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Mac McAleer (London UK)
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Magna Carta (Penguin Classics)
Magna Carta (Penguin Classics)
by Prof David Carpenter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1215 and all that, 19 Jan. 2015
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This thick paperback offers a comprehensive discussion of Magna Carta. The author is an authority on the subject and he provides a readable account.

The book contains the full text of Magna Carta in its Latin original and in English translation. The clauses of the charter are called chapters and these are referenced throughout the book. If you were a knight or a baron this charter was of great importance. For King John this charter was something he was forced to agree to by the barons. It mattered to the peasants who were free. For the unfree peasants who were tied to the land and at the mercy of their lord, this charter was of little interest.

Although King John was later to reject this charter, a revised edition was issued by his son Henry III, later confirmed by his son Edward I. The principles in the charter were gradually extended to everyone in the kingdom and Magna Carta became a founding document of the English-speaking peoples. Of the 63 chapters, the most significant are 39 and 40: "39. No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go against him, nor will we send against him, save by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. 40. To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice."

The author begins by paying homage to the previous standard work, Magna Carta by J.C. Holt. He then discusses how charters were used in the period and gives an overview of the concerns of Magna Carta, namely the protection of personal wealth from arbitrary confiscation, arbitrary physical treatment of the individual, the organisation of local government and the redress of past grievances, before presenting the full text of the charter. The rest of the book discusses contemporary accounts of King John's character, the initial failure of the charter and the social and political environment. This book can be used in two ways, either as a history of the Magna Carta or as a reference that can be dipped in and out of as required.

THE BOOK has 460 pages of text. The Glossary, Appendices, Bibliography, Notes and Index give another 140 pages. There is a single illustration, which is a map of the English counties. The counties, then and now, were the chief local government division of the kingdom.

TRIXES LCD Digital Alarm clock calendar Thermometer LED Backlight
TRIXES LCD Digital Alarm clock calendar Thermometer LED Backlight
Offered by Digiflex
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Good value for the price, 9 Jan. 2015
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Considering the price, I am happy with this device.

My requirement was to find a clock or other device that displayed the current day of the week as text. All the solutions seemed to be quite expensive, except for this one. However, it has several disadvantages. The LCD display needs to be looked at from a short distance and directly, not from the side. You will not see the display across a room. However, even if you are considering one of the more expensive clocks that display the day as text, for example the Digital Calendar Clock by Dayclox, then this device is cheap enough to be tried out first as an alternative.

It is surprisingly light and suffers from having too many functions. Presumably it is designed around a single microprocessor chip and the manufacturer has implemented all the available functions. Thus on the display you get: the time in hours and minutes; the date as a set of numbers for day, month and year; the day of the week as MON, TUE, WED, THU, FRI, SAT or SUN; the current temperature. There is also a button to provide a backlight to the display. This is for use at night, for example on a bedside table, and not to enhance the LCD display. Other functions are: 24 hour or 12 hour time display; the choice of 7 different "songs" for alarms; a birthday reminder function; a timer mode; an ability to change the temperature display between Centigrade and Fahrenheit. The device is set up by using the buttons at the bottom front.

I found these extra functions just complicated the process of setting up the current date and time. Read the accompanying leaflet carefully before you attempt a setup, otherwise you will end up setting an alarm to play a song on your birthday rather than setting the current date and time. Unfortunately, I initially did not take my own advice and dived in to set the date and time without looking closely at the instructions. I then spent some time lost in the set-ups, trying to un-set the alarm and getting stuck inside the timer function, where the device acts like a stop-watch. Somehow I managed to where I started. I then carefully read the instruction leaflet (see Comment), followed the instructions carefully and had no problem with the set-ups.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 12, 2015 8:33 AM GMT

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
by Gerard Russell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lost world, 11 Dec. 2014
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This is the travel writing of a collector of Middle Eastern minority religions. Surrounded by a Muslim sea, these are the remnants of former religions and their associated cultures that were once far more widespread and in some cases the previous dominate religion. It may seem strange that they have survived at all, but historically Islam has always tolerated the "People of the Book" (the Jews, Sabians and Christians) and geography has also played its part. Compare Europe, where nothing remains of the pre-Christian religions. The religions Gerard Russell investigates are to be found in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran with an outlier on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They are also now to be found in Europe and the Americas, fleeing persecution and chasing prosperity and freedom.

The author mixes background facts and histories with travels in the Middle East and their diaspora, which he recounts with a readable journalistic style. He has produced an interesting and informative book that deserves a wide readership in our fast globalising and homogenising world.

