Monday, December 28, 2009

Quote from "The Journey into Yourself"

I did not know that I would be captivated by Eckhart Tolle simple words...
After "The Power of Now" I bought "The Journey into yourself" - the recording of long, 9 hours lecture Eckhart gave at one of his seminars.

I made short transcript of short passage that reflects his thoughts.
I did so because they were quite close to thougts of one of my friends - who was practicing monk and buddist. And they are close to deepest level of understanding in all mystical traditions I met...

I could make some errors, hope my readers and Eckhart will forgive me:

"The empty space is left behind by death, whenever a form dissolves in your life. It may be an actual death or it may be a loss of something that happened to be important to you. If you can face that hole that is left behind by the form that is no longer there, it is a temporary hole into the dimension of formless, now I could almost say, into God, the formless one life, the formless, timeless one consciousness, that underlines all manifestation. It momentarily shines through whenever there is a hole in the tapestry of physical existence.

There is a kind of tapestry of forms, and in this tapestry of forms, which is gigantic, regularly, and at all time (...) holes open up continuously and are replaced by something else, but if you can be aware of the holes, of the openings, something shines through them that has not to do with a form but with essence of all forms.

And it is enormously peaceful. There is enormous peace and aliveness there, and that is the grace that lies concealed in any kind of death, accidental death, seemingly premature death, in any kind of loss…
And then you cover up the hole with reactions immediately, so that you do not have to face emptiness…. So when emptiness comes in your life, that is a beautiful, potentially , a beautiful opening in which you can actually find yourself, You find yourself by not resisting that, and so you begin to welcome death when it comes because it is inseparable part of this world of form.

But when we look at death and judge it from a point of view of an identity, a sense of self that is identified with form – and from there death looks horrible!"

No more words for tonight...

Friday, December 25, 2009

What to do about this book ? - "The Power of Now" enigma ...

This review is about Eckhart Tolle first and fundamental book "The Power of Now". Eckhart Tolle is German-born Canadian spiritual teacher. But unlike other spiritual teachers he does not belong or even relates to any existing religion, even though he often cites Buddha and Jesus. He came to the today's fame (almost all celebrities are fascinated by his teachings) through quite unusual life. Despite almost 10 years old refusal to acquire traditional education, he was admitted to the University of London and matriculated at Cambridge in 1977. It was in this year when he felt into depression and came out of it after undergoing, what he describes as enlightenment or "inner transformation". In 1995 he moved to Vancouver, and soon after, in 1999 he wrote "The Power of Now". As the book became later the New York Time bestseller, his fame started to grow. His frequent performances with Oprah Winfrey and admiration of many celebrities positioned him among top spiritual teachers of the western hemisphere.

He promotes his message through a company he created and named "Eckhart Teachings"....

His history and fame could easily make my mind very suspicious about the quality of his message. But, I must admit, here comes a great surprise. The message is very simple, very basic and obvious - and expressed in such sincere and explicit words, that we should read it with attention. In a most concise description, the message is about the discovery of our inner consciousness, the silent "I" which is not reduced to our mind, thoughts or even our ego.
He beautifully describes it as the "no-thing", as the background of our thoughts and perceptions.
The discovery of the true inner center of our awareness, reveals also all negative consequences of mind domination - both on personal and also on social level. His analysis of the concept of pain-body which describes the negative emotional component of our life - is really deep and profound.

I also found his basic advice or "tool" one can use to self-wake up as very interesting - it is attempt to live in the "now"- in the Present. The past, and future are mental creations, the first through memory, the second through imagination. The focus on our "Now" on things and thoughts that matter for presentness - opens us to the awareness of the deeper level of existence, to true being, or "is-ness" - the another term, Tolle uses in an interesting way.
Even though I disagree with the apparent diminishing of the importance of the past, I must admit Tolle analysis of time is convincing.

In some sense, Eckhart Tolle rediscovers the truths well known to almost all meditational traditions of the world, however he does so in truly universal way - in language that the modern world can understand and can accept. It rediscovers what almost all religions of the world were telling us for centuries, but what was forgotten or maybe simply obstructed for many by the organizational or even political aspects of many religions.

Finally, even though many aspects of Tolle career are not what I like the most, he, by no means can be called "revitalised New Age mumbo jumbo" as it was done by Independent in an article published on June 21, 2008.

If I was about to point some weakness in his teaching it is in his forgetfulness of the importance of unchangeable past, our freedom and grounds for moral teaching. Paradoxically if one extends his basic teaching of awareness - the foundations for these concepts are there !

It is also funny, how I found this book and Eckhart Tolle teachings. It was thanks to Raymond Harrison who posted some comments on my blog about time and its dimensions. He pointed out to me Tolle teachings and I'm grateful to him for this reference...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Next 100 Years: A forecast or geopolitical fantasy ?

As with many books I have very mixed feelings after reading George's Friedman "The Next 100 Years". When it comes to reading experience, the book is just excellent. It is a true page turner and gives to the reader the great satisfaction of reading.

In short: the book analyses the global geopolitical trends of XXI century and tries to predict the events of nascent centennial period of time. The analysis of the current situation is breathtaking - it is one of the first analysis that describes the real trends behind such events like Iraq war, seemingly stupid errors of American administration and explains how such acts work on a deeper strategic level. The basic conclusion of this part of the book is that the American global dominance is of unprecedented scale, not known in history of civilization. What is more, we are not in the period of a dusk of "American day" but - rather - at its dawn.

All the events , including those that seemingly put US into some inferiority, work in the opposite direction. For example, even though the American-Jihad war, started by the events of 9/11 does not look as successful, it has in fact caused the great disruption in Islamic countries, essentially blocking any major power to arise.

There are many such excellent conclusions and inferences ...

But, as you continue to read it, the book becomes more and more a sort of fantasy than a well grounded forecast. For example, the conclusion that by the mid of XXI century the most important powers of the world will be: US, Japan, Turkey and ... Poland - made my sides split with laughter. On the surface, I should be proud (and I truly am) of the author estimation of my own country great potential - but, I think he simply forgets or ignores the large geopolitical change that just started to shape the Euro-Asia - the dawn of European Union, in which Poland has already its place, and to which Turkey aspires. The author, with typical ignorance, thinks of EU as of failed project, and it fails because it does not follow American example.

This is, in my opinion, one of the great faults in George's reasoning. The truth is different, EU is a project that breaks the traditional nation-state paradigm, and, as such, escapes the classical geopolitical trends. Of course, EU may fail. It errs. It joins the new active generation, hard working young people in many countries with somehow decadent societies of "Old Europe".

But in this weakness lies also its power - and it is highly unlikely that we may see a "Polish block" rising in power and challenging Germany, France, UK - also in military sense.

Turkey maybe more problematic, as seen from 2009 perspective, but its efforts to join EU will finally make this country a powerful, yet, peaceful part of the region.

Whatever we say, the thinking in XXI century in terms of almost tribal, nation-state struggle, seems to be anachronic and quite strange...

Having this in mind, I found this part of "The Next 100 years" as highly unrealistic.

When the author finally comes to the mid-XXI century war, and describes it with details worth good sci-fi novel, I came to conclusion, that the real value of the author prophecies are of the same sort as of any, maybe good, science-fiction author....

