Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sul Gaeguri (술개구리) - Makgeolli Bar in Seoul

My friend Yang Seung-Tae and I went to the Hongdae area on Friday evening looking for the 'Sul' Frog Makgeolli Bar and trying to hit on a proper translation of "Sul" in the context of the bar's full name, "Sul Gaeguri" (술개구리).

I suggested "Drinking Frog," "Drunken Frog," even "Alcoholic Frog," but I now think that the Makgeolli Mamas and Papas nailed it: "Booze Frog"!

I hadn't especially looked forward to a makgeolli bar, even telling Seung-Tae that drinking rice beer is pushing the envelope as far as I'm concerned.

But this bar was great! We drank three different types of makgeolli to go with our conversation, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I woke up late Saturday morning, however, and had a lot of editing and apartment-cleaning to do, thus explaining why this report is so short.

For more on Booze Frog, go to Makgeolli Mamas and Papas, from whom I borrowed the picture above, for that's the terrace table where Seung-Tae and I sat.

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Turing-Tested Audience?

In the Catholic magazine Commonweal, Richard Alleva's review, "Robomance: Deception and Attraction in 'Ex Machina'" (May 28, 2015), hints that we - the audience - are the subjects of a Turing test, and that we are fooled by the robot Ava as fully as the protagonist Caleb is fooled, exactly as the robot-maker, Nathan, intended:
Ava passes the test all too well. Caleb becomes infatuated with her and joins her plot to free herself from Nathan's control. It turns out that this very rebellion was anticipated by Nathan and is part of his secret plan. But Caleb anticipates Nathan's anticipation. In Ex Machina one deception always operates within the framework of a larger deception. The final, all-encompassing trick is played on the audience's sympathies by writer-director Alex Garland. Right up to the conclusion, the fetching Ava seems to perform the role of maiden-in-distress, and Caleb, weedy nerd though he is, seems to be the knight who will rescue her from Nathan. But there's a catch. While Nathan may be an insensitive manipulator, he never lets go of one vital fact: Ava is a machine. By contrast, Caleb's gallantry blinds the audience to his monumental folly: he's become dazzled by sheer surface. So we are pulled up short in the final scenes by the recognition that we’ve been rooting for a self-deceiving fool.
See? I told you that the movie is one big Turing test that most of us fail . . .

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Always someone scheming to be a parasite!

A website whose name is seemingly rendered "ectechnano" but whose ostensible name is "Free Download Ebook Pdf: Free Register And Read Online" - which is an odd name, but there it is - purports to offer my book for free.

I somehow doubt that it's really for free. Whatever the site is up to, the folks running it are very, very touchy:
DMCA Policy

We are in compliance with 17 U.S.C. § 512 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"). It is our policy to respond to any infringement notices and take appropriate actions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") and other applicable intellectual property laws.

If your copyrighted material has been posted this site or if links to your copyrighted material are returned through our search engine and you want this material removed, you must provide a written communication that details the information listed in the following section. Please be aware that you will be liable for damages (including costs and attorneys' fees) if you misrepresent information listed on our site that is infringing on your copyrights. We suggest that you first contact an attorney for legal assistance on this matter.

The following elements must be included in your copyright infringement claim:
-Provide evidence of the authorized person to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

-Provide sufficient contact information so that we may contact you. You must also include a valid email address.

-You must identify in sufficient detail the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed and including at least one search term under which the material appears in this site' search results.

-A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

-A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

-Must be signed by the authorized person to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly being infringed.
Send the written infringement notice to the following address and an email notifcation to CONTACT US

Note: Post mail is not accepted, send email instead. Don't send PDF or Scanned PDF, we filtered all attachments.

Please allow 1-2 business days for an email response. Note that emailing your complaint to other parties such as our Internet Service Provider will not expedite your request and may result in a delayed response due the complaint not properly being filed.
Rather cheeky of them! Whether they're selling my book or merely offering it for free, they're clearly infringing my copyright (and a lot of other authors' copyrights). They know this, so they're bluffing through 'legalese' with a hostile undertone marked by threat of countersuit.

Of course, my charge of "infringement" assumes that 'ectechnano' is really offering my book. If one looks carefully at the website, however, one sees that they've borrowed material from my book's Amazon webpage, so they might just be offering the free preview allowed by Amazon. If so, they're likely infringing on Amazon's rights.

I doubt that they're having much success - probably haven't sold a single copy even if that's their intention - but I don't intend to find out. That's too much trouble.

I'm not even going to link to the site. If you want a legitimate copy of my very inexpensive ebook, go to Amazon.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Paul Johnston on Azar Nafisi's Sense of the American Literary Canon

Huck Giving Old Man River a Good Paddling

In an article "The Republic of Imagination," written for the Catholic journal Commonweal (May 14, 2015), Paul Johnston reviews Azar Nafisi's recent book, America in Three Books (Viking), and he begins with an anecdotal observation:
When cultural conservatives deem a book bad for young people, they often make news by demanding its removal from classrooms. When liberals deem a book offensive, its removal typically takes place out of the limelight - not before school boards, but in the graduate schools where professors teach and the academic journals where they publish. In the 1970s, many canonical books began to be rejected by the left as artifacts of the cultural hegemony of white men, and books by writers representing women, minorities, and other marginalized groups were put forward to take their place. As the midcentury archetype hailed by Lionel Trilling in 1955 as "the opposing self" came under increasing suspicion, some classic American works were criticized for exalting individualism. In Trilling's day, conformity was the province of cultural conservatives, and those who rebelled against it were celebrated by the left. But today these positions have reversed, and such figures as Emerson - author of "Self-Reliance" and mentor to America's first two hippies, Thoreau and Whitman - are anathema to many progressives, even as a rebellion against collectivist conformity, on behalf of a heroic American individualism, has become the battle cry of the right. Odd times indeed.
I was born in 1957, just two years after Trilling's expression of America's "midcentury archetype," the individualistic "opposing Self" - though in a time of cultural conformity - except for places like where I grew up, the Ozarks, which combined rugged individualism with a hardscrabble sense of community. But don't let me get off track and start monologuing! My point is that I was born early enough to learn the classic American works of literature, particularly as an undergrad, just before the Left replaced the traditional canon with works by marginalized groups, which I began to read in my spare time as a history grad student. I learned much from this transition, actually enjoyed it, but I have come to see that books are often now no longer read and critiqued on literary terms but on extra-literary ones, where literary criticism is more like social critique in which critics espouse social theory and express themselves with great confidence in their expertise on economics, political science, and sociology. What, then, should I do? Other than writing The Bottomless Bottle of Beer in defense of Western Civilization, I mean.
Enter Azar Nafisi. Niece of the Iranian poet Saeed Nafisi, she studied literature in the United States before returning to Iran in 1979, the year revolution toppled the Shah and ushered in the rule of the ayatollahs. Nafisi took a university teaching job, but when religious authorities made it impossible for her to teach literature freely, she resigned her post. Subsequently, she invited a number of young women to continue their literary study with her privately, an experience she describes in her 2003 bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran. That book explored and affirmed the importance of canonical Western writers to those living in a totalitarian society. Her new book asserts the value of canonical American literature not in another society, but right here in ours - a value that Nafisi (who moved here in 1997 and is now a citizen) fears is losing its purchase among conservatives and liberals alike. The three long sections of The Republic of Imagination deal with Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, and Carson McCullers's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - books Nafisi believes one must appreciate not only to understand America, but to be American.
Those three? As the three? Huckleberry Finn, I understand, but the other two? I've read Babbitt . . . or tried to. But The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? I've never read it because I've never been told it's great. Till now. But why is it great?
Nafisi . . . [turns] to literary appreciation intertwined with personal narrative, evoking the friendships she made while in graduate school in Oklahoma in the early 1970s. With an art student from North Carolina, the young Nafisi reflects on the particular quality of sunlight in the American South and discusses The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as an example of Southern literature. But her true interest is in the misfits who make up the novel's cast of characters.
Sunlight?! That's scarcely enough to convince me that The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is great literature! But I might read it for its misfits since I'm one myself . . .


