Completed shortly before his death in 1948, University of Wisconsin forestry professor Aldo Leopold grants his readers the supreme privilege of seeinCompleted shortly before his death in 1948, University of Wisconsin forestry professor Aldo Leopold grants his readers the supreme privilege of seeing nature through the original ecologist's eyes. Leopold was probably not the first to use the term "ecologist", nor the first to be be so branded; surely he was the first to deserve it. Though it may appear a quaint historical piece at first glance, its message is no less potent and relevant in the 21st century: nature, the land, deserves full respect and love without regard to traditional economics. Without this, effort at conservation will be a vain half-measure at best.
Sand County Almanac is a series of short pieces, organized in three primary units: A Sand County Almanac, Sketches Here and There, and The Upshot. Each is filled with a beautiful prose showing an easy command of the English language and yet also displaying enough humility to remain accessible to all. Along with scientific precision Leopold brings evocative imagery and an emotion at times ironic, but never overly so.
The Almanac teaches us how to really see nature — how to understand a thing for what it is instead of what it is not. Thus the Leopold-educated, confronted with a marshy backwater, is no longer prone to see it as a lost opportunity for development. Rather, she will encounter a unique habitat, developed over geologic time into a home for beautiful pasque flowers, graceful cranes, and playful muskrats. Through a web of consumption — passing energy up through the soil to the plants, herbivores, carnivores, and back to the soil — the marsh sustains itself with only slow changes over time. Without the right mix of players, the biota is liable to collapse to a less sustainable, less organized, and less diverse state; in other words, it will devolve into a field of corn.
In the Sketches, we get a portrait of Leopold's development as a young man and as a forester. Reading the Sketches, one feels a great sense of loss for all that humanity has done to its environs, for all that humanity unintentionally — and unfeelingly— has destroyed. And yet it is clear that he continues to respect the best elements of humanity:
"To love what was is a new thing under the sun, unknown to most people and to all pigeons. To see America as history, to conceive of destiny as a becoming, to smell a hickory tree through the still lapse of ages — all these things are possible for us, and to achieve them takes only the free sky, and the will to ply our wings. In these things, and not in Mr. Bush's bombs and Mr. DuPont's nylons, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts."
We find that he is no Luddite. He does not shun civilization or the amenities of life. Its just that he believes in moderation, and convincingly shows that what most of us take for moderation remains overindulgence. What I think he laments most in mankind is the lack of a sense of connection to the land.
This theme of connection is more thoroughly explored in the final unit, The Upshot. These four essays take both a more philosophic and political bent (though by no means partisan). The crowning jewel of the book is "The Land Ethic." He wishes us to see the land not as merely dirt, trees and water, but as a complex regenerative system that is beautiful and deserving of respect in its own right. My guess is that this is the most influential paragraph of the entire work:
"The 'key-log' which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Incidentally, within "The Land Ethic" one can find the seeds of Gaia theory, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel theories, and a clear understanding of the systems and complexity theories that were only beginning to emerge within the scientific community.
The Almanac is a masterwork. It breathes the rarefied air of non-fiction elevated to the point of literature. Any education system that wishes to impart to its students an ability to know and understand nature (the goal of science) should require reading at least a selection. Any citizen who wishes to play a positive role in the future development of her city, region, nation ought to partake of Leopold's genius. This is a work that will stand the test of time. If one day a child, hearing of its fame, should read the Almanac and wonder at its hallowed status in light of what he perceives as commonplace observations, then shall we know that the Land Ethic has truly taken hold.
For a sample of Leopold's writing, I recommend Thinking Like a Mountain, the first piece I ever read from him. From the Sketches, it expresses both a magnificent sense of the order in nature, along with Leopold's wistfulness about mankind's present role in the greater ecosystem. Also available online is The Land Ethic itself. ...more
I cannot recall with clarity how I first became aware of The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt. NPR? Amazon? Whatever the case, I am very glad that I folI cannot recall with clarity how I first became aware of The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt. NPR? Amazon? Whatever the case, I am very glad that I followed up on the lead.
The title is in reference to S. Ramanujan, the mathematician. It is a name I had heard, but the name and profession were previously the extent of my knowledge. The book begins with the English maths don G.H. Hardy helping bring Ramanujan over to Cambridge from his post as a minor clerk in Madras. From there it proceeds through introduction to English (academic) society, World War I, and Ramanujan’s illness and early death at 33. This gives nothing away about the story, which is told (mostly) from Hardy’s point of view.
Leavitt has obviously done an incredible amount of research and proves himself both articulate and imaginative. While it took fifty or a hundred pages for me to really get into the book, I suddenly found myself in the grip of a compelling story of humanity. The prose was reminiscent of Fitzgerald with a dash of Steve Weinberg – a mixture of mythos and logos.
The book is about much more than a lonely mathematician and his collaborators. It is also looks deeply into what it means to be English, to be Indian, and even to a small extent to be American (by contrast). What motivates us – to make the daily small decisions, as well as the big exercises in free will that, at least we tell ourselves, tangibly influence the course of our own lives and of others’? From all that we get the many layers of what it is to be human. Plus a smattering of number theory.
There was a poem I was once fond of, perhaps by Shelly. Or was it Tennyson? Something about the hero striving with the gods before his end. Google shall find the answer: ah, Ulysses…
Death closes all; but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
Here in Leavitt’s work, and in the reality he masterfully fictionalizes, were men who did some deeds of noble note – in the name of knowledge, in the name of peace, in the name of humanity. To strive with gods requires a certain fire, and a rare confluence of ability and circumstance – almost, in the latter, denied to Ramanujan – and in The Indian Clerk we see the pain, the glory, and the human truths when one sets out “strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” ...more
I took my nook on pilgrimage, with a whole slew of Bahá'í e-books. I realized after the first day that I wanted to read a first-hand account from a pi
I took my nook on pilgrimage, with a whole slew of Bahá'í e-books. I realized after the first day that I wanted to read a first-hand account from a pilgrim who visited the Holy Land during the time of the Master, 'Abdu'l-Bahá. I had already read God Passes By just last year, The Dawnbreakers some years ago, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era fairly recently, and several other books dealing with Babí and Bahá'í history. So I decided to try out Lady Blomfield's The Chosen Highway – and was well-rewarded for it.
The books is written in a semi-epistolary style, which struck me as a very odd way of presenting a history. But it worked. Lady Blomfield's aim was to give a sense of the times, to share with others around her what had occurred in the Master's trip to the West and what she had learned from the Master's family in Haifa on her own pilgrimage. The goal was not to present an academically-rigours historical treatise.
The stories she tells are consistent with other histories, and many of them are based on interviews with the women of the Holy family – including Bahiyyih Khanum, Munirih Khanum, and others. Reading their perspectives on the exiles is fascinating. They were able to share insights that made the pilgrimage experience deeper, such as details of the difficulty of the passage from Gallipoli to Akka; the joy at leaving the Citadel mixed with the oppression of being essentially locked away in the House of Abbud; the fear for the Master when the Turkish authorities were seeking an excuse to execute him. These stories are made richer through their sharing, and Lady Blomfield expertly navigates the cultural differences in bringing them to light for a western audience.
Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By clearly remains the pre-eminent book for understanding the momentous events of Bahá'í history. The Chosen Highway makes an excellent companion, and is quite frankly an easier read. I cannot recommend it more highly.
In The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Fritjof Capra attempts to present a synthesis of systems models as a new (and iIn The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Fritjof Capra attempts to present a synthesis of systems models as a new (and improved) way of looking at life. While scientists will often speak of paradigm shifts within a field -- for instance from Newtonian to relativistic physics, or Lamarckian evolution to the Darwinian kind -- it is rare that they attempt to link these individual shifts to a wider movement. It is probably rarer still that they attempt to create the overarching paradigm, as opposed to simply documenting it.
Capra begins by acknowledging the countless problems plaguing humanity today. Taking a deep ecological approach, he sees the problems of hunger, climate change, education, conflict, and so on as being integrated and systemic. If humanity understands the magnitude of these calamities, then it is clear that we are not currently capable of dealing with them. Capra's belief is that we must refocus the way we look at the world -- we must put on green-tinted glasses with a worldview rooted in sustainability. He speaks of the need to understand the interdependence of humanity and nature; he speaks of shifting from self-assertion to integration, from power to balance, and from hierarchies to networks.
