
Emanations Series


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Unafraid to show our backside . . .

Oh, not
from us
the ore-sprung
of emanations - ours,
of course,
exude a sweeter,
softer smell,
and not
those sulf'rous
fumes from Hell!

And that - in its rhythmic, rhyming ambiguity - could be a poem!

Or couldn't.

Be patient with me. I'm cleaning up the dregs of grading . . .


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Finally, a copy of Emanations!


A copy for me has finally arrived - not the free one that got lost in the mail, but a replacement I ordered for that one, whose arrival I've given up on.

My own tale, titled "The Uncanny Story," can be found on pages 363-442  - you might try Amazon to see if you can access any of those pages.

I'll write more some other time - too busy with grading right now . . .

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fiery Tops?

Fiery Tops?

One of my College English students gave me the card above, which she drew and signed. When I asked what it means, she smiled, shrugged, and said some words to the effect that it's "just art."

Just art? As opposed to unjust art? Or "just art" as in "only" art, as if some greater object than art awaited its own unveiling.

I've supplied the title, by the way . . .


Monday, December 21, 2015

What to do with those 'simply divine' statues of the Kim family . . .

I received my free copy of the Journal of Peace and Unification (Volume 5, Number 2, Fall 2015) - which the Institute of Unification Studies sends me as partial recompense for my work as copy editor - and I want to call attention to an interesting problem that had never occurred to me, namely, what to do after re-unification (if and when that happens) with all those Kim family statues that have popped up like toadstools all over the North.

Because the issue had never occurred to me before, I'd of course never given it a moment's thought, but we are fortunate to have Professor B. R. Myers, of Dongseo University, with an entire article's worth of reflection on the issue, titled, "Memory Politics in a Unified Korea: Applying European Lessons to the Problem of Political Statuary," and below is his summary:
The following paper approaches the issue of memory politics in a unified Korea by focusing on what is likely to be the most contentious problem, namely, what to do with the numerous statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that now stand in North Korea. Referring both to recent South Korean research as well as the historical experiences of Germany and Estonia, the paper argues for a compromise between those two countries' approaches. According to this proposal, the central government would remove most of the problematic statues in a discreet and orderly manner, as opposed to the German practice of letting regional and municipal governments decide their fate. But in contrast to the central-government intransigence that led to deadly rioting in Estonia in 2007, a few statues of Kim Il Sung as a young anti-Japanese fighter should be left where they are, albeit with new plaques, in emulation of the German solution, that subject them to re-interpretation.
By the end of the article, you'll likely be persuaded that Myers is right about an issue that you've never thought about before . . . unless you're one of those who have (and you too will also be convinced).

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jihadi Culture: "a highly seductive subculture"?

Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, has written an insightful piece titled "The Soft Power of Militant Jihad" (NYT, December 18, 2015), because Jihadis aren't always fighting. Here's an excerpt:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State, . . . became known in jihadi circles as the Slaughterer[, but few] people in the West are aware that he also went by the nickname He Who Weeps a Lot. Mr. Zarqawi was known for weeping during prayer and when speaking about Muslim women’s suffering under occupation . . . . [This dichotomy helps explain why] tens of thousands of people from around the world [have] chosen to live under the Islamic State's draconian rule and fight under its black flag . . . . To understand this phenomenon, we must recognize that the world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves . . . . To really understand a community, we need to look at everything its members do. Using autobiographies, videos, blog posts, tweets and defectors’ accounts, I have sought a sense of the cultural dimensions of jihadi activism. What I have discovered is a world of art and emotions. While much of it has parallels in mainstream Muslim culture, these militants have put a radical ideological spin on it[, and as] the West comes to terms with a new and growing threat - horrifically evident in the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. - we are not only confronting organizations and doctrines, but also a highly seductive subculture. This is bad news. Governments are much better equipped to take on the Slaughterer than they are He Who Weeps a Lot.
This is why a rival religious subculture often has more success in attracting these radicals, which might explain why the apostate-Muslim atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has suggested that Christianity, with its own "highly seductive subculture," could meet the spiritual needs of Muslims while also providing a rather more peaceful expression of religious fervor.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alain Finkielkraut on French Laicity . . .

