Saturday, March 27, 2010

CEA 2010 and The Alamo

I attended the College English Association 41st Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas this weekend. This is the first time I attended the CEA conference but I hope that it is not the last time. The conference theme was "Voices" and I presented on Science 2.0 and how Web 2.0 tools are being used to open science to public scrutiny and enable the voices of science technicians. I met many wonderful English scholars from all across the USA who were nothing but kind to me and the panel discussions were truly engrossing.

I was last in San Antonio in 1998 for an RTDA show and I have always regretted not going to the Alamo so this time I made time to find it (and I was not alone!). That is one busy tourist destination!

Of course on trip to San Antonio is complete without a trip to the River Walk. The last time I visited, the River Walk was not so impressive. I think that half of Texas was looking for a place to eat along the waterway.

I ended up at an English pub that allowed pipe smoking and offered free WiFi. The food was not especially great and they did not offer free Diet Coke refills, but the evening was cool, the servers were friendly, and everyone was having a good time.

Good times. Now I have to finish the dissertation.

-Safari Bob

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tobacco Review: Stanwell Melange

This blend arrived on the American scene after I left Just For Him (2007-2008 I believe). Stanwell pipes have long been a favorite of mine; I remember buying Stanwell Majestic pipes back in 1992 for $35. Other great finishes, like the Brazillia and the Brass Band, are no longer being made. You can find them occasionally on eBay, but for much more than the prices of the early '90's. Also, Stanwell had this weird habit of discontinuing all their best selling shapes (I never could understand that). Oh, how the times have changed! Sadly, Stanwell pipes may be going the way of the dodo.

Still, the Stanwell Melange is pretty tasty. Here is the manufacturer's description:

A modern approach to a traditional mixture. Black Cavendish, toasted Burley, Orientals and bright Virginia are gently mixed with apricot and natural sweetness. Soft and mellow with a pleasing aroma and a delicate taste. MSRP: $7.95 50gm tin.

The tobacco is a mixture of bright yellow flakes, medium brown ribbons, and Black Cavendish with a wonderful aroma of apricot and caramel. It burns well into a light fluffy grey ash, although it is a little drier than I like. Certainly the fruity apricot is at the foremost in both aroma and flavor at first but this does fade throughout the smoke and a satisfying nutty-caramel emerges toward the end.

This is a good, smooth aromatic blend that offers some complexity with a stellar room note. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser but it does fade towards the end. If you like 1Q, Moontrance or some of C&D's aromatics, give it a try.

Rating: 3 Puffs out of 5

-Safari Bob

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Open Boundaries; John E. Cort (Ed.)

In this collection of essays the contributing authors “seek to locate Jain materials in a more dynamic, reciprocal, and interactive relation to South Asian society" [1, p. 3]. These essays examine the Jains not in isolation, but rather in situations where they interact with “the larger non-Jain social, cultural, and intellectual world of South Asia" [1, p. 2]. The traditional boundaries of western categorization are explored within the confines of archaeology, philology, and epigraphy to expose the possible influence of Jainan thought on other South Asian cultures. In his introduction Cort posits that a “social group is never constructed in isolation, but rather is always a contextualized process, in which the sense of ‘self’ is in a dialogue, opposition, or dialectical relationship to a sense of what is ‘not-self’ or ‘other’" [1, pp. 2-3]. Here he demonstrates that there is neither a single Jain sense of self nor a single sense of other. Categories of self and other can be both contradictory and encompassing but form a fundamental dualism at the “heart of Jain ontology and soteriology" [1, p. 10]. Jainism should not be viewed as a ‘thing’ but as one style in a family of styles in South Asia, which can only be understood fully by understanding Jainism.

Explorations of the impact of Jainism on others includes Haribhdra and his juxtaposition of several forms of Yoga with key aspects of Jainism to provide a better understanding of issues under debate within the religious and philosophical communities of his time, the influence of Jain mantra experience into South Asian sanctified language, the importance of Hemacandra in the illustration and preservation of Indian literary theory, the skill of Tevar in his ‘skillfully poisonous parody’ still considered one of the great classics of the Tamil tradition and so on. All these essays seek to dissuade the reader from marginalizing Jains by demonstrating that they are a growing, changing, innovating, internally diverse religious group that has effected change in the historical circumstances and situations in which they have found themselves. As Davis says in his essay, “The challenging, borrowing, contradicting, polemicizing, appropriating, and modifying that goes on across religious boundaries, and even the constructing and subverting of these boundaries, are ongoing dynamic processes that give both form and content to the religious history of India" [1, p. 223].

Personally, I found the article by Babb on ritual culture to be the most fascinating in that he exposes the similarities of structures within Hindu and Jain ritual and posits as possible “deeper structure that is simply South Asian" [1, p. 161]. I found his idea of ‘transaction’ in ritual culture to be telling as to the nature of 'the sacred other.'