One of the delightful aspects of Capra's writing is that he leaves room for you to connect many of the dots, yet weaves key concepts in repeated mantras. If you don't quite see the connection, he'll make it clear in a reference somewhere in the next chapter. Thus it is as he steps away from the normative social science for most of the book, wrapping things up nicely at the end.
In parts two and three he describes systems thinking and key systems theories. Of systems thinking in general Capra writes, "[the] essential properties of an organism... are properties of the whole, which none of the parts have," and, " systems cannot be understood by analysis."
Four criteria of systems thinking are laid out:
1) holistic, systemic properties emerge as "organizing relations of the parts" 2) different properties emerge at each "level" of a system 3) knowledge as a network, not an edifice 4) must explicitly describe epistemology
Dr. Capra, a particle physicist by training, has a true gift for translating abstract scientific concepts into intelligible English. This gift is used well in describing an array of theories and showing the similarities of worldview that they imply. Of traditional physics he speaks little, only alluding to ideas drawn out in full in The Tao of Physics. In fact, his work now revolves around the idea of life being at the center of our quest for knowledge, instead of pure structure. Theories so richly described include cybernetics, dissipative structures and mathematical complexity (chaos), laser theory, hypercycles, autopoeisis, Gaia theory, and symbiogenesis.
Much of the synthesis throughout and following these theories grows from the work of Humberto Maturela and Francisco Varela (the Santiago theory of cognition). As he moves from the primarily physical theories into the realm of humanity, he focuses on the place of consciousness, rational and intuitive knowledge, and language in the human condition as we know it.
I find the Web of Life to be an engaging, educational, coherent, and most important of all, extremely relevant view of the world in which we presently find ourselves. It is an important addition to the field of knowledge, and I hope that it may affect some shift in both the filters we see the world through and the policies we create in their context....more
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow is what happens when a classic geek extrapolates the cyberpunk future of a reputation-based economy
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow is what happens when a classic geek extrapolates the cyberpunk future of a reputation-based economy combined with the extrusion of an open source ethos into the management of everyday affairs, tosses in immortality and lean project management, and sets it all in the context of the semi-religious experience of Disney World.
A well-crafted amusement park ride of the Disney-variety leads you through a thrilling story in a matter of minutes. The rider does not foresee the end of the ride; when it arrives, the rider disembarks enthused and ready to jump back into line. So it is with Down and Out; reading on the nook, where ignorance of page count is natural, I was stunned to look at the bottom of the screen and realize I was at the end. What a ride it had been! I wanted to exclaim out loud and rave about the book, but prudence restrained me from disturbing my fellow airline passengers.
I've been to Disney World twice in conscious memory, and I think once when too young to recall. Memories of Disney Land in the pre-K years also stir. That frequency outs me as a privileged middle class American. To those who haven't experienced Disney, I've been unsuccessful in explaining the awe and joy I still feel with respect to these parks. Explaining the mystique is like explaining Star Wars; those who didn't grow up with it rarely grok it. Doctorow's protagonist lets us in on one of the secrets: "The mark of a great ride is that it gets better the second time around, as the detail and flourishes start to impinge on your consciousness. The Mansion was full of little gimcracks and sly nods that snuck into your experience on each successive ride." In dialogue, in discourse, in contrasting experiences, the book makes a serious contribution to understanding the mythos without destroying it
Down and Out exudes love, joy, reverence for the cultural icon and the experience of Disney. And more imporantly – for the condition of being human. The characters are not paragons of virtue; they are human; no, they are more-than-human: immortal, altered, freed of many of today's physical and social constraints. But still they are human: petty, ambitious, caring, loving. For all of Julius's failings, I cared about him, my fictional friend who has started to realize the failings of the society he has embraced.
The book is only 208 pages, so give it a shot. See the present and the future in a different light. Consider the implications of technology for humanity while having a heck of a ride. Stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best Sci Fi around. Buy it, check it out at a library, or download Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for free.
That said, I admit that I skimmed through some of the middle chapters where the application was being built – it was simple to skip the details of Java implementation and focus on the points where a decision was being made, based on tests, about where to put/move a piece code. The authors did well in steering away from anything too Java-centric, that the book would remain accessible to those of us who are not deep in that language.
There is no need for me to recount the contents – perusal of the table of contents should be sufficient. Some of the advice about testing overlaps that found in XUnit Test Patterns, but the overlaps is small enough to warrant reading both. Naturally, some of the advice will reinforce what any good and self-reflective programmer will have already figured out about writing tests. In that case you receive validation and further justification. And much of the advice on OO programming can be found in more detail in other works, though here it is uniquely combined with TDD to shed new light on the advantages of OO.
A few particular highlights for me:
Let necessity drive design, rather week-long UML sessions.
Write to interfaces, initially ignoring implementation. Interfaces should name and describe relationships between classes.
Deploy as early as possible. Do so even before the application does anything, just to prove that the framework can be deployed.
Readability applies to test code as well. I already believed that, but this presentation will help me explain that better to doubters.
Test names can be extremely descriptive (prior post)
I have been over-reliant on Microsoft's Moles (prior post)
Talks by 'Abdu'l-Bahá: The Spirit of Christ is a new arrangement of public and private talks, all previously published in Paris Talks and PromulgationTalks by 'Abdu'l-Bahá: The Spirit of Christ is a new arrangement of public and private talks, all previously published in Paris Talks and Promulgation of Universal Peace. Each talk mentions Christ; some are directly about Christ's teachings and disciples, while others are more generally about religion and the Prophets or "Manifestations" of God. Like a good mix tape (playlist), the arrangement here creates a beautiful and new experience: the reader gains a clearer and more coherent view of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's theology from these pages. This of course is an elucidation of Bahá'u'lláh's theology; as such, this new volume would make an excellent compliment to the study of the Kitáb-i-Íqan.
Having just read two other books containing many excerpts from 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks, presented in historical context, I was looking for a followup that would present more analysis and application. When this book arrived, I was stunned by the beautiful dust jacket and the elegant book design. Nevertheless, I felt some initial disappointment, until I realized that these talks are in themselves the best analysis of modern conditions and application of the Bahá'í teachings. Furthermore, this collection offers an education in how to challenge an audience without putting them down and without overwhelming them with too much information, and how to use the power of both intellect and emotion wisely.
Although frequently commenting on the religionists of the past who were unwilling to forsake the forms of their fathers when a new dispensation arose, and stating in no uncertain terms that it would be better to live without religion than to live with it when it becomes the cause of disunity, the reader sees that his words of criticism were "mild as milk" and are expressed with a sense forthright observation rather than fiery castigation:
"If in the day of Jesus Christ the Jews had forsaken imitation and investigated reality, they would assuredly have believed in and accepted Him, for the Messianic effulgence was far greater than the Mosaic. The Sun of Reality, when it appeared from the dawning point of Christ, was as the midsummer sun in brilliancy and beauty".
Imagine the tone of our social discourse if the body politic could learn from this example; and imagine if our academic discourse were devoted to building on itself rather than constantly trying to tear each other apart. It would be a different and far more pleasant society, if we could learn from the Master.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Bahá’í Publishing Trust through its Bloggers Network book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." (http://ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revis...)...more
There are now many worthy biographies of Bahá'u'lláh available to both the casual and serious student. Choosing from among them can be difficult; thanThere are now many worthy biographies of Bahá'u'lláh available to both the casual and serious student. Choosing from among them can be difficult; thankfully, there is enough diversity of perspective, and a rich enough body of source material, that one is enriched by reading several of them. Dr. David Ruhe's Robe of Light: The Persian Years of Supreme Prophet, Baha'u'lllah hones in on Mírzá Husayn Alí's life before He became the "Supreme Manifestation" – as a youth, and particularly as one of the foremost Bábís. That he does so in a relatively objective and scientific manner gives his work an additional refreshing lens through which to gaze on the life and teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.
The book's subject matter is meticulously researched, using both the "standard sources" (The Dawnbreakers, Bahá'u'lláh – King of Glory, the writings of the Guardian) and carefully employing other historical works whose usefulness is granted, but large-scale accuracy sometimes doubted (for instance, Tarikh-i-Jadid in various editions, and minor works that are difficult for those of us not in Haifa to come by). In many cases, Dr. Ruhe gives a brief note explaining the differences between several works, and how he came to choose a particular version of the story to present.
