Thursday, April 30, 2015

Technophilia and Technophobia

Alicia Vikander as Ava
Ex Machina
Film Directed by Alex Garland

In an article by Alex Garland, Mr. Garland (or maybe an editor) self-reflexively titles its title as "Alex Garland of 'Ex Machina' Talks About Artificial Intelligence" (NYT, April 22, 2015). I'm sometimes told that self-reflexivity is the basis for consciousness, but I can't quite see how that works. Somewhere between a thermostat and a robot, feedback mechanisms give rise to consciousness? Hmmm . . . But let's see what Mr. Garland has to say:
In the last few years, I've become increasingly fascinated by artificial intelligence, and in particular our escalating fear of it. It seemed to me that our increasingly holistic relationship with technology and abstract clouds of information was compounding this fear and perhaps edging it into paranoia.
Maybe so, but Mr. Garland's first example seems to suggest the opposite of technophobia:
These thoughts were crystallized while writing and directing the new film "Ex Machina." It tells the story of a young male coder in a tech company who is given the job of assessing the level of consciousness in a female-presenting robot called Ava. He's bewitched, gives up the day job and starts making plans to elope.
The young coder experiences not just technophilia, but even techno-erotica! But Mr. Garland finds a different man to cite, a man hugely dependent on technology who worries about smart machines:
The theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking told us that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, told us that A.I. was "potentially more dangerous than nukes." Steve Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple, told us that "computers are going to take over from humans" and that "the future is scary and very bad for people."
So . . . not only Hawking - dependent as he is on high-tech machines - fears artificial intelligence, so do two others whose names are closely associated with the development of smart technology.

Maybe there is something to worry about . . . but Mr. Garland thinks not, as you'll see if you read on in his article.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sick and Tired

That picture says it all and explains why there's no blog entry today . . .


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Islamists aren't the only 'fundamentalists' to worry about . . .

Sadhvi Deva Thakur

. . . for there are ladies like this Hindu politician:
Sadhvi Deva Thakur is a leader of All India Hindu Mahasabha, a leading Hindu organization in India. On April 11, 2015, she demanded that Muslims and Christians in India be forcibly sterilized, as they were during Emergency Rule in 1975, when such forced sterilizations were carried out. The following are excerpts from a media report: A leader of Hindu Mahasabha on Saturday [April 11, 2015] stoked a controversy saying Muslims and Christians must undergo sterilization to restrict their growing population which was posing a threat to Hindus . . . . [Specifically, she said,] "The population of Muslims and Christians is growing day by day. To rein in this, [the] Center [the federal Indian government] will have to impose emergency [rule], and Muslims and Christians will have to be forced to undergo sterilization so that they can't increase their numbers," vice president of All India Hindu Mahasabha, Sadhvi Deva Thakur told reporters . . . . [and] also exhorted Hindus to have more children and increase their population so as to have an effect on the world. In another controversial remark, she said that idols of Hindu gods and goddesses should be placed in mosques and churches. Thakur also came out strongly in support of installing a statue of 'patriot' Nathuram Godse [the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi] in Haryana [state near Delhi ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi].
You can read even worse things by other radical Hindu nationalists in the same Memri Report (Special Dispatch No. 6033, April 26, 2015), e.g., "Today there is a need to dig up the [bodies of the Muslims' deceased] mothers, sisters and daughters from graves, and to rape them . . ."

What a horrifying thing to say! What's the world coming to?

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Karl Ove Knausgaard's struggle to recall . . .

Karl Ove Knausgaard
Photo by André Loyning

I've read only excerpts from Karl Ove Knausgaard's writings, but I've been sufficiently opinionated to blog on him, twice. Today makes thrice. What's next, "fierce"? Then "vice"?

Anyway, the novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, reviewing Don Bartlett's English translation of My Struggle, Book 4, has some interesting things to say in "Karl Ove ­Knausgaard's 'My Struggle: Book 4'" (NYT, April 23, 2015) - and I sound remarkably like a man repeating myself, though I beg to differ, for I am repeating others' words - but anyway, here's what Eugenides said, starting off with a quote:
"The last time I was in New York," Karl Ove ­Knausgaard wrote recently in The New York Times Magazine, in his account of traveling through the ­United States [with his family], "a well-known American writer invited me for lunch. . . . I tried desperately to think of something to say. We had to have something in common, we were about the same age, did the same thing for a living, wrote novels, though his were of considerably higher quality than mine. But no, I couldn't come up with a single topic of ­conversation. . . . When we got back to Sweden, I received an email from him. He apologized for having invited me to lunch, he had realized he never should have done it and asked me not to reply to his email. At first I didn't understand what he meant. . . . Then I ­realized he must have taken my silence personally. He must have thought I didn't find it worth my time talking to him."

Knausgaard doesn't reveal the identity of the American writer he had lunch with. But I will: It was me. I may be the first reviewer of Knausgaards autobiographical works who has appeared in one of them. Therefore, I'm in a perfect position to judge how he uses the stuff of his life to fashion his stories. Ever since Knausgaard turned me into a minor character, I have an inside track on what he's doing.
This should be interesting. Let's see:
[B]ack to my lunch with the largely silent author of these books. There is nothing factually incorrect about Knausgaard's account. But, on reading it, I saw what he was doing. Knausgaard wanted to draw a distinction between Scandinavians and Americans when it comes to small talk. In fact, the reason we couldn't talk to each other had less to do with cultural differences than with the fact that we are both nervous people with self-esteem problems who were uncomfortable in each other's presence. That didn't fit into Knausgaard's argument at that point in the article, however; and so, like any professional writer, he used the part of the story that served his need.

That's exactly what he does in "My Struggle." Knausgaard's life is a grab bag of events and recollections, and he uses whatever is handy. He doesn't lie or make things up (so far as I know). But the ­selection process he subjects his memories to in order to fulfill the narrative demands of his writing rises to a level of considerable artifice. Other writers invent; Knausgaard remembers. His raw materials are more authentic (maybe), but the products they create no less artful.
And there it is, Knausgaard's literary method: not lying, just selective editing. If we can believe Eugenides . . .


Sunday, April 26, 2015

NYT's "By the Book" asks Olen Steinhauer: "What books are on your night stand?"

Olen Steinhauer
Illustration by Jillian Tamaki

I had some contact a few years ago with Mr. Steinhauer. I had just discovered his blog and his books and had started reading them - spy novels, they were - and I was much taken by them, so much so that I posted a few reviews on my blog, such as this one.

Anyway, I was curious to see what he has on his night stand (whatever a "night stand" is, as I just realized I don't know . . . okay, I do now):
David Mitchell's "Ghostwritten"
Among other books . . . Interesting, since I'm currently reading Mitchell's most recent novel The Bone Clocks: A Novel.

More on that another time . . .

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Merging the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea?

