Saturday, January 31, 2009

For you, a thousand times over

"The Kite Runner" is Khaled Hosseini first novel. Despite its enormous success it is decent and unassertive story of the simple, yet most fundamental human virtues of honour, friendship, faithfulness but also of shame, guilt and remorse.

It is a novel that teaches those simple and basic things that all religions teach; in some sense, teaches also about the importance of G-d in human life - but it is doing so in unobtrusive, I would say, humble way...

It is a story of two boys from Afghanistan. They lived in times of old, free Afghanistan, before Soviet invasion and Taliban regime. Amir, the narrator in the book experiences a kind of lesser acceptance from his father, until he becomes a local hero for his achievement in kite fighting. Hassan, his friend, and the son of Amir's father servant helped Amir in everything, including the kite ride, when Amir won. And for being that helpful, Hassan suffers the attack and abuse from local villain Assef - the attack witnessed by Amir, who, scared by the situation does not help Hassan.... This even leads to the break in their relation, with Amir, full of remorse, but unable to overcome his guilt. When, after many years, he becomes a successful US citizen, he realizes that his sin of his youth, the sin of not helping his best friend, puts a shadow on his life, so he returns to Afghanistan. Not able to receive forgiveness from Hassan, he finds his son Sohrab and saves him from oppression of Talibans, takes him to US and, in a single light smile after years of silence - gets some absolution the sin of his youth...

I write about this story in the shortest possible way, not to spoil it to future readers. The real plot is fascinating with many unexpected turns... However, at every moment of the novel plot, we find incredible human paradoxes intertwined with moments of life. The book is about simple things, simple sins that our life is full of. It shows, what happens to them, when they happen in history - particularly in troubled history of nations.

And it also shows, that until we do not understand that the problems are in us - not in THE OTHER - no reconciliation is possible...

As one poet expressed it: "Learn to love others - they pass away so fast" ...

It also teaches us not to wait with our attempts to receive forgiveness. Sometimes, the person whom you want to forgive you, passes away and you need to ask G-d and his descendents for it...

How hard it may work, hard in the deep, psychological way, was never better described than in "The Kite Runner"...

The greatness of this book, is from the fundamenta message, that the simple facts of our life bear the most significant truths of our life.

Read the passages:

"There is a way to be good again"

"There is no act more wretched than stealing"

"For you, a thousand times over"

"I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night"

Last but not least - the book is also beautifully written. Fantastic imagery of Afghanistan, Pakistan and California are long in my eyes after reading it. Certainly - one of the greatest books of my all life....

See also the interview with author, by Charles Rose.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The another incredible story - this time about men, honour and pride

I knew what I was doing when, just after "A Thousand Splendid Suns" I turned to "The Kite Runner"...

Still reading it, so no review yet. However, I must tell now, that it was quite disturbing to read a number of reviews, trying to say of "A Thousand ..." was better, or "The Kite ..." was better and so on....

People carring such judgments just do not understand what the books are all about, and, I dare to say, do not appreciate Hosseini real genius ....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The incredible story of women hardship

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini is a book that easily can be your favorite book of life. It certainly is for me.

The first thought to reveal about the book is that it makes the fantasy and fiction - the unified reality of such enormous realness, that it is hard to believe, during the rearding of the book, that you read another fiction novel.

The book describes the lives of two women in Afganistan in the critical part of its history, between early 1960-ties to early 2003. The destiny and history of the two women is intertwined with the troubled history of the beautiful country. The history that is mosty tragic and miserable, particularly during Taliban reign. However, even if history plays an important role - the book is about human condition - about the difficult and impossible love and friendship, about the greatness of human spirit over the world full of hatred and evil.

In many ways, the most important message we read in this book is that formulated by Victor Frankl: "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." I haven’t seen more powerful scene that illustrates this truth than the scene of the death by public execution of one of the book heroes at the hand of vindictive Talibans...

The book reiterates the fundamental truth - the basic human feelings and behaviors, those of the glorious and of the deplorable significance - are independent of the culture, religion, political system etc. We see there both admiration of traditional humble Islamic values and reproof of their perversion in the culture of Taliban, Mujahideen and similar (like Hamas or Hezbollah) culture of killing and murder. After reading it, you will have more moderate view on the Western-Islam conflict...

