If i could think of this book as a meal, then indeed Michael Pollan is a marvelous cook. He writes well, vividly and convincingly.As dense and inform If i could think of this book as a meal, then indeed Michael Pollan is a marvelous cook. He writes well, vividly and convincingly.As dense and informative as it is, the book doesn't make me feel bloated, but nourished :] I can't remember the last time I have discussed a book so many times, with so many different people. Chapter 17 on the ethics of eating animals is just mind-blowing and alone can make this book a worthwhile read.i can't resist talking about it before anything else.
I've tried to become a vegetarian a couple of times and have always eventually lapsed back into eating meat. The main reason I would ever become a vegetarian is environmental, the huge amount of energy expended in producing and preserving meat. I've always found the ethics of eating meat hard to defend on the moral basis. And it's fascinating to see a person do it convincingly like Pollan. Pollan starst with Peter Singer's argument against eating meat. A wonderfully simple but powerful idea: "if possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit non-humans for the same purpose?". Leaving aside the problematic question of how we define animal "intelligence", there is no debate as to whether animals can suffer. And if we have extended equal rights to women, minorities, homosexuals, should we and why don't we extend these rights to other species? ouch. most people, like me, when faced with this question and thinking about it seriously, either look away or become vegetarians. it is difficult to reconcile our instincts to eat meat and the moral implications of it. but Pollan shows us that those are not the only two alternatives.
He argues that while animals rightists have always stressed the suffering of animals due to our meat eating habits (although we have rather slim evidence of exactly what goes on in the brain of a pig about to go to heaven, (or hell?)), they have also failed to acknowledge that humans are capable of giving animals a decent and happy life. and "happy" in this case means the ability to do what they would naturally do, either pigs rooting around in the dirt, or cows wandering on pastures. "to think of domestication as a form of slavery or even exploitation is to miscontrue that whole relationship-to project a human idea or power onto what is in fact an example of mutualism or symbiosis between species."
as he points out, domestication is an evolutionary development. domesticated animals have a much higher chance of surviving than in the wild, compare dogs and wolves for example. they therefore evolve to serve human benefits, winning our favor, in order to be provided with shelter and protection. they probably don't like being killed very much, but if that gives them a longer life and a much better chance to spread their genes to the next generation, they would much rather be with us than be in nature. "predation is not a matter of morality or of politics, it, too, is a matter of symbiosis. from the point of view of the individual prey animal predation is a horror, but from the point of view of the group-and of its gene pool-it is indispensable." That is exactly the point that most animals rightists miss. they concern only with individuals, but nature doesn't work that way, no matter how cruel that might sound. nature is about maximizing the survival of the whole species. our morals were developed to help us function as a healthy, cooperative society, but it is rather irrelevant to what should happen in nature.
Pollan charges that this very embraced and apparently self-righteous "ideology" is a product of an urban society which has lost touch with nature. A friend of mine told me that he took his children to a slaughterhouse to see how pigs are killed because he believes that if we want to eat meat, we should be able to face the morality involved in it. that, i think, is a respectable viewpoint. the children were slightly disturbed but it didn't stop them eating meat. this father is probably an exception in our society. most of us probably have never raised a cow and seen a cow. our meat comes from nice little packages that never remind us of that it comes from something that used to have a brain and can suffer. when i asked my NZ friends why people no longer eat animal organs, like we do in Vietnam, they stared at me with disturbed looks. but really, when you think about it, offal is very nutritious, and there's little reason why we can accept eating meat, but not kidney, heart, or brain. i suspect the reason is the viscera brings home to us the fact that what we are eating used to be quite similar to us, which means, having eyes, lungs, heart. and we are so scared to face that reality that we get rid of it altogether.
the second reason is that once the meat production process is out of sight, we have lost the traditional rituals justifying the act of killing and governing the slaughter of animals. the disappearance of these old practices gives way to the brutalization of animals to the extent that the animals become so sick that we have pretty much run out of anti-biotics.