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Misreading an Oddly Worded Teacher's Manual?

Longman Academic Reading Series 4
Reading Skills for College
Google Images

In my College English course, we're using the textbook Longman Academic Reading Series 4: Reading Skills for College (Pearson Education, 2014), by Robert F. Cohen and Judy L. Miller, and we're working through Chapter 8, "Psychology: Aggression and Violence," which takes up pages 195-220.

One exercise is on Note-Taking: Identifying the Author's Assertions and Explanations (page 209), and it concerns an article titled "Reflections on Natural History" (pages 203-204), by Stephen Jay Gould. In the exercise, we find Gould's Assertions and Gould's Explanations, and we have to fill in the blanks in the former and write down the explanations in the latter.

Number 3 states the following:
Man is a           species.
To find the answer, we turn to Gould's article, paragraph 3, which follows a passage asking if we expect a punch in the nose half the time we address a stranger. This query segues into the following denial:
No, nearly every encounter with another person is at least neutral and usually pleasant enough. Homo sapiens is a remarkably genial species. Ethnologists consider other animals relatively peaceful if they see but one or two aggressive encounters while observing an organism for, say, tens of hours. But think of how many millions of hours we can log for most people on most days without noting anything more threatening than a raised third finger once a week or so. (page 203)
The bold, blue-fonted word stands out as one of the chapter's important vocabulary words and is pretty obviously the answer to enter into the blank:
Man is a genial species.
But then comes the 'official' explanation - offered in Longman Academic Reading Series 4, Teacher's Manual, Student Book Answer Key - defending the choice of "genial" by focusing on animals:
animals are relatively peaceful, described that way despite one or two aggressive acts; hardly any aggressive acts noted after millions of hours observing humans (page 130)
I had to re-read this explanation several times before I could figure out what the manual was saying. It at first seems to be answering a question about animals, as if the assertion had been that "Animals are genial species"! That led to my reading the next line as if animals were rarely aggressive even "after millions of hours observing humans"! As though to say that if anything would drive animals to violence, this one horrific thing would, namely, "observing humans." But animals are so peace-loving that even their long-term observation of us only rarely results in aggressiveness on their part.

But the absurdity of such a reading soon led me to a correct understanding of the manual's explanation. The word "hardly" should be understood as if preceded by "ethnologists acknowledge," as in, "ethnologists acknowledge hardly any aggressive acts noted after millions of hours observing humans."

So . . . am I particularly dense, or does anyone else initially misread the 'official' explanation as I did?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pre-Mature E-Jocular-ization!

Kings County Savings Bank Building 1867
Site of Williamsburg Art and Historical Center

My friend Terrance Lindall is publicizing in advance the Paradise Lost Scholars, Artists and Collectors Weekend, October 13, 14, and 15, 2017, Celebrating the 350th Anniversary of the Publishing of Paradise Lost.

There will be a chance at publication in honor of Milton's own publication of Paradise Lost:
The WAH Center is pleased to announce that we are looking for journalistic and academic writing about Milton's Paradise Lost. We will publish these essays in a full color catalog. (Please limit your essays or articles to 1000 words max).
There is a lot more at the site, and the site will grow, so check it out - and check in from time to time to watch it grow!

Also, if you can, then send a little something to help restore the building (see above) from damage due to the elements . . .

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Animal 'Communication' across Species?

Taxidermied Robotic Northern Pygmy Owl
Jeremy Roberts for The New York Times

In an NYT article, science writer Christopher Solomon reports that "When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem to Listen" (May 18, 2015), or so he's told by Erick Greene, professor of biology at the University of Montana, who studies animal 'communication.' Professor Greene showed Mr. Solomon what happened when a 'robotic' owl was switched on and began to survey an area for prey:
Greene . . . stepped away from the stand [with the hidden robotic owl] and stood by the home's backdoor. He pressed the fob of a modified garage-door opener. The curtain dropped, unveiling a taxidermied northern pygmy owl. Its robotic head moved from side to side, as if scanning for its next meal. [At that moment, the] yard hushed, then erupted in sound. Soon birds arrived from throughout the neighborhood to ornament the branches of a hawthorn above the mobbed owl and call out yank-yank and chick-a-dee . . . . [Later at] his laboratory on campus, Dr. Greene plugged the recording of the pygmy owl fracas into a computer that he likened to an "acoustic microscope." The calls appeared as a spectrogram - essentially musical notation . . . . One call lasts only a second or three, but can have up to a dozen syllables . . . . [And size matters:] black-capped chickadees embed information about the size of predators into these calls. When faced with a high-threat raptor perched nearby, the birds not only call more frequently, they also attach more dee's to their call. [But not necessarily big size:] Raptors tend to be the biggest threat to birds nearest their own size because they can match the maneuverability of their prey. So a large goshawk might only merit a chick-a-dee-dee from a nimble chickadee, while that little pygmy owl will elicit a chick-a-dee followed by five or even 10 or 12 additional dee syllables . . . . [Moreover,] "squirrels understand 'bird-ese,' and birds understand 'squirrel-ese.'" When red squirrels hear a call announcing a dangerous raptor in the air, or they see such a raptor, they will give calls that are acoustically 'almost identical' to the birds.
I'm not sure what this adds up to so far as animal language in general is concerned, but I am surprised that squirrels mimic bird calls - and vice-versa, I suppose. This article at least shows that some sort of communication is embedded deeply in various 'lower' species, so the possibility that 'higher' species - such as dolphins, orcas, sperm whales, and elephants, not to mention various apes - might engage in relatively complex language is all the more likely.

Why, this might even support the otherwise incredible possibility that human beings can communicate intelligibly, though the preponderance of evidence is much against it.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Islamic State: 'Legitimating' sex slavery as part of "their own [lying] narrative of what Islam should be "?

Yazidi Slaves in Islamic State
Daily Mail

According to Memri (May 22, 2015) - which usually translates Islamist articles into English and summarizes them for anyone interested - issue 9 Of Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq offers an article justifying taking women as slaves: "Slave-Girls or Prostitutes," by Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah.

Umm Sumayyah says that the Islamic State (IS) is "reviving a prophetic Sunnah," or tradition about Muhammad, in taking sex slaves, and she promises that "the slave markets will be established against the will of the politically 'correct'."

