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Vexen Crabtree (UK)

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Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil: A Study in Theravada Buddhism
Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil: A Study in Theravada Buddhism
by Trevor Ling
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and methodical, 1 Feb 2014
Trevor Ling excels at summarizing huge volumes of the Buddhist canon and other writings in an easy-to-understand manner, and presents adequate and clearly very knowledgeable comparisons of the Buddhist Mara to other similar beings in other world religions. A large appendix lists (and quotes) a large number of prime sources from the Canon, for those of us who like compare summaries to the detail that underlies them. The text of the book is clear, written well, and best of all, Ling often explores multiples sides of an issue where the historical details are disputed. He does it so impartially that I often cannot tell which position Ling himself beliefs until he reveals it - which he does so in a manner that makes it easy to see at what point he has stopped talking about scholarly disputes, and has started giving his own (expert) opinion. Nowadays books are rarely written with so much eloquence.

The book is academic, well-referenced and well-researched, yet easy to read. I don't entirely like his methods of referencing - for example, a reference to "S. B. E. Vol 42." is hard to follow, as the Bibliography is subsorted thematically, meaning I had to look up "S" in half a dozen different sub-bibliographies. Even after that, I couldn't find it, so I searched all referenced titles looking for any published work that spelled out the initials "S. B. E.". Later on, I found that on an "acronyms" page it told me that it stood for "Sacred Books of the East", but with no publisher information. So I resorted to an internet search to find out that it was a 50-volume behemoth compiled by Max Müller, published by the Oxford University Press between 1879 and 1910. My point is that Ling's method of referencing can easily have you running around in circles.

Survival Of The Dead [DVD]
Survival Of The Dead [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alan Van Sprang
Price: 3.45

2.0 out of 5 stars A feud between two grumpy heads-of-family result in a mild showdown. Oh and there's zombies., 2 Jun 2013
This review is from: Survival Of The Dead [DVD] (DVD)
Like Diary of the Dead, this film appears to be early in the history of the zombie pandemic but some elements don't add up. Diary of the Dead is set right at the beginning of the outbreak, but in Survival of the Dead there are many battle-worn survivors who are fully equipped and experienced in fighting zombies (and each other). Surely, Survival is set at least weeks or months after the outbreak has crippled society. Some people have even started experimenting on the zombies and trying to control them. Yet Diary and Survival share a scene, where the students from the first encounter the military men from Survival. This screws with the time-line somewhat.

Survival of the Dead is about a feud on an island between two families. Like Day of the Dead an experimenter is trying to tame and control the zombies but the attempts and the results are much less interesting here. Also, like a few scenes from Dawn of the Dead, there are several times when friends and relatives of the deceased are refusing to dispose of their bodies safely, therefore increasing the zombies' numbers and raising the risk of outbreaks within protected areas. Like in Diary of the Dead some of the characters use gadgets to access the Internet, but, it seems that there is no explanation as to how the world's Internet servers are still up and running when most of the infrastructure is broken and unmanned. There are a few interesting moments in this film but generally it is lacklustre - nearly all the plot devices are re-used from previous "of the Dead" films and the island's inter-family feud simply isn't interesting enough to make the film. The zombie action is low-key with few genuine struggles and little sense of drama or fear.

Diary Of The Dead - Single Disc Edition [DVD]
Diary Of The Dead - Single Disc Edition [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joshua Close
Offered by CMS MEDIA UK
Price: 2.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Back to basics - the zombie outbreak occuring for the first time, 2 Jun 2013
Romeo's first zombie films 'documented' the rise of the zombies, from a small town, to the requirement for roaming bands of exterminators throughout a state, to the retreat of humans to bunkers and underground complexes. Land of the Dead revived humanity a bit, with an entire city being made a garrison.

Diary of the Dead restarts from the beginning: the initial news reports on the outbreak, a group of students meeting zombies for the first time and slowly learning how to deal with them, and the realisation that everything we know - culture, society, law and order - is disappearing fast. That sense of loss is one of the film's few strengths. The fact that it is all shot from hand-held devices is cheesy and a bit superfluous to the movie, although the pretence is maintained quite naturally throughout the film.

The student survivors meet some other groups of survivors/gangs; the gang of black youths "now we have the power!" are unfortunately even more interesting than the actual student survivors that the film is about, and it is a shame the two groups didn't stay together for longer.

The retreat to the mansion is interesting, but, it would have been good to have some barricading going on (they don't seem to bother!), and the film just goes too quickly into "its hopeless" territory without enough struggling! The drama and emotion works quite well when they finally move to seal themselves into the panic room, with no supplies or plan to ever come out again!