Kim Hoo-ran writes in her article "Market principle, culture don't mix" (Korea Herald, April 23, 2015) on an issue "of grave concern":
[T]he Ministry of Strategy and Finance is considering the merger of the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea as part of its effort to promote efficiency in government-funded organizations.
This doesn't sound good for my wife and me since we translate on grants from the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, but like Ms. Kim, I'm conflicted:
As a taxpayer, I appreciate the government's attempt to reduce wasteful spending. However, what constitutes "wasteful spending" is debatable when it comes to cultural endeavors as results are not always immediate and not always tangible.
True enough, but I think we need a stronger argument than "not always tangible." Maybe this:
Training professional translators is a . . . key function of LTI Korea. The institute's Translation Academy is the boot camp for foreigners learning to translate Korean literature into their respective languages. Currently there are fewer than 20 professional translators working from Korean to their native languages. Even in English, there are less than a handful of professional translators . . . . Translators are not created overnight. They normally devote a year or two to practicing their craft and . . . only after three years or so . . . are [they] considered to have acquired the necessary skills . . . [to] debut as a translator. LTI Korea has sown the seeds with its Translation Academy, but needs to continue to nurture the translators by providing them with work since there is yet little commercial demand for Korean literature in translation. A long-time translator of Korean poems warned that without the institute, the number of translated Korean literature works published globally would drop to almost zero.
That's more of an argument, I suggest, but what do this blog's readers think?


Friday, April 24, 2015

Gary Gutting reviews Michael Ruse's Atheism

In an article titled "Michael Ruse's Kinder, Gentler Atheism" (Commonweal Magazine, April 18, 2015), Gary Gutting (holder of the Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Philosophy) reviews Ruse's book Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know, and one passage by Gutting particularly struck me as an interesting twist on the problem of evil:
Consider, for example, the atheistic argument from evil, widely regarded as the main threat to theism . . . . On a purely logical level, . . . it is . . . tractable. Those with lively intellectual imaginations can readily construct non-contradictory scenarios in which even an all-good and all-powerful God has reason to allow virtually any amount of evil. The trick is to cite sufficiently high levels of good that logically require great but lesser levels of evil, . . . human wrongdoing, for example, as a condition for free will . . . . The standard scenarios showing the compatibility of God and evil ultimately appeal to God's knowledge of relevant factors to which we have no access. Given what we know, . . . [the possibility] that God would permit the horrors of warfare for the sake of respecting human freedom or of some other compensating goods [makes no sense]. But what is paltry human knowledge in comparison with divine omniscience? This unbridgeable gap between God and humans is the ultimate trump card against the problem of evil . . . . [However,] a successful defense can lead to a more serious threat. There may be an all-good, all-powerful God; but the promise of Christianity is that . . . God will ensure our salvation, however this is understood. But the solution to the problem of evil shows that God, for reasons unfathomable to us, may be prepared to accept enormous evils in some parts of creation for the sake of the final good of the whole. How, given the gap between our knowledge and God's, can we be assured that God might not need to allow our loss of ultimate happiness for the sake of some higher good . . . [such as] the soul-making of a vastly superior alien race [in contrast to whom, we are expendable]?
This is an interesting argument by Gutting, for it takes the logical solution offered for the fact of evil, namely, that God in His omniscience allows evils that cannot be avoided if we are to be free moral agents who must make morally serious choices and learn from these choices in ways that improve our souls, so long as we learn to make the right choices. This argument normally makes the assumption that our own souls are the souls that God is interested in saving, but what if that's not the case? What if - as Gutting suggests - God is actually interested not in us but in some "vastly superior alien race," for whose sake we must suffer evils that have no soteriological significance for us in order to improve the souls of those aliens?

Rather disturbing to contemplate . . .

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Deva Hupaylo in the News: "1976 Salem graduate speaks to Salem students"

Deva Hupaylo Speaking to Salem Students
Area Wide News
Photo by A.K. Barnes

My long-time Ozark friend Deva Hupaylo is again in the news, the local news this time. Staff writer A.K. Barnes reporting for the Area Wide News, writes of her by noting that a "1976 Salem graduate speaks to Salem students" (April 15, 2015):
Salem Graduate Deva Hupaylo visited her alma mater April 8 to visit with students about her successful career with the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands. Hupaylo's organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

Hupaylo graduated first in her class in 1976. She was involved in any activity she could be. She involved herself in journalism, band, home economics, theatre, chess, . . . cheerleading and many more. "My class was very highly motivated and [as for] the things that weren't available, we asked for them," Hupaylo said. She noted that organizations such as drafting class, chess club and golf were nonexistent until her class made arrangements for these. "We took advantage of the opportunities that were available to us and asked for more sometimes," she said.

Hupaylo told students that just because they live in a small town . . . does not mean that there are not opportunities. She told them that there are plenty of opportunities if you look for them. She encouraged students to learn as much as they can while they are still young. She referred students to use a free online learning site to take online classes. The site is Coursera and it offers free online learning in endless fields of study. "My encouragement here is that you take advantage of all the opportunities that you have and if you don't see what you want, ask for it," Hupaylo said.
Deva's right that her class was highly motivated, far more so than my class was even though we were a year above hers, and Deva was the most motivated of them all. I recall her being so active that I scarcely saw her! She was very organized, however, and managed to keep everything under control.

That same skill at management has been honed to perfection in her career, and she has developed patience to match, two characteristics that have led to her success:
When asked what she is most proud of in her career Hupaylo said, "Getting the United States and Iran to agree on a decision concerning a certain aspect of the Chemical Weapons Convention. At that time the US and Iran were not agreeing on anything. So I was very happy to have gotten the US and Iran to agree on this decision. My objective when I came to this company was to be trusted by some of the significant states parties . . . not only [by] the US. I had to work very hard to gain the credibility with them. I've gotten many agreements with states parties that I have been proud of, they were possible because of the trust I earned. After a while the other parties learned I wasn't working for the U.S. I was working for everyone."

After closing, Hupaylo stayed with the seniors to encourage them to anticipate. Success has to be planned. Make a plan and take steps to accomplish your goals. "Never let someone tell you that you can't do something, not your friends or family. They don't know," she said.
I like her closing advice. I've never let anyone tell me that I can't do something, and that's a virtue that's gotten me some distance in life. My flaw is that I didn't make a plan . . .

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Christ of the Ozarks: Embracing Identity Difference?

Christ of the Ozarks
Andrea Morales for The New York Times

Gerald L.K. Smith must lie smoldering in his grave.

The Christ of the Ozarks statue in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, seemingly all-embracing, appears now to stand confronted with a dilemma, acceptance of difference in sexual identity or rejection of the same.

Why's that a dilemma?

Because of tourists.


Yes, tourists. The tourists who'll show up in the Ozark town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas . . . or who won't.