The Daily Mail also reports on Umm Sumayyah's defense of sex slaves but cites a critic, Richard Brennan, a political scientist at the counter-terrorism think-tank RAND, who says:
They [IS] have done an extremely good job of tainting what it is to be a Muslim. They've taken very specific verses of the Koran and used [these] . . . to create their own narrative of what Islam should be . . . . [but these verses used in this way] are lies . . . because there is no way to square these things - forcing people to be slaves and raping them - with the Koran. It's not Islamic, so they have to lie about that to make [those verses] . . . fit the narrative.
Is Brennan right? He acknowledges that the IS has cited verses from the Qur'an. He may be thinking of such verses as 23:6, which limits Muslim men from sex, "except from their spouses or their slave women, for then they are not blameworthy." Or 70:29-30, which warns believers to "guard their private parts except from their spouses and their slave women, for then they are not blameworthy."

We also read in the Hadith of Muslims having sex with captured women:
Sahih Muslim 3371:

Abu Sirma said to Abu Sa'id al Khadri (Allah he pleased with him): O Abu Sa'id, did you hear Allah's Messenger (May peace be upon him) mentioning al-'azl [coitus interruptus]? He said: Yes, and added: We went out with Allah's Messenger (May peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi'l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing 'azl (Withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah's Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah's Messenger (May peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it [i.e., coitus interruptus], for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.
Similar reports are found in Sahih al-Bukhari 4138 and Sahih Muslim 3384. I could track down more sources if I tried, but I don't have time to spare.

At a minimum, though, one has to admit that Muslims of Muhammad's time took women captured in battle and used them for sex with Muhammad's tacit consent, if we can believe the hadith. At any rate, this report doesn't need much twisting to "fit the narrative."

Whether later rulings of sharia placed restrictions on the practice of taking sex slaves, I don't know.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Terminator Machines?

The Star Online

In my Rhetoric and Composition course, we're currently reading about Japanese robots as a possible solution to Japan's demographic problem, its low birthrate, but the article is about five years old and therefore out of date in such a fast-moving field, so I was gratified to see this recent article on Japanese robots: June H. L. Wong's "When humans need not apply" (The Star Online, May 20, 2015):
Robotics is now the biggest thing since the Internet. Japan, described as the world's most robot-savvy nation, wants to lead the charge. Last Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched the Robot Revolution Initiative, partnering with the private sector . . . . The Japanese are, admittedly, rather unusual in their ready acceptance of humanoid robots in their midst but I don't think other people are that far behind . . . . Like the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago, the robot revolution is bringing about great changes but perhaps with unimaginable consequences . . . . [for] the human mind be replaced by the mechanical mind in many jobs . . . . Yuji Honkawa, a 47-year-old equities trader at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, lost his job after 20 years because automated traders could file orders much faster than him . . . . If I thought my profession was safe, I was wrong. There are robot journalists too. According to the Humans Need Not Apply video, bots can write about anything. One company claims its artificial intelligence platform can create "narratives that rival your best analyst or writer, produced at a scale, speed and quality only possible with automation" . . . . [H]umankind could well face its worst enemy in 14 years. That is the predicted date - 2029 - when artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence and achieves "the singularity", the point when men and machines converge, with machines ultimately taking over . . . . Which company is most single-minded in pursuing this singularity? The answer is Google, which The Guardian has described as "assembling the greatest artificial intelligence laboratory on Earth" . . . . Google’s near dominance of almost every facet of our digital lives from ground up to sky down has spooked many who have likened it to The Terminator's Skynet, the military artificial intelligence system spread out over millions of computer servers that became self-aware and wanted to kill and enslave humans. Don't believe me? Just Google it!
Well, that'll certainly solve everyone's demographic problem. A final solution.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Another positive review of my Bottomless Bottle of Beer novella . . .

Fellow fantasy writer Mark Russell liked The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, awarding five stars and adding:
A smart, fun fantasy novella, full of literary allusions, puns, and deep thoughts. Hodges combines a bunch of fun tropes (Faust, Milton, Daniel Webster and many more) in a light-hearted, thoughtful adventure. If you like Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, you're probably going to quite enjoy this story.
He alerted me via email to his review and added these words:
It was a fun read . . . . A nice balance of fun and smart, and it went in a couple of directions I did not expect.
Great to hear that. I wonder what the unexpected directions were . . .

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Don't try this if you're not a bird . . .

Dean Potter
Jim Hurst for The New York Times

. . . unless you're batsh*t crazy! Writing for the NYT, John Branch reports that "Dean Potter, Extreme Climber, Dies in BASE-Jumping Accident at Yosemite" (May 17, 2015), along with a friend of Potter:
Potter, 43, and the other man, Graham Hunt, 29, leapt near dusk off Taft Point, a promontory about 3,000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, not far from the iconic granite masses of El Capitan and Half Dome. Flying in wingsuits, they tried to clear a notch in the granite cliffs but instead smashed into the rocks in quick succession.
Even if you are batsh*t crazy, don't try it. You don't have wings. Unlike a real bat  . . .


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Islamic Reformation? No and Yes . . .

Martin Luther Burning Papal Bull with 41 Theses Against Him
Artwork by Friedrich Martersteig
Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, "Why Islam doesn't need a reformation," by Mehdi Hasan and published in the Guardian very recently (May 17, 2015). Hasan points to Aayan Hirsi Ali's call for a Islamic Reformation and asks if we really want the same kind of religious violence that resulted afterwards as Christianity tore itself apart. I agree with Hasan. We don't want that. Moreover, Islam has already had its Protestant-type 'Reformation' - in the movement led by Ibn Abdul Wahhab:
The truth is that Islam has already had its own reformation of sorts, in the sense of a stripping of cultural accretions and a process of supposed "purification". And it didn't produce a tolerant, pluralistic, multifaith utopia, a Scandinavia-on-the-Euphrates. Instead, it produced . . . the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Wasn't reform exactly what was offered to the masses of the Hijaz by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the mid-18th century itinerant preacher who allied with the House of Saud? He offered an austere Islam cleansed of what he believed to be innovations, which eschewed centuries of mainstream scholarship and commentary, and rejected the authority of the traditional ulema, or religious authorities.
Hasan is exactly right - that Islamic reform contributed to the Islamist mess we're in today. That's why I usually say I'm for Muslim reform, not an Islamic Reformation. I'm not sure about all of these following remarks by Hasan, however:
Don't get me wrong. Reforms are of course needed across the crisis-ridden Muslim-majority world: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. Muslims need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect - embodied in, say, the Prophet's letter to the monks of St Catherine's monastery, or the "convivencia" (or co-existence) of medieval Muslim Spain.
The letter might be useful, though of limited use, and I've read that the "convivencia" in Spain was not quite so ideal as often believed. That Spanish era has been subject to selective memory. Moreover, all those centuries of mainstream commentary were not so good for non-Muslims living under the yoke of Islam.

I think what we need - in addition to fighting Islamism on the literal battlefield - is an intellectual fight, one drawing on Western principles and critical scholarship of the sort that Christianity and Judaism have had to deal with.

