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ARWoollock "We are limited only by our imagination®"

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Confessions of a Bangkok Private Eye
Confessions of a Bangkok Private Eye
by Warren Olson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great entertainment, 19 Feb. 2011
Whilst this book is not literature with a capital 'L', it certainly achieves what the author(s) no doubt set out to accomplish, which is to entertain the reader. So many books in this stratum seem to miss that objective completely and one can't help but wonder who they were written for. It's a real joy to find a quick read like this, which is reasonably well-written and informative; that is not quantum physics and which can be read in a couple of sittings. A book that despite those potential detractions leaves one with the feeling that maybe you learned something.

Subjective opinions aside, I think that it would be impossible to rate this book lower than three-stars because it is simply the memoirs of (as the title explains) a (former) Bangkok Private Investigator. The stories are simple short tales along reasonably similar lines with similar outcomes; they are rather like a weekly soap-opera being played out, and although they are not directly related, they feel very coherent and the book often feels more like a post-modern novel than a collection of apparently unrelated occurrences. The voice is very unified and except for a couple of stories that seem out of sequence the book flows well and the 'plot' seems to develop. Olson even introducing his wife towards the end of the second-act.

If there are any detractions, then it has to be the repetitive phrasing and the aforementioned poor sequencing. The details are also a little sparse in parts, but to be fair this must have been a hard book to write insofar as personal details and client-confidentiality would have prevented all the beans being spilled. In addition to that point, one must remember that Olson is/was not a writer but a P.I. and that this book is his recollection of that life; written after the event. It stands to reason therefore that a number of the lucid details will not be present. To return to the first detraction. If one actually reads this as a novel rather than a memoirs then a good number of the minuses soon become plusses and the book actually works very well. it's almost like a Carver-esque collection of short-stories that are really part of a greater narrative. If one views the book from that perspective it takes on a quite different appearance and an altogether finer lustre.

To summate, a fine book that entertains the reader. Don't expect Literature, and don't expect dialogue; a conversation. Listen.

Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts "Womyn" on Campus
Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts "Womyn" on Campus
by Mike S. Adams
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good opportunity squandered, 28 Jan. 2011
Completing this book I felt mentally and physically unclean, like I had been for a long hot soak in the sewers of American campus politics. How Dr. Adams manages to swim in that cesspool, day-in-day-out, and still keep both his sanity and his sense of humour is beyond my comprehension. I take my hat of to him.

Generally speaking both he and I are on the same philosophical/intellectual path and so I had no qualms about what the author was setting out to accomplish with this book. I guess where we differ is in the relative methods and approaches we might use to reach similar aims. Allow me to illuminate that statement.

i) As a university Professor I felt that the language Adams engaged with was far too elementary, that left me with a feeling that he wasn't too bright and a little too `everyman', a little too `Glenn Beck'. Of course one hopes and assumes Adams is a little less `everyman' and a little more intelligent, because after all he is a tenured Professor and holds a doctorate to boot. I would liked to have seen him writing in a much more elegant and all together more articulate manner; to have ratcheted up the language to something approaching that which is appropriate for an academic environment and someone employed in it. That way he would have achieved the secondary victory of revealing the ignorance and anti-intellectualism of his feminist colleagues.

ii) A continuum of the previous point; I found the whole tone of these tiresome exchanges quite dull, petty, juvenile and rather like two nine year-old children locked in an inarticulate playground rage a la `mydad'sbiggerthanyourdad.' This in-turn failed to endear me to the cause and actually made Adams come across as quite childish, obsessive and as drooling as the feminists he was citing and arguing against. This was especially true of when he failed to gain a full professorship and regressed to that nine year-old screaming on the floor of a supermarket when his mother refused his demands for ice-cream, just because you want it, doesn't mean you can either have it or deserve it.

iii) I felt his abortion stance was excessive. I would like to have seen him attack from a wider and more varied set of standpoints, instead of re-treading the same old ground and churning it to mud.

iv) The 'format' of the book was, in my opinion, a poor choice. Certainly the reviews and liners I read did not articulate that the book was laid out in the 'letter' format. Something which, again, I found personally annoying and something which I felt actually detracted me from really engaging with the actual content.

