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A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language
A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language
by John A. Haywood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.25

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Old school arabic textbook, 31 July 2009
I learnt written Arabic from this book - and am probably showing my age....

The positive points are:
1) It is very thorough. When learning written Arabic in particular, it is important to remember it is a highly grammatical language. You need to know the grammar inside and out. Whilst it maybe more "relevant" to learn some phrases first and picking up the grammar as you go, at the end of the day you will have a better understanding and foundation learning this way.
2) It is very clear with good choices of examples. Each chapter focuses on a particular grammatical point.
3) It is methodical, as in point one it doesn't take short cuts but at a cost of taking a while to allow the student to write even vaguely life-like sentences. Think of it as a long-term investment!!

So at the end of this course, you will have an extremely sound foundation in both the grammar and vocab. That said the bad points are:

1) The vocab is a bit funky. I would suggest it is slightly more geared to people studying classical arabic. Certainly the vocab would not be as helpful reading current events coverage in arabic.
2) There is no audio material. I am in two minds whether this is important or not. Fact is that no one speaks MSA and certainly no one speaks like the exercises in this book. On the other hand, getting used to the sounds and being able to listen to the exercises would help memorise the vocab.

In summary, I think it is one of the better textbooks out there. If you are serious then i would recommend it and its answer key. I would also suggest you always try to translate english into arabic, ie do the first sections from the english translations in the key to recreate the original sentences and then do the second set of exercises. If you can do english to arabic then you almost certainly can do arabic to english. The other thing is to try and be regular as it builds on itself. Good luck to all students, Arabic is a beautiful and fascinating language.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
by Thomas S Kuhn
Edition: Paperback

14 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Now philosophers don't need to feel bad..., 4 Aug 2008
Philosophy has seen more and more of it's best parts hived off into other subjects. One sometimes gets the feeling this leaves a type of "science envy". Then came Kuhn and took all the pain away...

Kuhn started down this path by looking at Aristotle's physics and asked why something that was so "obviously" wrong could have been conceived by such a brilliant man and not be questioned for such a long time. The obvious answer to anyone with a grasp of history would be that Aristotle wasn't all that smart, an incompetent scientist and that his theories were questioned but being the court philosopher of Alexander the Great, the accepted dogma of both the Abbasid court and the Roman Pope - back by the Holy Inquisition - meant it wasn't exactly decided by the free flow of ideas and once people dared to speak up the Emperor was quickly seen to be sporting no clothes.

Kuhn however "thought outside the box" and said that Aristotle's physics made sense if you work within it's "paradigm" or framework. The problem with this claim is that it didn't. It's main prediction that heavier bodies fall faster is logically false and it was this rather than Gallileo's apocryphal experiments that put the first nail in and it was Newton who gave the last rites. Here is Kuhn's main problem, post-Newton there hasn't been a "revolution" like there was post and pre-Newton. This is why ALL scientists know Newton and most have only a vague idea of Aristotle.

Kuhn tries to make out that there is huge change in particular going from classical mechanics to Relativistic mechanics. Unfortunately he is wrong. He knows enough to realise that the mathematical descriptions really aren't that different and Relativity in an extremely precise sense "contains" Newtonian mechanics. Luckily most of the readers of this book don't know this and so he can resort to waffle. So Relativity is "revolutionary" because in one mass is "constant" and in relativity is it "variable"(btw this isn't true). He claims that physicists only see Newton's work in the context of their own paradigm not as a Newtonian would. Given the education of EVERY physicist this is utterly wrong - you learn Newtonian mechanics first THEN relativistic.

The fact is that as time progresses, there are more and more experimental facts to explain which puts more and more constraints on the theory that can be proposed and not falsified. One also has to also make the distinction between "fundamental" physics and technology. As a fundamental physicist I have one concern building a completely accurate model of reality. Whether it is "useful" is irrelevant, it is it's match against experiment that counts - and to a lesser extent it's logical consistency. On the other hand someone sending a man to the moon would be insane to use quantum field theory and not Newtonian mechanics because he is SOLELY concerned with getting someone to the moon - but note the scientist is the person who can tell the technologist what is safe is to use, what can be ignored and what can't.

