Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Barbie: She talks the talk, but does she walk the walk?

Hello Barbie
Christopher Stark for The New York Times

So . . . Barbie now speaks her mind. Maybe we'll find out what she really thinks of Ken. But the real question is . . . how do we get her to stop talking? Or more to the point, to stop listening. I'm serious, sort of. Read this:
This fall, Mattel plans to introduce Hello Barbie, a Wi-Fi enabled version of the iconic doll, which uses ToyTalk's system to analyze a child's speech and produce relevant responses.

"She's a huge character with an enormous back story," Mr. [Oren Jacob, the chief executive of ToyTalk,] . . . says of Barbie. "We hope that when she's ready, she will have thousands and thousands of things to say and you can speak to her for hours and hours" . . .
Fine, if you want a doll that can outtalk you. But what else is it doing? Listening?
"Is this going to be some creepy doll that records what is going on in your home without you knowing it?" asks Nicole A. Ozer, the director of technology and civil liberties at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. "What is being recorded? How long is it being stored? Who is it being shared with?"
This is only the beginning of a new generation of 'intelligent' toys, and they'll be getting more and more 'intelligent.' For more on this, see Natasha Singer's article, "A Wi-Fi Barbie Doll With the Soul of Siri" (NYT, March 28, 2015).

This could get creepy . . . or even scary.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Dylan and Cash and the Nashville Cats

Art by Jon Langford

I'm blogging about this exhibit that opened last Friday because I like both Dylan and Cash - and because I like the above image by artist and musician Jon Langford. You can read about this era when rock and country 'first' met in Alan Light's "'Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats,' an Unlikely Alliance of Rock and Country" (NYT, March 27, 2015):
The era is documented in "Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City," an ambitious exhibition that opened this week at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The show points to three primary forces behind the migration to the Music Row studios: Bob Dylan's journey here to record the "Blonde on Blonde" album in 1966; the ABC television series "The Johnny Cash Show," which filmed at the Ryman Auditorium from 1969 until 1971; and an extraordinary group of session musicians informally known as the "Nashville Cats," who played in one form or fashion on virtually all of these recordings, including albums by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Linda Ronstadt, Simon and Garfunkel, and three of the four Beatles.
Yet, some people still think Country Music is limited to rednecks and hillbillies! Of course, I did use to watch a lot of Porter Wagoner back in my hillbilly days.

Well, get back, honky cat . . .

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Michael Zelehoski - Hard to believe they ain't paintings . . .

Michael Zelehoski

Hard to believe, but Michael Zelehoski's artworks - such as Pallet - are not paintings:
Mike Weiss Gallery is pleased to announce that Musée National d'Art Moderne - Centre Pompidou has added Michael Zelehoski's Open House to its permanent collection. With his upcoming show New Order opening on May 7th at Mike Weiss Gallery, this news could not have come at a more exciting time.

Zelehoski starts with 3-dimensional found objects - from pallets to dilapidated houses - and restructures them into 2-dimensional assemblages. At first glance the works seem like paintings, but actually are meticulously engineered collages of hundreds of parts that play with perspective and its inherent subjectivity. The work hovers between sculpture's three-dimensionality and painting's historical flatness, often activating both types of space and breaking with our typical consideration of the picture plane. Zelehoski's work celebrates the eccentricities inherent in his chosen material, rendering remarkable compositions from otherwise unremarkable objects.
Entirely correct! Just look at the above image. Doesn't it look like a painting? It's flatness, however, is deceiving . . .


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Marius as Heathcliff?

Bad to the Bone
Google Books

I'm glad I'm not the only reader to see that Howard Jacobson was channeling Emily Brontë in his novel The Act of Love through his depiction of Marius as Heathcliff, though not in each and every respect, of course, but the resemblance is definitely there in Marius's dark good looks, rough roguish manners, and corruscating intellectual brilliance:
Marius is Much Wenlock's answer to Heathcliff, brooding and muscular. (Tim Adams, "Take my wife . . . and I wish somebody would," The Guardian, October 5, 2008)
Not that we had no assistance from Jacobson himself, for he 'hints' as much on page 41: "the Heathcliff-if-all-else-perishes rocky-eternity beneath you."

The book is morbidly fascinating and forces its readers into assuming the perversely voyeuristic perspective of the first-person narrator, Felix Quinn, manipulator par excellence who somehow brings his wife and Marius into an affair that appears headed toward disaster for all.

I say appears because I've finished all but ten percent of the novel and have yet to see how things end . . .

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Hodes . . . Hodegs . . . Hodges!

A Story Takes Flight

I recently received the published version of my paper "The Mis-Education of Horace Hodges," which I presented at Chung-Ang University's Storytelling Conference last December, and I've pasted the abstract below:
Horace Jeffery Hodes, (2015). The Mis-Education of Horace Hodegs. Storytelling, 1(2), 52-69. This paper attempts to give listeners the experience of storytelling, from the perspective of both a storyteller and a listener, by alternating between relating stories and analyzing them, and so beginning with allusions to Cervantes, Shakespeare, Henry Adams, and Charles Darwin, the paper traverses hillbilly concern with storytelling as lying, through a 'just-so' children's story by the author of this paper, through a tall tale by Bob Dylan from his Chronicles, through another tale by Dylan, but in song, then on to remarks on truth and the believability of stories in the thought of Plato, Boccaccio, Sir Philip Sydney, Shakespeare, and Coleridge, then again a story through showing Milton recounting one in Paradise Lost, wherein he also claims to receive divine inspiration, then on through Hans Blumenberg's thoughts on myth, to another story, a Faustian one by the author himself, drawn partly from Bulgakov's own Faustian tale in his novel The Master and Margarita, and finally concluding with Nietzsche on poets as liars and the author's admission that the whole paper has been a lie.
Attentive readers will have already noted that my surname is misspelled twice in bold font! I swear I wasn't the heterographic malefactor, though who will believe me since I have owned up - in the above abstract - to being a liar.

Speaking frankly, however, I'm surprised to see my middle name, "Jeffery," spelled correctly, but my surname misspelled! The opposite is usually the case.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

David Brooks on Three Kinds of Anti-Semitism

David Brooks

Since I've been speaking of religious intolerance lately, let's take a glance at an Opinion piece by David Brooks titled "How to Fight Anti-Semitism" (NYT, March 24, 2015), in which makes a threefold distinction among types of Anti-Semitism:
In the Middle East, anti-Semitism has the feel of a deranged theoretical system for making sense of a world gone astray . . . This sort of anti-Semitism thrives where there aren't that many Jews. The Jew is not a person but an idea, a unique carrier of transcendent evil: a pollution, a stain, a dark force responsible for the failures of others, the unconscious shame and primeval urges they feel in themselves, and everything that needs explaining. This is a form of derangement, a flight from reality even in otherwise sophisticated people . . .

In Europe, anti-Semitism looks like a response to alienation. It's particularly high where unemployment is rampant. Roughly half of all Spaniards and Greeks express unfavorable opinions about Jews. The plague of violence is fueled by young Islamic men with no respect and no place to go . . .

The United States is also seeing a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. But this country remains an astonishingly non-anti-Semitic place. America's problem is the number of people who can't fathom what anti-Semitism is or who think Jews are being paranoid or excessively playing the victim . . .
I would alter what Brooks says about Anti-Semitism in Europe. It's not primarily a response to alienation, not among Muslims, anyway. The "young Islamic men" who turn to violence are absorbing much of the Middle East's "deranged theoretical system." This system, as described by Brooks, sounds like a religious one, given the talk of Jews as "evil," as a kind of "pollution," as a "dark force," even as the reason for this "world gone astray."

An article by Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," is good for understanding why much of the Muslim world has grown delusional about its failures. You can read this article in The Atlantic (but after clicking on the link, you have to wait for about 15 seconds for some sort of ad to disappear).