-Safari Bob

[1] Cort, J., E. (Ed.). (1998). Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN: 0-7914-3786-8

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Practice in Ethnography: Día de los Muertos 2007

At 6:04pm on 2 November 2007, I arrived at the Buddy Holly Center, located in Lubbock Texas, in order to observe and participate in the local “Procesión and Celebración” of the Día de los Muertos. I have never attended any celebrations of the Day of the Dead and my exposure to this holiday was limited to Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead by Stanley Brandes. Before reading this book, my understanding of the Day of the Dead was that it constituted a blending of Catholicism and Mesoamerican practices to honor the ancestral dead. I assumed that the Hispanic population brought the celebration of the Day of the Dead to Lubbock as they migrated to the area.

As I first entered the building, it seemed to me that this section of the procession focused on artistic impressions of the traditions surrounding the Day of the Dead. Marigolds and candles served as decorations that lined the windows along the hallway to the exhibition hall while the art itself expressed variations of skulls and skeletons so closely associated with the Day of the Dead. Only one altar, dedicated to Buddy Holly, had been erected and it was located in the main gallery. Later, outside on the patio (or perhaps more appropriately the stoa) a performance by Ixaclli in Manantzin, a traditional Aztec dance troupe from Taos, New Mexico, was showcased for those that attended the festivities.

I had expected to meet more Hispanic people at this event and I was somewhat surprised by the diverse audience that attended. Over the next four hours I was privileged to speak with twelve different people including a Jamaican student, one of the artists whose work was showcased at the gallery, a family of three from Lubbock, and one of the ladies that prepared the food for the buffet table. All of the people I spoke with had different ideas concerning what the Day of the Dead meant to them and to the people of Lubbock but these views had little in common with what Brandes discovered in his inquiries. Overall, what I discovered can be summarized by three statements: (1) Honoring Those Who Have Gone Before Us, (2) Sweets are for Halloween, and (3) Americans Appropriate Everything.

Honoring Those Who Have Gone Before Us

I made a point to ask each person that I talked with this question: “What does the Day of the Dead mean to you?” Of the twelve people I talked with, ten responded with this exact phrase: “To honor those who have gone before us.” All of the people I talked with responded with this idea but ten of the twelve responded with the exact same phrase; I found this fascinating! It is as if these people were coached. When I asked how they honored those who went before and who they were, the responses were varied and demonstrated no cohesive collective idea. Although everyone I talked with began with a common idea that they should “honor those who have gone before us,” each had different ways to do so and different ideas of who they are (or were).

Future Akins is an artist living in Texas whose work “In My Heart Still” was on display that night. For her, the Day of the Dead provided a way for her to honor her first husband who died over twenty years earlier by “focusing her grief into art.” Her artwork is black and at the center is a heart composed of many small pieces that she indicated demonstrated how her heart was fractured when he died. This somber expression contrasts sharply with the bright marigold petals often found in the home altars[1, p. 73] or the arco, an elaborately decorated latticework structure associated with ofrendas (or offerings), found as a feature of the Night of the Dead in Tzintzuntzan [1, p. 74].

For Charles, a Unitarian minister from Lubbock who was attending with his wife Jo and daughter Shannon, the Day of the Dead afforded him the opportunity to remember “Buddy Holly and the other artists displayed here.” He enjoyed the works of art displayed at the gallery and their interpretations of the Day of the dead because “what’s art if you don’t have an observer?” Neither he nor his wife ever alluded to their families as part of this day of reflection. Later, when I asked him if he had any ways that he personally celebrated the Day of the Dead, he responded that he was “doing it vicariously” by attending the “art walk.” His wife, Jo, added, “we are doing it the way we want it done.” This sharply contrasts with events surrounding the Day of the Dead and the belief that deceased relatives are spiritually present [1, p. 20]. For Charles and Jo, dead relatives are irrelevant and all the altars and works of art are spectacles to be observed and enjoyed by the living.

Although others responded differently, all seem to interpret the Day of the Dead to be generally for the living and for them specifically. Most, like Shannon, believe that the Day of the Dead to be “a time for us to remember that we will die someday.” Kiesha, a Jamaican student at Texas Tech, noted that in her culture “we have nine days to celebrate the passing of a family member.” These nine days are passed in “eating lots of food and drinking lots of rum.” I asked her if it was common to joke or laugh about the deceased and she said yes because it made the dead happy to see that everyone is having a good time. Of all my discussions at this event, this one with Kiesha reminded me most of what Brandes discovered in his time at Tzintzuntzan: “The Night of the Dead was primarily a family fiesta” [1, p. 76]. Still, I had to introduce the deceased into the conversation before she acknowledged them in the process.

Sweets are for Halloween

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Brandes’ book for me is the role of sugar in the development of the Day of the Dead so I also made it a point to ask everyone I talked with this question: “Why do people eat sweets while celebrating the Day of the Dead?” Judy, a middle-aged hairdresser from Lubbock, looked confused when I asked her this and answered, “Why do you ask me that? Sweets are for Halloween!” I was surprised at this response but as I looked around the event I noticed that sweets were conspicuously absent from the festivities. The buffet table offered nacho corn chips, deep-fat fried ‘tacoitos’ filled with beef and chicken (I had no idea what these were until I asked but I found them quite tasty), a seven-layered dip with cheese, sour cream, and guacamole, and baked jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped with bacon (also quite tasty). The only sweets I found for people to enjoy was a little pumpkin torte, some kind of small cookie called a “pecan sandie with icing,” and a bowl of lollypops that were strangely reminiscent of something one would find next to the door of a home on Halloween.