Alain Finkielkraut

In a recent blog entry, Bill Vallicella directed readers' attention to a quote of Alain Finkielkraut that has been translated from the French and posted online by Amy Sterzinger, and I was so taken by the same quote that Bill quotes that I've posted it here:
Laicity is the solution that modern Europe found in order to escape its religious civil wars. But contemporary Europe doesn't take religion seriously enough to know how to stick to this solution. She has exiled faith to the fantastic world of human irreality that the Marxists called "superstructure" thus, precisely through their failure to believe in religion, the representatives of secularism empty laicity of its substance, and swallow, for humanitarian reasons, the demands of its enemies.
Bill offers a cogent explication of Finkielkraut's brilliance in this quote, and my reading follows Bill's.

Basically, France adopted "laicity" - a strict version of secularism - when the French still took religion seriously and knew that believers really do believe what they say they believe. French laicity forced religion out of public life and made it a purely private affair. This was a solution so long as believers and atheists both took religion seriously, but as atheism gradually 'forgot' the radical passion of religion and relegated religious fervor to a Marxist "superstructure," analyses of religions and religious motives grew superficial.

Religious beliefs were now always dismissed as epiphenomena, not to be taken seriously, false representations of some more basic, economic reality, and religiously based upheavals thus came to be seen as rebellion against economic conditions, rebellion with a potential for revolutionary uses, such that a hope for martyrdom and the reward of celestial virgins was never about a divinely promised paradise - which even the Muslims couldn't truly believe in, or so said the atheist analysts - but, rather, was about some misperceived earthly utopia to be realized in the future, through material, not spiritual means.

Big mistake.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Origin of "the religion of peace"

Mark Durie

We're so often reassured by various experts on Islam - you know, people like George W. Bush back in the day - that Islam is a peaceful religion, and we hear this so often because it so often needs to be said because we so often see Islam implicated in violence, leaving us in doubt about its peaceableness, so we need the reminder day after day or else the counter-evidence might seem too strong, but having heard the phrase so often, necessarily so often, one might wonder where the phrase "the religion of peace" originated.

Well, wonder no more, for Mark Durie knows and tells in his article "Anyone Using The Phrase 'Islam Is A Religion Of Peace' Needs To Read This" (Independent Journal, December 17, 2015), so let's read:
One may well ask how 'the religion of peace' became a brand of Islam, for the phrase cannot be found in the Qur'an, nor in the teachings of Muhammad.

Islam was first called 'the religion of peace' as late as 1930, in the title of a book published in India by Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi. The phrase was slow to take off, but by the 1970s it was appearing more and more frequently in the writings of Muslims for western audiences.
Interesting. For more on this, go to the linked article, which explains that the word "Islam" is more semantically connected to the term for "safety" than the one for "peace." But that meaning turns out less reassuring than one might hope for . . .


Thursday, December 17, 2015

René Girard: Gone the Way of All Flesh

René Girard

René Girard died recently, and is remembered by John Ranieri in an article for Commonweal titled "Contagious Desire: Remembering René Girard." Back in my religious studies days, I grew interested in Girard's mimetic theory, which - in a nutshell - is as follows:
At the heart of his thought are three interconnected insights. The first (and perhaps the most fundamental) is the claim that human desire is mimetic, or imitative. His second is the understanding that conflicts generated by mimetic desire are resolved by means of scapegoating either single victims or vulnerable groups. The third (and most controversial) affirms the role of the Bible in exposing scapegoating and revealing a God who takes the side of victims.
Girard was the rare literary theorist who really knew what he was talking about when he stepped outside his field and talked about something theoretical, for instance, cultural anthropology, which he not only understood, he contributed something of substance - the little bit that you just read.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Two-Hundred Kilometers Below What!?