I also think that the author expresses some other strange opinions worth to oppose. For example, when he describes role of the computer in modern civilization it does so with complete ignorance to the true meaning of digital technology, Internet and new media. The only two aspects he notices is the reductionism of the digital world (because it reduces everything to bits) and the emanation of American philosophical pragmatism...

He seems not to understand what software is all about and how computer and Internet enhanced the human communication, collaboration and hope for better future - on a global scale...

Finally and despite my criticism - I recommend to read this book. It is deeply moving and fascinating. But don't believe in its prophetic power :-)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse

Even though I read this book when I was young, the return to it in my fifties, and the reading of the final chapters in Paris was a kind of circular literature experience I did not predict to touch me so deeply in the end of 2009...

"Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse" or "The Saragossa Manuscript" is an epic novel originally written in French in the beginning of XIX century. Its author, Jan Potocki was Polish nobleman, off-spring of famous lordly Potocki family, which was so important in the history of Poland. The family was far from being a dull aristocratic dynasty - see a note about Walentyn Potocki as an example.

Jan Potocki was highly educated person, known as ethnologist, Egyptologist and a linguist. He wrote in French. It is interesting to find that the final complete edition of the French original was published only in ... 2006.

"The Saragossa Manuscript" is a frame-tale story. In modern literature it was one of the first, preceding Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights by more than 30 years. Critics compared "The Manuscript" to The Decameron and to The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, but Potocki story telling is much more elaborated and convoluted, with stories told in parallel, stories within stories, sometimes going to the fourth level of nesting, or stories affecting the other stories on different planes of narration ... This very construction make the reading not only pleasant but also intellectually challenging experience.

In the factual setting, the story is located in the Napoleonic war times, when a French officer, after the fall of Saragossa, discovers an XVIII century manuscript describing the life of young officer of Wallon Guard - Alphonse van Worden. The plot described in this manuscript form the most of the book.

Being the officer of the Wallon Guard, the famous catholic formation from southern Belgium, he happened to be the only surviving male of fictional Muslim Gomelez family. The family members, hiding in caves of Sierra Morena mountains, predicting the glooming future of their Shi'a dynasty, organized intricate probation for Alphonse, driving him through ecstatic erotic experiences, inquisition tortures and metaphysical and philosophical conundrums, rooted in Jewish Kabbalah, Dervish and Gypsy stories, enlightened science and history of the region. The challenge was to test Alphonse honor, loyalty to his faith, ability to keep secrets and integrity. This part of the story is written with such level of realism, that even modern reader is completely surprised when, at the end of the narration, the true is finally revealed to Alphonse. It is also written with true love for diversity and cultures. Christian, Jewish, Gypsy and Muslim heroes of the stories are pictured with equal admiration and respect…

In almost 700 pages of the book, you will also find a lot of philosophical deliberations. Some of them ponder on the nature of the mind and the difference between human and animal intellect. Some of Potocki's thoughts are surprisingly modern...

I must admit, when it comes to storytelling and imagination, Potocki XIX century novel surpasses by an order of magnitude that of Don Brown's XXI century narration. He could be a teacher for all who write about secret societies and mysterious events alike. You never get impression of a naiveté of the author knowledge.

I have been reading this book in audio, in the translation from French to the mother tongue of the author. When finished I watched the entire 1965 black & white film by Wojciech Has. This was culmination of my adventure with Potocki and his book.

FYI, I was once honored to talk to late Wojciech Has, when I gave lectures in the Lodz Film Academy. I also know very well the locations the film was set - as it was an area for my climbing training in my youth. I can only pity that there are no English subtitles on YouTube complete set of episodes from the movie... :

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Future of physical Books - a new discussion at Book Blogs

Some time ago, after the first discussion about Books and their future, I initiated another one on Book Blogs network. It happened to be very interesting, received "Featured" status and sometimes, even hot :-)
The majority of commentators shared my view, that simply says: "Physical Books will never die". But there were also good arguments in favour of eBooks.

See two opinions:
From Stacy - the Novelist - FOR pBooks:

As an author, I think about autographed copies of books and book signings. If physical books were no longer around, how would people get autographed copies of their favorite books from their favorite authors?

From Novel Reaction - the Reader - FOR eBooks:

(...) when I travel I take books with me to read on my down time. A year ago (before I had my ereader) I took 12 books with me on vacation to Hawaii, read all of the books while I was there and ended up purchasing more for the plane ride home. Because I took so many books I had to pay extra for the weight in my luggage. Again, the convenience of an ereader is HUGE for me!!

All in all - its good to consider these matters - we live in eventful times when it comes to books business. As one of examples - Nook is coming ...

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tomasz Stańko honors Polański in his concert in Lodz

Tomasz Stańko - famous avant-garde and free jazz trumpter played "Rosemary Baby" - from Roman Polański film, in his incredible concert in Lodz - the town of Polański's youth and university years.

Stanko, who played music from his latest ECM production "Dark Eyes", when asked for an encore by public - made an incredible interpretation of the famous film theme. I was in the public - we all knew it was for Polanski. It was very emotional and beautiful...
You may listen to another, older Stanko's interpretation of this theme in an amateurish recording at Rotunda Club in 2008.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Welcome to the desert of the real - when a movie becomes an object for philosophers ...

When first released in March of 1999, "The Matrix" of Wachowski brothers, immediately gave rise to multitude of philosophical interpretations. While majority of viewers watched it for stunning and violent action, critics and film makers - for editing, sound and visual effects (it received three Oscars), the philosophers noticed the non-trivial references to various schools of thought from Buddhism, through cartesianism, to existentialism and postmodernism.

The selection of essays, based on, or motivated by "The Matrix" was collected by Open Court Publishers and released in 2002 as "The Matrix and Philosophy" - Vol. 3 in the series "Popular Culture and Philosophy".

I must admit, that the book was very long on my list waiting for me ... I was afraid it was rather superficial account on quite superficial philosophical motives in The Matrix. But the book surprised me very positively. First and foremost, the authors whose essayes are in the book are really distinguished philosophers. Let me only name few: William Irwin, Jorge Garcia, Theodore Shick or Slavoj Zizek from about 20 names.

Second - the authors mostly took The Matrix as the inspiration of some deeper philosophical analysis. These analysis are very interesting and serious, but what is the most important is the very fact that it is for some iconic genre movie that ignited the fire of millenia long dilemmas.

It is impossible in short review to analyse the actual thoughts and polemicize with them.
There are fantastic passages about Platon's alegory of the Cave, about Rene Descartes "Devil" or about Kant forms of perception. All these parables can be found in The Matrix.

Let me, however, look closer at the article "Popping a Bitter Pill: Existential Authenticity in The Matrix and Nausea" by Jennifer L. MacMahon. She analyses the transition undergone by main characters of The Matrix (Neo) and Sartre's "La Nauseé" (Roquentin). In both cases is is about authenticity. The sudden act of awareness reveals, to both of them, though in different way - the true nature of existence. Let me quote:

" ... both The Matrix and Nausea illustrate that authenticity is difficult not only because the truth it reveals is hard to stomach, but also because inauthenticity is the norm. They attribute the prevelance if inauthenticity both to psychological resistance and social indoctrination. As Roquentin's and Neo's experience make evident, the true nature of reality is not necessarily something humans want to see."