Although I had expected to see a many calaveras, or skulls made of sugar and decorated with icing [1, p. 43], I only found four small examples resting as an ofrenda on this altar in the main art gallery. Other sweets, also on this altar, include a partial bag of Peanut M&Ms, an orange, and an apple.

Other people that I talked with also minimized the roll of sweets in the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Many thought of cookies or candy bars when I asked them why people eat sweets during the Day of the Dead. Interestingly, most thought only of their favorite sweets but not what these sweets may signify. Charles and Jo actually entered a discussion as to whether they enjoy cookies or chocolate covered strawberries more. Tom, a student from Texas Tech, told me about how he always hoped for “the big candy bars” during Halloween and how he would try to “go back again and again to houses that gave out the good candy.” Only the artist Future Akins equated the sweets of the Day of the Dead with “the sweetness of life,” although she did tell me how much she enjoyed Baby Ruth candy bars even though she no longer can eat them.

Americans Appropriate Everything

On a final note, I was surprised by how many of the people I talked with perceived why Americans celebrate any aspect of the Day of the Dead. Tom, the Texas Tech student, told me that Americans should incorporate “Native American traditions like this” into “modern-day holidays.” Future Akins told me how “Anglos co-opted many Mexican traditions such as the accordion and the cowboy.” Jo said that the Day of the Dead is “a fun way to celebrate the Spanish and have fun.” Shannon, the thirty-something daughter of Charles and Jo and aspiring artist, thought that although the “art was not so good,” she had seen Ixaclli in Manantzin dance in Santa Fe, New Mexico and could not wait to see them again.

Although the total of my field experience dealing with the Day of the Dead is limited to this one evening and is in no way definitive, I found the prevailing attitude of the people I talked with to be that Americans were appropriating customs of the Day of the Dead into mainline culture. This perception sharply contrasts to what Brandes describes in Mexico: “Halloween has become a symbol of gringo imperialism” [1, p. 128]. Although the people of Mexico may see Halloween as a threat to their celebration of the Day of the Dead, the few people I talked with see the traditions of the Day of the Dead as being incorporated into the American culture. In fact, some people in Lubbock may see the Day of the Dead as having American roots passed down through the traditions of Native Americans!

Perhaps the most poignant example of this appropriation occurred just before the Ixaclli in Manantzin dance troupe began. I was talking with Shannon when her mother, Jo, walked up to the table and declared (with a certain detached whimsy) “Honey, I accidentally spilt lemonade on Buddy Holly’s altar! See ya [sic.] later!” What could be a more American expression of the Day of the Dead than this: a tourist ‘accidentally’ spilling lemonade on Buddy Holly’s altar during an art walk in Lubbock Texas?

-Safari Bob

[1] Brandes, S. (2007). Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-4051-5248-8

Friday, March 19, 2010

Science, Metaphor, and Aristotle's Informed Citizenry

In the recent article “Trapped in a World View" [1], string theorists recognize that one factor that may be impairing their ability to express a grand unified theory is language. David Bohm, a leading quantum theorist, believes that European languages “perfectly mirror the classical world of Newtonian physics” while languages that are rich in verbs more closely reflect the process-based expressions of quantum effects [1. p. 43]. To compensate, quantum theorists are exploring the Algonquian family of languages that incorporate a wide variety of verb forms. This new power of expression “may give physics the inspiration to leap forward” [Ibid.].

This article got me thinking about Natalie Angier's [2] text and, more specifically, how do the conventions of the English language constrain the representation of the complex concepts that Angier is trying to popularize? Is this the reason that she chose to use flowery language to convey her subject?

As I consider these questions two ideas come to mind: (1) The metaphor may be powerful but inadequate means to express abstract concepts (however imprecisely), and (2) What is the responsibility of an ‘informed citizenry’ (I am thinking of Aristotle’s concept of audience [3, Rhetorica, Book 2, Chapter 1]) in response to scientific rhetoric to “adopt, modify, or reject it” [4, p. 41; fifth assumption of rhetoric]. Perhaps the central question is: What are the responsibilities of both science and citizenry in contributing to a forum that allows meaning to be most faithfully constructed?

Science seems to be burdened with the responsibility to convey meaning and inform its audience, although Angier seems to convey frustration on the part of scientists to reach a public audience. Craig Waddell describes how the audience was carefully selected and constrained to not “repeat the somewhat chaotic experience of the two public hearings sponsored by the city council the previous summer” [5, p. 385]. In fact, Waddell provides a convincing argument that pathos was effectively used, if not to convey understanding of the science, to influence how the audience decided to view the need for that scientific research.

Certainly the essays in Richard W. Grinnell's [6] text take pains to express the purpose, challenge and role of science in layman terms. However, Carl Sagan transcends the idea of methods for articulating scientific concepts to the public and calls for an informed citizenry to take responsibility in this dialectic. For Sagan, public understanding of science is central to national security and “the submediocre performance of American youngsters in science and math, and the widespread adult ignorance and apathy about science and math, should sound an urgent alarm” [6, p. 18]. This apathy is central to the discussion; how can scientists and laypeople converse if the public doesn’t want to listen?

