Saturday, February 28, 2015

Caterpillars and Butterflies: Two Different Species?

Butterfly Hunter
Der Schmetterlingsjäger
Carl Spitzweg (1840)

Not being an expert (even though my 4H project was entomology), I don't know what to make of this theory to be explained below, namely, that caterpillars and butterflies are different species. I first learned about this theory in an article by Ted Olsen titled "Are Butterflies a New Creation After All?" (Behemoth, Issue 16, February 19, 2015), but links to more scientific information are given below:
In 2009, the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published an article by British zoologist Donald Williamson. He argued that butterflies and caterpillars essentially evolved separately, as two different organisms - and that somewhere along the line the two species accidentally but successfully mated.

The theory makes a lot of sense, University of Vermont biologist Bernd Heinrich wrote in his 2012 book on animal death, Life Everlasting. During metamorphosis, caterpillar DNA is essentially "turned off," and butterfly DNA, which had been suppressed, is "turned on." Heinrich writes:
A new theory claims that because the metamorphosis . . . is so radical, with no continuity from one to the next, that the adult forms of these insects are actually new organisms. . . . In effect, the animal is a chimera, an amalgam of two, where first one lives and dies and then the other emerges. . . . Regardless of how it came about, there are indeed two very different sets of genetic instructions at work in the metamorphosis . . . and these are as different as different species, or even much more so. They thus represent a reincarnation, not just from one individual into another, but the equivalent of reincarnation from one species into another.
As Heinrich notes, it's an aberrant view among biologists. Williamson was ridiculed for proposing it, and PNAS quickly published a rebuttal (but not a retraction).
I've only glanced at the scientific arguments, but whether they prove valid or not, the possibility is intriguing that caterpillars and butterflies were distinct species that somehow accidentally though successfully mated (or united through parasitism or through some sort of virus infusion of DNA).

I suppose we'll hear more about this if the theory holds up . . .


Friday, February 27, 2015

Gender: Finally Getting It Straight

Catholic Journal

From reading an article by the moral theologian Lisa Fullam (Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley) on "'Gender Theory,' Nuclear War, and the Nazis" in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal (February 23, 2015), I finally found out what people mean when they state that "gender" is a "social construct." Fullam in fact clarified several terms that have had me confused in many of the feminist articles I help edit for the journal of Feminist Studies in English Literature, among other journals, so here's your chance to get these terms clarified for yourself, if you're interested. According to Fullam:
1. Sex is a biological category like male and female. Of course, there are a substantial number of intersex people[,] . . . where external genitalia are inconsistent with genetic sex or the external genitalia are not identifiable as male or female . . . . [and the] common practice [has been] to assign a sex to babies at birth based on the easier surgical "fix" - usually to a female appearance[, often resulting some years later in a conflict between the sex assigned and the gender identity] . . . .

2. Gender Identity is one's inner sense of oneself as male, female or other [and is a biological trait]. If you want to know someone's gender identity, you need to ask. Gender identity emerges early in life, and usually lines up with one's biological sex. When it doesn't, . . . a large number of genetic[,] . . . epigenetic and other biological factors . . . have been implicated . . . . Gender identity is reflected in . . . the brain activity of people whose gender identity is different from their genital/chromosomal sex[,] . . . showing that gender identity, like sex, is a biological trait . . . .

3. Gender Expression is the way one expresses one's gender identity outwardly, in external and socially constructed signals like clothing, haircuts, voice, mannerisms, and such[, so gender expression is a social construct expressing a biological fact, i.e., gender identity] . . . .

4. Gender "refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women" . . . . Most children are socialized into the gender that matches their biological sex, though of course the particulars of that socialization vary with culture, personality and time . . . . To speak of gender as individually "chosen," it seems to me, merely reflects the historical fact that brave individuals stand up to challenge social norms before it is socially acceptable. (Lisa Fullam, "'Gender Theory,' Nuclear War, and the Nazis," Commonweal, February 23, 2015; emphases mine)
Now that that's all clear (though I wish it were still just a wee bit clearer), we can move on, and those readers interested in more details supplied by the article can click for more information here. These four categories give me something useful in my editing work for journals in areas outside my expertise, e.g., Trans-Humanities or the above-mentioned Feminist Studies in English Literature.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some Early Reactions To My Upcoming, Yet-To-Be-Published "Uncanny Story"

I've pretty much finished my new story - The Uncanny Story - and am currently having it critiqued by friends and family, who will of course say mostly 'nice' things, but I doubt they'd whitewash their views if the story were truly mediocre. Anyway, here come the reviews . . .

A friend of mine who's also the force of nature behind the Emanations anthology series, Carter Kaplan, wrote:
Your story is excellent. I couldn't put it down. It really is a page turner as far as sophisticated literary texts go. I much enjoyed it.
As a "sophisticated literary text," it might find relatively fewer readers than I'd hope for. Another friend, the well-known artist who illustrated The Bottomless Bottle of Beer (BBB), Terrance Lindall, wrote:
The ol' Devil will find new ways to come back to haunt you! And with the BBB experience under his belt, "What does not kill you makes you stronger!" As a story in itself as a stand alone, The Uncanny Story is not as good as the BBB. However, as a sequel, it works. If someone reads BBB and likes it, they will want to read this too. The part where students are discussing the cowardly character of Sir Gawain can stand alone as a humorous story. I loved it. You should submit it to some major magazines!
So . . . "not as good as the BBB." Well, that's also my view. But "as a sequel, it works," likewise expresses my opinion. Yet another friend, physicist-From-The-Ozarks Pete Hale, wrote:
I liked it a lot! Quite a nice sequel or at least heavily tied-in successor to BBB. You did a great job of all the various nested-dolls aspects, very cool. The two Russkies kind of reminded me of Tintin's two goofball detective friends, Thomson and Thompson. Any story that invokes one of my top 2-or-3 favorite SNL characters, the immortal (literally evidently) Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, is ok by me! SNL should, eventually, devote an entire show just to Phil Hartman, my personal favorite of them all. Finally, your use of "Too Much of Nothing" at the end is, itself, quite uncanny.
That's an entirely positive review, better than my story deserves, but the next view is even more positive! It's from my brother Shannon, who wrote:
I MUCH enjoyed your second novella. I even liked it better than The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. I had the sense early on that something unusual was about to happen regarding the meeting. There was a Twilight Zone/Night Gallery air about the story that I found enjoyable. There was more subtle humor than TZ or NG but also some of the bizarre. I thought your characters were well constructed and their interactions worked well. a good read. Naturally it was flattering to see the references to City of Shadows. The t-shirt "There's no X in espresso" comes from an encounter of mine in a coffee shop in Corvallis, Oregon. The "barista" was wearing such a shirt and it took him some 15 minutes to take my order despite having no line and it being the dead of summer.
Shannon is also a writer, and the reference in my story to "espresso" was drawn from a scene in his novel City of Shadows. I like to think that his positive evaluation of my story doesn't rest too much upon that allusion to his novel! Just kidding. I know he's not swayed by that. Not much, anyway.

