Monday, April 09, 2007

So, I have this book...

For a time I was afraid that I had lost it forever. I moved soon after I got it to review a year or so ago, and even after unpacking didn't find it again until recently. I'll have to think about why that happened. Still, I have the book now, even if a little late.

Almost everything about it says "This is a Serious Book".

One glance at the cover - stark white hardcover, with bold, all caps black writing - and you know that someone feels they have something important to say, that they want to be noticed. Well, and then there is the thickness of the book - it's fairly heavy, in weight... over 700 pages, some of them fold outs. Many of them photos, though, which could detract from the impression of seriousness, but no. Not these photos.

I say "almost" everything about it because, besides the pictures, when you look at the closed book from the side there is a rainbow effect, each section of the book having its own color - mostly pastels. Oh, and a bright red ribbon for keeping your place in the book as you read, should you decide to start from the beginning, go on to the end and then stop, as the saying goes. I've not yet been able to do that, but maybe soon.

The Face of Human Rights"The Face of Human Rights" is indeed a serious book, absolutely harrowing in sections, in more ways than one would expect. There are, of course, pictures of people who are starving, extreme poverty, those killed by their governments or other things, and more. Sad to say, I think we are used to those, and fully expect a book about human rights to contain them, either in picture or word form (or, as in this case, both).

That's only half the story, though, isn't it? Or maybe a quarter of it. For every action there is a reaction, and all that. Plenty of room in this book for the rest of the story, or at least a fair portion of it, and the authors/editors (Walter Kälin, Lars Müller and Judith Whyttenbach) do their best to provide that.

I steeled myself to just open the book at random and write about the first picture I saw... which just happened to be a HUGE platter (not plate, platter) containing a slab of ham in the middle that covers fully half of the platter, a pile of hashbrowns so big part of it is hanging off the edge, with three fried eggs barely contained at the other edge of the platter. This is a single serving, in a Los Angeles diner.

Just as a guess, I think this chapter might have something to do with food security. There are a few more related pictures of people who definitely have that - in abundance. Including one of a woman preparing to dig into a massive ice cream float. The woman is, of course, fat, but the people in the other photos full of Westerners gorging on food are not.

With my next random page try, a couple of hundred pages away, I landed on a swirl of colors - a Tibetan monk captured in the process of sweeping away a mandala in a ceremony. Quite a juxtaposition, that.

There is probably much to say about temporal things - which both food and mandalas are - ceremonies and contrasts, but not just yet. I find it far to easy to just traipse off after stray philosophical thoughts and ignore more substantive things so, even though this is not actually the review yet, I'll save those thoughts for another time.

There is far too much in this book to cover even in one long post, so I will be taking it a piece at a time and will try to give as much of the full flavor of the book, including its various contrasts between... well, what seem like extremes when put in context, but which (as a Westerner) would in other circumstances feel like "normal, everyday life". Much to think about. I will also scan in some pictures.

Here is how the chapters are broken up in the book:

Foreword and intro - What are human rights?

1. Human existence - The Right to Life
2. Identity of the human person - Prohibition of Discrimination
3. Adequate standards of living - The Right to Food, The Right to Health, The Right to Housing
4. Private sphere - The Protection of Private Life
5. Intellectual and spiritual life - The Freedom of Thought and Belief, The Right to Education
6. Economic life - The Right to Work, The Protection of Property
7. In the hands of the state - Fair Trial and Prohibition of Torture
8. Political participation - Political Rights and Freedom of Expression
9. Displacement, flight and exile - The Rights of Refugees and Displaced Persons

I'll take them in some sort of order, but probably not as listed.

(xposted from Stalking Sunlight)

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