Brainstorming about history, politics, literature, religion, and other topics from a 'gypsy' scholar on a wagon hitched to a star.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
A Daniel come to judgement . . .
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Actually, the term would be divided "nore-bang" (노래방), literally "singing room," and pronounced "norae-bahng," but you have to allow me my puns! As you might expect, a norebang is the Korean equivalent of the Japanese karaoke (except, of course, better than karaoke).
The photo above shows me and my wife posing as one of our children takes the picture of us in a shadowy corner of a singing room we visited Thursday evening. There are other photos from the same evening, but this is the only one in which I'm clearly looking at the camera.
My voice generally isn't very strong, so I often can't perform so well, but I sang to everyone's satisfaction that night. I started with "Born to Be Wild" (by Stefan Wolf, according to the credits!), and I did so well that my wife praised me for getting it just right. I followed that up with a soulful rendition of "Your Cheating Heart" (Hank Williams) and a remarkably touching "Stand By Your Man" (Tammy Wynette), then finished with a competent cover of "One More Cup of Coffee for the Road" (Bob Dylan). Such were my solo performances. But when I tried to accompany my wife on "City of Stars," I botched that one good and proper.
Every good thing must end . . .
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Trump as Postmodern Antihero?
My cyber-friend of many a year Bill Vallicella has directed us to an article by David Ernst titled "Donald Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself" (The Federalist, January 23, 2017). The entire article is interesting in its argument for understanding Trump as a postmodern antihero, but one point especially caught my attention:
Postmodernism is the source of the emphasis that our culture puts on authenticity, and the scorn it directs towards phoniness. After all, if the only one true thing in the world is that all truth and morality are relative, then anyone who pretends otherwise is either an idiot or a fraud. Hence the contemporary appeal of the antihero, and the disappearance of the traditional hero.This grabbed my attention, for as I see this passage, there remains a residue of a correspondence concept of truth in postmodernism, namely, a correspondence between the face one presents to the world and the person presenting that face, what the passage above calls "authenticity." We can therefore trust (or distrust) Trump to be the person he presents himself as. We can trust (or distrust) his authenticity.
But what if Trump is not a fixed factor but an unstable variable?
Such a Trump could preserve authenticity, despite quantum jumps from one position to another, so long as he maintains a correspondence between the face he presents to the world and the person he happens to be at any particular time.
Friday, January 27, 2017
The exceptional "but"
Are the two following sayings identical? (Yeah, the question is stupid.)
A cat may look at a king, but a dog is a man's best friend.We see that sequence matters. In each of the two sayings, the term "but" renders preference to the statement that follows.
A dog is a man's best friend, but a cat may look at a king.
But you knew that . . .
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Extra Wisdom At No Extra Cost!
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Questions you shouldn't ask: Finding Things
Never ask the following question when you finally find something you've been looking for:
"Why is it always in the last place you look?"A fool's question! Who but a fool keeps looking after finding it?
(The "you" here in the question doesn't mean specifically you, of course. It's the universal you.)
Labels: Polar Express
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Questions you shouldn't ask: Buttered Toast!
Some questions ought not even be posed, such as this common one about buttered toast:
"Why does bread always fall butter side down?"Because some fool would otherwise try to eat it, and that includes you, fool, for asking!
(By the pronoun "you," I of course do not mean to implicate any of my readers, none of whom are fools.)
Monday, January 23, 2017
Diamond in the Rough?
When I was a kid growing up in Arkansas, the state's boosters used to tell us that Arkansas was a diamond in the rough. I didn't know what that meant until I grew up. They never explained it, but I eventually figured it out.
I've just checked and see that the boosters are still boosting with that same old line. Maybe it needs an updating. As far as Arkansas is concerned, I suggest this:
A diamond is forever in the rough.Actually, I'd prefer that it stay that way, in a bit of a rough state . . .
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Proverbially Speaking . . .
