Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Literal versus Figural Reading of the Bible: A Review of The Book of Genesis by Ronald Hendel

Book Cover contains medieval images of Catholic Church

To me books are living things. They should be treated with love, respect, and admiration. There is something about books or printed words, regardless of quality, penmanship or ideology that deserves, no, in fact, demands such reverent treatment. During book burnings, be it Nazis or Communists, you are not destroying paper but knowledge, ideas, dreams expressed in and through them. Nothing is more despotic or heartbreaking than that, not even the burning of flags or money.

In Ronald Hendel's erudite, well-written and surprisingly sparse and entertaining The Book of Genesis: A Biography, the Bible - the Book - is treated as a written document that is living and thriving across the ages. It is essentially as its name implies the quintessential prototype of a book, and whether we take it as the Word of God, whether we agree with its ideas or not, whether we take it literally or figuratively does not diminish its importance for Western literature and civilization.

In particular, the book of Genesis has undergone a host of changes across history and with each new reading and interpretation, its content takes on different meanings leading to insights about human nature, morality, and our relationship with spirituality and the divine.

Generally, there are two different readings of the Bible; one can approach it as a literal or figurative text. We may read it literally, meaning that every word in it expresses the ultimate truth and needs to be taken at face value. In such a case, we see it as the infallible and timeless account of God himself, hence as a historical and moral overview that overrides any other possible accounts and explanations.

This type of interpretation was practiced before the advent of modern science and is, rather surprisingly, still believed and upheld by certain religious groups (more about them later). Up to Galileo, it was believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, yet his physical telescopic and mathematical proofs revealed to us a heliocentric model. The Church still adamantly relying on the truths of the Bible rejected his ideas and did not formally accept that view until Pope John Paul II's declaration in 1992!

Along the same veins, there were also advances in geology that showed the correct age of the earth. It was not the 6000 years proposed by the Bible, but its “deep time” actually goes back 4.5 billion years. In other words, the Bible's science did not come even remotely close! Other blows to the Creation story included scientific evidence and the theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin on the origins of mankind. All of these discoveries and theories gradually led to doubts regarding the scientific validity of the Bible.

Its proponents used (and still do to some extent) different excuses or reasons for such discrepancy between the Holy Book and the current status of scientific knowledge. There are some who think that perhaps we do not have the ultimate and authorized version of the Bible. It might have gotten lost or diluted via different editions, versions, and translations. So it is “God's Word Lite” that we get and not the real deal.

There is some albeit pale truth to this belief as Hendel shows us that the Bible has been put together from different sources. Put in general terms, scholars have pinpointed three main possible sources referred to as (P) Priestly, (J) Yahwist, and (E) Elohist. Each writing has slightly different views, and they are patched up together, hence causing at times confusion and even discrepancies within the Bible itself.

For example, we have two separate creation accounts that seem in conflict with each other. The first one is from a Priestly source and in it God creates man and woman equally, namely both of them in His image. God in the P source is depicted as rational and balanced and is interested and invested in the harmonious cosmic order of space and time.

Yet in the J version God is more anthropomorphic showing general human traits like anger and jealousy. This is the Old Testament God most of us are familiar with, and it includes the account of Eden. There we have Adam who was created not only as master of the planet but also of Eve, who has come to life through one of his ribs. At the same time, we have the account of the snake and the subsequent Fall from Grace, the expulsion from paradise. As we can see, this version is heavier on morality and dogma in addition to plot and drama.

If you combine and weave together these distinct sources that contain a variety of differences in ideology and purpose, we might see why the Bible can be rather confusing at times. Yet until the Protestant movement, the Bible was thought to be interpreted only by those who are “qualified” to do so, namely the priesthood, so these inconsistencies could be smoothed over by the clergy. No one would have dared to criticize any parts of the Bible and each part was seen as of equal importance.

