so again, I'm sucked into a book that angers and saddens me. Samantha Power demonstrates that despite the lofty (but rhetorical) pledge "never again"so again, I'm sucked into a book that angers and saddens me. Samantha Power demonstrates that despite the lofty (but rhetorical) pledge "never again" after the Holocaust, the US gov and state leaders have never ever been willing to prevent or stop any genocide in the twentieth century. the systematic inaction and indifference of the US gov and the UN in the face of the plights of the Kurds, Cambodians, Tutsis, Kosovars and Bosnian Muslims are invariably characteristic when realpolitik remains the lingua franca of Washington and all US presidents. It takes extraordinary individuals like Henry Maugenthau, Raphael Lemkin, Peter Galbraith, Bob Dole, McCloskey to push a polls-obsessed government into action. But apart from unusual supposed "success" story the belated bombing in Srebrenica in 1995 (3 years after Milosevic's vicious "ethnic cleansing" campaign started with more than 200,000 Muslims cherished in despair) and the hyper-cautious aerial bombings in Kosovo in 1999, America has largely sat on the sideline with all sorts of rationalizations of unspeakable inhumanity elsewhere. Not only indifferent like in the case of Rwanda, the US also indirectly supported genocidal regimes like Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge or Saddam. And when thousands of people died unnecessarily, policymakers busied themselves squabbling over if these genocidal acts constituted genocide and justified America's nonintervention by a future quagmire or jeopardy. However, the most important point Samantha Power brings home to me is that as impossible as it sounds to deter these disasters, these bloodthirsty maniacs are also vulnerable and sensitive to reactions of the international community. It's the passivity and reluctance to act that embolden them to continue their killing spree. even the most symbolic gesture from world leaders can make a difference, but the truth is that those suckers REALLY DON'T FUCKING CARE or bother to condemn these assholes. Half-hearted efforts and fixation with casualties on "our" side often preclude bold actions necessary to provide safety for civilians or bring war criminals to justice. to be honest, the book gives me some hope, not in the remote possibility of humanity of monsters, but in the power of public opinion in urging their leaders to act to prevent massacre, like Clinton in 1995 and 1999. But apart from all the very well-documented facts and info, there is one thing Power never mentions, China......more
scholarly, insightful, thought-provoking, strongly opinionated, inspiring and idealistic. the title is quite misleading (maybe chosen for the sake ofscholarly, insightful, thought-provoking, strongly opinionated, inspiring and idealistic. the title is quite misleading (maybe chosen for the sake of fashion) and indeed much narrower than what the author intends to address. Mark LeVine, as an activist, politics/religion scholar, artist who has traveled widely across the ME, analyzes the marginalization of the Middle East/North Africa region in the process of globalization led by the Neo-cons and Axis of Arrogance (Huntington, Fukuyama, Friedman and Bernard Lewis, whose "brilliant" book I just read) and seeks to transcend the simplistic stereotyping of the Muslim world by the West. He argues most of those "experts" on the ME have no idea what's happening at the grass-root level and overgeneralize the attitude of a fraction of radical terrorists as the representation of this immensely diverse region. the best part of the book is when LeVine touches the most fundamental problems with the current peace and justice movement. It is becoming increasingly reliant on the demonization of the US, unwilling to criticize the Islamic regimes, incapable of offering a non-violent alternative and a holistic approach to the region and inclined to an anti-Jewish, anti-American rhetoric. He's also very critical of the failure of the Left in bridging the religious/secular cleavage, reaching out to the moderate Muslim activists and scholars in the region and gaining a more holistic understanding of the situation. The movement seems to be stuck with May 1968 despite the supposed "success" of Seattle, Genoa, Prague. Levine's solution for grass-root activism is vigorous "cultural jamming" to reach understanding and solidarity, reconciliation with the people of faith, and academic training for thousands of activists to enable them to stand up against repression without resorting to violence. That, as he rightly admits, is a formidable project that takes much more effort than flipping through An Idiot's Guide to Radical Islam. Unfortunately, the book is not quite well-written and organized. The first part, criticism of neoliberalism and globalization, is fairly dry and academic. I was also rather disappointed LeVine is very good at critiquing people's ideas but he doesn't spell out his own definition or solution. The second and third part, cultural jamming and the Axis of Empathy, are more persuasive with a touch of personal experience and an insightful perspective. listen to him talking about his own work: http://youtube.com/watch?v=mfzSHVjMriE...more
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