Islam needs Qur'anic criticism - and criticism of the Hadith and Sira. We might not be able to reform Islam - outsiders that we are - but we can put up an intellectual shield to protect our Western way of thinking, speaking, and living.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Another Teacher Appreciation Day Card from a Student

Floral Thank You Card
Dolce Press

Another student has given me a Teacher's Day card, similar to the one above, and she wrote:
To Professor H. J. Hodges

Happy Teacher's Appreciation Day!

It is a joy to be in your class this semester. I am learning a lot on various topics and developing my writing skills as well. Thank you for making the class enjoyable, especially through discussions.

P.S. Hope you'll enjoy the chocolate.

[Student's Name Redacted]
I did indeed enjoy the chocolate. So did my wife. Maybe I should treat this class to coffee . . .


Monday, May 18, 2015

Westerners Disbelieving the Jihadists

Muhammad on a Camel and Jesus on a Donkey
Jesus Ahead by A Head

I recently mentioned a conference held on May 3-4, 2015 at Boston University (BU) on "Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad," and one of the readers of my blog sent me a link to a report on that conference by one of the participants, Timothy R. Furnish, "Talking Honestly About Islamic Hate Speech" (History News Network, May 9, 2015). Among other things, Furnish cited Dr. Jeffrey Bale, who described a tendency among Westerners to disbelieve jihadists:
Dr. Jeffrey Bale, of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, . . . . focused on the phenomenon of "mirror imaging" among Westerners - the tendency to assume that the other "thinks like me," or at least not too differently . . . . Thus, no matter how many times ISIS or al-Qa'idah or Boko Haram or the Taliban states, unequivocally, that they are waging jihad fi sabil Allah ("holy war in the path of Allah"), unbelieving Westerners try to explain it as really being motivated by political grievances, lack of jobs, or Western meddling in the Middle East.
I get some of this when I explain that the so-called "sword verses" in the Qur'an abrogate the earlier verses of peace, but some people prefer to cling to the "no compulsion in religion" verse even though it's been abrogated.

I understand them . . . I also prefer that verse, but reality tells me otherwise . . .

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Assuming Al-Baghdadi's isn't just a voice from the grave . . .

Asia News

. . . then "For Al-Baghdadi, Islam is a religion of war" (Samir Khalil Samir, Asia News, May 15, 2015), says the headline, citing the Islamic State's Caliph, Al-Baghdadi:
Islam . . . was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting. No one should believe that the war that we are waging is [merely] the war of the Islamic State. It is[, rather,] the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels.
And there I was so sure of the mantra that "Islam is a religion of peace" and thus fully assured that all those terrorist attacks by Islamists were utter misunderstandings of an entirely peaceful Islam. Good to have that point cleared up! I reckon Jeffrey Tayler must be right, after all, that "This is not a battle we have chosen; the battle has chosen us."

The Caliph Al-Baghdadi, of all Muslims, ought to know what he's talking about, right?

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Teacher's Day Card!

Teacher's Day
Hoover Web Design

One of my students gave me a card for Teacher's Day - though not the card above (offered in lieu of mine, not found online) - and wrote:
Dear Professor Hodges,

Happy Teacher's Day!

It has been more than a year since I first met you in Academic English class. Time indeed flies. I can't believe that I'm a senior now . . . . Anyway! It is usually a carnation flower, not a clover [and the original card, as already noted, is not the one above, so no clover], but I wanted to thank you and wish you good luck, so I picked this [clover] card. But I put a flower here so you wouldn't feel bad about not having a flower.

Thank you for a good discussion class that gives us opportunities to actively think and discuss. I also wanted to thank you for kindly helping me whenever I went to ask for your help on Wednesdays - it always took longer than I expected, so I felt sorry but grateful at the same time.

I hope I have no grammatical errors here, but even if I do, I hope you don't mind. I also hope you have a great day today - and Happy Teacher's Day.


[Student name redacted]
I always appreciate such cards since I'm not a recipient of dozens of such, and I like pretend that other students were also involved in selecting the cards that I do receive . . .

Thanks, student!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Jeffrey Tayler - "The left has Islam all wrong"

Jeffrey Tayler
Photo by Tatyana Shchukina
Los Angeles Review of Books

According to Jeffrey Tayler, "The left has Islam all wrong: Bill Maher, Pamela Geller and the reality progressives must face" (Salon, May 10, 2015), adding the lede, "Confusion over Islam and how to relate to it imperils free speech, without which no secular republic can survive." And he poses a question about the left's tendency to look upon Islam with indulgence:
What is it about Islam that simultaneously both motivates jihadis to kill and so many progressives to exculpate the religion, even when the killers leave no doubt about why they act? The second part of the question is easier to dispense with than the first. Progressives by nature seek common ground and believe people to be mostly rational actors - hence the desire to blame crime on social ills. Unfamiliarity with Islam's tenets also plays a role, plus, I believe, the frightening future we would seem to be facing as more and more Muslims immigrate to the West, and the world becomes increasingly integrated. Best just to talk of poverty and the like, or a few "bad apples." But to respond to the question's first part, we need to put aside our p.c. reading glasses and examine Islam's basic elements from a rationalist's perspective. Islam as a faith would not concern progressives, except that some of its adherents choose to act as parts of its dogma ordain, which, to put it mildly, violates the social contract underpinning the lives of the rest of us.
Tayler doesn't let Judaism or Christianity off lightly, either, but he saves his strongest language for Islam because . . .
. . . the Prophet Muhammad transformed the Judeo-Christian Despot on High into an even more menacing, wrathful ogre, whose gory punishments meted out to hapless souls after death fill many a Koranic verse. Shirk, or associating another being with God, is, of course, a paramount sin in Islam. Iconoclasm, or smashing asunder God's rival deities as represented in idols, was and remains a favorite pastime of Islamist totalitarians, as was tragically demonstrated by the Taliban's 2001 demolition of the awe-inspiring Buddhas of Bamiyan, or ISIS's devastation of ancient statues in Iraq. Such crimes are not perversions of Islam, but actions based on its canon and a fanatical desire to emulate its luminaries. To wit, after conquering Mecca, none other than the Prophet Muhammad (whose life Muslims hold to be exemplary) devastated the 360 idols of the Kaaba; and the Quran (Surat al-Anbiya', 21:57-58) recounts how the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Jews and Christians) broke apart idols. Monotheistic Islam and destruction, thus, go hand in hand, along with the (intolerant, divisive) proclamation that the Quran is the Final Testament, God's last word to humanity, superseding the previous (equally preposterous) "revelations" of Judaism and Christianity.
You see? I told you he was hard on Judaism and Christianity! Against Islam, he is of course harsher:
The only path to victory in this war in defense of free speech lies through courage. We cannot wimp out and blame the victims for drawing cartoons, writing novels, or making movies. We need to heed Gérard Biard, Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief, who declared, as he received the PEN award, that "They don't want us to write and draw. We must write and draw. They don't want us to think and laugh. We must think and laugh. They don't want us to debate. We must debate."
On free speech, I fully agree with Tayler. We are forced to speak out, forced to freely speak our minds:
This is not a battle we have chosen; the battle has chosen us.

It's time to fight back, and hard.
Inspiring words. A call to courage. With potentially deadly consequences . . .