If the town promotes tolerance of difference in sexual identity - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) - in order to attract LGBT tourists, it stands to lose Christian tourists who'd otherwise arrive to watch the local Great Passion Play, Christians whose understanding of 'passion' differs profoundly from the LGBT's own view.

There's misunderstanding on both sides. An anti-LGBT ad placed in a local paper reads:
If you think tourists are going to be excited about even the possibility that their wives, daughters and girlfriends will be sharing a bathroom with a guy who decides he's 'transgender' just to have a little fun (or worse) at the ladies' expense, you don't know tourists and you don't know sex offenders.
This fear doesn't sound especially realistic to me. A sex offender wouldn't want the infamy, and genuine LGBTs would criticize anyone pretending to be transgender and pulling such a stunt "to have a little fun." But the sexual identity people also perhaps misjudge things:
At the same time, a website promoting gay tourism, Out in Eureka, has already begun incorporating . . . into its argument that the city is "the antithesis of the redneck stereotype" and a "microcosm of San Francisco." Gay travelers, it says, can feel at home along with "all manner of colorful characters, misfits, eccentrics and rugged individualists."
I doubt that Eureka Springs is equivalent to San Francisco - the latter's Gay Freedom Day Parade would never go over in the Ozarks, not even in a liberal town like Eureka! And some of those rugged individualistic men would likely punch you in the nose if you were a gay fellow trying to make a pass. But so long as the flamboyance is kept PG, there ought to be only minor problems.

I hope . . .

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Art thou of my view? If you like the what'ar . . .

Untitled (2010)
Tom Otterness
Byuksan Blooming Apartment Complex
Seoul, Korea
Photo by Hongsun Park
More Images

. . . then you really otter . . .

I'd of course heard of the renowned sculptor Tom Otterness, but didn't realize he had a public sculpture here in Seoul! There it is, above - a "what'ar" - my term for an untitled work of public art, in this case one showing a brazen couple walzing through life on a bag of gold, I imagine, and surrounded by money mysteriously attracted to them.

But what does it mean? Is it the two Koreas, united? Hope for a unified life free of worries? Together into the future, bound by the line that divides them?

Nahhh . . .

What this piece really means is . . . well, I'll leave that up to you to figure out. No reason I should do all the work!

I bring Mr. Otterness to your attention because he recently dropped by the WAH Center to meet my friend Terrance Lindall:
Tom Otterness, renowned American Sculptor, walked in the door yesterday on route to Welmon Sharlhorne's House of Love at P339 Gallery. Reception with The Artist: Saturday Apr 18, 6-9 pm. Tom invited Terrance Lindall to go along, but Terrance declined saying that like any Vampire he would melt if he left the WAH Center during the day. Terrance was thrilled to meet Tom for the first time. Terrance admires his work tremendously. Tom is an outgoing, charming individual. He was accompanied by his toy collie.

Tom's work can be seen in public places all around New York. He is represented by the foremost gallery here, Marlborough. Tom was fascinated by Terrance's Paradise Lost and bought a signed copy of the second proof of the Paradise Lost Gold Folio catalogue.
Terrance can take great pride in the fact that a fellow artist like Mr. Otterness has an interest in Terrance's work. Personally, I think that Terrance's Paradise Lost artworks reveal Terrance's artistic greatness. Here's Mr. Otterness taking a selfie of himself and Terrance:

Tom Otterness and Terrance Lindall

That an artist of Mr. Otterness's stature would want a photo of himself with Terrance shows the respect that Terrance's Paradise Lost art has won for him. Here's one visual reason why Terrance's art is gaining respect, Eve's Temptation:

A great image . . .

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Cat Scan

Cat Skinship

My wife took this photo yesterday by holding her camera directly above these two happy catnappers. When I click on the picture to enlarge it, I feel as if I'm falling into the photograph.

A couple of days ago, all three of our cats were sleeping together on this same chair. These two are called "Scat" and "Angi" - the missing one is "Goya."

Put all three together, you get "Scat, Goyangi!"

Just a little cat spam for you while I tend to proctoring tests today that I'll be grading tomorrow . . .


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Only the mediocre . . .

Jean Giraudoux

What to blog on . . . what to blog on . . . oh, I know:
"Only the mediocre are always at their best." - Jean Giraudoux
That's good enough for today.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

"I once had a girl . . .

Samuel Hahnemann
Founder of Homeopathy

. . . or should I say, she once had me."

That girl believed in homeopathic treatment for what ails you, and I went along with it for the sake of our Schweiz-o-phrenic relationship. Little good that did me in the summer of 1988, despite my best effort. I guess I ought to have made less of a good effort - a whole lot less. A miniscule amount. Or perhaps an infinitesimal amount of a bad effort! In conformity with homeopathic principles, of course.

Anyway, just thinking about that issue - namely, the best way to have dealt homeopathically with that Schweiz-o-phrenic relationship - led me to reflect on the larger issue of homeopathy itself, including its purported validity, and thus eventually to seek advice from the redoubtable Dr. H. Albertus Boli, expert on all things homeopathic. In checking out his particular views on the validity of homeopathy, I saw that he had posted a public service announcement warning about an overdose of homeopathic medicine that had left hundreds of skeptical scientists 0.000,000,000,000,000,01% dead.

Naturally, I was alarmed! In homeopathy, an underdose is an overdose, and I'd come into minimal contact with scientists in the course of my own research, and I might have unwittingly underdosed on homeopathic medicine myself and could be suffering from a non-life-threatening condition in miniscule form. I could even be one-hundredth of a millionth of a billionth dead myself! What was I to do? How could I ensure my mental health with respect to homeopathy? I suspected that utter skepticism was the best solution, but how was I to go about attaining it? Believe a tiny bit in homeopathy? Or disbelieve an enormous amount? I checked with the good doctor:
Dr. Boli, what remedy would you consider better for curing trust in homeopathy, a tiny dose of diluted fanatic belief administered once and only once or an enormous dose of skeptical arguments administered daily for several days?
Dr. Boli offered his considered advice: Distrust all of it. Just kidding. Actually, he favors infinitesimal doses of belief administered thousands upon thousands of times over the course of a single day. Well, that would certainly sicken a man on homeopathy, but I know enough math to realize that an infinitesimal is nothing at all. One such non-dose would thus surely suffice. I therefore tried it, and that one non-dose seemed to work! I let Dr. Boli know:
Thanks. I feel better already. Perhaps homeopathic cures work most effectively when not used at all!
We'll have to wait and see, of course, just to be sure, but I think I'm more objective now, having so recently refined my skepticism through that single non-dose, and I therefore conclude that the best homeopathic solution to that Schweiz-o-phrenic relationship way back in the summer of 1988 would have been a total non-dose administered the whole summer long . . .

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Friday, April 17, 2015

That Dread Time of the Year . . .