This parallel of The Matrix to La Nauseé is especially meaningful to me, because it was the later Sartre novel that was important part of my philosophical awakening, more than 30 years ago, and start for life-long philosophical search....

The another worth mentioning essay is "Real Genre and Virtual Philosophy" by Deborah Knight and George McKnight. It is very important because it uncovers how many of The Matrix philosophical motives could rather be attributed to specific genre it is deeply rooted. In some sense the authors unmask the true inspirations of The Matrix. According to them, they (inspirations) are more for The Matrix being a very good emanation of specific Genre, than for true philosophical convictions of its authors. BTW, the authors of the essay try to map The Matrix onto famous Northrop Frye classification of modern genre, and they argue for The Matrix belongs to ... Romance.

The general conclusion from reading the Book is that, while The Matrix itself is certainly not philosophical fairy-tale and is full of contradictions and serious philosophical simplifications - it still was an ignition for much bigger and much deeper philosophical discussions ...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Future of Books - A discussion

It is just amazing - sometimes a single blog post invokes comments that could be used to write an elaboration on some really momentous theme.

This is exactly the case with David Weinberger post "Will books survive - A scorecard...".

In the post David enumerates 13 features real books feature. He called the tradional books as pBooks in contrast to eBook.

These features are: Readability, Convenience, Annotatability, Affordability, Social flags, Aesthetic objects, Sentimental objects, Historic objects, Historical objects, Specialized objects, Possessions, Single-mindedness, Religious objects.

David then gives his justification about all these features and how they contribute to physical Books survival.

There was increadible discussion after. The opinions varied from such that heralded the death of pBooks or at least a degradation of their importance. Comparisons to vinyl records (superseeded by MP3s) or candles (by electric bulbs) were on the one end, while the glorification of them as objects of liturgy - on the other end (I must admit I was rather in the later pew :-) ).

There are many interesting thoughts, let me just to cite a few here:

Robert Schamalbach, a school librarian supported my remark about distraction we get with eBooks as opposed to the dedication induced by physical books.

Janm pointed out how important is the serendipity real Books bring to our life. That's true. I have always this feeling in little Parisian bookstores I often spend hours ...

Andromenda said important note about childreen books - they hardly be replaced by eBooks.

fjpoblam gave short but funny statement: " “pbooks” are available when the plug and the battery and the screen fail. Period."

Now, I must also admit that I strongly believe in the long live of paper books. I support most of David assertions about particular features. However I stressed the three of them:

1) No distractibility. You described this feature in “Single-mindedness” . We all know that there is shadow part of our Web experience – it is the amount of distraction we get there. I’m sure that no one of us would spent, say 8 hours with the eBook without following a link, without – plainly – distraction. pbooks allow for more concentration, without strong-mindedness :-)

2) The special notion of bookshelves, libraries, bookstores. Maybe hard to explain, but when you are in Paris, please go to Shakespeare & Company on La Bucherie street.
Such places and the special atmosphere of books there will not cease to exist ….

3) Religious importance. We cannot imagine Shabbat prayers without Torah scroll.
However, there is something more important. Books became the objects in ceremonies, objects of special meaning and importance. They became parts of liturgy for numerous religions of the world. Something is in them that is not replaceable by eBooks.
It is not any magic or fetishism – books have significance for our prayers, no matter it is in synagogue, church or mosk. The word of G-d was transmitted physically and this physicality still matters….

However, there is a special kind of eBooks I hope will grow in importance and I hope in future, all books will have their respective audio versions. I wrote:

Its personal – often think about a particular type of eBook – the Audio Book.
For me this is much more important than typical eBook, because it opens new
possibilities for reading – you can read while driving, biking, walking. When you clean our house, wait in a line to store’s checkout and in many other places and situations you would never consider reading. In theory, any eBook can not only be read but also listened to – and for me this is something. Wherever I go I promote them.

So - Thanks do David for starting such a beautiful discussion. I must admit though, that contrary to my convictions, most of debaters claimed that pBooks will not survive ...

Now - what do you think ?

BTW, It is quite common for David to ignite amazing fiery discussions. I can't forget the one about Umberto Eco and his idea of importance of lists and collections for creating culture...

And another one about Google's filtering and the meaning of their search results...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cat's cradle - Mega Mockery of our societies ...

Kurt's Vonnegut "Cat's Cradle" is one of the strangest books I've ever read.

The plot starts quite innocently with the narrator presenting himself as a writer planning to write a book about the American nuclear bomb inventor. This goal has perfect sense and is aimed at showing how "normal" was the life of those who, by their activity, created means to kill masses of people. In his pursuit, the narrator makes friends within the family and co-workers of the bomb inventor. They may hide the great secret of late father of the bomb - the mysterious Ice-9.
At this stage of the narration a fictional religion of Bokononism is introduced, with is fundamental concept of karass - the group of people, who are working together to fulfil God's will.

The plots goes crazy when the narrator arrives to a fictional island of San Lorenzo. Here, the events spiral quite fast. Shortly after arrival he is offered to become the president of the nation of the island - and he accepts that post, being in love with the women who was destined to be the wife of the president. Just at the moment of his inauguration as the president, the small plane crashed at the rock on which presidential palace stood and that crash ignited the sequence of events ending in the ultimate cataclysm with almost all the population of the island gone and with all water transformed at room temperature into hard ice after the spillage of Ice-9 in the accident.

Through this crazy plot, Vonnegut tells the most ironic refutation of our society, military pursuit, political system, "forbidden fruit" man-made religions and cults. The most important of those is the mockery of man-made religions. Bokononism, invented for the purpose of the novel, reveals so close resamblance to some cults and sectarian groups that we can only marvel about Vonnegut's wit and Machiavellian wisdom...

And I remembered _The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon_, which I had read in its entirety the night before. _The Fourteenth Book_ is entitled, "What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?"
It doesn't take long to read _The Fourteenth Book_. It consists of one word and a period.

This is it:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Billy Pilgrim’s (modified) theory of time ...

Slaughterhouse No 5 is absolutely incredible novel. It is the second novel in my life (after Zusak’sThe Book Thief”) that I reread again almost immediately after the first reading.

So it went.

I did it on the trip to Paris, and finished it at the CDG airport before the flight to London.

I want to shed some light on the theory of time that is embedded in the book. Traditional view on the time assumes that only present truly exists. Past does not, because it has just past and is not there anymore. Future does not because it is not there yet. According to Billy Pilgrim (the novel main character), or rather to his teachers on planet Tralfamadore, the time exists in its full reality:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

In the novel, Billy travels in time, back and forward, essentially abolishing the faith and the need for free will – because the future is as rigid and unchangeable as is the past. No one can do anything about it.


Would-would you mind telling me,' he said to the guide, much deflated, 'what was so stupid about that?' 'We know how the Universe ends,' said the guide, 'and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too.' 'How-how does the Universe end?' said Billy. 'We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.' So it goes. "If You know this," said Billy, 'isn't there some way you can prevent it?
Can't you keep the pilot from pressing the button?' 'He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.