Personal experience and illustrations are used to excellent effect throughout the book. The illustrations include numerous expert drawings as well as black-and-white photographs. I believe the photographs were largely taken by the author while on a pilgrimage of sorts through Iran well before the revolution. That tour of the country allows Dr. Ruhe to verbally paint the picture of the land that Bahá'u'lláh loved in His youth, traveling from hamlet to hamlet, through steep mountain passes to Tehran or other regional cities in the north. The reader who knows Iran merely as an adversary of the West will learn to fall in love too with the majesty of this ancient homeland.
The first-hand knowledge garnered on his travels, and from his medical practice, allows Dr. Ruhe on several occasions to explain some seemingly dubious incidents. Without taking away from the heroism of Fort Shaykh Tabarsi, he tells us about the conditions around it that were inhospitable to the attacking army. As a medical doctor, he provides a reasonable explanation of how `Abdu'l Khaliq-i-Isfáhání would have survived cutting his own throat at Badasht, among other physician's notes.
This book was a joy to read. Dr. Ruhe's writing style is both refined and accessible. His prose is influenced by the academic style, without becoming mired in it. I would happily recommend it to any interested reader....more
The opening pages contained such a horrible portrait of nonredeemable people that I put the book down, switching to Anna Karenina. Picking it back up,The opening pages contained such a horrible portrait of nonredeemable people that I put the book down, switching to Anna Karenina. Picking it back up, it was not as painful to read the parting exchanges between Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood, quickly moving the real protagonists to their new home in Devonshire. After that, it was been compellingly enjoyable.
Perhaps the best quality of a Jane Austen novel is the subtle mockery/critique of the excesses of society. Coming in a close second is the use of the language. Austen uses few words that remain unrecognized in even a modern audience, yet the preponderance of multi-syllabic words, carefully crafted phrases, and indirect speech patterns provide a rich feast for the eyes and intellect. This books offers much in both regards.
A question... (view spoiler)[in today's western civilization, a 35 year old moping over a 17 year would be seen as creepy and borderline jail-worthy. Did Austen actively condone, merely accept, or secretly condemn this practice? (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
E.O. Wilson, one of America's foremost scientists and secular humanists, has penned a moving appeal for religionist and scientist alike to set aside t
E.O. Wilson, one of America's foremost scientists and secular humanists, has penned a moving appeal for religionist and scientist alike to set aside their differences and focus together on preserving Earth's biological diversity for the benefit of today's and future generations (which, in the case of many bacteria and insects, will also begin and end today). In a beautiful prose reminiscent – no doubt intentionally – of Aldo Leopold, Wilson moves directly to share his sense of awe in the face of nature, and the plain facts about what science has discovered about the state of our planet's biodiversity. He also writes of what we do not yet know: of the countless species yet identified, the relationships amongst them yet unrecognized, and the increasing need for citizen and scientist alike to pursue this knowledge.
As one long convinced of the scientific facts of humanity's destructiveness, and of the terrible tragedy this represents, I did not need Wilson's persuading. But I am convinced that he has taken the right approach, the right tone. He proceeds with respect. He does not water down, but does write in a language far simpler than many intellectual popular science books (such as his own difficult-to-read Consilience). He mixes fact with anecdote to keep the reader engaged.
If this formula does not succeed in engaging the drive to dialogue for both parties, then the biophillic may have lost one of their last hopes for a grand compromise. Of course they can always take the inside route – go religious, work that angle as apparently Bishop Spong does.
One of the unstated currents of The Creation is the sense of nearly-mystical ecstasy that can be found in the presence of nature. This is also a hallmark of Leopold's writing, and of the aforementioned Bishop Spong's. Set aside the "rational" arguments for cooperation between science and religion, and think on this description of the "charismatic experience" of religion, from Moojan Momen's The Phenomenon of Religion (p94):
"This experience makes those involved feel that a gift has been bestowed upon them. This gift may include a feeling of being in a 'wider life than that of this world's selfish interests,' a sense of being in continuity with the powers of the universe, and a sense of elation and joy as the sense of self and attachment to this world is abandoned. There is an inner equilibrium and calm. It has been described as the experience of saintliness."
This is the ecstasy, or going out of self, that so many religious writers emphasize. Working in a garden, hiking through the less-tamed natural areas, or gazing into a microscope at the diverse fauna of our own saliva, we can step out of our human shell, detached from our human games and "worldly" desires for a moment, feeling a sense of reverence, awe, and oneness in the presence of such diverse forms of life. Anecdote shows this; research proves it: people experiencing greater biodiversity are happier, are better able to overcome life's vicissitudes.
Wilson's common ground is thus not built solely on the unifying element of respect for and stewardship of the natural environment. There is also the commonality, at least in their morally highest representations, of religion and science both working to improve the livelihoods and the satisfaction of living beings, both working to ease our suffering and uplift our joy. Yes, much of "religion" is about the ease of suffering via a satisfying after-life, but every world religion also contains the strong call to compassion and charity in the here-and-know.
Science, as reviewed by Wilson, increasingly is showing a link between achievement of these aims and human exposure to diverse elements and forms of life. Thus if we wish to improve the common weal, we must preserve the biodiversity remaining on Earth, and even work to reverse the destruction we have already caused. And the time is now – we cannot afford to wait while we solve one or many of the Earth's and humanity's many challenges. This too Wilson makes abundantly clear. We are on the edge of a precipice, and it will take our combined efforts to push us back into stability.
This is one of the most profound secular works I have ever read, and I cannot recommend it more highly. Some critics have labeled it condescending; I saw it as frank and straight-forward. If you have the means, please read The Creation, and then find ways to strengthen your commitment to the well-being of your fellow creatures on this God-given Earth.
Back in December, before cold became a four-letter word (as it does every January in Minnesota), I re-read Neal Stephenson’s neo-Victorian novel The DBack in December, before cold became a four-letter word (as it does every January in Minnesota), I re-read Neal Stephenson’s neo-Victorian novel The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Very enjoyable, filled with social insight, and not so easy to analyze.
Stephenson has a powerful ability to combine technology and the fringes of the human condition. And he’s a pretty good story-teller. Some complain that he builds, builds and then rushes to finish. I’ve never felt that. The endings admittedly can feel a bit less than complete – but it usually comes out as not inappropriate. After all, it is the story between the covers that matters, not the wrap up.
The Diamond Age’s central motif is the use of nanotechnology. This was a technology on the bleeding edge of research, futurism, and cultural awareness in the mid-90’s. That it largely still is makes Stephenson a true sci-fi prophet – he was not simply glomming on to the latest sci/tech to capture popular imagination. He was propelling nanotech into our consciousness and imagination. Well, into that of a segment of the geek crowd anyway.
Most of the (non-bio-medical) innovations of recent years have been in the application or extension of existing technology, rather than creation or deployment of new tech. Thus where Snow Crash now feels almost "merely" prescient, The Diamond Age’s exploration and of the uses and ramifications of its subject still feel fresh.
Sex plays an important and ingenious role in The Diamond Age, most of it animalian and trance-like. His use of sex in this and other works has me conflicted. Yes, I am a bit of a prude; but more importantly I am keen to avoid misogyny. Sex in Stephenson’s works often feels demeaning and like a nod toward titillating the mostly male sci-fi audience. But it also drives the plot (especially here) when it occurs.
Sex is never gratuitous, and it is never particularly graphic. At times it is even couched in a language (i.e. Victorian English) that takes the edge off the tension – although that can have the (unintended?) effect of minimizing the trauma of some situations, of dehumanizing the act. That could be a legitimate coping mechanism when the act is not consensual – but it can also lead the reader to become detached from the horror of rape. Most of the characters do not suffer from it, so perhaps the sense of distaste reflects my monogamous value system more than an objective literary or humanistic criticism.
What about plot, characters, voice, etc.? All brilliant. The plot moves you at the right time; the reader is able to get into the characters’ heads and feel their highs and lows; there are many distinct voices – you’re certainly never confused about who is speaking or thinking.
The author is better than most at presenting a balance of the sexes, particularly at giving the women in his novels room to grow, act, and be. After re-reading Cryptonomicon earlier in the year, which is heavily male-oriented, I had forgotten that this was outside his norm.
