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K. Moss "Kevlet" (Cardiff, UK)

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Caffe Roma Royale Coffee Beans (1kg)
Caffe Roma Royale Coffee Beans (1kg)
Offered by nextdaycoffee
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely flavour coffee, 14 Feb. 2013
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The only reason why I have not given this five stars is that I think the P&P terms are excessive. These add 50% to the cost of purchase, which seems crazy.

That consideration apart, this is a reasonably-priced, good-quality blend. The beans grind nicely, keep fresh and produce expresso with a good crema and aroma. Not too bitter - I bought some Whittards Italian Expresso beans recently, and the flavour there is entirely described by the word 'acrid'. Much better balance and depth - good general drinking coffee.


The Little Book of Commonsense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns (Little Books. Big Profits)
The Little Book of Commonsense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns (Little Books. Big Profits)
by John C. Bogle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncle Jack delivers, 17 Jan. 2013
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On one level, I would concur with other reviewers of this book. It is just a tad repetitive - Bogle makes his key points fairly early on (minimise costs, don't try to second-guess the markets, avoid the poisoned-chalice of 'timing', buy the appropriate risk-graded market exposure using passives etc) and then keeps coming back to them later on.

However...and it's a big however. In practice, I think the repetition is important. It is only superfluous for those who may have already learned the lessons, bought into the underlying logic. The fact is that the preponderance of investors (and, apparently, fund managers) still believe in an Alice-in-Wonderland world of investment which is all about special insights, market timing, leveraging and unfeasibly complex investment products or strategies. In the UK, many IFAs still attempt to 'pick the winners', akin to having a day at the races, except one's entire future wealth prospects depends upon the outcome. Bogle circles around, and comes back to his themes, but exploring them in different contexts, and with different examples.

The author deals with all of this. He writes beautifully, and clearly. He is always forthright, and the text breathes commonsense and belief in every sentence. He also very usefully handles the issue of fads - for instance, chapter 15 supplies some much needed clarity on the pitfalls of ETFs, which often appear to be embraced somewhat indiscriminately by investors and advisers alike. There are eighteen chapters, which may seem a lot for "The Little Book of...", but they are short chapters, and they provide access to the subject-matter in bite-size chunks. This is eminently readable, even for busy people with little time for reading.

Overall, this is a very useful book of practical guidance on the subject of investing. I would also recommend very strongly Jack's other seminal book, 'Enough': Enough True Measures of Money, Business, and Life by Bogle, John C. ( Author ) ON Jun-25-2010, Paperback


Slow Dance
Slow Dance
Offered by Fulfillment Next Day
Price: £6.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars are not enough, 28 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Slow Dance (Audio CD)
Having discovered Ant Phillips relatively late on, I started off with Seventh Heaven, which I like very much indeed. The frustration of that latter album is that many of the pieces are too brief to permit development - this is not the case with 'Slow Dance' which consists of two movements, both of which provide plenty of opportunity to explore and recapitulate the main themes.

This is simply a delightful composition. I attempted to make the contrast with, say, some of Tangerine Dream's earlier larger-scale pieces such as Tangram and Ricochet. There really is no comparison. Quite apart from Ant's sublime melodies, there is a delicacy to the treatment, a level of detail to the scoring which gives the music space to breath. Sometimes, when 'Rock' meets 'Classical' genre, there is a crassness to the orchestration, where everything bar the kitchen sink gets thrown in - Ant appears to have steadily resisted such temptations, and the attention to detail becomes apparent in the subtle harmonics, and the gentle and steady development of his themes.

I how have five of Ant's albums, and I love them all - but there is something really quite special about this one, which makes it stand out. It is almost impossible to explain why, but somehow this music manages to be reflective, including a pathos at times which manages to avoid being tawdry, whilst in other parts suggesting the kind of unfettered joy of dancing on sunbeams. And that's an odd concept for a bloke who can barely manage to watch 'Strictly' without sniggering.

Thanks, Ant. This music has meant a lot.