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Phillip Jenkins on the end of Middle Eastern Christianity

Mosaic in Hagia Sophia
A Long-Lost Church
Baylor Magazine

Baylor professor Phillip Jenkins, adapting for Baylor Magazine (Winter 2015) an article originally published in Christianity Today, asks "Is this the end for Mideast Christianity?" I excerpt at length here from his answer:
For Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe, . . . [though Iraqi Christians had] long believed they could maintain a foothold around Mosul, . . . [but] Islamist militants have controlled Mosul since June 10. Even if the total extermination of each and every believer is not the goal, those ancient communities and churches face the prospect of utter ruin . . .

The current battles are part of a lengthy story. Islam gained power over the Middle East in the seventh century, but . . . [Christians] retained . . . [a majority] for more than 500 years. Not until the 14th century did persecution become systematic and violent . . . [but even as] recently as 1914, Christians still made up 10 percent of the whole region from Egypt to Persia (Iran) . . .

Matters changed swiftly during World War I. Massacres and expulsions all but removed the once very large Armenian and Greek communities in Anatolia (now Turkey) . . . Emerging Arab nations also targeted Christians. Iraq's slaughter of Assyrians in 1933 gave lawyer Raphael Lemkin a basis upon which he defined the concept of genocide. The partition of Palestine and subsequent crises in the region massively shrunk other ancient Christian groups. The modern story of the Christian Middle East is one of contraction and collapse . . .

How bad could this get? All local Christians know the answer. They look back at the experience of Jews, who flourished across the region just a century ago but have now vanished from virtually every Mideast nation outside Israel . . . The only Christian community that seems secure is the Copts, perhaps eight million strong, and a solid majority in some of Egypt's southern districts. Even so, after the crisis there of the past two years, the potential remains for imminent civil conflict and Islamist violence . . .

More broadly, these events teach us about the long-term trajectories of Christian history. They show how churches vanish and, more important perhaps, how they survive under the direst of circumstances . . . One lesson emerges strongly: However often we talk of churches dying, they rarely do so without extraordinary external intervention. Churches don't die because their congregations age, their pastors behave scandalously, the range of programs they offer wears thin, or their theology becomes muddled. Churches vanish when they are deliberately and efficiently killed by a determined foe . . .

The Church of the East, the ancestor of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, perfectly illustrates that long survival - and profound current crisis. The disasters of the 14th century reduced that once transcontinental body to a much smaller remnant. That vestige continued within Iraq, Syria, and Anatolia for seven centuries. Throughout that latter period, hard-line Muslim jurists and demagogues competed to invent new humiliations to inflict on Christians: limits on what those believers could wear, the houses they could own, and the horses they could ride. At the worst of times, Christians wore rags to avoid giving any impression of wealth . . . If there was a single penalty that stung more than any, it was losing control of the soundscape. In a Muslim-ruled land, the only public voice of religion was the cry of the muezzin from the minaret; ringing church bells were utterly forbidden . . .

But Christians endured century through century. They maintained their faithful witness while recognizing their severe limits. Through bitter experience, they learned to identify the irreducible core of their faith while setting aside additional practices . . . Critically too, they could support monasteries where spiritual warriors maintained prayer and study. As long as monks prayed and priests said the liturgy, the church was intact, and that situation could last, in theory, until Judgment Day. Surviving monasteries tended to be in remote and highly defensible places, and their fortifications were formidable. Egypt still has such legendary fortresses of prayer, such as St. Antony's monastery and St. Catherine's in Sinai . . .

Some believers hoped that powerful Western churches would send aid, although foreign Protestants in particular could rarely grasp the distinct patterns of local religious practice . . . No less dangerous was the temptation to support secular nationalist parties that promised to govern regardless of faith or denomination. Such alliances were always something of a trap, as they intertwined local churches with dubious regimes, most notoriously the Ba'athists of Iraq or Syria . . .

The church persisted stubbornly until modern times, when new militants emerged to tear it up, root and branch. Believers were killed en masse, leaving survivors to flee the country for a time or altogether. Only at that point did churches cease to function . . . In the darkest years of the Middle Ages, when European Christians fled from barbarian invaders, their obvious refuge was the neighboring monastery. This past summer, that was exactly the course taken by the Christians of northern Iraq to escape the Islamic State . . . [R]emnants of Mosul's Christian community took shelter in the ancient cloisters of Mar Mattai. As the Islamic State has recently demonstrated, the practical logistics of destroying a church are not terribly difficult: You occupy a region militarily, and kill or expel all its inhabitants who practice the offending faith . . .

Over the past thousand years, Christians have repeatedly had to ask: Why would God allow his followers to suffer defeat, subjection, exile, and enslavement? They find some answers in biblical precedent, looking to the Hebrew prophets who saw their own kingdom defeated for lacking faith and betraying the national covenant. Seen in this light, even the worst disasters can be seen as God’s scourge on his sinful people . . . But deeply embedded in . . . Christian thought is the idea of the righteous remnant, the community that survives tribulations only to follow God's commands still more exactly. Perhaps the exile that initially seems a nightmare might form part of this greater plan, as dispossessed believers carry their witness to other lands. You cannot read the Bible without realizing how the Exile and Diaspora experience could powerfully spread faith into distant corners of the world . . .

Far more challenging is the question of why God would permit Christianity in a particular land to vanish altogether. Yes, churches move to new pastures where they might prosper. But what about their homelands? What about churches that are altogether destroyed, no remnant remaining? . . . God may seem silent on occasion. At other times, people simply don't trouble to hear his voice. Those previous cases of church extinctions are dreadful enough, but rarely are they as total as they initially appear . . .

What to us may seem like a definitive act of annihilation seems quite different when located upon a divine timescale. As we are often told, extinction is forever; but humans should be very cautious about using the language of eternity . . . As an example, we might look at the experience of China, which over the past two millennia has remained the world's most populous nation. The story of Chinese Christianity is a recurrent cycle of mighty boom years followed by what seemed like total annihilation at the time, an obliteration so absolute that on each occasion, it was quite clear that the church could never rise again. That cycle has occurred five times to date since the ninth century. On each occasion, the Chinese church has reemerged far more powerful than at its previous peak. Each successive "nevermore" proved to be strictly temporary . . .

Even when institutional churches vanish, believers persist in many different forms. One of the most understudied facts in Christian history is that of crypto-believers, those hidden remnants who hold on to truth while superficially accepting the prevailing regime. As Anatoly Lunacharsky, the frustrated Soviet minister of education, complained in 1928, "Religion is like a nail: The harder you hit it, the deeper it goes into the wood" . . . In Japan, for instance, the brutal destruction of the Catholic Church . . . did not prevent large groups of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians") from maintaining the faith underground. In fact, some survived four centuries and a few elderly hang on today. We see the same phenomenon in China and, most relevant to this article, all across the Middle East. In Syria, estimates of the size of the Christian population before the present crisis commonly varied between 5 and 15 percent, with crypto-Christians accounting for much of the difference. Underground belief and practice will be much more difficult under an extreme Islamist regime than under the secular Ba'athists, but "cryptos" have often endured for astonishingly long periods, until gentler times return . . .

Even at this worst of times, Christians survive. But dare we say that, even in an increasingly intolerant Middle East, Christians as a whole are not just remaining but in places actually [growing]? . . . This gets us into sensitive territory. Over the past decade, we have heard amazing claims about new Christian evangelization in Muslim countries, usually accompanied by incredible conversion statistics . . . [S]ome specific accounts are much more believable. David Garrison's recent book, A Wind in the House of Islam, describes the Christian appeal in diverse Muslim societies. Remarkably, Syria offers some of the most convincing examples of this trend. Garrison is a responsible and critical reporter. The problem, though, is that all such activity is clandestine, for fear of arousing persecution . . .