The December 14th, 2015 title to a report in the Korea Herald read, "Two dead in MTV helicopter crash in Argentina," and the tragic details followed, culminating in a baffling, final one-sentence paragraph:
Rescuers trying to reach the downed helicopter said it had penetrated some 200 kilometers below the surface.
Baffling, as I said. But it must be true. Only an expert would go out on so far a limb!

I'd link to this report, but I can't find it on the Korea Herald website, and I have only the hard copy.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rainey Knudson: "Art is not politics . . . . It's not anything except an echo of nature, which is to say it's chaotic."

Rainey Knudson

Finally, someone who believes in free speech! Writing for Glasstire, Rainey Knudson comes out for free expression in her article "The Best Defense is Good Offensiveness" (December 6, 2015):
[V]iewed in the context of the latest round of culture wars, . . . observations on the traditional oppressors of sartorial freedom . . . could also be applied to many so-called progressives. We have entered a time of rigid orthodoxy for some people on both the right and the left regarding what is acceptable to say, wear, and even think. [Yes,] I’m referring to political correctness, and its main bugaboo, offensiveness . . . . [M]any people seem to be more hung up on the aesthetics of correctness and offense than ever. When academics and journalists incorrectly assert that the First Amendment doesn't protect hate speech; or when students at Amherst College write that they want other students who have posted "ALL LIVES MATTER" posters to undergo "extensive training for racial and cultural competency," political correctness of the left begins to uncomfortably evoke other well-meaning uprisings against oppression that converted into their own reigns of terror . . . . Thankfully, the art world is rife with offensive material . . . . [even if some of it still gets censored, such as] the more recent removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from a 2010 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, because a clip of ants crawling over a crucifix made Rush Limbaugh crazy . . . . But religion - well, Christianity [but not Islam!] - remains fair game for art, and has since at least Caravaggio’s time. Andy Warhol, a devout Catholic all his life, made work about the death penalty and talked about how he wanted to be a machine. Piss Christ, Ninth Hour, the Barbie Crucifix . . . examples of the genre are plentiful. Same too for sex. We snicker at a mainstream media that can't show a Modigliani nude without blurring the nips and pubes, and we revere Robert Mapplethorpe's meditations on light, composition and symmetry . . . . [W]e all need to be offended, and not for the righteous satisfaction of saying so. Being offended means being slapped with a wrongness that doesn't fit our worldview. If we aren't offended, we are never shaken out of our own little bubble and forced to acknowledge all the other little bubbles out there . . . . Of course, it's not art's job to save us from ourselves. Art may be good at being offensive, but it's also ambiguous. Great art is unto itself, meaning that even when it has political undertones, it's not straightforward propaganda. Art is not politics . . . . It's not anything except an echo of nature, which is to say it's chaotic. I take great comfort in that . . . . [T]hat's a reason many people aren't interested in art, or at least good art - they want their ten commandments to help them go through their lives with a sense of externally-imposed order. They need art that explains itself. But good art doesn't explain itself. It doesn't spell things out. It has multiple agendas, and reflects our ambiguous world where things are not black and white . . . . Transforming the world means transforming yourself, continually, by leaving your context and crossing over into unknown territory. The term "trans" has become associated with gender identity, but its more general meaning applies to everybody: vacating your own territory of this-is-what-I-am, what-I-believe. Social conservatives (who distrust art) tend to be lousy at this. But so do many so-called progressives. Face it, we all do: our tribalism, a nifty evolutionary advantage for survival, has been holding us back for centuries now. Tribalism is acute in the art world: our insular, reactionary, small-c conservative bubble responds to the unknown with indifference or hostility, just like every other bubble . . . . Fussing over people's language and dress, policing Halloween costumes, and writing up checklists of acceptable behaviors, while providing a comforting sense of order, won't change the world. The universe is chaotic and ambiguous. Look to the artists.
Knudson gets it Right . . . and Left! I also like her remark about the meaning of art: "Art is not politics . . . . It's not anything except an echo of nature, which is to say it's chaotic." Art as an echo of nature. Something to think about . . .