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Adventures in English . . .

Un-Cowed by Destiny

In the print version of Wednesday's Korea Herald, Claire Lee's article, "Women more vulnerable to workplace bullying" (May 13, 2015), contained one great howler due to faulty software for recognizing proper syllabification in dividing one of the words at the end of a line (though I reckon two out of three ain't bad):
Among the witnesses, 61.3 per-
cent said the bullying they had
seen was "very serious." Also, 58.3
percent said they have had a cow-
orker who left work after being bul-
lied by their bosses or colleagues.
Note the nonexistent word "cow-orker"! Now, if only "bul-lied" had been divided as "bull-ied," we'd have had a truly weird couple of howlers that would - I hasten to add, but hesitate to say - have somehow fit the article's underlying theme of sexual harassment (which I take seriously, of course).

Incidentally, on my way to the book launch that I attended two days ago (May 12th), I grew confused by the lack of street signs (such that my rough, hand-drawn map was of little help), so I stopped to ask directions from a woman sheltering herself from the gusty rain at the entrance to an underground parking lot. She was very helpful, quickly locating the place by means of her smartphone and explaining how to get there. "Go straight down this street," she said, pointing at my map, "and you'll reach your destiny."

Apparently, the book launch was a more serious engagement than I had expected, but perhaps my meeting the Canadian ambassador was foreseen by that woman and holds some special significance for my life . . .


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Eric Walsh, Canadian Ambassador

Eric Walsh
The Korea Herald

I attended Mark James Russell's book launch yesterday evening, as I had announced, and met several interesting people, including the Canadian ambassador, his wife, and the lady in charge of Canada's public relations in Korea, so . . . I can't report on any of my conversations from last evening because I talked almost exclusively to those three and was sworn to secrecy, which is why I'm so reticent and this entry's so short.

If I were to give away any secrets, I could end up renditioned to the States, where I would undergo debriefing . . . and that would be embarrassing.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sudden Surge of Sales! BBB and Little Young-hee!

My BBB book has abruptly surged in sales! Three copies sold in the past couple of days! Things may have settled back down, now, but I can at least hope word of mouth is playing a role.

Speaking of books, a book launch is taking place tonight - Mark James Russell's book for children, Young-hee and the Pullocho, goes on sale, and Mr. Russell will be entertaining several of us like-minded, would-be novelists who will be congratulating him as we toast his own book on his own tab.

I can't stay out late since I have to get up early and teach two early-morning courses tomorrow . . .

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Losing My Religion - The Novel is Dead?

The essayist and novelist Tom Perrotta reviews Kate Atkinson's recent novel, A God in Ruins (NYT, May 4, 2015), and observes a decline in belief among some writers that the novel can survive late modern skepticism:
In recent years, a number of talented novelists have experienced a sudden and alarming loss of faith in their chosen literary form. David Shields thinks most novels are boring and disconnected from reality. Nicole Krauss is "sick of plot and characters and scenes and climax and resolution." Rachel Cusk has decided that conventional fiction is "fake and embarrassing." Karl Ove Knausgaard goes even further, dismissing the entire enterprise: "Fictional writing has no value."
Ms. Atkinson is not one of these apostates from the faith. Neither is Perrotta. Nor am I. One just needs to have a story to tell. The story doesn't even have to be new or original. My Bottomless Bottle of Beer story isn't new. Or original. But it's not a novel, of course, merely a novella . . .

As an undergraduate young man casting about for what to do next, I listened to one of my instructors observe that one really needs a pate full of arrogance to think that anybody would be interested in reading some story or other that we might happen to write. I did not agree. One merely needs to grow up in a storytelling culture. The listeners are already there, always ready and waiting for a narrative performance.

But I put aside storytelling in an earnest effort to learn more of the world first and signed on in this adventure called life by boarding the ship called "History," itself a form of storytelling.

Now an old man advising young men am I, and I say: Don't fear to tell stories. An audience is out there . . . waiting . . .

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bentonville, Arkansas in the News!

Bentonville, Arkansas
Photo by Beth Hall
The New York Times

One of my Ozark friends, Jay Nemec, has been keeping me alerted to the growth of Bentonville as cultural center in the Ozarks, but I'm now learning about it from the New York Times, which we Hillbillies appreciate even if the headline does read, "Bentonville, Ark., Hosts a Film Festival Without a Movie Theater" (NYT, May 5, 2015):
Despite that technical difficulty, Mr. Drinkwater, an independent film distributor, believes Bentonville is ready to host a major film festival, which he expects to grow each year. If nothing else, he has the corporate sponsors.

AMC Theatres, Coca-Cola and Walmart have joined to offer distribution on limited AMC screens and via Walmart to the winners. The festival, through its partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, is open exclusively to female and minority filmmakers, with the aim of igniting careers.

Robert DeNiro, Rosie O’Donnell, Soledad O’Brien and other A-listers are said to be attending.

Ms. Davis has visited Bentonville several times in advance of the festival, strolling the square and staying in the 21c Museum Hotel.
Well, that sounds . . . interesting. Keep at it, Bentonville, and don't let NYT headlines get you down, for at least, unlike art critic for Glasstire, Christina Rees, the NYT doesn't characterize the Bentonvillle area as exuding a "whiff of meth hillbilly"!

Maybe I'll visit the place this coming vacation . . .

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Professor Hans Jansen on Shariah's Inhumanity to 'Man,' its Unkindness to 'Mankind'