THE RELIGIONS are: The Mandaeans, Yazidis, Alawites, Zoroastrians, Druze, Samaritans, Copts and Kalasha. Some of the historical influences on these religions are also discussed, such as the Greek philosophers, especially Pythagoras, Babylonian religion and NeoPlatonism. The Mandaens in the south of Iraq are followers of John the Baptist. The Yazidis are in northern Iraq and Syria. They are sometimes called devil-worshippers due to a misunderstanding of their religion. They are famous for their peacock emblem. The Alawites are in the west of Syria. To their south, in Lebanon, are the Druze. Both of these religions are nominally Shi'a, but they are both heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and both with a secret core set of beliefs available only to their priests. The Druze, Alawites and Yazidis all believe in re-incarnation. The Zoroastrians are the remnants of the pre-Islamic religion of Iran (Persia). This is an old religion that probably influenced early Judaism. The Samaritans are the remnants of the Hebew northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed by the Assyrians seven centuries before Christ. Egypt was Christian before it was conquered by the Moslems; the Copts are the Egyptian Christian survivors. The Kalasha are the pagans surviving in the valleys of the Hindu Kush. They inspired Rudyard Kipling's story The Man Who Would Be King.

THE BOOK: The author was until recently a British diplomat in the Middle East. He speaks Farsi (Persian) and fluent Arabic. The book has a 2 page map showing where the religions in question can be found. The text also has many black and white reproductions of photographs scattered throughout. Many of these were taken by the author; some were supplied by his interviewees. The reproduction could be better. Apparently on the Kindle they are in colour and are quite sharp. At the end of the book is a useful 22 page chapter entitled "Sources and Futher Readings". This is divided by chapter and acts as a reference and as a bibliographic essay. There is also a 13 page Index.

PestBye Battery Operated Cat Repeller - Ultrasonic Cat Scarer
PestBye Battery Operated Cat Repeller - Ultrasonic Cat Scarer
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Seems to work, 2 Dec. 2014
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How to keep cats out of a garden effectively? Experience has taught me that the black cut-out cats with the glass eyes do not work. The cats just walk past ignoring them. Perhaps lion dung, but where do you buy it and how long does it last? In the end I decided to try the high tech option. I found it difficult to decide which of the small group of products on Amazon would be the best buy. I knew I was looking for one of these sonic devices. Some people have told me that they didn’t work but this didn’t seem to be the consensus of the amazon reviews. I went with the flow and bought the product with the most positive reviews. My only hesitation was should I buy the slightly more expensive devices with rechargeable batteries powered by solar panels.

When delivered it seemed sturdy enough in its tough garden green plastic box. It comes with a short (6 inch) metal stake to fix it in a lawn or you can use the hole at the top of the plastic box to fix it to a wall or fence. I decided to use the stake. It also comes with a small plastic bag containing the fittings: two screws with their nuts attached for the stake and four screws to fix the battery cover. Fixing the stake was easy but a very small screwdriver is required. Be careful not to drop the screws as they are very small and difficult to see. When fitted the stake seemed sturdy enough.

The batteries (4 x AA not included) fit in the back of the box. I placed the rubber gasket for water proofing (it is rectangular rather than square so only fits in one way) in place, put the batteries in the back and then pushed the plastic cover over it. Then came the problem. I was not at all happy about how the four small screws went into their positions. I did a bit of a bodge job on them getting them only ¾ of the way in, but it seemed to work. At some time in the future I will have to unscrew these when putting in new batteries and I hope their fittings are not damaged. I would have preferred better holes for the screws or a clip-in construction for the cover.

You have to decide on the frequency and sensitivity. These are set by two dials on the front of the device. The explanatory leaflet (see Comments below) is short and gives no guidance on the settings. I chose settings at the higher end of the frequency range and a sensitivity in the middle of the range. Between these two dials is a light that lights up blue occasionally, presumably when the ultrasound is pulsing.

Positioning is important, so you may need more than one device. After I first staked the device into the ground, I watched a cat managing to move everywhere except within the device’s field of vision. I also saw a cat happily sitting on the fence behind the device. However, I presume it does work because what I did not see was any cat sitting in front of it. Happily, squirrels and small birds seem immune, or at least immune to the settings I chose. I watched a squirrel moving about in front of the device, stopping to eat and with the blue light of the device going on and off behind it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2014 1:39 PM GMT

Dumbing Down: Culture, Politics and the Mass Media
Dumbing Down: Culture, Politics and the Mass Media
by Ivo Mosley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Essays that grow on you, 1 Dec. 2014
This is a collection of essays on the subject of "Dumbing Down", representing the state of dumbness at its publication in 2000. This is not great book but it is an interesting read that grows on you and the essay format allows you to dip in and out of it.