Saturday, January 21, 2017
The word "refute" is in dispute:
In a recent post that touched on my memory of 9/11, I remarked on a brief moment of agreement I had seemed to have with Noam Chomsky:
I found myself nodding at Noam Chomsky's remark about chickens coming home to roost because I assumed that the United States had funded Bin Laden in the Afghan uprising against the Soviet Union, though I soon discovered that Bin Laden strongly refuted this, claiming never to have received any American money.My cyber-friend Bill Vallicella commented on my use of the word "refute":
To deny a claim is not the same as to refute it. 'Refute' is a verb of success. But perhaps you disagree.I responded:
The word "refute" is in dispute:The proper use of "refute" . . . is in dispute, within the dictionary itself.
1. To prove to be false or erroneous; overthrow by argument or proof: refute testimony.I prefer your use of the word (#1), but I used it that way once as an undergrad, and I was was shown a dictionary definition that corresponded to #2.
2. To deny the accuracy or truth of: refuted the results of the poll.
I should have chosen a different term, but I guess I'll leave the post unaltered - or maybe devote a post to the proper use of "refute" . . .
Friday, January 20, 2017
My friend Yang Seung-tae in the news . . .
In his regular Thursday column for the Korea Herald this week (January 19, 2017), Kim Myong-sik speaks out on Korea's current political muddle, so reminiscent of the Joseon Era:
The Republic of Korea since the middle of 2016 has entertained outsiders with something of a soap opera with the flavor of Joseon era court intrigues. Of the many intelligent comments from home and abroad on the Park Geun-hye and Choe Soon-sil scandal, I found Ewha Womans University professor Yang Seung-tae's one of the most poignant. He said in a media commentary as follows:Readers may recall that Seung-tae is an old friend of mine and a drinking buddy par excellence. I look forward to our next drinking session, as I'm sure there will be much to talk about.
"This 'comedy' consists of several miserable elements: shameless abuse of power committed for a long time by an uncultured, greedy woman [Park Geun-hye] under the aegis of a fake prophet [Choe Soon-sil]; the paranoiac obsession and judgmental inaptitude of the president [Park Geun-hye] who entrusted state business with the unqualified woman [Choe Soon-sil]; and the negligence, incompetence and craftiness of officials around her [Park Geun-hye] who winked at the leader's [Park Geun-hye's] spiritual indigence [through association with Choe Soon-sil] . . ."The once-luminous southern half of the Korean Peninsula was repainted with eerie darkness . . .
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Is a nine-tentacled octopus . . .
. . . an impossible creature? Only if the name "octopus" expresses an essence, I think. What, then, would the creature in this photo above be called? A "nonopus"? But such names do not express essences. The 'nonopus' above looks to be an octopus that lost a tentacle, from the stump of which sprang two new tentacles.
If, therefore, like the Queen in Through the Looking Glass, one could believe "as many as six impossible things before breakfast," a nine-tentacled octopus would not be one of them.
A nine-sided octogon would qualify, however, for the name expresses an essence. Necessarily, an octogon has precisely eight sides. A nine-sided octogon would therefore be impossible. Knowing this, however, could anyone believe in such an absurdity?
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
"It's only seven months till NecronomiCon!"
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
In this town, your name is Mudd, . . .
Monday, January 16, 2017
Martin Kramer: The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East
My entry into the scholarship of Martin Kramer was a consequence of my reaction to 9/11. As a political centrist, I was torn in two directions - both leftwards and rightwards - by terrorism on such a massive scale.
On the one hand, I found myself nodding at Noam Chomsky's remark about chickens coming home to roost because I assumed that the United States had funded Bin Laden in the Afghan uprising against the Soviet Union, though I soon discovered that Bin Laden strongly refuted this, claiming never to have received any American money.
On the other hand, I found myself agreeing with Samuel Huntington on religious, even civilizational motives behind 9/11, and I said so in a presentation given a year after the attack, only to discover that I was guilty of "Orientalism."
I knew of Edward Said, naturally, and had even read passages from his famous book, but I couldn't see how Western Orientalism drove Muslims to such a cultural atrocity as, for example, the Islamist destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
I was somehow led to Kramer's book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, which showed the extent to which Said had misunderstood the field of Orientalism and had thereby contributed to politicizing Middle Eastern studies.