Star of Bethlehem [DVD] [2009] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Star of Bethlehem [DVD] [2009] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £5.19

4.0 out of 5 stars A very helpful focus, 26 Dec. 2012
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Sometimes, it seems as if we may be tempted to treat the incidental details within the Gospel narratives as just a bit of window-dressing to lend significance to the message. I suspect that the elements in the 'Christmas Story' may be a bit like that. This film is a useful reminder that the incidentals do actually provide us with a great deal of explanatory detail which may be used for verification purposes. In fact, such was the care applied to the treatment of Matthew's text (chapter 2), I was shocked to discover just how much verifiable data was actually there.

The makers of this film open up the subject in a wholly convincing way. My only reservations are the slightly unctuous tone used at times (but that's perfectly understandable, given the real significance of the discoveries) and the rapidity with which Rick Larson fixes on the Planet Jupiter as the solution to the conundrum. That doesn't stop him being right, however, and the presentation puts forth an extremely robust case for the dating of Christ's birth, as well as the identification of the astronomical configuration which applied at the time.

A very good piece of work, and a helpful reminder for Christians that the detail we are given is there for a reason.

Overall, the film is beautifully-produced, and I would recommend it anyone with an enquiring mind, prepared to have their assumptions about the 'Christmas Story' radically shaken.


Sick Heart River
Sick Heart River
by John Buchan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, introspective, compelling, 3 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Sick Heart River (Paperback)
It seems that I am a bit of a 'late developer' in relation to Buchan's writings, having been content for far too long to remain with the 39 Steps as the benchmark for his oeuvre. This is a gruelling book by comparison, but a remarkable one.

The central character, Sir Edward Leithen, is dying, and ventures off on one last trip to the northern wilds of Canada, in order to save a man personally unknown to him, who is lost in the icy wilderness. So, from the outset, we are not presented with a happy ending, or the prospect of recovery. It is no coincidence that, at the time of writing, Buchan was living in Canada (he had become Governor-General in Ottawa) and presumably knew himself to be dying. Buchan died in 1940, and this book was not published until 1941, so we may reasonably presume that the author used the text to work out his own ideas as he approached the end - the reader will find that there is a great deal of internalisation, of self-critique and questioning on the part of Leithen as he struggles with his failing body. That this is played out against the brutal backdrop of the mountainous wilds in the middle of winter, simply adds a kind of raw power and strength to the narrative - Buchan is returning (if he ever left) to a biblical view of human nature: frail, flawed, at times so self-obsessed that we fail to see the real needs around us, yet at the same time magnificent, battling against a hostile environment.

This is a brilliant book. If Leithen is a device to present us with Buchan's own struggle with ebbing mortality, then he does not fall into the trap of idealising himself, of presenting a one-dimensional model of perfectibility. Leithen is a complex, uncertain, fragile individual who, in the end finds his own place, and comes to terms with God's sovereign rights over his own existence. It is impossible to determine what Buchan's own faith looked like - but we do see here a pronounced comprehension of a Judaeo-Christian worldview where human weakness produces works of great beauty and value - the theme of developing warmth and the bringing of life is played out against the backdrop of bleak, dead cold and nihilism. Leithen progressively and willingly surrenders his very self-controlled, ordered existence to a loving Creator in the midst an environment marked by chaos and death. Indeed, in effect, he gives his life vicariously.

So, 'Sick Heart River' works at several levels. It's a gripping adventure, but it is also much, much more. A fitting end to Buchan's prolific output, and a book I will no doubt come back to again.


A Life Within A Day
A Life Within A Day
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grows on you, 2 Dec. 2012
This review is from: A Life Within A Day (Audio CD)
A birthday present from my kids, and I was very grateful to receive it!

Initially, despite the fact that I had previously listened to samples, and had asked for it as a result, I was not sure what to make of it.

The album was not - initially at least - distinctively what I have come to expect from Hackett. I put that down to the fact that it's a collaboration with Chris Squire. But then, what precisely is it that he brings to the table?

As the proud owner of Fish Out Of Water (Deluxe Expanded Edition) and also Chris Squire's Swiss Choir, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the redoubtable Yes bassist. As someone else has pointed out, it's no good expecting a particular thing based upon the oldish 'Fish out of water', because that was then and this is now.