[L]et us adopt a sweeping skepticism and dismiss all such stories. Even so, we are still witnessing a striking upsurge of Christian numbers in some of the most unlikely settings, almost entirely as a result of immigration. Look at Saudi Arabia, a land of 28 million people where Islam is the only permitted religion. Consequently, official sources list the country as 100 percent Muslim, [but] . . . Saudi Arabia is only one of many Middle Eastern countries that have imported millions of poor foreigners to perform menial jobs over the years. Many of those immigrants are African and Asian Christians, including many Filipinos. As they do not officially exist as Christians, they have zero right to practice their faith, even in private. But exist they do. By some estimates, Saudi Arabia's Christian population is about 5 percent of the whole, perhaps 1.5 million . . .

Other Gulf nations are more honest about just how religiously diverse they have become. Christians - mainly guest workers - probably make up 7 percent of the population of the United Arab Emirates, and 10 percent of Bahrain or Kuwait. Those are nations where Christianity scarcely existed . . . No less surprising is Israel. Together with Palestine and the Occupied Territories, the State of Israel now includes thousands of adherents of ancient Christian denominations. Those older churches have fallen sharply in their numbers in the past half-century, but newer Christians have more than replaced them. There are thousands of Global South guest workers. Also, many Russian Christians invoked Jewish ancestry to enter Israel in the 1990s. Some were Orthodox Christians, others Baptists and Pentecostals. Israel’s Russian Christian community today is perhaps 80,000 . . . Israel and Palestine combined have a population of some 10 million, of whom perhaps 5 percent are Christians - Arab, Armenian, Russian, African, and Filipino. Together with the Arab Gulf, these are the region's new and growing centers of Christian belief and practice . . . Not for a second should such signs of growth distract our attention from the dreadful situation facing Christians elsewhere in the Middle East. Individuals are being murdered, raped, enslaved, and turned into refugees, and Western governments have no option but to intervene on their behalf . . .

Armed intervention might actually succeed in crushing the most aggressive jihadi campaigns. In the longer term, Western churches undoubtedly have their role to play in assisting fellow believers, whether in their homelands or in their new diasporas. Even with vigorous activism, though, whether military or humanitarian, it is difficult to imagine the churches of Syria and Iraq returning to the flourishing condition they enjoyed . . . But that is quite different from saying that Christianity as such faces extinction in the region . . . In God's terms, words like strength and weakness can have surprising meanings. We must be very cautious indeed about making statements that claim to understand the goals or directions of history.
This is a theologically articulated article, one expressing hopes more than fears (since God is supposedly working his mysterious way behind the scenes), but I can't see Christian 'guest workers' on the Arabian peninsula having much impact on local Muslims, as I noted before in commenting on this article when it appeared in Christianity Today.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Andrew Singer Reviews Emanations: Foray into Forever in World Literature Today

Andrew Singer - the driving force behind Trafika Europe - has written a positive review of Emanations IV in World Literature Today, from which I excerpt:
Emanations: Foray into Forever is a refreshingly focused collection - focused by staking out a particular frequency of literature to explore. This hefty volume is the fourth in the Emanations series, which seems to be groping toward a renewed, internationalized avant-garde. Series editor Carter Kaplan has assembled fine offerings, and what unifies the whole is the specific range of experiment it hosts - now slyly unruly, now intellectual, now delighted. This is an expression of the range of Kaplan himself, in the (correct) assessment that others of us will enjoy being invited along . . . . Given its inclination, the whole is notably readable. There is an effort to balance works with generous helpings of prose that push a bit against expected narrative frames, and poetry that pushes quite a bit more than that at times . . . . There are three sections: "Tales," "Verse," and a short collection of essays, "Themes," prefaced by a deft introduction by Kaplan, titled "Out of the Hermeneutic Captivity" . . . . There are more than enough high points to make this volume a worthwhile addition to any library - something to return to whenever the muck clears . . . . No piece in this collection is representative; each is a facet compelling us toward gratefulness for such pearls.
My contribution to this fourth literary anthology is a number of poems on pages 263 through 266, namely: "Crater Lake Blues," "Before the Storm," "Ozark Indian Mound," "Day Breakin'," "Souvenirs," "Ad Age," "Trail Home," and "Natural Philosophy." I hope you enjoy these bits of times humorous, times melancholy verse.

In the upcoming volume of Emanations - fifth in the series - there will be my second story, titled The Uncanny Story, which I will post on Amazon as an ebook sometime later after reworking a few parts, which will likely make the ebook version somewhat longer.

Incidentally, World Literature Today is the literary magazine that selected the translation that Sun-Ae and I did of Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil as one of the top 75 translations for 2013.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

V. S. Naipaul on the Islamic State

V. S. Naipaul
Daily Mail Online

For a scathing critique of the Islamic State (IS aka ISIS), read V. S. Naipaul's article, "A grotesque love of propaganda. Unspeakable barbarity" (Daily Mail Online, March 22, 2015), for he does not hold back one iota, and here's a sample:
Imagine a world in which a young man is locked in a cage, has petrol showered over him and is set alight to be burnt alive.

Imagine the triumphant jeering of an audience that has gathered to witness this. Imagine, also, a 12-year-old child with elated determination on his features shooting at close range a kneeling man with his arms tied behind his back.

Then picture the spectacle of a hundred beheadings of victim after victim in humiliating uniforms, their hands and feet bound, kneeling with their backs to their black-robed executioners who wield knives to cut their throats as though they were sacrificial lambs.

Picture queues of helpless men and women being marched by zealous executioners who nail them to wooden crosses and crucify them, howling and bleeding to death as crowds watch.

Then picture thousands of girls and women, their arms tied, being marched by hooded and armed captors into sexual slavery. And then, if that is not enough, picture men being thrown off cliffs to their deaths because they are accused of being gay.
And this is only the beginning of Naipaul's masterful takedown of the IS in all its disgusting barbarism, savagery, ignorance, and destructiveness, for he understands what he's talking about and doesn't mince words, nor is he politically correct:
Are Isis and its followers heretics? The politicians of Europe and America, including David Cameron, Barack Obama and Francois Hollande, after every Islamicist outrage insist on describing them as a lunatic fringe. Their constant refrain is that these perpetrators of murder and terror have as much to do with Islam as the Ku Klux Klan has to do with Christianity or the testament of Jesus Christ. But does such political assurance bear scrutiny?

Of course the politicians, church leaders and others who say 'these atrocities have nothing to do with Islam' are not making a researched or considered theological statement. They are attempting, quite rightly, to prevent civil discord in a world in which there are considerable Muslim immigrant populations in most countries of Europe and in the US.
This tendency to distance Islamism from Islam is understandable, says Naipaul, given the large numbers of Muslim immigrants living in Europe, but he clearly thinks that the frantic distancing is barren nonsense, void of substance, obvious falsehood.

Read the entire article.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gender Identity Crisis: No Exit Until Now . . .

Trevon Milliard
Reno Gazette-Journal

My brother Shan - professor of counseling at Niagara University - recently sent me an article of interest by Trevon Milliard, "Strangers unite over their transgender children" (USA Today Network, Reno Gazette-Journal, March 20, 2015), and the article begins thus:
When Jessi Arroyo was four years old, her mother taught her to pray.

"Pray to God and he will listen," said her mother, Elvira Diaz. "Ask for whatever you want."

"Mom, I want to pray to God and wake up in the morning with a penis," her daughter said.

Diaz dug up her basic anatomy drawings for children and re-explained the differences. "This is you. You can't be a boy. You're a girl."

"You don't know anything," her daughter said. "I'm a boy."

Diaz didn't know what to do. She'd never heard of this.

"I didn't tell anybody," Diaz said.
Well . . . she did, eventually. Told somebody, I mean, or we wouldn't be reading these words.