Yet with Martin Luther, things began to change. Not only did the Bible become accessible to ordinary people in their vernacular language, with the rate of literacy slowly but steadily increasing, yet Luther claimed that there was no need for so-called interpreters and that, in fact, not all the parts of the Bible are of equal worth. In other words, he accepted that there may be some parts that are boring or even wrong, and that this is not a big deal overall. We ought to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our readings, and each person can then interpret the Bible in their own right way.

This type of reading is figurative, namely seeing the accounts more as a spiritual lesson, as symbols and not as actual facts. Hence, the Bible may get its historical or scientific facts wrong, but that would not take away any part of its spiritual and divine lessons. Put differently, the Bible should be read as a guide for life and not so much as a testament of fact and knowledge. In such a view, gaps between scientific knowledge and the Bible could be reconciled.

This type of reading and interpretation actually goes back to Plato's concepts of duality most beautifully expressed in Plato's cave allegory. In other words, we cannot trust our senses. What we see are shadows on a wall, whereas the truth is hidden deep within us, a fountain of light that illuminates it all, an everlasting and unchanging truth that gives life and animus to all and everything.

As such, science, the handmaid of philosophy, is dealing with the physical and changing world, with everything that is constantly moving and decaying, hence the illusion of existence. Nonetheless, the eternal truth cannot be fathomed or explored and all this knowledge becomes secondary or even worthless in the light of true philosophy.

Strangely enough, there are still fundamentalists who do not espouse the figurative view and consider the Bible an infallible document across all of its areas, including science. Fundamentalism as a movement took root in the United States during the 19th century among a group of Protestant evangelicals. Even at the time of its origin, most people around the world did not agree with its traditional and radical views. Those ideas are indeed vestiges of an old and by-gone world and era in which people lacked the knowledge and facts that we have today.

Why the fundamentalists or conservatives still continue in such a vein remains a mystery, but it must be pointed out that there are indeed very few - if any - intellectual or academic believers who still hold onto and follow those ideas. What's worse, they are giving a bad rap to all those liberal believers out there, all those who read the Bible for spiritual guidance and symbolic instruction and not as a fact-filled book.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Religion and the Body: The Contrast between Sin and Heavenly Flesh

A drawing of a maiden by Martin Schongauer
"The Fourth Wise Virgin" by Martin Schongauer

When we look at how much attention we give and spend on our body, it becomes evident that we are obsessed with it, both ours and that of others. Whether we are worried about weight or muscles, about looks or appearance, we generally see the body as our possession; we distance ourselves from it by saying that we are not our body, but that we simply have and own a body.

Yet in most people's view, the type of body you have reflects upon your personality. If someone does not take good care of their body, we assume the person to be careless overall, that is in all areas of life. All this time, we are being bombarded by all those images of supermodels and muscular bodies that are exposed and superimposed on magazines and screens, and we feel powerless, guilty and even ashamed of what our own body looks like and how it pales in comparison.

So why such a focus and obsession on the body? In fact, our body is what others see, the contact surface with the outside world, the skin that touches the air and others. A lot of nonverbal messages are transmitted with our physical appearance. In our mind, a well-dressed person symbolizes success; a person in rags and tatters the lack of such.

In fact, our main idea of attractiveness is based, focused and rooted on the body. We have in our mind's eye an impression of attractiveness, and when we mentally scan the person in front of us, we compare the two, the ideal with the actual, and we see how much they overlap, hence labeling a person as more or less good-looking. At this time, the personality factor remains hidden and hardly affects our judgement.

Yet the body is not only about judgements on attractiveness or success; our obsession and fascination with it goes much deeper. These views on the body have been shaped by various centuries of focus and emphasis on it via religion. The Judeo-Christian legacy on the body is actually two-fold ranging from predominantly seeing and defining the body as a vessel and instrument of sin versus the immaculate bodies of the Virgin and of Jesus Christ himself.