More responses later if I receive any . . .

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More Photos from Jeonju . . .

I finally received some Jeonju images worthy of a serious blog effort. Let's begin with two photos of where my family and I stayed:

Looks inviting, no? The place wasn't bad, so far as hanok stays are concerned. Just the expected burning-hot floor that you can't stand on, the bed mat for the floor that you can't sleep on, and the Raid spray for that cockroach who'll never return so long as I'm fending him off from getting his dirty little feet wherever on! But let's move on to the next two images:

In Korea's traditional hanok center, we find a traditional Korean Romanesque cathedral. Yes! Yes! We get religion! Well . . . at least Korean Catholicism was brought from China by Koreans themselves, who slipped it in disguised as Confucianism. Meanwhile, from a political perspective, here's the first king of the Joseon Era:

Unfortunately, that king is dead . . . But do you hear that rumbling from the crowd? They're crying out "Long live the king!"

Oh, yes, I'm the great pretender . . .


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Jeonju Hanok Village Traditional Tree of Illumination

The Jeonju Hanok Village has a traditional tree that miraculously radiates light after night falls and thereby illuminates the darkness that would otherwise descend upon this traditional town every evening!

This tree was the high point for me in a visit in which I experienced many exciting traditions, e.g., street food, which could be purchased on main streets, side streets, and alleyways!

A memorable time for the entire family .. .


Monday, February 23, 2015

Biggie Train - Craft Beer in Daegu

Sorry to have missed blogging on Sunday - we were without internet connection in Jeonju.

Here are the photos from Saturday night, taken at a craft beer place in Daegu called "Biggie Train." I drank an India Pale Ale that the bartender said was supplied by Craftworks Taphouse, and the brew did taste like the IPA I've had many times there, but I'll need to check with Dan Vroon to make sure since there might have been something lost in translation, for the bartender spoke no English. Anyway, here I am drinking that IPA:

Sun-Ae drank a different beer, as can be seen in the next photo:

Sun-Ae's brother and his wife also enjoyed a brew:

I wish I had more time to write, but the evening is passing quickly by this Monday back in Seoul . . .

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thursday Evening in Daegu - By Lake Suseung

We've been in Daegu visiting Sun-Ae's family for the Lunar New Year, and we've taken a few photos. This first one shows the reflection of some trees growing on a low island:

The second photo shows a few city lights, also reflected in the lake:

And here's the entire family posing before the lake - probably with reflections of our backsides for anyone who might be photographing from the small island:

Expect more fascinating blogging photos tomorrow if our hotel has internet connection . . .


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Suntory Story - With a Ray of Light!

One of the two former Yonsei students I went drinking with some weeks back, Raymond Rohne, is on vacation in Japan, where he photographed the putative 'beer glass of his dreams':
I am currently in Japan and have had a rocky internet connection . . . [for] the past few days . . . . I am going to send a picture of a Suntory beer glass I used yesterday. It reminded me of something Mr. Em would have probably said.
Readers can likely see the words clearly in the image above, but just in case not, here they are:


Ray is probably right that the sinister Mr. Em might have spoken such words, which are just ambiguous enough to get a drinker into trouble, for what is a drop but a fall, but Ray - forewarned by my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer - was too alert to fall for the trick, so he guzzled the brew rather than sip it!

Good man, Ray!

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Irvin D. Yalom: On a 'Curious' Writer's Writing Block

The Writer's Block
Illustrated by Bill Bragg

My old Ozark friend Pete Hale, who's now a physicist - but whose son Ben is a up-and-coming novelist - sent me a somewhat breathless email yesterday:
I just read this at the New York Times: "A Curious Case of Writer's Block." Oh man! It had me at "Irvin Yalom," as I've read a couple or three of his books and he is really great. Kind of an Oliver Sachs who's more than ready to go fully-on literary. Anyhow, this little essay is a total blast, and seemed like something you'd really like. See what you think.
I read the column with interest, for it concerned a most peculiar man - call him "Paul" - a man with a fifty-odd-year writer's block who sought out the psychiatrist Dr. Yalom for an single, baffling session, namely, to read some of the long-term correspondence he'd had with a scholarly Nietzsche expert, from which I excerpt a short passage near the end, wherein Yalom gets a surprise:
"Paul," I said, "I'm uncomfortable because we're coming to the end of our session, and I've not really addressed the very reason you contacted me - your major complaint, your writing block."

"I never said that," he replied. "I know my words: 'I wonder if you'd be willing to see a fellow writer with a writing block.'"

I looked up at him expecting a grin, but he was entirely serious. He had said he had a writing block but had not explicitly labeled it as the problem for which he wanted help. It was a word trap, and I fought back irritation at being trifled with.

"Well then," I said, "let's make a fresh start. Tell me, how can I be of help to you?"

"Your reflections on the correspondence?" he asked. "Any and every observation would be most helpful to me."

"All right," I said, opening the notebook and flipping through the pages. "As you know, I had time to read only a small portion, but over all I was captivated by it, and found it brimming with intelligence and erudition at the highest level. There was no doubt he had the greatest respect for your comments and your judgments. He admired your prose, valued your critique of his work, and I can only imagine that the time and energy he gave to you must have far exceeded what he could possibly have provided the typical student. And of course, given that the correspondence continued long after your tenure as a student, there is no doubt that you and he were immensely important to one another."

I looked at Paul. He sat motionless, his eyes filling with tears, eagerly drinking in all that I said, obviously thirsting for yet more.

Finally, finally, we had had an encounter. Finally, I had given him something. I could bear witness to an event of extraordinary importance to Paul. I could testify that a great man deemed Paul to be significant. He needed a witness, . . . and I had been selected to fill that role.
I wrote back to Pete: "Interesting essay . . . or short story . . . or (very short) case study." Why 'interesting? Because it offers what every writer wants: recognition of the significance of one's writing.