I find fascinating, though also troubling, the fact that one's body, more often than might be expected, fails to fit one's inner identity. Of course, I don't personally experience that divergence, but I can imagine - through empathy - how a transgender individual might feel, namely, trapped within the confines of what others consider that individual's corporeal identity, the transgender person suffering claustrophobic angst at being unable to escape, ever.

Except through suicide, thereby ridding oneself of one's flawed body . . . until now, that is, with plastic surgeons as postmodern heroes . . .


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mark James Russell: Young-hee and the Pullocho

Young-hee and the Pullocho

I received an email invitation yesterday to a book-launching. The invite was from Mark James Russell, an acquaintance of my Expat Living days, if I recall correctly, back when I wrote columns for The Korea Herald:
So, at long, long last, my first novel, Young-hee and the Pullocho is out. Yay. I'm celebrating my first foray into fiction with a party, and you're invited - to Mudaeruk, a very cool bar in the Hongdae/Sangsu neighborhood.

We'll have some free food and beer (and you can always order wine and other things, too). I just ask that you please buy a copy of the book - it's just 10,000 won, cheap - and try to leave a short comment on Amazon, Kyobo Books or some other online bookstore.

Of course, feel free to bring along husbands/wives, friends, or anyone who might be interested . . .
That last line left the impression that this might be an open invitation, but upon checking with Mark, I discovered my error - the invite was to me - so I've corrected my earlier post, deleting the details of date and time:

and the
Mark James Russell

Tuttle labels the book a YA (Young Adult), but Amazon says for grades 4 - 6. Amazon allows a peek inside, so you can read some to get a taste for the genre and appropriate age.

And don't forget my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer . . .

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Mototaka Takano Exhibit in the WAH Center, March 21st - April 19th (2015)

A Seaside Village
Mototaka Takano

I received a notice from my friend Terrance Lindall that the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center will be exhibiting 23 of Mototaka Takano's paintings from March 21st to April 19th:
Known as a "Japanese Vlaminck," painter Mototaka Takano exhibits a collection of his large scale oil paintings at the not-for-profit WAH Center (Williamsburg Art and Historical Center), entitled "Painting Northern Snow Scenes for 35 Years." Supported by the Consulate General of Japan in New York and New York Seikatsu Press, Mototaka Takano's paintings depict the ocean shores, fishing villages, and markets in Northern Japan, primarily in Tohoku and Hokkaido. His technique reminds viewers of the oeuvre of Maurice de Vlaminck, who was one of the principal figures of the Fauve Movement. Formed in the early 20th century in France, the Fauvists were concerned with vibrant compositions, using bold colors and loose brushwork to create dynamic, expressionistic scenes. In this exhibition, 23 of Takano's paintings are displayed. His powerful work embodies the bleak, somber nature of the hard life in Northern Japan.
I think that Ms. Yuko Nii is the driving force in arranging this exhibition - but Terrance can correct me if I'm wrong - for the notice puts the exhibition in the context of Ms. Yuko Nii's "Bridge Concept":
In late October 1996, Yuko Nii founded the not-for-profit WAH Center (Williamsburg Art and Historical Center) based upon her Bridge Concept. That concept envisions a multifaceted, multicultural art center whose mission is to coalesce the diverse artistic community, and create a bridge between local, national and international artists, emerging and established artists, and artists of all disciplines. Thus, through the international language of art we come to understand each other to create a more peaceful and integrated world. The WAH Center is a force for peace and understanding and its concept is incorporated in its acronym: "WAH" in Japanese means "peace" or "harmony" or "unity."
Ms. Yuko Nii's WAH Center has definitely served as a bridge for me because I've crossed over to a new relationship with art through Terrance's friendship and generosity. Without Terrance's illustrations, my novella The Bottomless Bottle of Beer would be less colorful.

And he did it for free!

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Myriam's Viral Video

Myriam and Family
SAT-7 Journalist
Essam Nagy
Christianity Today

A 10-year-old Christian Iraqi girl named Myriam fled her home in Mosul, Iraq along with her family for the security of Kurdistan's Irbil last July with hundreds of thousands of other Christians as the Islamic State (ISIS) surged into the city, and this little girl said some things that went viral on video after Essam Nagy of SAT-7 Kids interviewed Myriam and asked how she felt about those Islamists who drove her and her family from their home, she said:
"I will only ask God to forgive them. Why should they be killed?"
Her words of love to counter Islamist hate astonished nearly everyone who heard her speak, and - as already noted - the video went viral, becoming SAT-7's most-watched interview ever, having received over one million viewings at the time of the report that I read by Jayson Casper's, "Forgiving ISIS: Christian 'Resistance' Videos Go Viral in Arab World" (Christianity Today, March 17, 2015).

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ah, Spring, when one's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of . . . contract review!

Ewha Womans University
View of Chapel from ECC

I'll be coming up this semester for contract renewal . . . or not. Either way, I have to update my publications list for the past year, so I've added the following:
2015 "The Uncanny Story," Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5, Edited by Carter Kaplan (Brookline, MA: International Authors, 2015) (Forthcoming).

2015 "Milton's Astronomy and the Seasons of Paradise: Queries Motivated by Alastair Fowler's Views," Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate, Vol. 24, Number 1 (2014/2015), 88-104.

2014 "Horace Jeffery Hodges (poems)," Emanations: Foray into Forever, Edited by Carter Kaplan (Brookline, MA: International Authors, 2014), 263-266.

2014 "Literature and National Community: The United States and the Case of Stephen Vincent Benét" (Invited Speaker), Proceedings of the Byeng-ju Lee International Literary Festival 2014 (Hadong-Gun: Byeng-ju Lee Memorial Society, Fall 2014).

2014 "The Mis-Education of Horace Hodges" (Invited Speaker), Proceedings: Storytelling – Trauma, Healing, and Pedagogy (Seoul: Research Institute for Storytelling at Chung-Ang University, Fall 2014).

2014 Shin Chae-ho, Dream Sky, translated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges (Seoul: Literature Translation Institute of Korea, Fall 2014).

2014 Yang Geon-sik, Sad Contradiction, translated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges (Seoul: Literature Translation Institute of Korea, Fall 2014).

2014 "True Translation?" (Keynote Speech), The Role of Translators and Literary Agents in Globalizing Korean Literature, The 13th International Workshop for Translation and publication of Korean Literature, June 20, 2014 (Seoul: Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014).
Three of these are 'published' in "Proceedings" of some conference or other and thus won't count for much - though one of them will soon be published in a journal, which should count for something

Let's keep our fingers crossed! Unless you're against me and won't be using your index finger . . .


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another positive review for The Bottomless Bottle of Beer!

Another good review of The Bottomless Bottle of Beer has appeared on the Amazon site:
Temptation and the decision making process are part of our everyday lives. How we decide to choose from right and wrong is what defines us, as an individual, spouse, and a member of society.

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer (BBB) is a rich story that follows a man who is trying to kick his drinking habits, but decides to have just one last beer. In his quest to find that one last heavenly beer, he finds himself in a dark hidden bar that will ultimately test his strength. Mr. Em, the proprietor of the bar has much darker intentions than just serving a simple bottle of beer. The connection in the early chapters to Genesis Chapter 3 is remarkable, which paves the narrative for the rest of the story, how to overcome the sin of making a deal with an unscrupulous “being”, and conquer temptation.

Dr. Hodges brilliantly takes the reader through the struggles of the protagonist, and the steps to regain control of his life, with his wife and a suspicious attorney, Daniel Webster. The pure beauty of this novella lies within the didactic humor of Dr. Hodges' storytelling, historical knowledge, and linguistic talent.

This novella is highly recommended.
Many thanks for the positive review. I hope readers will also spread the word . . .

