Sunday, November 16, 2008

When everything is Miscellaneous - what is left ?

This is the third great book of David Weinberger that I was happy to read. Of course, the first, Cluetrain Manifesto (he co-authored it) and the second, Small Pieces Loosly Joined are great books that show the transforming power of Internet and its role in business and in social life.
"Everything is miscellaneous" is a bit different. The book, with some small exceptions, focuses on knowledge and the fundamental transformation that the very concept of konwledge and science undergoes today. The book demonstrates the weakness of the old-style "categorized" and well-ordered knowledge originating in Aristotelian science (to who - of course - the credit of the knowledge creation must be given !!!). It was known since the dawn of civilisation that since and knowledge evolve through discourse of scholars and thinkers. Today everybody can be a scholar and thinker and publisher and mentor. The amazing fact is that, contrary to common sense - this not only degrades the level of discourse, but in fact increases it. See Wikipedia case (which author analyses deeply).


From my perspective, the most interesting parts are those about classification systems, with the stress of "faceted classification" (e.g. colon classification system), that allows to build unlimited trees of knowledge and the notes about semantic web. Without pretending to know the reasons, Weinberger sheds some light on the failure or maybe rather, slow progress of Semantic Web. Surprisingly, the potential reasons are in the very nature of Semantic Web formulation, in RDF like mode, which does not fall far from Aristotelian, non-miscellaneous way of thinking.
For me it is like David Weinberger was to tell us - it is the meaning that matters, not the rigid structure of knowledge.

He tries to find the tools to represent meaning in the concept of "the third order of order": " ... but only if we see past its mess to its meaning, for that is what the third order enables" and “The world won’t ever stay miscellaneous because we are together making it ours”

However, in line with the message of the book - it is not easy to explain clearly and without some ambiguity, what are the tools to contain the meaning. Are they in folksonomies? are they in interaction and the way Wikipedia works ? We may fall short if we try to DEFINE them. Or maybe we need to wait until the next book of this great author ...

There are also very interesting thoughts about business today. See the quote: "In a truly miscellaneous world, a successful business owns nothing but what it wants to sell us. The rest is ours."

Justice and tribute to Mahler

Leonard Bernstein Essay on Mahler "Little Drummer Boy" is this story about Mahler, you must see, if you want to know about the composer and his music. It is also far better story, than Ken Russell's one. Of course it is hard to compare the essay of famous conductor with a fiction of avant-garde film director. But, the "Little Drummer Boy" tells us the deep dramatic story of Mahler life, his internal struggle of his Jewishness, that he officially abandoned by converting to Catholicism, but that he also never had forgotten, and that is present in this way or another in his music. Bernstein shows, how this personal drama of Mahler - the drama of his pursuit of musical career to its top European heights of Vienna Opera, for which he sacrificed his religion - influenced his musical message - how this interplay between Judaism and Christianity stamped a tragic but also great mark on his life. Another fault line of Mahler's life marks the drama of life and death. Here Bernstein shows how important was Mahler's awareness of death - death of his beloved daughter, the death threat upon himself, death of many innocent people of his time.

What is great about "Little Drummer Boy" is the passion of Bernstein and his ability to show the meaning of Mahler music itself. He does not resort to music's "programme", but tries to explain the meaning of pure musical qualities. Strongly recommended movie.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jerusalem - the epicenter of faiths

The "Fight for Jerusalem" by Dore Gold is a very good journalistic, fact book.

So, in some sense it is difficult to review, because it has sort-of apologetic character, that would be difficult to praise if it was a novel. But this is the book, that opens ones eyes on the nature of the conflict over Jerusalem. The conflict that originates in inability of many people to recognize the central role of Jerusalem and, in particular, of Temple Mount, to those who are not Muslims.
It is hard to believe but there are still people (mostly on the Arab side of the conflict) that try to deny the sanctity of the place for Judaism. There are theories, endorsed by some Palestinian circles, telling that Temple Mount was not the place where Holy of Holiest was in the past.

