Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hey, schau, das ist Bonn!

I’m getting ready to leave this lovely university town. I’ve been attending the 21st European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies. I gave a paper (on my ethnographic work among vishavaidyas in Kerala) and convened a panel on Monday, both of which went off quite well. This was my second time participating at this conference, and I hope to be at the next several to come. It pulls together a terrific mix of interesting scholars from around the world. Here are a few photos of Bonn, which, among other things, is the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Glenn Beck on Religion

It’s Glenn Beck hour over at Religion Dispatches this week. Read on!

Glenn Beck’s ‘Social Justice’ Heresies: Why Beck’s Mangled Theology Isn’t The Concern For Liberals,” by Sarah Posner

Glenn Beck Takes on Liberation Theology: An Interview With Serene Jones,” by Elijah Prewitt-Davis

Glenn Beck’s Cheap Grace: The Bible Sounds More Like James Cone Than Glenn Beck,” by Karyn Carlo


Tough Crowd

I am in the midst of writing a paper for a conference. As usual, there are good days and bad days of writing. On a good day of writing there are countless starts and stops, fits of frustration, and very rarely the seemingly shining moment of brilliance. On a bad day I usually just sit a lot, frustration mounting, typing very little. Even on a good day much of what comes out of me typically ends up on the cutting room floor after a second read through. As I imagine my audience and their reactions to my claims and ideas, I can’t help but think that there must be a better way of saying what I want to say, a more clever and creative way to argue — of course there is, but can I capture it? Because I already know a number of the people who will likely be in the audience for my presentation, it’s tough not to imagine them and their reactions, but it’s probably best to press on without them in mind. I’d write faster, I bet, and probably enjoy this process a lot more as well. But that’s another story for another day. For a number of years it’s been my standard practice to prepare for public talks aloud, preferably with someone to listen to me. Increasingly over the years, I’ve found that fewer and fewer people are available to sit with me while I read through initial drafts. It’s dull, I know, and it’s rather time consuming, and there’s not a lot to show for the effort put in. My dog, however, is always available. On any given day she’ll sit (and sleep) before me as I read. So this morning, when I needed an ear, I turned to her. Of course, she doesn’t usually give me reactions like a crowd of experts and know-it-alls (read: academics) invariably do. But this morning she did, and the pictures above bear them out. As I read her physiognomy, she was mildly intrigued by what I was saying at the start, then found the material around page two highly soporific and, by the conclusion, she was outraged by my findings. I have seen this response arc before in folks who’ve attended my talks. The Q & A is always a joy in such company. Should such a scenario unfold again, I’ll have to open with something light and non-confrontational (which is usually the last place I think to go in such situations), like “[ahem, ahem] Tough crowd.” Perhaps one of Peashoot’s dear readers could help me with this. When opening the floor to what is often, though not always, a critique of one’s own ideas, WWHYD?*

*What Would Henny Youngman Do?

Sunday Reading for Peashooters

  • In the Sunday Book Review of the NY Times, the always provocative Christopher Hitchens reviews Philip Pullman’s latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Hitchens’s writing doesn’t soar as high as it usually does, but his assessment of Pullman’s book has piqued my interest.
  • Dawn.com has a nice concise piece on the burial of hundreds of victims of the Srebrenica massacre of 15 years ago. With the war in Afghanistan in its ninth year and the war in Iraq in its seventh, it’s easy to overlook (or set aside the thought of) “the worst single atrocity on European soil since World War II.”
  • Bookburning and bookbanning continue to be tactics promoted by fundamentalist Hindus in India. Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College, Jaimes Laine, has received endless flack, lawsuits, and threats from the Shiv Sena and other hardline Hindu groups about his 2003 book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (OUP). The saga clearly continues. This is no doubt good for sales of Laine’s book. But it’s certainly bad for his fieldwork and research in India.
  • In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Nicholas Carr makes his case that internet technology makes us stupid. Perhaps more insightful than the interview with Carr is the comment roll beneath the interview. It is WAY more amusing.
  • And finally, oddly yet apparently true: “Owing to Buddhist Differences, the Original Hole Will Never Reunite“! The killer lineup that made the fine album, Live Through This, shall never be together in the same room (and presumably not on the same stage) again because of…of all things…Buddhism and its competing sectarianism. Love is a card-carrying member of Sōka Gakkai International, while the former Hole guitarist, Eric Erlandsen, belongs to the Nichiren Shoshu order. Quite apart from the band Hole and the lives of Love and Erlandsen, Wikipedia reports that back in 1991:

