Just in case you don't know who Aitmatov is, he's a Kyrgyzstan literary legend. this story reads a little bit like propaganda "Why men should get marrJust in case you don't know who Aitmatov is, he's a Kyrgyzstan literary legend. this story reads a little bit like propaganda "Why men should get married and have kids" but in fact, it's very touching, powerful, and delightful. the many layers of the book weave together into a beautiful tapestry and the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me: "ah, so that's why!". well-written and riveting. it's available at: http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri/......more
I never actually knew what to expect before I started reading. But it doesn't take that long to realize it's an expose' of one of the thousand SovietI never actually knew what to expect before I started reading. But it doesn't take that long to realize it's an expose' of one of the thousand Soviet Gulags during the Communist rule. It actually makes me laugh a bit, the sort of "my-life-always-sucks-but-today-sucks-the-least" humor. It's the story of an ordinary prisoner Ivan Denisovich, who was accused of being a traitor for Nazi Germany and thrown into a labor camp for ten years. the conditions of the prison camp were, of course, horrendous and cruel but there are sparks of genuine friendship, sympathy and blithe optimism. but the book is merely description, hardly emotional or thrilling. which might be more real, because understandably, after ten years living the same routine in despair, you'll lose all sense of time and feelings. I find it has the power to shock, but not to touch, as "Music through the Dark". maybe, I'd give it 3 stars, but one extra for the author's bravery. ...more
I read this book eons ago and to be honest, back then I just could not make up my mind whether I really liked it or really disliked it. I had a hunchI read this book eons ago and to be honest, back then I just could not make up my mind whether I really liked it or really disliked it. I had a hunch that something obvious doesn’t resonate with my instinctive belief. I couldn’t pinpoint it or maybe I could but I didn’t see enough evidence to defend my point. So it’s been quietly sitting at the back of my mind for a year, sometimes I regurgitate it to think a little and it has taken a very very long time until this day arrives, when I decide that I totally disagree with Tolstoy.
On this website, people love this book for various reasons that I agree with: vivid depiction of peasant life in nineteenth century Russia, devastating condemnation of the hypocrisy of the penal system, moral insights into human conscience and social justice. But after all, very little is said about what I think is the theme of the book: the question of punishment, one of my favorite topics. And I’ve come to realize that I have to disagree with Tolstoy, disagree in a very fundamental way although I have deep respect for this man.
I’ll very briefly summarize the plot, but much better explanations are on amazon. This is a story about Nekhlydov, who seduced a young servant and then ran away, oblivious to the misery he had caused until a fateful twist many years after. The girl, Katusha was pregnant, dismissed from the family, and later became a prostitute and lost her baby. Years later, Katusha was accused of robbing and poisoning a client and Nekhlydov served on a jury to decide her fate. She was helplessly sentenced to exile in Siberia and accepted her fate with resignation.
That was a shock to Nekhlydov’s conscience and after an anguished transformation, he decided to follow her to Siberia and asked her to marry him. The time he spent with her brought home to him the abysmal destitution of the lower class, as opposed to his exuberant and indulgent world. Katusha was persistently resentful to him until the very last days when she realized his remorse was sincere. The guilt and sorrow Nekhlydov went through awakened him profoundly and compelled him to examine his existence and society more critically.
Unfortunately, he or Tolstoy arrived at totally different conclusion from mine. His conclusion lies in the some lines scattered throughout the book and the final chapter: “In this way the idea that the only certain means of salvation from the terrible evil from which men were suffering was that they should always acknowledge themselves to be sinning against God, and therefore unable to punish or correct others, because they were dear to Him. It became clear to him that all the dreadful evil he had been witnessing in prisons and jails and the quiet self-satisfaction of the perpetrators of this evil were the consequences of men trying to do what was impossible; trying to correct evil while being evil themselves;
we should forgive always an infinite number of times because there are no men who have not sinned themselves, and therefore none can punish or correct others.
This objection might have a meaning if it were proved that punishment lessened crime, or improved the criminal, but when the contrary was proved, and it was evident that it was not in people's power to correct each other, the only reasonable thing to do is to leave off doing the things which are not only useless, but harmful, immoral and cruel. Nekhludoff now understood that society and order in general exists not because of these lawful criminals who judge and punish others, but because in spite of men being thus depraved, they still pity and love one another.”
I can’t disagree any less. The inspiration of this book comes from his reading of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, which I think does contain some profound wisdom. But I’ve never believed in turn the other cheek or serve your enemy at all, I don’t see any reason whatsoever why I should forgive/ respect someone’s right to slap me or trample on my well-being unless there’s some repentance on their part. It doesn’t mean that I’d take revenge, but I’d not forget or condone something similar happening to someone else.