v) The closing arguments smite too much of one-upmanship, they are too smug and often present false-conclusions. In this arena Adams suffers from an acute lack of critical faculty. His arguments are mostly flawed as he used the oddest and most subjective of deductive reasoning, which is rather anti-intellectual and unintelligent. To cite some examples:
p. 41 paragraphs 3, 4 and 5
p. 63 paragraphs 3 and 4
p. 100 paragraph 1
p. 102 paragraph 1 (continued from 101)
p. 105 questions
p. 128 paragraph 2
p.178 paragraph 6 cont. p179

vi) Smugness is not an endearing personal quality and not a quality becoming of an academic. Too often Adams arguments are unsound, myopic and with them he invariably adds a sprinkling of smugness. Again, to restate, I would love to have seen him take his gloves off and gone after his targets as a lawyer would, or rather as a barrister would. A barrister friend once told me the jury hated a catty barrister - it turned them right off. Sadly Adams comes across rather in that light.

Ultimately, whether you agree or not with Dr. Adams conjecture/standpoints/opinions/beliefs you have to accept that he is free to exercise his legal/moral/ethical/political/spiritual/intellectual/constitutional rights to free-speech. That is a the point he is ultimately exposing here; the hypocrisy of the leftist `haters'. They want freedom, just as long as it concurs with their pre-existing ideological beliefs and view-points, that however, is neither democratic nor intellectual and certainly not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they dreamed of the Republic.

To summate, taken as a light-read, something you can get through in a couple hours (provided you can stand the monotony) this is probably worth reading, however, much more highly recommended - and along similar lines are Hoff-Sommers' `Who Stole Feminism?' and `The War Against Boys', both of which present and address similar subject matter, but a good deal more eloquantly and intellectually.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Salman Rushdie on LSD, 30 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If you have ever been (un)fortunate enough to find yourself at an art college's graduate show then you will perfectly understand my forthcoming analogy.

When those who do not possess either spiritual or mental fibre try to make Art - especially visual arts and more specefically abstract art, they invariably fail miserably. What they present may 'appear' to have form, structure and substance, and indeed, it may do so in the physical sense; but in the intellectual, spiritual, philosophical, ontological sense it is really a shell, a superficial expresion - an allusion to a world they have seen in other's Art, in galleries and in books. It is an echo of Art, but not Art itself, it is fake, a copy. When writers too, try to engage with subject matter that is clearly beyond them, they invariably fail. It is a truism that that which we are able to render (both visually and linguistically) is a direct reflection of our inner-self.

What Mura-kami has given us in this work is by no means a small thing for it is the real thing, the crown jewels and not costume jewellery. It is 1990s Coca-Cola with acid and bite and not your local supermarket cola. He has struck a firm sign-post on the literary path and has created something of true worth and value, a rock on the collective pile of literary consciousness. Like so many of his other great works (Dance, Norwegian, Hard-Boiled) he openly displays his creative and intellectual greatness, frugality and fragility, brutality and his capacity for creative story-telling that defines and re-defines boundaries.

'Wind-up' is a surreal and yet very realistic journey that shows maturity and growth. I can't think of may novels that are accomplished as this. One of Mura-kami's strengths in this particular work is the interplay of the narratives (a mode he used time-and-time-again) and also the time-frame of the piece. Mirroring real-life, he introduces characters and then lets them go. This alone is worthy of praise. Quite why film-makers and writers feel they have to 'keep' the same characters from beginning to end (unless they get killed off), is quite beyond my comprehension. It seems such an artificial construct and altogether too manufactured and contrived to give any air of authenticity to the narrative.

This work will not entertain nor interest all (which is no bad thing), but if you liked Mura-kami's 'Hard-boiled' or you are a fan of Salman Rushdie, then I wholeheartedly recommend this.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2011 4:09 PM GMT

Lamaze Play & Grow Logan the Lion
Lamaze Play & Grow Logan the Lion

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lovely toy VERY poorly manufactured., 30 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a warning to all parents who have purchased this toy or intend to purchase it, please check the strength of the stitching.

Whilst it is a lovely toy and our 5-month old daughter now loves him, when he arrived on Christmas morning and she took hold of him, literally within seconds the material holding two teething rings came apart releasing the two rings (please see uploaded pictures). My partner and I simply couldn't believe that an (expensive) toy that is designed for young children to play with could have been manufactured to such poor quality standards. Does Lamaze not employ any quality-asurance staff in its factories? Aren't such rudimentary requirements a pre-requisite under the law?