Time for Review

I'm coming up for review soon, so I was asked to offer a list of articles, stories, and poems I've published over the past academic year, and because making the list and copies of each document took so much time that I couldn't expend much remaining time on today's blog, I've decided to simply show interested readers the list:

Research Performance

Publications - Horace Jeffery Hodges, Ph.D.
2015 "The Uncanny Story," Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5, Edited by Carter Kaplan (Brookline, MA: International Authors, 2015) (Forthcoming in August).

2015 "The Peach/Apple in John Milton's Paradise Lost, Andrew Marvell's 'The Garden,' and T. S. Eliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock': Etymology and Sin," The Journal of the Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea, Volume 23, No. 2 (2015) (Coauthored with Salwa Khoddam) (Forthcoming in August).

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).
I was surprised at the number when I'd counted them up, though some were merely published in the proceedings of some conference or such, so don't be impressed by nine publications.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Lovely Cabinet Biblioteca

The Milton Cabinet Biblioteca

Artist and curator Terrance Lindall tells of a recent acquisition of a lovely Cabinet Biblioteca for the WAH Center's Milton Collection:
We finally got the right cabinet for part of the Milton Collection, donated by a major antiques dealer in Manhattan.
You see, there are generous benefactors, saints living among us. Lindall identifies what's on display:
Top row left to right: 1) Satanic Verses of Bienvenido Bones Banez. 2) The Lindall Gold Illuminated Paradise Lost Elephant Folio, 3) The Traveling Paradise Lost Elephant Folio.
Bottom Row Center: 17th C. Paradise Lost, Regency Traveling Desk with Milton Portrait Miniature, various silver.
Click onto the image, the better to see it, grow large your eyes before . . . then click again, and see just how to magnify it more!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The dark, grim tail . . .

A Tale Dark and Grimm
Image from Amazon

. . . of a dragon appears toward the end of this fantasy story because, well - because there's always a dragon!

"But is the dragon defeated?" you wonder. Perhaps. It is partly de-footed, which entails at least partly de-feeted. And thus at least partly defeated, too.

This story by Adam Gidwitz - or, rather, stories - weaves the tale of Hansel and Gretel into a retelling of several other classic fairy tales previously related individually by the Brothers Grimm, the strands of that weaving supplied by a bold narrator - often, by the way, interrupting the tale - who makes The End segue into a "Once upon a time" beginning. Again and again . . . until the final end.

Initially, I disliked the interruptions, but once the story got started, I came to accept this ironically editorializing voice.

And the narrator must not have been judged improper by most readers, for the book found an audience large enough for Adam Gidwitz to follow up with not just a sequel, but with two more volumes, a trilogy! I thus have two more stories of collected stories to read.

If Gidwitz fans like such intertextual stories as these Grimm ones, they ought also to like my story, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, though maybe when they get a little older . . .

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Good Whistler in the Dark . . .

David Brooks

In "The Moral Bucket List" (NYT, April 11, 2015) - a "bucket list" being a list of things to do before you "kick the bucket," (i.e., die) and a "moral" bucket list being a list of ways of being and doing that make one a better person - David Brooks tells us that around once a month, he encounters such a special person:
. . . a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I've achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral - whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
Unlike Mr. Brooks, I rarely - wife excepted - encounter such deeply good individuals. I'm not one of them, myself, either. (I'm not even one to exemplify the career virtues!) I'm more the sort who needs to fasten a reminder to the morning's shaving mirror, four simple words on a strip of paper to jog the memory by insisting, "This is the problem." I wish that fellow in the mirror weren't me, but he is me, perhaps even down to his being left-handed as reflected etymological signifier of that which is sinister in me despite my apparent dexterity. Just clumsy? I guess . . .

I'd like to be a man who deserves his eulogy - since the living tend to say only kind words about a deceased man, no matter what his real characteristics were. There's sometimes little to say.

My great uncle Tom Shell - younger brother to the grandmother who raised me - felt the calling to be a minister after retiring from his career, and though he had been an ethical man before, he became a better man afterwards in doing what he felt he should have been doing his whole life long. I asked him shortly before he passed away if he'd ever had to offer a eulogy for a man with no virtues to speak of.

He'd had one such case, he admitted, in which he'd had to ask around for people's thoughts about a scoundrel to determine if there were anything good to say about the old reprobate, and there was one good thing everybody agreed on.

The man was a "good whistler."

And that was the eulogy.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Alexandra Alter: On Julie Strauss-Gabel, Editor of Children's Books - or Should that be of Young Adults' Books?

Julie Strauss-Gabel
Photo by Josh Haner
The New York Times

I've just finished reading an article by Alexandra Alter about Julie Strauss-Gabel, editor and publisher of Dutton Children's Books, who's known for "Her Stinging Critiques [that] Propel Young Adult Best Sellers" (NYT, April 10, 2015), given that her editing almost invariably ensures critical and commercial success in the world of children's book publishing, and all that due to her rigorous standards:
"I am naturally exceedingly picky," she said. "If I'm not in love with someone's writing at the sentence level, then I'm not going to sign up the book."

Her knack for spotting and developing talent is apparent on this week's New York Times young adult best-seller list, where novels that she edited hold five of the top 10 spots. She has edited 22 New York Times best sellers . . . . Ms. Strauss-Gabel's unconventional taste and eye for idiosyncratic literary voices have helped her identify and build up some of young adult fiction's biggest breakout stars . . . . Ms. Strauss-Gabel, 42, remembers the precise moment she realized children's books could be just as sophisticated and challenging as adult literature. She was in eighth grade, already reading grown-up books, when her earth science teacher gave the class a trivia challenge for extra credit. The question - where is the East Pole? - stumped her. She learned it was in "Winnie the Pooh," and read the classic for the first time. "It was an utter revelation to me," she said. "I fell in love with the book. It's an extraordinary work of literature" . . . . Even in college, when most English majors tackle Proust and Tolstoy, Ms. Strauss-Gabel was obsessed with children's books. She took a course in children's literature and a seminar on the Brothers Grimm, and wrote her senior thesis on fairy tale tropes in young adult literature . . . . [She received] a master's degree in education from Harvard, where she took classes in comparative literature and folklore . . . . Ms. Strauss-Gabel's books are strikingly diverse, covering science fiction and dystopian worlds, psychological suspense and works of social realism. She favors realistic, contemporary fiction . . . . Sometimes she'll see potential in a manuscript that no one else will touch. Several years ago, the literary agent Sarah Burnes sent her a chapter of Mr. [Adam] Gidwitz's debut book. It had obvious problems . . . . [as] "an illustrated children's book, in which the children are decapitated by their parents," said Mr. Gidwitz . . . . But Ms. Burnes knew that Ms. Strauss-Gabel was a fan of dark fairy tales, and thought she might appreciate the book’s weirdness. When the three of them met, Ms. Strauss-Gabel said there was no market for the book but suggested that Mr. Gidwitz rewrite the story as a novel for older children. She offered to read it and give him notes, with no promise of publishing it. A year and three excruciating drafts later, she bought the book . . . . "A Tale Dark and Grimm," [which] turned into a best-selling trilogy that has more than 500,000 copies in print. It was listed as one of the best children's books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Mr. Gidwitz still remembers the pep talk Ms. Strauss-Gabel gave him before the book was published. She wasn't just hoping for a best seller; she aimed to make the book a children's classic. "She said, 'Our goal is for this book to never go out of print.'"
This dark, Grimm fairy tale sounds like one for me to read. See how effective Ms. Strauss-Gabel is? Just by reading about her, I've already fallen under her spell! I wonder if I should re-market my novella as children's literature - or more appropriately, as  young adult - and get her attention focused on my novella . . .