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Monday, December 14, 2015

American Advice to Russia?

Michael A. Reynolds

In an E-Note for the FPRI, "Turkey, Russia, and NATO Enter the Danger Zone" (December 2015), Professor Michael A. Reynolds offers advice not to the Russians, but to his fellow Americans, who need it more than Russians do:
Putin might be forgiven for declining advice from Americans on how to interact with Muslims, not simply because of the ambiguity of America's own record but because Russia's own experience with Islam and Muslims is both far older and deeper than America's. Muslims have since the middle of the sixteenth century been a substantial part of the Russian population and Russia has maintained diplomatic relations with Muslim khanates and states even longer. Indeed, Muscovy was a tributary to the Muslim Golden Horde before it [i.e., Russia] came into existence as an independent state. Both the Romanov and Soviet states had large (and predominantly Sunni) Muslim populations, and today's Russian Federation's population is roughly fifteen percent Muslim. Ignorant of Russia's centuries-old experience with Islam, commentators responded to Russia's deployment of forces to Syria with predictions of ultimate defeat by pointing to the examples of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and Moscow's in Chechnya.
In short, have a bit of humility, America. Russia has a lot more experience with Islam than you do, centuries of it. Not that events couldn't spin out of Putin's control . . .

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good Show Sir: Only the worst Sci-fi/Fantasy book covers

My friend Terrance Lindall reveals:
Just re-acquired my cover art for the very first cyberpunk novel by John Ford 1980! Voted one of the worst sci-fi covers ever!
A website dedicated to the 'worst' sci-fi book cover art produced in this part of the art galaxy is linked to by Lindall himself to provide an exemplar for the pride he takes in this work of art:
Yes, it is the worst SF fantasy cover ever done! Simon and Schuster stopped commissioning me after that. I was getting tired of doing work for the publishers and was moving on to building a museum in upstate New York (the Greenwood Museum – look on Wikipedia)

Actually I love everybody's comments. I now have to my credit some of the best and worst ever done in the 20th century! Sometimes art is so bad it's good, and if it's incredibly bad, it's great . . . I can live with that!
The image above was posted by a certain "Scott B," who attempted to put into words what Lindall had painted:
Scot B's Art Direction: OK, I see a redheaded woman wearing overalls, but still half-naked, being gnawed on by ghost wolves while a dragon explodes from her crotch. The dragon's chasing a guy with a flaming orange on his jumpsuit. And a purple polka-dotted gnome fortune-teller! It's a masterpiece I tell you! What's that, you say the name of the book is what? Well, just throw a spiderweb around everything, that'll work. Published 1980
I also posted a comment, but I'm leaving that in its context . . .