Thank goodness. The literary exploration of the human condition is simply incomplete when it ignores half of humanity. It is also incomplete when it ignores multiculturalism, abilities, orientations, etc. To his credit, Stephenson is also quite adept at bringing elements of other cultures into the path of his Anglo-Saxon trajectories. ...more
It was about three years ago, while attending a conference at Green Acre Bahá'í School in Eliot, Maine, that I had the bounty of making a sunrise pilgIt was about three years ago, while attending a conference at Green Acre Bahá'í School in Eliot, Maine, that I had the bounty of making a sunrise pilgrimage to the burial site of Louis Gregory, Hand of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. At the time I knew little about him – that he was an early African-American adherent of the Bahá'í Faith, a fantastic and tireless teacher, well-loved by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and thanks to the Master’s encouragement, one-half of perhaps the first black/white Bahá'í marriage in the U.S.
I paid my respects as the sun rose on a chilly November morning, illuminating the lovely gravestone even as the Bahá'í teachings illuminated Gregory’s visage. The skeptic in me knows not whether my prayers and reflections that morning had any effect beyond providing a reference point for a lasting sense of serenity – and yet my spirit cares not. Moved as I was, it makes no difference whether the invocation of divine grace dissipated in synapses or radiated into the Eternal.
Soon after returning I knew that I must learn more about this lion of racial reconciliation. At last, this past Autumn I began reading To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Unity in America. Though interrupted by my first true Pilgrimage, I returned from time to time to finish. Being both a biography and a history, this book presents remarkable insights on the man and the mission, shedding light on the racial challenges, the many crises faced, and victories won by the American Bahá'ís between the period of around 1909 to 1951. The author’s research was meticulous, with copious citations to published works and to letters housed in private collections.
While ferrying other youth from the Kingdom Conference in Milwaukee to a teaching project in Austin (2001), we stayed for a night in northwestern Arkansas. The late night venture from southern Missouri into the Ozarks was extremely taxing and, on the twisting two-lane highways, rather harrowing. Despite the road weariness, a morning conversation with a local has stuck with me ever since. He, who is white, remarked how the American Bahá'ís in the 20s and 30s had blown it with respect to racial reconciliation. 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi both had challenged the American believers to overcome their prejudices, welcoming and inviting all. But, in this man’s opinion, the Bahá'ís had failed, and the whole world was facing the consequences.
To Move the World does not take such a harsh tone and dim outlook – but it does make plain the real struggles to embrace the concept of "oneness of humanity" and realize its deep implications. Although some steps were taken in the Bahá'í communities, nationally and locally, the setbacks and slow progress are so evident that it would be easy, and perhaps appropriate, to interpret this as a history of failure. Nevertheless, the book makes clear that Gregory persevered, and that the Advent of Divine Justice, among other letters from the Guardian, did prompt real changes. The guidance from Haifa provided the impetus and sustenance for the work of Gregory, and others on the various "race unity" and teaching committees, to operate on those around them, driving feedback cycles that led to more and more integrated communities and real love and respect between black and white Bahá'ís.
Nearly sixty years have passed since Gregory’s death. The anecdotal evidence suggests that substantial work remains to be done in the quest for spiritual and material equality. I have been in gatherings dominated by whites and a few dominated by blacks, but beyond large-scale meetings, I can think of none in my own experience that were representative of a diverse and well-integrated community. Indeed, the Universal House of Justice in its recent guidance to the Bahá'ís of the World reminds us of the imperative of moving beyond good intentions, actively striving to create true unity in our midst. We would do well to study from the history of race unity efforts in America, learning from the mistakes but also standing on the shoulder of its giants – of whom none can raise us higher than Louis G. Gregory. ...more
**spoiler alert** On the Fourth night, Stephen was finished. Stephen looked around, and he was pleased. For JK Rowling had once again put together a s**spoiler alert** On the Fourth night, Stephen was finished. Stephen looked around, and he was pleased. For JK Rowling had once again put together a stunning, compelling, engrossing novel about the intersection of the worlds of wizards, witches and wizards. About the horrors of warfare. About growing up, about enduring friendship, about dedication and follow-through. But who really knew what a hallow is? Here I was, thinking until the answer was revealed, about a wide shallow wooded area… but that's a hollow (or copse), not a hallow.
I think we're all agreed that Dobby's death was the saddest of them all. Some people feel like there were too many deaths. Those people haven't been paying attention to the war in Iraq: people die in a war. And yes, like Lupin & Tonks, many of those deaths come with out explanation, they are "senseless." I suspect Rowling wanted us to really appreciate how much Voldemort's evil really impacted the world.
I was pleased that there were a number of good light moments, where you could see that life continues much as normal, if only for a few moments, even in terrible circumstances. I didn't laugh too much after the first 100 pages, but there was Percy's return and Molly's anger at Bellatrix, among other things. The wonderful symmetry, subtly played, of Harry swooping down on the broom to rescue Malfoy. Ron asking about the house elves...
One comment I've heard is that there wasn't enough dénouement. Others thought what we got was cheesy. I felt neither — in fact, I was actively pleased with the way she wrapped things up. Yes, there is something to be said about seeing how the wizard and muggle communities deal with the aftermath. Tolkien did that with the return to the Shire. And yes, maybe some avenues for future fiction are ruled out (but not really) when we see the two families years later.
But after all, this was a story about Harry and his friends. We can imagine the repercussions. They can be filled in with encyclopedia entries or short stories. After all that darkness, after the kids not knowing if they would reach adulthood even, it felt satisfying to know that they were able to live their lives, staying together and close. And I must say, I really appreciated that even Draco Malfoy could look at Harry with a respectable nod. For this reader, the ending was just right. ...more
The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions: From messianic Shi’ism to a world religion is a thoroughly researched, academically rigorous, and yet accessible overviThe Bábí and Bahá’í Religions: From messianic Shi’ism to a world religion is a thoroughly researched, academically rigorous, and yet accessible overview of the development, growth, and dominant motifs of these two religions. Its author, Dr. Peter Smith, is a researcher and professor in sociology and religious studies. Himself a Bahá’í, he takes great care to execute a balanced treatise, particularly with regard to subject matter where no substantial “neutral” sources are available. In this reader’s mind, it is an exemplary introduction for any student of the newest of the “world religions.”
As an academic work, its 243 pages of text, maps, charts, and notes are relatively slim. Indeed, there were a number of areas, particularly in the earlier sections, where the reader might wish for a deeper exploration. As noted, such an exploration is not always feasible given the dearth of sources out of 19th-century Persia. Further, the author’s purpose is to present a socio-historical survey, not an in depth history, of the movements in the book’s title.
The work begins by providing essential context for the emergence of “Bábísm” in the 1840s. Beginning in the late 1700s, Shi’a Islam was stirred up by a new movement (Shaykhism), one of whose pillars was the recognition of the continuing presence of a intermediary linking the righteous to the source of divine guidance (the 12th Imam of the Shi’as). From this milieu Sayyid ‘Alí Muhammad, the Báb, arose to progressively unfold His claim to be not only the “gate” to the Hidden Imam but also the source of an independent revelation. Smith’s explication of the nature of the Báb’s revelation, much of which was outwardly promulgated by His most prominent followers while His activities remained restricted in the late 1840s, will be particularly helpful for those wishing to gain greater insight into the importance of figures such as Mullá Husayn Bushru’í, Mullá Muhammad ‘Alí Bárfurúshí (Quddus), and Fátimih Bigum Baraghání (Tahirih).
Though his treatment is brief, the discussion of “Bábísm as a socio-religious movement in Iran,” along with the chapter on legalism and motifs preceding it, presented crucial insight into the religion’s appeal and role in wider Persian society, without appearing to pander to any particular side (unlike, for instance, Mangol Bayat’s Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran, which exhibited a strong anti-Bábí bias).