I ought to read the New York Times Opinionator columns more often.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Graeme Wood: Islamic State Wears an Ideological Straitjacket

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Graeme Wood, writing on "What ISIS Really Wants" (The Atlantic, March 2015), tells us that the Islamic State follows a heavily apocalyptic, ideological belief system that is predictable enough for us to foresee its moves:
The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions . . . . [It] boasts openly about its plans - not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand . . . . [T]he waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph . . . . [T]he state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies - a holy order to scare . . . . them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict . . . . Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State's propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin . . . . [Establishing a state and joining the UN] is shirk, or polytheism . . . and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace [Abu Bakr al-]Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means - for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate - is shirk . . . . [One can hardly] overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State will be by its radicalism. The modern international system, born of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, relies on each state's willingness to recognize borders, however grudgingly. For the Islamic State, that recognition is ideological suicide. Other Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, have succumbed to the blandishments of democracy and the potential for an invitation to the community of nations, complete with a UN seat. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well . . . . To the Islamic State these are not options, but acts of apostasy . . . . [We] have reacted to the Islamic State belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group's ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and hadn't yet committed mass atrocities. [Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-]Adnani, the spokesman, told followers then that the group's ambition was to "restore the Islamic caliphate," and he evoked the apocalypse, saying, "There are but a few days left." Baghdadi had already styled himself "commander of the faithful," a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Adnani declared the movement "ready to redraw the world upon the Prophetic methodology of the caliphate." In August 2013, he said, "Our goal is to establish an Islamic state that doesn't recognize borders, on the Prophetic methodology." By then, the group had taken Raqqa, a Syrian provincial capital of perhaps 500,000 people, and was drawing in substantial numbers of foreign fighters who'd heard its message . . . . [Had we] identified the Islamic State's intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in Syria and Iraq would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed Iraq to harden its border with Syria and preemptively make deals with its Sunnis. That would at least have avoided the electrifying propaganda effect created by the declaration of a caliphate just after the conquest of Iraq's third-largest city . . . . Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it [through air strikes]] appears the best of bad military options . . . . If the United States were to invade, [however,] the Islamic State's [apocalyptic] obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed [by the West's vastly superior arsenal], it might never recover.
Maybe the Islamic State would collapse if defeated at the prophesied victory-battle of Dabiq, but when prophecy fails, belief is often strengthened in response to cognitive dissonance, so we should be forewarned about that. Anyway, the article is enlightening on the Islamic State, about which Wood doesn't mince words:
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic . . . . [T]he religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam . . . . [E]very major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, "the Prophetic methodology," which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.
That's an unflinchingly honest assertion, and I'm indebted to Bill Vallicella for posting on this article first and thereby calling my attention to it.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Islamic State: Grounding its Violence in True Islam?

Islamist Sword
Dabiq Magazine

A recent article in issue VII of the Islamic State (ISIS) English-language magazine Dabiq rejects claims that Islam is a peaceful religion and argues that it bases itself on the sword (February 12, 2015). A few quotes are provided below:
"There is a slogan repeated continuously by apologetic 'du'at' [callers for Islam] when flirting with the West and that is their statement: 'Islam is the religion of peace,' and they mean pacifism by the word peace. They have repeated this slogan so much to the extent that some of them alleged that Islam calls [for] permanent peace with kufr [unbelief] and the kafirin (unbelievers). How far is their claim from the truth, for Allah has revealed Islam to be the religion of the sword, and the evidence for this is so profuse that only a zindiq (heretic) would argue otherwise.
As evidence of Islam's righteous antipathy towards non-Muslims, ISIS cites words from the fourth caliph:
"'Ali Ibn Abi Talib . . . said, 'Allah's Messenger [i.e., Muhammad] . . . was sent with four swords: a sword for the mushrikin [polytheists] . . . a sword for Ahlul-Kitab [people of the book, i.e. Jews and Christians] . . . and a sword for the bughat [aggressors] . . . He also revealed the sword against the apostates . . . [Allah] also described what should be struck with the sword, {Remember when your Lord revealed to the angels, 'I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip'} [Koran 8:12]. [He] also said, {So when you meet those who disbelieve, strike their necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens} [Koran 47:4]. His Messenger . . . also described the sword as the salvation from evil and fitnah [strife]. [He] also described the sword as being the key to Jannah [paradise] . . . He also declared that his worldly provision was placed for him in the shade of his spear and that the best livelihood for the Muslim in the future is what he takes with his sword from the kafir [unbelieving] enemy.
ISIS thus calls for undying enmity toward just about everyone who doesn't follow the Islamic State's version of Islam.
"So how can the zanadiqah (heretics) or even those who blindly follow them - [George W.] Bush, [Barack] Obama, and [John] Kerry - obstinately claim that 'Islam is a religion of peace,' meaning pacifism? One of the biggest shubuhat [misconceptions] propagated by the heretics is the linguistic root for the word Islam. They claim it comes from the word salam (peace), when in actuality it comes from words meaning submission [Istislam] and sincerity [Salamah] sharing the same consonant root . . . "It is clear then that salam (peace) is not the basis of the word Islam, although it shares the same consonant root (s-l-m) and is one of the outcomes of the religion's sword, as the sword will continue to be drawn, raised, and swung until 'Isa (Jesus - peace be upon him) kills the Dajjal (the Antichrist) and abolishes the jizyah [poll tax]. Thereafter, kufr and its tyranny will be destroyed; Islam and its justice will prevail on the entire Earth . . . But until then, parties of kafirin will continue to be struck down by the unsheathed sword of Islam - except for those who enter into iman (Islamic faith) or aman (a guarantee of safety) - for there will always be a party of Muslims fighting parties of kafirin until there is no more fitnah and the religion is completely for Allah alone."
The Islamic State is pretty clear about its ultimate goal, conquest of the entire earth for its God, Allah. I'm no linguist, but I've long been skeptical of the argument that the word "Islam" is derived from the word for "peace" (salam), so I'm interested in the linguistic claims made here.

Is ISIS right and its Islamic State a true expression of Islam?

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Armand Marie Leroi: Digitizing the Humanities into a Science?

Armand Marie Leroi, professor of evolutionary developmental biology at Imperial College, London, inadvertently alarms us to the threat of scientism's frontal assault on the humanities in "One Republic of Learning: Digitizing the Humanities" (New York Times, February 13, 2015). Inadvertently? Yes, because he's describing scientism without realizing it, not even when he cites the term only to dismiss it:
In the Republic of Learning[,] humanities scholars often see themselves as second-class citizens. Their plaintive cries are not without cause. When universities trim budgets it is often their departments that take the hit. In the last 10 years, however, there has been one bright spot: the "digital humanities," a vast enterprise that aims to digitize our cultural heritage, put it online for all to see, and do so with . . . scholarly punctilio . . . . The digital humanities have captured the imaginations of funders and university administrators. They are being built by a new breed of scholar able to both investigate Cicero's use of the word "lascivium" and code in Python . . . . But the true promise of digitization is . . . . the transformation of the humanities into science[,] . . . mean[ing] using numbers to test hypotheses. Numbers are the signature of science; they allow us to describe patterns and relationships with a precision that words do not. The quantification of the humanities is driven by an inexorable logic: Digitization breeds numbers; numbers demand statistics. The new breed of digital humanists is mining and visualizing data with the facility that bioinformaticians analyze genomes and cosmologists classify galaxies. All of them could, if they cared to, understand each others' results perfectly well . . . . [The triumph of numbers is] easy to see . . . . A traditional, analog, scholar will make some claim about the origin, fate or significance of some word, image, trope or theme in some Great Work. He'll support it with apt quotations, and fillet the canon for more of the same. His evidence will be the sort that natural scientists call "anecdotal" - but that won't worry him since he's not doing science[, except that] . . . . then a code-capable graduate student will download the texts - not just the canon, but a thousand more - run the algorithms, produce the graphs, estimate the p values, and show the claim to be false, if false it indeed is. There will be no rejoinder; the analog scholar won't even know how to read the results. Quantification has triumphed in field after field of the natural and social sciences. It will here, too . . . . [even though h]ard words such as . . . "scientism . . . will be flung about . . . [because] the vocabulary of anti-science is rich, well-honed.
This scientistic triumphalism sounds 'too bad to be false'! But it isn't, because it isn't true, as Leroi himself admits, sort of:
If the rudiments of a new cultural science are visible, so are its limits. There is one great difference between human and natural things: The former have meaning; the latter do not. That is why the humanities are filled with critics and the natural sciences are not: Critics tell us what artifacts mean . . . . [But] deep-learning algorithms are becoming very good at extracting meaning from data; and, as art becomes data, it is always possible that new meanings may be revealed by algorithmic microscopes yet unbuilt. That said, it would take a very clever algorithm to flag up irony in Jane Austen. More fundamentally, the truth of art criticism is not the same kind as scientific truth.
This concession is deeply at odds with Leroi's earlier triumphalism and undermines the whole scientistic enterprise! Quantification and the mining and visualizing of data will have their uses, but the 'influence' of some text upon other texts cannot - at the most fundamental level - be measured, for the mere occurrence of some word or other says nothing about whether the 'influence' favors the later writer's acceptance or rejection of the earlier writer's view. Influence is thus intrinsically ambiguous! And that is precisely where the question of meaning gets raised.