So perhaps the sign of quality in these collaborations is that you can't tell where one musical contribution ends and another begins? What we get is not distinctively one or the other, although I would say that there are plenty of distinctive Hackettish flourishes, the harmonies and moods are precisely what we've been used to in his albums. And there's some excellent rumbly, arpeggiating base work there, so it's not as if Chris just turned up for the photoshoot.

Overall, I really like it. It's not prog rock as we know it. It's a bit poppy in places, but overall this is a really satisfying album with plenty of excellent new material. Still not sure about those highly processed vocals (now, that is distinctively Hackett!).

Favourite track would be 'Tall Ships' - really great rhythm and compelling riffs, morphing into something rather atmospheric. The transfer from the penultimate track ('Can't stop the rain') into 'Perfect Love Song' is also excellent.

Overall, four stars because I think that this Beyond The Shrouded Horizon deserves five.


Mortality
Mortality
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars "Living dyingly", 3 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
For all of us who have enjoyed The Hitch's writings over the years, this slim volume is the real McCoy. The voice remains distinct, clear. The allusions and sideways jumps that his thinking often takes are refreshing and relevant. His sympathetic (but shocked) recollections of people's thoughtless comments trigger a wry smile. This is a thoughtful and somewhat unstructured reflection on the ebbing of his life and energies, and throughout he manages to present a painful honesty, without becoming mawkish.

There are the usual, extended ruminations on his perspective on God and religion in general and Christianity in particular. Sometimes he seems to entirely miss the point, and it is frustrating to see him quote bits of the Bible and then go on to draw his own conclusions which appear to bear little relation to his citations. Neverless, he presents to us those distinctly unappealing outpourings of vitriole from certain fundamentalists, and then (thankfully) the more loving and measured examples of support from mainstream Christians. His friendship with Francis Collins The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief is something that stands out as significant to him, and therefore worth mentioning at length in his book.

But given the man's consistency and personal integrity, none of this is a surprise. One is left saddened that this unique voice has been silenced, and yet grateful that such a powerful intellect and personality remains documented so well. Even in this last slim volume, he demonstrates clearly (despite his own beliefs) that he is not 'just' his body, but something far more remarkable and worth preserving.

I asked for this book for my birthday, as I had no doubt at all that it would be a gem. I have not been disappointed.


The Cove [DVD] [2009]
The Cove [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Louie Psihoyos

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply unsettling, 15 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Cove [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
This is one of those -must-watch' documentaries.

On one level, it doesn't tell us anything that new. What it manages to achieve is to graphically and convincingly demonstrate the sheer degree of cultural self-interest and profound deception involved in Japan's continued espousal of whaling. The documentary intends us to be shocked by the level of brutality and butchery perpetrated against dolphins, and it achieves this in some measure with its final scenes in the 'cove' where the seawater becomes blood. And whilst it is right that we be shocked, I did find myself wondering if there was something that inherently singled out dolphins for moral outrage, given humanity's awful crimes against so many other species, or indeed against other human beings.

The moral/ethical implications are not explored in depth, but highlighted for us within the documentary. Setting aside for one moment any reservations about the specific focus on dolphins, we were presented with the issue of mercury poisoning, and the fact that the practice of dolphin-butchery was explicitly attempting to feed this toxin-laden meat to junior-school children - and apparently with full governmental collusion. We were shown dolphin meat, with up to 2000ppm of mercury contamination, in vacuum packs in supermarket chiller cabinets in Tokyo, mislabeled as something completely different. For me, it was this chilling combination of profoundly unethical and deceptive practices being used to get toxic food substances into the human food chain which got my attention - the kind of ethos which cultivated the macabre deceptions at Taiji was connected to the feeding of poisons to human children.

This, then, supplies the most frightening message of the film. It demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt the kind of perversion within human nature and culture which connects these things together, so that the outrage at Taiji becomes coterminous with the deceptions and self-interest of local fishermen and authorities, or with Japan's dubious representatives on the IWC, or indeed the preparedness of other IWC Members to look the other way, culminating in the feeding of lethal levels of mercury to young human children.