However, even knowing this from his teachers, “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”. Billy finally grasped the idea of time and acquired the ability to perceive the time in the new way, after he was taught how primitive his earthling notion of time was:

There was a lot that Billy said that was gibberish to the Tralfamadorians, too. They couldn't imagine what time looked like to him. Billy had given up on explaining that. The guide outside had to explain as best he could. The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of pipe. This was only the beginning of Billy's miseries in the metaphor. He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, And there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe. The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar. All Billy could see was the dot at the end of the pipe. He didn't know he was on a flatcar, didn't even know there was anything peculiar about his situation. The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped-went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways. Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, 'That's life.'

Now, let me for a bit of more serious thought...

I don’t like the idea of total determinism and a negation of free will. I think, it is exactly for the human free will, that we cannot travel into the future. There are also serious physical arguments against such ideas, all of them having roots in the third law of thermodynamics — in the very notion of entropy.

But I like the idea of the past having its existence. The past, all the events of yesterday, last year, last century last era – simply exist. The nature of its existance is, of course, different from the existence of this table or of ourselves, but it still has many enduring existential attributes.

The past events are petrified, trapped like bugs in an amber, in some mysterious fabric called “the past”.
For ages, equipped only with our memory, we did not have means to see it, but today we have. It probably started with photography and evolved through movies to Flicker’s shots, Youtube’s reels and Twitter’s tweets. More and more we have means to go back and to see clearly, to contemplate all the moments of the past, as they were, and – as they are – unchangeable, trapped like in amber, but ... no less beautiful than the present....

Time can be visualized as unfolding dynamic tree. At present, as “a fork” it bifurcates into zillions of branches, each branch being a different possibility for events to happen, words to utter, gestures to make, steps to walk... But once this fork moves forward, the branch becomes like a fossil, petrified and impossible to change.

I guess one could even built morality and ethics on this concept of time. No one wants to have his bad deeds and bad decisions recorded and permanently available for reading. But, like it or not, they are. There is no escape from this. So, one should try to have only good deeds of his to stay trapped in the amber of the past. That’s the simple base for morality.

Is it ?

Written in London at 4.35 AM on November 9th – during a sleepless night. Unstuck in time....

Monday, November 02, 2009

New Idiana Jones style fable or genuine story by Tudor Parfitt ?

"The Lost Ark of the Covenant" by Tudor Parfitt is a controversial book. The very selection of the theme, the quest for traces of Lost Ark of Covenant, the most sacred physical object in the entire biblical narrative - is controversial by itself.

No wonder, after Indiana Jones or Paul's Sussman "The Last Secret of the Temple" it is hard to write about the Ark without falling or into scholarly-historic-archeological style or into a kind of Indiana Jones thriller. When you read it however, you find both notes — sometimes the melody is like it was to accompany Indiana Jones — sometime you hear a song of true scholar...

The book describes the author's life-long quest for the biblical Lost Ark of Covenant. However, unlike the many other quests, Parfitt, from the very beginning shows his preference for the hypothesis of African trail of the Ark. And for good. He is a very well known advocate of the theory that assumes that the African tribe of Lemba, where a Judaic trend is not only clearly visible, but was also confirmed by 1996 genetic studies, was directly responsible for preservation of the Ark.

The book becomes a real page turner when it describes apparently futile, long adventurous and dangerous trip through Yemen and later, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. In another chapter he goes after the Judaic trails in Papua, New Guinea. This episode, however, portraying a tribe that only recently revoked cannibalism, goes too far toward "Indiana Jones" melody...

However, in other parts, particularly those devoted to the Ark itself, called ngoma lungundu by Lemba people he writes in a very good scholarly but not entirely dull, tone. The Ark, according to Parfitt was in fact ... a drum, a horrifying musical instrument and the ancient weapon of mass destruction.

The book concludes when after long and desperate search he finally identifies ngoma lungundu in a dusty, mice-ridden storeroom of the Harare Museum of Human Science in Zimbabwe. The carbon dating finds the drum comes from XIV century, but despite the date itself - Parfitt claims it was replica of the original Ark.

However controversial or fantastic Parfitt claims is - the conclusion of the book is nice to read. There are no fanfares, no pseudo-religious boosting - there is just a moldy drum, sitting in a dusty museum storeroom, which author believes IS the true Ark's duplicate made in XIV century...

For many, this conclusion may be fantastic, stupid or, at least — non-biblical, but the finale of the book shows some decency and truth seeking attitude of the author. No stupid Indiana Jones tones any more...

Good, recommended book !!!

See its good review in Time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

So it goes....

Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" is probably the best anti-war novel I ever read. Paradoxically, it is not openly or verbally pacifistic. Rather, by showing the absurdity of human condition in the war time, it builds in readers the strongest aversion to the war and to the artificial and often pompous "war heroism" - we so frequently witness in books and in media.

"Slaughterhouse Five" is a surrealistic novel, sometimes skimming on the brink of science-fiction genre. The title refers to the real building of the Dresden Slaughterhouse where American's POWs were kept in the very end of the war when the famous Dresden bombing happened.

It's subtitle, "The Children's Crusade" refers to the scene in the beginning of the book, where former II WW soldiers were called babies by the wife of war hero. In some sense the purpose of the subtitle is to despise the typical, pompous, heroic stories of the wars...

The most of the narration is filled by the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier, who is sent by Germans to Dresden, just before the bombing. Billy experiences a mental state called "unstickness of the time" - he visits his past, present and future out of sequence, sometimes in backward direction and often, repetitively. During his time travels, he claims to be kidnapped by aliens and kept as hostage and zoo exhibit on a planet called Tralfamadore. These parts of the plot seem to be quite strange, but when you immerse into the text deeply, they play some increadible role - far from typical sci-fi motives in other novels.
In fact they have some philosophical implications. The questions of free will and of time and its meaning - are central to them. I like the concept of time and past looming from them - the past exists, is unchangable and can be visited in a way similar to that of our visits of places.

The bombing of Dresden is described with scarce details. Aftermath of the bombing, with infamous "corpse mine", where one of characters dies from vomiting (caused by the stench), is probably the only more detailed part of the novel.

The book is deeply related to the other Kurt's novels, "Mother Night" - the main character of the later plays an important episode in the former.

Travelling in space and time with Billy we are faced with almost absolute absurdity of the war, the cold cruelty of men in the wartime, without calling these features by name.

What makes this book special is peculiar climate it creates. In this very ambient, absurd atmosphere lies the strongest denial of wars and any warlike "culture".

Once again I proved myself how great writer was Kurt Vonnegunt...
Last but not least, I read the audio version of the book. The narration of famous Ethan Hawke was one of the best I ever experienced.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Opening addres for "Web has a meaning" conference

This my speech I gave at the opening of "Web has a meaning" conference organized at MakoLab XX anniversary on September 28, 2009 in Artur Rubinstein Lodz Philharmonic Hall:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the “Web has a meaning” conference organized for the occasion of the 20th anniversary of MakoLab’s creation.

20lat_MakoLab (21 of 172)

Traditionally, on such days and on such occasions, the most important facts from the 20 years of our history should be noted. However, this evening I would not like to emphasize only the company’s history, or especially facts. History is not a consequence of events of a single flat thread seen like a film – it is rather a network of interwoven threads and planes. We live on many of such planes simultaneously.