Or so I interpret. What do others reading this post think?

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Milton's Astronomy and the Seasons of Paradise": Connotations 24.1

Just a couple of days ago, I was contacted by a journal to which I'd submitted an article, as quoted below:
Connotations 24.1, which also contains your article on "Milton's Astronomy and the Seasons of Paradise," will be shipped to you shortly. The issue is already available online on our website. You can follow this link to view and download your article.
The message added:
Please feel free to provide a link to your article on your own website.
I've done so above. Also, here's the Abstract (at the same link):
In his annotated edition of Paradise Lost (1998), Alastair Fowler makes two strong claims concerning the astronomy of Milton's prelapsarian universe: 1) the plane of the celestial equator and the plane of the ecliptic coincide, and 2) the sun would remain forever in the zodiacal sign of Aries. This paper investigates these two claims and shows that while the first claim is plausible, but not entirely secure, the second claim is demonstrably incorrect. Consequently, the changing seasons did characterize the prelapsarian world, albeit in an astronomical sense only, as the sun made its annual movement (or apparent movement) along the celestial equator. References and allusions to the four earthly seasons also occur in the prelapsarian world, but these seasons do not affect temperatures on earth. Much of what Milton writes concerning the seasons, both astronomical and earthly, is ambiguous, probably intentionally so, for the great debates over geocentrism and heliocentrism still raged, a matter made even more complex when one must also distinguish pre- and postlapsarian conditions. This article attempts to clarify what some of these possibilities are and thereby contribute in a minor way to this contested corner of research on Milton's Paradise Lost.
I hope that this summary piques readers' interest. As I told the scholars on the Milton List:
If anyone's interested in my attempt to make sense of the seasons in Paradise Lost, my article "Milton's Astronomy and the Seasons of Paradise: Queries Motivated by Alastair Fowler's Views" can be read online at Connotations.
I added:
I doubt that I'll have the last word on this, for the issues are complex and even rather abstract. Digging into Milton's view on this topic was a humbling experience.
The material was so recondite that I'd need to re-read my own article to be able to defend it against the criticisms certain to come!

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ahmad Abduh Maher and Iman Al-Waraqi on the 'Moderate' Al-Azhar

Al-Tahrir TV

In a Memri report of January 4, 2015 (Clip No. 4736), "Scholars Criticize Al-Azhar Curricula for Lack of Moderation," Ahmad Abduh Maher, an expert on Islamic studies, complained that in its books of jurisprudence, Al-Azhar was immoderate, and the journalist Iman Al-Waraqi maintained that lecturers were teaching extremism, encouraging students to fight a Jihad and identify themselves with the Islamic State. This aired on the Egyptian Al-Tahrir TV (January 4, 2015).

Ahmad Abduh Maher points out contradictions to Al-Azhar's claim of moderation, and he offers proof by reading old hadith that appear in Al-Azhar's current textbooks:
We all say that Al-Azhar belongs to . . . moderate . . . Islam. That's all well and good, but . . . I would like . . . to see this moderation in its books. I don't want this [accusation of immoderation] to remain an Egyptian-style rumor, with no corroboration in the texts and curricula[, so I will offer evidence] . . . . For example, if I open Jurisprudence According to the Four Schools of Thought, I find things that are laughable. Absolutely laughable. 'If a man marries a woman . . . .' - I just opened it at random . . . . I want all the people to hear what this book has to say. This is a book in which we take pride, and which has been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years . . . . It says: 'If a man marries a woman, and then disappears for two years, and [she] then receives news that he died' . . . . - I'm not making anything up - 'she undergoes the necessary waiting period and then remarries . . . . and bears children to her second husband. Then her first husband reappears' . . . . - the one who was said to be dead - 'In such a case, the children will be taken from the second husband and given to the first, and the wife will divorce the second husband and return to the first.' Only lunatics would say such things . . . . What does it say here? 'In war, in order to ward off the enemy' . . . . - this is taught to kids 15 years old - 'you may gouge out the eyes (of the enemy), or chop off his arms and legs.' This is the Education Ministry Book . . . . Why did you wait for a military college graduate (Al-Sisi) to come and tell you that these things are wrong? . . . You waited for a thousand years for a military college graduate to come and tell you that this is wrong.
Iman Al-Waraqi points to lecturers at Al-Azhar who have taught ideas taken from Wahhabi Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood:
When it comes to the teaching staff, . . . there is no supervision of lecturers at Al-Azhar University. Lecturers have introduced Wahhabi and Muslim Brotherhood ideas to the students, through the books they teach. Would you believe that Al-Azhar, which symbolizes moderation and claims to represent moderate Islam, teaches the writings of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab? . . . . Look at what the students are saying about the curricula and the administration. They are saying: 'We are ISIS. You have turned us into ISIS.' They say that the Al-Azhar curricula leads them to accuse people of heresy, and to wage jihad, and all kinds of things related to ISIS . . . . Just imagine - they are leading students in this direction. From junior high, he is taught (the hadith): 'I was commanded to fight people.' When he is in high school, he is taught that he should say to the dhimmi: 'If you don't pay me the jizha poll tax, I will beat you and kill you,' and so on. Throughout his years of education, he is given information that shapes his personality.
Let's hope that the complaints of these two critics find wide audience. We're often told by experts on Islam - such as Barack Obama or Ben Affleck - that criticizing Islam is racist, but we here see two Muslim critics of Islam making the same sort of objections as Bill Maher and Sam Harris, so perhaps our experts need to broaden the scope of their reading.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Zaid Nabulsi Blames Wahhabi Teachings and Reliance on Early Muslim Texts for Islamist Barbarity