but that is not the same as to say that we can eat meat carefree without any moral consideration. given the fact that our food chain has become increasingly industrialized and heavily dependent on fossil fuels, we do have a moral obligation to care about the health of nature, i.e, the condition of the soil, the health of the animals we eat, the impact of animal farming on the environment. I can't agree more with him that while we don't need or arguably shouldn't give up our meat consumption, we should at least make sure that the way we eat is sustainable and the animals we eat are treated decently. the way that animals are treated in most farms is quite despicable. and i bet that if we had a chance to look at it, most would quite happily choose to be vegetarian. giving animals a humane treatment does not only give us a clear conscience but really serves our benefits as well. who would not want to eat a healthy chicken instead of a disease-ridden one? recently, when a documentary about the treatment of pigs in battery farms in NZ was broadcast on TV, the public displayed outrage at what they saw and have pushed quite vigorously for legislation prohibiting cruel treatment of farm animals see here. i don't know of progress elsewhere. i like the idea that once the public know about what's happening to what they eat, they can make a difference.
most of the rest of the book deals with corn and how our (meaning American) food chain has been reduced to a monoculture of soy and corn. they are present in something like 75% of the processed food products on the market. 40% of the calories a Mexican eats comes from food. if you think that's quite astonishing, then apparently American have overtaken Mexicans to be kings of walking corns. corn became the winner in the competition to be human's favorite crop because of its capacity to store a lot more calories than other species. the invention of fertilizers (interestingly made widely available by the surplus ammonium nitrate after the war) made growing corn so incredibly efficient that corn gradually replaced all other crops. and in the 1950s, feeding cattle on feedlots was cheaper than on grass, enabling the farmers to build massive chicken factories. livestock farmers went out of business because they couldn't compete with giant factories. fertilizer was a mixed blessing because the soil fertility shifted from reliance on the sun and a careful rotation of crops, to fossil fuels. we might like to think that fertilizers make agriculture a lot more efficient, but in fact, we expend twice as much energy to produce corn than when we relied on nature. and that's not to mention the huge cost of environmental pollution.
when corn got cheaper and cheaper, the Nixon government stepped in to subsidize it, encouraging growing even more corn of lower nutritional quality and sparking the beginning of agribusiness. the excess corn finds its way into most processed energy-dense foods and feeding livestock. getting rid of this huge amount of excess energy contributes to obesity and an impoverished food culture. it makes good economic sense to dump excess corn on cattle, but biologically, they evolved to eat grass, and being forced to eat something they are not supposed to eat has caused grave problems. in a shit hole with piles of waste, polluted air and water and no space to even wiggle their tails, the only way these cows can survive is to swallow humongous amounts of anti-biotics.
that sounds quite depressing, but the organic industry doesn't really hold a torch toward a moral utopia as we would hope. Pollan points out that the organic industry has diverged exponentially from its original ideals in the 1960s, and is now not so much better than the establishment. they consume a huge amount of energy to transport their products across the country, most "free range" farms mean that the chicken has a palm-sized window to look at the sun 5 minutes a day. real organic farmers have a hard time to get their products on the market because of government regulations. to me it seems like America's unsustainable food consumption is perpetuated by a cycle of ignorance and government intervention. so much for laissez-faire capitalism.
growing so much corn might seem to make good economic sense. we must admit that it's quite remarkable that this is the first time in human history, we can produce food so cheaply and so abundantly. but this is the thing that has always not sat right with me about economics. that it hides all the expensive external costs involved in the process: environmental degradation, costs to the government in terms of subsidies, a huge consumption of fossil fuels, public health and malnourishment. so in fact, eating cheap corn is very expensive.