For the last 20 years, the people related to MakoLab have lived on at least three historical levels important to us: on the level of the history of Poland and Europe, on the level of the history of a growing company and, what is so significant to understand the reason of this conference – on the level of the history of the WEB. On these three planes – on a junction of social, economical and technological influences – our company was born.

20lat_MakoLab (24 of 172)

The last twenty years is a period of Poland resurrecting and slowly liberating from the communist regime. The fact that we celebrate our anniversary precisely 20 years from that fateful year of 1989 has a particular meaning for us.

When in the summer of 1989, soon after the first free election in Poland, I for the first time went to West Berlin for the first computer for the then being created company – the Berlin Wall was yet there. After a few months of this critical year, on 9th November, the Berlin Wall symbolically collapsed. For us, the June elections opened a path to freedom, for the world – the collapse of the Berlin Wall was a symbolical date of the beginning of globalization and the birth of a new economy.

In everyday life of these years not always could we feel the winds of history – hard work and beginning a new life consumed our time completely. It wasn’t an easy period, the conditions of managing economical activity in the beginnings of our freedom were not what we expected. Today they are a bit better… A bit :-)

However, I would like to emphasize the other difficulty of the beginnings of the 3rd Polish Republic ("Rzeczpospolita") and of our company... For this purpose, I will use the famous sentence by Ryszard Kapuściński:

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

I cite this fragment not without a reason – every careful and thorough observer of the 20 years of Polish freedom may have probably noticed how many of the problems – both political and economical – sprung not from external conditions, but from our mentality, from unsuccessful overcoming of the demons from the past.

We also know it well that if we, as Łódź and Poland, achieve success today, even as humble as this one, that thanks to our hard work, the global financial crisis reached us with a delay and with less dangerous repercussions – that all of this is an effect of liberating ourselves from the remains of the old thinking, an effect of creativity and resourcefulness, the genes of which are completely different…

In everyday life I do not like lofty sentences, but on a day like this one I must share with you a reflection – I believe that one of the most important factors of success, both the success of Poland in Europe, of Łódź in Poland and of MakoLab in Łódź, Poland and Europe – is the obstinate yet humble ability to overcome our own limitations, our own minuteness, imperfections and disadvantages. All good and important events – and here I will mention only the two of them – our strong stock market debut in 2007 and handing the company’s management to Wojtek Zieliński in 2008 – are actually of this background. A closer look at the negative events, as they also did happen, reveals the ingredient of our minuteness, weakness and limitations – which could not always be defeated.

I have earlier said that we have lived on three surfaces: of the recovering freedom and of the growing company. The third surface is the Web and its history. I would obviously lie if I said that already in 1989 we had a vision of a company focused on the Web as we have it today. We were close to it, but we began to treat it seriously around 1995.

20lat_MakoLab (39 of 172)

It is the Web and an attempt to answer the questions about its meaning for modern business, along with our anniversary, that is the main reason for organizing the today’s conference. Therefore, allow me to say something about the history of the Web in this part of my speech.
A small explanation to begin with – the Web, meaning a global network of interconnected WWW servers - is not identical with the Internet. Its laws cannot be reduced to the laws of the Internet itself, although without the Internet, it could not exist. Both in the technical and philosophical respect, Web is a higher layer – a higher level of the network.

The Internet was created in late 1950s, first as a military project, and then, in 1970s, as an academic project. The Web was born in the year seminal for us as well – 1989. It was in March of this year that Tim Berners Lee writes his famous work – “Information Management: A proposal”, in which he presents the fundamental ideas of the Web: basic laws of technical protocols and document format and the most significant idea of the Web – the idea of hypertext, defined as a “set of information readable for a human, connected in a way not restricted by anything”..

In 1990 launches the server, which operates until today, the first Web browser “Enquire” is also created. A new era begins. Once again I emphasize that these are the same years in which we entered the difficult path toward freedom and the world, after the symbolical downfall of the Berlin Wall, began to learn globalization. The creation of the Web, known as well as the World Wide Web, had a revolutionary significance for both the Internet and the public space of the entire world. The numbers prove this: in 1989 the number of all computers in the Internet was 100 thousand, while in 1992 - already over a million. How is it possible?
What factor determined that it was WWW and not Gopher, FTP or e-mail that began the real explosion?

This factor is undoubtedly the fundamental SIMPLICITY of the WEB. WWW is based on essentially simple, natural and obvious principles.

These principles can be enumerated on a single breath – the principle of universal, public and unique address of each document in the network, the principle of hypertext – meaning the unlimited ability to link one document with the other, and the principle of transferring absolutely ANY data in a uniform and simple way. These three principles, creating the three fundamental protocols governing the Web (URL, HTML, HTTP) are so strikingly simple that to this day many people wonder how it is possible to create such richness on basis of a few simple standards.
However, it turns out that this simplicity – a kind of self-limitation of complicated technology to the simplest solutions – is exactly the factor that gave the Web such an incredible initial speed and literally unlimited growth. Not all of us know that HTML is a very primitive, willingly limited form of the then already existing SGML standard, and HTTP is almost a trivial toy in comparison to some already existing network protocols. I will not even mention the many drawbacks of the Web, which are best expressed by Tim Berners-Lee: “The Web will always be a little bit broken”. Yet in this limitation of power and the lack of perfection – lies strength. “The Principle of Least Power” is one of the most important axioms of the Web. I often repeat this rule, as a mantra, to all of our employees…

Let’s return to history: In 1994 the Netscape company is born and creates the first application known as a “killer application” – the Netscape web browser. In 1996 Netscape is followed by Microsoft with its Internet Explorer and the pretty inglorious history of browser wars begins. Fortunately, this does not disturb the emergence of the new economy around the Internet. In the same year, 1996, Amazon and eBay launch. In December 1998, Internet sale in the USA reaches heights unheard of in normal economy – the period from the Thanksgiving to Christmas of that year, due to the turnovers reaching 1,2 billion of US dollars would later be called “The Big Online Holiday Extravaganza”. Successes of the New Economy were so enthralling, that they blinded many – investors and businessmen alike. Unverified and incorrect plans eventually cause a typical and well-known global process known as the “bubble economy”. In 2000 and 2001 we observe a number of spectacular bankruptcies, stock market downfalls – which proved to many that it is not that easy. Looking for solid basis for Internet business will yet take a few years….
From the perspective of 20 years, this first period of the Web’s development, regardless of the multitude of solutions, is today called WEB 1.0 – the characteristic trait of this period is the centralized model of communication – the WEB servers the content of which was created by the creators and administrator – or webmaster – were used, typically in a passive way, by the users, or surfers.

In the beginning of the 21st century, there emerges a phenomenon subsequently called Web 2.0. It is worth mentioning here that Web 2.0 did not spring from any fundamental technological revolution. The technical basis of Web 2.0 is composed according to the same, simple rules I mentioned before. It was a social revolution or, if it may be said so, a mental revolution, and, what is most important – a cultural one. It progressed in four essentially independent ways:

  • Global searching of information – the icons of which were Yahoo and mostly Google.
  • Social cooperation in creation of information – the embodiment of which were blogs and the phenomenon known as the blogosphere
  • New rules of creating and sharing knowledge – embodied by Wikipedia
  • Usage of the Web for making and sustaining human relationships – with icons such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and in Poland – Nasza Klasa.
Web 2.0 redefined various areas of life – if we want to know what is going on – for instance in politics – we no more have to resort to official media or news corporations. We can hear what people are saying. In a really authentic, uncensored voice. Thousands of blogs and social websites bubble with opinions and information. It is true – they are not always reliable. But almost in every case – they are authentic. Spoken in a human, not pompous voice.