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Shannon Hodges: The Lonely Void

I've just finished reading my brother Shan's recent novel and enjoyed it for its great hook and its surprising ending. As with his previous mystery novel, City of Shadows, the plot is complex and presents many characters - you might want to write down their names as you read - but the story is nonetheless a page-turner. Here's one reason why:
They . . . threw him onto a medical table strapping him down tightly. They stretched a cloth tightly across his face. He was unsure what was happening when suddenly water was poured down his mouth. He had always read water boarding simulated drowning and now had firsthand knowledge of the torture method's accurate simulation. He felt himself slipping, gagging, taking in water and it was absolute torture. Just as he felt the life force was about to leave his body, his tormentors stopped. (Shannon Hodges, The Lonely Void, New Generation Publishing, 2014, page 471)
They may have stopped, but I read on . . . and so, I think, will you as you follow counselor Bob Gifford along the paths of his two parallel, but star-crossed, noneuclidean careers.

Not knowing precisely how waterboarding works, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the above description, but from this description, I know that what is depicted would be torture for me to endure.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Adam Kirsch on 'What the hell did Milton mean by that?'

Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

Posed recently in the Sunday Book Review section of the New York Times was the question, "Should an Author's Intentions Matter?" (March 10, 2015), to which Adam Kirsch responded:
No book could announce its author's intentions more plainly than "Paradise Lost." John Milton declared his purpose in the opening stanza: "That to the heighth of this great argument / I may assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men." And that is how "Paradise Lost" was read for the first century and a half of its existence: as a vindication of God's justice. Because the sacred drama of the Fall will conclude with the salvation of humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus, Adam comes to realize that all his suffering is divinely ordained for the best: "O goodness infinite, goodness immense! / That all this good of evil shall produce, / And evil turn to good!" [But the Romantics] opened the same poem that pious Christians had been enjoying for generations, only they discovered something surprising: The hero of the poem is not Adam, or . . . [the Son], or God himself, but actually Satan, the incarnation of evil. Because all the other characters act out of obedience to a divine plan, they can't be said to possess the characteristics of heroism - boldness, daring, pride. Only Satan, who acts in opposition to God, has those traits, and as a result, he gets the best speeches - as when he declares, after he is hurled into hell, that "All is not lost; the unconquerable will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And courage never to submit or yield" . . . . Yet how could it be that Milton, . . . a deeply pious Christian and who explicitly said that his poem was meant to promulgate Christian truths, was actually . . . [exalting Satan]? This could be possible only if the author was not actually the master of his own intentions. Perhaps Milton was ensnared by the false piety of his own time, and it took the antinomian insight of the Romantics to liberate him - to make him the poet of revolt that he secretly wanted to be all the time . . . . The idea that readers could know an author's intentions better than . . . is, of course, deeply destabilizing to our usual ways of thinking about literature. If a text can mean anything the reader wants it to mean, then why read it in the first place? Isn't literature supposed to help us achieve contact with other minds, rather than trapping us in a hall of mirrors, in which we can see only our own distorted reflections? Surely there must be limits to a text's ­interpretability . . . . [O]f course there are . . . . [b]ut the history of literature shows that, in practice, what an author believed . . . has no real sovereignty over later readers' interpretations. Indeed, one way of defining great literature is that it allows itself to be endlessly reinterpreted.
Reinterpreted, yes, but within limits, I say. Am I right? Milton is - for instance - surely no heretic! His poem may take imaginative flight, but it is surely grounded in orthodoxy, it is surely entirely and completely orthodox.

Except that it isn't.

Milton rejects the Trinity, does not present the Holy Spirit as having personhood, and believes the Son to have been begotten at a point in time and therefore not present with the Father from eternity. If Milton was thus open to hiding such beliefs in plain sight, might he have equivocated on his intention to "justify the ways of God to men"? The term "justify" has more than one meaning - consistent with Milton's common use of dual meanings - and Milton's God is not particularly likeable. He's not even "likeable enough."

But do take note that Milton in this scenario is still "the master of his own intentions" and knows those intentions better than his readers, even better than his small group of fit readers - "Fit audience . . . though few" - who must themselves labor hard to see what he specifically meant. Kirsch thus limits interpretive possibilities in saying that Milton's exaltation of Satan to heroic stature "could be possible only if the author was not actually the master of his own intentions."

Speaking of intentions, Kirsch overstates Satan's unique status as intentional rebel in saying that "all the other characters act out of obedience to a divine plan." Milton's Eve, for instance, intentionally rebels. She is tempted to do so by Satan, of course, but the choice is her own. If Eve is following God's plan through rebellion, then so is Satan. Conversely, if Satan is disobeying God's plan, then so is Eve.

Such is my reading, anyway.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Abdulazziz Al-Qattan: Islamic State is No Aberration

Abdulazziz Al-Qattan
Memri TV Video Clip 4821

In the wake of the IS ship of state's atrocities, liberal, educated Muslims in the Arab world are speaking out against Islam's own traditions, as Memri Clip No. 4821 (March 5, 2015) reveals in its report, "Kuwaiti Researcher Abdulazziz Al-Qattan: ISIS [i.e., the Islamic State,] Is the Product of [Our] Islamic Heritage." Here are some excerpts:
ISIS did not come out of nowhere. It's not an aberration. By no means. ISIS adopts the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology of Al-Qaeda. If you look at Durur Al-Saniyah by Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, you will see that ISIS is implementing the ideas of that book to the letter. They are doing it step by step, word by word . . . . The problem of us Arabs is that we are not being honest with ourselves. We do not acknowledge our mistakes. We refuse to break away from that heritage. Our Islamic heritage is a minefield of these deviant ideas. Unfortunately, even some contemporary muftis, sheiks, and Islamic scholars subscribe to this reactionary ideology [of Salafism] and to this backwardness. To this day, some [Salafis] . . . consider photography . . . prohibited polytheism, and view statues as idols that are worshipped instead of Allah, . . . . [though even] in the days of the Islamic conquests, 'Amr Ibn Al-'As did not destroy the Sphinx and did not shatter statues in Egypt. I cannot imagine . . . any civilization, without art. I cannot imagine . . . beauty . . . without art. Art is sublime. Art means progress. Art means civilization. Can you possibly imagine humanity without art? Inconceivable! Inconceivable! . . . . [Even] before ISIS and Al-Qaeda emerged, [the Islamic State's ideology existed,] but we turned a blind eye, and some Arab governments still prefer not to face the plain truth. All the books of Islamic heritage, without exception - from all Islamic sects and denominations - have enough ISIS ideology to turn your hair white . . . . [What] we need to do is sift through [our] Islamic heritage. We must go back to the book of Allah, [the Qur'an,] for it gives guidance to humanity. Islam does not, under any circumstances, run counter to human nature. Allah created Man free and gave him freedom of thought, but the problem is that the Muslims have begun to worship people. We have begun to worship our heritage. We have begun to worship books . . . . "Islamic heritage" . . . [is what I say,] but that is not what it [truly] is. It is the heritage of the jurisprudents, not of the Prophet Muhammad. The books of [our] Islamic heritage - Al-Bukhari and Muslim hadith collections, and the other canonical hadith books, as well as the Kitab Al-Kafi and all the other books of the Shiites [- each of] these books need[s] to be sifted through by real institutions. These stories should be sifted through in order to filter out all their blemishes. Politics played a role in the [development] of this heritage. The Islamic scholars of the Sultan's court played a role in this. The hadith narrators were not infallible. Some of them were liars, cheats, and so on.
I think that Mr. Abdulazziz Al-Qattan has got things right. Muslims must unburden themselves of the entire jurisprudent tradition. The brutality of many hadith cannot be moderated but only rejected before Islam can be reformed.

Only in that way can Islamism be finally defeated . . .