so the key question is WHY is America doing all these things that defy logic? to summarize the whole story in one word, I'd say efficiency. feeding corn to livestock is so much cheaper and easier than grass (don't have to wait for grass to grow). and it supports a legion of other industries: the chemical and biotech industries, the food industry, the oil industry, pharma, agribusiness. If we keep in mind that hunter-gathers didn't become agriculturists out of choice, but because they depleted the animals they were hunting, it makes me worry what will happen to us when we deplete our soil and degrade our environment so the same disastrous extent. the food price riots in 2007/8 give us a glance at how depressing such a world would be.
but this book isn't just depressing, it's enlightening and inspiring. it shows us that there ARE alternatives to the status quo: eat local, subscribe to a farm you know, and as he says in "In defense of food", then simply "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". I find Michael Pollan a remarkable writer, very humble and articulate. I can't recommend this book too highly. ...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
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
It is quite amazing how much Roger Osborne can stuff in a mere 500 pages with the description of the whole Western culture from the ancient times unt It is quite amazing how much Roger Osborne can stuff in a mere 500 pages with the description of the whole Western culture from the ancient times until the modern day. So, nothing in-depth, obviously. But it offers a glimpse of the history of the west, from unexpected perspectives. A beginner in this field, I find this book helpful and accessible to all non-western readers. The book challenges the western belief that everything can be solved through rationality, the way the West think of themselves as superior, divide the world into absolutes of good vs evil, and claim everything good, refined, and moral under the umbrella of the word "civilization". Looking back at the history of the West, Roger Osborne concludes that the despite all the glorious achievements and chapters, the western world was also full of superstition, irrationality, violence and intolerance. Unless they face this truth honestly, they won't understand the true meaning of civilization. Thought-provoking, I will say....more
I was always meaning to write a proper review for this brilliant book because it is one of those books that shape my viewpoint on Israel and the conflI was always meaning to write a proper review for this brilliant book because it is one of those books that shape my viewpoint on Israel and the conflict. But I left for Australia shortly after I finished it so never got around to write a review until now. I’d not be writing if it wasn’t for the fact that recently I watched this documentary called Arna’s Children, which greatly upset me. It tells a story of a Jewish woman in Hebron opening a theatre and home for Palestinian children to teach them to express their anger through songs, plays and drawings. She devoted her life to supporting Palestinians’ struggle for the establishment of a Palestinian state through non-violent resistance and art. But she had cancer and left for Israel. When her son came back to Palestine ten years later, all the kids he used to teach to act in his plays have become militants and suicide bombers. It is often disturbing to think about how violence, humiliation and intimidation can dehumanize and brutalize such innocent children. But Israel is not just destroying itself from outside, it is really tearing down the very fabric of its own society from inside.
This is a great book, a must read for anyone who wishes to understand Israeli politics and its relations with its own Muslim population and the Palestinians. If you truly believe in what mainstream media try to sell: the image of Israel as the bulwark of democracy and the enlightenment, the beacon of hope for the unrenaissanced Middle East, the land of the free and brave, you will think very differently after reading this book.
Susan Nathan brings the story to you from a personal perspective with her witness of very human stories and abysmal sufferings that Israeli Muslims have to endure living in the land that once belonged to them. Susan Nathan is definitely my hero, really the kind of writer who goes out there to seek the truth rather than sit in ivory towers to second guess what it is like to suffer and preach victims to “tighten security and control terrorists”.
She is originally a British Jew who once lived in apartheid South Africa and came to Israel with all the noble ideals about her country. But gradually over time, she realized there was something very troubling about her country: it is basically an apartheid state with all kinds of state-sanctioned racism. And she has all the reasons in the world to believe so.
After the 1948 war, hundreds of villages were destroyed and the authorities registered all property in the new Jewish state. 750,000 people were displaced and lost their land, possessions and were scattered throughout the region until today. For those who stayed in Israel, they are squeezed into tiny pieces of land, and their houses constantly under threat of demolition. While Israel raves about expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank to support “natural growth” on occupied land, inside Israel, Jews are subsidized by the state to buy massive mansions with swimming pools while Muslims live in separate slums with no chance of expansion. They can’t really build houses or cultivate their land and can lose their homes at any time. Arab towns are not registered on the computer system and not provided with state services like Jewish neighbourhoods. They don’t get government investment and are overcrowded with terrible living condition.