There are 29 essays, each by a different author and each with a different style. They are grouped into: Government, Culture, Media, Visual Arts, Education, Science, Religion and Environment. The book begins with a 3 page section called "Authors" where each author is given a 3 or 4 line description. I found this very useful. For a complete list of authors and the titles of their essays see the "Table of contents" link on this book's main Amazon page.

I was expecting a lot about barbarians at the gates and the end of civilisation. There was some of this, but in a gentle, thoughtful way. I had no interest in some essays, some I did not understand and some I found thought-provoking. Many of the essays were concerned with the state of dumbness at the date of publication (2000). I would have liked a few more essays taking the longer view e.g. from the 15th century complaining about the replacement of Norman French with the barbarous English; from the 18th century complaining about the introduction of Greek and Latin neologisms into a perfectly good Anglo-Saxon; from the 19th century complaining about the relentless enfranchisement of the uneducated lower orders. We have been going to the dogs for a very long time.

EXAMPLES: For me, notable examples included Tam Dalyell on the decline of the House of Commons; David Lee on the crassness of contemporary art; Nicholas Mosely on the modernisation of the Anglican liturgy; C. D. Darlington's impressive overview of humanity's impact on the environment over the past few millennia; Oliver O'Donovan's essay on Publicity from an ethical Christian point of view; Michael Johnson's even-handed review of the changes to the Civil Service.

THE BOOK is 326 pages long. Unfortunately, there is no index. The editor, Ivo Mosely, provides a 10 page Introduction which acts as a bibliographical essay on the essays that follow. The essays range in length from 4 to 24 pages, with a median length of 10 pages.

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel
by Israel Finkelstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating reworking of the history of Israel, 25 Nov. 2014
This book takes the results of several centuries of textual investigation of the Bible and matches it with up-to-date results of archaeology. This has produced a fascinating reworking of the history of Israel. The authors present a series of summaries of various stories from the Bible. For each story they then discuss how the Biblical texts have been analysed and interpreted as ancient literature rather than Holy Scripture and then introduce the archaeology to give what they consider to be a probable real history. The paraphrases of the biblical stories are interesting on their own and the discussion of the archaeology is accessible and not at all dusty. Everything is easy to read.

The authors concentrate on Deuteronomy and the books known collectively as the Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 and 2) and Kings (1 and 2). Their conclusion is that if was the northern kingdom (confusingly also called Israel) that was the power in the land, but after its destruction by the Assyrians and the forced relocation of its people, it was the smaller, poorer southern kingdom of Judah, centred on Jerusalem, that took over the leadership of the people. In Jerusalem the various writings were compiled, redacted and spun together into the collection that would become the Bible. The temples and hill-top altars of Judah were gradually closed and the temple in Jerusalem became the only recognised centre of worship in the new centralised, literate state. Coincidently, it was at this time that the "Book of the Law" was "discovered" in the temple at Jerusalem. This is thought to have been the book of Deuteronomy. The books of the Former Prophets are often called the Deuteronomistic Histories because of their textual similarities to Deuteronomy. Here history was not written by the victors but re-written by the survivors.

THE BOOK's chapters are in an historical sequence, divided into three parts. Part 1 concerns the early history: the patriarchs, Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. Part 2 concerns the rise and fall of the northern kingdom of Israel up to its annihilation in 720 BC. Part 3 concerns the southern kingdom of Judah's making of the biblical history. Other information is put into the seven appendices. There is a detailed 17 page Bibliography arranged by chapter and then by subject and a 13 page Index. There are also 29 black and white line drawings scattered throughout the text; these are mainly maps and town plans. There are also some dynastic tables of the two Israelite kingdoms and their neighbours. This book became a bestseller in its subject area and is reviewed in detail on Wikipedia. It was made into a four-part television series. This can be seen on YouTube. An overview of this series is on a DVD, but reviews suggest that it has been sanitised to appeal to a wider audience.

Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce (Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce (Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
by J. Campbell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The works of James Joyce explained, 4 Nov. 2014
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Joseph Campbell was famous for his writings on mythology and here he applies that knowledge to the novels of James Joyce, which are famously mythic and at times famously difficult. I found this book very readable and useful as a companion and commentary on the James Joyce novels. This book would only be of interest to those who have some knowledge of James Joyce or are preparing to read him. Those new to Joseph Campbell would be better served by reading other works by him such as The Hero with A Thousand Faces.