Web 2.0 revolutionized the concept of knowledge and authority. Until today there is a discussion if Wikipedia, which is the largest known emanation of encyclopedic knowledge is trustworthy. Most probably not in all of its articles. But its unique social method of discourse, closely reminiscent of dialogues, commentaries and reflections on legislative or religious laws known from many ancient cultures, and being the contrary to the idea of a single proper authority – together with its strictly protected principle of neutrality – caused the creation of a body of human knowledge without precedent in the entire history of human culture. The Wikipedia of today is more than 10 million articles in almost all significant languages of the world…
Web 2.0 has such a strong influence on society that a well-known and renowned advisory company Forrester, called the explosion of Web 2.0 social sites a groundswell – which disturbs as if “from the bottom” the basics of traditional business, marketing, market communication, teamwork…

More and more companies and institutions understand that they must resign from bombastic rhetoric and pompous language of traditional marketing – they must listen to the authentic dialogues taking place on blogs, social networking websites, link sharing portals, forums and other platforms of communication witch swarm the Web of today.

When we take a closer look at the Web of today, the phenomenon known as Web 2.0, it is impossible to overlook that this was the primary vision of the Web.

Tim Berners Lee wrote:

'The Web is rather a social than technical work. I designed it for the
social effect – in order to help people cooperate – and not as a technical toy'.

It is amazing that this social effect, the openness to society – was achieved only after more than 10 years of the Web’s existence… It is worth remembering. Revolutions do not happen instantly – also in this context Kapuściński’s sentence I cited before is extremely relevant:

“We have broken the system, but its genes are still within us …”

Today, in 2009, 20 years after its beginning, the Web is on a crossroads. It is unknown in which direction will its development follow. However, we know that Web 2.0 in its present shape, although it will continue defining the Web for the next few years – has tremendous limitations.
One may risk making a statement that the formula of Web 2.0 is slowly expiring – and it is difficult not to observe it. Let’s see – searching in Google and other popular search engines is still trivial and primitive – we look for pages using words, phrases and fragments of text – but not using terms and concepts. We have our accounts and our friends on e.g. Facebook or Nasza Klasa but we cannot transfer anything with all our friends to a different portal – without tedious entering of the same data. Our digital identity, our relations with people are taken over by companies – the operators of these pages – Facebook, Google, Nasza Klasa. But my digital identity and my relations with friends are MINE and I should be the one in control of them…

Wikipedia has over 10 million articles today, but we cannot easily extract structural data of, for instance, a simple table with numbers of citizens described in it – without tedious “copy/paste”…
I often give other trivial examples – let’s assume that in Excel we want to obtain a table with post addresses of a million companies that have Internet pages in Poland. We know these pages – every single one of them can be accessed - but unless we employ dozens of employees, this task is almost impossible…

Another example: let’s imagine asking Google such a question: give me addresses of all piano tuners no further than 5 kilometers away from the Łódź Philharmonic who work between 5 pm and 8 pm. No chances for a good answer. I emphasize the fact – this data is present on the Web, but we don’t have instruments and ideas for representing and obtaining it semantically.

Today we theoretically do know that these problems can be solved. We know that the solutions await in the new version of the Web, called by many Web 3.0, by others – the semantic web.
However, I’d like to call it differently. I’ve made my own term: “The Web full of meaning”.
I am aware that this sounds a bit like a fantasy – are we able to express meaning in computer technology, in files and databases? Meaning – that is a domain of the human mind and language? Doesn’t it sound like another prophecy of artificial intelligence? Doesn’t the term “ontology” widely used by the adepts of the “Semantic Web” lead us astray, toward some strange philosophy or bad metaphysics?

None of the above is the case. Meaning in the “Web full of meaning” is, for instance, such a method of recording a company’s address, that it may be found in an accurate way and regardless of the form of such input, regardless of language, style of writing or direction – from left to right, right to left or top to bottom.

Technology for recording objective meanings in the Web does exist. What is interesting, its foundations have been set by the already mentioned creator of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee. As everything in the Web, the technology is remarkably simple. It is based on a certain method of recording the simplest logical sentences that describe the reality as we know it – indicative sentences, hence on using subject, predicate and object. With these elementary sentences the semantic web builds more complex meanings.

To those of you who are interested in the subject – I recommend visiting our website (There is a Semantic Web zone in Polish lanuage section).

What is interesting, in academic circles the semantic web has been discussed for several years now. Many projects, including first commercial ones, are already on the market. But, as before, the revolution takes place slowly. It is now clear that what we are dealing with again is not a technological barrier, but rather a social, or in fact, a mental one. If we could encourage all webmasters of the world to use at least a tiny bit of semantic technologies – Web 3.0 would explode in a way that Web 1.0 or, recently, Web 2.0 did. How do we do that? We all await that proper, accurate idea…

Maybe it emerges here – in Poland, maybe in Łódź…

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, with this hope I will end my deliberations. I do not know if this will be us who prompt a breakthrough in the Web. However, I would like to assure, and I can do that with full certainty, that as when the Internet in Poland was starting to become significant, as today, when it is so important – MakoLab will always at least carefully observe its development and will at least be able to help its clients in explorations of the Internet’s new areas – areas of business, culture and technology.

We Web it for you … but first and foremost: We Web it with you !!!

20lat_MakoLab (35 of 172)

Thank you for your attention.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Web has a meaning. Influence of the Web on business

This post is the short summary of the conference "Web has a meaning" we had in Lodz a week ago. We organized it to celebrate MakoLab XX years of existence, XX years of the Web and XX years of Freedom of our Motherland.

The summary is:

The “Web has a meaning” conference took place on 28th September 2009 in Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra, Łódź to commemorate the 20th anniversary of MakoLab. The subject of the meeting, which gathered nearly 300 participants, was the analysis of the influence of the Web on the development of business. Lecturers from Poland, Austria and France delivered speeches in which they, looking from different points of view, answered the question of how the internet changes modern business.

In the introduction of the conference, Vice-marshal of the county of Łódź, Mr. Witold Stępień and vice-president of Łódź, Mr. Włodzimierz Tomaszewski presented short speeches relating to the 20th anniversary of MakoLab and the subject matter of the meeting.

The conference was opened by President of Board of MakoLab SA, Mr. Wojciech Zieliński, and lead by Mr. Jacek Grudzień – a well-known journalist from Łódź who popularizes the topic of innovative enterprises operating in the region of Łódź.

In the introductory lecture, Vice-president of Board of MakoLab S.A., Dr. Mirosław Sopek, briefly described the history of the Web and focused on the critical moment in its history which is characterized, according to the speaker, by the slow expiry of the formula of Web 2.0 and by the anticipation of a new revolution. According to Sopek, it will consist of introducing semantic solutions, leading to the creation of “a Web full of meaning”.