Unfortunately for us the product was sent to us in Japan from England, so to return it is very tiresome indeed, besides which we opened the package. I shall however, be contacting both Amazon and Lamaze and lodging formal complaints. I shall duly post their responses as a footer to this review.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 3, 2011 10:52 AM BST

Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost the plot in the second act, 21 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am a huge fan of Mura-kami which explains why I am generally disappointed with this piece. What started as initially challenging, original, inspired and complex turned sour the minute Naka-ta passed away and disintegrated into a banal farce and what is probably best described as a Sunday reader.

To understand Mura-kami is to understand that he has three distinct levels of writing; sublime, so-so and 'please put the pen down and find a new profession'. Mura-kami has within him absolute sublime greatness: Norwegian Wood, Hardboiled, Dance-Dance, South of the Border; abject averageness -Sputnik, Underground, and what one can only assume amounts to publishing or contractual obligations - Birthday Stories (ed.) Blind Willow, and After Dark. This work represents Mura-kami in his 'so-so' mode.

Whilst this work started out as a thoroughbred it soon became clear it was no more than a 'noma-uma' (a miniature Shi-koku pony). Mura-kami Haruki (rather like artist Mura-kami Takashi) is all too often held up and praised in a way that is reminiscent of the whole adoration of the Oriental by the Occidental, and thus he is often cut way too much slack and given far too much freedom to manoeuver, when his counterparts would be herded and slaughtered. He is rather treaded with kid-gloves as some romantic projection of the West's eternal and unyielding fascination with all things Japanese and what ensues therefore is mediocrity and banality passed off as Post-modernism and surrealism. For my money, bad is bad. Poor plots will remain forever so, despite any supposed references or allusion to ontological or philosophical leanings and the ever-present musical musings.

Mura-kami's genius though does shine through in the first half of the book, and when it shines one is reminded of his greatness and the need to wear sunglasses in his presence. But as the sun faded mid-way through and the magic was gone, then the fact of loss is all the sadder, and all the more painful to bear.

Private Dancer
Private Dancer
by Stephen Leather
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb story-telling, 13 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Private Dancer (Paperback)
I have not read any of Leather's other works, so I cannot say if this is his pinnacle, his 'Catcher in the Rye', or if this is merely the level he usually writes at. However, after finishing this book in three swift sitings I am raring to read more of his other offerings.

What Private Dancer is and what it represents are two profoundly important things. Firstly, is simply good story-telling, in fact story-telling at its best; as good as it gets. Secondly it is culturally-insightful and incredibly sociologically profound; it is essentially an exposé of any and all Asian cultures and how those cultures view, perceive and interact both with their own nationals and those from overseas.

Firstly, the story-telling. Interestingly enough this book does not conform to the norms of fiction writing and yet it still manages to succeed. To be specific, the characters are not well-drawn at all. If one was asked to pick any of the main characters including the main protagonists out of a line-up, it would be impossible. Save for the odd passing comment, they are neither described in full or partial detail. Likewise the streets, buildings interiors and other such details are left very sketchy indeed. That stated, against this vague backdrop is painted dialogue so crisp, sharp, appropriate and believable that lack of other details fall into the realm of insignificance.

Secondly, the cultural and sociological value of this work. For my money this is the sheer brilliance of this work and that is why it deserves an unequivocal five stars. The insight Leather shares through the various voices and perspectives of the major and minor characters are profound and utterly insightful. The distrust, lack of respect and the sheer contempt people of different nationalities (immigrants/tourists and natives) hold for each other is exposed with a shining light. No where is this more true than is SE Asia where there are the additional spanner-in-the-works of religion, culture and an ancient tradition and warped stereotypes ensure the machine will invariably grind to a halt at the first opportunity.

Further to the previous point, Leather does not fall into the obvious trap of exonerating the 'water-buffaloes' who trawl Bangkok's sleaze, he is fair and balanced in holding up mirrors to both sides. And his conclusion is the ultimate truism. You reap what you sow; if you go looking for a prostitute in a red-light district, you will find one, and don't be surprised when she turns out to be one. Likewise if you meet a sex-tourist in a sleazy bar, don't be surprised he is a sex-tourist. If both parties accept their rôles then they can establish some kind of 'relationship', if they don't all is ultimately doomed - which it might well be anyway.