Dore Gold, through the survey of Jerusalem history, goes to the description of current situation in Jerusalem. What is incredible in this book is the revealing of facts that we have no chance to know. For example, all good people of the world condemn Iranian's leader Ahmadinejad, but we do not know that this guy believes in the return of 12th Imam, Mahdi !!! What it means in practice, is just horrible. In the name of his idea of G-d, he is ready to destroy the world, and to start this destruction in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, short survey of Internet using "Ahmadinejad Mahdi imam" supports what Dore Gold wrote....

The another fact, not very well known, is the removal of tons of rubble from The Temple Mount,by WAKF (Arabic governing body of Temple Mount) - the rubble that contained artefacts fromeven the First Salomon Temple. Unfortunately you could easily confirm that it indeed happened....

Maybe Dore Gold is a bit too appologetic, but, for G-d sake - it is for the good reason and the book shows how important for all people of the world is the religious freedom on the Temple Mount.



Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ken Russell Mahler - More then controversial - just going to far

Following my intereset in Gustaw Mahler, and his music, I ordered Ken Russell film about the Master. The film starts in a very interesting way - the entire action is set during a single train journey, as we can guess - a journey to home from the last of Maestro US trips. During the train journey with his wife Alma, Mahler goes through imaginative recollections of his life. The life, particularly the marriage with Alma, was not easy. First, he suppressed her musical talent, and initially, she gladly limited herself to loving housewife role. But over time, her disappointment grown into high level. We do not know if that was a reason of her fall into affair with Walter Gropius – but at least we can think it was... That affair, apparently well known to Mahler haunted him deeply over years.

However, I doubt that the way Ken Russell illustrates it, is justified. In one dream, Mahler is placed into a coffin with a window alive, and with absolute cynicism of his wife – is burned to ashes in crematorium. After the funeral his wife performs a perverse dance with Mahler head's marble statue...

This was quite obscene scene, I must say. We could find there a far reference to Strauss's Salome scenes with prophet's head - but it was filmed not in the way we could even try to accept as symbolic or artistic... And the facts of Alma “activity”, even after Mahler death, when she was really distorting his image – do not justify the imagery Ken Russell applied.

In the same way, the scenes of Mahler's dreams related to his conversion to Catholicism are going well too far. They suggest, that his conversion was a simple matter of business to become Vienna Court Opera director, what for a Jew was obviously difficult at that time. However, we are now sure, that Mahler's motives were much deeper and even if there was a tone of pragmatism in his decision - there was certainly no hostility to Judaism in it. The grotesque scenes in which he is hammering the Star of David into Germanic sword and play stupid games with Nazi-like perverse girl - are suggesting something that is just total falsification of Mahler's thinking, music and imagination. Even in so-called film-reality Mahler shows to Alma a rosary and calls it - "the key to opera" – it was just ridiculous. It's enough to recall that long after his conversion, he still suffered from anti-Semitism in Vienna and bore it with dignity...

The film could possibly be good, Ken Russell has a talent to underline some of Mahler's key attitudes to his music and to his life: in a dramatic scene of an argument with Alma over his "Songs on the Death of Childreen", he shouts out: "I do not choose what I compose - it chooses me".

However, I'm not very positive about the movie. I try to believe that it was not sheer stupidity or ignorance of Ken Russell, that made him to do the parts of the film in that way. I only hope, it was because in 1974, many artists pressingly tried to play the "avant-garde" to shock the audience by some “art for art's sake” - not by art for truth, for the deep meaning ....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The enduring power of ideals

It's unusual to write about political events on such blog.
But this event, event of November 4th, 2008 is unprecedented.

Let's keep in our memories two fragments from his speech, words that say more about America, than hundreds of some other opinions:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

and

"Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."

G-d bless Obama, G-d bless America...

Now, as a kind of PostScriptum, Obama speach in my mother's tongue...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Don't read this book ....

Yes, if you want to keep yourself faithful in human Goodness, Good faith and all the important virtues of human race - do not read this book.