Nichiren Shoshu officially excommunicated the leaders of its then-largest lay organization, Sōka Gakkai, for their doctrinal deviations and disputes with the priesthood. In 1997, those non-leaders who chose to remain as members of the Sōka Gakkai, instead of becoming members of Nichiren Shoshu, also lost their status as “believers.” The Sōka Gakkai now operates as a doctrinally and organizationally distinct group.

  • P.S. Need I tell you where King James decided to play roundball next season? I thought not.

Wave That Flag

Don’t know if anyone else here at EMP is a fan of Eddie Izzard, the cross-dressing, bisexual British comedian, but I think he’s hilarious.  Well, someone with far too much time on their hands has dedicated their life to animating his routines using stop-action photography with Legos.  I must admit, it’s pretty hilarious.  Here’s Mr. Izzard explaining how imperialism worked, and the prominent role of flags in European colonization.

What’s Fr. X’s wedding percentage?

Episcopalian priest, Tim Schenck, suggests on his blog, “Clergy Family Confidential,” that perhaps the clergy should have trading cards!

Nothing fancy, just an action photo on the front with parish stats on the back. Even though priests are always saying “it’s not about the numbers” we don’t actually believe this. So we should put our numbers where our mouths are and stick them on the back of bubble gum cards.

What’s more…

They would still be sold in wax packs but rather than a stale piece of gum you’d find a stale wafer.

The Really Big Dance

The weekend we’ve all been waiting for is finally upon us. The World Cup championship game is set for this Sunday, 2:30 PM (EST, on ABC). Paired up are the oranje Dutchmen and the electric Spaniards. Northern Europe versus Southern Europe. Germanic speakers versus Italic speakers (sure, they’re all proto-Indo-European speakers, but…). North Sea-farers versus Mediterranean Sea-farers. You get the drift. However you frame it, this, my friends, is truly the big dance — de grote dans, el gran baile — a sporting title match for the bona fide status of “world champions.” In the U.S. we are accustomed to seeing that slogan plastered all over our league wining baseball, football, and basketball teams. But surely everyone knows that these athletes, although quite capable of competing on the world stage, are just national champions, not world champions. At best, we can claim North American supremacy in the MLB and NBA, but just barely since only the Blue Jays and Raptors remain. The National Hockey League represents our most cosmopolitan professional sports league these days (in terms of the cities included in the hunt for the league trophy). Across the board, the rosters of U.S. professional teams are of course increasingly cosmopolitan, though the National Football League seems to be lagging a bit behind the other leagues. Forget the “big dance” of the Final Four. It’s big, sure, and exciting. But like our professional “world championship” athletic teams, even the bigness we perceive in the Final Four is a product of our national myopia. As a nation we have been slow to open our eyes to, embrace, and have our professional team-sports–because tennis and golf, conversely, are truly international–compete in the games that pit nations in spirited (though not usually violent) engagement and captivate citizens of the world. Games like football (er, I mean, soccer). To be sure, the U.S. had a good run in this year’s World Cup. And I suspect that very good runs for the U.S. are in store for future Cups. Even if they have a ways to go to topple the mightiest footballing clubs like the Netherlands and Spain, which they no doubt do, they appear to have earned some international respect. Is football in the U.S. is serious business now? We’ll see. But it does appear that U.S. footballing is now taken seriously by the world footballing community.

P.S. This Saturday Uruguay battles Germany for third place (2:30 PM EST, on ABC).