In its series "Reform in the Muslim World," Memri (Special Dispatch No. 5963, February 11, 2015) reports on a column by Zaid Nabulsi in the English-language Jordan Times, titled "We Have a Problem" (February 10, 2015), which blames Wahhabi teachings and reliance on early Muslim texts for current-day Islamist barbarity, and I excerpt from his column below:
Enough is enough. It is time to speak out. 'Islam is innocent' is an incomplete sentence. Introspection is needed . . . . [I]f we shy away from reality, the alternative will be more images like those we witnessed . . . when brave [Jordanian pilot] Lt. Muath Al-Kasasbeh was burnt to death . . . . Some Wahhabist teachings, which have permeated . . . the Muslim world, are simply irreconcilable with decent human values, especially the ones that declare that every non-Wahhabist is a disposable body whose blood may be shed . . . . It has become tiresome to keep hearing the unproductive cliché that Islam is innocent after each atrocity committed by devout fanatics who did nothing except execute the exact letter of their textbooks, which order them to slaughter the infidels . . . . [To say] that mainstream Islam has nothing to do with those atrocities does not hold water anymore because Wahhabism and Islam have become indistinguishable. To understand the crisis of Muslims today, one has to remember that Wahhabism exists in several textbooks containing the alleged sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, or books of 'Hadith,' revered by so many. What we . . . confront is the undeniable fact that . . . from many stories found in these books . . . [comes] the unprecedented cruelty of groups such as the . . . Islamic State . . . . The catastrophe today is . . . the visible manifestation of Islam in the modern world, as demonstrated by the prevalent beliefs and practices of . . . Muslims . . . . If we truly want to defend Islam, we need to perform . . . invasive surgery. Take the Muslim Brotherhood as an example of the prevalence of the Wahhabist teachings among Muslims today. The Brotherhood is the virtual womb that incubated all the current jihadist groups, including Al-Qaeda itself . . . . The . . . decapitations in Syria over the last four years . . . [were] promoted by very rich Sunni clerics . . . . aided by . . . countless satellite stations openly calling for the murder of Alawites and Shi'ites, and financed by billions from extremely wealthy but hateful Muslims . . . . [E]nough with the denials . . . . [T]ime to raise the alarm. We have a problem! . . . . There is . . . a propensity towards eliminating 'the other' . . . within Wahhabist ideology. It is not only foolish to deny this fact, it is also dangerous, for we would be covering the cancerous tumour with a bandage. What we cannot deny is that . . . Wahhabist textbooks are the . . . operating manuals that Islamist butchers use to justify their savagery. For example, very few people know that while [the Jordanian pilot] Muath was being set on fire in that macabre video, the voiceover was a recitation of an Ibn Taymiyah fatwa deeming the incineration of unbelievers a legitimate act of jihad. Ibn Taymiyah is not some obscure scholar on the fringe of Sunni Islam. In the Sunni world, he is universally venerated . . . [as] 'Sheikh of Islam,' elevating him to an almost infallible clerical status . . . . [W]e need to do more than just repeat this meaningless mantra about us having nothing to do with [ISIS]. We have to muster the courage to identify the specific texts that actually defame Islam, denounce them and permanently cleanse Islamic tradition of them.
This sounds much like Ibrahim Issa's criticism of the same problem, which I posted on yesterday. Perhaps Warren Larson is right "that many Muslims are going through some serious soul-searching at the moment."

Let us hope so . . .

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ibrahim Issa on ISIS and the Barbarity Found in Islam's Early Sources

The Egyptian journalist and television personality Ibrahim Issa spoke some harsh words to Muslim religious leaders, pointing out that "Nobody [Among Them] Dares to Admit That ISIS Crimes Are Based on Islamic Sources" (Memri, February 3, 2015, Clip No. 4773).

The video can be viewed by clicking on "Memri Video" under the image, but for ease of access and saving time, here's the transcript, from which I quote:
Whenever ISIS carries out an act of barbarity, such as decapitations, throat slitting, or the burning of a person alive, as they did today, various sheiks tell you . . . that this has nothing to do with Islam, that Islam is not to blame, and whatever. But when the people of ISIS perpetrate slaughter, murder, rape, immolation, and all those barbaric crimes, they say that they are relying on the sharia. They say that this is based on a certain hadith, on a certain Quranic chapter, on a certain saying of Ibn Taymiyyah, or on some historical event. To tell the truth, everything that ISIS says is correct . . . . All the evidence and references that ISIS provides to justify its crimes, its barbarity, and its horrifying, criminal, and despicable violence . . . . All the evidence and references that ISIS provides, claiming that they can be found in the books of history, jurisprudence, and law, are, indeed, to be found there, and anyone who says otherwise is lying . . . . [Whenever ISIS members] kill a person claiming that he is an infidel, when they rape women, when they kill prisoners, and when they slaughter and decapitate people, they say that the Prophet Muhammad said so. Indeed, the Prophet said so! . . . None of those [Al-Azhar clerics {in Egypt}] . . . . have the courage . . . to admit that these things are indeed to be found [in Islamic sources] . . . . I would like to see a single Al-Azhar cleric in Egypt have the courage to admit that Abu Bakr burned a man alive. That's right. He burned Fuja'ah [Al-Sulami]. This is a well-known historical story.
Issa goes on to argue that massive reinterpretation of Islamic sources is needed, and he urges Muslims to condemn the barbarous commands and acts found in the early sources, or at least to argue that those commands and acts were uttered and committed, respectively, in a context limited to the era of early Islam.

Let's hope to see more of this honest, critical self-reflection by Muslims.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Professor Warren Larson on Islam: Violent or Peaceful?

Professor Emeritus Warren Larson
Columbia International University

Christianity Today editor-at-large Stan Guthrie interviewed Professor Emeritus Warren Larson in the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University to inquire about an evangelical Christian response to the question "Islam: Inherently Violent or Peaceful?" (Christianity Today, February 9, 2015):
How do we handle questions about the "true" nature of Islam and whether someone is a real Muslim?

There are no easy answers because of the complexity of Islam and divisions among Muslims as to what is true Islam and what is not. We need to find a balance between two extremes: (1) not to insist on the defiance of Charlie Hebdo and (2) not to simplistically say, "This is not Islam," . . . [for a] balanced position lies somewhere in between, but ultimately it is up to Muslims to decide who is a real Muslim. My sense is that many Muslims are going through some serious soul-searching at the moment . . . .

What is the best perspective for Christians? . . .

Muslims are broken and becoming more broken as the days go by. More will reject Islam . . . . Christians must be on the alert to reach out to them with love and understanding.

Some observers say that there are two Islams in the world today - one that is basically peaceful, another that is inherently violent.