Someone here made the comparison between evolution and the path of science and actually that is a good one. The person making it clearly didn't have the first clue about the reality of evolution but evolution is constrained by the physical world and as life evolves it gets increasingly hard to make leaps forward as increasingly a change is going to be suboptimal. It is the same with physics as more and more experimental data flows in, then there are more and more facts you have to describe perfectly. As such there is a definite trend in time - just as there is in evolution - towards more and more accurate descriptions of the real world.

In my experience, Kuhn appeals to exactly three types of people:
1) People who for various reasons - principally an insecurity complex - want to believe that science is "bad" or not "better" than religion, New Age nonsense, or philosophy despite it stunning achievements.
2) People doing what they feel is mediocre work - it may or may not actually be - and are reassured that they simply happen to unlucky enough to be in the "puzzle" phase of their subject and it not a commentary on their ability
3) Management Consultants selling the latest snake oil

If you fall into the above categories you are going to love this book. If you don't you may get something out of the history - there are far better ones out there - but the underlying message is going to annoy you especially if you happen to have a clue about the specifics of what he is discussing.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2013 12:40 PM BST

The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)
by Karl Popper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.71

15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only philosopher book you'll ever need, 31 July 2008
With millions of trees being massacred to debate "philosophy of maths and/or science", this is the only worthwhile sacrifice. Popper lays out directly what it means to be a science, how you evaluate a scientific theory and that you can never know you are right only that you are wrong.

Whilst there are other aspects that a proposed theory may have that makes it attractive over other possibilities, if it cannot be falsified, if it cannot be shown to leap through the experimental hoops that previous theories have managed then it is simply not going to get accepted. Falsifiability is sine non qua of any scientific theory, one only has to look at the pain String Theory is starting to go through to see that no matter how "beautiful", how smart it's proponents are - and String Theory has the absolute smartest - and how well-funded it is.... at the end of the day if you cannot make predictions that can be tested you will fail as a science.

Popper lays this out and it is a sad commentary that he is probably less read than people like Latour and Kuhn - just check the number of review for Kuhn vs the maestro. When the revolution comes and the trees take over the world, ALL the other philosophers and "sociologists" of science like Kuhn, Fuller, Latour etc will be the first up against the wall. I can't wait!

Fabricating Israeli History: The 'New Historians' (Israeli History, Politics and Society)
Fabricating Israeli History: The 'New Historians' (Israeli History, Politics and Society)
by Efraim Karsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £34.91

11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read but don't believe the hype, 20 Jun 2008
Karsh is one of the few voices in the wind against the current anti-Israeli downpour coming out of academia. He is to be commended for at least visiting some sources rather than arguing about what someone else argued about someone else's argument.

You will find that much of what the "New" Historians had to say was actually old hat. Arabs weren't marching lock-step unified in defeating the Jews - well no one ever said that. The Yishuv talked to Abdullah? - well one of the earliest histories of the 1948 war has a discussion of this, as does pretty much every single history of that war. It also discusses how the Yishuv spoke to most of the other players in the war, ultimately to no effect. So we see Shlaim having built a reputation out of claiming he discovered something that was common knowledge.... nice work if you can get it!

Karsh is far less effective with Morris. One feels he is arguing more with what OTHER people have SAID about Morris than what Morris has said himself. For every slight misquote of Morris, there are hundreds that aren't and it would appear Karsh's attack on Morris's highlighting of Weitz would be better fought against Massalha who has made a career out of lying about Weitz.

Karsh doesn't deal with Pappe that much, mostly one assumes because Pappe is a caricature of a "historian" who - to give him his due - makes no bones about not wanting to relate the "truth". History is apparently much more fun if you don't bother with those pesky archives and facts and simply make stuff up.
Comment Comments (15) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 6, 2013 3:57 PM BST

The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge Middle East Studies)
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge Middle East Studies)
by Benny Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £30.73

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The canonical text on the refugee issue, 1 April 2008
Benny Morris is pretty much the only researcher to have bothered with the primary documentation on this issue. If you read pretty much every single other work - either serious or otherwise - you will see that the source is inevitably Morris's work. Even Pappe, Massalha and Finkelstein who attack Morris's thesis, in the very, very few sources they give for their contentions rely on a [distorted] Morris. As usual with history it is best to go to the source.