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Starbucks: King Konglish!

Starbucks Wet Wipe
Two Views
Photos by Hwang Sun-Ae

I thought I'd be soonest to blog on the baffling 'Konglish' you see in the two images above (click to enlarge), but two other bloggers beat me to the punch! The first is a blog by David Harbinson, a UK expat who's teaching English in Korea and blogging under the title "A new day, a new thing," and he has this to say:
Well, today, I learned that the people (maybe person) behind Starbucks Korea's Twitter account really are a helpful, friendly, multilingual bunch (individual?). It all started when I got to my regular branch today. I was hungry, so ordered a sandwich with my coffee. It came with a hand wipe, you know for cleaning your hands afterwards. But it's what was written on the outside that I found most amusing/bewildering.
Mr. Harbinson saw what I saw, the Konglish, and he set about posting a Tweet on Twitter:
I get the keeping you clean bit, but for the life of me, couldn't make any sense of the first sentence. So, I did what any social media loving person would do, and took to Twitter, with a somewhat sarcastic comment before settling down to do my work:
OK Starbucks Korea, I see words. I'm not sure what they mean, but I see them.
Within a couple of minutes, Starbucks Tweeted in response, asking Mr. Harbinson for a correction, and you can read more about that on his blog post. Let's move on to the other blog, Wandering Seouls, which another expat maintains - call her "Tierney Teacher" since the kids at her workplace do - and she has this to say:
Jumping to a totally new topic, but one that still brings me joy, a Starbucks just opened literally two blocks from our work. Talk about luck! It is as if the coffee gods heard me moaning about how there seems to be a Starbucks everywhere, except between our home and our work, and decided to take pity on me. But at first I didn't know the location was new, in fact I was walking around before class one day and just sort of stumbled upon it. I thought to myself "how have I never noticed this here before?" and concluded that it was because it is across the street from a Baskin Robbin's that has posters of Shinee in its windows, and each time I walked by I must have been so enthralled with the pictures I didn't even glance across the street to see my little slice of home . . . but then Taylor told me that the Starbucks opened on the 24th (and this picture was taken on the 25th) so I felt much less silly :] In addition, I don't know if it can be read from this photo, but the wet nap I received with my chunked pineapple reads as follows:
Everyone can use relieved as made safety. Keeping you clean!
The Konglish (Korean's version of English) is frequent and prominent here. And brings me barrels of laughs! I'll post more terrible translations as I find them. I just couldn't believe that Starbucks, a Seattle-based, American company, had such a wild mistake! Ah, the humor still brings a smile to my face even as I write about it a week later!
Konglish is definitely frequent, and often funny, but I usually ignore it. This example, however, caught my eye, mainly because I think of Starbucks as an American company. I guess it's gone native, and for the nonce, it's the King of Konglish!

By the way, just one more shot, this one by a student of mine, Kim Young Ji (김영지):

This photo was taken in the English Lounge, where I have my office hours, and those are my grubby fingers holding the badly needed wet wipe . . .

Update: There's a third website dealing with the Starbucks Konglish, but the site is in Korean, so I can't read it, and my wife is too busy this morning (getting ready for a two-day trip to Jeju), so she had no time other than just to glance at the site, and she said it looks like a grammatical analysis to determine the meaning of the 'English' on the packet, seemingly as if the statement, "Everyone can use relieved as made safety," were grammatically correct!

Perhaps one of my readers has more time and can take a closer look?

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

James Wood on "the impossibility . . . of writing a great Christian novel"

James Wood
Photograph by Jared Leeds
The Guardian

On the blog of the liberal Catholic Commonweal website, Anthony Domestico has posted an entry titled "James Wood, Religion, and the Novel," in which he notes that Wood - in a recent Guardian interview with Peter Conrad, "Literary critic James Wood: 'I'm taking a religious view of an earthly form'" (April 8, 2015) - confesses to doubts about the possibility of a great Christian novel:
I can only think of bad Christian novels, like Graham Greene's. There are mystical novels - To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway - and in The Brothers Karamazov you have something like the iconostasis in a Russian Orthodox cathedral: certain panels, like those about Father Zossima or the parable of the grand inquisitor, uphold the faith that Dostoevsky undermines elsewhere. Maybe Moby-Dick qualifies too, though at the cost of being undramatic or essayistic or poetic. Perhaps narrative is inherently secular. It corrugates things, bends them too much to stay religious, as Dostoevsky wisely feared. Among contemporaries, Marilynne Robinson comes closest in Gilead, which is about a Congregationalist pastor in Iowa who's dying - though she has to sacrifice a lot of the novel's innate comedy and dynamism on the altar of high thought. The novel is a comic form, because it's about our absurdities and failings. We’re told that Jesus wept, but never that he laughed.
As for today's Gypsy Scholar blogpost heading, which borrows Domestico's words to summarize Wood's position on the impossibility of "writing a great Christian novel," maybe there's truth to the view that writing a full-scale Christian novel isn't possible, but what about a great Christian novella? I humbly offer The Bottomless Bottle of Beer as exemplar.

Or am I once again just joking?

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Frank Stanford was "as beautiful as the sun" according to Arkansas poet Carolyn (C. D.) Wright

Frank Stanford (1973)
Photo by Ginny Stanford

My old Ozark friend and renaissance man, Pete Hale, sent me a short note alerting me to an NYT review by Sonny Figueroa of a book of collected poems by the poet Frank Stanford, who tragically ended his life in 1978 at 29:
Hi Jeff - say, you may find this interesting if you haven't already; a book of the strange and wondrous Arkie poet Frank Stanford. Leigh knew this guy, among the several pretty powerful poets that haunted U of Ark at about that time . . . . The review is good.
Pete's wife, Leigh, knew the man. I don't believe I've ever heard of him, which speaks volumes about the limits of my reading. The review says he was born in Mississippi, but he seems to have been taken deep into the bosom of Arkansas. Perhaps this is the one time when we Arkansawyers can truly without irony say, "Thank God for Mississippi!" The NYT review offers a section from his poem "Death and the Arkansas River" (1976):
Everytime death gets a Cadillac
He wants to fight.
He wants to run the front door,
He wants cooking that will remind him of home.
If you try to forget
Death ties a string around your finger.
That somehow works . . . though my editorial instincts want me to divide "Everytime" into "Every time." The book being reviewed is What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford, and it's edited by Michael Wiegers.