Hans Jansen
Arabic Expert

In Brussels on July 9, 2012, at an International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) conference, Professor Hans Jansen spoke on "What is Sharia, where does it come from, and why does it matter so much?" I quote generously if selectively from his talk:
The Islamic Sharia is a system of law. It is a collection of prohibitions, admonitions and commands about human behavior. The Sharia is not an internal matter that only concerns Islam and Muslims. The Sharia includes a large number of provisions about people who are not Muslims. These rules are usually prohibitions that carry severe penalties if violated. These provisions of the Sharia make life unsafe and uncertain for someone who lives under Sharia law and who is not a Muslim.
Non-Muslims thus suffer under Shariah since it is not meant to govern solely the actions of Muslims. Even more troubling, there is no democratic supervision of Shariah:
Unlike the legal systems of most modern nation states, Sharia law is not subject to democratic supervision . . . . Sharia law does not know a parliament or a government that acts as legislator, but the rules of the Sharia come into being by being agreed upon by the experts, that is, the Islamic religious leaders, the professional Muslims . . . . Religions are not democratic even if they sometimes may preach or tolerate democracy. Hence, the way in which the rules of Islamic law come into being is undemocratic. This implies that allowing the Sharia, or a part of it, to be the law of the land in a Western nation will diminish the democratic character of that nation. It means giving . . . legislative power to unelected self-appointed men, who are unknown and anonymous, who operate from far-away mosques in Pakistan or Afghanistan. In a democracy, this is not the ideal arrangement. One may have legitimate religious reasons to nevertheless prefer such an arrangement, but it entails something worse than taxation without representation; it entails legislation without representation.
Non-shariah laws in Muslim countries also generate controversy:
Islamic theology identifies Sharia law with the will of God; and Sharia specialists are the religious leaders of the Islamic community . . . . Each and every Islamic country nurtures its own equilibrium between its government and its religious specialists . . . . Nevertheless, most Islamic countries possess legal systems that are influenced by, but not identical with, traditional Sharia law. To the leaders of the radical Islamic movements this non-identity of national law and Sharia law is a permanent source of anger. The smallest discrepancy between Sharia law and the law of the land is permanent fuel to the fire of their propaganda machines since such a difference supplies proof that a human lawgiver wanted to take God's place, and attempted to improve on God's work, which is blasphemy.
Shariah is not a practical legal system:
Sharia law is not a practical system of law developed in courts. It is the product of the deliberations of scholars, and it does not spring from the practical concerns of judges, barristers, prosecutors or defenders. Consequently, Sharia law is poor on procedure. It is a theoretical, abstract system of law thought out in academies. This explains most of its weaknesses . . . . If unfamiliar new questions arise for which the Sharia has to provide an answer, Sharia specialists, at least in theory, put forward a solution that is based upon the four principles or 'roots', of the Sharia. These four principles will reemerge again and again in all discussions concerning the Sharia. They are Koran, Hadith, Analogy and Agreement . . . . Agreement or Consensus, is for all practical purposes the most important criterion. Once a consensus has emerged it becomes unnecessary to consult the other sources.
Further problems arise, namely, decisions about what is abrogated:
Theory and theology . . . attach the greatest value to the authority of the first of these four roots, to the Koran, but in practice the wording of the Koran may have to be supplemented or interpreted by the other sources, or by another passage from the Koran itself, . . . . [which leads us to] an important principle from both Sharia law and Koran interpretation. This principle, 'abrogation', naskh in Arabic, is often misunderstood. 'Abrogation' means that a verse from the Koran that was revealed early might be repealed, or 'abrogated', by a verse that came down at a later point in time. Sometimes even an element from one of the other three sources can abrogate the contents of a verse from the Koran. Muslim scholars analyze all possible cases in depth, . . . . [but the] most famous example of abrogation is of concern to anyone who is not a Muslim: the abrogation of Sura 109, a Sura from the Mecca period that preaches religious tolerance. This Sura is abrogated by later verses from Medina that command the Muslims to fight and kill the unbelievers wherever they find them . . . . This important directive plays a central role in the Sharia system. Its application has a number of unforeseen consequences. Abolishing a Sharia regulation on which agreement had been reached . . . implies that Muhammad's umma did go wrong. But according to Islam's Prophet, it did not. Hence, it is out of the question to go back on regulations once they are agreed upon. Examples of cases where this creates difficulties and embarrassment are numerous: just think of the Sharia punishments for apostasy, adultery or theft . . . . [or a] famous example of abrogation, . . . the prohibition of wine. In early verses, the Koran speaks well of wine; later verses forbid wine. But how do we know which verse comes first? This we can only know from the Muslim Sharia experts. How do they know? Well, since wine is forbidden, the verse that forbids wine must be later than the verse that praises wine.
Sounds like circular reasoning, but defenders of Islam like to talk about the flexibility of shariah:
Outsiders will suspect circularity, but to traditional Muslims this all enjoys the support of the Most High, and reconfirms that they would be at loss without the scholarship and learning of the experts who embody religious authority in Islam, . . . . [and the] friends of Islam see the alleged flexibility of Islamic law as an indication of its humane and liberal character. This, however, is a mistake. Flexible laws are not humane but dangerous, since citizens do not know for what they can be arrested and executed.
Flexibility of law is not so humane after all. But even when Islamic law is straightforward and clear on some points, Islam can be inhumane:
Islamic law, flexible as it is reported to be, is unanimous on a large number of points. Agreement, consensus, that is what the system is built upon. No important disagreements exist on the points of law that are important to whoever is not a Muslim, whatever the friends of Islam may say. Not respecting the majesty of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, is generally seen as a capital crime. If the courts or the governments do not execute the offender, spontaneous informal volunteers may feel justified to take this task upon their shoulders, whatever the cost to them personally.
But we non-Muslims can ask one hard question, namely, if the Qur'an is written in clear Arabic, as it claims to be, then why are so many commentaries necessary?
There is . . . one point of entry into the Islamic armor that sounds as pious and as Islamic as these things go. It may even be effective. The Koran unequivocally states that it is written in clear Arabic language . . . 'Well', one is bound to ask, 'Why, if this is true, do we need Koran commentaries that run into thousands of pages?' . . . . The elevated position of the Sharia in the world of Islam, we might argue, can only be understood as a belittlement of the Koran and Muhammad. Once we can make our Muslim and our dhimmi opponents see this, we may have influenced them. The question we should ask as soon as an appeal to a Sharia law book is being made is: 'What do the Muslim scribes and scholars, all of them human, none of them a prophet, know more than Muhammad and His companions knew?' . . . . The Koran brings bad news to someone who does not want to submit to Islam, but as explicit as the Sharia it is not. We may, moreover, freely criticize recently annotated and revised Sharia handbooks, nothing in our laws and customs forbids us to do so. However, criticizing an ancient holy text can easily be portrayed as uncivilized. The many contemporary Sharia handbooks are, . . .  [in contrast], fair game. Their authors are only human, men like you and me. But the writers of these Sharia books certainly claim to know more than all the prophets and archangels combined.
Another problem us non-Muslims is that our Western freedom of religion was not conceived with Islam or other non-Western religions in mind:
One of our problems with Islam is the Western understanding of freedom of religion. Most Westerners do not realize this, but religions are dissimilar. Every act that can be imagined is either prohibited or made obligatory by at least one of the hundreds of religions our planet is graced with. Hence, freedom of religion, if it means that every religion can have its way, is not possible. When my professor in my first year at the University explained this, I did not believe him, and asked whether something as innocent as drinking tap water could be the subject of a religious prohibition. He answered that he did not know of an example but at the same time he assured me that if I started looking I would find one. And right he was: Hinduism has a caste that may only drink water pulled up from a well by a clay jug.
We therefore need to change the rules concerning freedom of religion:
In Europe and America, however, the extant religions are comparatively similar, and usually somehow connected to the Bible. Hence Europeans and Americans tend to believe that there is no harm in letting a religion have its way since 'deep down all religions are the same'. This is a misunderstanding. There is nothing that is common to all religions . . . . Freedom of religion, if it means that any form of religion can have its way, is a recipe for civil war. What our wise forefathers meant when they advocated freedom of religion should be reformulated. What they meant can only have been freedom of opinion and freedom of worship. Since they were unfamiliar with religions that were essentially different, and since they tired from going to war about beliefs and forms of worship, and since they were unfamiliar with the full . . . [spectrum] of global religious variety, they formulated their convictions, however right they were, in a way that today is confusing and creates serious problems for freedom, science, justice, health and politics . . . . [Many] if not most Muslims are too humane to be willing to execute all commands the Sharia imposes. Let us help them by pointing out that that the Koran may well be the word of God – this, after all, is untestable, but that the Sharia is the work of men, even according to the teachings of Islam. To remain free from Sharia law, we may eventually have to fight, but then, freedom is not for free.
Every little bit of resistance to theocracy helps, and since Professor Hans Jansen has recently passed away, on May 5 this year, we need more people with understanding and wisdom to focus upon the challenges that Islam poses to open societies.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Cole Bunzel - Selected Passage on Jihad - From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State

Cole Bunzel
Epoch Times

In "Part I: Doctrines" of From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State, Cole Bunzel looks at the Islamic State's pursuit of both defensive and offensive jihad, though he first briefly shows just how restrictive the IS's version of Salafi Islam is:
The Islamic State's texts and speeches emphasize a number of doctrinal concepts. The most prominent of these stipulate: all Muslims must associate exclusively with fellow "true" Muslims and dissociate from anyone not fitting this narrow definition; failure to rule in accordance with God's law constitutes unbelief; fighting the Islamic State is tantamount to apostasy; all Shi'a Muslims are apostates deserving of death; and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are traitors against Islam, among many other things.(28) Importantly, the Islamic State anchors these concepts in traditional Salafi literature, and is more dogmatic about their application than al-Qaeda.