Saturday, December 12, 2015

C.S. Lewis: Great Scholar and Secret Government Agent

Professor Harry Lee Poe, at Union University in Tennessee, writing for Christianity Today (December 10, 2015 ), reports that "C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent" whose vivid lecture style and choice of subject matter won Iceland's people over to the British side in WWII:
As I browsed eBay not long ago, I came across a 78 rpm recording of a lecture by C. S. Lewis. I assumed that it was a mistake or that the seller was trying to defraud an unwitting public. I knew Lewis well enough to know that he had never made a 78 rpm recording for general distribution, much less one produced by something called the Joint Broadcasting Committee. I also knew that Lewis never delivered a lecture on the subject "The Norse Spirit in English Literature." At least, I knew we had no evidence of such a lecture. Fortunately, curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the record from the dealer in Iceland . . . . And what an unusual find it turned out to be. I discovered some things about a secret episode in Lewis's life that few, if any, people knew about . . . . It was an unusual mission for which few people were suited . . . . The first thing I discovered was that the Joint Broadcasting Committee was an arm of British secret intelligence that served a propaganda purpose by broadcasting to people in occupied enemy territory during World War II. Until now, the general public and the world of scholarship had no idea that C. S. Lewis began his wartime service by undertaking a mission for . . . . the Secret Intelligence Service . . . . When Lewis came on board at the beginning of World War II, it was still a fledgling group of amateurs desperately working to save their [British] island home from disaster . . . . [The Secret Intelligence Service] needed Lewis in the wake of the German invasion of Norway and Denmark on April 9, 1940. Though the British sent troops to Norway to counter the German invasion, it was too late to intervene in Denmark, whose subjugation was accomplished in only one day. One month later on May 10, 1940, German forces invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, and by June 22 the French government had capitulated . . . . On that same morning in May, however, the British did the next best thing they could do to help Denmark and the rest of Europe: They launched a surprise invasion of Iceland, which was part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Iceland's strategic significance in the North Atlantic had been known since the Viking voyages a thousand years earlier . . . . Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended upon the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces . . . . [Such] was the strategic situation in which C. S. Lewis was recruited. And his mission was simple: To help win the hearts of the Icelandic people . . . . And what did an Oxford don have to say that might help turn the tide of war in Britain's darkest hour? He spoke on the subject "The Norse Spirit in English Literature." Lewis provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English, which Lewis made clear in his first recorded statement. He said that he did not know why he had been asked to address the people of Iceland, but that he agreed to do it in order to repay a great debt. He explained that his imaginative life had been awakened by Norse mythology when he was 14. He went on to explain how his love of Norse mythology only deepened when he began to learn the Icelandic language at Oxford . . . . After this introduction, Lewis proceeded to praise the Icelandic tongue as one of the most poetic on earth. Rather than a private view of his own, Lewis argued that successive generations of English writers have felt this affinity with the old Norse tales and that this influence has found its way into the greatest of English literature . . . . The literature of England, inspired by the Norse, views self-important office holders as knaves and fools. By implication, the English had come to Iceland to repay a great debt and help fend off the knave and fool who ran Germany.
There's more in the article, but this is already an inspiration to keep blogging. Perhaps I can persuade some few readers of the importance of free speech. I'm not as articulate as Lewis, though. His ability to communicate well on a level accessible to anyone fitted him for the job he undertook in Iceland:
How Lewis came to be recruited and by whom remains a secret . . . . Perhaps one of his former pupils at Oxford recommended him for his mission . . . . Perhaps someone had heard Lewis lecture on his favorite subject in one of the two great lecture halls in the Examination Schools building of Oxford University. At a time when Oxford fellows were notorious for the poor quality of their public lectures, Lewis packed the hall with an audience of students who were not required to attend lectures. In the 1930s, Lewis was the best show in town. Somehow Lewis had developed the skill to speak to an audience and hold them in rapt attention, in spite of his academic training rather than because of it.
How great a gift that must be . . .


Friday, December 11, 2015

Jonathan Chait on P.C. 'Thought'

Jonathan Chait

In a New York Magazine article titled "Can We Start Taking Political Correctness Seriously Now?" Jonathan Chait looks at p.c. students' successes in shutting down free speech in universities on various topics, and he notes:
That these activists have been able to prevail, even in the face of frequently harsh national publicity highlighting the blunt illiberalism of their methods, confirms that these incidents reflect something deeper than a series of one-off episodes. They are carrying out the ideals of a movement that regards the delegitimization of dissent as a first-order goal. People on the left need to stop evading the question of political correctness - by laughing it off as college goofs, or interrogating the motives of p.c. critics, or ignoring it - and make a decision on whether they agree with it.
I wish the Left would open up on this issue. I know that many of the New Left opposed restrictions on speech back in the Sixties, but their commitment has softened under the decades-long pressure of culture-critical questioning of liberal values, and the fact that some groups have historically been deprived  of a voice becomes a 'legitimate' reason for shutting down voices that have not been historically suppressed.