Of course this apathy may lie in the inability of scientists to express complex concepts – even Sagan believed that most people have an interest in science (the driver) [6, p. 12]. What if this inability to express complex occulted concepts is endemic to the English language? Certainly mathematics can express the subtleties of quantum theory but how many people can speak ‘Math?’ If physics can better be understood in non-Western languages (such as the Algonquian family) should the public be expected to have some grasp of these other languages in order to engage in the dialogue with Science?

Frankly, I have no idea. I do find the notion of exploring other languages in scientific inquiry fascinating. When I consider the Thomas article (in Grinnell) on Alchemy, I wonder what role the various languages (Arabic, Latin, etc) played in formulating that discipline and the future discipline of chemistry? What would physics be like if it had been explored, in the West, in Chinese?

All this is moot, I suppose, as science in America continues to be pursued (presumably) by English-speaking scientists and conveyed to an (primarily) English-speaking public. Still, how can this open the potential cadre of metaphors available to express abstract scientific concepts? How will science be represented to an increasingly global citizenry?

-Safari Bob


[1] “Trapped in a World View.” (2008, Jan. 5-11). New Scientist Vol. 192 No. 2637.

[2] Angier, N. (2007). The Canon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 978-0-618-24295-5

[3] Aristotle. (2001). The Basic Works of of Aristotle. Richard McKeon (Ed.). NY: The Modern Library. ISBN: 0-375-75799-6

[4] Lindemann (reference to come)

[5] Waddell, C. (1990). "The Role of Pathos in the Decision-Making Process: A Study in the Rhetoric of Science Making Policy." QJS 76: 381-400.

[6] Grinnell, R., W. (Ed.) (2007). Science and Society. NY: Pearson Longman. ISBN: 0-321-31811-0

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: Marx on Religion by Karl Marx

Central to Marx is the idea of the alienation of humanity from nature, labor, satisfaction and ultimately, from humanity itself. Humanity becomes objectified through ‘estranged labor’ which “… reduces spontaneous and free activity to a means, it makes man’s species-life a means of his physical existence” [1, p. 123] This condition is a result of global capitalism that, in the quest to find the cheapest workers, reduces all freedom to a function of itself. A dualistic class structure of bourgeoise (capitalists) and proletariat (workers) arises in the tension of labor and capital; which reduces humanity to a commodity in the formation and flow of capital. Capital is realized in money and perfected in credit with the organization of the banking system. Religion is but a reflex of reality and “[e]very history of religion…that fails to take account of this material basis, is uncritical” [1, p. 165]. Because humanity makes religion it is the “fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality” [1, p. 171]. History, with philosophy in its service, must unmask the self-estrangement of humanity by dismissing the ‘other-world truth’ of religion and establish the ‘truth of this world’. This will create a society “which can no longer lay claim to a historical [i.e. based in the mythical] title, but merely to a human one…” [1, p. 181]. Christianity, developed by the bourgeois, creates a society of cowardice, abasement, submission, humility which is opposite to the required attributes of the proletariat and innately hypocritical. Religion can vanish “only when the relationships of practical everyday life offer men daily visible and reasonable relationships to each other and to nature” [1, p. 196].

Marx is writing in a time when Germany was trying to validate its existence in history as a great nation. Romanticism is the backlash against the enlightenment. The brothers Grimm are codifying fairy tales into a uniquely German document of legend. Attempts are being made to connect the fair-skinned Aryan peoples of Vedic India, the ‘blonde haired’ (a mistranslation that should have been red-headed) warriors of the Teutonic woods of Germania reported by Caesar in his Commentaries and parroted by Gibbons in his Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire, and the “Indo-European” people of 19th Century Germany. This, coupled with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the exploitation of humanity as well as the new German criticism of natural history, theology and Christianity, provides the backdrop for his arguments.

Marx utilizes the idea of the objectification of humanity, posited by Feuerbach, to apply not only to Christianity but to economics and politics as well. His weakness is in his treatment of the middle class. Although he posits that the lower middle class would be forced to adopt the views of the proletariat [1, p. 152] he declares that the middle class is based on being “the general representation of the philistine mediocrity of all other classes” [1, p. 180]. Even though the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are beginning to struggle the middle class has no concept of emancipation and antiquated. Here is the difficulty of his political views: the middle class acts as a buffer between the two poles. Instead of joining in on one side or the other, the middle class gives the laborers something to aspire to outside of revolution, and the capitalists a source of indirect (and less offensive) control with the advent of middle management. Although I will concede that greed is the basis of capitalism, the gradients are less severe than have vs. have not.

Politics has certainly used religion for its own purposes throughout history but Marx is also manipulating it for a desired effect: confrontation. Although he does not address other religious beliefs than Christianity, he, like Feuerbach, presents Christianity as and object made in man’s image. This object is used as a tool of the minority bourgeoisie to control the majority proletariat. By destroying basic social beliefs, new social structures based in communism can arise. Instead of arguing for new interpretations of Christian Theology, which may lead to gradual changes, Marx strikes at the basic belief structures of Christendom in the hopes of rapid revolution.