In all aspects, Arabs are discriminated against: their schools are underfunded, their curriculum racist and degrading, their freedom of speech curtailed, their employment limited. What worries me is the fact that most extremist religious schools in Israel receive a lot more funding than secular schools, so increasing numbers of parents are sending their kids there. It scares me to think about what they’re brainwashed into thinking in such schools. Ariel Sharonism? In employment, many areas of the economy are closed to Arabs, and it makes Arabs the most vulnerable to unemployment and poverty. And because the state has confiscated most of Arab lands and passed to Jewish farming communities, Arab Israelis are left with very few opportunities in life.
As for Jews, they are discouraged from providing services for Arabs and get into trouble if they help Muslims buy houses. Men are drafted into the army at the age of 17 to serve for 3 years mainly to patrol at checkpoints. Refuseniks will face a lot of difficulties later in their career, be shunned by society and are excluded from government benefits. So it isn't worth it to mess around to fight for others' rights.
While reading this book, I always wondered how can Israelis let this happen? How can they turn their eyes away from the sufferings of their fellow men in their first world country? But sadly, since Arabs and Jews live separately, they are probably not aware or apathetic. Susan Nathan points out even some of the most “liberal” Israelis she talked to turned out to be hypocrites, they hold great contempt (and possibly fear) for Arabs and have little concern for them. Peace movements inside Israel are often weak, unenthusiastic and initiated by Arabs. Which really disappoints me because I’d like to see more aggressive action from the enlightened Jewish population to solve such a dire problem. At the end of the day, they still live in a (arguably functioning) democracy and face much less danger than Arabs or Palestinians. And unless Israel improves its treatment of its own Arab population, how could I expect it to change its direction in Gaza and the West Bank? In fact, I’ve given up that hope after the Gaza massacre (with overwhelming popular support from the population) in January and the election of Netanyahu. It angers me that such a racist/violent state can get so much acquiescent support from America ($3 billion in military aid per year!) even if it has viciously corroded America’s image in the region for the past 4 decades. Is it worth the price?
I am often appalled by the idea that some people honestly believe with the fiercest conviction in their heart that this piece of land was given to them in a book written more than 2000 years ago and that it is a decent excuse to steal other people’s land, raze their homes and subject them to the worst kind of denigration. At the end of the book, Susan compared the sufferings of Palestinians to those of Jews in Europe. Of course, they are different: Israel has never built gas chambers or exterminated wholesale. But that doesn’t mean that the sufferings they’re inflicting on Arabs are justifiable or less cruel. It has derogated, dispossessed and dehumanized a whole population, in that process, dehumanizing itself. Israeli society is possibly permanently shackled to the traumatic past, like an abused child that grows up into an abusive husband and constantly seeks to oppress someone else to feel secure inside. It has this tremendous existential fear of being wiped off the map even if it is the only country in the region with nuclear power. I wish Israelis that freedom from fear, peace of mind and the real courage to break with the past to look at their own mistakes, to make peace with Palestinians to really make Israel the land of the free and brave. ...more
When a dictator called Dr David Capie took over a country called Human Security Class, he imprisoned 108 rebels and put up a brutal regime called BookWhen a dictator called Dr David Capie took over a country called Human Security Class, he imprisoned 108 rebels and put up a brutal regime called Book Review, which denied and robbed all the citizens of their basic human rights such as: partying through the night, sitting on their ass watching youtube or lying on the beach etc. This regime also went against their basic religion, i.e Being-total-scum-ism and caused a wave of resentment and horror. Due to geographic isolation and ethnic cleavages, there was little cooperation among different rebel groups of the country, or not much as far as I was concerned. To wage a war against this regime, I had to collaborate with this guy Steve Coll and his army dubbed Ghost wars, a well-equipped army of 588 hard-core militiamen and about 200 irregular guerrilla warriors mainly from two ethnicities Bibliography and Notes. At first, Steve Coll appeared to be well-behaved but then turned out to be more and more radical, clinging to a perilous