Morris presents a number of issues for propagandists of both sides. As is normal with history, there is no black and white and there is even more complexity in the Palestinian issue than in other wars due to the multilateral aspect of the war. Morris certainly DOES NOT accept Finkelstein and Massalha's thesis on transfer - anyone who has read this and other works by Morris will know he goes to great and unnecessary lengths to disprove what they say. Morris also reminds the reader that there was a brutal war going on, a war the Arabs launched and ultimately lost. Morris also DOES NOT shrink from calling a massacre a massacre but also does not shrink from calling a battle a battle. He also deals with the issue of Tantura - the "massacre" Pappe has been showcasing for years, a "massacre" where the people - Palestinian and Israeli - interviewed on tape deny happened, the tape of the interviews the researcher claimed demonstrated massacres "disappeared", where none of the contemporaneous documentation shows happened - the natives of the village complain about looting but not nearly a quarter of their village being "massacred" - a "survivor" has written a book denying the "massacre" ever happened and there are no missing people who could have been "massacred". Oh and the researcher who "discovered" it admitted he made it up.

Again anyone who actually read the book would know Morris does detail around a dozen atrocities - defined as deliberate killing of civilians and PoWs - resulting in around 800 dead. He also details a number of villages where the inhabitants were expelled but the vast majority clearly left with little or no encouragement from the Israelis but for a mixture of other reasons - such as the mass abandonment of the Palestinians by their leaders and upper classes, economical issues such as the shortage and price of food, fear of battles, fear of what they had been told the Jews would do to those who stayed behind, orders from the AHC - mainly to evacuate women, children and the infirm out of the battle areas(ie most of what was 1948 Israel) and drafting by the ALA and other Palestinian militia. He also documents the political discussions going on during the exodus on the Israeli side - and it is quite, quite clear that the exodus wasn't "planned" and that the Israelis were certainly taken by surprise as to the speed and size of the exodus and that for every person like Weitz - who anti-Israelis make much of - there are three other people running around trying to get arabs to stay. One of the reasons Pappe has resorted to claiming that the "plan for expulsion" is so top secret is because there is absolutely no evidence to back his argument up( it is like any decent conspiracy theory, it is the LACK OF EVIDENCE that makes it so compelling... ).

All in all, if your interest is SOLELY the Palestinian refugee problem then short of going to the archives yourself this is the canonical text. If want to understand the birth of the conflict then this is going to give you a very one-sided view. Morris is open about this, this is a book that is focused on one aspect of the 1948 war. You won't read here about the undeniable cleansing of 100% of all Jews from areas conquered by the arabs including tens of thousands from East Jerusalem(most of whom had lived there for centuries), you won't hear about the executions of those who stayed behind in Israeli villages or the massacre of 150 unarmed PoWs and civilians in Gush Etzion. Nor will you hear about the numerous attempts the Israelis made to head off the war. For that you may need to wait for Morris's new book...

A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein
A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein
by Palle Yourgrau
Edition: Paperback

18 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This is why philosopher shouldn't be allowed to write books, 25 Mar 2008
Philosophers seem to be people who aren't quite talented enough to do a real subject and this book is exhibit one for the prosecution. One quick example:

He "explains" Godels theorem, whilst patronisingly - and unintentionally hilariously - explaining the reader should not feel bad if he cannot "follow" the reasoning, he says that Godel's theorem doesn't say there is a super-theorem that cannot be decided in any formal system. Of course this is to UTTERLY miss the point of Godels theorem, because if that was all it says then you could simply add that theorem as an axiom. By definition it cannot contradict the other axioms - otherwise it would be decidable.

However, my greatest fear is that some poor undergraduate, probably a philosopher, will read it and feel the need to pontificate his new found "knowledge" to some innately superior mathematician or physicist:

Poor Undergraduate: I read this book. You know that Godels theorem proves that human intuition can prove theorems that computers never can?