I first came across the name Joseph Campbell when reading Into The Woods, a book about how stories work. He was mentioned as an influence on George Lucas when he was creating Star Wars. Christopher Volger had already distilled Joseph Campbell's work for the screenwriting industry. Later I discovered that Joseph Campbell was also an early enthusiast for James Joyce and that his writings about Joyce's work had been collected in this book.

The majority of this book is a discussion of the three novels of James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. The space given to Ulysses is twice that given to The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Finnegan's Wake, This is in proportion to the size of these works (though not to their complexity, which would give most space to Finnegan's Wake, then Ulysses, then The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man). One of the characteristics of Ulysses, as pointed out by Campbell, is that it is too long. This was a deliberate choice by Joyce who regarded the extension of the text as an important feature; it was all about the journey rather than the destination. The amount and length of the direct quotations from Ulysses is surprising. The quotations are not just sentences but also whole paragraphs and at times several pages are quoted.

Reading Joyce always requires some help and this book provides a helpful commentary. I do not know how correct Campbell's interpretations of Joyce are; that is something to be debated and decided by the scholars of Joyce.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2014 8:46 AM GMT

Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities
Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities
by Kevin Jackson
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun with paratexts, 28 Oct. 2014
I liked this book. It is clever, amusing and informative and organised in bite-sized chapters. It is a book is about paratexts. This is the technical term for all the texts that surround the main text of a book, a sort of literary metatext. The author has expanded his book to include other characteristics of books and writings and renamed this collection "Invisible Forms". Thus, true paratexts are things like Titles, Dedications, Introductions, Footnotes, Bibliographies and Indexes, all of which have their own chapters

The author's extensions include a chapter on Isaac D'Israeli and Heteronyms and Pseudonyms. Isaac D'Israeli wrote a book on literary curiosities in 1791. This is very close to this book's subtitle "A Guide to Literary Curiosities". Isaac D'Israeli also fathered a prime minister. There is a chapter on Heteronyms, the fictitious names of fictitious authors and a chapter on Pseudonyms, the fictitious names of real authors.

I particularly liked the chapter on Marginalia. At first I thought that someone had defaced the book until I realised that the underlines and handwritten notes in the margins were all printed. The chapter "Bibliographies & Selected Bibliography" discusses bibliographies and includes a very short Bibliography of Bibliographies (four books) as well as a bibliography of this book (about forty books). Notable in this list are Isaac D'Israeli "Curiosities of Literature" (3 vols), Gérard Genette Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, which gives the academic treatment of the subject and Anthony Grafton The Footnote: A Curious History.

Some paratexts originated in manuscripts and were carried over or adapted to the new-fangled printing technology. Other paratexts are only found in printed works. This book does not mention e-books, which would have been barely thought of when this book was published. The move towards electronic publishing must mean dramatic changes in paratexts. Already the changes have been rapid. At the end of his homage to Isaac D'Israeli the author says the D'Israeli deserves another "crack" at the "literary afterlife, in the shape of a new edition of his Curiosities". No new edition has been printed since then but the works of Isaac D'Israeli can now be downloaded to your Kindle.

Once you have read this book you will always be consciously aware of all the paratexts that previously you had only subconsciously noticed.

Saddam City
Saddam City
by Mahmoud Saeed
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A simple story of the banality of evil, 20 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Saddam City (Paperback)
This is a fictionalised prison diary that is also a prison nightmare. It is the story of one man's arrest in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and this man's experience of the prison system. At first he is blindfolded and handcuffed with his hands behind his back. Like this he is imprisoned and interrogated. When blindfolded you never known whey they will hit you or from what direction and who has done it. He hears the screams of others as they are beaten or tortured. Other prisoners disappear or are sent to execution. There is never a trial or a lawyer. He did not expect one. He is moved from prison to prison, city to city, to a cage, to a cell, to a dungeon. It is only towards the end of the book that he finds out why he is in prison.

This 130 page novella is a straightforward account of the main character's experience. There are many other characters, but they are all minor ones because of the continual movement of prisoners and his continual movement of prisons. Only the main character remains constant in the book, along with his memories of family and friends. The writing style is uncomplicated. There is no indignation. This simple style seems to make the nightmare easier to read. This is the evil banality of 1984 and Darkness at Noon and the bureaucratic indifference of The Trial, though not in the same league as these books.

THE AUTHOR, Mahmoud Saeed, is an Iraqi who experienced repeated detentions from 1963 to 1980.