Jean Philippe Mathes, representing Renault Scope and RCI Banque, presented a lecture of a meaningful title – “Why we fight”. Using references to the famous “Cluetrain Manifest”, he described how difficult the process of introduction of Web solutions in a large corporation was. Relating to the financial web services of RCI Banque, he demonstrated the significance of e-commerce in the auto industry.

Rainer Gangl, representing Austrian agency Gangl Consulting, presented an interesting technological and business model of publishing of advertisements on the Web that still manages to compete with Google ads. He also emphasized the potential social systems such as Facebook provide to business.

Rafał Brzoska, founder and co-owner of, InPost and InPost Finanse demonstrated the meaning of the Web for the traditional business of parcel delivery. The speaker stated that the key to success lies on the junction of network communication and traditional business that cannot be replaced by the web. An interesting part of Brzoska’s speech was the reflection on the threats springing from the universality of network systems.

Sławomir Lachowski – creator of mBank and former president of BRE Bank presented a lecture which emphasized the significance of development of the IT sector and the laws of Moore, Metcalf and Glider associated with it, which are required for proper understanding of the processes taking place in modern business. According to the speaker, the Internet markets realize the ideal model of capitalism as seen by Adam Smith, in which exists complete and unrestricted access to information, variety of buyers and sellers, there are no barriers of entry and the costs of transfers decreased to zero.

After the plenary lectures, a discussion panel with the lecturers took place, during which the image of the Web in the coming decade was discussed. As a conclusion of the interesting talk, Mr. Mirosław Sopek, PhD said that, although the development of technology may be approximately predicted, forecasts regarding its business and social impact and applications are impossible to be conducted.

In the subsequent point of the conference, Mr. Andrzej Walczak, co-founder and co-owner of the Atlas group, initiated a new Internet Project called It will become a portal which, according to the initiator’s aim, will become a casual platform of Communication around places important for its users.

In the second part of the conference, President of Board of MakoLab S.A. Wojciech Zieliński and Michał Jaskólski, the leader of the jury, presented the results of the „Young Talent Contest”. „Visual Search” by Mr. Jacek Ciereszko won the competition, while „Funkee Search” by Mr. Michał Kujawski and Mr. Krzysztof Lewiński received a honorable distinction. The laureates of the contest were awarded with prizes.

The conference was ended by the performance of Affabre Concinui.
Here are some pictures from the conference:

Monday, October 05, 2009

Of Love and Death – The Dying Animal

Philip Roth is an American writer. Born in 1933, he is the author of many famous books. To name a few: “Goodbye, Columbus”, “American Pastoral”, “The Human Stain” and “The Plot Against America”.

The Dying Animal” explores those corners of human mind where the lust and sexual desires live.
The main character of the book is the aging man named Kepesh, an intellectual celebrity, amateur pianist and university scholar.
Divorced when was still quite young he kept his solitude as a virtue, a freedom and ... the ground for endless sexual adventures with his young female students. His life was well arranged,
promiscuous and easy-going until, at age 62, he meets Consuela, a beautiful offspring of Cuban emigrants. Initially his desire for her is almost only bodily, almost fleshly and full of fetish obsession about her breast. But as Consuela demonstrates her freedom – he almost falls in love with her. This love reveals itself in a strange way – in his morbid jealousy for her, for her friends, boyfriends and even brothers. I say “almost” because during the affair with Consuela he maintains the sexual relations with his previous lover. Reading the book it is very hard to judge if Kepesh was only an animal with sexual desire to Consuela, or if he truly loved her, but was intimidated by his senescence, generation gap etc...

There is also an interesting part about father-son relations. Kepesh – the bad father, who forsook his son when he broke his marriage, has, nevertheless, an important role in boy’s life.

The book ends in completely unanticipated and tragic way – shocking the readers at first. However, in the tragedy and uncertainty of the book climax lies its most important virtue – the reflection on, sometimes insecure and full of abeyance, yet true love and caring, the love that has a power to fight the death. That is my rendering of Kepesh final indecisiveness – contrary to many reviews I have read...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Groundswell - ClueTrain Manifesto fulfillment?

Forrester Research analysts coined a new term to designate the coordinated effect Web 2.0's social media has on business - A Groundswell.

The book written by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li offers very deep and substantial account, illustrated by many case studies, on the fundamental importance of social media for today's business.

I look at this book from two perspectives. The first one is purely analytical and concrete - here the book gives a lot of data, statistics, charts and illustrations. It is really as a kind of handbook on social media. It offers many interesting case studies, including social media adventures of companies like Lego, Dell, GM, Salesforce - to name a few...

The another perspective is rather reflective. Ten years ago, ClueTrain Manifesto almost predicted this swell called Social Media. Well, for ClueTrain authors the swell was already there.
In some sense, as with many far-reaching predictions - we wait much longer than initially anticipated. Today, it is Groundswell - the book, that fullfils, or , rather, describes the fulfillment of Cluetrain Manifesto.

I hope, the term, coined by Forrester analysts will survive as a very good label of the entire social media revolution and its meaning for business.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Lost Symbol - A mixed blessing

I must first say that I'm confused and torn apart any time when someone asks me about the latest Brown's novel - The Lost Symbol. Let me start with the following judgment - it is a very good page-turner (if you read it), or your ear-bender (if you listen to it). The narration is great. Even after many days after reading you still can recall the tension of the plot and the feeling of being there with the heroes - almost seeing with their eyes.
As I said before - Dan Brown is unquestionable great story teller and just for a mere pleasure of reading good story - this book is worth reading.

However, when it comes to the essence - it is just opposite - it is a very strange book.

First of all, the book uses the same pattern of elements we know from "Da Vinci Code" - you could almost map the characters from the two novels one-to-one. Even the secret device of "The Lost Symbol" is almost the same in its role as it was in "Da Vinci Code". No original ideas...

"The Lost Symbol" explores the mysteries and secretes of Masonic societies. On the surface, you feel the positive attitude of the author to Masons and their subculture. But when you think a bit of, somehow, unwanted effects - this attitude becomes less positive. The cornerstone of the plot - the imminent "nation-wide security threat" is the threat of publication of the movies recorded during Mason ceremonies, with several high-level US officials participating ...
Come on ! What author achieves for the people who do not know the truth about Masons - is that they continue thinking with prejudice and bias against them !!!

There is such a big amount of primitive naiveté, that I marvel at Dan Brown's talent to write something like that. For example, two of the most important heroes, just after the most traumatic events of their lives, just after killing of their son and nephew, in less than 1 hour start to philosophize and discuss abstract truths and ponder on religious matters. BTW, these discussion are worthless, bombastic and almost void of any value.

Another primitivism is demonstrated when it comes to the "scientific" reasearch done by the book heroine. I think Brown could invent something more intriguing than "soul weighing"....

So, I do not wonder when I see such reviews like that of William Sutcliffe's - where he writes: "(the book) is filled with cliché, bombast, undigested research and pseudo-intellectual codswallop".

There is only one moment in the plot which is quite natural and very moving, when the antagonist reveals his true identity. But even this very moving scene is later spoiled by the author, who do not build any interesting conclusion of this pivotal moment of the plot.

So what now ? Read it - and tell me what do you think....