The second part of the book traces the rise of Mírza Husayn ‘Alí Núrí’s ( Bahá’u’lláh) influence on the Bábí community, from a prominent teacher and half-brother of the titular head of the community after the Báb’s execution to the founder and promulgator of His own independent religion, the Bahá’í Faith. It is with respect to the division of the Bábí community into the followers of Bahá’u’lláh and those of His brother, Mírza Yahya Núrí (Subh-i-Azal) that Smith takes the most care in presenting a balanced perspective. Citing a lack of neutral sources, he spends very little time discussing the physical conflict between the two camps, including no mention of the alleged poisoning of Bahá’u’lláh or of the several murders supposed to have occurred amongst the followers. Nevertheless, Smith’s careful depiction of that which is known about both leaders sheds a great deal of light on Bahá’u’lláh’s ability to win over most of the Bábí followers.
The significance of Bahá’u’lláh’s acceptance in the Bábí community is shown to extend beyond merely overtaking the officially anointed head of the movement. His teachings, while rooted in Islam and Bábísm, in many ways brought about a radical break from these traditions that He Himself had followed, particularly with regard to concept of jihad and the treatment of non-believers. These teachings enabled Him to gain a following among non-Shi’a in Persia and the Ottoman, which His Son ‘Abdu’l-Baha was able to further extend into the Western world.
The extension into the West and the rest of the world occupies the second half of Smith’s book. Here he focuses attention on the themes that drove first Westward expansion and later expansion into the Third World. For the American Bahá’í such as myself, it provides a fascinating overview of the importance of the American community as well as its on-again, off-again growth. While this material is certainly important and relevant for understanding the history and current state of the Bahá’í Faith (at least through 1985), for this reader it was interesting but, unsurprisingly, not as compelling as the first half of the book.
Scholarly research on the Bábí and Bahá’í religions has grown tremendously in the past twenty years, no doubt due in part to Smith’s diligent work here and elsewhere. Although there have been many significant developments in the Bahá’í world since 1985, The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions will undoubtedly continue for many years to occupy an important niche in conveying the dominant themes in the growth and unfolding of today’s Bahá’í religion....more
The first time I picked up God Emperor some years back, I put it back down pretty quickly. It got weird. Too weird. After re-reading the first three DThe first time I picked up God Emperor some years back, I put it back down pretty quickly. It got weird. Too weird. After re-reading the first three Dune books recently, I had a greater appreciation for Herbert's attempt to explore the meaning of humanity and the arc of future physical and cultural evolution. This is one of those rare books that has very little in the way of plot, and yet keeps you turning the page. Herbert has a way of exploring concepts in every day language that is unparalleled....more
I first fell in love with Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych. Several years later I read Anna Karenina, and with it too I was, figuratively speaking, iI first fell in love with Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych. Several years later I read Anna Karenina, and with it too I was, figuratively speaking, in love. Sure, it had had its slow moments — and what 19th century novel doesn’t? — and yet his characters were some of the most vivid and moving fictions ever portrayed. Recently I finally finished reading his other magnum opus, War and Peace. And I did not fall in love.
The characters were still magnificent; few male authors work so hard to get in to the female psyche, displaying many multidimensional (and some one-dimensional) women playing major roles. Charles DeLint may achieve the same intensity of feminine intellect and emotion, and there are a few other favorite authors who can write a good womanly part… but only these two truly work to dig deeper. I digress.
Yes, the characters are excellent, and the settings artfully, beautifully described. Count Tolstoy’s philosophical adventurism is always interesting. He first time anyway, for that is his undoing here. For pages and pages he goes on about how historians have the wrong view of, well, everything (but specifically the role of individual wills in shaping societal destiny). And then 50-100 pages later he says it all over again. In between we’ll watch the growth and development of a half dozen characters or so and occasionally bring in detailed, boring retrospectives on various battles in Russia… inevitably bringing us full circle with the historical ramblings.
His points are interesting—but not so the second time I think. This repetitious theme is certainly not restricted to War and Peace. It is surely apparent in Karenina, though I can no longer remember that work well enough to say, and I’ve felt it strongly in his Confessions (for which reason I’ve yet to complete them).
One day I’ll return to Ivan Illych again. One day I’ll revisit Levin and Kitty (the real stars of Karenina). But I doubt I’ll ever re-read War and Peace. At least I can rest easily now with the knowledge that I’ve made my way through (most of) it once....more
The first half of the book carries the reader through the history of race relations, beginning in ancient (western) times, jumping to European expansiThe first half of the book carries the reader through the history of race relations, beginning in ancient (western) times, jumping to European expansionism, and spending significant time dealing with the horror and side effects of slavery. For this white reader, the chapter on “Thomas Jefferson’s View of a Multiracial America” was particularly difficult to read, as Dr. Thomas makes a compelling argument for Jefferson’s ideology, victim-blaming, and refusal to accept evidence contrary to his beliefs as the direct ancestor of today’s virulent white supremacy. (I was always taught that he was more enlightened than this, albeit still a slave owner; as a professional historian Dr. Thomas proves otherwise).
True to his Bahá’í viewpoint, Dr. Thomas is not content to dwell on the problems of race relations. I believe his goal is to give context rather than simply castigate. Indeed, throughout the book, and particularly in the last few chapters, he seeks to provide examples of positive race relations. By his account, this is largely unexplored territory in the annals of history.
Having built up the background of modern hate, of institutional and subconscious racism, he is not content to leave us with a bleak view of humanity. The concluding chapters explore the Bahá’í community as a model for racial unity and a “transformational agenda” for continuing to address the challenges posed by racial disunity. Though he is acknowledges that Bahá’í communities have struggled greatly to live up to the standards to which they have been called, he see these communities as being crucial to the last 100 years of social evolution in America’s race relations. ...more
Gormenghast – a word that fills the mouth, that undulates with waves of hard and soft, that tricks the tongue into thinking it can escape with a fadin
Gormenghast – a word that fills the mouth, that undulates with waves of hard and soft, that tricks the tongue into thinking it can escape with a fading sibilance, only to be brought to heel hard fast with that final 't'. It is a magnificent word for the sprawling thing Mervyn Peake calls a "castle" in the book of the same name.
In the foreword, Tad Williams describes the castle as a character in-and-of itself. He is right to do so. As a place, as a series of traditions, as the complex sum of countless people wheeling in and out of the timeless, deathless halls, it occupies the place of precedence for the first portion of the book. Peake is an incredible wordsmith – a thousand words are worth a portrait – and at times the elaborate castle and character descriptions nearly bore me. But then along would come a moment of whimsy too charming to abandon.
Eventually the human characters become the focus, and the castle fades into mere setting rather than overlord. Although the tale meanders, at times, it is all to the author's credit. In so doing, he sets the stage for the actual protagonist's ultimate struggle for freedom: a struggle inversely personified by a human bit in actuality with Gormenghast itself.
Nothing in the book indicates a definite time, place, or religion. Although it clearly comes from a Western European mileu, it is not at all difficult to imagine changing a few names and titles, thereby turning this into a novel of Confucian rebellion in deepest China. Nevertheless, there were several points at which the author strayed painfully into stereotypes that perhaps reveal his era (published 1950).
This is a brilliant and highly imaginative work. It has the power to open your eyes and turn your thinking inside-out as few books do. I look forward to reading the two wings of this trilogy.
Love God Heal Earth is a compilation of essays, from leaders of 11 religions and denominations, that delve into the religious call for a transition toLove God Heal Earth is a compilation of essays, from leaders of 11 religions and denominations, that delve into the religious call for a transition to a sustainable way of life. While not devoid of science, this book presents a deeply spiritual, personal, and hopeful message that moves beyond the intellectual reality of global climate change. In other words, it is a powerful complement to the grim facts of An Inconvenient Truth.
Rev. Bingham assembled the author list from among her contacts in the network of state-level Interfaith Power and Light organizations, of which her California group was the first (and her Regeneration Project is the "umbrella"). These authors are all active in promoting a lower impact way of life, in teaching about climate change, and in encouraging an ethic of "creation care." They come from diverse backgrounds, representing Buddhism, Christianity (in multiple forms), Islam, Judaism, and Unitarianism. But their diversity is more than just religious. One of the most striking aspects to this book is seeing how these authors navigated from the traditional cares of their communities, which tend to see conservation as at best someone else's job, into the field of creation care.
In that regard, I was particularly inspired by Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, pastor of the Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. He describes how his passion for racial justice in America was suddenly transformed into an awareness of ecological impacts on communities – an awareness of eco-justice. "The light is on and it must continue to shine in all of our lives, to let us see that most living things are being harmed because we are not aware nor globally concerned about what it will take to save the environment," Rev. Durley writes. My copy of the book is riddled with little pink sticky notes. His chapter has none, because there was nothing I wanted to single out. It is an entire essay I will return to often.