If everyone lived according to his philosophy, that’d be an ideal world. But what’s that possibility? ZERO. Some people have screwed-up brains, some are sadistic, some are apathetic and MOST are just irrational sometimes. I hate the logic because everyone sins (whatever that means), you can’t correct others. That’s based on a very flawed premise that all sins/punishment are equal, either taking a nibble at your friend’s cake or killing another person. Or fining a person $50 is the same as putting them in prison. Where’s his common sense?
I don’t expect personal conscience to be the most efficient means of punishment. We can choose not to punish others for their offences against us and pray to God a beacon of light suddenly shines upon their conscience, so brightly that they become remorseful and swear never again. We can choose to do that but is that the same as not punishing those who inflict pain on others, especially the helpless ones like children or women? Law is made into law not only because it’s largely compatible with our morality, but also because it serves a wider social benefit (thank you Renee for this enlightening line).
Tolstoy’s point is here because punishment is harsh, unjust and arbitrary, we should get rid of it. All of it. But I don’t think it’s as much of a problem that punishment is harsh, but the real problem is when it is UNFAIR and not applicable to everyone equally. Places where robbers have their hands cut off are likely to be where some people, usually a minority, have unquestionable authority to impose their cruelty on others and are untouchable by the law. I do believe that places with the most humane treatment of prisoners are also where the law is most fair and equal to everyone. In such societies where everyone’s equal under the law, the understanding that others’ suffering in punishment can also happen to each of us ourselves generally makes people more reasonable, empathetic and humane. Most of us probably don’t even appreciate how precious equality under the law is. Neither did Tolstoy because he didn’t have an opportunity to live it.
Why do I think having no law is a problem? Discarding all law is not going to solve the problem because inevitably, someone will dominate and abuse their law again. And people at the bottom, the poor, women, children, minorities, homosexuals, perhaps atheists (just jokes) might be victimized again. Having discriminate laws against them is terrible, but having no law protecting them either is maybe equally horrible. I think making law more just and humane is the solution.
My biggest problem with the absence of fair law is I despise crime with impunity, I despise the fact that some people can abuse, exploit, kill, bomb, embezzle, torture and then simply walk away with impunity. I’m sick of the fact that some people in this world have the power and authority to cause tremendous suffering and misery and can walk away and are never brought to justice. Fair punishment is necessary to end retribution, and it’s our duty to make it just.
My second problem with the book is its over-moralistic-ness and preachiness. It seems quite obvious that the characters were cooked up to serve as his mouthpiece and illustrate his predefined philosophy. The story in many ways is quite predictable and clichéd: no one’s bad, all prisoners are actually decent men, government is evil and unjust and arbitrary, so let’s get rid of it all. I’m not impressed.
Given the time and context when this book was written, I can understand why Tolstoy believed in this philosophy. But a society without punishment is unlikely to ever work, but at least, we can “leave off doing the things which are not only useless, but harmful, immoral and cruel.” ...more
maybe i'm too old for fairy tales, but honestly, I don't think children should believe that if you sit on your ass all your life daydreaming and beliemaybe i'm too old for fairy tales, but honestly, I don't think children should believe that if you sit on your ass all your life daydreaming and believing a prince will come, sailing a boat with scarlet sails to take you to your dreamland. I'd rather say go make your own boat with scarlet sails and sail away to make your dreams come true. ...more
not the most exciting story I expected to read, but Maupassant's magical descriptions of the most delicate emotions: doubt, hysteria, anger, (Oedipal?not the most exciting story I expected to read, but Maupassant's magical descriptions of the most delicate emotions: doubt, hysteria, anger, (Oedipal?) jealousy are exquisite and engaging. ...more
read God Within (*it's not a religion book as I presumed, mainly on ecology)or this one, but not both. same style, same ideas, same argument, same exaread God Within (*it's not a religion book as I presumed, mainly on ecology)or this one, but not both. same style, same ideas, same argument, same examples, waste of time. ...more
Updated 18/06/09 (it's coincidence I finished this book exactly one year ago - currently rereading the chapters on Israel-Palestine)
Sorrow. IndignatioUpdated 18/06/09 (it's coincidence I finished this book exactly one year ago - currently rereading the chapters on Israel-Palestine)
Sorrow. Indignation. Dismay. Abhorrence. Horror. Disgust. Wrath. All the things that haunt you through the nights.
If there’s one history book that totally changes the way I see the world, it must be this one. It is an extremely hard read, not so much because of its length but the gruesome story told. Robert Fisk leads us through a harrowing journey of tremendous human sufferings, repugnant betrayal and indifference of the West, monstrous dictators and deplorable cowardice and hypocrisy of Western media and journalism.