Although there is an Islam with its rigid dogma, founded on canonical texts, I prefer to think of Muslims in their great variety with deep felt needs . . . . [Interestingly, most] Muslims in our world have a worldview that includes charms, amulets, curses, blessings, and a whole lot of fear. Of course, Islam is not a religion of peace, but is any human philosophy really peaceful? . . . [Moreover,] the way some Christians are acting toward Muslims today is not too peaceful, either. Most of us in the West couldn't care less what happens to Muslims - eternally - as long as we stay safe and Muslims behave. Let's have more hope . . . . My sense is that we are far too fearful, and many of us lack a sense of mission.

Some scholars believe "the law of abrogation" animates jihadists. They say if there is a contradiction between early, peaceful verses in the Qur'an and more brutal ones, the latter must hold sway because they were written later.

I do not think abrogation alone can explain bad behavior. Many reasonable Muslims reject the doctrine, and so I hesitate to tell them what they should believe. If a Muslim says to me, and some have, "My religion tells me to love and care for you," why should I say, "No, your religion tells you to hate and despise me"? . . . [Of course, the] Qur'an is convoluted, and if I were a Muslim, I also would be confused as to how to respond to Christians.
Professor Larson's solution to Islam's current-day aggressiveness is to encourage more mission work among Muslims, for - he thinks - many Muslims are going to abandon Islam in the near future, and the best thing to offer them is Christianity.

I suppose we'll see about that . . .

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dylan Pulls No Punches, Asks: "How Does It Feel?"

Bob Dylan
USA Today

My friend Bill Vallicella provides a link to "Bob Dylan's 2015 MusicCares Person of the Year Speech"! I wish I were successful enough to speak my mind like Dylan - I'm just picking out his 'best' criticisms (along with some of his praise) of people and songs he's dealt with during his long career:
[R]ight from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn't know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it . . . . Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn't think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down. You've just got to bear it. I didn't really care what [Jerry] Leiber and [Mike] Stoller [thought about my songs] . . . . They didn't like 'em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn't like 'em, because I never liked their songs either. "Yakety yak, don't talk back." "Charlie Brown is a clown," "Baby I'm a hog for you." Novelty songs. They weren't saying anything serious. Doc's songs, they were better. "This Magic Moment." "Lonely Avenue." Save the Last Dance for Me[,] . . . . songs [that] broke my heart. I figured I'd rather have his blessings any day . . . . Ahmet Ertegun didn't think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ray Brown, just to name a few . . . . But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Radical eyes that shook the very essence of humanity. Revolution in style and scope. Heavy shape and color. Radical to the bone. Songs that cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I'd rather have Sam Phillips' blessing . . . . Merle Haggard didn't even think much of my songs. I know he didn't. He didn't say that to me, but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard - "Mama Tried," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" . . . . "Together Again"? That's Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody's blessing . . . . Oh, yeah. Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can't sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don't critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. What don't they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can't carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I've never heard that said about Lou Reed . . . . What have I done to deserve this special attention? No vocal range? When's the last time you heard Dr. John? Why don't you say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. Talk about slurred words and no diction . . . . "Why me, Lord?" I would say . . . . Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? . . . Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don't really think I do that. I just think critics say I do . . . . Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that's coming along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new song, and he couldn't understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about . . . . Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a song James had called "Country Road." Tom was going off in this interview - "But James don't say nothing about a country road. He just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don't understand that" . . . . [S]ome might say Tom is a great songwriter. I'm not going to doubt that. At the time he was doing this interview I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio . . . . called "I Love." I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think that he's just like you and you're just like him. We all love the same things, and we're all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow-moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleeping without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on the vine, and onions . . . . I'm not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I'm not going to do that. I'm not saying it's a bad song. I'm just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable . . . . This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time. He's still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until . . . Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain't seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat, flew his helicopter into Johnny Cash's backyard like a typical songwriter. And he went for the throat. "Sunday Morning Coming Down" . . . . You can look at Nashville pre-Kris and post-Kris, because he changed everything. That one song ruined Tom T. Hall's poker parties. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard any of my songs . . . . If "Sunday Morning Coming Down" rattled Tom's cage, sent him into the looney bin, my song ["Ballad Of A Thin Man"] surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the minivan. Hopefully he didn't hear it . . . . Critics have made a career out of accusing me of having a career of confounding expectations. Really? Because that's all I do. That's how I think about it. Confounding expectations. (Randall Roberts, "Grammys 2015: Transcript of Bob Dylan's MusiCares Person of Year speech," Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2015)
As I said, I wish I were successful enough to speak my mind - not that I would, mind you, I just wish I were successful enough that I could do so. Subjunctively speaking, that is, for Bill is right that Dylan's complaints are a bit off-putting, and maybe not in good taste since some of those criticized are still around. But his remarks are also fascinating, or I wouldn't be reproducing them here.

They're like gossip, I guess. Maybe we shouldn't listen to it. But we do, and we learn a lot from it . . . if we take it all with a grain of salt. For instance, Merle Haggard? Not as great as Buck Owens? C'mon, now, Bob. Really?

UPDATE: The LA Times transcript was incomplete on what Dylan said about Haggard, as I see from Rolling Stone:
"Merle Haggard didn't think much of my songs . . . Now I admire Merle - 'Mama Tried,' 'Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,' 'I'm a Lonesome Fugitive' . . . . I love Merle but he's not Buck [Owens]."

Of everything Dylan mentioned that night, this comment struck many as one of the most puzzling. Ten years ago, Dylan and the country icon toured together, and in 2013, Haggard told RS he was planning a Dylan tribute album. "I'm singing the ones that I love the most, with Bob's blessing and a lot of people's interest," Haggard said. "You know, he's just the greatest songwriter I think of our time. It would be a toss up between him and Kris Kristofferson." The album never came to fruition, but Haggard just cut a version of "Don't Think Twice It's All Right" with Willie Nelson. In response to Dylan's remark last weekend, Haggard tweeted, "Bob Dylan I've admired your songs since 1964."
Dylan was actually more positive about Haggard's songs than I reported from the incomplete transcript - though he still favored Buck Owens - but he utterly misjudged Haggard's in fact positive opinion on his songs.


Monday, February 09, 2015

Some Unrecognizable Forbidden Image of Some Unknown Somebody or Other

Sowing Seeds of Light
(Not Really Mohammad)
Mohammad Sabaaneh's Cartoon
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, PA
February 1, 2015

I'm ever again surprised when the editors of a Muslim news source publish an image even purported to be of Muhammad - as though they don't realize that Islam forbids images of Muhammad! The Shia branch of Islam has often depicted images of Muhammad, of course, but I thought that Sunni Muslims didn't and that they would even avoid even seeming to, so I was surprised to see the Memri report for February 3, 2015 (Inquiry and Analysis Series, Report No. 1142), by R. Green, "In Palestinian Authority, Outrage Follows PA Daily's Publication Of Muhammad Cartoon," even if the image is merely interpreted to be of Muhammad. I was not alone in my surprise:
On February 1, 2015, the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published a cartoon by illustrator Mohammad Sabaaneh of a man with a heart-shaped shoulder bag standing in an aura of light atop the Earth and scattering droplets of light. The cartoon is titled "Our Master Muhammad" in Arabic and "Prophet Muhammad" in English.