Those sticky notes mark out dozens of resources, ideas, and inspiring passages. These will be of great help to anyone wishing to engage in religiously-motivated action for the betterment of the planet. That action might be in the form of political activism, or of intra-denominational or ecumenical eco-theology. You will find inspiration here. If you find yourself wanting to change more than just light bulbs (although that is a good start), you will find inspiration. If your wish is to envision a life less-mired in materialism, or one that steps boldly beyond the critics on left (anti-religion) and right (anti-environmentalism), then you too will find a muse.
In closing this review, I share a passage from the Rev. Jim Deming, United Church of Christ, Nashville, TN (p 49), which leaves me with a feeling of realism, but also of hope.
"There will be times of backsliding and confession, but there will also be times of grace and insight that are God's reward for doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. Let us humbly invite our neighbor and walk humbly to the future together."
Review of Love God Heal Earth: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment, by Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham et al. Published in 2009 by St. Lynn's Press, Pittsburgh, PA. No goods or services were received in return for this review....more
Bahíyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, can be considered the woman of highest station in her father's faith, and yet the fBahíyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, can be considered the woman of highest station in her father's faith, and yet the facts about her life are few. Owing primarily to cultural constraints on her sex, the story and character of her outstanding life must be teased out by the biographer through the scattered references of letters, diaries, and recollections. Armed with a mighty assortment of such citations, researcher Janet Khan weaves a moving tapestry of the Greatest Holy Leaf in Prophet's Daughter: The Life and Legacy of Bahíyyih Khánum, Outstanding Heroine of the Bahá'í Faith.
Bahíyyih Khánum's life was a hard one — she and her family were evicted from home and country in her early childhood (1852). Her father had become the de facto leader of a new religious movement after the death of its founder and the earliest of its champions. Exiled first from Tehran to Baghdad, thence to Constantinople, Adrianople, and finally Akka, her health was constantly imperiled, both physically and mentally. Through it all, her spirit soared where most of ours would wither.
Some ten years into their exile, while she was still a teenager, her father declared that he was the Promised One of God, and he quickly become more than a de facto leader. Demands on his person, family, and household were great. From an early age, Bahíyyih Khánum played an important role in helping her mother run that household, and finally took over after her mother's death. She continued in that role, for her father's whole family, until her own death nearly half a century later (1932).
Sadly, the crucial role of such domestic leadership is one all too easily ignored by the standard historians. Khan tells us, she also played the role of diplomat — not only welcoming and entertaining pilgrims and guests (at least the women among them), but also carrying on extensive and encouraging correspondence with Bahá'ís around the world. Many of the character traits the author draws out are based on excerpts from these letters, and from those of the subject's great-nephew, Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.
As Khan links together the various known activities and attitudes of such a remarkable life, she allows herself room, by way of contextualization, to explain much about Bahá'u'lláh's life and teachings, to the great benefit of the reader. Indeed, as a biographer working with such limited material, Khan's greatest gift may be in her ability to hone in on the myriad ways in which the Greatest Holy Leaf upheld her father's teachings and strengthened the at-times-tenuous position of his appointed successors in leadership.
She does so through explanations of semi-obscure, but nonetheless important, topics in Bahá'í theology and history. These include the nature of personal rank and status; the distinctions between Bahá'í consultation and traditional decision-making and conflict resolution; the reticence of early 20th century Bahá'ís to embrace central organization (though this one more hinted at than explained); and the development of the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel).
To call Khan's writing utilitarian would be to overshoot, but her remarks are rarely florid. This restrained language provides a useful counterpoint to the elegance and complexity of expression employed by most of the writers she quotes. If there was one complaint to be made, it would be of the occasionally jarring manner in which a person or concept is re-introduced as if for the first time. One wonders of the writing process was episodic or if the book's chapters were originally separate projects of some sort.
Through this thoroughly readable book, Janet Khan provides a fresh and accessible approach to Bahá'í history and scholarship. Her insight into and explication of the Greatest Holy Leaf's life highlight the sustaining and even pivotal contributions of this servant to the Bahá'í cause, shaming the many male historians who give nary a mention. Both those new to the Bahá'í Faith and those well acquainted will find inspiration. This is a biography worthy of emulation....more
Red was more difficult to get into. Although set in a time and place far distant from the author (16th? century Constantinople), credit the author for giving the work a voice and setting that feel completely foreign. Orhan Pamuk works as diligently as the miniaturists he portrays to put us into the scene, but like them only putting enough detail to let our imaginations roam. He does not dwell on surroundings, but does given sufficient attention to make them real.
Both authors are non-linear and used first-person throughout. Whereas Rushdie's narrator remains at is task through the entirety, Pamuk's changes every few pages. This constant change of perspective was alternately brilliant and annoying: brilliant because the reader see hints and shadows the the mystery unfold, coming to know something of both the inner and outer being of each character: annoying because he never develops truly independent voices for these characters. That is to say, their inflections, their syntax, felt invariant. In this case it could be an issue of translation, since the original is in Turkish.
Perhaps a third of the way through I suddenly overcame this feeling of annoyance and found myself engrossed in a first rate murder mystery. Equally engrossing as the plot was the exploration of the notions of style and individuality, through the lens of an empire that was born out of Central Asia, conquered the Near east, lived in the shadow of the west, and was at the nexus of trade between Renaissance Europe and the Far East.
Along with the murder mystery, we encounter the clash of civilizations: will Ottoman painting remain a subtle art that reveal's God's own horses (or man or tree etc.)? Or will Ottoman painters begin adopting the realism of Europe, of the "Franks?" Or perhaps, having been challenged by the sword of perspective and the main gauche of personality, will they simply take umbrage and fade away?...more
More than merely a memoir, Portals to Freedom by Howard Colby Ives is both a loving portrait of a "holy man" and a deeply personal exploration of theMore than merely a memoir, Portals to Freedom by Howard Colby Ives is both a loving portrait of a "holy man" and a deeply personal exploration of the slow convergence between intellectualism and spirituality. Ives, a former Unitarian minister, wrote Portals to Freedom nearly eighty years ago. His aim was to recount his experiences, still vivid 25 years after the fact, of sitting "at the feet of the master" in a nearly literal sense – that is, of spending time in the company of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, head of the Bahá’í Faith from his father’s death in 1892 until his own in 1921. In various cultural terms, you might call him a holy man, a guru, a saint; Bahá’is simply call him "the Master."
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, then approaching 70 years old, journeyed to North America in 1912 to strengthen the faith of those who already embraced his father’s religion, and to acquaint new audiences with its teachings. Ives had been introduced to the religion by friends shortly before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s arrival in New York City. He makes plain that he had a sort of intellectual attraction to the Bahá’i teachings, as a liberal theologian, but it did not initially extend to consideration of the personal implications. The question of personal faith slowly dawned on him, as he recounts in a number of poignantly narrated encounters with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in parlors and audience-halls.
Ives is an excellent writer. Of course some of his phraseology does not quite fit the modern language, but he is never difficult to read. He has an orrator‘s flair that keeps the work from becoming too dry – as does ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s humor, displayed in several of the stories of him. That Ives is well-trained in matters of religion, philosophy, and the scientific currents of the day is abundantly clear.
It is also clear that this training becomes a source of confusion and disharmony in his life, once he has encountered ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. For instance, one of his stories speaks of his deep need to understand the word "renunciation" in the phrase "horizon of renunciation." When asked, the Master provides a commentary on "horizon" instead, thus leading to an initial sense of disappointment. Knowing somewhat of the spiritual significance of renunciation/detachment, the reader (and eventually the author) can plainly see how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was teaching by example and implication. The full story of that encounter naturally reveals far more than this soundbite, and it is but one of many that beautifully illustrate ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s mode of being.