The Euro Trap: On Bursting Bubbles, Budgets, and Beliefs
The Euro Trap: On Bursting Bubbles, Budgets, and Beliefs
by Hans-Werner Sinn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hubris and Nemesis, 15 Oct. 2014
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This is a useful history of the euro crisis. However, the amount of facts and figures may put off some readers.

Be prepared for Target balances, capital flows, interest rate spreads and plenty of acronyms, including ELA credit (Emergency Liquidity Assistance), GIPSIC (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus), OMT (Outright Monetary Transactions), SMP (Securities Markets Programme), TEU (Treaty of the European Union - the Maastricht Treaty) and TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

There is a brief description of the introduction of the euro and its successful first few years. At the end of the book there is a chapter suggesting solutions to the current currency crisis. The majority of the book is a history of the crisis and the political, central bank and market reactions to it. This book is positioned between a technical economic treatment and a more popular, journalistic approach, but it is closer to a technical treatment as would be expected given the author's credentials. It deals with the story seriously and with authority and supports the text with numerous numbers, graphs and tables, but it is always readable.

THE UK is only mentioned in passing in this book as it is concerned with the euro and the euro-countries. Winston Churchill's proposal for a United States of Europe is mentioned, but so is David Cameron's proposal for an EU referendum, with which the author agrees. UK banks lent heavily directly to the troubled euro countries. They also lent indirectly through French banks. Some of the major beneficiaries of the EU bailouts are the banks of the north, including UK banks.

GERMANY: German banks are heavily exposed to the debts of the euro-crisis countries and Germany has to pay for much of the bailout packages, yet Germany's voting rights on the European Central Bank (ECB) Governing Council do not reflect this. The Germans did not want to replace their Deutschmark with the euro and their Bundesbank with the ECB. To placate them the Maastricht Treaty has a clause preventing bailouts. This has been ignored, although the German Constitutional Court has ruled that one type of ECB bailout was illegal. The German government and the Bundesbank both wanted to exclude the southern countries from the euro because of their high levels of public debt. The Maastricht Treaty excluded countries with a debt above 60% of GDP from the euro. In the end, this requirement was fudged.

THE CRISIS: The expectations for the euro at its introduction were high, with increased cross-border trade and capital flow within the new currency area. Interest rate spreads between countries disappeared, the moral hazard increased and financial bubbles appeared in the peripheral countries. There was a lack of financial discipline and opportunities were missed by countries that could have used the lower interest rates to reduce their deficits. When the Great Recession hit it was too late to do anything about their structural problems. Chapter 8 is titled "Stumbling Along". To quote its first sentence: "The euro has turned into a trap for the European states that adopted it. The southern states are trapped because the inflationary credit bubble brought about by the euro deprived them of their competitiveness, and the northern states are trapped in a liability spiral".

RETHINKING THE EUROSYSTEM: The last chapter is "Rethinking the Eurosystem". The first sentence of this chapter is "There is no alternative to Europe." However, the author does think that there are alternatives to the current currency union. He gives a short history of the establishment of the US dollar and the relationship of US federal debt and the debts of the individual state and cities, especially that the cities and the states can be declared bankrupt. There is no guarantee that the federal government will ever bail them out. He talks about debt re-structuring for the southern European countries, mentioning the Club of Paris. Finally, he talks about a more flexible currency union. The countries in crisis would leave the euro and join the ERM II. The ERM was the precursor to the euro. The ERM II is its successor. All new countries joining the euro have to spend 2 years within the ERM II, keeping their currencies within 15% of the euro.

THE AUTHOR, a German, was initially enthusiastic about the euro-project. This book's title shows that his enthusiasm has soured, but he still thinks that the euro should and can be saved, but not in its current form. He is a distinguished economist and President of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research.

THE BOOK has 9 chapters spread over 360 pages plus 3 indexes: Name, Subject and Author and Editor. There is no Notes section because these are provided as footnotes. I would have preferred a Notes section as sometimes the footnotes take up too much space on the page. There are 61 figures (mostly graphs) and 7 tables, which are embedded in parallel to the text or on separate pages. This averages out to about one figure or table every 5 pages. The most common source for the figures is Eurostat (See Comments for other sources). As the graphs are in black and white, line graphs with multiple series require lines of different styles. This can become confusing when lines converge or when there are many data series. On a couple of occasions the line graph contains an outlier two or three times the height of the other values. Then the outlier line is drawn dissecting the text above it. I hated this. The publisher's fear of white space should have been ignored and these graphs placed on separate pages.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 16, 2014 7:34 AM BST

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