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Peter Singer on "Countering Islamic Extremism"

Peter Singer
Project Syndicate

In an article titled "Countering Islamic Extremism" (Project Syndicate, March 10, 2015), Peter Singer explains why "countering violent extremism" is insufficient and why we would do better by confronting the unpalatable truth:
Last month, US President Barack Obama hosted a three-day summit on "Countering Violent Extremism," . . . . [or] "CVE," used no fewer than 12 times in a Fact Sheet released by the Obama administration, . . . . [a] Fact Sheet [that] also uses the term "violent extremism" 21 times. How many times do, terms like "Islam," "Islamic," or "Muslim" appear? Zero. There is not even a reference to the "Islamic State." That entity is referred to only by the initials "ISIL."
Is this apparent reticence accidental? No, says Singer:
This is not an accident; it is part of a strategy to win the support of mainstream Muslims . . . . [Some Muslims think] that using terms like "radical Islam" harms the cause of stopping the violence . . . . Another reason . . . offered for not referring to "Islamic radicalism" or the "Islamic State" is that to do so concedes the terrorists' claims that they are acting in accordance with Islam's teachings . . . . Finally, the repeated use of "Islamic" as part of the description of enemy groups may make it appear that the West is "at war with Islam."
I figured these were the reasons, but avoiding the term "Islam" and related words, e.g., "Islamic" or "Islamist," dulls any otherwise sharp analysis. It also ignores reality:
[I]t is never a good idea for [anyone] . . . to appear to be denying what we can all see before our eyes . . . . because it is obvious to everyone that most violent extremism is being carried out in the name of Islam . . . . A further problem becomes apparent as soon as we ask why it is important that mainstream Muslim leaders stand up in public and say that their religion opposes killing innocent people . . . . Why should Muslim leaders, in particular, make such statements, rather than Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Hindu leaders?
Yeah, if we're only fighting "violent extremism," why do we urge Muslim leaders in particular to speak out? Good question. What's the answer:
The answer, once again, is obvious. But it is obvious only because we already know that groups like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Taliban are not obeying the precepts of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, or Hinduism.
Since that's the reality, what are we non-Muslims to do?
Obama [has] said that "all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative" . . . . [U]nlike the White House Fact Sheet, [this statement] acknowledges that groups like the Islamic state claim to be Islamic. Otherwise, what would be the [statement's] relevance . . . to "countering violent extremism"?
But there's still a problem with Obama's exhortation - most of us know too little to refute Islamic extremists. Singer admits that he can't:
If I tried to get into a debate with any moderately well-educated Islamic State supporter about whether that organization is true to the teachings of Islam, I would lose the argument. I am not sufficiently expert in the Islamic tradition to be confident that extremists are misinterpreting it, and few of us are. The responsibility to which Obama was referring rests with those who are much more learned in Islam than "all of us."
But another difficulty lurks here:
Even for people who are learned in Islam, discharging the responsibility Obama has placed on them will not be easy, as a reading of Graeme Wood's revealing recent account demonstrates. Wood presents a picture of people driven by a firm belief in Islam, and knowledgeable about its key texts . . . . The Islamic State's spokesmen insist on following the original precepts laid down by the Prophet Mohammed and his earliest followers, understood literally and with no adjustment for different circumstances . . . . [T]hey see themselves as preparing for - and helping to bring about - the apocalypse.
What ought we do? Singer offers a suggestion:
By now, the problem with trying to counter those who seek new recruits for "violent extremism" without focusing on this extremism's Islamic basis should be clear. Those considering joining an extremist Islamic group should be told: You believe every other religion to be false, but adherents of many other religions believe just as firmly that your faith is false. You cannot really know who is right, and you could all be wrong. Either way, you do not have a sufficiently well-grounded justification for killing people, or for sacrificing your own life . . . . Of course, . . . some people are not open to reasoning of any kind, and so will not be swayed by such an argument. But others may be. Why rule it out in advance by denying that much extremist violence is religiously motivated [by Islamic beliefs]?
As Singer himself admits, this attempt at engaging an Islamist in rational inquiry probably won't persuade many of those extremists, but we shouldn't rule anything out in advance.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tom Coyner's Insightful analysis of such ageing leftists as Kim Ki-jong . . .

Tom Coyner
Google Images

Tom Coyner, writing for the Korea JoongAng Daily, has penned an insightful column, "You can almost see them coming" (March 11, 2015), about the kind of man who attacked the US ambassador. I provide a summary composed of excerpts:
The recent knife attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert . . . [was by one of] many [Korean] lone wolves . . . created . . . [through] historical, social and political factors, [for the a]ssailant Kim Ki-jong was . . . a walking stereotype of his generation of leftist radicals. He comes from the oldest fringe of [those] . . . [who] spent their youth . . . successfully demonstrating for genuine democracy . . . [in] South Korea. But their success carried costs, . . . . [for] many . . . from this group were eventually granted university degrees . . . [without] really study[ing] . . . credible sources . . . . [T]heir ideology-weighted ad hoc studies can be attributed to . . . . political material [that] often consisted of circulated mimeographed papers of questionable origins and doubtful intellectual honesty . . . . [Because] classrooms under censorship were devoid of honest, structured discussion and debates, this generation often uncritically accepted anything . . . banned as . . . the truth . . . [I]n fact much of it was propaganda, some of it originating from [North Korea] . . . . [M]uch of the [anti-establishment, uncritical] thinking that plagues Korean public opinion . . . can be traced to . . . . [a substantial number of] this generation of demonstrators . . . [who were] initially unwilling and . . . [are] now unable to move out of the narrow constraints of being dedicated political activists . . . . [Individuals who] . . . take a high profile position and later reverse [themselves are few]. Asian societies are too tight-knit to allow people to do political U-turns . . . . [P]olitical activists . . . start out and . . . remain part of political groups where . . . recant[ing] one's perspective [is treasonous] . . . . [Recanting] damages the integrity of the in-group that has fostered and supported the activist . . . . [This intransigence of the] activist is reinforced by a society that doesn't forget and by a small circle that doesn't forgive . . . . [T]hese individuals . . . [thus] forge ahead, often in extreme directions, as part of their intellectual and political growth . . . . [and] take on some kind of idealistic martyr-like identity as they live in near poverty . . . . [M]ost of these proletarian activists come from rather bourgeois . . . families, . . . [but] after expending their inheritances and relatives' support, . . . [they must] establish some kind of political group that acts as a financial support mechanism for . . . their daily expenses. To attract followers and financial subscribers, ageing activists must develop a charismatic agenda . . . . [since] agendas for moderation and accommodation do not attract dues-paying members . . . . [In] late middle age, [these activists] . . . often reach a state of pathos. They . . . find that their circles of friends have shrunk largely to just some other old . . . diehards plus perhaps gullible young people who make up an unstable . . . group [of] followers . . . . [These] graying activists have largely alienated their families, [and] . . . are usually single, . . . without children . . . . [T]hey are truly alone and almost isolated outside of contrived political events.
Kim Ki-jong's slashing of Ambassador Lippert's face and left hand was just such a contrived political event. I have nothing to add to Coyner's persuasive analysis, but if you are interested in his suggestions on how to deal with this problem, you should click onto his article.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A dog, a donkey, and a woman? Why in God's name . . .