The author’s spiritual journey is presented as a lesson to share with others, but there remains an appropriate humility about it: for the most part, the book is autobiographical just to the extent that it explains Ives’ motivation and frame of mind throughout his experience, which necessarily shaped the questions he asked and the stories to took note of. By the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s return to Palestine, Ives has managed a rapprochement between his intellectual and spiritual natures, in a manner reminiscent of the struggles Tolstoy documents in his Confessions. He expresses the conflict in these terms in the book’s conclusion:
"Scholasticism provides no answer to the demands of men for a satisfaction of those primal needs of the spirit. Religion, as generally understood – being, as it is, a mixture of tradition, social convention, and more or less correct estimates of the immediate problems confronting people, and all savored with a salt that has lost its savor – provides no satisfaction to the hungry souls of men. In all this confusion of thought and action, no rock is found upon which many may plant his spiritual feet and be confident in his treading."
Religion, in the form of the Bahá’í Faith as opposed to "generally understood," still has the power to recharge – to "salt" the "salt of the earth," he discovered.
Those seeking to know ‘Abdu’l-Bahá better, to emulate his ways and appreciate the beauty and truth of the teachings he explicated, will be referring back to this work for centuries to come. All who seek to escape cynicism, or to reconcile the western intellectual tradition with a religious worldview, would do well to follow Ives’ transformation, and to ponder and then put into action the meaning of the stories he relates.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Bahá’í Publishing Trust through its Bloggers Network book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." (http://ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revis...)...more
"The Chief idea of the novel is to portray the positively good man." This object Dostoyevsky has achieved in his 1869 novel The Idiot. It is the story"The Chief idea of the novel is to portray the positively good man." This object Dostoyevsky has achieved in his 1869 novel The Idiot. It is the story of an invalid, sheltered in childhood, entering high society for the first time. His innocence leads him through fantasy, love, hatred, wealth, jealousy, and all the other attributes of earthly life?especially that life of the elite.
Though almost devoid of plot, the drama reads well and coherently (much more so than Brothers Karamazov or Notes from the Underground). Dostoyevsky's psychological talents are in full force, but the work is far less tragic than Crime and Punishment and almost uplifting compared to that novel and Notes. Thankfully the characters are less shrill and obnoxious than the Karamzov's. These are the only works of his I can speak of; of the four, this novel bears the greatest resemblance to Tolstoy's works, though there is no confusing the two. If you enjoy classic foreign literature, I recommend The Idiot to you.
Our hero, Prince Myshkin, is a truly sympathetic figure. And while I don't intend to compare myself, I dare say even empathetic (as was Raskolnikov!) He bumbles, stumbles, and thinks too much for these people. He is a candle that may flare up and burn you when you get near, but his wick is all too short.
At one point a companion suggest that the Prince may not know what love is. But I believe this is a primary element of the story—that he better than all knows what love is, if not intellectually than emotionally and spiritually. He simply does not know what to do with it. His love is like a rainbow, seen diffracted in many aspects but at its core pure and unsullied, as no others could possibly understand.
About the novel Dostoyevsky continues:
"There is nothing in the world more difficult to do, and especially now. All writers... who have tried to portray the positively good man have always failed... The good is an ideal, but this ideal, both ours and that of civilized Europe, is still far from having been worked out. There is only one positively good man in the world—Christ.”
Myshkin is certainly not perfect, but I do believe Dostoyevsky has made the most “positively good” man of society that anyone could envision. Thus I was forced to keep turning the pages, bewildered along with Myshkin, taken in by the intrigues around him, and anxious to see how the thing would play out. As for the ending—well, from the four novels I've read thus far, wrapping up seems to be Dostoyevksy's chief failing....more
Salon is carrying a terrific interview, titled The atheist delusion, with of all people a Catholic theologian. His is an analysis that I've been wantiSalon is carrying a terrific interview, titled The atheist delusion, with of all people a Catholic theologian. His is an analysis that I've been wanting to be brilliant enough to make about the three atheists, and the concept of science and/vs. religion in general. One of the issues he brings up is the concept of extreme atheism leading to nihilism, as demonstrated in the works of Nietzshe, Sartre, and Camus. I want to add one more person to his list: Dostoyevsky.
I've recently finished reading Demons, Dostoyevsky's "comedy." Relative to his other works it is indeed a bit comedic. A bit. For the record, I enjoyed it more than Notes from the Underground, The Brothers Karamazov, or The Idiot, but did not find it quite as engaging as Crime and Punishment. Can you tell I like him? While his prose, wit, and intellectualism are superb, it can be a bit dense. And plodding. But not as repetitive as Tolstoy. Anyway, the reason I like him is that explores spirituality from a "modern," optimistic, and positive standpoint.
For all that Sisyphus and Mersault, Nietzsche's Zarathustra and many soundbite essais, and Sartre's abyssal stage signify the descent of man from belief into complete disbelief, nothing illustrates that fall and its effects better than Raskolnikov's reaction to his murder. In Demons we see the chaos, confusion, and a pointlessness to life through characters like Verkhovensky, Stavrogin, and Kirillov. At the same time, Dostoyevsky explores the trials of spirituality in modern life through Alyosha, through the Prince, through Shatov and, paradoxically, Kirillov again.
This is not to say that atheism of necessity leads to wasteful, pointless existence. But I'll let the theologian above go into more detail on that. The best part of his interview: explaining the different realities to the question of "why is the tea boiling?" Answer: Because molecules are heated, etc. Because I turned on the gas. Because I wanted tea. All are accurate answers. None contradicts the other. Asking only the scientific question ignores the aspects of volition and desire.
Still, there is a question we are left with: if we can imagine a world without God, why do we bother imagining one with? Sure, it might make us happy, better adjusted, and more capable of dealing with the world — but it also might lead us to intra-religious violence instead. I'll leave this question for another day....more
I have mixed feelings about this book. I've spent several years working diligently on my flow-charting capabilities, using what scan resources I could
I have mixed feelings about this book. I've spent several years working diligently on my flow-charting capabilities, using what scan resources I could easily and quickly sift through on the Web and in the Visio Help, studying the charts in all the comp-sci books I've read, and garnering feedback from my colleagues. This book might have sped up that process significantly, and has already had a positive impact on the communication efficacy of my charts. But, I simply didn't completely like the specific modeling "language" presented by the authors.
The flow charting is good, though I prefer having a few more block types to illustrate the type of data being dealt with (i.e. documents vs databases). The petri net was interesting but seemed like overkill -- when that level of detail is needed, then it is probably time to move into UML. But my experience is limited; I certainly don't know what others would find. And then there's the entity diagramming (ERD), which was simply non-standard. Too much space was dedicated to the fine details of the mechanics of these three viewpoints on modeling, although I suppose that would be appropriate for anyone trying to use them as such and with little prior familiarity with flowchart or UML modeling.
The second half of the book moves beyond mechanics, and it is the more powerful portion. For it is there that we dive in to application, learning how the authors think and approach problems (most of which are in the domain of computing, but allusions are made to uses for other industries). The second half is also home to rare and valuable discussions of style, consistency, and simple communication. I suspect I shall return to the second half many times in coming years, looking for tips and reminders that will further improve the architectural models I build.
Recommended for: system architecture modeling and business analysis. Not recommended for: application design modeling. Even the authors agree that you should stick with UML for design of particular applications.
In February I began reading Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children -- a strange sort of historical fiction -- but a trip in early March inserted Orhan PIn February I began reading Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children -- a strange sort of historical fiction -- but a trip in early March inserted Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red before I could finish. Two things I've loved about Rushdie, at least in the two novels I've read: his use of the English language, and his ability to credibly, smoothly bend reality into an absurd yet moving other world. In these he is master. These are so clear that I won't dwell on them (ok, that's actually because my wife has the book up at work so I can't refer to it for examples).
Midnight's Children is the story of India -- that is, of the modern state of India -- seen through the rise and fall of four generations, and narrated by the third. It is a large and ancient land; naturally he cannot encompass it in even a long novel. Yet he does seem to touch on all the major developments. But then again, what do I know? I'm a Westerner. And so is he.
I wonder how that influences him? I wonder what this book would have become had it been written by someone directly living India's birth into modernity? Perhaps such a person could not exist. Perhaps no one from inside could have created such a story. Perhaps if someone did, it would have been too foreign for Western readers to appreciate. Maybe such a work exists, but the Western selection bias has precluded the possibility for it to be recognized as a masterwork.