Last but not least - the book is also about love. I would say - it is all about love...

The book is also full of incredible nature descriptions - where you have the feeling of being there ....

Final word - it is the book everyone should read.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

Usualy I do not write at the begining of the reading of a book. But this time it was impossible to hide... From first sentences from first few chapters I know, I entered the amazing world ...
Afganistan, its western province of Herat, Kabul ... and what is the most important at the begining - the amazing imaginative and language power of the author, Khaled Hosseini.
This is not a review. This is a harbinger of review, that will come here. But the harbinger that sings: this is a great book....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Semantic Web Revisited

This is a review of an article ... But how important !

Semantic Web, the term I translate to my native language as "Web full of Meaning" has not realized its promises - this is clear to everybody who watches after the development. Why?

Before I go to the article and thoughts in it (By Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall and .., last but not least - Tim Berners-Lee Himself !!!), let me shortly tell what this "Web full of Meaning" was supposed to be?

Tim Berners-Lee wrote once (1999):

"I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize."

In another short explanation, we can contrast the current web which contains documents with future Semantic Web, which will contain ASSERTIONS and data that can be understood by machines - not only by us - humans.....

Tim Berners-Lee launched the Semantic Web in 2001 in seminal article in Scientific American.
The promise of the expression of meaning, unambiguous knowledge representation was great. We would be on a path to realize that promise through the use of RDF, Ontologies and intelligent agents.

8 years later - and we know where we are. We have Google. Nothing more :-)

What is the reason?

In 2006, Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall and Tim Berners-Lee made a review of Semantic Web Development, after 5 years of the first article.
Honestly - I'm not impressed at all. We still do not understand why we do not have it, and there are no simple clues - when and how to get there.

Authors made interesting survey of the progress over that 5 years, and some of the achievements are really impressive - GRDDL - allows to extract RDF data from XML (XHTML), various steps done within Web Ontologies, web scale tagging (folksonomies).

But the article still falls short to explain the fundamental failure of the promise.

I have no enough knowledge to judge - I only know a tiny part of Semantic Web, so I will not even try to answer "why" !

But I quite often think of two things:

1) In the world, where "everything is miscellaneous" - do we ever have a chance to build "Web full of Meaning" ? See soem comments about it here.

2) We should start from small things. From Microformats, from simple RDFA and use them for simple, yet practical things - for example - to annotate all addresses we put into our websites with semantic information - THIS IS THE ADDRESS !!! And so on.

If we start from big ("deep" as authors write) ontologies - we can not start the ball rolling .....

Finally - I'm not even sure if I'm right. Semantic Web failure is the big mystery to me ....

Friday, January 09, 2009

ClueTrain in a new light ...

I read "ClueTrain Manifesto" couple of times since 1999 when the book was first published. And always when I return to it, after some time, it appears to show some fresh aspects, some fresh views. Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and my favorite, David Weinberger created something worth of return. If you still did not read it - its free: HERE.

If you have no time for the entire book, just read only these: 95 theses ....

My favorite two citations from the book:
"Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them. "
"Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy."

This book is compulsory reading for all sales people in my company ....

See the citation:

"Although a system may cease to exist in the legal sense or as a structure of power, its values (or anti-values), its philosophy, its teachings remain in us. They rule our thinking, our conduct, our attitude to others.
The situation is a demonic paradox: we have toppled the system but we still carry its genes. "

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish journalist, 1991

Doubt it's still true? Look arround - Think about it ....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Maimonides Thought Revisited

More than half year ago I read "Maimonides and Medieval Jewish Philosophy" by Idit Dobbs-Weinstein. However, it is no question that everything changes in us upon life experience.
In November I was gifted to pray at Maimonides tomb in Tiberias:

I had also chance to meet a tiny part of his thoughts and writings through my orthodox friend. Then, I read parts of his teaching about Noahide Laws. All these events caused my return to the book. The value of the book lies in fact that author not only recognises Maimonides great influence on philosophy and science, but also stresses his importance for religious studies.
From the book one gets conviction that Maimonides was genius in bringing together science and religion - in such a way, that nor science nor religion looses anything from their values.Even more, Prof. Idit stresses his top importance, lasting for more than 800 years now, for both philosophy and for Judaism.