While reading this book, the horror haunted me and a voice in my mind kept screaming: wtf? Isn’t it enough? How can we stop this? It was almost impossible not to cringe even when I skimmed through the passages describing the Armenian genocide, Saddam Hussein’s gassing his own people, Iraqi children withering away into oblivion in despair without medicine, Algerian babies dying with their throats slit open. The Middle East is a hell disaster, as Fisk describes it, and it has a lot to do with colonialism, conquest, war and “human folly at an unstoppable scale”. If you ever wonder why some “terrorist”, “barbarous” Palestinians, Iraqis hate America so much, this book offers a perfect explanation. It does not take that much, if your enemy is all-powerful and can kill your people with impunity or your would-be “liberators” imposed sanctions that silently killed and stunted half a million children and blasted your whole family to “liberate” you. No, it does not take that much at all. Just a “little” bit of indifference, cowardice, prejudice, ignorance and lots of “strategic interest”.
The tragedy started soon after the fall of Ottoman empire. The Middle East was carved up and given to a bunch of families without any regard for the wish of the people, despite Woodrow Wilson’s good intentions. The Kurds were betrayed, so too were the Armenians, the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Algerians, and later on the Iranians, the Saudi Arabs, the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds alike. One has all the right to doubt the Western slogan of democracy when they support all the most ruthless demons as long as they are on our side and typically conveniently walk away once their enemies are defeated without casting a single thought on those left behind.
Maybe the chapter that outraged me the most was the one on Iraq, with all heinous hypocrisy of the Americans. After liberating Kuwait and dropping more bombs on Iraq than on Japan and Germany during WWII, the USA appealed to the Iraqis people to stand up against Saddam Hussein and grotesquely abandoned them to Saddam’s callous forces. They stood a very good chance of getting rid of Saddam that year, but fearing the instability the Kurds might have caused to our good friend Turkey, the Americans preferred Saddam. And during that same decade, covert bombings destroyed the lives of thousands of people, with other millions dying without any medicine or clean water. And how ludicrously the Americans expected to be greeted as heroes years afterward.
Fisk’s story is one of human wickedness and viciousness, both from the powerful and the vanquished. It’s a vicious cycle of greed and brutality, despair and revenge, and more punishment, and more revenge. And I think this is exactly the problem with unquestionable power and the lack of just punishment for all sides, Americans or Israelis or Arabs. He also righteously expresses his disgust at the bias of western media in the face of authority and censorship. I believe Fisk has a clear bias, a bias toward the victims, the weak, the defenseless to bring their voices to the world, to speak strongly and harshly against power, empire and violence. Not only a depressing and brutally honest history work, the book is a passionate and bitter memoir of a man of impeccable courage and integrity.
There’s something very poignant and profound about this book that deeply affected me. It is perhaps our attitude toward history and responsibility in the present. I am not an American, not a Western, but let me pretend I am one just for a moment. There is something disgraceful and horrifying about the functioning of our democracy. When I saw the huge Gaza demonstration in Sydney, something very odd occurred to me. Somehow, our governments no longer represent our public opinion, which is against war and for a Palestinian state. America went to war in 2003 when the rest of the world was against it. Somehow, our voices no longer count, somehow, our government have this tremendous power to ignore us to go their way.
Our policy, often made by people who are ignorant of history or culture of the local people, indifferent to their wishes and have no idea what it is like to shiver in fear under the torrents of bombs and missiles, can kill and bring tragedy to so many people living on the other side of the world: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chile... The wounds never heal. That makes us bear this responsibility of learning about the past, the history, the disasters made by our past leaders, to avoid repeating the same blunders in the present, to ceaselessly remind ourselves that somewhere in the world, people are suffering because of our governments’ actions. As Noam Chomsky says, everyone becomes a nationalist when it comes to criticizing our own country. But we must hold our government accountable for all the “collateral damage” and civilian killings and violation of international law if we ever want to keep our humanity intact.
It is so easy to sit down, watch tv and believe in the endless soap opera of the war on terror. But we must ask ourselves: why are they so angry at us? I think it is incredibly irresponsible to not know, to be ignorant and to label them all as “terrorists”, “fundamentalists”, “generically violent”. Every story of rage is one of despair, despair in the face of unstoppable power and endless humiliation. Fisk probably believes in collective guilt, and I must agree with him to a certain extent that each of us living in a democracy is inevitably partially responsible for these atrocities and the silence from our leaders to the injustice visited upon the people in the region. Learning history is vital especially in times of war, to understand that our conquest is doomed to fail in the end, that no one wants to be occupied and they will fight until the end of days to get rid of us. I wonder if Obama remembers that the Afghans were one of the fiercest armies that fought the Russians and British out of Afghanistan more than a century ago, and then the Soviets 30 years ago, why is he still sending more troops to this unwinnable war?
“Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death had been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we talk about “target-rich environments” and “collateral damage”-that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing-and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the important of peace.
Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, “them” and “us”, victory or defeat. But war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit.
I have witnessed events that over the years can only be defined as an arrogance of power. After the Allied victory of 1918, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career- in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad-watching these peoples within those borders burn. America invaded Iraq not for Saddam’s Hussein’s mythical “weapons of mass destruction” but to change the map of the Middle East, much as my father’s generation had done more than eighty years earlier.
We journalists should try to be the first impartial witnesses to history. If we have any reason for our existence, the least must be our ability to report history as it happens so no one can say: “We didn’t know- no one told us. “Our job is to monitor the centers of power”. That is the best definition of journalism I have heard: to challenge authority-all authority especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.”
I was delighted by Obama’s speech in Cairo last week. For the first time, a US president acknowledged his country’s errors in the past and criticized Israel openly before a Muslim population. Finally, there is genuine apology and change of direction. Obama probably realizes that war does not work, terror does not work, and the healing must start from honestly facing the past. How he is going to translate his rhetoric into action, that is left as an open question that remains to be seen....more
when i got this book from the library, i was excited maybe it's what i've always been looking for, a philosophy for the oppressed, the illiterate, thewhen i got this book from the library, i was excited maybe it's what i've always been looking for, a philosophy for the oppressed, the illiterate, the destitute. it starts off pretty much like a reiteration of Erich Fromm and Frantz Fanon, and then an interesting concept of banking method of education (i.e, imposition, prescription, lack of dialogue). but then the book seems to repeat itself over and over again without any examples, so it becomes fairly dry. chapter 3 feels very out of place with the rest of the book, because er, it's very pedagogical. and take this paragraph for example, how many average people can actually understand, let alone the poor and not so well-educated: " When human beings perceive reality as dense, impenetrable, and enveloping, it is indispensable to proceed with the investigation by means of abstraction. This method does not involved reducing the concrete to the abstract which would signify the negation of its dialectical nature but rather maintaining both elements as opposites which interrelate dialectically in the act of reflection. This dialectical movement of thought is exemplified perfectly in the analysis of a concrete existential, coded situation. If the decoding is well done, this movement of flux and reflux from the abstract to the concrete which occurs in the analysis of a coded situation leads to the supersedence of the abstraction by the critical perception of the concrete, which has already ceased to be a dense, impenetrable reality." maybe, i was misled in the first place about the target of the book. other than that, i agree with most of the book but it still does not transcend the us vs. them, the oppressed vs. the oppressor dichotomy and seems to have a very limited definition of history "there is no history without humankind". ...more
i've always been out of love with self-help/spirituality books since i was 14, mainly because my "child in my soul" can't put up with the irresistiblei've always been out of love with self-help/spirituality books since i was 14, mainly because my "child in my soul" can't put up with the irresistible desire to fall asleep when reading this sort of book. But seriously, Fromm has the ability to make even this sort of crap very interesting. What I found most amazing is how he analyzed the development of religion, from the infantile state of ultimate belief in God and a constant yearning for a patriarchal (rewarding-punishing) and a matriarchal unconditional love, to the mature stage of internalizing the love for God as a conviction in what he symbolizes: love, justice and truth. This form of immature love can also be found in ostensibly erotic love and narcissism. Although freed from Victorian norms, Western capitalist society which is built on the basis of exchange of commodities, conformity, routinization and efficiency is detrimental to man's connection with nature, others and himself, therefore, incompatible with true love (which I find rather exaggeratingly pessimistic). Romantic love is impossible without the love for oneself and others. I love his idea of love meaning not falling in it unconsciously but standing in love, respecting the other's essence of existence, being alive, finding one's strength and connection with the world, living actively and being independent. If someone expects this book to be a how-to, (s)he will be disappointed, but I guess there's no instruction for love, otherwise, this book might well have been one of those bogus books I put down from the very start......more
