Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Iron Cage:

The Story of the Palestinian

Struggle for Statehood

Beacon Press
October 2006
352 pages

By Rashid Khalidi

About the Author:

Dr. Rashid Khalidi, author of Resurrecting Empire, holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University, where he heads the Middle East Institute. He has written more than eighty articles on Middle Eastern history and politics, as well as op-ed pieces in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The Nation. He lives in New York.

From Publishers Weekly:

Historian Khalidi (Resurrecting Empire), a leading expert on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, brings vital perspective to Palestinian attempts to achieve independence and statehood. Admirably synthesizing the latest scholarship and concentrating on the period of the British Mandate (1920–1948) established by the League of Nations after WWI, Khalidi describes the process by which a newly arrived European Jewish minority overcame, with help from its imperial ally, the claims and rights of the native Arab majority in what became Israel and the occupied territories. Khalidi shows Palestinians under the mandate facing comparatively severe systemic, institutional and constitutional obstacles to the development of any para-state structure—contrary to British promises of Arab independence and Article 4 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Meanwhile, the Jewish minority could count on a system biased in its favor to develop the structures that became those of the Israeli government in 1948 amid violent expulsion of over half the indigenous population. In bringing this narrative up to the present, Khalidi rigorously details the missteps of the Palestinians and their leadership. Khalidi curiously refrains from drawing any detailed proposal of his own to resolve the ongoing conflict, but his first-rate and up-to-date historical and political analysis of the Palestinian predicament remains illuminating.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Religion and the
Human Prospect

By Alexander Saxton
Monthly Review Press

Amazon Notes: Since September 11, 2001, religion has been at the center of debates about the global future. 'Religion and the Human Prospect' relates these issues systematically to a path-breaking interpretation of the history of religion, its part in human development, and its potential role in preventing or enabling global catastrophe.

Religion has made possible critical transitions in the emergence and development of human society. At the moment when our humanoid ancestors became aware of the inevitability of death, religion interposed the belief in spiritual beings who gave it new significance. When individual self-interest and collective survival conflicted, religion defended collective survival by codifying its requirements as morality. When inequalities of wealth and power developed, religion extended moral codes to include obligations of dominance and submission. Religion enabled a species facing constant hunger and scarcity to adapt and spread.

Today, however, facing ecological disaster, exhaustion of essential natural resources, and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, religion no longer provides a collective defense mechanism for the human species. Instead, the solutions it has provided have become central to the problem of human survival. This magisterial and compelling work weaves together evolutionary theory, anthropology, reflection on theological treatments of the problem of evil, and ideas from literature and philosophy into an account of the human prospect that is truly epic in its ambition and explanatory power.

[ALEXANDER SAXTON is emeritus professor of history at UCLA. He is the author of three novels and several historical works, including The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. ]

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The End of Faith:
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

By Sam Harris

Amazon.com Note:

Few can ignore that for almost three millennia the Abrahamic religions have provided recurring excuses for tribal violence, and still do. And I appreciate Harris for bringing this point to his book and media appearances.

The only thing that turns me off is this. I don't buy into his rigid position that you can't cherry pick the "good stuff" from the Bible without endorsing its prescriptions for tribal violence. Sure, there are tons of destructive and misogynistic passages mixed in with the Bible's inspiring wisdom bits. Kind of like most any human I know - an admixture of love and hostility.

Harris' all or nothing position seems just as fundamentalist as anything he opposes. What's wrong with extracting best practices from the Bible in the process of learning what works ethically? It's about as harmful a procedure as finding grown-up jokes in Sesame Street. Finding a basic humane principle (meme) in the Bible isn't automatically put up a poster for internecine warfare.

It's likely Harris is adamantly all or nothing because his debate opponents - the true believers and jihadists - are just as polarized. He's debating people who believe their scriptures are divinely revealed. But that doesn't change things. His rigid stand rejects and invalidates everything good one of the world's oldest books might pass to us from generations past.

In the comment below, Alex Saxton offers a longer, more critical review.

After Capitalism

By David Schweickart.

Comment: James G. Devine

If a well-read non-socialist leftist were to ask me for the best current book on socialism, I'd recommend After Capitalism. In addition to being well-written, it is presented in a very logical way, using little of the standard jargon that discourages outsiders. It also lacks the paralyzing tone of de­pression infecting some leftist authors these days...

In the 1970s, the phrase "economic democracy" was associated with the idea of extending democracy from the political to the economic realm. To his credit, Schweickart rejects this formula. Rather than being democratic, the political system of the United States is a "polyarchy," following Robert Dahl and Charles Lindblom (105). This system involves changing govern­ments in a way that fits best with capitalist rule in the richer countries - and something that should be replaced by true democracy. Schweickart's Economic Democracy is in the broad tradition of Alec Nove's "feasible socialism." It involves three main elements: worker-controlled cooperatives coordinated using government-regulated markets and centrally planned investment....

--Science & Society Book Review: May 2005

[The first comment below is a longer review by Carl Davidson.]