Suha Al-Jundi
(Image from Elaph dot Com)

In Memri "Special Dispatch No. 5990" (March 9, 2015 ), the "Arab Woman Columnist [Suha Al-Jundi] Marks International Women's Day With [a] Sarcastic Article" enumerating "various Islamic laws and customs that harm women, humiliate them, and discriminate against them, such as the inheritance, marriage and divorce laws," and she speaks with heavy irony of the "lofty status" that Islam grants to women and the "great respect" that it has for women, as the following shows:
A woman's testimony has half the weight of a man's, since she is feeble-minded and ruled by her emotions. Hence, for her testimony to be accepted, she must find another woman who witnessed the crime [to corroborate her story]. Otherwise she must stay home and remain silent, rather than tell the truth [about what she knows] . . . . A man may take four wives, even if his salary is meagre and his (physical) abilities limited. That is simply the nature of mammals who live in packs of one male and several females. Religious law must conform to this nature . . . . Divorce in Islam is very simple. Islam does not compel a woman to remain tied to the family she has dedicated her life to establishing. The man may divorce her with a spoken or written word, or even with a gesture, if he is deaf or paralyzed. To ensure that she leave the house quickly, Islam does [not?] grant her any right to the fruits of her efforts . . . . [Islam] obliges a woman to wear a hijab the minute she reaches puberty, even if she is [only] ten years old. This, in order to guard the woman and her chastity, and ensure that men will not be aroused and licentiousness will not spread. If the woman suffers vitamin D deficiency as a result of insufficient exposure to sunlight, she should take fish oil capsules. If she can't find any, Allah will reward her doubly for her ability to endure suffering . . . . If a man summons his wife to have intercourse with him and she refuses, the angels will curse her, even if [she refused because] her husband does not respect her, does not make her feel cherished and safe, or because he smells bad . . . . If a husband is concerned his wife may be rebellious (even if this is just a fear that has not yet materialized), he must warn her. If she does not repent he must throw her out of the house, and if she [still] fails to repent he must hit her. This, even if she is smarter and more knowledgeable than him, or if her salary is higher and she contributes more to the family income . . . . If a dog, a donkey or a woman passes in front of a man as he is praying, his prayer is null and void. This, because the woman is beautiful and attractive, and causes him to be aroused . . . .
That final point explains why a woman should not pass in front of a praying man, but why the dog, why the donkey? Surely not the same reasoning! I hope . . .

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ahmed Hussein Al-Harqan: Atheist Apostate from Islam Speaks his Mind

Ahmed Hussein Al-Harqan

I don't know how I overlooked this apostate from Islam last October, but I did, so here he is, Ahmad Harqan, speaking out fearlessly, as shown in excerpts on Memri Clip Transcript No. 4649 (October 21, 2014), which presents him being interviewed by Al-Kahera Wal-Nas TV as to why he left Islam:
I do not believe in the existence of God. Being non-religious and leaving Islam is not something that I wanted, but having lived 27 years of my life in this religion, I decided that I could not go on [as before] . . . . All people could reach the same conclusion, if they were allowed to think freely about this. But the reality is that people are denied the opportunity to reach this decision. They are not allowed to think critically about [Islam] . . . . Islam is a very harsh religion, and what ISIS is now doing is, perhaps, a physical manifestation of [Islam] . . . . The Quranic texts are crystal clear. When the Quran says "strike their necks," it is very clear [about beheading unbelievers]. When it says "Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day, and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful, and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the [Quranic] Scripture - until they give the jizya[, i.e., sharia-required 'protection money' taken from Jews and Christians, and they give it] willingly while they are humbled" [-] it is very clear, and ISIS understands and implements it in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. [In Nigeria,] Boko Haram are also implementing this when they capture women. This is what the Prophet Muhammad and his companions did . . . . I . . . say that it is a criminal faith, and that the Quran is full of teachings that incite to hatred and murder . . . . I know . . . [what I am talking about] because people who used to be my [fellow Salafi] friends [have] joined ISIS.
These excised remarks are not quite "crystal clear," or I wouldn't have had to clarify them by adding brackets and punctuation! Perhaps that can be put down to the nature of excerpts, but I don't know. Anyway, after the program aired, Mr. Harqan was attacked by some militants, then by the police, in response to his remarks, but he is - remarkably - still alive, according to this blogger.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

My Dinner with Andre - An Elliptical Bit of Dialogue

My Dinner with Andre
Google Images

A Korean friend contacted me recently with a query prompted by one of her Korean friends who was trying to understand a line of dialogue in an American film:
She can't figure out the underlined phrase, and neither can I. Can you? I don't know what movie the lines are out of, but I don't think watching the movie would make it intelligible.
Grotowski and I got together at midnight in my hotel room in Belgrade, and we drank instant coffee out of the top of my shaving cream, and we talked from midnight till 11:00 the next morning.
The lines sounded distantly familiar, but I couldn't place them, so I Googled the underlined line, "and we drank instant coffee out of the top of my shaving cream," which led me to My Dinner with Andre, and that got my old brain whirring. I wrote back:
As for "we drank instant coffee out of the top of my shaving cream," the line is from a film by Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn (both of whom wrote and starred in it), My Dinner with Andre, which I saw way back in 1981 as a young grad student at Berkeley. You should see it sometime, too.

I think the sentence is elliptical and that the only thing it can mean is "we drank instant coffee out of the top of my shaving cream can."

Andre is describing a manic time in his life when he acted on impulse, and the unfinished statement reflects that time.

Literally, he used the plastic top that fit on the spray end of his shaving cream can to serve as a cup for holding instant coffee, and he and his friend Jerzy Grotowski, a Polish theater director, both drank from that same 'cup' in Andre's Belgrade hotel room.
My response was accepted:
Oh, Jeff, thank you so much for your kind explanation . . .
At your service - always ready to help the friend of a friend! Moreover, the successful search brought back many old memories from my early graduate-school years, so I gained some unexpected pleasure from responding to the request.

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

A pairing that didn't work . . .

Rivka Galchen
Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

In the NYT's Sunday Book Review is posed the question "Which Books Do You Read Over and Over Again?" (March 3, 2015), to which Rivka Galchen responds, beginning with an anecdote:
Recently at the checkout of a grocery store, the young man bagging my goods mentioned that he had brought the very same prosciutto to the Rosh Hashana meal he shared with his Jewish roommate's family. He had brought that prosciutto . . . and he also brought a lavender goat cheese that he would recommend, it was delicious. He had ended up eating . . . both the prosciutto and the goat cheese himself. The family, he said, had laughed at him about what he had brought . . . . [T]hey were nice about it, but also they were kind of rude, but he didn't care, he'd enjoyed the food, even though, he emphasized, they really had been very weird about it. The young woman working the cash register interjected that the reason Jews don't eat pork is because, in their holy book, God punished some people by turning them into pigs, and so eating pork was cannibalism. Then the young man said, Oh, that makes sense, but still I don't think they had to be so weird about it.
At least, the Jewish family didn't cut the young man's head off for profaning a holy day, unlike what a devout group from one of the other 'Abrahamic' religions might have done in a place where its laws are enforced.

Speaking of which, the young lady at the cash register seems to have learned the pig tale from that other Abrahamic religion, since we often hear its religious leaders referring to Jews as the offspring of pigs. Actually, though, I've read somewhere that the pig tale comes originally from a Jewish source warning that God was displeased with the Jews of some city or other and transformed them into pigs as punishment. But as far as I recall, the change was temporary. Perhaps some reader can fill us in on that.

Anyway, the amusing part of the young man's story - to get back to my real point - was that he was not only bringing the wrong meat, i.e., pork, an 'unclean' meat, he was pairing the meat with a dairy product, which is not a kosher pairing since observant Jews can't pair meat with 'milk'! The young fellow couldn't have gone much further wrong.

Unless the cheese itself were unkosher, but I don't think it is.

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

What radicalizes Islamists . . . and can it be reversed?

Ibrahim Ahmed
Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

I've long wondered what radicalizes some Muslims to become Islamists. The answer is not so simple as some people claim, namely, that the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sira themselves radicalize Muslims. If this were the case, I think that many more Muslims would be Islamists. Now, I do think that these three sources play an important role in radicalization, but only after a Muslim's attention has become riveted to the violent passages in these three.