Eye of the World

So, a while back I referenced the enormous Eye scultpure scheduled for erection in Chicago.  Well, they did it.  The Chicago Tribune online posted a three minute documentary on the project.  Pretty cool stuff; I liked the Wisconsin “assembly plant”.  Maybe Peashoot should take a sabbatical and lend his labor for a year!  Anyhow, cool stuff:

4th of July, Asbury Park, NJ (Sandy)

Like everyone else here at EMP, I’ve probably spent thousands of hours listening to thousands of songs of varied genres.  Recently, I had the opportunity to return to Newark, Delaware and drive by the record store where I purchased my first album.  To my great surprise, the store was still there and looked just as run down as it had in the 1980’s, though they’ve managed to take down the promo posters for Van Halen and Prince and replace them with Beyonce and Nelly, et. al.  In my pre-teen years, I’d scrap up and save and ride my bike down to that store to buy albums, then run home and listen with reverence to whatever I had purchased.  Some of that adoration was clearly misplaced (Billy Squier leaps to mind), but much of it formed a significant part of my personality (the Motown box set purchase was a game-changer).

The Fourth of July always brings me back to one particluar album: The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.  Springsteen’s second effort, released in 1973, is a Jersey Shore version of Van Morrison’s seminal portrayal of Belfast in Astral Weeks.  It was the second album I ever purchased (Born to Run was the first) and thirty years later it remains on my “Desert Island” list of records I’d take with me.  To be sure, much of my adoration for the album stems from the fact that I practially grew up on the Jersey Shore, had relatives at the Shore and knew most of the places the Boss was singing about.  But the album is clearly Springsteen’s “jazziest”, and the propulsive force behind it is the piano/organ of David Sancious (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Sancious), who left after the completion of the album to pursue a solo career.  It’s also the album from which I plucked my nom de cyber, Wild Billy’s Circus Story.

Like all great albums, it’s best to listen to from start to finish and I do just that twice a year, the Fourth of July being one of those days.  The other day is when I make my annual visit to the Shore to visit family: I pop that disc in and drive up Ocean Avenue through the small towns of Sea Girt, Spring Lake, Deal, Belmar until I end up in Asbury Park.  My favorite song on the album (and possibly my favorite Springsteen song of all time) is “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”.   To me, it just sounds like the Jersey Shore: Danny Federici’s cascading accordian representing the cresting and crashing of the waves, Sancious’ piano fills sounding like the water running up the sandy slopes then crawling back to the sea and Clarence’s saxaphone intoning the carnival commotion on the boardwalk.  The lyrics describe familiar places, most famously Madam Marie’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Castello), the long-time fortune teller located on the boardwalk.

 My parents described Asbury as a resort paradise in the 1940’s and 50’s, but white flight and the race riots of the sixties left it a burned out shell of it’s former vibrancy.  By the 1970’s, it was the nerve center of the Jersey Shore music scene, but not much else.  Despite efforts to revive the town, it still has not recovered any of its former glory.  While he often references various places in Asbury in his songs, “Sandy” and “My City of Ruins” are his only songs that exclusively address the town as a whole.  But “Sandy” depicts the inhabitants (the greasers, the invading New York hordes, switch-blade lovers) with loving resignation.  Critic William Ruhlmann opined that the album, “contain[s] the best realization of Springsteen’s poetic vision, which soon enough would be tarnished by disillusionment.  Later, he would make different albums, but he never made a better one.”  The song’s protagonist — ironically cataloging the goings-on of his “Little Eden”  — soon experiences the dissatisfaction and desire to escape that forms the basis of Springsteen’s next album, Born to Run.