PS. Solution of the riddle: it was from "The Lost Symbol" :-)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Groundswell ... for our XX anniversary

I just finished listening to Forrester's "Groundswell" the book that analyses the importance of Web 2.0 for business. Actually, they try to coin the new name - The Groundswell - as the single name that describes blogs, social networks, forums and other Web 2.0 inventions.
As "Cluetrain Manifesto" formed the philosophical background for Web business revolution ten years ago, it seems that "Groundswell" is walking the same path now...

And I'm pleased to read it while preparing for our XX anniversary conference: "Web has a meaning" tonight. If you are around - please come :-).

I will post the keynote speeches here - I promise.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Time is a river, and books are boats

A little quiz for my readers: What book's review am I going to entitle by this citation?

"Time is a river, and books are boats"

Monday, September 21, 2009

... their steps lost forever in the shadow of the wind ...

This was my second reading of Carlos Ruiz Zafon "The Shadow of the Wind". The first time I read it more than a year ago and it was in fact in audio.

I guess I returned to the novel for two reasons. The first was the craving for regular paper & black letters experience with this very book. The second was to understand better the link between two last Zafon's novels, this one and "The Angel's Game".

And I must confess - "The Shadow of the Wind" literally overshadows "The Angels Game". It is more epic if I could say so; it is magical, yet realistic, it tells us about the power of love, but does not succumb to supernatural climax. It does not leave you with a feeling of incompleteness...

I must also confess, that there is some greater value in reading the book with your eyes rather than with your ears. Beyond the narration and the words - there IS something magical in physicality of the book. For many books it is good to start with audio, but when you arrive to the traditional form, you suddenly understand the magic of impatient page turning ...

To those who could take this short review as a discouragement for "The Angels Game". It is not my intention and it is not like it sounds. Both books are just great, the fantastic narration and incredible story telling is the virtue in both of them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finally - it is here ...

After so long waiting, after a change to its title, from "The Solomon Key" to "The Lost Symbol" it has finally arrived. Just two days ago, and has already become the bestseller with one million copies sold on the first day of sales. I must admit - I'm one of those early adopters of the book, with its audio rendition acquired the day after premiere...

Many say, its naive writing and focused only on shocking the audience with conspiracy theories and unfounded pseudo-historical accounts. Quite possible. However, Dan Brown is such fantastic story teller that for this very virtue of the author - it's worth to read "The Lost Symbol". I'm past 50 or so pages of it - fantastic and captivating narration....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mother Night

The short novel "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut is absolutely incredible piece of Vonnegut's writing.

It is a story of an American who went to Germany before WWII and became Nazi propagandist before and during the War. His radio addresses broadcasted by Nazis in English were meant to promote Nazi view for English speaking audience. He was also approached by US military espionage and became silent spy for US - however - almost useless and disheartened to the cause. He married German girl and was in true deep love with her.
The story begins when, after 15 years he is in Jerusalem's jail, awaiting his trial for war crimes and writes the story of his life. I will not reveal the other plot's details - trust me - they are incredible and startling....

However, the fantastic story of the novel is not its only virtue. It is also a deep reflection on, and in some sense, an exposition of Vonnegut's views on the reasons of war time atrocities.
See this:

"I have never seen a more sublime demonstration of the totalitarian mind, a mind which might be likened unto a system of gears where teeth have been filed off at random. Such a snaggle toothed thought machine, driven by a standard, or even substandard libido, whirls with the jerky, noisy, gaudy pointlessness of a cuckoo clock in hell.

The boss g-man concluded wrongly that there were no teeth on the gears in the mind of Jones. "You're completely crazy." He said. Jones wasn't completely crazy. The dismaying thing about the classic totalitarian mind is that any given gear, though mutilated, will have at it's circumference unbroken sequences of teeth that are immaculately maintained, that are exquisitely machined.

The missing teeth, of course, are simple obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten year olds, in most cases.

The willful filing off of gear teeth, the willful doing without certain obvious pieces of information. That was how (...) Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, could alternate over the loudspeakers of Auschwitz great music and calls for corpse carriers-that was how Nazi Germany could sense no important differences between civilization and hydrophobia-that is the closest I can come to explaining the legions, the nations of lunatics I've seen in my time."

There is also an incredible, non naive love story and a great account of human courage to keep integrity - sometimes at the highest price - the price of life itself....

Finally - I could not stop contemplating on my, very personal, connection of the subject of my previous post to the theme of "Mother Night". That happened by chance ... well there are no more events happening just by chance...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Spiegel: Laughing at Auschwitz

I must say: I have never seen more horrifying pictures related to Holocaust.

Can we really grasp that "normality" we see in these pictures?
Can we really atone for what we've done in XX century ?
We - humanity...

I stumbled upon this site by chance.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought"

Steven's Pinker work "The Stuff of Thought" is about language. That's one side of the coin. The other is that it is not just about the language. It's a deep philosophical tractate about the very nature of mind, its interaction with the world, and the world itself...

"Language is a window into human nature, exposing deep and universal features of our thoughts and feelings. The thoughts and feelings cannot be equated with the words themselves"

The central theme of the book is an attempt to uncover the abstract layer, "the stuff" that our mind uses to think, to perceive, to be conscious. Going from the concepts of innate words and ideas, through polysemy, metaphors, names, dirty words, double speech, framing of expressions and language games we play - Steven slowly uncovers and makes evident the existence of deeper, more abstract, but also more precise layer of the human mind. There are numerous examples that illustrate the specific reflection of this abstract "stuff" in our language (my favorite was the analysis of various popular metaphors). Equally amazing is to find reflections of concepts of space, time and causality in the forms of our language.

When we read toward the end of the book, the other mysterious features of the language are revealed:

"Language is not just a window into human nature, but a fistula, an open wound through which our inerts are exposed to an infectious world"

I'm glad to notice that Pinker goes far beyond the biological interpretation of our mind. When you read "The stuff of thought" you have the impression that this author finally writes about the software our brain runs. To me - this software is the "stuff", although Pinker does not formulate such thesis. Here is a small weakness of the book though - while Pinker convinces the reader to his main argument - and the reader expects to learn more about "the stuff of thought" - he suddenly comes short on this subject. The book ends with fantastic chapter "Escaping the Cave" where the cave is Platon's metaphorical cave. The language is our cave, but it also can help us to escape this cave. Here lies its strength, beauty and power...

"Though language exposes the walls of our cave, it also shows us how we venture out of it, at least part way"

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dave Eggers in Paris

This post is not yet about any book - though I will certainly read one of his books.
"He" is Dave Eggers, American writer, publisher and activist.
I met him in Paris, on September 4th, 2009 in Shakespeare & Co. bookstore - my favorite place in all the Europe...
Dave is the author of several fiction and nonfiction novels, including such titles as "Zeitoun" and "The Wild Things". I recorded a short movie during his public appearance in the bookstore:

He is just incredible story teller, and I was amazed by this rare opportunity to meet face to face with genius writer.

Dave can also be seen in fantastic interview made 9 years ago by Charlie Rose.
He has also fantastic speach at TED where he talks about his "826 Valencia tutoring center".

Not far from now I will read his Zeitoun - it is already on my "next reading" list...

Macrospherology of humans. Globes - volume two of Peter Sloterdijk's Spheres

I have been reading the second volume of Sloterdijk's magnum opus for a couple of months now. I still haven't found the time for a f...