ideology called Fundamentalist Sleepiness-ism. With lethal weapons such as long and complex paragraphs, a thousand unpronounceable names, this army started to inflict violent attacks of excessive sleepiness on me. However, there was no consensus within different parts of my body what to do with this group. My hands were tempted to strike the book against the wall, my stomach protested and voted for going down the kitchen eating some snack hoping the book would get better, my brain, meanwhile trying get over the Le-whiskey scandal, was uncertain what to do when there were other important issues such as: essays proliferation, nuclear (physics) test and so on. Initially a compliant friend, energy drinks turned out to be a very unreliable alliance, which even seemed to collude with my adversary in causing more sleepiness. Whereas, my brain constantly received torrents of threats of doze attacks from Steve Coll and his forces. Desperate and confused, I turned to Coffee, a rebel that I had never trusted, as an ally in combating drowsiness. However, after a major attack called “Chapter 32”, Coffee was finally assassinated. The worst disaster for me (i.e, an F for the book review) was yet to strike...
Casting: me ~ the USA my hands ~ the CIA my stomach ~ the State Department Steve Coll + the book ~ Bin Laden + Al Qaeda Energy drink ~ ISI (Pakistani Intelligence) Coffee ~ Massoud David Capie ~ Brezhnev The above fiction might mislead you to think the USA supported Al Qaeda at early stages. Not quite, but they didn’t object to or care about Bin Laden very much. I hope my gentle readers pardon me for any misunderstanding of the book. I only had 3 days to write a crappy book review for this mammoth book. ...more
One of my friends once said Christianity was a great idea, unfortunately, Jesus' disciples made it into a religion. I was never sure if I could agree One of my friends once said Christianity was a great idea, unfortunately, Jesus' disciples made it into a religion. I was never sure if I could agree with him. One thing to take away from this book, like other books by Ehrman, is that once you look critically into the historical stuff about Jesus and what he actually said and did, not what others interpreted him to say, things aren't as romantic as moralists or philosophers (not to mention theologians) would like us to think.
Unlike what most people would imagine, that Jesus was an asteroid hitting the earth with great moral force, he was more like a pebble thrown into the sea. His influence outside Palestine was nil, very little was known or written about him in the pagan or non-Christian Jewish literature, the best we had was a passing mention of some guy called Christos by the historian Josephus. He was more like a typical village preacher than a great philosopher. Apart from the four Gospels, each with a distinct theological orientation, very few other Christian sources actually described Jesus' life and deeds, often with contradictory and unreliable information. Jesus' preaching had little to do with reforming society or inculcating better morality but much more about what people had to do to enter the imminent Kingdom of God when all current social institutions would be destroyed to be replaced by God's eternal happy paradise. on this topic Ehrman's "Jesus, the first millennium apocalyptic prophet" is a much better read.
I think the most interesting thing I learned from this book is the increasing anti-Jewish tendency of early Christianity. Most Jews at that time probably found it ridiculous that some people believed that Jesus could be the messiah. The messiah is supposed to be a fantastically powerful, glorious warrior with aura shining and angels flying above his head not a humiliated, helpless little guy. To recruit more followers, Paul made it very clear that Gentiles could also be salvaged by Jesus' suffering given that they believed in him. Unlike Judaism, which was exempted from persecution by the Roman empire in many aspects, as a weak emerging religious movement without any political clout, early Christianity had to defend itself against subversive charges, and had to create an "enemy" in its process of self-definition. And if you can't tickle the big guy (Rome), the easiest target was Jews who refused to believe in Jesus, and these attacks became increasingly vitriolic and took tragic turns once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire. Another minor interesting thing is how Ehrman explains the evil number 666 (mine is that it sounds like sex sex sex). He says that in ancient Hebrew, each letter can have a numerical value, and 666 makes Rome, the evil centre of the world at that time, which makes pretty good sense. The book gets a bit tedious at times, but is still an excellent textbook to learn about early Christianity. I love Ehrman as always, his writing is so brilliant and engaging that even a mind-numbingly boring topic like this can be interesting.