In the years since my discovery of Kramer, I have followed his writing as a guide to fact and error on the Middle East, and I am pleased to see that he has collected and expanded much of that writing in this new book, The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East. Here's the official description:
In The War on Error, historian and political analyst Martin Kramer presents a series of case studies, some based on pathfinding research and others on provocative analysis, that correct misinformation clouding the public's understanding of the Middle East. He also offers a forensic exploration of how misinformation arises and becomes "fact."That looks like a pretty accurate summary to me. I fully recommend the book for anyone with an interest in its themes, and that includes about everyone - you just haven't realized it yet.
The book is divided into five themes: Orientalism and Middle Eastern studies, a prime casualty of the culture wars; Islamism, massively misrepresented by apologists; Arab politics, a generator of disappointing surprises; Israeli history, manipulated by reckless revisionists; and American Jews and Israel, the subject of irrational fantasies. Kramer shows how error permeates the debate over each of these themes, creating distorted images that cause policy failures.
Kramer approaches questions in the spirit of a relentless fact-checker. Did Israeli troops massacre Palestinian Arabs in Lydda in July 1948? Was the bestseller Exodus hatched by an advertising executive? Did Martin Luther King, Jr., describe anti-Zionism as antisemitism? Did a major post-9/11 documentary film deliberately distort the history of Islam? Did Israel push the United States into the Iraq War? Kramer also questions paradigms - the "Arab Spring," the map of the Middle East, and linkage. Along the way, he amasses new evidence, exposes carelessness, and provides definitive answers.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Intellectuals for Trump?
The cultural critic Kelefa Sanneh attempts to make sense of pro-Trump intellectuals who attempt to make sense of Trump, who won't make sense of himself, in "Intellectuals for Trump" (The New Yorker, January 9, 2017):
The most cogent argument for electing Donald Trump was made not by Trump, or by his campaign, but by a writer who, unlike Trump, betrayed no eagerness to attach his name to his creations. He called himself Publius Decius Mus, after the Roman consul known for sacrificing himself in battle, although the author used a pseudonym precisely because he hoped not to suffer any repercussions. In September, on the Web site of the Claremont Review of Books, Decius published "The Flight 93 Election," which likened the country to a hijacked airplane, and argued that voting for Trump was like charging the cockpit: the consequences were possibly dire, but the consequences of inaction were surely so. Decius sought to be clear-eyed about the candidate he was endorsing. "Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise," he wrote. But he argued that this corruption was also evidence of a national crisis, one that could be addressed only by a politician untethered to political piety. The author hailed Trump for his willingness to defend American workers and America's borders. "Trump," he wrote, "alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live." By holding the line on unauthorized immigration and rethinking free trade, Decius argued, Trump could help foster "solidarity among the working, lower-middle, and middle classes of all races and ethnicities." Decius identified himself as a conservative, but he saved much of his criticism for "house-broken conservatives," who warned of the perils of progressivism while doing nothing in particular to stop it. Electing Trump was a way to take a stand against both ambitious liberalism and insufficiently ambitious conservatism.That's the introduction. Go and read more if more interests you. It should. Incidentally, I thought the writer familiar, as I remarked in a comment on Malcolm Pollack's website:
I thought I recognized the name "Sanneh." Kelefa Sanneh is the son of Lamin Sanneh, an intellectual and a convert to Christianity from Islam and a practicing Roman Catholic.Lots of ironies all around . . .
Labels: Malcolm Pollack
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Bienvenido Bones Banez with his art on Milton's Cottage Day
John Dugdale Bradley (standing second from left)
Kelly O'Reilly (taking the photograph)
Terrance Lindall tells of a "[w]onderful and fruitful visit by the charming John Dugdale Bradley and Kelly O'Reilly from Milton's Cottage England!" We are invited to learn more about Milton's Cottage Day and to peruse photographs of the visit and "[r]ead about it in ISSUU MAGAZINE." In further support of Milton's Cottage, Bradley and O'Reilly "are planning major events with artists and writers and the events will be associated with the British Library, Westminster Abbey and other [important sites]."
Among such artists are Terrance Lindall, standing first from left in the photo above, and Bienvenido Bones Banez, standing furthermost right.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Nat Hentoff Passes . . .