Osombie [DVD]
Osombie [DVD]
Dvd ~ Corey Sevier
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: 2.97

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too predictable plot and Osama doesn't actually play a role!, 2 Jun 2013
This review is from: Osombie [DVD] (DVD)
It had potential! As satire or as a comedy, it could have been brilliant and that's where this film's true potential was. However, it was dead-pan serious and unfortunately, it merely managed to be seriously lacking.

The effects were fine; the zombies were perfectly zombie-like, they all went down nicely, although some of the CGI effects seem to get re-used quite frequently and far too often the zombies appeared to just disappear into a hazy mist of blood when they were shot. But the special effects do not let the film down in general. Neither does the settings - the mountains and deserts and greenery are all very much like Afghanistan. There are two main problems with the film:

Firstly, the Osama zombie did not play a role in the film. Once dead, Osama was just an ordinary zombie and is only seen at the beginning (in one simple and short scene) and at the end. He was found chained up in a room by his fans, and once unchained, bimbled around a bit like any other zombie until he was shot. This film was about terrorists creating Zombies in a camp in Afghanistan, it was not about Osama. If the film concentrated on the terrorist element it would have been more interesting, especially in the way the film was making out that the outside world did not yet know about the zombie outbreak - the threat of escalation into Pakistan, etc, would have been interesting. Instead, we got pointless and boring drivel when the cast /talked/ about Osama the zombie, but, it didn't have any consequence.

Secondly, the plot was far, far too simplistic. The special forces guys pick up a few civilians, and proceed to their objective, fighting through the occassional zombie attack. They lose a few men. They reach their objective, storm the enemy camp, shoot most the zombies, find Osama, and shoot him. There was no drama, no twists and turns, nothing to keep you engaged, just a straight "good guys fight towards objective... and achieve it!". Very unstimulating - the most impressive and interesting thing about *other* zombie films is the sense of escalating danger. This film had the opposite; as the zombies were repeatedly and thoroughly wiped out in every encounter and at the end, the film was slowly deflating.

Things that should have been left out of this film are (1) the Osama zombie, (2) the repetitive scenes where generic insurgents are seen recording videos with which to taunt the west, (3) the dialogue about 9/11 (which stirred up no emotions at all), (4) some of the personal stories revealed by the characters, most of which were boring, and (5) Derek. Instead, there should have been more about the dangers of escalating infection spreading to Pakistan / India / China, more on the insurgent's camp (which was actually an interesting place!) and what they were actually planning on doing with the zombies.

The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto

4.0 out of 5 stars Drawing universal conclusions from partial analysis, 1 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is principally a look at human nature and organisation in the industrial era, but, draws incredible and fantastical conclusions on correct governance based on only a partial analysis of society, and, without any sensible critical thinking. The growth of human rights, for example, and many other things, means that the central thesis of this book (that the proletariats need to overthrow the complete system) is out-dated, and, was only ever going to hold true if a long series of tenuous predictions all came true one after another.

The Communist Manifesto is not long nor hard to read, so don't be put off of diving in and drawing your own conclusions.

Summa Theologica, Part I-II (Pars Prima Secundae) From the Complete American Edition
Summa Theologica, Part I-II (Pars Prima Secundae) From the Complete American Edition

0 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Despite this classical authors great name, nowadays most of this is waffle, 1 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The argumentation, in style and depth, lacks methodical skepticism and lacks... reality. Arguments and counter-arguments are presented one after another with no recourse to evidence or facts, and the text becomes tedious and aggravating much more than it becomes interesting. Aquinas may well have been highly influential, but, he suffers from the same problems as many other ancient philosophers and theologians, and it is about time we consider such texts to have worth only in teaching us how NOT to engage in the search for truth.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2014 5:44 AM GMT

Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!
Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!
Price: 4.26

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book on the causes of human errors in thinking and perceiving, 1 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Although the book goes into neuroscience, cognitive psychology and social psychology studies, everything is presented in clear and understandable prose which any adult could understand. The author looks at the causes of human mistakes in our second-by-second thoughts about the world we think we see, and examines how and why these errors influence our decisions and perceptions. As they say... knowledge is power, read this book to understand why our instincts and common sense often make us think that things are "obviously" true, when they're not!

A Universe from Nothing
A Universe from Nothing

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant overview of scientific knowledge of the cause of the universe, 1 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Krauss looks at many of the scientific theories and ideas about the big bang, and goes into some fascinating amount of detail, even delving into fiddly little problems. The overall discussion of why anything at all exists develops throughout the whole book, making each chapter both a great look at the current status of physical science, and a developing discussion on 'the first cause'. It ought to be *the* required book to read for anyone getting into philosophical or religious disputes about creation!

Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion
Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion
by Richard K. Fenn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very waffly with highly repetitive garble on time (past, present and future!) and poor use of prime sources, 13 Nov 2012
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The central theme of this book is Fenn's commentary on time (past, present, future), "possibilities" (being used in a mystical but undefined way) and about how the sacred can effect individuals a society and the relationship of the sacred to religion. The author uses words about time and the sacred in confusing and abstract ways, and, this book needs an opening chapter where Fenn lays out his own basic ideas as to what those words mean. The eleven Key Thinkers each have a chapter, and Fenn mentions some of the texts and ideas of those authors. But much of the book is unreferenced and unclear waffle. The key thinkers are not examined methodically or clearly. Each one has only a few works referenced, and one of those is generally a compendium, and very few are directly quoted from. This book suffers from a lack of prime sources.

Arguments and contexts are fragmentary and incomplete, sentences and paragraphs often state "therefore" and "then" but do not follow from previous sentences or paragraphs, and in general it feels like this is a collection of essays whereby Fenn puts forward his ideas of time, past, present and future and the sacred, and pads out each chapter with some commentary on a sociologist.

I've written a full review of this book online including many example of Fenn's "time waffle" - there is simply too much to put here. Paragraphs of this waffle are repeated in each chapter, meaning that I came to distrust whatever Fenn said his 11 sociologists believed. They certainly didn't write all the stuff on past, present, and future, that Fenn says they did.

One example comes after a paragraph about how Gods sometimes offer their devotees no protection against destruction. However, it is completely unclear as to how it is related or what Fenn means. It is from the chapter on Sigmund Freud:

p44: "Religion offers a small measure of protection against the terror of such immediate and infinite possibility. [...] By consigning to the future the advent of a God whose word may destroy those who have worshipped him, and to the past the memory of a God whose word was sufficient to create or destroy a world, religion creates a present in which the devotees of such a God have time to confirm their will to his [...]. The present becomes [...] a time that is continually destined to pass away, as it heads into the past and gives way to the future. In that meantime however the believer lives in an extended present, under the protection of Providence, with sufficient memory, embedded in a religious worldview, to provide guidance for the foreseeable future."

Fenn repeats it on p46. He starts out talking about the various ways that society keeps order, from the taboos of primitive societies, to rational laws of advanced ones. There are several pages without any references to any of Freud's work, so I can merely presume that this is stuff that Freud has talked about too, in one of his many (unmentioned) works. Then, suddenly:

p46: "It is as if the implosion of possibilities into the present in a primitive society controlled by rigid taboos, changes into a more extended present in which some possibilities are relegated safely to the past and await the return of ancestors, or are deferred to the future, where they await a more auspicious time; the mean time becomes one in which people can temporize by applying the insights and values of a tradition to a wider range of circumstances." The methods of control and the available possibilities are constantly being revised "as people temporize in an indefinitely extended present, in which the past offers little guidance and the future only an uncertain set of possibilities."

If you read it a few times, you realize that the meanings are contradictory and utterly simple. In short: (1) Primitive societies have taboos, advanced ones have secular and abstract ethics. (2) The rules of society can change over time. These two sentences are clear enough to be understandable, and, would have saved Fenn several paragraphs of non-referenced waffle in poor Freud's name.

Anyway, try p66 in the chapter on Max Weber: "When individuals are overwhelmed by possibilities, the present itself seems exposed to claims from the past and intrusions from the future, and in such a world their own presence is exceedingly difficult to sense, to create, or maintain."

And David Martin p102: "As I have suggested they translate the heightened sense of possibility encountered in their worship into a sense of possibility in the secular present, creating relative freedom from the past and gaining access to the future. In that reconceived present, they also develop a substantial sense of their own vital presence."

Fenn does more than "suggest": his time-waffle and odd "possibilities" talk is repeatedly thrust on the reader, not "suggested". He claims that David Martin does not believe that secularisation is ever a defeat for religion, merely a form of change, but then quotes Martin saying that religion can suffer major losses through secularisation. Fenn's text seems like it is written sentence-by-sentence, with most of his intellectual efforts going into creating past-present-future wordplay rather than into conceptual analysis of the authors he says he is writing about.

The next chapter is about Bryan Wilson, who, Fenn informs us, has some rather waffly ideas about time, the past, the present and the future:

p120: "From the moment the sacred begins to stir in the form of new religious movements, it creates a present open not only to the past but to the future, and in doing so the present begins to acquire secularity not only by foreshadowing the one to come but also by being part of the age that is passing away."

p122: "There are various kinds of present, and, to understand the role of religion in social change we would need to at least keep in mind the various possibilities, from a present that seems relatively empty to one that is fraught with possibility, or from one that seems to embody aspects of the present and to intimate the future, to one that seems to represent a novel situation, a sharp break with the past, and a precipitate advance into the future."

p124: "Indeed, Wilson argues that charismatic religion creates a new present, with novel relations to both the past and the future, and with novel relationships between means and ends, causes and effects."