It looks worth looking into . . .

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali as Heretic?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Photo by Malene Korsgaard Lauritsen

In an article titled "Ayaan Hirsi Ali's 'Heretic,'" Susan Dominus (NYT, April 1, 2015) reviews Hirsi Ali's new book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, and here are several excerpts from the Dominus article that I've bolted together:
Following the events of the Arab Spring, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes in her latest book, "Heretic," [that] she came to the conclusion that "ordinary Muslims are ready for change." Hirsi Ali has strong thoughts on what form that change should take for Muslims: a major overhaul of their religion. "Without fundamental alterations to some of Islam's core concepts," she says, "we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion" . . . . In urging Muslims to reform their religion, Hirsi Ali is far from alone. She points out that this year, the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, called out to imams, asking for "nothing less than a 'religious revolution'" in order to curb extremist violence. His standing is likely to give him more influence among Muslims than Hirsi Ali, a woman who once called the religion "a destructive, nihilistic cult of death," language that does not suggest a strong capacity for constructive criticism. But in "Heretic" she is also trying to reach non-Muslim Americans, too many of whom, she feels, champion religious tolerance while ignoring the social injustices she sees embedded in Islam . . . . Transformation cannot be complete, she writes, unless certain Islamic precepts are "repudiated and nullified," including "Mohammed's semidivine and infallible status along with the literalist reading of the Quran" . . . [S]he also wants Muslims to nullify "Shariah, the body of legislation derived from the Quran, the Hadith and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence" . . . . She wants to ensure that secular law is prized above Shariah . . . . And her interest in changing the perception of Muhammad is recast as the desire to see the Quran more open to interpretation and discussion among Muslims . . . . "Let me make my point in the simplest possible terms," she writes early on. "Islam is not a religion of peace" . . . . Hirsi Ali [says] . . . , pointing to the prevalence of militant passages in the Quran and arguing that jihad is not "a problem of poverty, insufficient education or any other social precondition," but rather a "religious obligation" . . . . She tries to warn Americans about their naïveté in the face of encroaching Islamic influences, maintaining that officials and journalists, out of cultural sensitivity, sometimes play down the honor killings that occur in the West . . . . Unquestionably, Hirsi Ali poses challenging questions about whether American liberals should be fighting harder for the rights of Muslim women in countries where they are oppressed, and she is fearless in using shock tactics to jump-start a conversation. Blasphemy is an essential part of any religious reform, she argues, and defends her right to speak bluntly. "I have taken an enormous risk by answering the call for self-reflection," Hirsi Ali has said, in response to critics who find her tone abrasive. "I have been convinced more than ever that I must say it in my way only and have my criticism."
Dominus goes easy on Hirsi Ali, but doesn't hide strong doubt that a 'heretic' from Islam will have little pull among the believers. I might also point out that, despite the title to her book, Hirsi Ali is no heretic, but rather an apostate. The latter is one who has left a religion; the former remains within the fold but adopts unorthodox views.

Hirsi Ali knows her (former) religion better than I know it, so I'd undoubtedly benefit from reading her book, and I suspect that people like me - concerned non-Muslims - are her likeliest readers.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Tina Magaard on Islam: Asking for It?

Tina Magaard

A Danish linguist named Tina Magaard has spent three years researching Islam's most basic texts, comparing them to other religions' texts, and concludes that "Jihadis are just following the example of Mohammed," or so reports 10NewsDenmark:
What is striking is not in itself that one can find murderous passages in the Islamic texts, as such passages can also be found in other religions. But it is striking how much space these passages takes up in the Islamic texts and how much they focus on a them-and-us-logic where infidels and apostates are characterized as dirty, rotten, criminal, hypocritical and dangerous. It it also striking how much these texts demand the reader to fight the infidels, both with the words and the sword. In many passages Mohammed plays a central role as one who encourages the use of violence, whether it comes to stonings, beheadings, acts of war or execution of critics and poets.
And she maintains that we must discuss this issue with European Muslims:
[W]e must take the bull by the horns and question whether Muhammad did the right thing when he, for example, ordered his critics murdered. [This is t]he discussion we need to take with European Muslims.
I agree that discussion is needed, but with which European Muslims - perchance with the Islamists, who will say that Muhammad's example justifies their own extremism, or with the typical European Muslim, who would rather ignore the issue of violence in Islam?

I'd like to ignore the issue, too, but the huge number of Islamists won't let me. Their violence forces me to pose questions, which may mean that I'm just asking for it . . .

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Al-Tunisi's informs France: 'Your Women And Children Will Be Sold By Us In The Markets'


According to a Memri Report for March 30, 2015, "Issue VIII Of 'Dabiq' Includes [an] Interview With [the] Assassin Of [the] Tunisian MP [Mohammad Brahmi, killed in July 2013 by Al-Tunisi], Who Urges Muslims In France To Emulate Terrorist Attacks In Europe, Threatens [the French]: 'Your Women And Children Will Be Sold By Us In The Markets':
On March 30, 2015, the Islamic State (ISIS) published the eighth issue of its English-language magazine Dabiq. The issue features an interview with Abu Muqatil Al-Tunisi, the assassin of Tunisian PM Mohammad Brahmi, who was killed in July 2013 . . . . Al-Tunisi also addresses Muslims in France, calling upon them to fight the enemies of Allah and to emulate other terrorist attacks that were committed in Europe. "I call them to follow the method of the brothers who executed operations in Europe . . . . Do not look for specific targets. Kill anybody. All the kuffar [i.e., unbelievers, non-Muslims] over there are targeted." Al-Tunisi further warns the unbelievers in France that ISIS is getting closer to France (namely after it established itself in Libya): "Soon, by Allah's permission, you will see the banner of 'la Ilaha Illallah' fluttering over the Elysee Palace. The Islamic State is close now. Between us and you is the sea . . . The march is advancing towards you. And inshallah, your women and children will be sold by us in the markets of the Islamic State."
The Islamist threats grow ever more bloodthirsty and depraved, almost enough to convince me of reprobation, the state of those so sunken in evil that they are beyond hope, having long ago crossed the event horizen of evil's massively attractive force.

But we can hope that Al-Tunisi and his troops follow through on one threat: "Between us and you is the sea . . . [Our] march is advancing towards you." Good, they can keep right on marching, straight down into the sea. Let's see if Al-Tunisi can part its waters . . .