In the first part, which is heavily influenced by Platonic ideas, the body is seen as an entrapment of the soul. The soul, the pure and lasting part of the human is imprisoned by its shell, the body. At the same time, the body is considered the place where all sins are brooding and expanding. The sins of the flesh, i.e. sex and sexual feelings are dirtying or smudging the purity of the soul. These beliefs have been proposed and expounded by religious authorities, such as St. Paul, St. Augustine, and somewhat more radically by St. Jerome.

This mistrust of the body or the weakness of the flesh has led to various ways of “rectifying” this problem. One can hide the body, especially prevalent with the female form in the Islamic tradition, or one can purify and free oneself from the burden of the flesh through a number of punitive measures, for instance, asceticism and self-flagellation or flogging, practices that reached their peak during the Middle Ages.

In other words, the body is not only considered the possession of the soul but it is also seen as ballast, as a burden that may impeach our way to spiritual heaven. As a result, monks and priests have decided to turn away from the physical world to practice meditation and to develop an inner focus of one's spiritual qualities. More importantly, they embraced, and in many cases still do, a celibate life.

There is also the second contrasting belief about the body as God-made flesh. In Christian tradition the physical existence of Jesus has sanctified the body, its symbolic representation being the host, the sacred and sacramental bread. All of this has given the human body a significance that it never had before. Some of these implications I have discussed earlier regarding Hegel's concept of God becoming flesh. These ideas are also evident in analogies of the body as a temple, a thing that is sanctified and deserving of worship due to divine contact.

Furthermore, religion has underscored the importance of sanctifying the body by keeping it pure from any harmful substances. This is why most religions do not condone the use of (street) drugs as well as the indulgent use of alcohol. Both of them are all seen as culprits that make the body impure and create a loss of control over bodily impulses. It would seem that we are not only disrespecting the body but also feeding its darker impulses, all of which comes at the expense of our soul, according to religious tradition.

Such ideas have reached their extreme with some religious groups denying any use of medication or surgery, but those are thankfully rare. Yet it has also had influences with how we treat our body. Since originally we are created in the image of God according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it means that the body must be kept in its original form. This may include many people's aversion to tattoos or a somewhat general reluctance toward dyed hair or wigs since all of these represent an alteration of the body.

This is apart from any other cultural or social connotations. But it is deplorable and unfortunate in some cases, especially when it comes to how we treat the disabled. Since they may be seen as “imperfect” representations of the body, we may have mixed feelings about them, consciously or subconsciously. In part, they mirror our own fear of an imperfect body, but more shockingly, we may blame them for their shortcoming as a form of divine punishment, often expressed through a misunderstood and misrepresented definition of karma.

All in all, we have an ambivalent relationship with our body due to some extent to our religious understanding and immersion. Regardless of whether a person is a believer or not, religion has left us a historical and cultural legacy that we are facing in daily life. By better understanding the underlying implications, we may change our perception of ourselves, our body and our existence as a whole within the social fabric. And hopefully, we may accept our body and ourselves the way we are instead of falling for what and how others believe we (and our body) should be like.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Big Bang, Dark Matter, Anti-Matter and Wimps: How Astrophysics adds to the Miracle of Existence

Reflected lights from stars in the universe
 I almost missed out on a brilliant talk by astrophysicist Hitoshi Murayama presented at Science World last week. I had found out about it too late (a day in advance) and the tickets had already evaporated into thin air. But thanks to technology I was still able to witness and follow it closely via live streamline. I may not have been physically there, but all my other parts were present and attentive.

Murayama tried to answer two seemingly straightforward questions that generally make my head spin in myriad directions. The first half was devoted to the task of making dark matter accessible to hobby-horse math-deficient astro-enthusiasts like me. Dark matter, as its name implies, is something that we cannot see, not even with highly capable telescopes.

The reason for this is that it has such a strong gravitational pull that not even light can escape its reach. Scientists evidently can only know about it by inference, by analyzing how it distorts its environment around space. By looking closely at its “neighbors,” they can calculate various qualities and dimensions about dark matter (don't ask me how).

