Saturday, April 23, 2011

The third part of „The WWW Trilogy” — Just another flop ...

I tuned to the audio rendering of Robert J. Sawyer third part of his famous „The WWW Trilogy”. After „Wake” — the opening part, „Watch” — the second tome, here comes „Wonder” — the concluding part.

Honestly, after „Watch” I already had suspicion that the trilogy could and should be reduced to the single „Wake” part and would stay in our memories ...

However, it is not a first time in the genre that the sequel or, worse still, the second and third parts — are a far cry from the first book.

As you can read in my previous reviews (Wake, Watch), the „The WWW Trilogy” is about the emerging artificial mind born out of existing Web infrastructure. The theme itself is interesting, touches many current trends like AI, Semantic Web, knowledge representation, mind-body relation etc.

Unfortunately, while wandering from „Wake” to „Wonder” it arrives to extremely naive, almost childish story, possibly good to kids in the preschools...

The WebMind starts to talk to politicians, overthrows China government, works for peace, health and prosperity of humanity and so on, so on....

At some passages it is easy to identify some strange episodes that make me think that  the author indulges in „product placement” activity. Repeated references to „a single iPhone button” or the advice WebMind gives to US president to use FireFox instead of Internet Explorer — are explicit „signals” of such activities...

Well, why I read it after all ?

I tuned to it only to get something lighter and less serious than my recent war-time reading...
I now regret I spent several hours listening to it. There are better books to spend time with ....

Monday, April 18, 2011

What to do with a dove thrown into the nest of snakes ...

I know this is a strange title. My language skills in the tongue which was not my mother's seems to be limited to express what I feel after reading this book. I will try to express it as clearly as I can:

It is about an incredible person. Probably the one among the best who was walking the earth ...
Yet his story left me in fear and sadness.  It is about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And about the book: „Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich”.  The author is Eric Metaxas.

Please let me warn you. Be that as it may, I truly admire Bonhoeffer. I was surprised how deep his religiousness was. And how deeply, being faithful to Christianity, he understood Jewish roots of his religion — what, among other things, brought him to total denial of German ant-Semitism amplified and explored by the Nazi. I could only wish there were more such priests and monks and Christian laymen...

I have to write about my admiration, because in the later part of this review I will be critical also of Bonhoeffer !
So why I have such strange feelings and thoughts ?

Let me now tell you few basic fact — I do not intend to write long, typical review. Eric Metaxas’ work is a very good record of the life and struggle and martyrdom of Dietrch Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was German pastor and theologian. He was born in 1906 in Wrocław (Breslau). He came from very prestigious family of Professor Karl Bonhoeffer, the neurologists and psychiatrist. His decision to become a theologian, and later the priest came when he was only fourteen. His other talents were in music (was a very good pianist) and in sports (was quite good athlete).

The story of Bonhoeffer's life tells the tragic truth about that dark period in German, and more generally, in human history. He opposed the Nazi regime, he did it long before the war and during it. Despite his apparent pacifism and priesthood he conspired to kill Hitler. For his involvement in the plot against Hitler he was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on April 9th, 1945, just few weeks before the end of the war ...

For all interested in details there is a very good article about him on Wikipedia.

Now, let me come to the essence of my feelings. The biography relates also what was the attitude of the Churches to Hitler and his Nazi regime. And here came first shock. How little we know about the “German Christians” whose coat-of-arms had Nazi swastika inscribed into the cross! And how popular that movement was among German Protestants of that times. How little we know about Ludwig Müller — who became Reich’s Bishop in 1933. And let’s not blame only protestants. Catholic Church with all its majesty entered into specific state contract with Hitler — The Concordat. This shameful act, negotiated by pope-to-be, Eugenio Pacelli, was signed when it became quite clear what are true Hitler’s intentions... Do we really know, that it was never revoked by the Holy See? How can we really think of WORDS in the Pius XI encyclical „Mit brennender Sorge” when the ACT was still in place?

Of course there were Christians who opposed Hitler, of course there were priests murdered by Nazism. But what is the shocking truth, is that even in “Confessing Church” the opposition against anti-Semitism was relatively week, and its famous Barmen Declaration even does not list anti-Semitism as a crime!

I know I will tell harsh and strong words here — but all that represents nothing less than a total failure of Christianity in Europe in XX century. When you know all that facts, and spend some hours contemplating on them — what do you think when some European politicians speak about “Christian roots” of Europe?

I will not give answers to these burning questions — I know they would be too blatant...

It seems to me, that Bonhoeffer knew about this total failure, and to me it is clear from his letters, where we can find the term that latter become, somehow improperly, an emblem of his theology: Religionless Christianity:

Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. "Christianity" has always been a form--perhaps the true form--of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless--and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?)--what does that mean for "Christianity"?

Many “Christian” critics of Bonhoeffer thought of his ill will in these thoughts...

Did they know the history? Did they know how many of Hitler’s Willing Executioners (a suggestio to the book is intentional) were devote Christians?