The book has also interesting thread about Maimonides intellectual dialog with 200 years earlier Rabbi Saadia (Rabbi Se`adiah ben Yosef Gaon). The dialog of admiration, but also, on the level of philosophical debate - the dialog of disagreement with his philosophy which was close to Kalam philosophy.

The another interesting part is the analysis of Maimonides concept of primary matter.Once you read that, and you know a bit of modern physics - you wonder - how close were this concept (in their spirit & logic) to what we see in modern physics....

Of course, the book is more inclined to analysis of famous Maimonides book: "The guide for the perplexed" than to his monumental Mishne Torah. This does not give us full picture about Rambam (another name fro Maimonides), but, I think, one can forgive the author, the secular philosopher, that innocent bias :-)

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Universe in a Nutshell

Stephen Hawking book "The Universe in a Nutshell" is a sequel to his famous "Brief History of Time" and brings to our attention some discoveries and findings in the theories of the universe that happened in almost 15 years since the first, bestseller book was published.

I'm not going to review the scientific content of this popular book - there are so many good reviews, that it does not make any sense. However, I want to mention that, as always, Hawking is the great teacher and science advocate, and when he speaks of the most difficult concepts like p-branes, singularities or time travels.

I want to stress some important things. It is admirable how he positions since in the framework of human knowledge. As a person who touches, in his research the great mysteries of the Universe, he had temptation to tend to religious, or, anti-religious interpretations of his research. However, with Stephen - it is not to happen. He says of himself as of positivist from the good school of Carl Popper.

In the past I was also scientist, and I must say - this is the only approach to science we can have and preserve science objectivity and truth searching power !

What is more important, if one is truly religious, he or she will find in Stephen Hawking thoughts, the deep confirmation of spiritual message we get from science - but it is not so simple and not straightforward, as many would expect.

It is amazing when you read, close in time about sages of Kabalah and their thoughts on many worlds G-d COULD create, and suddenly you jump into Hawkings and read about "parallel worlds" of modern theory of Universe...
The book is also great for the large dose of good humour. As for author suffering so much from incurable illness - this is just great and elevating ...

I will finish my review, with incredible connection of the book to Shakespeare Hamlet:
"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself asking of infinite space..."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream in modern setting

Benjamin Britten fascinates me since my reading of "The Rest is Noise". Couple of weeks ago I listened/watched to Peter Grimes (still deserves a review), and today to his amazing opera of hundreds years old Shakespearean Midsummer Night's Dream . Performed by Symphony Orchestra of Gran Teatre del Liceu - Barcelone, realized by François Roussillon, the performance is full of modern symbolism.

As some interpreters say, Shakespeare expressed a lot of sexual connotations and hidden references to human love in this play. This aspect is intensified by the omnipresent double beds: All Act 1 is played on gigantic double bed with green coverlet and huge pillows. Act 2 stages multiple double beds, Act 3 starts with three beds hanging in the air. The opera ends by all the beds going up to heaven, leaving a place for the theatre of strange characters ....

Is our love always coming only from us? Or from our own will? Or our desires control it?
Are there sometimes forces (like the fairies, Oberon & Titania in the play) that takes us somewhere we would go ourselves?
Well, we all have experiences confirming that there is some truth in that Shakespeare/Britten message ....

The play ends with optimistic:
“Jack shall have Jill;Naught shall go ill;The man shall have his mare again,And all shall be well.”

... but there are undertones in the poetry: read the strophe sung repeatedly by happy lovers in the end: "mine own and not mine own" ....

As for music, as always with Britten, it is amazing. Act 1 features portamentos (glissandos) that create a special atmosphere of something unrealistic and mysterious.

However, my favourite was the music in the beginning of Act 3 - played with the entry of Oberon to the scene - sound almost minimalistic like that of much later Glass or Górecki....

Worth spending time with it !