To summate, an excellent read on so many levels and a purchase I think no reader would regret.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 1, 2012 4:23 AM GMT

The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages
The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages
by Caleb Gattegno
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strictly for the professional, 11 Dec. 2010
If you not an educational professional, then you might still get something out of this publication - although I'd personally doubt it and I couldn't say exactly what it is you would be likely to get. Aimed squarely at those educators who wish to employ the Silent Way in their (foreign language) classes, this is really a 'how to' manual; the crown jewels, the trade secrets of The Silent Way.

Because I don't always agree with Dr. Gattegno's ideas, methods or conjecture and because I already employ an similar (although autonomously developed) system of student-centric education in my classes I found some of the methodology dubious, some of the ideas autocratic and some of the opinions rather too presumptive. Despite The Silent Way being an admirable approach to the teaching of any discipline, there is rather too much assumption that the learners are all raring to go, well-motivated and intelligent enough to want to grasp these ideas. My considerable experience in the classroom would refute such conjecture in the majority of cases.

In addition to this presumptive nature which rather homogenises learners, there is the annoying tendency for Dr. Gattegno to assume he know best in respect of the transferability of these approaches across linguistic boundaries and thus across cultural boundaries too.There is also rather too much conjecture dressed up as the objective truth and some blatant inaccuracies too. One thing I personally found annoying was his treatment of Japanese. As someone fluent in the language I take issue with his conjecture and generalization, his accuracy too. For example on page 23 (fifth paragraph) there is a sentence written in Romanised Japanese "mono ilo no bo, o ippon to kiloibo o nihon totte kudasai". That Romanisation is wholly inaccurate and should be rendered thus: momo-iro no bou (w)o ip-pon to ki-iroi bou (w)o ni-hon to-tte kuda-sai. Now this may seem like 'splitting-hairs' but it is not, right is right and accuracy is important, especially in the early stages of any learning, where the building blocks are being set in place. Furthermore, whilst not Japanese but Mandarin, the charts given in the appendices 205-217 are totally illegible and would be VERY confusing for anyone introduced to the language. Despite being Japanese literate myself I found the darkness and the scrawled hand-written characters very hard to navigate and would earnestly suggest they be type-written.

Having stated the negatives, let us now state the positives, of which there are a number to be applauded.

i) The idea of freeing the students
ii) The idea of students accepting their own responsibility
iii) The concept that numeracy forms the basis of literacy (outstanding conjecture)
iv) Notions of assessment
v) The importance of literature
vi) The combining of the visual and lingual (although rather primitive)
vii) The concept of 'ogdens' and the idea of 'payment'

All in all this book is not as good as Dr. Gattegno's own Teaching Foreign Languages in Schools. However, it does add to the collective sum of knowledge and it is a fresh (albeit a 1976) voice in the debate on language teaching and teaching in general.

Finally, I would like to pass the observation that as half the book was dedicated to specifics outside of my field, irrelevant reading examples and lesson ideas, all of which I (and no doubt others) passed over, I would like to see that taken out and published separately as teacher resources. If that were done, then this book could maintain a sharper focus on the pedagogical and philosophical aspects of The Silent Way.

Teaching Foreign Languages in Schools: The Silent Way
Teaching Foreign Languages in Schools: The Silent Way
by Caleb Gattegno
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Fascinating, 1 Dec. 2010
Dr. Gattengno has often been maligned for not citing references and not being particular scholarly; for being somewhat of a maverick and rather a lone-wolf in the world of education. What such comments really aspire to do it to i) perpetuate the status quo in academia or education ii) silence an original and probably dissenting voice in the teaching community and iii) censure debate on what actually gets learned (not 'taught' ) in our classrooms.