Nat Hentoff died a few days ago at the no longer advanced age of 91. I first read Hentoff in his column for the Village Voice back in the late 1980s, mostly for his varied and various defenses of free speech. But I saw that he also penned articles on the right to life, and I began reading those. Here is a passage from his talk, The Indivisible Fight for Life (Presented at AUL Forum, 19 October 1986, Chicago), in which he speaks on why he came to oppose abortion:
For me, this transformation started with the reporting I did on the Babies Doe. While covering the story, I came across a number of physicians, medical writers, staff people in Congress and some members of the House and Senate who were convinced that making it possible for a spina bifida or a Down syndrome infant to die was the equivalent of what they called a "late abortion." And surely, they felt, there's nothing wrong with that.For those readers who wish to read more, go here.
Now, I had not been thinking about abortion at all. I had not thought about it for years. I had what W. H. Auden called in another context a "rehearsed response." You mentioned abortion and I would say, "Oh yeah, that's a fundamental part of women's liberation," and that was the end of it.
But then I started hearing about "late abortion." The simple "fact" that the infant had been born, proponents suggest, should not get in the way of mercifully saving him or her from a life hardly worth living. At the same time, the parents are saved from the financial and emotional burden of caring for an imperfect child.
And then I heard the head of the Reproductive Freedom Rights unit of the ACLU saying - this was at the same time as the Baby Jane Doe story was developing on Long Island - at a forum, "I don't know what all this fuss is about. Dealing with these handicapped infants is really an extension of women's reproductive freedom rights, women's right to control their own bodies."
That stopped me. It seemed to me we were not talking about Roe v. Wade. These infants were born. And having been born, as persons under the Constitution, they were entitled to at least the same rights as people on death row - due process, equal protection of the law. So for the first time, I began to pay attention to the "slippery slope" warnings of pro-lifers I read about or had seen on television. Because abortion had become legal and easily available, that argument ran - as you well know - infanticide would eventually become openly permissible, to be followed by euthanasia for infirm, expensive senior citizens.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
A bad penny always turns up . . .
. . . to be turned down.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Walter A. McDougall: On Trump
My old Berkeley professor of American history, Walter A. McDougall, has an article ("Art of the Doge?" January 6, 2017) in FPRI's American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull. In this article, McDougall asks an interesting question, namely, does the President-Elect have a distinct operational code?
McDougall goes to an interesting place in search of an answer:
Might Donald Trump's modus operandi derive from his lifetime as an entrepreneur? In fact, he has already given us a candid answer which nearly all journalists and pundits have curiously ignored. It can be found in Trump: The Art of the Deal, his 1987 autobiography. Its ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, now regrets his role in massaging the man's image but does not disavow the book's contents, which telegraphed 30 years ago Trump's startling, successful leap into politics.McDougall also notes that Trump was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth:
The first chapter, a chronicle of one typically busy week, highlights an act of charity he performed and goes on to mention how much he relies on female executives. The chapter on his childhood combats the assumption that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth by describing his father's rise from poverty in the gritty construction business, the hard work he had to do as a child, and his four years in military school. That he once thought of trying to make it in Hollywood anticipates his later stardom on television. That he scoffed at public relations firms and pollsters while hyping his ability to manipulate the media anticipates his unorthodox political campaign 30 years later.The rest of the article has similarly interesting observations to share.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Good Advice, Taken Aback
Monday, January 09, 2017
A Royal Headache
Shakespeare informs us in Henry IV, Part II, that:
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.But Shakespeare neglected to offer a remedy for such a headache (though some jester might somewhere or other suggest a beheading).
I propose a simple, but fitting remedy. Before going to bed, take the crown off.
Sunday, January 08, 2017
Speak of the Devil . . .
. . . sounds imperatival, but whom are we imperativing? The second person . . . or the third? Or possibly myself alone?
Yeah, I know that the statement is ostensibly descriptive, not intentionally prescriptive. But it could be used prescriptively. Take the the entire formulation:
"Speak of the Devil (and he will appear)."Suppose I want the Devil to appear. I need merely speak of him, and there he is. Does that make his appearance prescribed?
Or is it his way of getting everyone to call upon him more easily?
Labels: Dark Humor
Saturday, January 07, 2017
If you know too much, you will di . . .
Friday, January 06, 2017
Alien Intelligence on Earth?