As is well-known, Islamic law forbids any depiction whatsoever of the Prophet Muhammad or of any other prophet.
But apparently not known well enough for even Sunni Muslims to avoid even seeming to depict Muhammad!
The publication of the cartoon in a newspaper belonging to the Palestinian Authority (PA) sparked an uproar. The daily quickly removed the cartoon from its website and deleted the page from the PDF version. Two days after its publication, on February 3, the daily issued an apology:
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida apologizes to readers for a cartoon published Sunday, February 1, 2015, and completely rejects any suspicion or interpretation that the illustration is a depiction of the Prophets and Messengers. In its respect for the sanctity of the exalted divine religions and its professionalism, the newspaper has established a board of inquiry to investigate the published cartoon, whose interpretation is in doubt. This is in addition to [the newspaper's] announcement that its intent in publishing [the cartoon] was to defend religions and the message of love and peace.
It should be mentioned that the cartoon appears neither on Sabaaneh's social media accounts nor on websites that publish cartoons from Arab publications. Since February 1, Saba'aneh's personal website has been offline.
The rest can be read on your own, and those who do read further will see that radical groups are already calling for Sabaaneh's execution!

But Sabaaneh is dealing with a religion expressing a "message of love and peace," so nothing barbaric will happen to him. After all, the cartoon's "interpretation is in doubt." It might not really be an image of Mohammad at all!

Imagine that! But not too clearly . . .

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Milton Shield Copy at the WAH

Milton Shield
Click to Enlarge

My friend Terrance Lindall - gentleman, scholar, and possibly acrobat - intends to display a bonded-marble copy (shown above) of the famous Milton Shield this coming Sunday at the WAH Center, and he cites some words from 1stdibs about the original Milton Shield:
Designed by Léonard Morel-Ladeuil (French, 1820 - 1888) and made by Elkington and Company (Birmingham, UK), the Milton Shield won the prestigious Medal of Honor at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867 and was considered by many contemporaries to be the best work at the event, which featured more than 15,000 exhibitors and was seen by more than six million people.

The shield depicts the fourth and fifth books of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) and was made for the 200th anniversary of the work. The virtuosic repoussé, low-relief, multi-figural sculptures of Adam and Even in the central panel, surrounded by several panels of the war between Lucifer and the hosts of heaven are reminiscent of Renaissance armor made for Emperor Charles V . . . . The shield was made using a then-revolutionary electroplating method that incorporated silver and gold over copper. Similar versions can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).
So far as I can determine, the original shield seems to be the one displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, for that one dates to 1866. The most important date in the shield's history, however, was the following year, when it was displayed at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867 to honor the 200th anniversary of Paradise Lost, first published in 1667. Thousands of copies have been made in both metal and stone, and Lindall cites the WAH Center's observations about the copy depicted above:
This is a 32" x 25" bonded marble copy of the Milton Shield. Terrance Lindall, Milton illustrator, actually likes this BETTER than the original because it is like Wedgwood, the figures are floating like clouds in a blue heavenly sky. The figures are almost 3-D because they are sculpted BEHIND some of the figures, not just a mold impression. Magnificent detail!
This work of art is breathtakingly detailed, and you can see it up close because the Yuko Nii Foundation copy of the Milton Shield will be on display this Sunday, February 8th, 12-3 p.m. in the WAH Coffee House.

Or you can click on the image above and see the detail right now!

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Islamic State Contravenes Islamic Law: Confirmed

Yassin ibn Mika'il
Google Images

Two days ago, I posted my opinion that in burning the Jordanian pilot alive, the Islamic State had contravened Islamic law, and I asked for confirmation, which came by way of the Muslim pictured above, who kindly explained:
Yes, without any doubt, you are correct, and it is well known to all Muslims, which is why they [i.e., the Islamic State,] put under the video "Islamic" justifications for this, from "scholars of Islam" who are unnamed. To kill male prisoners of war is allowed if the Imam feels it is in the best interest of the Ummah, or they may be taken as slaves, or ransomed for Muslim captives, but not killed in this barbaric manner, rather if they are to be killed it should be honorable and swift. And Allah knows best.
In reply, I wrote: "Thank you. That is helpful information." I meant that sincerely . . . though I have no idea who Yassin ibn Mika'il is, other than that he is a "student of Islamic studies."

UPDATE: But consider this nine-minute video on the issue.

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Directions, Gangnam Style!

Getting Directions

You see me here asking directions in Gangnam from one of the locals. The natives there are bit stiff, but they are nevertheless friendly and helpful. This one tried to help me find myself, but my problem was an existential crisis triggered by the so-called "uncanny valley" into which one descends when speaking with a being that looks human in every respect but somehow 'feels' non-human, so I couldn't get much help from her on that problem.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Islamic State Breaks Islamic Law? - Is Burning Alive Forbidden?

Lieutenant Muath Al-Kaseasbeh
Jordanian Pilot

I wonder if this manner of execution used by the Islamic State even finds justification in Islamic law, for I have read this hadith:
Ibn 'Abd al-Barr states in al-Tamhid (5:316) that, "When Ibn 'Abbas learned that 'Ali had burned the apostates - that is, the unbelievers - he said, 'If I had been in his place, I would have killed them in keeping with the words of the Prophet, "If anyone changes his religion, put him to death." I would not have burned them with fire, since the Messenger of God said that no one is permitted to inflict on another the chastisement which God alone will inflict [in the afterlife].'"
My source is from page 81 of Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis (2011), by Taha Jabir Alalwani.

This hadith concerns the punishment for apostasy - which is death - but burning as a method of punishment would seem to be forbidden because it is reserved to Allah as his manner of punishment in Hell. One might object that that this hadith concerns apostasy only and therefore has nothing to do with the execution of an enemy captured in battle.

But if fire as punishment is reserved to Allah alone, then it should not be used by any human authority, not even by a caliph, despite 'Ali's action as one of the four 'rightly guided' caliphs.

Has the Islamic State thus broken Islamic law?

UPDATE: But consider this nine-minute video on the issue.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Words of Whizzdumb . . .

Borrowed from Rick Riordan
As if any who don't know him care . . .

Over at Malcolm Pollack's Waka Waka Waka blog, folks are discussing the validity of personality tests, so I told them my personal take on the results of my own personality test:
My personality test labeled me ignorant and indifferent. Was the test valid? I don’t know, and I don’t care.
That improved the mood of a commenter called "Musey":
Horace Jeffrey Hodges just made me feel a little better . . .
Horace who? While everyone considers that question, I'll just note my response to Musey:
If you liked that one, Musey, you should read my book: The BBB.
As should everyone else! Why? Why, to improve my mood, too . . .