Why? Resentment, mostly, I reckon. Teach 'em how it feels! The Left is all about 'feelings' now, not rigorous argument, so whoever can shout the loudest in resentful voice and gain the coveted crown of victimhood wins by being the biggest loser.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hand to God?

That play titled Hand to God - which I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry on the old NoZe Brother Robert Askins who's writing an HBO story about the NoZe's antics as an underground satirical society at Baylor - received an enthusiastic review from Charles Isherwood in an NYT article titled "Review: 'Hand to God' Features a Foul-Talking Puppet" (April 7, 2015):
Stand down, Inspector Javert, vengeful foe of bread-snatchers. A more formidable villain now stalks the Broadway boards, one who makes you seem about as frightening as a French pastry. His name, Tyrone, is not the scariest handle, but he's as ruthless as any dedicated evildoer, with a spectacularly foul mouth and a thirst for young flesh.

Oh, and he's also made of a gray sock, some felt and a fringe of fake fur. The terrible Tyrone is, in short, a hand puppet.

If you imagine that to be merely a punch line, forget it. The fearsome critter, who takes possession of a troubled teenager's left arm in Robert Askins's darkly delightful play "Hand to God," really inspires goose bumps as he unleashes a reign of terror on that teenager, Jason, and everyone in his orbit. But unlike the grim Javert, he's also flat-out hilarious, spewing forth acid commentary that will turn those goose bumps into guffaws.
If I follow the review correctly, the hand pupped is possessed by the Devil - or is thought to be possessed by the Devil - but is perhaps merely possessed by that "troubled teenager" unfortunate enough to have Tyrone stuck on his left hand.

Read the rest of the review on your own, and you can watch some scenes on video, but you may have to head for London to see the play itself since it's headed there after it closes on Broadway this coming January 3rd.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The NoZe Brotherhood: Stepping Out into Robert Askins' Light?

Robert Askins
Google Images

The writer William Hughes, reporting for the TV Club section of the A.V. Club, tells us that "HBO is developing a comedy about an underground college humor mag" (December 5, 2015), and it seems to have some connection to Baylor University's underground satirical society known as the "NoZe Brotherhood" via Robert Askins, a long-time NoZe Brother himself:
The college humor magazine is one of those institutions that still retains a bit of its last-century prestige in the comedy nerd world, a place where young talents fester and grow, eventually hatching into the Simpsons writers of the world of tomorrow. In tribute to that beautiful, awkward life cycle, HBO has announced that it's developing a new comedy series about those would risk everything to really "stick it" to that fussy old Dean - usually via a satirical essay or ribald cartoon - centering on a secret society organizing an underground humor magazine at a prestigiously conservative Christian college.

Titled Brotherhood, the new series is being written by Hand To God playwright Robert Askins, based off of his own membership in a similar group at Texas' famously Jesus-loving Baylor University. Wearing its Animal House influences on its sleeve, Askins' show - which he's producing alongside Man Seeking Woman and Portlandia's Jon Krisel - will feature characters representing a slightly more literary take on the old snobs-versus-slobs conflict, united as they are in their twin goals to "party harder than anyone else and write the funniest, most incisive campus humor magazine in history." (We can't wait for the scene where the members of the brotherhood disrupt a big community parade with a well-deployed bilingual, palindromic pun.)
Robert Askins must have entered the NoZe Brotherhood sometime after I had moved on to my graduate studies at Berkeley, and I see that he has quite recently become a sensation with his play Hand to God.

I wonder if Askins is aware of the school newpaper parody the NoZe did back in 1978 or so, when we 'cancelled' Homecoming and also ridiculed the influential W.A. Criswell, pastor of the downtown First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, whose church the famous (now infamous) placekicker for the Dallas Cowboys Rafael Septién joined as the 20,000th member. A fellow NoZe Brother and I figured that number wasn't accidental, so we wrote the Criswell article, our parody (see here and here) being that Bertrand Russell had joined Criswell's church as the 144,000th member.