Now it turns out that my physics class in high school was wrong in claiming that the universe is mostly made up of atoms. In fact, about eighty percent of space is made of this mysterious and invisible dark matter. It is indeed essential for our survival, the "mother" of our existence as Murayama calls it. We are not only spinning unawares with our constantly revolving Earth at about 465 m per second, but our whole galaxy, the Milky Way is moving at about 220 km per second. Per second!

And generally, that would make the galaxy spin out of control, or at least the gravitation would be strong enough to dislocate its position, to make it spin out of its orbit, which would make us disappear somewhere far far away in our universe, perhaps next to the creatures of Star Wars. That is, if it were not for the pull of our friend dark matter, no not Darth Vader although he was mentioned and alluded to various times during the talk. So thanks to you a bunch, dear dark mother for keeping us compact and together!

The second part of the talk was about an even more mysterious and misunderstood matter, in fact, the opposite and mortal enemy of matter itself, anti-matter. Murayama explained how, contrary to popular belief, the creation of sizable anti-matter (such as 1 g) is currently not feasible and that Dan Brown's Angels and Demons is simply wrong about the whole issue. 

It would cost an unbelievably large amount of money (believe me really really vast amounts of dough) to create a substantial amount of anti-matter. Yet if it were possible, it would be quite interesting and beneficial to our science since it would be hundred- or thousand-fold times better and more effective than gasoline.

Yet what is anti-matter? While I think I sort of understood dark matter, anti-matter is more difficult to get your head around. In fact, when matter meets anti-matter, they both dissolve leaving a blast of energy. So if you meet your identical anti-matter version of yourself, do not shake hands! In fact, run as fast and far away as you can!

Going back to the beginning - we are talking Big Bang era - we notice that matter and anti-matter existed in equal measure. That means that they would collide and explode each other mutually. That means we would have never existed if that had been the case.

So how did it happen then? It turns out that there is a secret ingredient to this atomic creation soup, namely neutrinos also known as Wimps (weakly interacting massive particles). They are neutral; while positive and negative electrons attract each other to their own demise, neutrinos simply look on as impartially as Switzerland. And it is to them, that we owe another part and our very reason of our current existence here. Thank you, dear father Neutrino! In fact, they may be right here with us as we speak because they can go through matter like water.

What can we take from this amazing lecture apart from knowledge and understanding? Well, for one, I marvel even more at our existence. The odds and probabilities seemed stacked against us, were it not for a miraculous interplay of various elements and events. The chances are indeed one in a billion or rather trillion that I should exist writing this and you, dear reader reading this!

The other surprising fact for me is that the telescopes today can capture images that are moments after the Big Bang. There is physical evidence for it! They cannot go further back because the hot soup will not allow them to get a clear picture, which is why they are experimenting with it at Cern.

Another breath-taking discovery or realization for me, or rather it dawned upon me more clearly during and after the talk is the fact that we are able to look into the past. Lights that reach us are already the past. For example, the sun rays we see are the state and position of the sun from about eight minutes ago. That is a small and generally known matter, but lights from stars that are light years away are from the not so recent past. Basically, we can watch and look at the past state of affairs and even get a glimpse of our previously mentioned Big Bang.

So if we went very far away from our earth, if we were on the “other side” so-to-speak, we should be able to see the dinosaurs roaming about. And should we move with light-year speed, perhaps one day using anti-matter energy, we could travel to the past. All these thoughts are obviously my own speculation and were not mentioned during the talk. But I am more than grateful that despite the odds against me of not finding a ticket, I was still able to listen in and learn from this wonderful talk by Hitoshi Murayama.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hitchcock's Rope: Crime and Punishment and Gide's Gratuitous Act in One

Poster of James Stewart holding a piece of rope from that film

Rope (1948) is an early masterpiece of the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock in which the notorious director combines technical prowess with strong characterization and writing. In terms of technique, it is quite advanced and experimental for its time: the movie plays out pretty much in real time and gives off the impression that it is filmed in one continuous shot (it is not).

(Many years later the film Russian Ark (2002) tried out the same concept by presenting the whole gamut of Russian history in one continuous and uninterrupted shot in an art gallery.)

The movie Rope is equally modern and timeless in its topic and theme. I am more interested in the story and its characters in my analysis here; however, the technique adds not only suspense but a clearer and palpable sense of reality to its fictional dimension making the whole film seem more realistic and much scarier because of it.

Although not unique in the crime drama business, the movie deals with the attempt of the perfect crime. We already know that the perfect crime is not possible, and when it indeed ends up being successful like in Allen's Match Point (2005), it would have to be so through sheer dumb luck.

Yet what makes Rope interesting and unique is not the crime itself, but its lack of motive. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by the crime, and in fact, it is utterly senseless. The murderer and his chosen accomplice kill their former classmate for the sake of killing only. The main character Brandon believes that he is morally and intellectually superior, and hence he has the privilege and right to kill others whom he deems inferior.

Should he, and he firmly believes so, get away with murder, he would prove and make his philosophical point. Such argumentation may bring to mind the duels of the times of chivalry in which the one favored by the Almighty (later poetically and romantically replaced by a beautiful dame) would eventually win the battle since in a fair and balanced world the just will be rewarded and the unjust punished for their acts.

So where did ideas of moral flexibility and superiority and the license to kill come from? The obvious culprits would be Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Gide, or at least misinterpretations of their ideas. In the movie all of them are combined and symbolized in James Stewart's character Rupert Cadell, their former prep-school teacher who brought them into contact with philosophy. He believes and embraces those ideas, at least in theory. He would have never guessed that one of his own students, the brightest in fact, would attempt to put them into practice.

Here murder is treated like an art form. Something that one can master to its highest degree. The impressionable young Brandon believes himself to be superior in the vein of Nietzsche's Ubermensch, a kind of god-like being to whom the morals of the masses do not apply. As a master, he firmly believes he can indeed transcend (human) morals and even commit a pointless crime with success.

Brandon even daunts and tempts his fortune, by adding a dose of black humor and a shot of dramatic irony to the situation since the corpse is not only physically present in the chest of the room, but the guests are dining from the top of it; they are completely unaware of having the missing dead person constantly present among them. 

All this time, Brandon believes himself both morally and intellectually superior to all the guests and people involved; in fact, he even takes the risk of inviting his former teacher to the “party” by proving his own superiority since the student is outsmarting and outplaying the master, or so he believes.

These themes and situations are reminiscent of Dostoevsky's brilliant novel Crime and Punishment, in which the hero falls under the spell of the same dangerous fallacy. Years later Bresson would create his own version of Dostoevsky's novel in the film Pickpocket (1959) in which its narrator suffers from the same type of delusion, of being above morality and free to commit crime scot-free. Yet in all the cases including the novel itself (and this film) the perpetrators get caught, which I believe seems to imply that none of the authors or directors agree with these theories, at least not when it is applied to the practical real world.

It is only when Professor Cadell with his astute and observant mind realizes what has actually happened here, that he sees how wrong and horrifying these ideas are or can be when put to the test. This may illustrate how some ideas may sound interesting and even fascinating in thought and theory, but they may be shocking in practice.

For example, it is one thing to believe in these concepts and that there may be steps of development towards Nietzsche's Superhuman and quite another thing to take actual steps in that regard. I am still amazed how these ideas and happenings are presented at a time where Nazi atrocities must have still been fresh in the mind of the viewers. Hence these dangerous philosophical speculations are being played out with that horrible and bitter foil as historical background.

Equally, there is a sense of awe (in both senses of the word fascination and fear) in what Gide has termed l'acte gratuite - the gratuitous act. It is a deed that has no link to morality, no regard for life, but what's worse has no motive either. It is utterly senseless because there is nothing to be gained by it. There is no reason behind it, but it is all about listening to and following upon one's unhampered whims. One does something for its own sake without attaining or deriving any tangible profit from it.

In other words, we have here a case of wish fulfillment, fulfilling the deep and dark desire of killing another human being and by interpreting and defining it all as an esthetic art form; it is murder for murder's sake. The main characters or protagonists are the murderers, and while one is cunning and calculating to the nth degree, the other shows a human side, by demonstrating feelings of anxiety and guilt.

This film is almost as complex as the twisted mind of its creator who seems to relish in the depiction of violence and torture on one hand, while at the same time revealing to us, like a peeled onion, his heart and humanity deep within. For all these reasons (and a few more unspoken ones to boot), I think that this movie is one of the most daring and satisfying films in the impressive canon of this celebrated filmmaker. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Book Review of The Constant Choice: An Everyday Journey From Evil Toward Good by Peter Georgescu

Checkered black and white cover of Peter Georgescu's book

I must admit I am rather surprised how much I actually enjoyed the book The Constant Choice by Peter Georgescu. At first sight, this book seemed not for me: Another book filled with strong anti-communist messages and resentment by a CEO and chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam Inc. who was probably going to extol the fairy-tale virtues of the American dream.

This is a memoir written by a successful and retiring CEO, and what would they know about pain and suffering, what knowledge could they possibly have about the existence of evil, and also why should we care about what they think in the first place. It might be simply a work of contrition to purge their own evil ways and to unload their heavy burden of conscience.

On a literary level, the book is somewhat uneven. It mixes facts with ideas and switches between recording and sharing life experiences and Georgescu's own present observations and thoughts on the main events and decisions surrounding his life. At times it feels like fiction as he often jump-cuts from the present to his difficult past in a forced labor camp in Romania.

However, I am not holding its literary and at times philosophical demerits against this work. It is indeed a book written not by a professional writer, scholar or philosopher but foremost an honest and goodhearted human who wants to share his life story, ideas and observations. His philosophy of choosing and doing good may be simple, but it is effective and often overlooked in daily life. Georgescu may not have studied philosophy extensively, but his acute observations and his general knowledge offer enough satisfying food for thought.

More importantly (and somewhat unexpectedly) here is someone with whom I fully agree, well let's say about 87.5% of the time. His ideas are in very close vicinity to my own views and perceptions of life, religion and philosophy. For instance, Georgescu believes in a higher power (let's call it God) but this entity is not hindered by restrictions and limitations generally set upon it by organized religion. In other words, God is not enslaved by the narrow-minded dogmas of those who officially profess to know Him well.

Throughout his life, Georgescu has had to adjust his own beliefs ranging from a fairy-tale-version of God that comes to the rescue of the good and suffering people on Earth, Jesus at its helm slaying dragons with his sword, to a belief that God and with it all existence on the planet is much more complex and intricate than that. However, with irrational fervor somewhat reminiscent of Pascal and Kierkegaard, he still holds onto the existence of God against all (scientifically) visible odds of the universe.

But life has given him some hints of the other world. It happened when the Gypsy fortune-teller against all logical odds predicted the exact release date of his imprisoned father in Romania. It also happened to him during meditation sessions following the Silva technique (a technique I am curious about but need to brush upon myself before making any comments on it) where he had a glimpse of knowledge outside of the self and the realm of personal experience. Put differently, Georgescu has had visions that do not concord with logic.

Some people may dismiss them as fantasy, inaccurate recollection or what-have-you. Those people are stubbornly fighting against a view that is not congruent with their rational construction of the world in which irrational happenings are seen as a virus or a termite that can make their whole artifact collapse onto itself.

But such bugs and glitches exist already in science when it comes to seemingly preposterous ideas of quantum physics involving cats that are both dead and alive, electrons that are both waves and particles, or more astoundingly the mind-boggling string theory that involves multiple dimensions folded upon each other.

In either case, such an existence of other dimensions to our existence cannot be comprehended by logic alone; it needs the basis of experience, and I must say I fully believe and support Georgescu's account of the existence and occurrence of such supernatural phenomena.

Apart from our general religious and spiritual overlap, Georgescu is equally naive as me (though I dare say not wrong) in his view of the world. We both think that there is ultimate justice (call it divine or poetic) and that the best philosophy is to be and do simply good. These good and constant choices add up over time and may even change the genetics of the person in question, an idea that the author explores to some extent under the scientific banner of epigenetics.

Whenever people act with malice or evil intentions, we feel disappointed. Why people would not embrace the good and let their greed or ambition get in the way seems baffling. To me it does seem an oxymoron to have a morally “good” CEO, but it seems that he has achieved his position through a balanced mix of luck, hard work and well-intentioned, caring and supporting people, to whom he refers as his guardian angels on Earth.

Georgescu does not strike me as a ruthless person, but as someone who has an interminable work ethic and an insatiable drive for success and perfection. Yes, he strikes me as ambitious (and there is nothing wrong with that); at the same time, he is modest since there is little bragging on his side concerning his position, status and power.

Nonetheless, I am somewhat surprised how someone with his sensitivity should survive so long and successfully in the cut-and-throat business world of advertising. It must be said that it has taken a toll on his health, in terms of stomach ulcers and sleepless nights. However, he is fueled by his childhood and later life experiences. 

In forced labor camp, work was equated with life and death (much more so since apart from being physically demanding, it also entailed elements of life-threatening danger when he would work with dangerously wired switches in Communist Romania). Later, he felt gratitude for his host country, the United States and felt compelled to work hard and prove himself worthy and of value in this land of opportunities.

But throughout it should not be forgotten that he originally came from a privileged and respected family back home. This also explains the wrath and envy of the Communists and them taking it out on Georgescu and his brother, while the parents had left the country and were working abroad in an oil company in the United States.

At this point, Georgescu makes two philosophical assumptions I disagree with. First, he claims that actions although undertaken with good actions can be bad. Case in point are his grandparents who insist that he and his brother should stay back with them in Romania instead of joining their parents.

It is true that it was the wrong decision, but I think that intention regardless of outcome defines morality. If we look at the morality of consequences of actions alone, we might accept the dangerous Machiavellian concept of means justifying the end. To blame the grandparents for their love may be a case of selfishness, but it is not a moral issue here.

The second point is when it comes to Georgescu's parents. They are professed as good and caring, but in my view they are not. When their children were suffering in Romania, they supposedly spent a lot of money to get them out of there, but they never went there in fear for their own safety. Yet when the communists contacted his father with a proposition that they would free his children if he agreed to spy for them, he, and it seems without hesitation, rejected the proposal.

Here we have a conflict of morals, treason of a country versus the safety of his children. Georgescu extols his father for making the right choice. But as a father myself, I could not disagree with him more on the matter. I believe to potentially sacrifice your own children for the abstract sake of a country that is not even yours is inherently wrong. In fact, shortly after they are united, brought upon by press and diplomatic pressure from the US (again underscoring the important weight and position of this family), his father sends him to a boarding school.

This kind of relationship is an issue with Georgescu himself and his own children. As a father, he follows into the same footsteps or rather pitfalls as his own father, and his priorities are skewed. One must indeed make personal sacrifices to be successful in the world of business, and all of this comes at the expense of family. It is an unfair price to trade family happiness with money and success.

Yet it is something that Georgescu himself does not embellish or gloss over; he acknowledges and realizes his own shortcomings and tries his best to rectify them. Based on his own upbringing, he used to believe that a child needs to earn the love of his parents, but now he realizes that it is unconditional love that makes one a parent and that if you do not have or cannot offer that, you should not have children in the first place. This type of epiphany may have been another, more personal reason for writing this book.

So all in all, I enjoyed this book because it gives us a personal and honest glimpse of an interesting life. It inspires me and makes me think that maybe I should finish off my own memoirs, which are half-written and abandoned somewhere in a dusty attic of my computer files. It was also reassuring to know that there are people even in the higher echelons of the business world that are good and care about moral issues and that are ready to share their ideas in the form of such an entertaining and enlightening book.