-Safari Bob

[1] Marx, K. (2002).Marx on Religion. John C. Raines (Ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN: 1566399408

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Post-Postmodernism and Jediism

Recently, I encountered an an article in which a practitioner of "Jediism" won the right to wear a "hoodie" over his head in public. According to this article, a Jedi was removed from a job center in Sussex England because he refused to expose his head at a job center. This quickly became a religious freedom issue:

Chris is a member of the International Church of Jediism - based on the sci-fi films - whose doctrine states that followers should be allowed to wear hoods [1].

Yes, there exists an International Church of Jediism that is based on the Star Wars fantasy world created by George Lucas. Their basic tenets are:

There is one all powerful force that binds the entire universe together. It is "an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together". This is a concept that most religions of the world concur with. Some refer to it as their deity, some refer to it as a life force, but the one thing nearly all religions agree with, is that there exists a single unifying force.

There are 2 sides to the force, the dark side and the light side. "Beware of the dark side... The dark side leads to fear. Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering". Good versus Evil is a common element through most religions. The issues of good versus evil, right versus wrong permeate through the doctrines of all religions. Most religions attempt to state what is right and wrong, to establish their moral code. Sometimes religions make codes that don't reach a great consensus. Outsiders, and sometime insiders, begin to judge their religious code by something more powerful, something more innate, an innate ability to know what is right and wrong. This is the Jedi's belief, that morality, good and evil, are all axioms of the force, and that we must listen to the force so that we will know the right thing to do.

Can good exist without evil? The Jedi believe that good and evil are only axioms of the all powerful and unifying force. The force contains all that is good and all that is bad. We all are free and sentient beings who have the capability to do good or evil. It is our choice of direction that determines if we do good or evil. The existence of good and evil is necessary for freewill.

So in summary, listen to the force, and beware the dark side! [2]

After reading this article, I asked myself this question: How can a religion exist based solely on a fantasy universe? Is this satire like The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Apparently not. Mmm... spaghetti...

A Post-postmodern World?

I wonder if religions like this demonstrate that we are moving beyond Postmodernism into a new way of looking at "truth." Although "postmodernism" is a complex term to define, it is essentially a way of looking at truth--specifically that no absolute truth exists [3]. So if no absolute truth exists, competing religions, philosophies, art, and literature all express truth relative to their adherents. An expression of Christianity may be true for one person while Albert Camus can truthfully argue that it may be absurd [4]. Both positions can exist as truth in a postmodern world. Still, how can a made-up fantasy world be seen as truth--even in a postmodern context?

I wonder if we are moving beyond postmodern epistemological relativism into a new age of whatever you want to be true is true? Shows like The Ghost Whisperer are supposedly based on the "actual" experiences of James Van Praagh and Mary Ann Winkowski[5] and many viewers believe that this show is a reflection of "the real world." Should we expect more religions like Jediism?

-Safari Bob






Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tobacco Review: McClelland Frog Morton

Ah yes! I remember when Frog Morton first hit the market. At the time, tinned tobacco was not the market it is today and most pipe smokers enjoyed bulk blends from the local tobacco shop. The Internet was still a novelty, although I was hard at work writing the first Just For Him website. Back then you could enter "pipe tobacco" into your Netscape Gold browser and only get three results!

Of course Frog Morton gets its name from a village in Tolkien's The Lord of the Ring Trilogy. The Pipe Rack has a great write-up about this:

The name Frog Morton comes to us from the works of JRR Tolkein Frogmorton: A village in the Eastfarthing of the Shire. It stood on the East Road, between the Three-farthing Stone (fourteen miles to the west) and the Brandywine Bridge (twenty-two miles to the east). Immediately to the north of the village, the stream known as the Water broke into two, creating a wide watery region - this feature seems to have given Frogmorton its name, which means 'frog marsh'. Until the War of the Ring, the village seems to have been most notable for its inn, the Floating Log. During the brief time when Saruman took over the Shire, though, it became the home of the First Eastfarthing Troop of Shirriffs, and it was here that the returning Ring-bearers were 'arrested' on their journey back to Hobbiton.

Manufacturer's Description:

It took Frog Morton four years to perfect this unique blend which is full and yet mild. It is his proudest achievement. MSRP: $9.50 50gm tin; $14.50 100gm tin.

The tobacco is mostly dark cavendish cuts with lighter brown and red ribbons and flakes. One can certainly notice the wonderful, sour latakia aromas as one opens the tin. Sometimes, I get a slight vinegar at the initial opening but not always. The tobacco takes to the flame well and is not too moist. At once one enjoys that mouth-watering response to the malty-sour latakia while the Virginias provide sweet undertones that capture the attention of the smoker throughout the entire bowl. This blend burns well to a light, fluffy grey ash in the heel of the bowl with little or no relights.

I love this blend! It is a great medium-bodied English smoke that serves best as an all-day tobacco for the experienced latakia lover; although it may be a little light for evening contemplation. This blend will also serve well for a new English smoker looking to try a latakia treat.