Midnight's Children was an incredibly journey, well worth the time, but would have been better served had I not interrupted 80% through. It is large; it is challenging; it is beautiful. Ground Beneath Her Feet was the better novel of the two (hence I could not give this 5 stars). Midnight's Children was more grand and magical, but less philosophical and less likely to send me to the dictionary. But Midnight's Children does not elicit from me the praise I gave to that other tale....more
As in painting, so in words, there is a power that transcends our experience of life, a power that can doubly lift us to the sacred and mock us for thAs in painting, so in words, there is a power that transcends our experience of life, a power that can doubly lift us to the sacred and mock us for the profane. So it is with Asher Lev.
My Name Is Asher Lev was one of the few works from high school English that I looked back upon fondly. For years my searches through Half Price Books have been surprisingly without reward, but at last I thought simply to borrow a copy.
It began slowly for me; after a dozen pages I wondered if it was really worth the time, in the face of other interesting options (I had been deciding between this, Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond, Aaron Burr by Gore Vidal, and Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner). Thankfully it was not long before Asher's gift began to manifest itself, and that the simple and direct language of Chaim Potok began to carry shocking emotional depth. The subject matter allowed the author to dwell on all things as seen -- on and around the surface, but never directly underneath it. Color and form are what Asher understands, and therefore they are what is revealed to us. Yet there was indeed depth.
From the vivid colors of Asher's life, we are drawn into art, into aging, into New York and immigrant life. Through tradition, we are drawn into the conflict of modernity. We are drawn deeply, though undoubtedly narrowly, into the Jewish psyche. A question this reader will long ponder: do Asher's rituals and traditions do more to sustain or to stunt him? I found the traditions beautiful and moving, lending strength to my own flagging sense of spirituality over the last two weeks.
He inspires to greatness, and he inspires fear. To be great is to be consumed. To strive for God -- to seek reunion with the Ribbono Shel Olom -- is to be consumed, even as a lit candle weeps its life away, drop by drop. They are not one and the same; perhaps they are extremes extruded from the same substance, two angles of the same face. Which cheek will you turn to the world?...more
As with any number of non-fictions books I've read lately, Mark Lilla's The Stillborn God is one I'll have to return to in the future for a detailedAs with any number of non-fictions books I've read lately, Mark Lilla's The Stillborn God is one I'll have to return to in the future for a detailed skimming. I like taking notes; yet, notetaking requires extra time, and can make it difficult to see the forest for the trees. Thus I've been experimenting with reading all the way through, with an eye to returning soon to skim back over for the most thought-provoking elements. Hasn't happened yet with anything else though =/.
When I do so with this work, I will particularly be working on better understanding the overarching schools of thought that he comments on — enlightenment separation, liberal theology, political messianism, etc. With which analyses, driving these and other philosophical / theological approaches, do I agree? And, do they offer me any further insight into how to live my life — which means living my faith — today? What lessons can I draw that would help me better understand, and better explain, the role of religion today? More explicitly, to understand and explain the role of the Bahá'í Faith in this ancient struggle between freedom and submission?
This work is unusual in its narrative style. This is seems likely to be an artifact of its origination in a series of lectures, which certainly helps explain the lack of footnotes. I value footnotes, but it has been refreshing to avoid their distraction. Lilla does not seem particularly concerned with invoking authority. He lays out, unapologetically, his understanding of various philosophers and their influence on society (particularly theologically), leaving as an exercise for the reader to dig into alternative interpretations.
He also writes in a such a manner that it is often difficult to tell when he is speaking for himself and when he is attempting to carry on in the voices of those long dead. This has the positive effect that the reader is presented with an argument without embedded rebuttal. On the other hand, it can lead to some confusion about what, if any, material-spiritual (divine nexus) worldview he may be advocating for his audience. This felt particularly true when reading about Kant and Hegel.
It is a good book, doing much to uncover how Europe went from religious fanaticism in the 17th century to atheistic-messianic disaster in the 20th. It shows messianism to be fraught with peril, often collapsing on itself by sowing the seeds of its own destruction. At the same time, he leaves room for recognition of the inherit human yearnings that find (some of) their highest expression in the religious impulse.
I wonder if there are any such objective books on the rise of messianic-political Islam?
In this scholarly work, Janet and Peter Khan present the theological grounding, social context, historical action, and modern implementation of the coIn this scholarly work, Janet and Peter Khan present the theological grounding, social context, historical action, and modern implementation of the concept of "equality between the sexes" as found in the Bahá'í Faith. Well researched and clearly written, the book has much to offer to those who, from any background, wish to better understand the underpinnings and the implications of this critical spiritual principle.
The authors begin with a brief introduction to the religion, followed by an attempt to define equality and an exploration of the role of family. Within these chapters, the Khans acknowledge the impact of inequality, as well as the challenges and critiques faced by those who propose to work for it. They continue by stating in clear terms the mutual and distinct expectations for women and men within Bahá'í religious law.
Not content with mere words, the next chapters explore how the leading figures within the religion have delivered on the promise of equality. They show the deeds and exhortations of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá'u'lláh; his son, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá; Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian; and the Universal House of Justice. These chapters are illustrated by passages showing the personal touch and active engagement of each of these "heads of the Faith." In closing, the Khans move from mere explication to active encouragement. They advocate for the tangible application of this principle in each individual's life, in the dynamics of family, and in the community interactions of all societies.
The Khans have done well in preventing the book from being laden with religious and feminist jargon. Terms are clearly explained when introduced, and a glossary is provided to help readers overcome any unfamiliarity with key figures, institutions, and terms within the Bahá'í Faith. All quotations are fully attributed in the end notes, thus the pages are not cluttered with footnotes. In addition, a bibliography of the Bahá'í literature is included to give proper credit to all those works that contributed to the genesis of this one.
The topic remains a timely one. Although much progress has been made toward the goal of the practical realization of sex equality, just as with race, the results are uneven and sporadic. I recommend Advancement of Women to anyone wishing to better understand the Bahá'í Faith, and even more so to those who seek a critical, action-oriented, and yet deeply spiritual assessment of the role of women in society.
Wisdom Sits in Places is the name of a remarkable little book of linguistic ethnography about "landscape and language among the Western Apache." WrittWisdom Sits in Places is the name of a remarkable little book of linguistic ethnography about "landscape and language among the Western Apache." Written by rancher and professor Keith H. Basso, who had spent decades working with this group of Apache before composing this opus, the book is easy to overlook: file under boring academic anthropology. For anyone interested in gaining a greater appreciation for the diverse ways we humans think and act, both in and about this world, doing so is a certain mistake.
Basso describes a use of language and story-telling wholly unfamiliar to the western (Euro/Anglo/American) mindset, giving to the reader "a sense of the Apache sense" of place. The "sense" that this reader got: that Western Apache people (and likely others) view/sense certain places as being imbued with a power to train individuals in the key ways of wisdom. This power is imparted on them perhaps from the grandeur of nature itself, but more directly from the stories, whether mythological or modern, describing what has happened at these places. For instance: a particular, named, place may have taken part in (not merely been the setting for) a story illustrating what happens to those who do not share with their neighbors in times of need.
Now the language comes in -- in talk amongst those who know the story, the name of the place alone is sufficient to evoke the necessary reaction and consideration in the hearers. There is no need to repeat the story, or draw out its implications for current-day affairs. These are understood to follow directly from the morality-story, from the name of the place. And if you yourself have done something wrong, then this place name and its story will haunt you. Each time your actions conform to the same improper manner as before, you will remember that place. Each time you pass by it in your daily activities, it will loom mighty in your mind, reminding you how to behave and how to act as a proper member of Western Apache society.
One need not wait to have the story "shot" at them like an arrow (which digs deep, biting into flesh, relentlessly working its way inside you). One can also deliberately inculcate wisdom through practices of "drinking in" from these stories, learning to apply them each day to all the problems that confront us. Through these practices, one builds up "smoothness of mind", and unobstructed state that keeps the mind vigilantly focused and skeptical. This in turn is dependent on "resilience of mind" in the face of external pressures and "steadiness of mind" with respect to internal maundering.
The author weaves narrative and story in a lively manner, always coupling academic analysis with practical and meaningful examples. His respect for the people described is evident, including the care taken in using people's names and remaining vague about the specific locations of the various places described. His is a humble approach, recognizing that even after much time spent with these people, his grasp of what it means to be Apache, to see as Apache see, to feel as Apache feel, is rudimentary at best. But it is worth the effort nevertheless....more