I heard that Criswell was furious . . .


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Inexperienced Against Free Speech . . .

Conor Friedersdorf
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Conor Friedersdorf, in an earlier article, called some Yale activists "intolerant," and he explains why in "Yale's Activists Deserve Constructive Criticism" (The Atlantic, November 17, 2015):
I called the Yale activists intolerant because it was not enough for them to protest an email that they found wrongheaded; it was not enough to fully air their grievances in multiple public forums and at the home of its author; it was not enough for [the two faculty] . . . to listen attentively to student critiques and to express heartfelt regret that the email hurt feelings; rather, the student activists demanded that the couple renounce the substance of their beliefs, or else face public shaming and an effort to remove them from their position. Never mind that . . . [the author of the email] believed what she wrote. She had to reverse her position, or else, . . . [which] is what I believe to be intolerant: a refusal to agree to disagree, however passionately and impolitely; a rejection of the notion that earnest differences held by people of good faith are not cause for punishment, even if they are mistaken, or unwittingly insensitive, or give offense; a stance that amounts to "error has no rights."
Those who cannot "agree to disagree" are immature, too young to have experienced their own reversal of opinion, or too dishonest to admit that they have ever changed their minds.

They'll see someday . . . unless that chance is past.


Monday, December 07, 2015

Culture of Victimhood?

Conor Friedersdorf
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Conor Friedersdorf writes on "The Rise of Victimhood Culture" (The Atlantic, September 11, 2015), citing a recent study by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, who look at today's university students and attempt to understand why these students are so easily insulted and why they appeal to authorities for a 'safe' place, often by calling for restrictions on free expression (as we have previously seen on this blog):
The culture on display on many college and university campuses, . . . [say Campbell and Manning], is "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. [In other words,] a victimhood culture."
A big thanks to N.E. Brigand for directing me to this article and several more by Friedersdorf, Jonathan Chait, and Fredrik DeBoer.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

For Free Expression!

Dr. Michael Green

Michael Green offers some words about freedom of expression in a recent column, "Forsaking our principles" (JoongAng Daily, December 5-6, 2015):
In the U.S., the pressure on academic freedom is coming from social movements that seek to penalize scholars or students who express views deemed hurtful to certain groups. There is no place on American campuses for hate speech, racism or anti-Semitism, to be sure. Discourse in a university should be civil - but there must also be room for different perspectives. The interaction of eclectic thinking is the essence of a liberal education. Higher learning should never be about ideological indoctrination or rote memorization. Yet recent protests at Yale University, the University of Missouri and other institutions of higher education have argued for just that. Protesters - mostly students but also some faculty - have demanded mandatory courses in sensitivity as well as accountability for lecturers or students who engage in "microaggressions" that might implicitly defame aggrieved groups on ethnic, gender, religious or other grounds. When a student journalist sought to cover these protests at the University of Missouri, a protesting faculty member called out for "more muscle" to help drive off the student. At Yale, a junior faculty member and his wife were surrounded and shouted down for arguing that efforts to police Halloween costumes had gone too far and were symbolic of a larger stifling of free speech on campus. Initially stunned by the protests - or sympathetic with student criticism of the establishment - faculty members across American universities have only just begun objecting to demands from students and sometimes administrators that they not engage certain sensitive subjects in class.
These are the very restrictions on free expressions that I was criticizing only a few weeks ago, and I see that Green holds the same view that I have, namely, that "the assault on academic freedom in the U.S. is mostly coming from the left." I'm thus heartened to hear - and to hear of - other dissenting voices.


Saturday, December 05, 2015

Pensa-Cola - The Thinking Man's Soft Drink!

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A few days ago - to be precise, November 30th - the formidable Dr. Boli reminded us of Great Britain's great thirst for Empire, e.g., for Pensa-Cola:
"ON THIS DAY in 1707, the British failed to capture Pensacola. Great Britain has never recovered from the blow to her prestige."
Dr. Boli meant 1807, of course, but was surely correct that this was "Another embarrassing British failure."

