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Hande Z (Singapore)
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The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy
The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy
by Daniel A. Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The merits of Democracy, 28 July 2015
Bell begins his study of the Chinese political model of government by examining the flaws of the Western democratic model. The three flaws he identified concern, ironically, the tyrannical face of democracy – the tyranny of the majority (oppressing the minority), the tyranny of the minority (rich capitalists exploiting the poor), and the tyranny of the voter (over residents with no voting power).

He then examines the success of a hybrid capitalist-socialist model from a small country – Singapore. Here he quotes the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as to the dangers of allowing the uninformed to vote. China, immensely larger than Singapore has turned, not only to Confucianism, but also to Singapore to see how it can develop a model of government that is primarily Asian.

Underneath the fascinating analysis of Western-style democracy and Asian autocracy is a curious mind probing for the answer to the problems of government. Bell makes a compelling case that orthodox democracy has too many flaws to be ideal, but what is the alternative? The China model is unlikely to have fans in the Western world, so is it possible to find a suitable hybrid that is universally palatable?


Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (28-May-2015) Paperback
Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (28-May-2015) Paperback
by Ian Bremmer
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Do we have to choose?, 18 July 2015
What is this book really about? Where America is and where it might be heading are the complex issues that Bremmer tries to discuss. He also thinks that he has captured the three paths from which the next President can choose to lead America to, but where to? Bremmer's made it clear that he wants to see a strong America leading and the rest of the (weaker) world following willingly and with admiration. He does not want to see an America, strong in military strength but weak in good sense, charging to yet another catastrophic military venture.

But Bremmer has not been entirely lucid or consistent with what he wants to tell the reader. On the one hand, he wants the reader to read and think about what this book has to say and elect the right president next year, but at the same time, he is firmly of the view that the president must obey Congress. So what sort of president does Bremmer really want? His inconsistent and vague positions have led to reviewers misunderstanding him. Does Bremmer really believe that an 'Independent America' is one that 'should primarily worry about itself' as a five-star review appears to have understood him? Similarly, one review that gave this book a solitary star might have read too much into Bremmer's analysis in dismissing other alternatives (described as 'Moneyball America' and Indispensable America').

I think that Bremmer understands that the world has changed and sees the danger of an extremist America, but unfortunately, he has pitched his book at the local voter and thus his ideas are lacking in coherence, consistency, and depth. The result is that it confuses the voter and draws disdain from the intellectual. In either case, the reader might benefit with a closer reading. If the reader has the patience, the book is worth reading.


Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization by Zerzan, John (2008) Paperback
Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization by Zerzan, John (2008) Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Totally empty, 18 July 2015
Zerzan attempts a philosophy of anarchism which he defines as an end to all forms of domination. This is an interesting book which might appear learned and deep but is really a collection of the negative thoughts of a bright mind with no answers to the problems of humankind. Therein lies the danger - readers who sense the darkness that comes from Zerzan's pen may seek desperate solutions. The Unabomber might have been one such person; but Zerzan wants us to believe that people like the Unabomber see clearly the danger of modernity and civilization, they have seen the enemy, and it is us. Technology is attacked as a threat with no redeeming features. If only Zerzan had been clearer. But then, he might have lost his admirers had he expressed himself clearly enough; it is through murkiness that his ideas take any semblance of shape, captivating and arresting minds already clouded in the first place.


Why the World Does Not Exist
Why the World Does Not Exist
by Markus Gabriel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It does and it does not, 16 July 2015
This is a marvellously entertaining book on the nature of reality. It was written in German but the translator Gregory Moss has done a wonderful job because the text is rendered so lucid for such a difficult subject. Much may have to do with the simplicity of the original. The explanations of old school Aristotelianism and new school 'Constructivism' are all explained with clarity. The thrust of the book is that on the one hand, one might claim that there are truths about reality and we are able to access those truths objectively. On the other hand, we cannot know anything for real since we only perceive the world through our subjective minds. Gabriel then presents his theory that seems to straddle the mid-path, namely reality is real and can sometimes be ascertained although at times we get it wrong. The book then goes on to apply Gabriel's theory ('New Realism') to major issues such as the nature of natural science, the meaning of religion, and the meaning of art.


Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible
Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible
by Jerry A Coyne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOMA no more, 13 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I agree with the previous favourable review of this book and I am adding my review only to make the point that one of the fundamental themes of this book is the criticism of Steven J Gould's idea, made famous by his (Gould's) phrase 'Non-overlapping magisteria' or 'NOMA', that science and religion can be compatible because they operate in different spheres. This tender phrase conjures a great hope in the hearts of religious people that somehow, somewhere in the sphere of religion (God's space) science will not and cannot intrude. In my view, Coyne's methodical tearing apart of that slender, flimsy idea is the biggest achievement of his book. Coyne lucidly explains why science and religion are not at all compatible.


Confession of a Bear (Contemporary Writers)
Confession of a Bear (Contemporary Writers)
by sun Wei
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Poor translation of a promising story, 12 July 2015
The story seems fascinating enough but I regret that I was unable to bring myself to read it to the end because I found the English translation poor. I cannot read Chinese so I read this as if it were an English book, and found some very unusual use of words such as: 'That prompted some to bruit about the manifestation of the God of the Bears'. Other examples, not wrong but sound awkward are: 'Those were stories that vied in grotesqueness as they were relayed from mouth to mouth and were not to be taken seriously' and 'I revved the engine up the ascending road as yesterday the car made a turn around a bend, Li Yushan and the county town of black-tiled single-level houses vanished behind me.'


Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything by Robert R. Reilly (2014) Hardcover
Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything by Robert R. Reilly (2014) Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Not really Okay, 9 July 2015
The title of the book is at best ambiguous. The purpose and objective of this book is an argument against making gay okay. Reilly starts by stating the gay population is so small that it is not worth breaking sweat over it. So why was he doing so? He claims that his book is not against the gays, it is ‘about those who insist not only on defining themselves in this way, but on defining the rest of us as well’. Reilly then spends the rest of the book spewing his morality and trying to define the rest who do not share his views.

What are his views? He is not only anti-abortion but is of the view that the acceptance of abortion, especially by the Supreme Court has led to the present day acceptance of homosexuality. His stand on abortion is typically based on his insistence that a foetus is a life. He attacks Justice Breyer of the Supreme Court for not referring to the foetus as ‘child’. He describes the decision in Roe v Wade (legalizing abortion) as 'an act of barbarity' because he says that 'barbarism is defined as the inability or unwillingness to recognize another person as a human being'. One might reasonably expect him to discuss the limits of such recognition, and in particular why he does not think that that argument applies to recognizing gays as a human being?

On homosexuality, he argues against the right of marriage for gays because he says that it is not natural. He further argues that the love in homosexuality is sexual and not spousal. He attacks sodomy as unnatural and because he thinks that heterosexual sodomy is wrong, it follows that homosexual sodomy cannot be right.

The book is another charge by one side in the culture war in America today. On this subject, it is not easy to find writers who might write dispassionately on the battle areas such as abortion, capital punishment, and homosexuality, yet those would be the ones who might present a balanced and reasoned view so that ‘the rest’ of us can be better informed.


The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
by Sheldon Solomon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right to the core, 22 Jun. 2015
The three authors of this book are psychologists who met in the 1970's in their common research into the fundamental motivations of human behaviour. Inspired by a book by Ernst Becker called 'The Denial of Death', they felt as if that book was the Rosetta Stone of their endeavour. In this book the authors expound their views that it is the thought of death and our attitude to death that shape and direct our lives.

Humans are infused with a heightened sense of self-esteem, explained by the authors as 'the feeling that one is a valuable participant in a meaningful universe. This feeling of personal significance is what keeps our deepest fears at bay'. They trace the history of the early primate to modern human and the creation of myth and religion as sources that help him cope with the threat of the loss of self-esteem and death. They go on to show that in modern times, even non-religious intellectuals 'have tried to use logic and reason rather than faith to convince themselves and their fellow humans that the soul is everlasting'.