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Steve Negus Reports on the Islamic State

Islamic State Jihadists in Tikrit
New York Times

Steve Negus provides a useful review of three recent books on the Islamic State in his article "'ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,' and More" (New York Times, April 1, 2015), but I'll just quote a couple of passages that I deem important. Consider this:
A masked militant with a drawn knife, preparing to slaughter a helpless captive: This is how the group that was to become the Islamic State, more commonly known as ISIS, grabbed the world's attention in 2004. The Islamic State has renamed and reinvented itself many times since then, but it still makes such scenes a staple of its propaganda.

"One who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, deterrence and massacring," Abu Bakr Naji wrote in "The Management of Savagery," the group's key theoretical work.
I know about Abu Bakr Naji and his magnum opus, The Management of Savagery, and I've occasionally posted on it on this blog. Basically, the book is a guide for "manufactured heroism" - jihadis create chaos, then make relentless effort to provide stability and services aimed at creating grateful dependency among those who've survived the chaos. Negus comments on this strategy:
The phrase "management of savagery," which could be read as how to exploit terror, actually refers to something else: how to break down "apostate" regimes so that Muslim regions fall into a state of "savagery," and then build a new order on top. The cruelty and the willingness to make enemies are necessary elements in both the breaking down and the building up, but they are only part of the equation.

[Jessica] Stern, a lecturer on terrorism at Harvard, and [J. M.] Berger, a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution, dissect the Islamic State's messaging in some detail, showing how the cruelty is aimed at recruiting a very specific demographic, "angry, maladjusted young men" attracted to a total war against unbelief. The Islamic State also chooses its foes and battles so that it appears to be fulfilling Islamic End Times prophecies. Only a tiny percentage of the world's Muslims may be receptive to such a message, but the Islamic State's social media tactics reach so large an audience that the payoff is huge: Nearly 20,000 foreign volunteers have come to join jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, according to one study cited by Stern and Berger.
Read that last paragraph in conjunction with Graeme Wood's report on the Islamic State, a long article that I've previously blogged on, and consider the size of Islam, perhaps a billion and a half individuals. Even if only five percent of that number are drawn by the Islamic State's brutality, that's 75 million radicals willing to fight for the Islamic State. But perhaps that's too pessimistic - maybe only one percent are radicals. Perhaps there are only fifteen million radicals. And at a half percent? At a half percent, there are only seven million and five hundred thousand radicals.

I say "only" in ironic jest, for 7.5 million radicalized young men constitutes a force to be reckoned with.


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Mary Norris: One of three "specialist copy editors" at The New Yorker . . .

Mary Norris
The New Yorker

. . . a lady after my own editorial heart!
Ms. Norris looks not only for errors that have slipped through the many layers of security, but also for subtle dissonances in sense and style - words that are slightly off, imprecise or muddy phrases, anachronistic colloquialisms, technically correct commas that might make a sentence sound better if omitted, or vice versa.

"It's like those mechanics that only work on cars that go 200 miles an hour," said David Remnick, The New Yorker's editor. "They can see every little precise thing that can go wrong that might get you killed."
I'd prefer Remnick had said, "She's like those mechanics who work only on cars that go 200 miles an hour . . . . They can see every precise little thing that can go wrong that might get you killed." Just four minor changes, and those two sentences sound better to me, though I'm not quite sure about the word "precise." Anyway, let's read on:
You might think this sort of person would be prissy, persnickety, overly regimented, or whatever fits your image of an annoying pedant wielding a red pencil or, in this case, a microscopically fine-toothed comb. On the contrary. Ms. Norris, who has a dirty laugh that evokes late nights and Scotch, is more like the worldly aunt who pulls you aside at Thanksgiving and whispers that it is all right to occasionally flout the rules.

Take the comma. The New Yorker is fond of commas. "We get a lot of letters from people who think we use too many commas," Ms. Norris said. In the book she uses an example of what she calls "a discretionary comma" in the following sentence: "It gives starch to the prose, and can be very effective."

In such cases, "I always think: 'The writer likes that comma. That comma is doing something,'" she said. "And sometimes I take it out, and sometimes I leave it in." (Sarah Lyall, "Mary Norris Muses on a Lifetime of Literary Vigilance in 'Between You and Me,'" The New York Times, March 31, 2015)
That's exactly what I do, namely, sometimes take the comma out and sometimes put it back in . . . like Oscar Wilde! My friend Kevin Kim detests this use of the comma:
An error, spotted in this awesome article on a revolutionary new 3D-printing device:

To save your life, a surgeon will first insert a tube, and carefully guide it through the clog.

If you guessed that the error was the second comma, you'd be right. The rule is: don't use a comma in a compound predicate. Some people blithely believe you can put a comma just about anywhere because "a comma marks a pause," which is an odious - and often erroneous - intuition, given its dangerous fuzziness (as when people alter sentences because something "doesn't sound right"). (Kevin Kim, "la faute," March 19, 2015)
This is one of those few cases where I part from Kevin, and allow what I call a stylistic comma (Ms. Norris's discretionary one), whereas Kevin - clad in his rock-ribbed armor of grammatical rectitude and armed with his double-edged sword of regulation that penetrates even to the dividing of shoe sole from street spit - never allows such a comma. I, however, want the freedom to judge if my sentence requires a comma, or not! Such such is important to me. I don't know exactly why.

By the way, I'm tempted to add a couple of commas in one of Ms. Norris's remarks. To wit: "And sometimes, I take it out, and sometimes, I leave it in." But that seems excessive - too many commas. Maybe reconstruct the remark? "And I sometimes take it out, and I sometimes leave it in." Hmm . . . not quite there. Perhaps: "I sometimes take it out, and I sometimes leave it in." Better, but not quite. Let's try this: "I sometimes take it out and sometimes leave it in." Almost, but no cigar. How about: "I sometimes take it out, and sometimes leave it in." That's it, precisely!

Kevin? Your thoughts?

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Some Statistics on Religious Growth and Decline

Statistics on Religion
Christianity Today

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra tells us that "Here's the Best Prediction Yet of How Christianity and Islam Will Change Worldwide by 2050" (Christianity Today, April 2, 2015):
Christianity will gain three times more converts than any other world religion in the coming decades. Yet it will also lose 11 times more members than any other. If fertility rates, the size of youth populations, and rates of religion switching remain the same, Christianity will still be the largest religion in the world in 2050, according to a detailed report released today by the Pew Research Center.

But Islam will be gaining fast, nearly neck-and-neck with Christianity "possibly for the first time in history," and potentially eclipsing Christianity after 2070. The numbers are the "first formal demographic projections using data on age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching for multiple religious groups around the world," said Pew.
But this isn't counting China and India:
Since there is a lack of reliable data in China and India regarding conversions, Pew doesn't include it, CSGC [Center for the Study of Global Christianity] stated. But that doesn't mean the conversions aren't happening.