And that's just the problem! Everybody's always going on and on about "another embarrassing British failure," as though all that the imperial British ever did was lose through embarrassing failures!

How come nobody ever talks about embarrassing British successes?

And where can I get hold of some Pensa-Cola?


Friday, December 04, 2015

In Quest of Authenticity


One of my students presented me with a small packet of DeliBrown's Cookie Classic, the sort shown above as the foremost, middle packet of cookies. Before I ate any, I checked the ingredients:
"With time-honored authenticity as its prime ingredient, DeliBrown creates cookies with classic flavors and depth."
I'd never heard of "authenticity" as an ingredient, but perhaps it's the opposite of "artificial flavoring." That being so, I wonder where I could get hold of some pure, unadulterated authenticity. It'd be a good ingredient for just about any food I can think of.

Maybe if I light a lamp and take a bit of a walk, asking around after it, I'll manage to find some soon . . .


Thursday, December 03, 2015

Primitive Urges

Yesterday morning at six found me strolling down a dark street toward Ewha's Main Gate when a lumbering bear of a man appeared towering in front of me, maybe from a side street, but also heading toward the Main Gate, though inclining initially toward the left, suddenly to the right - much like a politician tacking with political winds - and then stopping abruptly, so abruptly that I ran into him, but somehow managed to weave my way around the big guy, and inadvertently caught a glimpse of him leaning toward a large iron pipe attached vertically to a building and fumbling with his pants' zipper, so only at that instant did I realize he was preparing to piss right there on the sidewalk.

I kept walking, but at a quickened pace, as he spat a curse in my general direction. I didn't want an altercation with a man as tall as . . . well, let's say as tall as Koroviev.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Islamic State: Death and Taxes

Islamic State Flag

Writing for the New York Times (November 29, 2015), Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Kulish, and Steven Lee Myers inform us that the "Predatory Islamic State Wrings Money From Those It Rules." The bastards! What's ISIS up to now?
"They fight in the morning and they tax in the afternoon," said Louise Shelley, the director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University.
Taxes, eh? The rates must be high:
Officials of the so-called caliphate dislike the term "tax," preferring the Islamic term "zakat," which refers to the alms Muslims are required to pay. Although the norm would be 2.5 percent of a person's wealth under typical interpretations of Islamic law, the militants are taking 10 percent, justifying the high rate by saying they are a "nation in a time of war," according to a citizen journalist in Raqqa who asked for his safety to be identified only as Abu Mouaz.
Only 10 percent? I knew life was cheap in the Islamic State, but I'd never have guessed the reason! A fellow could almost consider moving there . . . if the ISIS authorities weren't such sticklers about punishing us for enjoying some of life's simple pleasures . . . you know, like getting your head chopped off for drinking a good cold beer.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Douglas Murray on an even more indecent left . . .

Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray, writing for The Spectator (November 27, 2015), says "It's all over for the 'decent left', and they have only themselves to blame" when their Labour Party finally speaks its mind on attacking the Islamic State (aka ISIS):
Two weeks after Paris we finally have some clarity from the political left. The current stance of their leadership (as expressed in the Parliamentary Labour party) is that while there is no justification for bombing ISIS, there are many reasons to bomb London.
How so? Because:
On the same evening that [Labour Leader] Jeremy Corbyn told his party that he could not support airstrikes on ISIS his old comrade (and head of the Labour party's new 'defence review') Ken Livingstone shared his view on Question Time that the 7/7 bombers 'gave their lives' in an act of supremely selfless objection to the 2nd Iraq War.
Why should Livingstone stop with the four terrorists' supreme sacrifice? Surely he ought to include the 52 civilians who also "gave their lives" in a sacrifice even more supreme!

But what I'd like to know is why the British neglect to insert perfectly defensible commas, i.e., after "Paris" and after the second mention of "ISIS."

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