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Islamic State's Destruction of Books: Ignoramus et Ignorabimus

ISIS Burning Books
"Those who begin by burning books
will end by burning people."
- Heinrich Heine
Image from Abouna

Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub report on "Iraqi libraries ransacked by Islamic State group in Mosul" (My Way News, January 31, 2015):
When Islamic State . . . militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people's ideas . . . . [T]he extremists . . . loaded around 2,000 books . . . into six pickup trucks . . . . "These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned," a bearded militant . . . told residents . . . . as others [with him] stuffed books into empty flour bags . . . . [T]he Islamic State group . . . [has] sought to purge society of everything that doesn't conform to their violent interpretation of Islam[, including] . . . . many archaeological relics, deeming them pagan . . . . Mosul, the biggest city in the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate, boasts a relatively educated, diverse population that seeks to preserve its heritage sites and libraries . . . . But . . . the Islamic State group has made the penalty for such actions death . . . . Days after the Central Library's ransacking, militants broke into University of Mosul's library . . . . [and] made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students . . . . [T]he Islamic State . . . extremists started wrecking the collections of other public libraries last month . . . [and caused] particularly heavy damage to the archives of a Sunni Muslim library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 BC.
This sort of barbarity dooms the perpetrators to perpetual backwardness and forces them to live parasitically upon the wealth of civilized people who welcome knowledge and actually make things. Such radical destruction of secular learning leaves the Islamic State in the hands of arrogant militant fools who do not know and will not know - adding new meaning to "ignoramus et ignorabimus" - and whose ignorance will serve only to bring destruction down upon their own heads.

The tragedy is that they meanwhile destroy the lives of so many others and of so much that the others owned . . .

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Monday, February 02, 2015

Chris Suellentrop on "The Talos Principle"

The Talos Principle

Chris Suellentrop, a video game critic for The New York Times, describes a video game - The Talos Principle - in his article "Enticing All to See the Bigger Picture" (New York Times, January 27, 2015), from which I offer the following digest version:
Play enough video games and . . . you'll start to wonder what it all means. Is there a point? . . . [The game called] The Talos Principle . . . takes . . . [such] inquiries a step further[,] . . . prompting . . . meditat[ation] on the meaning of life . . . . [It] quotes Milton, Blake, Kant and Chesterton, among others, and expects you to piece together why any of it matters . . . . [It] begins with an amnesiac who awakens in a new world and tries to make sense of it . . . . The game [is one] of puzzles, [such as] . . . uncovering who you are and why a disembodied voice is speaking to you . . . . [Much] is opaque at first, [but] . . . core concerns - the nature of consciousness, the existence of God - are clear . . . . "Behold, child, you are risen from dust," a sonorous voice declaims before telling you he is Elohim, your maker. There are references to a temple, a garden, a covenant, the promise of eternal life . . . . [The Hebrew word] Elohim is the first . . . [reference] to God in the Hebrew Bible, but the mysterious voice of The Talos Principle clearly isn't meant to be That Guy.
No? He certainly sounds a lot like "That Guy." But Suellentrop has played the game and must know what he's talking about. Perhaps the game has a gnostic twist to it? But let's read on:
Uncovering exactly who . . . [this Elohim] is and why he has put you there requires solving a series of puzzles[, i,e.,] . . . hidden Tetris-shaped sigils behind locks and gates of escalating complexity. Beams of light, and later cubes and fans, must be arranged in intricate geometric webs to reach the sigils, . . . then . . . rotated and assembled into rectangles . . . [to] open doors that lead . . . to evermore [difficult] brain teasers . . . . [T]hese challenges are [pleasing], [but] The Talos Principle is as much a game about reading as . . . about puzzling through logic exercises. A series of computer terminals . . . placed throughout Elohim's world . . . . [offer] texts . . . [of] poetry, philosophical digressions or Internet chat logs . . . . [T]hese readings are routinely engaging, clever and thought-provoking[,] . . . [but e]ven more rewarding are . . . encounters with the Milton Library Assistant, the game's rough equivalent to Eden's serpent.
This is where the game begins to sound gnostic. A 'serpent' named after John Milton would surely offer good advice . . . right?
Elohim forbids . . . climbing a tower . . . contain[ing] knowledge of the world beyond. The assistant . . . [says] to ascend anyway. Like Lucifer in "Paradise Lost," the Milton Library Assistant is . . . more fascinating . . . than the remote and inscrutable Elohim[, and a]s the player . . . types on the game's virtual keyboards, . . . [the player's] fingers . . . [appear] robotic, and the assistant begins a series of questionnaires that ask the player to prove . . . [itself] a conscious being. The game partly functions as a reverse Turing test - a computer asking a human to prove its capacity to think, rather than the other way around . . . . [T]his game is deeply interested in the nature of artificial intelligence and the potential of machines to reason.
Suellentrop adds that in Greek mythology, Talos was a giant made of bronze. Maybe this is the game-makers' allusion to a robot brought to life (and consciousness?) by a supply of ichor - the blood of gods and other immortals - flowing through its single vein, but we should perhaps also note that this giant died from loss of ichor when the single vein was opened. Whether this is useful in understanding the game, I don't know - nor do I know what the Talos "principle" refers to.

But I wonder if being "conscious" is identical with being able to "reason." Does a Turing test - original or reversed - conflate these two? And is that important in playing this puzzling game?

Whatever the answers to these questions, The Talos Principle sounds interesting.

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Interesting Points on Free Speech by Jonathan Chait and Ross Douthat

Extreme Circumstances
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In an article for the magazine New York, "Charlie Hebdo Point-Missers Miss Point" (January 9, 2015), Jonathan Chait explains his support for Charlie Hebdo as follows:
In this case, the content of Charlie Hebdo's work is not the issue. The issue is the right of publication. Given the fact that violent extremists threaten to kill any journalist who violates their interpretation of Islam, establishing the freedom (I argue) requires committing the blasphemy. To argue, as some have, that the threat is wrong, but that journalists should avoid blasphemy out of prudence allows the extremists to set the rules.

Ross Douthat, writing a bit more patiently than me, laid this out more explicitly. Douthat was very clear about his argument: Vulgar expression that would otherwise be unworthy of defense becomes worthy if it is made in defiance of violent threats.
Let's look at Douthat's article, "The Blasphemy We Need" (New York Times, January 7, 2015), in which he says the following:
[W]e are not in a vacuum. We are in a situation where . . . . the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could . . . and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it's the kind that clearly serves a free society's greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it's something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn't really a liberal civilization any more.
This is the extreme situation in which we find ourselves, namely, threatened on a core value of our civilization, i.e., free speech. Extreme circumstances sometimes call for extreme reactions, and this is one of those extreme times.

Otherwise, just imagine what we would not be allowed to say . . .

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