Superior Mathematician: Erm, no. Godels theorem shows that there are statements that cannot be proven true or false in a finite number of steps from a finite number of axioms if the system is complete. Clearly if a human has proven a statement, he has written a proof which has a finite number of steps from a finite number of axioms.

PU: But there is no way for the system to prove it is consistent so only a human can know it is.

SM: But a human *cannot* know because by Godels theorem he cannot prove it. He can only show relative consistency which a computer can too.

PU: But he showed "There is a difference between truth and proof", that there are things that are true that we cannot prove.

SM: Actually Godel showed nothing of the sort. In Mathematics, something is true if and only if there is a finite proof from the axioms. What Godel showed is that the number of finite proofs is countable and the number of statements - in first order logic, so not ALL logics - is uncountable hence there must be statements for which there is no proof. These statements aren't "true" or "false", they are undecidable - ie you cannot prove within the logical system if they are true or false. Absolutely nothing mystical about "truth" floating out there that Maths or Science cannot reach, despite the nonsense that is written about it.

PU: Yeah but did you know Godel came up with the idea for a computer?

SM: No I didn't because Turing and Von Neuman did....

PU: But Godel came up with recursive functions which is the "soul of the computer"!

SM: No, that would be Church.

PU: Anyway, Godel came up with an exact solution where all worldlines are closed so that means if we follow you through your life into the future it comes round full circle to the past. So if A can be before B and B before A.

SM: Well, technically A is not before B and B is not before A.

PU: [Confused] What's the difference? [Perks up] But is shows Relativity contradicts casuality! Because for A to cause B it must happen before B!

SM: How does that contradict causality?

PU: Because there is no B where A is before it. Even you admitted it!!!

SM: So what? Why does that contradict casuality?

PU:[feeling very smug because he has shown up the Mathematician] Well it is obvious.

SM:Erm no it isn't. You are *assuming* there are causes in Godels universe. There aren't. If for any A and B, A doesn't cause B and B doesn't cause A then it doesn't matter if A isn't before B and vice versa.

PU:[feeling he MUST make some point] But it proves our world could be without time!

SM: Technically our universe. But we know this isn't the case.

PU: How can you be sure? Godel's universe is theoretically possible.

Superior Physicist:Yeah but Godel's universe doesn't allow for expansion of the universe and we have known since Hubble our universe expands.

PU: Who is Hubble? The book covered the [non-existent]links between Godel's work and Sartre existentialism and Strauss-Levi's structuralism and lots of other important ideas[aka nonsense] but [flicking through the index]no Hubble. He can't have been as important as Kant, Wittegenstein and the others in understanding how the universe works.

SP: Hubble is the guy who proved the universe was expanding hence because Godel's solution does not allow for expansion it cannot describe our universe. It also means via Penrose and Hawking singularity theorems that the universe must have started with a big bang and so Hubble's work was the precursor to the standard model of how the universe came about. There is a school of thought that believes that is a bigger contribution that Kant, Witgenstein and all the other "thinkers" you have quoted.

PU: But they made fundamental contributions to Maths!

SM: This would be the Kant who "proved" that the universe must a priori be three-dimensional and Euclidean because no other geometry is possible - just before Gauss and others actually proved that there existed multi-dimensional, non-Euclidean geometries. Or maybe you mean Hegel who informed Gauss he was wasting his time calculating the orbit of the asteroid Cera because "if he knew his philosophy he'd know there can only be 5 heavenly bodies"? Luckily, Gauss didn't know his philosophy.....(There are many, many billions of heavenly bodies)

PU:[Starting to whine] But theoretically it could be true!

SP: But we *know* it isn't.

PU walks off in a huff, suddenly realising he would never be able to compete intellectually with either Physicists or Mathematicians, nor Biologists or Chemists. Facing the reality he condemned to find some poor niche - like Post-Modernist Lit-crit, Modern Middle Eastern History etc - where people similarly don't have a clue and go around claiming subtle and complex concepts are "obvious", facts aren't important, he spirals down in depression, climbs a watch tower and starts shooting at his fellow students. If only someone has told him, he could go into "philosophy and sociology of science" where complete lack of understanding, ability and intelligence was not only useful but downright mandatory....
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2013 10:26 AM BST

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