They discuss how death thoughts creep into the minds of people with mental illness such as schizophrenia, and how such people cope - often with 'grandiose delusions, imagining themselves as magically omnipotent and physically invulnerable'. They discuss the influence of death in phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders.

The authors lead to the final part of their book with 'coming to terms with death' by asking how would we face the 'cold reality' that one day our 'wonderful, soft body' is 'going the way of all other animals and humans that have existed before [us]. They explore the transience and the transcendence modes of making peace with death', thus emphasising Albert Camus' simple but difficult axiom: Come to terms with death. Thereafter anything is possible'.


The Tale of Genji (Vintage Classics)
The Tale of Genji (Vintage Classics)
by Murasaki Shikibu
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Shorter and as sweet, 21 Jun. 2015
The original work is far longer than the 360 pages of this edition. This is a translation by E.G. Seidensticker. The editors merely removed some chapters entirely from the original 1,000 plus-page book. The chapters that were removed were side stories that do not affect the main plot. Hence, for readers who prefer an abridged version, this edition is the answer. If not, there are a couple of translations of the full book including one by Seidensticker.

I have the Royall Tyler translation and was looking forward to comparing that with Seidensticker's unabridged version, but I found that the editors or proof-readers responsible for that edition (Seidensticker's unabridged translation) did the publisher and all concerned a disservice in not spotting the error in the Introduction (page ix was missing and in its place page x was repeated). I initially gave the Seidensticker unabridged version a solitary star because of the poor edioial work. However, I have since persevered and read it in comparison not only to the Tyler translation but also the 2010 Arthur Waley translation (Tuttle Publishers) and found that Seidensticker version reads most easily among the three. Seidensticker's first line reads: "In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others." Tyler's: "In a certain reign (whose could it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favour." Waley's: "At the Court of the Emperor (he lived it matters not when) there was among the many gentlewomen of the Wardrobe and Chamber one, who though she was not of very high rank was favoured far beyond all the rest;" sic. Not familiar with Japanese, I am unable to say which was the more faithful translation.

The Introduction by Seidensticker himself was as informative as that in Tyler's, but Denis Washburn's Introduction in the Waley translation was mainly a long synopsis of the story.


Alibaba's World: How a remarkable Chinese company is changing the face of global business
Alibaba's World: How a remarkable Chinese company is changing the face of global business
by Porter Erisman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Open sesame, 19 Jun. 2015
‘One of the reasons Alibaba survived is because I know nothing about computers. I’m like a blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger’ so said Jack Ma (a co-founder and the main face of Alibaba) in a speech he made in 2006 as recounted by Erisman, a vice president in Alibaba. Erisman tells us that a man was crouched in that packed auditorium copying down every word Jack Ma said. That man was none other than Jeff Bezos of Amazon. In this fascinating and exhilarating book, Erisman tells the story of Jack Ma and Alibaba – how the company grew from its place of birth in a little apartment in Hangzhou to the company that went IPO for $25 billion in 2014, eating up eBay, Google, Facebook, and Twitter – combined.

Erisman tells how Jack Ma quietly told him one day that Alibaba was going to war with eBay, and how Alibaba eventually won. Victory was a result of Ma’s vision and ambition as well as eBay’s strategic errors such as forcing its China customers to adopt its Western platform, and giving up their online names whenever it conflicts with a name from eBay’s Western customer. Alibaba’s Alipay also proved superior to eBay’s Paypal.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin went calling on Ma and company in 2004. Erisman’s account of that meeting showed how ignorant the ‘Google people’ were of Alibaba and how business is done in China. In spite of genuine efforts to steer between its moral choice of free trading and accepting self-censorship, Google eventually pulled out of China, leaving the path free for Alibaba and Yahoo! To make the ‘Deal heard ‘Round the World’.

Erisman has since left Alibaba but he believes that ‘we can expect Alibaba to continue to grow its ecosystem and plug in more related services, such as cloud computing, logistics, navigation, and mapping’. The West has always touted its democratic and business models as superior to any in the East. They must surely learn a lesson or two from Jack Ma, an English language teacher from an autocratic China.


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