Review: Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, William E Gladstone

Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the EastBulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East by William Ewart Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful insight into how Parliamentary life in the 19th century overflowed the Houses as it so often does now, with the exception that in the bygone day there was a clear duel between two giants. This pamphlet is a literary extension of the same, calling the Government into question in every aspect that concerns the then-relevant Bulgarian topic from the summer of 1876. Continue reading “Review: Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, William E Gladstone”

Review: ‘Notes on Nationalism’, George Orwell

Notes on NationalismNotes on Nationalism by George Orwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am, normally, not in the habit of posting quotes specifically from a work I am reviewing, however, Mr Orwell managed to succinctly summarise the very point he is making in this essay and therefore I do allow myself an exception to the rule: “The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged.” Continue reading “Review: ‘Notes on Nationalism’, George Orwell”

‘Yes, Minister’

Well, “under consideration” means “we’ve lost the file”; “under active consideration” means “we’re trying to find it”.

This is a true British classic which I feel one has to appreciate at its basic level. Beginning with the very first episode, and running through all of the episodes in both of the series (the new one isn’t considered), the characters epitomise some of the inherent contradictions in British society.

Now, Minister, if you are going to promote women just because they’re the best person for the job, you will create a lot of resentment throughout the whole of the Civil Service!

The caustic quips throughout by Bernard and others are absolutely amazing, as is Bernard’s overall concerned nature at the state of the society. Sir Humphrey Appleby is the other character that is always in the minds of everyone, convoluting the procedure and the message both. Meanwhile, he comes across as the very nature of the person taking the piss out of the system, which was no doubt the intent of the writers. Further, Hacker’s attempts at imitating Churchill are especially amusing given the apparent difference in the character of the two notable men. I can’t help but feel that the writers did a superb job of describing from life, a principle which Masaoka Shiki would definitely appreciate.

The ship of state, Bernard, is the only ship that leaks from the top.

The series is worth watching for anyone how wants to understand either the British political system or British life in general. Well worth watching!

Notwithstanding the fact that your proposal could conceivably encompass certain concomitant benefits of a marginal and peripheral relevance, there is a countervailing consideration of infinitely superior magnitude involving your personal complicity and corroborative malfeasance, with a consequence that the taint and stigma of your former associations and diversions could irredeemably and irretrievably invalidate your position and culminate in public revelations and recriminations of a profoundly embarrassing and ultimately indefensible character.

Review: You and Your Research

You and Your Research
You and Your Research by Richard Hamming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I happened onto this by a chance link from Mr Tyler Cowen, and I have to say I’m very happy I did.

This little gem of a text is littered with worthwhile thoughts and good suggestions on how to improve on one’s research — but there is absolutely no reason why the same cannot be applied in any other fields. It’s the meaning behind Mr Hamming’s words here rather than the topical application of them which is more important. He also highlights a number of very good practices along with a lot of (fun) anecdotal history that illustrates his points so much better than a drier delivery might have.

I would absolutely recommend this to everyone.

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‘The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts’, S.M. Wilson

Sean Michael Wilson is a person I have already commented on twice recently, in the posts on The Book of Five Rings and Hagakure. ‘The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts’ is the third book on Japanese martial philosophy that Mr Wilson has transcribed as a graphic novel. The major difference in reading this one and the others was that it was my first introduction to Issai Chozanshi’s major work, unlike the other two which I had previously read in long form.

To begin with, I’ll say that I have now listed the full book form of this as one of the next things to read. That is indicative of how much I enjoyed this piece. But, I suppose, the enterprising reader might wonder why this is so…

I think the main reason comes from the form that the stories take. The demon’s discuss martial arts with each other and their discussions are later exemplified in parables where animals lecture each other. The most skilled in the martial arts is an old cat that we only hear about, but his apprentice is another cat. The parable of the cats is probably the one I appreciated most, partly since cats make for a very good story (as Haruki Murakami has also brought out) but in other ways there is a very good lesson in that story — but I’ll leave it up to the reader to look the story up.

In that and many other ways, I think the idea of having Minamoto Yoshitsune learn all of his secrets and skill from the demons in the forests is a very prescient one. It is a form which made me listen more as I looked at the samurai leaning against trees so that he could better overhear the demons. I wanted to hear the words I saw written, as I saw the young Yoshitsune listen…

And that I think is the greatest strength of something like a graphic novel. The philosophic tradition comes through well and it is in many ways more inspiring than the words on their own. The images add life and sense to the words, and even though Issai Chozanshi’s main treatise is no doubt as compelling even if slightly more difficult to comprehend, I think this was a very good introduction!

‘Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai’, S.M. Wilson

In addition to the ‘The Book of Five Rings’ I described yesterday, Sean Michael Wilson has applied the same treatment to two other philosophical Japanese treatises. One of them, ‘Hagakure’, is the one that I shall comment on today. ‘Hagakure’ (by Yamamoto Tsunetomo) is very much a different book to the one Miyamoto Musashi wrote, but I think the graphic novel/manga approach works here as well.

The story is covered in a way which works very well — the teacher, Tsunemoto-dono, describes events that others have passed on to him as well as ones that he has seen in his own long life. The person listening these stories is a young aspiring samurai. In the course of these stories, the two pass through the relevant bits of a nobleman’s education in how people should behave in everyday lives.

Tsunemoto is an interesting person since many things that he says or reflects upon are somewhat contrary to what people thought at the time (insofar as I understand). To bring one example, his thoughts on the 47 ronin story : the ronin did wrong by waiting a few years since the target of their vengeance could have escaped the vengeance by natural death, or something else could have happened. The ronin should have drawn their swords and charged the house of the enemy without regard to anything else.