Rating: 4.5 Puffs out of 5

-Safari Bob

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: Bones, Stones and Buddhist Monks by Gregory Schopen

In this collection of essays, Gregory Schopen strives to demarcate the “excessive focus upon the rarefied categories" [1, pg. ix] of scholastic monastic elites and the ‘popular’ or actual practices of ancient Buddhist monks. In this attempt, Schopen demonstrates the privileging of texts in the study of ancient Buddhism by western scholars over prevalent archaeological and epigraphical evidence pertinent to this field of study. He begins by exposing the ‘protestant presuppositions’ in the universal importance of the text in both study and in actual practice. He quickly contrasts the established theory, based on textual evidence, that monks and nuns did not possess property with the archaeological and epigraphical evidence to the contrary. He concludes that embedded “in apparently neutral archaeological and historical method might very well be a decidedly nonneutral [sic] and narrowly limited Protestant assumption as to where religion is actually located" [1, pg. 130]. This illumination may indicate an inherited tendency to disallow actual practice a meaningful place in the definition of religion and the devaluation of any non-textual sources that express religion.

This method of study is indicative of Schopen’s scholasticism in these essays. He continues to juxtapose literary tradition with fresh philological evidence and cursory colonial archaeology postulation with in depth epigraphical analysis. He posits that the doctrine of merit associated with later inscriptions is far older than a Mahayana idea. He uncovers the far greater roles of women in ancient Buddhist communities and in the practice of the image cult. He proposes that monks practiced and founded the relic cult in which the living presence of the Buddha is worshiped contrary to the position that laymen started this practice. He explores the funeral rites of Buddhist monasteries by monks for fellow monks, including the division of property with the brahmanical preoccupation with proper ritual treatment of the dead to avoid social censure as well as affronting the deceased. In all of these discoveries lie the undercurrents of exposing literary privilege and the promotion of archaeological and epigraphical evidence in the study and definition of religion.

Three points I found most striking in this collection of essays. First, I was impressed by his argument demonstrating the ‘protestant presuppositions’ of the privilege of literary text over other evidence. Although I would contend archaeological evidence can be obscure and just as open to interpretation, I had to recognize my own proclivities in this direction. Second, I agree that in the history of religions, more emphasis should be allowed for “religious constructions and architectures, inscriptions, and art historical remains" [1, pg. 114]. Third, I had to admit that I shared the common view of the Buddha as “a kind of sweetly reasonable Victorian Gentleman" [1, pg. 258] when I began reading this collection. After reading these essays I have a different idea of how the ancient Indian Buddhists lived and hopefully a closer understanding of their view of the Buddha.

-Safari Bob

[1] Schopen, G. (1997). Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN: 0-8248-1870-9

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How is Science Knowledge Created?

The last few weeks, I have been musing on a question: How is science knowledge created? I suppose that one may believe that knowledge constitutes facts or (perhaps more cynically) trivia or one may espouse the Aristotelian theorem that knowledge is sui genesis and can only be discovered. Perhaps scientific knowledge can be discovered through proper classification or through replication of experiment. At the heart of this question is a comparison of competing views of how knowledge is created.

These competing viewpoints are the key; knowledge is created by consensus. Consensus is crafted from competing conversations that clash and crystallize into a common perspective. This perspective is what Kuhn [1] would call a paradigm and Gross [2] has labeled a “field of argument.” Foucault describes this process of perspective-making as competing discourses converging to reflect an “epistemic shift.” He defines the episteme as “the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems…” [3, 191]. These competing dialogues essentially create a shift in thinking or in the creation of ‘truth.’ This creation of knowledge is enabled by the use of language and, more specifically, rhetoric.

Both Kuhn and Gross investigate the use of rhetoric to present new ideas and eventually establish new modes of thinking. For Kuhn the paradigm is born by anomaly and forged in crisis. For Gross, rhetoric plays a (perhaps) more prevalent role in the clashing of competing methods of inquiry. For Darian [4], rhetoric takes an active role in the creation of knowledge by actually being instrumental in the formation and definition of categories and subcategories. In all three, rhetoric is vital to construct discourse that eventually will form convention.

Baake [5] demonstrates that a chief tool of rhetoric to influence the formations of knowledge is the metaphor. When I first encountered Baake’s metaphor of harmonics I was skeptical (it reminded me of Leff’s [6] use of vibrate) but I have warmed to the usage. I especially like “an image consistent with my argument would be that of scientific knowledge as musical notes assembled into some kind of meaningful and evocative pattern” [5, p. 7]. In some ways, this view of metaphor could be consistent with Foucault’s object of formation.

Although these readings do demonstrate the important role of verbal rhetoric in shaping scientific knowledge, I do wonder about the role of diagrams and visual models in this process. For instance, Gross does note in passing: “the persuasiveness of the crucial experiment depends on its replicability; but the crucial experiment in this first paper is accompanied by neither diagram nor clear directions” [2,p. 9]. Later, in his praise of Optiks, Gross reduces the role of diagrams to only inference: “the rhetorical presence of Newton’s experimental method is enhanced by the sheer number of experiments described, and by the quantitative meticulousness with which their methods and results are reported” [2, p. 12]. What is the role of diagram in the rhetorical formation of scientific knowledge?