The group's approach to the doctrine of jihad also bears a distinctly Salafi imprint. Traditionally, jihadis, including those in al-Qaeda, have espoused "defensive jihad," casting their militant acts as defensive in nature.(29) They perceive the Middle East to be under attack by secular "apostate" rulers and their Western "crusader" backers. The Islamic State also advocates for "defensive jihad." As former Islamic State leader Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi once observed, "The rulers of Muslim lands are traitors, unbelievers, sinners, liars, deceivers, and criminals."(30) What is more, he said in 2007, "[we believe that] fighting them is of greater necessity than fighting the occupying crusader."(31)

The Islamic State also emphasizes the offensive form of jihad, which in the Wahhabi tradition is premised on the uprooting of shirk, idolatry, wherever it is found.(32) For example, in a 2007 speech Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi quoted a Wahhabi-trained scholar on the purpose of jihad: "The end to which fighting the unbelievers leads is no idolater (mushrik) remaining in the world."(33) In another speech, Baghdadi explicitly emphasized the importance of "offensive jihad," which he defined as "going after the apostate unbelievers by attacking [them] in their home territory, in order to make God's word most high and until there is no persecution." Consistent with Wahhabi doctrine, "persecution" is understood to mean idolatry.(34) [Bunzel, From Paper State to Caliphate, page 10]

28. See Majmū', 70–75, 15, 82, 14, 37–38, and 60.
29. The classic formulation of such defensive jihad was given by the Egyptian Muh. ammad 'Abd al-Salām Faraj (d. 1982), translated in Johannes J.G. Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat's Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (New York: MacMillan, 1986). 30. Abū 'Umar al-Baghdādī, "Wa'd Allāh," Mu’assasat al-Furqān, 22 September 2008. Transcript in Majmū', 76–82. 31. Baghdādī, "Qul innī 'alā bayyina min Rabbī," Mu’assasat al-Furqān, 13 March 2007. Transcript in Majmū', 12–16. 32. On the traditional classifications of "offensive jihad" (jihād al-t.alab) and "defensive jihad" (jihād al-daf') see Patricia Crone, God's Rule: Government and Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 297–298 and 363–373. 33. Abū ‘Umar al-Baghdādī, "Adhilla 'alā 'l-mu’minīn a'izza 'alā 'l-kāfirīn," Mu’assasat al-Furqān, 22 December 2007. Transcript in Majmū', 50–58. The scholar in question is a Mauritanian named Muh. ammad al-Amīn al-Shinqīt.ī (d. 1973). 34. Baghdādī, "Fa-ammā 'l-zabad fa-yadhhab jufā'an," Mu’assasat al-Furqān, 4 December 2007. Transcript in Majmū', 43–50. [Bunzel, From Paper State to Caliphate, page 10]
I'm glad to see this distinction between two types of warring jihad laid out so clearly, though I would add that the Islamic State's offensive jihad is in principle directed at the entire non-Muslim world as guilty of shirk, i.e., idolatry, and I would speculate that for an Islamist group as narrow as the IS, every unbeliever is by implication one of the "apostate unbelievers," for the Islamic view is that every child is born a Muslim but if raised in a non-Muslim home becomes an unbeliever, which is why Muslims refer to a convert not as a "convert," but as a "revert," for the unbeliever simply returns to an innate belief in Allah.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Dr. Boli notes that "Meanwhile, over at another web host . . ."

. . . we find "A warning about violating the terms of service" (TOS):
"If you are going to violate our TOS, please read this text until it's not too late!"
Dr. offers a humorous response that I will not attempt to equal, much less surpass, but merely echo in wondering how long - or how many times - one will need to read the TOS "before it's not too late."

Not that I really give a TOS.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Heretic - Chapter 4: Those Who Love Death: Islam's Fatal Focus on the Afterlife

I'm now looking at more articles linked to by #GenerationCaliphate, and I've just read an article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, namely, chapter 4 of her book Heretic, in which she argues that an obsession with death permeates Islam - a fear of Hell's fire, a longing for the virgins of Paradise - especially among Islamists, I presume, for we constantly hear their spokesmen insisting that they love death more than we love life, an irreconcilable difference between Islamists and us, but anyway, here's what Hirsi Ali says:
If you want to understand the completely irreconcilable difference I am talking about [between Muslims and Westerners], you need only compare two groups of people: the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, flying their hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, and the New York City firefighters running up the stairs of the burning Twin Towers, determined to save whoever they could, regardless of the risk to their own lives. The West has a tradition of risking death in the hope of saving life. Islam teaches that there is nothing so glorious as taking an infidel's life - and so much the better if the act of murder costs you your own life. (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heretic, 116-117)
This contrast by Hirsi Ali will become more clear if you read the article itself, which is found here. She explains her view that Islam is obsessed with the inevitability of death and Allah's judgement, an obsession that she claims to know not only from her own experience growing up Muslim, but also from her work with Muslim refugees in the Netherlands and her serious study of Islam's central texts after 9/11.

Anyway, take a look at what she has to say.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Generation Caliphate: Links to Articles on Islamism's Apocalyptic Vision

Let me draw your attention to a recent conference on a widely ignored factor in Islamism and Islamism's appeal among Muslims: Islam's apocalyptic dreams. Here's the announcement:
#GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

May 3-4, 2015, Boston University

Sponsored by the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston University History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

Most Westerners associate the terms apocalyptic and millennial (millenarian) with Christian beliefs about the endtime. Few even know that Muhammad began his career as an apocalyptic prophet predicting the imminent Last Judgment. And yet, for the last thirty years, a wide-ranging group of militants, both Sunni and Shi'i, both in coordination and independently, have, under the apocalyptic belief that now is the time, pursued the millennial goal of spreading Dar al Islam to the entire world. In a manner entirely in keeping with apocalyptic beliefs, but utterly counter-intuitive to outsiders, these Jihadis see the Western-driven transformation of the world as a vehicle for their millennial beliefs, or, to paraphrase Eusebius on the relationship between the Roman Empire and Christianity: Praeparatio Califatae.