In many ways, I think the drawings make the words of the old master live with a new vigour. It is a great pity that not all of the stories from the book are made into graphic stories, but I suppose that it is difficult to think of good ways to turn short thoughtful samurai parables into anything different.

I also appreciated the afterword by the translator, William Scott Wilson. The other version of ‘Hagakure’ I have does not include that or anything alike, so it was a surprise for me to read the alternative meaning of the well-known and quote phrase, ‘The Way of the Samurai lies in death.’

Most of all, I think that Mr Wilson has emphasised the interesting parts of the treatise in the best possible way in this graphic novel — their memorability is far better than before. The phrase that has stayed with me is:

It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance!

‘The Book of Five Rings’, S.M. Wilson

‘The Book of Five Rings’ is a well-known work by the Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. Sean Michael Wilson took this work of art and transformed it into a graphic novel, adapting the teachings of Miyamoto to a very different form of art than the original.

I have to say first and foremost that I thought the idea compelling, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. My wish is that it could have included more of the original writings, but I may simply be mistaken in the extent in which they have been adapted. Insofar as there is talk of the drawings complementing the story, this book is a gem.

One of the finest moments, I think, is close to the end of the book, just before the Book of Emptiness, where the last few drawings suggest eventualities but no clear results. However, from what the person in the book — the storyteller, Miyamoto Musashi himself — from what this character has told us, the suggestion is not a very difficult one.

In many ways I think it very difficult to describe a graphic novel, especially one based on a philosophical treatise, in sentences contrary to emotions and thoughts. For the pictures are meant to evoke thoughts and images in the mind, and I think that in this they work better than the classic translation by Thomas Cleary (whose translations are also the basis for this work) since the drawings emphasise the words — the suggestions on how to bear oneself become reality in the provided drawings.

And I think that clarity might be the finest bit of this work. The book is definitely worth a try, even though the approach might seem unconventional to begin with.

‘Siddhartha’, H. Hesse

Mr Hesse (or rather, H Hesse) was a unique writer in many ways. I think he took writing to the very depths of the art it is, and thereby managed to produce books which are as good as they are because they are the portraits of what the innermost reaches of his soul believed.

I have read a few of his works, starting with ‘Siddharta’ and ‘Steppenwolf’ but also including ‘The Journey to the East’. Of these I prefer ‘Siddhartha’ best and ‘The Journey to the East’ comes second. And yet, I have been always unable to finish that book in one go — it has some sort of a block midway through when the characters go mad (metaphorically rather than actually mad) and my concentration on that book lapses and I go on to something else. I think it has happened thrice when I’ve tried to read the book, and I cannot explain it very well. But I think this effect is a good show of how much soul and depth can be found in H Hesse’s works.

And this soul is also present in ‘Siddhartha’. The book was introduced to me as the one with the answers to all the questions there are, and I doubted it very much then. After reading it, I wouldn’t be so sure. I think I might have read it a good five-six times by now, and there is something new in there that waits to be found every time I read it again. It might even be that I enjoy the same passages and thoughts but the way I react to them has changed. The thoughts I get have slightly changed. And the way I understand our Siddhartha’s actions has changed.

Of the characters present, I am amused by Govinda and Vasudeva — and I definitely do not mean that in a bad way. No, I am rather amused by the child-likeness of Govinda while I am impressed by the thoroughness of his search for answers. And I think that the thought of a friendship as deep as between Siddhartha and Govinda talks to me on a level entirely its own. And of Vasudeva, he is a saint, what more can be said… I have often thought how it would feel to be a ferryman while reading his passages, and I do not doubt that in another life it would have been a very good fate. Assuming I had had the skill to appreciate it…

‘Siddhartha’ truly is a book for which I have only praise. Unfortunately I have not tried to read it in German (for it is not as if I read German…) so I have only experienced it in Estonian. For some reason, the style that Hesse employs here does not seem one that can well be brought into line with the English syntax although I have only seen one translation thus far (and that I skimmed briefly and did not read). So, it could be that the language has played some part but maybe not. Hopefully not, and an English read (that I will get around to someday) will be just as good and thought-inspiring.

To finish, I would hope that more people go to take a look at ‘Siddhartha’ for H Hesse did not set his words into line in such a beautiful poetic way for no little reason. He wanted to touch the reader’s soul, and he certainly touched mine. I am sure that if you let him, he’ll do the same to yours.

Gravity in Economics

I was quite surprised to learn today that our trusted friend gravity is also called upon to help in economic theories. Namely, there is a “gravitic model of trade” that predicts trade between two entities based on their size and economic weight, and the distance between the two.

I came upon this concept today when I read a post in Marginal Revolution on how Portugal has a very low economic gravity which is due to its position close to the Eurozone and rather less wealthy Northern African countries while being far away from everything else.

Maybe the best part about this theory for me is that it just fits so nicely into the physical world I know of — it is both simple and yet it carries a lot of weight, and I can really appreciate something like that. Indeed, if one looks at the formula given to calculate this gravitic force, it looks nearly exactly the same as the general formula for gravitational attraction between two objects.

And that, as I said, is something that I really appreciate. Sure, the actual use of the formula is more complex than the standard form but that is only natural — what matters is how something that most people would consider to be a part of hard physics has been brought into economics as well.

I am very much looking forward to the next discovery that I’ll make in line with this one!

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