My buddy Mike always says that every true music fan has his “guilty pleasure” albums/artists, ones that we love disproportionately to their impact.  I suppose Springsteen will always be my guilty pleasure.  But when I come home from the Cubs game today and the sun sets, I assure you I’ll be out on my back deck listening to The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” from start to finish…and feeling homesick upon hearing the first chords of “Sandy“.  Here’s a twenty six year old Boss performing it on his first ever trip to London:

Full Tilt

President Richard Nixon stunned the world in his first term by visiting China and establishing diplomatic relations with the Communist country.  The President’s dramatic deviation from decades of established China policy, not to mention his bellicose statements in the 1950’s and 60’s, branded him as an apostate among the anti-Communist movement in the West.  That he undertook these actions to undermine the Soviet sphere of influence and gain Chinese pressure on Hanoi to reach a settlement accord concluding the Vietnam War were strategic subtleties loss in the grandeur of the moment.  The path to his greatest achievement was Pakistan, a close ally of China; along the way he encountered speedbumps in the form of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and the press.

As Nixon and Kissinger clandestinely negotiated with China through their Pakistani contacts, the Indo-Pakistani war erupted on the subcontinent over the fate of East Pakistan.  Many in the US State Department openly sided with India (in spite of her ties to the Soviet Union) due to the brutal Pakistani treatment of minorities in the months leading up to the conflict and the resulting refugee nightmare.  Officially, the United States remained neutral and encouraged a cease fire.  Privately, the Nixon Administration provided the Pakistanis with materiel through proxy states and dispatched a number of warships to the area.  Nixon and Kissinger hoped this “tilt” toward Pakistan would demonstrate to the Chinese the reliability of the United States as a strategic partner.

In the months leading up to the Pakistani tilt, a Naval Yeoman, Charles Radford, worked closely with Kissinger, Al Haig and Admiral Robert Welander.  Yeoman Radford served in no official policy-making role; he was a stenographer.  He was also spying on the White House on behalf of the Pentagon, notably Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Moorer.  As 1971 drew to a close, Yeoman Radford leaked the minutes of the Pakistani Tilt meetings to pro-India journalists Jack Anderson and his protoge, Brit Hume (yes, that one). 

Radford’s connection to Anderson began when he served as part of the US embassy staff in New Delhi years earlier.  During that tour, Radford met Anderson’s parents who subsequently introduced him to their son.  His subterfuge was quickly revealed inasmuch as only four other persons had access to the minutes quoted in the Anderson/Hume column.  By this point in his presidency, Nixon had already established his White House intelligence team, the “plumbers” to fix the “leaks” within the government and thereby create the secrecy necessary for ventures such as his China gambit.  Of course, the plumbers were later apprehended at the Watergate Hotel conducting a different operation. 

Yesterday, the Nixon Presidential Library declassified some of the internal memoranda regarding the Radford leak and the subsequent investigation.  (Link to the primary sources here: http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/documents/jan10/094.pdf.)  Radford admitted he gave the purloined documents (thousands — including some from burn bags and even Kissinger’s briefcase) to the JCS, but maintained his innocence about the Anderson leak.  The circumstantial evidence weighed strongly against his plea of innocence, however.  Nixon did not expose this “leaker” but had him reassigned to Oregon (where they closely monitored him).  He also refused to fire Admiral Moorer, to Kissinger’s great rage, believing it better to let the Joint Chiefs know he had something on the Chairman.

The Jack Anderson “Pakistani tilt” columns greatly endangered Nixon’s China initiative.  Presumably, Admiral Moorer was gathering evidence of Nixon’s intentions and planned to leak them himself in order to stop the China reversal.  The role of the Chinese venture in creating additional economic, military and strategic pressure on the USSR, which accelerated its ultimate downfall, cannot be minimized.  The role of the Pakistani tilt in relations on the sub-continent is very much a point of debate.  But the Radford affair, aside from its international implications, also revealed a Presidency obsessed with the secrecy of its foreign policy.  Nixon later wrote, “From a diplomatic point of view, the leak was embarrassing; from the point of view of national security, it was intolerable.”

In a deleted scene of Oliver Stone’s bio-pic, Nixon, the director portrays the ire of the President over Jack Anderson’s column (inter alia).  As usual with Oliver Stone, one must be wary of his license with history and record of absurd embellishment, but the film delivers (as a whole) a fairly even-handed evaluation of Nixon.  His portrayal of the President’s reaction to continued “leaking” shouldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor.