Posted in book review

‘Conan Doyle for the Defense’ by Margalit Fox- Book Review

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction, imitating art, and vice versa. Picture this. A man on losing streaks decides his last bet on life in the New World. But, instead, he finds on arrival himself surrounded by the grim-faced henchmen of law with the gray eyes scanning the debonair foreigner’s appearance, measuring his moral value, judging his life at face value. The compass of Goddess Fortuna’s Wheel indicates the downfall of Oscar Slater in the direction of HM Prison Peterhead in Scotland. But, even though fortune’s malice has thrown Slater overboard, it certainly has not deprived him of a lifeboat in the person of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The case of Oscar Slater is often dubbed a sensational Edwardian murder mystery characterized by a scandalous wrongful conviction by the stupendousness of a miscarriage of justice in the history of any subject related from social justice to penal system, from police investigation procedures to forensic science. It follows from a death of a wealthy elderly woman brutally assaulted in her Glasgow home in 1908 when the Victorian prejudice against poor immigrants and foreigners, especially Jewish extraction, was PC all over on the isles. Slater being a secular German Jew with dark eyes and hair contrasted with the fairness of angelic British blonde, the blue-eyed ideal figure was the poster man of a criminal among the police and became their convenient suspect without due diligence and beyond a reasonable doubt. The Scottish police applied none of the evidentiary truth to the Slater case. On the contrary, they projected all of prejudice and complacency into the person of Slater, who was a sort of likable roguish streetwise swinger whose attractive suaveness and sleekness are reminded of Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Arthur Conan Doyle s helped Slater set free after twenty years of hard labor at the prison for the crime he had not committed. Suppose a true writer sees the world’s corruption at its heart and stands furious with people instead of grandstanding with rants and slurs. In that case, Conan Doyle stands along with Voltaire, George Orwell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the pantheon of the great writers who lived in the crowd of life.

Although Conan Doyle himself could not entirely be free from the conventional preconception about lower-class foreign immigrants and the jews, his integrity and charity exceeded the flaws. They changed the fate of the wrongly convicted man, which should be highly esteemed for universal recognition of all times. In the particular alchemy of literature as connecting the reader to the universal empathy, Doyle’s support of Slater’s innocence seems particularly conspicuous in the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The British general whose Toyota Jeep took up the already limited space could have held more Afghan evacuees in an airplane. Also, the former British Royal Marine chose to take 200 dogs and cats from the shelter with him over his Afghan workers and their families. But that’s not the end. The former Afghan employees of the British Embassy in Kabul are still clinging onto a thin ring of hope that their British ambassador boss for whom they had worked even during the Covid-19 pandemic scare would come to rescue. Would there be another Arthur Conan Doyle who would act on his principle of morality in the spirit of humanity who regard the lives of the oppressed Afghans as equally valuable as their own or similar kinds- that is, white and Christians?

My reference of Doyle’s involvement in the Slater case to current Afghanistan and refugee situations may seem a bit of a stretch with over-flowing maudlin sentimentalism. But I think Doyle’s determination to help Slater cause following the case of George Edalji, another miscarriage of justice based on racial discrimination, stems from his good natural good-heartedness aided by the brilliant mind searching for truth. It is a triumph of good over evil in the semblance of law and order. Unfortunately, I have a hard time finding a famous writer or poet who actively puts thinking into action, just as Doyle, Voltaire, Dickens, and Sand, whose brilliance of the minds resembled the magnificence of the Sun benefitting the life on earth. Where are such great writers now?



View all my reviews

Posted in book review

‘I Belong Here’, by Anita Sethi – Book Review

To tell a story within you is an expression of yourself, an affirmation of your identity, in an expanse of will wielded by the spirit of freedom. Storytelling is, in fact, a way of logotherapy that helps you find meaning in life from your daily tasks to your traumatic experiences by sublimating the pains of the heart to the blessings of the spirit, in the realization of Amore Feti. In this book, Anita Sethi shoehorns her experience of racism in England into a rivetingly ingenious travel memoir in the spectacle of a beautiful natural landscape where she belongs.

Her narrative has a lyrical quality with a poet’s rhythm that reminds me of a Portuguese Fado song. Her words sing her story of an uneasy love relationship with her own country into a continuous fugue of love, betrayal, loneliness, and friendship vested with her experiences with people and nature. It is at once dolorous and enchanting as if to listen to a mysteriously elusive melody hummed by a ghost of a sad maiden who died in brokenheartedness. Yet, this doesn’t mean Sethi is a ghost damsel in distress bemoaning her betrayed love. She is a warrior who chose the pen to vindicate her attacker and other minor offenders of her South Asian ethnicity as a way to overcome her fear and anxiousness, arising from her ashes like Nietzsche’s noble phoenix.

Sethi’s narrative then becomes a eulogy to the natural landscape of Great Britain; she finds an elbow room, a niche, her library of wonder. As Shakespeare pointed out, nature is exempt from public haunt, finds good in everything. It is a grand luxurious spa free of charge to all, although that is not always tainted by the malice of incivility on the part of humans. However, Sethi, in her story, asserts that no one can take away her right to belong in the beauty of nature and the country she regards as a home and proclaims her self-identity by telling her personal story incorporating the words into the images of British mountains and forests, exempting her from a malady of social ills and elevating her to the citizens of the Universe.

The book is an excellent bedtime fellow when you want something thoughtful but not burdened with elements associated with scholarly apparatuses. The narrative is flowing melodiously, and the author’s spirit is within the texts, full of emotions but nuanced in her infatuation with the beauty of British landscapes that provide her with holistic healing power. They say you don’t protect what you don’t care about, and you don’t care what you have not experienced. To appreciate the value of this book doesn’t mean you have to be of a particular ethnicity, gender, or race. As long as you have taste and judgment universal in all humans, especially with a strong sense of empathy and a lover of nature, you will find her story alluringly gripping and feel her pains and loves as if they were your own.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Philosophical investigation of education

“I’ll teach you differences,” said King Lear as his motto of philosophical investigations in Shakespeare’s eponymous play. I imagine the ghost of King Lear would utter it again when he deigned to come to our realities of universities in this time. The importance of responsible education to remove the social ills and carbuncles resulting from dissentious political domination has never been more conspicuously called for in our high learning institutions as a recent consequence of the George Floyd incident, and the following the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this doesn’t mean that universities should be a breeding ground for training gladiators equipped with political syllabuses and dogmatic agendas to fight against the public foes. Instead, education should disabuse the ignorance of the unenlightened for our society’s universal betterment.

Professor Benjamin Y. Fong, in his NY Times article “Teaching Racial Justice isn’t Racial Justice,” addressed the issue of education as the fighting tool. It has become fashionable that most American universities have competingly added courses on social injustice to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the idea of education is to provide students opportunities to learn and actively engage with conflicting thoughts and various real-life issues in a place enriched with knowledge linked with the fellow members of the human race from antiquity. In this environment, a university is a place for education that can improve social conditions in the fight against social, political carbuncles, not for the battle itself, training students for social gladiators.

Many universities are focused on the quantitative quota of educational syllabuses aimed for the universities’ reputations as the most liberal and forward-thinking higher-learning institutions for the socially recognized prestige, not the qualitative aspect of the education of the minds. It is not the textual syllabuses filled with political ideologies and social campaigns. Still, the practical teaching of various conservative and progressive considerations enables students to incorporate the learning to their perspectives. Education serves to articulate ideas based on the standard of reason and taste universal in all human creatures regarding the principles of judgment and sentiment common to all humankind.

Suppose we want our higher learning institutions to remedy the existing ills of our social and political realities by implementing more social justice courses. In that case, we must first understand the fact that education itself is not the fight itself. Neither Plato’s academy nor Aristotle’s lyceum was a place for the battle against the absurdities of Man. Or even the beloved, peripatetic Socrates did not use his open universities in Athens as a place for campaigning against the government hostile to his philosophy. Remember that there is no new thing under the sun as long as we as the collective enterprise called Humanity continue to voyage in the Universe.

Posted in Poetry

gentle giant

unnamed

 

A gentle giant in the maze of darkness

Sees the darkest corruption of the heart

alloyed in the putrid puss of proud violence

Writhing his pulsation of life like a serpent

Twisting the veins that carry life to his breath

Pounding the dome of his sovereign palace

In a morbid frisson of the ecstatic dance of death

Amid the cries of the man in a maze of disgrace

Unarmored, unguarded, unprotected, unheard

As the rampant madness of murder with passion

Possesses the man with the corrupt heart blinded

By outgrown white heat of hatred with unreason.

 

P.S.: It would have been my first day of returning to the office after the partial end of stay-home order in California had my brother not told me of a civil unrest situation in Downtown LA where my job was located; the subway station I always use was closed, and a curfew would be enforced in LA Counties starting from 6:00 PM, which would affect my returning home via trains.

Behind all this commotion lies another intermittently continuous police brutality exercised against the socially disenfranchised or marginalized – or to put it more blatantly –  invisible, and therefore ignorable. The demonstrations were egged on by the inhumanly aggravated handling by the police of George Floyd, a former promising college basketball student who had eked out living by working as a security guard until he was laid off due to Covid-19 lockdown.

I don’t care what Floyd’s past sins are. I don’t need to know his character assessment to reason the initiation of Floyd’s arrestment by the police in the first place. What I see from the video of his undignified death posted on the New York Times attests to the manifestation of how prejudice aided by the unbridled zealous passion of the heated moment can lead to the destruction of humanity. The more I watch the tragedy, the more I see the man’s pathos and the oppressor’s inhumanity.  How could you do that? This alone matters to me. Hence this poem is my elegy to Mr. Floyd.