The apocalyptic scenario whereby this global conquest takes place differs from active transformative (the West shall be conquered by Da'wa [summons]) to active cataclysmic (bloody conquest). Western experts have until quite recently, for a wide range of reasons, ignored this dimension of the problem. And yet, understanding the nature of global Jihad in terms of the dynamics of apocalyptic millennial groups may provide an important understanding, both to their motivations, methods, as well as their responses to the inevitable disappointments that await all such believers.
The conference is over, but this site offers links to related articles by some of the speakers, and here's a foretaste of one of the related articles, this one by Paul Berman:
Why . . . do people who are not clinically insane throw themselves into this kind of [Islamist] insanity? Why do they do so even in the world's wealthiest and most peaceful of countries? They do so because the apocalyptic dreams and the cult of hatred and murder and the yearning for death are fundamentals of modern culture. They enlist because they are unhappy, and the eschatological rebellion against everyday morality satisfies them. The Islamist idea, in its most extreme version especially, offers every solace that a mopey young person could desire. It proposes an explanation of unhappiness. It ascribes the alienation to a conspiracy. Its stipulation of Jewish evil justifies the joys of loathing and murder. It promises a radiant future. (Paul Berman, "Why Is the Islamist Death Cult So Appealing? Explaining Sayyid Qutb, Bin Laden, Djamel Beghal, Chérif Kouachi, Amedy Coulibaly, Hayat Boumeddienne, and those yet to come," Tablet, January 28, 2015)
Berman is good at drawing links back to the Western Fascism of the 1930s - hence his reference to modern culture as a source of Islamism. This claim makes more sense if you've read a bit more of Berman's books and articles, and he certainly doesn't downplay Islam's own central texts and their role in generating Islamism. But I put more emphasis upon Islam's early texts than he does.

Anyway, read the entire article to judge for yourself.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Nukain Mabuza, Outsider Artist

Nukain Mabuza
Painting a Boulder in the Mid-1970s
Credit Rene Lion-Cachet, via JFC Clarke

From Roslyn Sulcas, I learned of another outsider artist, Mr. Nukain Mabuza, in her article "Athol Fugard Tells of a Great Outsider Artist" (NYT, April 29, 2015), and she says:
The story of Mr. Mabuza, who committed suicide in 1981 after abruptly leaving his home and painted garden the previous year, is a sad and sketchy one.

Born in Mozambique, he moved across the border to South Africa in the 1950s in search of work, eventually settling on a farm called Esperado in 1965. He began to decorate his own dwelling and the stones around him, helped by the farm's owner, who bought him paint. Eventually, the rocks, visible from a passing road, became a tourist attraction, though Mr. Mabuza, who lived alone, never charged people to enter or to take photos.

"The idea of outsider art didn't exist at the time," said J. F. C. Clarke, an artist and photographer whose book "The Painted Stone Garden of Nukain Mabuza" is the only comprehensive written and photographic account of the work, which has never been maintained and is now badly sun-damaged on a derelict site. "He was a humble man, but completely obsessed in a way that is different from the obsession of a mainstream artist. Whatever kind of psychological or psychiatric state it was, he was able to turn nonarable land of no value to anyone into something of immense value to himself."
He was "obsessed in a way . . . different from the obsession of a mainstream artist"? What about Vincent van Gogh? He was obsessive and even cut off his right ear, eventually committing suicide. But he's a mainstream artist. Or?

When Clarke says that no concept of "outsider art" existed then, I assume he meant in the 50s and 60s, for by the 70s there was a book on the very subject.

Anyway, here's a website on Nukain Mabuza.


Sunday, May 03, 2015

Paul McCartney - Out There Tour

My family and I did something together yesterday evening. We attended Paul McCartney's Out There Tour concert held in Seoul's Jamsil Olympic Stadium, and I actually had a great time. I generally steer clear of big events because I'm a little-events kind of guy, but my offspring really wanted to go, and since we had four tickets, I went along. My wife took a few photos as proof:

None of us are in the photo here, but it does serve as evidence, I hope . . . Next, inside Jamsil Olympic Stadium:

I think that's Paul on the big screens. Here's another shot:

A lot of lights! There were even fireworks at one point during the show - exploding into the sky to the tune of "Live and Let Die"! But we were so enthralled to the multicolored lights shooting into the heavens that we took no photos. Finally, here I am:

And that's all for today . . .

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

David Mitchell offers an amusing little critique of his own writing

David Mitchell
Illustration by Sachin Teng

The illustration above by Sachin Teng is borrowed from James Wood's plot-spoiler review in the New Yorker (September 8, 2014) of David Mitchell's most recent literary work, The Bone Clocks: A Novel (September 2, 2014).

In Bone Clocks, Mitchell creates a writer, Crispin Hershey, who has written a novel titled Echo Must Die and whose literary style is modeled after Mitchell's . . . or rather that Mitchell creates a literary critic named Richard Cheeseman who parodies Hershey's style, by which the critic's writing is therefore a parody of Mitchell's style:
"So why is Echo Must Die such a decomposing hog? One: Hershey is so bent on avoiding cliché that each sentence is as tortured as an American whistleblower. Two: The fantasy subplot clashes so violently with the book's State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look. Three: What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?" (Mitchell, The Bone Clocks: A Novel, 294)
I read these words on my iPad around 5:20 Thursday morning as I stood on the platform at Mangu Station on the Jungang Line waiting for the subway train to Wangsimni Station. Why do I cite this so specifically? Because I want a precise record of the moment I noted this self-referencing moment in Mitchell's most recent novel. Why do I want that? I don't know. I'm a mystery to myself.

Self-parody aside, Mitchell's literary style skillfully avoids cliché, easily carries along an intriguing fantasy subplot, and creatively offers a well-rounded writer-character . . .

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Islamic Civilizational Meltdown?

Thomas Friedman

In an article titled "On Trade: Obama Right, Critics Wrong" (NYT, April 29, 2015) - and let's agree to ignore the title for a moment - Thomas L. Friedman offers an intriguing observation on the Muslim world, especially on the Arab Muslim world:
When you look at it from Europe - I've been in Germany and Britain the past week - you see a situation developing to the south of here that is terrifying. It is not only a refugee crisis. It's a civilizational meltdown: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq - the core of the Arab world - have all collapsed into tribal and sectarian civil wars, amplified by water crises and other environmental stresses.

But - and this is the crucial point - all this is happening in a post-imperial, post-colonial and increasingly post-authoritarian world. That is, in this pluralistic region that lacks pluralism - the Middle East - we have implicitly relied for centuries on the Ottoman Empire, British and French colonialism and then kings and dictators to impose order from the top-down on all the tribes, sects and religions trapped together there. But the first two (imperialism and colonialism) are gone forever, and the last one (monarchy and autocracy) are barely holding on or have also disappeared.
I don't claim any expertise in economics and thus don't know if President Obama is right or not about trade, but I do dabble in history and cultural comparison, and I think that Friedman is either 100% right or 100% wrong on his warning of a "civilizational meltdown." Either we're watching the Islamic world's awful collapse, or we're watching its even more awful resurgence in its most virulent form as the Islamic State expands its influence in various parts of the Muslim Ummah.

What should we do? How should we respond? I don't really know. Whether we do something or do nothing, things just seem to get worse. About all I can do is continue analyzing events . . .