Certainly science communicators use diagrams to understand complex scientific ideas (the electron, proteins, and so on) but this rhetorical tool is conspicuously absent from our readings. Darian makes prodigious use of diagrams in his classification models [4, see 184 as an example] but these are little more than genealogical trees. How can visual metaphors contribute to the understanding of “complexity” or “paradigm”? A paradigm is essentially a rubric; could the notion of scaffolding better illustrate this concept? What about a Vinn diagram to illustrate the harmonics of “rules” in complexity theory?

Perhaps the lack of visuals in these readings in rhetoric demonstrates a preconception of rhetoric as speech—even though most rhetorical critics analyze texts. Most recently rhetoric is explored within the discipline of speech and yet visuals have long been a part of oration. Today PowerPoint slides are ubiquitous in all disciplines—including science. How do they contribute to the formation, explication and dissemination of theory?

I wonder if visual representations of complex concepts contribute more to a deductive (if/then) approach to investigation rather than the inductive approach that is prominent in the scientific method today. Perhaps visual representations in inductive methods are more diachronic and tend to illustrate specific steps within the process. I am not sure but this may be an interesting study.

-Safari Bob

[1] Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0-226-45808-3

[2] Gross, A. G. (1988). "On the Shoulders of Giants: Seventeenth-Century Optics as an Argument Field." QJS 74 (1): 1-17

[3] Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. A.M. Sheridan Smith (trans.). New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN: 0-394-71106-8

[4] Darin, S. (1998). "The Language of Classifying in Introductory Science Texts." In Essays in the Study of Scientific Discourse, John T. Battalio (ed.). Stanford: Ablex Publishing Company: 181-206

[5] Baake, K. (2003). Metaphor and Knowledge. Albany NY: The University of New York Press. ISBN: 0-7914-5743-5

[6] Leff. (1980, Fall). “Interpretation and the Art of the Rhetorical Critic” WJSC: 337-349

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud

Central to the argument of Freud is that religion is an illusion born out of the wish fulfillment of humanity as it struggles to understand its place in and master the forces of nature. For Freud “illusion is not the same thing as error; nor is it necessarily an error” (pg. 39) nor does it need be false “that is to say, unrealizable or in contradiction to reality” (pg. 39) but it is enough for humanity to recognize religious doctrines as being “in their psychological nature, illusions” (pg. 40). He does not wish to remove religion forcibly but to awaken humanity from infantilism and educate humanity to reality. “Need I confess to you that the sole purpose of my book is to point out the necessity for this forward step?” (pg. 63).

He begins by positing that civilization must be defended against the tendencies of the individual by protecting everything that contributes to the conquest of nature and the production of wealth against the hostile impulses of humanity. In humanity dwells the destructive anti-social and anti-cultural impulses that remain in spite of the sacrificial instincts imposed on individuals for the sake of civilization. These instincts are determined by the experiences of early childhood in which civilization suppresses the wishes of incest, cannibalism, and lust for killing. The external coercion of cultural forces become internalized in the super-ego and transforms the individual into a moral and social being. Narcissistic satisfaction provided by cultural ideals and manifested in art combat hostility to culture and reconcile humanity to the sacrifices it has made to establish civilization. These substitutive satisfactions are expressed in illusions and most notably, religious ideas.

Religion evolves out of the need to protect the individual from the external forces of nature. Civilization provides shelter and meaning from these forces by humanizing nature; namely in the guise of a father figure. Here protection is abstractly provided by giving meaning to his hitherto helpless state by positing and expanding on the notion of benevolent Providence. God becomes a father person to recover the intimacy of a child’s relationship to her father. This rectifies the short-comings of civilization even though this personification is a following of an infantile model. “The defense against childish helplessness is what lends its characteristic features to the adult’s reaction to the helplessness he has to acknowledge—a reaction which is precisely the formation of religion (pg. 30).” The information provided by cultural assets gives humanity meaning and reconciles it to the sufferings of life but are the least well authenticated. These illusions are derived from human wishes and historical recollections and should be recognized as such. Human development parallels the development of children into adults and Freud posits that as psychology aids in the expulsion of childish neurosis so can it aid in the development of civilization past the illusion of religion toward a more adult view of the relationship between the individual and civilization. People could understand that they are made by society “not so much as to rule them as, on the contrary, to serve their interests; and they would adopt a more friendly attitude toward [civilization] and instead of aiming at [its] abolition, would aim only at their improvement (pg. 53).”

Although Freud recognizes several weakness to his argument, namely that his view could be illusion, I feel that he places too much emphasis on the supposition that humanity tends to think and feel alike in spite of a divergence of experiences. We all would like to have the illusion that all humanity is similar but empirical evidence even within a given culture demonstrates a divergence of values, tendencies, hopes, dreams, etc. When one compares different cultures (such as the much quoted Eastern/Western dichotomy) humanity is seen as diverse. In order for Freud’s vision for the civilization of humanity to have promise, it must become one culture with the same illusions, neurosis, and thinking patterns in general. We all have common needs, i.e. food, shelter, air, etc., but how we define, categorize, explain, and pursue these needs as different cultural ideals are diverse.