In countries like Pakistan, where public education is largely unavailable to the poor, many religious madrasas offer an education, but one that intentionally radicalizes students. Radicalization in the West takes place along a different path, and Katrin Bennhold investigates how some Muslims set off on that path - and how they can be led off that path - in "Same Anger, Different Ideologies: 2 Outcasts' Paths" (NYT, March 5, 2015). Bennhold actually compares the seemingly similar paths of a radical Muslim and a Neo-Nazi, but I'll concentrate on the Islamist since Neo-Nazis pose little threat, whereas Islamists pose a significant danger:
Born and raised in leafy West London, Ibrahim Ahmed always supported the local soccer club and listened to what he called "white music." But in school he was a "Muslim," and he became increasingly disaffected with British society. When recruiters approached him in a mosque 18 years ago and told him that he could fight a holy war right here at home, he readily agreed . . . . [He] had grievances that eroded . . . [his] self-esteem and made . . . [him] angry . . . . [He was] seduced by a [radical Islamist] narrative that put . . . [him] at the center of a greater cause and offered . . . what . . . [he] craved most: a sense of belonging and a plan to act on . . . [his] resentment . . . . [He] eventually walked away from violence, dissuaded not by law enforcement officials or relatives but by former extremists like [himself].
Why does this dissuasion by former extremists work? It works, apparently, because not only is the radicalization process remarkably similar for Muslims generally, so is the de-radicalization process:
[This point is] instructive as Europe tries to recover from two deadly attacks in two months, both of them committed in the name of Islam. Religious ideology plays a central role in the radicalization of young Muslim Europeans currently being lured to join the Islamic State or kill in the group's name at home. But the psychological process underlying radicalization is remarkably universal . . . . Today, the recruitment success of groups like the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is considered the greatest [terrorist] threat. But decades of researching, infiltrating and countering other movements offer some lessons at a time when governments are scrambling for ways to head off the threat beyond tightening security . . . . One lesson . . . is that former extremists have a central role to play in the argument against radical temptations. They have a credibility that governments lack.
How do the ex-radicals help? Apparently, they do so by showing the reality of, for instance, the jihad in Syria. Amy Thornton, of the Department of Security and Crime Science at University College London, explains:
"We need to replace fantasy with reality, . . . Formers play a very important role. Only they can credibly say: Syria is not a video game, you may end up cleaning toilets, babysitting on the front line; it's not what you're being promised."
But this sounds odd, as though the former extremists were promised the opportunity to kill infidels, yet forced to do only mundane things during the jihad and therefore returned to the West in disappointment, lamenting that they hadn't gotten an opportunity to fight. So . . . if they had fought on the front lines and had experienced successful jihad, would they have remained radicals? Whatever the answer to that, we learn that de-radicalization alone is not sufficient:
Another lesson . . . is that debunking extremist propaganda alone is not enough. Outreach efforts are most effective . . . when they offer a counternarrative and tangible alternatives to violence . . . . [For example, a] pioneering program in Denmark treats onetime fighters not as potential terrorists but as wayward youths. Closely watched by the authorities around Europe, the program involves counseling, help with readmission to school and meetings with parents . . . . There are limits to the willingness of governments to rely on such a program. But experts in radicalization said that understanding the process by which people fell for the medieval brutality of a religious ideology is vital to combating it.
John Horgan, author of The Psychology of Terrorism and director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell is an expert who focuses not on the "why," but on the "how":
"We won't make any progress at all if we continue to obsess over the question 'why' someone becomes an extremist . . . . A better starting point is asking 'how.'"
Well, how then did Mr. Ahmed become radicalized?
Holy war was . . . what was proposed to Mr. Ahmed in a South London mosque in 1997 . . . . [In fact, he] did not grow up religious. His parents, shop owners who had immigrated from Pakistan and India, raised him and his two brothers in a middle-class neighborhood where they were the only nonwhite children. At school, white boys threw racist insults and chipped slate tiles at him . . . . [He] joined a Muslim gang . . . to defend himself, but also to take revenge . . . . [In] a mosque one day, he met men who told him Britain was a Dar al-Harb, a land of war, and that he was a soldier. Within a month, he had joined the [armed] security wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic organization committed to establishing a caliphate in the Middle East . . . . [He] was on call as part of a secret Muslim brigade that . . . [used guns and Molotov cocktails on] anyone reported to have [caused problems for Muslims].
What drew him away from radical Islam?
Eventually, . . . [he] began having doubts . . . . He had never paid attention when his family said that Islam and violence were incompatible. But when a Salafi preacher who had once been involved in gang violence told him as much in 1999, he listened [to the man] . . . . "He said he shared my grievances but that violence was not the way to address them" . . . . That is the message he tries to get across to the teenagers he counsels.
How's that working out?
[C]ounterextremism work has become trickier over the years. The Internet has given militants direct access to teenagers. The video-game culture glorifies extreme violence. And radical movements have become smarter at marketing.
The job of de-radicalization is getting harder, or so Mr. Ahmed seems to imply. Moreover, are there enough counterextremists to de-radicalize the huge numbers of extremists?

I have my doubts . . .

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Friday, March 06, 2015

A Couple of Jokes . . .

I'm reading my brother Shannon's new novel, The Lonely Void, and enjoying the story, but I'm only up to page 199 out of 518 total pages, so I'm not yet ready to comment. I can, however, post a brief dialogue between the protagonist Bob Gifford, an atheist, and his friend Father Pallo, a Catholic priest. Pallo is Latino, and Bob is Irish-American. They tell a couple of jokes, Bob going first:
"You hear the one about the Irish couple who got engaged?"

"Not sure."

"Seems the bride-to-be was carrying guilt for not having been totally honest about her past. She confessed to her fiancé that she had been a prostitute. 'Well, the wedding's off!' he snapped. 'But . . . my family was hungry and I only walked the streets to keep food on the table!' she cried. Then, the light went on in her fiancé's mind. 'Oh, a lady of the evening. Well, that's different,' he reassured her. 'For a moment there I thought you said you were a protestant!'"

"Very funny. Oh, and did you hear the one about the atheist who died and went to heaven?"


"Neither did I!"
Just a taste of some of the humor . . .

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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Islamic State: Islamic or Not?

IS Fighters
Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group

Lee Keath and Hamza Hendawi, writing for the Associated Press (Yahoo News, March 2, 2015), ask "How Islamic is Islamic State group?" They actually answer immediately, but let's ignore that part of the headline and look at the evidence provided:
The vast majority of Muslim clerics say the . . . [Islamic State] cherry picks what it wants from Islam's holy book, the Quran, and from accounts of Muhammad's actions and sayings, known as the Hadith. It then misinterprets many of these, while ignoring everything in the texts that contradicts those hand-picked selections, these experts say.
Everything that contradicts? Does this mean that the sound hadith contradict each other? Expert Muslim sources admit to contradictions in the Qur'an and hadith? I didn't know that. These more moderate Muslims must be able to counter the Islamic State's false interpretations, so let's see:
Part of the problem in countering the group's ideology is that moderate clerics have struggled to come up with a cohesive, modern interpretation, especially of the Quranic verses connected to Muhammad's wars with his enemies.
Oh. All right. Does any moderate cleric suggest what to do while we wait for "a cohesive, modern interpretation"? Let's see:
While moderate clerics counter the Islamic State group's interpretation point-by-point, at times they accept the same tenets.

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb - the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam's most prestigious seats of learning - denounced the burning of the Jordanian pilot as a violation of Islam. But then he called for the perpetrators to be subjected to the same punishment that IS prescribes for those who "wage war on Islam" - crucifixion, death or the amputation of hands and legs.
Hmmm . . . is that more moderate than burning? While we think about that, let's also ask to see one of those point-by-point refutations . . .

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