That's right: The present, i.e., right now, "might" embody elements of the present. And... In "some" kinds of present, an advance in to the future is made. It is astounding that an academic author thinks his readers might need telling on p120 that the present time contains affects from the past, and on p122 that the present time comes before the future but that change can be rapid or slow. But watch out, because p124 informs us that some religions can break cause and effect, and embark on amazing time-travel quests and confuse us all! I dare you to re-read the p120 quote and attempt to understand what causes the "present [to] begin to acquire secularity".

From Chapter "Niklas Luhmann": p163: "Religion may enter politics and become politicized in new ways, just as politics may become a vehicle for the sacred. That is, the boundary between the godly and the godless becomes internal to the system, as the system realized possibilities that had been relegated to some indefinite but very distant future; the godless are no longer external to the social system but have become internal. National godliness may become a possibility relegated, therefore, to the past as well as to a distant future. New meanings are therefore assigned to the terms connoting godlessness."

p167-8: "Religion helps a society to explain how some possibilities are realities and others left waiting for fulfillment or are relegated to the past. That is why sociologists, at least since the time of Durkheim, have seen that social systems are the basis for time. If there were no society separating itself from the continuously flowing passage of time, there would be no need for calendars or schedules... However, religion is the institution that represents the ways in which societies in the past have constituted time by creating the present, imagining horizons nearby or in the distance, and deciding what is relevant in the meantime. It is religion, then, that decides what is in the meantime and defines what constitutes the present.
In Luhmann's view as well as in Durkehim's, societies constitute time by creating the present. Societies create the present in two ways. First, they reduce the wide range of possibilities that inhere in any moment to a subset of possibility that is manageable at any given time. Secondly, societies seek to harmonize the various time-perspectives of individuals who must have common memories and hopes if they are to understand and trust each other. That is, who are present must live in the same present, with a common understanding that some possibilities are relegated to the future and others still to the past."

Phew! This type of text continues before and after the quoted section, although the quote is taken from where it is deepest. I can't imagine a single sociologist who thinks that the non-religious are not part of any social system. Even outcasts and minorities are part of society, as they are human beings who visit shops, send their kids to school, vote, etc. Not only is this time-waffle utterly meaningless pseudo-English, but, Fenn here specifically tries to put it into the mouths of Luhmann and Durkheim.

On p168 Fenn restates many of the already-quoted sentences;

p168: "Societies have traditionally used religion to relegate some possibilities to an indefinitely postponed present sometime in the distant future: to some hypothetical or imaginary future-present. [...] In whatever way societies may actually use religion to create the present, they do so by enabling religion to relegate a wide range of possibilities either to an immanent, or to an imminent, or to a more or less distant and unthinkable time in the future."

It goes on and on for pages, repetitively, meaninglessly, devoid of concrete statements or explanations. On page 175, still in the chapter about Niklas Luhmann, says: "In some passages [Luhmann] seems to argue that the present is a mere point in time." Any reader of this review should by now be able to predict that Fenn does not use the word "present" in any ordinary sense; because the one thing that it certainly is, is a mere point in time.

In chapter on Clifford Geertz, Groundhog day was not yet over. Geertz teaches that "What formerly was the present has become the past; the passing moment turns out to have been a moment in which the past itself has changed and now encompasses what it excluded before."

Every author, according to Fenn, is busily expounding strange ideas about past, present and future, rather than writing on the sociology of religion (remember what the title of the book is?). As a result of these ridiculous and repeated assertions and pseudo-arguments, I came not to trust anything Fenn said about any of the authors he says he is writing about!

Encyclopedia of Religion
Encyclopedia of Religion
by Mircea Eliade
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely thorough and well researched, but only covers mainstream topics, 13 Oct 2012
I have been accessing this encyclopedia in Bath Central Library. It is a massive 16-volume affair; each book being heavy, deep and wide, each page with 2 columns, and with relatively small text.

It covers every aspects of traditional world religions and their founders and theorists, including related theological and philosophical affairs, across all of known history. The tone is completely academic and fair with no apparent bias, and references are given to an adequate extent.

However it is not wide in scope outside of traditional religions. The varied and mind-boggling world of sects and cults is almost completely missing excepting the ones that have already received much coverage by researchers. Pagan, alternative, new age, left hand path and occult subjects are generally not covered.

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