"On-the-ground contacts in China and India consistently report that Christianity is growing due to conversions, and many of these Christians are organized in 'underground' or secret communities," CSGC said. That explains why CSGC's projection for the number of Christians in both China and India in 2050 is 330 million, compared to Pew’s projection of 108 million.
That makes quite a difference. Read the article.

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Friday, April 03, 2015

"Joseon royal seal return[s] home"?

Royal Seal?

According to a Yonhap report in the Korea Herald (April 1, 2015), a "Joseon royal seal [has] return[ed] home" to Korea:
A 15th-century royal seal of Korea has returned home from the Seattle Art Museum in the U.S., where it had been kept since 1963, Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration said Wednesday. The royal seal of Deokjong (1438-1457), a crown prince of the Joseon Dynasty, is believed to have been taken out of the country by U.S. military personnel during or after the Korean War.
Well, this may have been an April Fool's joke when first posted, but by April 3, no wolf in sheep's clothing is going to get up early enough in the morning to pull the wool over my eyes and get a jump on me! I can see plain as day with one eye behind my back - and the other squinting through a blindfold - that this creature is no seal - it's clearly a tortoise!

Some people might not immediately catch on, but a lad like me grew up among millions of these land turtles back home in the Ozarks, so if the voice of the turtle was ever heard in any land, it was heard in ours, not that I ever heard it. Our turtles are not the coo-coo kind . . .


Thursday, April 02, 2015

President Obama and the Failure of Area Studies?

Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin doesn't have the most positive opinion on area studies in "What Does [the] Current Morass Say About Middle East Studies?" (Commentary, March 30, 2015):
The Middle East is in chaos . . . [and] President Barack Obama and his team of advisors have effectively thrown fuel on the fire . . . [H]istorians will likely be . . . critical of Obama's decisions . . . and the[ir] impact . . . on countries like Syria, Libya, Yemen, Turkey, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Egypt . . . [On] paper, Obama might be expected to be the most international president, . . . [but in] the Middle East, he had little practical background. His introduction to the region appears to have occurred in American universities, . . . [perhaps] directly in Middle East Studies courses, . . . [or] through his friendship and close association with Middle East Studies luminaries like Rashid Khalidi and perhaps Edward Said . . . [If only he had known the scholarly work of] Martin Kramer, . . . [who published] in 2001 one of the best researched, [most] careful, and [most] damning assessments of Middle Eastern Studies, in which he traced the inverse relationship between its polemics and [its] relevance. Much of this [irrelevance] can be traced back to Edward Said. Said, is of course, famous for penning Orientalism, perhaps the most influential book in Middle East Studies in the last half century. Few people who cite Orientalism . . . have ever read it. If they had, they would readily see the emperor had no clothes, for Said's essay is so full of errors of both fact and logic as to suggest scholarly incompetence if not academic fraud. Quite simply, the reason why Said is so popular on campus today is because his argument became a blessing to prioritize polemic and politics above fact and scholarly rigor. For Said, . . . power was original sin.

Rashid Khalidi, a close friend of Obama from their mutual University of Chicago days, now holds a chair named in Said's honor at Columbia University. He has consistently argued that politicians and diplomats do not listen to those like himself who claim expertise in the Middle East . . . Khalidi, as with many others in his field, . . . sought to prioritize and amplify the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. At the same time, he appears obsessed with post-colonial theory. American power is corrosive, and the road to Middle East peace runs through Jerusalem. Likewise, cultural equivalence predominates: what the West calls terrorism is not so black and white. Hateful ideologies? They are simply the result of grievance. [If it is truly committed to peace,] America should apologize and understand and accommodate to the position of the other . . . Obama entered office . . . [with] such beliefs. Rather than act as leader of the free world, he approached the Middle East as a zoning commissioner, . . . dispensing with decades of accumulated wisdom and experience of predecessors both Democrat and Republican. Rather than jump start the peace process, Obama succeeded in setting it back decades.

[As for] the U.S. military, . . . [one finds] few places with less trust and understanding than the university campus . . . [F]ew professors or students have any experience . . . with the military. The U.S. military is treated in an almost cartoonish, condescending fashion. Rather than see its projection as the enabler of peace, Obama . . . saw it as an arrow in the U.S. policy quiver with which past American presidents engaged in wars of choice and unjust gunboat diplomacy. [America's s]overeignty and [its] nationalism were enablers of evil . . . [T]he United Nations and other multilateral institutions . . . held the key to peace and justice, if only they might operate unimpeded by the United States . . . [W]hen put to the test, these assumptions failed completely. Obama's promise to withdraw from Iraq did not win that country peace and stability, but condemned it to a return to terror and war. His failure to intervene in Syria early [enough] transferred a situation that might have been resolved with minimum force into a cancer . . . spread[ing] throughout the region. His outreach to Iran has shaken decades-long alliances with Arab allies to the core, and broken a trust in the United States and its red lines which will take decades to restore. Never before . . . has the Middle East been so torn asunder . . . And yet, all Obama did was follow the prescriptions taught at so many American universities today: reconcile with Iran, condemn Israel, rationalize terror, trust Islamist movements, and refuse military solutions . . . Obama represents academe's first grand experiment, enabling area studies professors to see their ideas put into action on the world stage.
How does Rubin answer his own question, "What Does [the] Current Morass Say About Middle East Studies?" As we see in the third paragraph of the block quote above, the assumptions held by area studies experts on Middle Eastern problems "failed completely."

Those ideas in action thus don't look so good, but the area studies experts can always claim that their ideas weren't enacted correctly. Excuses come easily for failure these days.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Helen Altman's Blackbird - "Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night"?

Blackbird (2014)
Helen Altman

Joshua Fischer, writing for Glasstire, reviews Helen Altman's exhibition Cover Your Nut in an article titled "Our Unnatural Nature that Seems so Natural" (March 29th, 2015):
Helen Altman's Cover Your Nut at Moody Gallery feels like a mini-retrospective. An eclectic mix of recent work ranging from found object sculpture, child-sized lion costumes, and wireframe birds, to incredibly precise paintings of trees, the work feels coded with personal meanings, revolving around how humans use animals to tell our own stories.

A sense of the past and childhood is overwhelmingly present in the work; many sculptures use antique, child-size objects and stuffed animals, perhaps alluding to a moment in life when the human/animal worlds are closer as a child seeks comfort in a stuffed animal.
That search for comfort likely doesn't extend to the wire Blackbird, which might even strike fear in the hearts of little ones, for there's something uncanny about this instance of "Unnatural Nature," but nightmares are also a part of childhood. Speaking of that bird, let's click on the image below to see a close-up from Moody Gallery of that same Blackbird:


A bigger bird is a better bird in this instance. There are more of these birds on Ms. Altman's website. The artist seems to have caught the essence of each bird in its own personal wire cage.

"Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night" . . .

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