this play raises very deep questions about the justification of homicide in revolutions and the struggle for justice. It is based on a real event in Rthis play raises very deep questions about the justification of homicide in revolutions and the struggle for justice. It is based on a real event in Russia of a group of socialist revolutionaries who assassinated the Grand Duke Sergei Romanov in 1905. to be honest, i can't make up my mind which side i take. i can't deny that there are cases where violence is necessary to achieve justice and moral ends, but how far can it go? if everyone has the right to use a future vision of justice to vindicate acts of violence and sometimes, outright viciousness, will violence ever end? I'm not entirely sure what side Camus takes, maybe that of Ivan Kaliayev, who assassinated the Duke, but Kaliayev's argument might be the one that a lot of present day terrorists use to justify their killings in the name of overthrowing tyranny. i really don't know the answer, very complex question... ...more
addresses the phenomenon of anti Americanism in Egypt, the Maghred, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syriaaddresses the phenomenon of anti Americanism in Egypt, the Maghred, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Sub Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. I like most of the book a lot because it's brief and easy to understand. it covers the history of anti Americanism in different countries and concludes that the phenomenon is far from homogeneous and deep-rooted. America has become an easy target to throw rocks at so that undemocratic leaders can mobilize the population against a common enemy and secure their power. except for the chapter on Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which is unfortunately quite messy, the rest is good. just a little bit surprised that Sayyid Qutb, al Turabi and the Muslim Brotherhood hardly come up in the book at all. it sort of ignores the literature and intellectual foundation of anti Americanism. ...more
i appreciate the message of the book, but i can't deny how incredibly boring it is, 5 pages could have been enough. my jaw got sort of deformed becausi appreciate the message of the book, but i can't deny how incredibly boring it is, 5 pages could have been enough. my jaw got sort of deformed because of excessive yawning. and why did Gregor live with his shitty family in the first place? ...more
John Peter Pham unravels the tragic story of a collapsed state in the midst of constant warfare in one of the worst regions in the world. His main argJohn Peter Pham unravels the tragic story of a collapsed state in the midst of constant warfare in one of the worst regions in the world. His main argument is that the very foundation of Liberia contained in itself the seeds of self-destruction. Liberia was established in 1847 by freed slaves from America and the American colonization society in an attempt to "rid our own country of a useless and pernicious, if not a dangerous portion of its population to spread the arts of civilized life" to "a benighted portion of the globe". Unexpectedly (at least for me) these "half-civilized" settlers colonized the indigenous population and created an apartheid and exploitative country dominated by an Americo Liberian oligarchy for more than a century. In 1980, an indigenous general called Samuel Doe overthrew the government just to reinforce an even more ruthless and repressive regime. Interestingly, he received $500 million (!?) from the US gov simply to frustrate the Libyan dictator Quadafi, who was aspiring to spread radical Islamism in Western Africa. Various rebel groups rose up against Doe, and Charles Taylor, who cleverly exploited the ethnic animosity and illegal timber and diamond trade to earn $75m annually, eventually gained the upper hand and won the election in 1997 after 7 years of bloody civil war. But the crisis only got worse and he was forced into exile in 2003. This is a very very sad tragedy of an impoverished country with a plethora of blood-thirsty villains and almost no hero. All the war factions seemed to fight for no noble cause, some attempted to prolong the war to benefit from the uncontrollable black market. ECOMOG, the Western African peacekeeping force, were equally evil, also taking part in raping, looting and illegal trade. France conducted iron ore trade with Charles Taylor during the height of the war. The UN was rendered almost powerless and America refused to save its "stepchild". The war was filled with barbarity and ignorant mysticism beyond belief (i.e ritual killings, mutilations, cannibalism) and clearly than ever manifested the crisis that Robert Kaplan had envisioned in "The Coming Anarchy". But there were several episodes in the story that made me laugh, not particularly because i was entertained, because they were disturbingly comical: 1, after the fraudulent election in 1985, Doe manipulated the vote counting process and claimed 51% of the votes. the US State Dep unwittingly appraised him: "The prospects for national reconciliation were brightened by Doe's claim that he won only a narrow 51% election victory virtually unheard of in the rest of African where incumbent rulers normally claim victories of 95 to 100%". Ronald Reagan lovingly called him "Chairman Doe" (Wow!). 2,After Doe took office, he banned all unauthorized gatherings lest the Liberian people’s “jubilation might get out hand”. 3, One of the rebel groups, the Liberian Peace Council army was called“Butt Naked Battalion”: they went into battle naked in the belief this would render them impervious to enemy fire. The general “we were nude, fearless, drunk and homicidal. We killed hundreds of people. But God Telephoned me and told me that i was not the hero so I stopped and became a preacher”. Generally, I like the book but sometimes it seems to me the book didn't go through any editing process, littered with simple grammatical errors. The torrent of acronyms and hordes of different names, groups, parties confused me too. But it provides a useful review of the endless catastrophe in war-torn western african countries.