I think that the Bonhoeffer notion of religion which possibly could be built upon ruins of Christianity — is the only true hope for Christianity — at least this is my private, and certainly heavily biased, opinion — of the person who equally intentionally left Christianity years ago ...

On these thoughts I seem to be in line with the author of the biography, though he avoids making such strong statements as I did here.

But there is also something in this book that is even more disturbing. Several times in the book, almost casually, its author relates Bonhoeffer’s and his circles, including his family, opinion about the First World War and the “unjust” treatment Germans got in and after the Treaty of Versailles... Imagine — the people who caused the first round of horrors in XX century, and who, including its best people, to whom Bonhoeffer certainly belonged, did not even accept the historical punishment they got ! Were they blind ?

Are we all blind? Were there only few doves and all that remained was the nest of snakes ?

Written in Paris, London & Lodz....

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Not all states are ready to admit their sins of the past... Russian Shame.

I usually don't write here on current affairs, even less I am a political blogger...
But what happened today is a bad example of  some states and nations inability to seek the truth and absolution from the sins of the past.

Here is what happened:

Tomorrow there is a day of remembrance for Poles who, on April 10, 2010 had lost their 96 political figures including the President in the plane crash near Katyn, the place of Polish POWs and intelligencia genocide committed by Soviet NKVD (Russian Secret police). The delegation was going there for 70 anniversary of the massacre. At the place of the crash there was a big stone and an inscription on a honours board explaining in Polish, who died there, when and what was the trip goal (i.e. commemoration of the massacre).

Just one day before the anniversary today's Russian authorities, under the cover of the night, removed the board and replaced it by another board with Polish and Russian inscription that writes the same... with the sentence about the goal of the trip (i.e. the mention of genocide) removed...

What problem it was for them? Was this small plaque able to change the classification of this massacre from war crime to genocide (what Russians vehemently oppose) ? Never. It is clear that it was a political act. But I'm not going to comment on that. I hate politics.

What is interesting however, is how week and frail is Russian's will to admit to their Stalin-era crimes.
Even if the only remainder of that crimes is a small plaque in Polish that would not even come noticed by many... Imagine ...

One could think that because they entertain some form of open society — the atonement for their PAST sins and totalitarian-era atrocites should be easy... It is not...Why ???  Is Homo Sovieticus still alive ?

Its a shame, but the shame that recently falls on many groups and circles in many countries. Take recent numerous pronouncements of  German politician Erika Steinbach who promotes the view that Hitler was the only evildoer of II World War ...

Sometimes I'm worried. Badly worried. If nations, particularly big nations allow for the historical "forgetfulness" — the bad times are ahead of us....

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Milestones of Disaster

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading the first volume of four of Winston Churchill „The Second World War. Milestones to Disaster”. First and foremost, I was greatly surprised what a good writer Churchill was !
I must say that he fully deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, he got in 1953. Some may argue about it and probably did, denying  his literary merits. But I believe one can hold such views only until he or she discovers his narration. Was it not about the greatest tragedy of XX century, I would say it is really fantastic and captivating story.

The tome describes the years that led to the war and its beginning, sometimes called by the term that Churchill coined „Twilight War” (see Phoney War)

I'm not going to relate the content of the book in this review — but rather prefer to focus on the most important conclusion of the book: It is true that the Second World War broke due to the madness of Hitler and his willing German, Italian or Japaneese helpers, the German guilt for it and all its atrocities including Holocaust, is unquestionable.

But, as Churchill proves, it was possible also because of so many errors and forbearances and the fundamental moral weakness of the alies in the period after the end of the First World War...

The list of incredible and literaly stupid things the Allies committed is long. When Hitler started to grow into power, British entered into shameful Naval Agreement with Germany. Americans passed the infamous Neutrality Act. When Hitler defied both Versailles and Locarno treatises and entered with arms into RhineLand, both French and English have full legal justification for a prevention. Nothing happened, even to the amazement of Hitler himself...

Churchill writes about all these facts openly and frankly. There is no hidden agenda to show British as heroes. Oppositely, he plainly condemns these acts, and the overall tone of his narration is that of seeking the truth, not the good opinion about his own flock.

One of the most deplorable act committed by French and English just at the dawn of the tragedy, was the Munich Betrayal, where Chamberlain along with Daladier, essentially allowed Hitler to partition and annex Czechoslovakia.

The true value of the book lies in the fact that most of these facts are not well known or publicised. The media style of portaying the Allies as heroes has dominated and still dominates the collective memory of Europeans. Churchill debunks the cheap, pseudo heroism of his own nation. Of course, where and when the English and French  soldiers fought, they deserved the admiration, and Churchill does not avoid it.

His demeanour can be a paragon of how any responsible politician should behave: first find your own nations sins, errors and attrocities — and speak about them openly an frankly and repent. Without such attitude the world can not become a better place...

All in all - „Milestones to Disaster” is a must for all who are interested in XX History.

Written in Paris, April, 3rd, 2011.

While there I also finished reading  Eric's Metaxas „Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010)” and I'm deeply shocked by its implications. A review to come soon...