Despite some naïve visions of the success of communism in the Soviet Union and China that might sound very silly to us (considering the book was writtDespite some naïve visions of the success of communism in the Soviet Union and China that might sound very silly to us (considering the book was written in 1972), this book still has some very persuasive points that explain African underdevelopment. The main theme of the book is that underdevelopment was made possible by positive feedback loops starting with the uneven development in earlier centuries enforced by European constant exploitation of raw materials and human labor from Africa. It traces the root of underdevelopment Africa back to the pre-colonial period. The “natural” path of development from communalism to feudalism and capitalism in Africa was messed up by the European slave trade. The trade in slave was facilitated by African rulers’ greed for luxury goods and European products. The effect of this trade was devastating in that it caused considerable dislocation and disruption in the local economy, caused internal conflict as a result of slave raiding and a huge loss of African labor. (Rodney ignored the Arab slave trade, which caused an equivalent loss of human beings, but over a longer period and at slower rate). This process did not enter the productive process and did not contribute to generating wealth in Africa. Africa started to be highly dependent on export of raw materials and lost its spirit of technological innovation. The intrusion of European capitalists did not mean the transmission of technology, ideas or knowledge. During the colonial period, Europe further hindered Africa’s development by expatriating surplus from all production activities and cash crop farming. Africans were reduced to basic labor jobs which never stimulated technological advances or improved means of production. The claims made by Europeans colonialists to have “civilized” and modernized the Africans was convincingly refuted by the notoriously modest amount of investment in social welfares in all colonies and the racial discrimination in access to these services between the whites and the natives. Many African "capitalists" were discouraged to own assets or were not allowed to emerge, so they did not have enough capital to invest. Industrialization was blocked by colonial governments and no modern skills or technical know-how were transmitted to the local people. Education was very limited and basically did not go beyond the primary level. Walter Rodney challenges the concept of tribalism widely used in European journalism which means Africans have a basic loyalty to tribes rather than nations and retain fundamental hatred among themselves. He argues that the African states during the 19th century were multi-ethnic and no major wars due to ethnic differences occurred at that time (still true today). Europeans’ policies of divide and rule were the cause of the animosity among different peoples and blocked the evolution of national solidarity that happened elsewhere in Asia. the failure of Africa was mainly due to its political weakness and a low level of consciousness among the peoples of different tribes with no common social purpose (do most people have a COMMON social purpose at all? I doubt that). Walter Rodney also points out some interesting effects of colonialism which I myself never thought of such as the detrimental impacts on the Africans as a physical species due to chronic hunger and malnutrition, starvation in villages because able-bodies males were taken to the plantations and the role of education in instilling a sense of racial inferiority and subordination among the African people. The book could be much more convincing if it made comparisons between Africa and Asia/ Latin America. But bear in mind, this is 1972, where all the colonies were still embroiled in all sorts of conflicts, it was harder to predict the outcome of all that process in the following decades. Often when i read this book, I reflected upon Guns Germs and Steel and think probably the combination of both is a pretty good explanation for Africa’s underdevelopment. However, that’s up to 1972. From then on, the question is still open to more investigation. ...more
clear and instructive. It's good names are starting to ring bell. I found the early history of Africa fascinating and it's amazing this part of the woclear and instructive. It's good names are starting to ring bell. I found the early history of Africa fascinating and it's amazing this part of the world has been largely ignored and cut off from European history books. sometimes, the details get quite tedious. I'd love to have seen Shillington explore the impact of poor "expert" advice to African leaders and the role of the IMF in the African economies a little bit more. ...more