Although this edition was written in 1963, its central thesis and the majority of its core-content remain as appropriate today as it did FORTY-SEVEN YEARS ago. Let me repeat, forty-seven years ago! That an idea, actually conceived over half a century ago is still as relevant, indeed more relevant today, is a huge statement and sufficient credibility in itself. What this text does is introduce Dr. Gattegno's underlying philosophy and motivation for creating his approach to learning, which is colloquially referred to as The Silent Way'. I would say a more appropriate nomenclature would be student-centric learning, but that is really besides the point. Whatever you call it, the approach is inspired and from personal experience I can say that by standing back and removing my'self' from the equation, by blending in with the physical environment, by winding up my students and let THEM knock down the pins, that this pedagogy and philosophy certainly works. Especially in countries like Japan where learners are all too often considered 'passive'.

One thing I loved about this text was the enormous amount of wisdom that is clearly present on the pages. Clearly Dr. Gattengno has been in the educational trenches as a foot-soldier, for a very long time, and clearly he has had hundreds of hours of direct experiences and clearly he is a caring and observant educator and that is one reason why he does not cite, because this is NOT academia this is 'learning'. It is real as opposed to conceptual or etherial.

This book contains numerous gems, allow me to share a few with you:

'the subordination of teaching, to learning' p1
'it is the repetition by other people of sounds made by the bay that gives him the objective component that a sound he can produce is of significance in the environment' p6
'I found that i could very early transfer the responsibility for the use of language to my students, so that I became able to teach using fewer words' p13
'to be "English," a text does not only have to show English words or English sentences; it must convey those characteristics of the language that are acquired unconsciously' p20
'if style is the man, reading is a way into other sensitivities, as well as into other experiences' p70
'writers reach the impossible: they objectify the fleeting moment that runs away with speech. But more than that, they keep alive among us the kind of human experience that goes into the making of traditions' p71
'there is no need for correction by the teacher. Since the teacher's role here is not to purvey knowledge, he can stand back and watch the students correcting themselves' p78
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Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors
Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors
Price: £6.50

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A landmark recording, 25 Nov. 2010
Reviews are, by their very nature subjective and thus essentially flawed. Reviews of unquantifiable things such as music and Art, are even worse, for at best they represent mere conjecture and at worst they are utterly without merit. Given the confines of those parameters, how then does one review something so etherial and fluid as a jazz recording? With some difficulty, I would argue. I won't deconstruct this recording and I won't try to qualify or quantify it, nor to place it in any cultural or artistic context either. What I will say is that I own a LOT of jazz CDs and I think I can spot a seminal recording when I hear one. I think I can also distinguish between the moments of greatness which exist between the moments, and stocking filler. To summate, this CD is arguably one of the landmark recordings of jazz and something no self-respecting jazz-loving individual should live without. Greatness.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2013 11:05 PM GMT

The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule (Holt Paperback)
The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule (Holt Paperback)
by Michael Shermer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.28

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Following Nietzsche's footsteps, 22 Nov. 2010
In Nietzsche's masterpiece 'On the Genealogy of Morals' he simply takes a good step back from The Argument and holds up a clean mirror on which he reflects the origins of opinion, thought and moral judgements. By removing himself from the emotions attached to topics such a theology, morality and ethics Shermer, somewhat like Nietzsche attempts to frame these often 'hot' topics in something altogether more transparent than is usually the case. As a rationalist and a logicist I invariably find the unwelcome addition of emotion and emotionally driven cognition to any serious argument or discourse to be utterly unnecessary, very distracting and wholly unwelcome.

In 'The Science of Good and Evil', Dr. Shermer does his utmost to use Nietzsche's mirror and for the most part does an admirable job in examining the source of opinion, conjecture and belief. Although the matter dealt with in this treaties is not really new ('Morals' was written in 1887). It is probably time the debate was dusted off and reopened - especially with the current state of discourse which seems to be based on 'he who shouts loudest wins' - never mind a clear and precise thesis...

Whilst not everyone will agree with either Dr.Shermer's presentation of the facts nor his take on the issues to hand I think anyone with a keen mind and an enquiring nature will appreciate that at the very least his is adding a dose of objectivity and clarity to the debate; his is wiping his sleeve over the bathroom mirror of discourse and debate, which, ever since Nixon, has been steamed up. Steam that has risen, not from hot water of fervoured argument, rather, from that which has spewn from the mouths of politicians, lobbyists and the laughably objective media ever since the as-kicking in Vietnam; to create an environment a la 'Swift boater', where 'yes' has become 'probably in June' and 'no' has become 'a small Mexican dog'.

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