Or in water . . .
The philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith, who appears to have a deep interest in the origin of consciousness, has written a book titled Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, which the conservationist and writer Carl Safina has reviewed in the NYT (December 27, 2016) under the title "Thinking in the Deep: Inside the Mind of an Octopus." The review begins with reflection upon a question about alien intelligence elsewhere in the universe, namely, as to whether we would understand intelligent extraterrestrial life, or even recognize it as intelligent. Godfrey-Smith suggests that we first look closer to home for a very alien intelligence, and then observe how we interact:
"If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, . . . [t]his is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien[, for] . . . . the minds of cephalopods are the most other [to ours] of all [other intelligent earthly creatures]."But how do we interact? Well, they can certainly react to us in recognizably friendly ways:
"You reach forward a hand and stretch out one finger, and [watch as] one octopus arm slowly uncoils . . . [and clasps] your finger as it draws it in[, . . . while]. . . . [b]ehind the arm, large round [octopus] eyes watch[, and the] octopus . . . [pulls on the clasped] hand and . . . [you follow as if] being led across the sea floor by a very small eight-legged child [who wants to show you its home]."Godfrey-Smith actually observed this scene just described, so these alien creatures, can definitely be friendlier than the aliens we dream up for Hollywood to scare ourselves with. Be that as it may, we humans and octopuses seem to recognize and even to understand each other's intelligence, to some degree.
It's a start.
Thursday, January 05, 2017
Islam as Religious-Political Ideology
In a recent post on Islam - how to conceive of it and how to deal with it - my cyber-friend Bill Vallicella notes that some who undertake this task mistakenly assume:
that Islam is a religion like any other. Not so. It is a hybrid religious-political ideology that promotes values inimical to the West and . . . [the West's] flourishing. Sharia and the West do not mix.Bill emphasizes that Islam is not a religion like any other, that it's a hybrid religious-political ideology. My view differs little from Bill's view, though I would add a point.
Not only do I find Islam a hybrid religious-political ideology, I would describe it as a throw-back to an earlier stage of religious development, the religion of the priest-king, a figure with both a religious role and a political role to fill. Think of the Caliph, who fills both of these roles, and recall the recent Caliphate, which attempted to install shariah as the law of the land that it occupied.
In Islam, there is no separation of mosque and state. The mosque is, in fact, an extension of the state, which clarifies why Islam restricts all other religions wherever it gains political power, for other religions are suspect, potentially, as extensions of some other state's power, and the adherents of other religions are, technically, considered to be foreigners.
Just some things to consider in considering Islam . . .
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Dark Side of a would-be Man-in-the-Moon
I'm reading Michael Chabon's latest literary effort, Moonglow: A Novel, and I keep hearing echos of Thomas Pynchon's Meisterwerk, Gravity's Rainbow. Early German expert on rockets and space travel, Wernher von Braun, is quoted for an epigram in both novels, albeit different quotes.
Pynchon quotes von Braun in an epigram at the beginning of Gravity's Rainbow: "Everything science has taught me - and continues to teach me - strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without a trace." That's a pretty optimistic quote for Pynchon to use, though I know he's using it in irony, given who von Braun was.
Chabon's use of von Braun for an epigram is superficially darker: "There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it's all dark." I suppose this 'good' German with the aristocratic name and dark designs meant that the moon gives off no light of its own.
Anyway, despite the different quotes, Chabon is writing with the sense that Pynchon is peering over his shoulder, and Chabon is explicit about this, for about halfway through the book, one of the main characters - the narrator, in fact - turns to Pynchon's Magnum Opus to learn about the German V-2 rocket program.
So, what does it all add up to? I don't know, exactly - I've only just passed the book's halfway mark - though I do know that von Braun desired to travel to the moon (hence my title's Man-in-the-Moon motif). But it's a great story so far . . .
Tuesday, January 03, 2017
An After Aphorism
Monday, January 02, 2017
Everybody knows this proverb . . . sort of:
"A house divided against itself cannot stand to hear that a house divided against itself cannot stand . . ."Matthew 12:25, with St. Matthew getting a little carried away into an infinite loop as he hurries to transcribe Jesus' precise words.
Labels: Holy Wisdom