-Safari Bob

[1] Freud, S. (1989). The Future of an Illusion. James Strachey (trans). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 0-393-00831-2

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tobacco Review: McClelland Premium Aromatic "Easy Street"

I remember when the first McClelland Premium Aromatics rolled onto the retail market. To me, they seemed a little too similar to the (now defunct) Nording Huntsman series (even the packaging was similar). Still, the Easy Street came about as a later edition to the series.

Manufacturer's Description:

Cool as the coolest jazz, soft as velvet nights, rich and creamy. A whisper of English Walnut perfects this elegant Black Cavendish. MSRP: $8.50 50gm tin.

One can certainly smell the walnut as the tin opens to a dark, black, irregular cavendish cut. Due to the heavy casing, the leaf is oily though not particularly moist. I chose to pack it a little looser than normal (as I do with all black cavendish smokes) and I had no difficulty getting it to light. To my pallet, the flavor is sweet with an essence of walnut - especially the slightly bitter outer cover of the nut. The ash is gray, fine, and heavy and this blend buns well to the bottom of the heel. Although each pipe-full tended to get hot about halfway through the bowl, over all it is a smooth, sweeter smoke with distinct walnut and vanilla flavors.

This is a good, steady, richer black cavendish aromatic that is, perhaps, nothing too special. I was hoping for something like C&D Autumn Evening only with walnut (rather than maple) flavors. If you like Lane BCA, then you should give it a try.

Rating: 3 Puffs out of 5

-Safari Bob

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review: The Sacred Canopy by Peter L. Berger

In The Sacred Canopy Berger attempts to “push to the final sociological consequence an understanding of religion as a historical product (pg vi).” His argument falls into two categories he describes as systematic (or a theoretical sociological exercise in which he attempts to explain the dialectics of religion phenomenon) and historical (in which he applies his dialectical model to specific socio-historical situations).

He begins his systematic study by examining the role of religion in the construction of the social world. Here he posits a series of dialectical relationships that work toward the construction of a world-view for humanity in relation to a constructed society. People cannot exist apart from the dialectic process of society consisting of three steps: externalization, objectification, and internalization. By the ordering of experience, humanity imposes nomos (or meaningful order) upon the social world by both objective (via institutions) and subjective (via consciousness) constructs. When this nomos is instinctually assumed either cosmologically or anthropologically “it is endowed with a stability deriving from more powerful sources that the historical efforts of human beings (pg. 25).” Here religion enters the social world as a human enterprise by which a sacred world is established. Essentially for Berger, these orders all work within society to give it meaning, order, and to protect against the terror of chaos. “Religion is the audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant (pg. 28).”

Religion is instrumental to the process of legitimation by locating social institutions within the sacred and cosmic frame of reference. This ‘maintenance of reality’ integrates a comprehensive nomos of marginal situations in which the reality of everyday life is questioned and creates an all-encompassing sacred reality. Here a social base (plausibility structures) for the continuing existence of society is real to humanity. The process of the explanation is called a Theodicy, which “allows individuals to integrate the anomic experiences of his life into the socially established nomos and its subjective correlate in his own consciousness (pg. 58).” In fact anomic phenomena can be legitimized by reference to a future nominization resulting in the masochistic submission to the total other.

Religion also plays a role in the alienation of humanity to nature. A duplication of consciousness occurs when the social world is internalized and results in the privileging of one part of the consciousness over the rest. Others and ‘otherness’ is interjected into consciousness as the works of humanity become part of a reality other than itself. This alienation creates a ‘false consciousness’ in which reality is inverted and the producer of society is apprehended only as a product. Religion reinforces this falsification of humanity’s “consciousness of the part of the universe shaped by [its] own activity, namely, the socio-cultural word (pg. 90).”

In his historical model Berger uncovers a process of secularization; which he defines as “the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the dominion of religious institution and symbols (pg. 107).” The roots of this process is found in the Hebrew Bible with the notion of the transcendence of God and the ‘disenchantment of the world’ which opened space for both human and divine actions. Law and ethics are not grounded in timeless cosmic order but in the concrete and historically mediated commandments of the ‘living God’ (pg. 119) and this rationalizing model was effective in the formation of the modern West via Christianity and the formation of the Christian Church. In the process of secularization, the modern industrial society has produced a social area within the competing pluralities of denominations that constitutes a ‘cultural lag’ between the economy and the state and family. Individualization gives rise to privatized religion as a matter of choice or preference which leads to the ‘demonopolization’ of religious traditions and to a competitive religious market. This results in a change of location of religion within consciousness from assumption to an act of faith. Religion is discovered within the subjective consciousness of the individual (ala Kierkegaard). Protestantism works as a prototype in which its crisis of theology demonstrates the problems of legitimation in which religion no longer defines the world.

I found his argument to be encompassing and relevant to the social progression of religion in the West. I particularly found the systematic section of his argument to be thought provoking and worthy of further study. He certainly uses Feuerbach, Marx, Hegel, Durkheim, and Weber for his backdrop to construct a sociological model for the phenomenon of religion in western society. Certainly from his sociological model the importance of Theodicy in the explanation of creation and religious progression is viable and to my mind, certainly reflects historical development.

- Safari Bob

[1] Berger, P. L. (1990). The Sacred Canopy. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN: 0-385-07305-4