The book I write about is "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader". The book is written cold. It is mostly based on press reports and the existing relations about Osama and its life in Saudi Arabia, in Afganistan, Pakistan. Almost all of us have heard stories about this most wanted terrorist and declared enemy of the free world. But what one feels when slowly going through this book is hard to describe. It's really hard to comprehend, to grasp, that there are people so dedicated to kill other innocent people, and what is more - to do it in the name of G-d. One of the most shocking fact revealed by the book, is a potential psychological link of the fatwa issued by Sheikh Omar Abdur Rahman and the later 9/11 act. I do not want to go into details in this review. The book shows the dark side of humanity, hatred and false believe in one's own right to judge - not only ourselves but also the entire world. I still hope that this is a book about a deviation or rather aberration from what really Islam teaches ....

It is a very good book, very well written and really fascinating - but for goodness sake - if you do not want to loose your faith in humankind - do not read it ....

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Gustav Mahler enchantment

It may happen that, as time passes, I will be adding reviews of music I listen to this blog. Music plays important role in my life. I hardly can play, though. Of course, I "play" - I mean - I have fun to play several melodies on my alto- and bass- recorders, on Indian bass flute, or few tones on Jewish horn - Shofar - but it is even less than amateurish activity. However, my son, being realy amateurish guitarist, does it much better than I ever did !!!

On the other hand, we listen to music of many genres, ranging from ancient music, through Bach & Bethoveen, Mahler, Sibelius to Penderecki, Gorecki, Glass, Arvo Part, not to mention modern Jazz and ambitious rock & metal music. We literally live within music during our weekends and evenings.

This weekend I devoted to Mahler and his first three symphonies. Anyone who searches for the music deep in its meaning, with some dose of "programmatic" themes, which do end in banality - should listen to them:
  • Symphony No. 1 - As Henry-Louis de La Grange writes it is a "mixture of sorrow and irony, the grotesque and the sublime, tragedy and humor" and that was the programme added by Mahler to the symphony
  • Symphony No. 2 - With beautiful poem "Primeval Light" from "The Youth's Magic Horn" - collection of popular German folk poems, the symphony asks fundamental questions about life and death, depicts the importance of joyful times in our life, goes through despair of meaningless activities of life, to end in the true hope of our sould renewal. It's worth to read what Henry-Louis de La Grange wrote about 2-nd symphony
  • Symphony No. 3 - One of the most imposing of all Mahler's symphonies. This is the act of creativity that caused Mahler to express: "The composer who writes 'a major work, literally reflecting the whole world, is himself only, as it were, an instrument played by the whole universe' ". The symphony programme was around the answers that composer gets from Nature, its glory and from man: Summer Marches In, What the Flowers on the Meadow Tell Me, What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me, What Man Tells Me, What the Angels Tell Me, What Love Tells Me. The best illustration of this incredible music is in Mahler's own words: "My symphony will be something the world has never heard before. In it Nature herself acquires a voice and tells secrets so profound that they are perhaps glimpsed only in dreams! I assure you, there are passages where I myself sometimes get an eerie feeling; it seems as though it were not I who composed them."
    Again, the best ever text about it is by Henry-Louis de La Grange.

Of great importance is of course, what performance do you listen to. I did to Bernstain's...
I'm not sure if there exists anything better than Bernstain recording of Mahler's symphonies. Needless to say, watching Bernstein profound dedication to music, his conductor's "body-language" is another incredible experience.

I must also say some bad words about an attempt to illustrate Mahler's music by computer graphics. I refer to "Vision Mahler" by Johannes Deutsch. The music performance (conductor Semyon Bychkov) is fine, but the illustration is primitive. I understand the need of interpretations other than the composer programme for the symphony, I understand the need for visual experiments with music, but to illustrate the glorious Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with phlegmatic shapes from XX century 90-ties computer 3D graphics was too much to me.
I hope, Johannes Deutsch, who is certainly good artist will come up with something better in the future !

At this moment it is good to remind Gustaw Mahler's words: "If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music". And this equally applies to words as to images !!!

So, while I advice to listen to Bernstain's "The Symphonies", I certainly do not to "Vision Mahler" ...