The documentary ought to cause us to weep for these dolphins, as the researchers involved clearly did. But it should lead us to weep for a culture which actually colludes in its own destruction by feeding poison to the next generation, even whilst it actively destroys its own natural environment.


Science and Human Origins
Science and Human Origins
by Ann Gauger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.58

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly helpful (but slim) volume, 1 Sept. 2012
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Let's get the criticisms out of the way first. This is a slim volume at 122 pages including endnotes, which is a good thing. It currently costs a smidgeon short of a tenner, which is not so good.

Neo-darwinian texts which deal with the topic of origins, aimed at the public, tend to make big-picture assertions, in order to (a) make the overarching narrative more believable, and (b) gloss over the critically strategic gaps in the science so that the reader doesn't once suspect how flimsy the whole house of cards actually is. Thus we get all those beautifully-illustrated reconstructions of 'Lucy', for example, to help us imagine ourselves related to such putative hominid ancestors. Lucy looks cute, we're told in no uncertain terms how closely we're related, and that's that. The sheer paucity of evidence underpinning those detailed illustrations is left to one side in the hope that the public will simply buy the line they're being sold. A more contemporary trend is for us, the poor ignorant non-specialists, to repose all our faith in individuals like Richard Dawkins, as we simply could not understand it on our own, poor dears, and we just need to trust the experts to interpret reality for us. And, of course, for Dawkins, reality simply isn't what it seems. If things look designed, then that's just plain misleading - and none of us will ever have the confidence again to draw our own informed conclusions. Better simply to trust the high priests of the new materialism.

What Gauger, Axe and Luskin do quite successfully here is take the big-picture themes, and then peel back the layers to expose what lies beneath. They bring good science to the table, and indeed in a compendious fashion demonstrate the sheer conflict of opinion that exists, despite the confident pronouncements of the darwinian lobby. Clearly, the book is not aimed at scientists, although it does provide a useful resume of our current understanding of such evolutionary canards as 'junk DNA'. Both Gauger and Axe are hands-on scientists working directly on DNA and proteins, the building blocks of life - so when they tell us that 'Darwin's engine' is not up to the job in terms of innovation, and the undirected evolution of biocomplexity, then it seems reasonable to listen to them.

There is quite a lengthy discussion of paleobiology, in relation to human origins, and I suppose it is fair to point out that none of the authors are paleontologists, but what does come across loud and clear from this treatment is their encyclopaedic grasp of the scientific literature and the divergent views of the fossil data which do not support the neo-darwinian 'common descent' model for human origins.

Overall, a well-written book, and a helpful, up to date contribution to the debate. I suspect it is more likely to be actually read and critiqued by people who have actually read it, than Stephen Meyer's excellent Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. It seemed as if most negative reviews of that book were by people who had actually never opened it, but thought they knew what it was going to say.

And, always the sign of a good read, as I got to the last page, I found myself wanting more.


Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set)
Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set)
by Craig S. Keener
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £32.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Six Stars!, 30 Aug. 2012
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In the UK, this is published as a two-volume set which - at first glance - looks a little daunting. Neverless, for anyone seeking to understand how the New Testament deals with the miraculous, and seeking to understand such phenomena from our own cultural perspective, this is an invaluable work.

Keener deals comprehensively with the kind of philosophical constructs which tell us (in the West) that 'miracles can't happen', and shows why they are based on flawed presuppositions. This is helpful for Christians who come up repeatedly against the various byproducts of naturalism within science and culture.

A substantial part of this work is also given over to show how the 'miracles don't happen' line of argument used by modern atheists is based upon nothing more than whim. Since this does appear now to be a central dogma of the new atheists, Keener deals at great length with the documented examples of miracles across all continents. It was for me quite a refreshing surprise to see just how well documented such phenomena have been within the 20th and 21st century, and the very nature of the miracles themselves put them well beyond the usual 'psychosomatic' dismissal that one hears so regularly from sceptics.

Overall, an academically rigorous treatment of the subject, extremely well documented. A very welcome resource for anyone seeking to understand the subject, and particularly for those challenged by the strident claims of the modern sceptics.

And, extremely readable too!
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