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Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui)

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Why Are We So Clueless about the Stock Market?: Learn how to invest your money, how to pick stocks, and how to make money in the stock market
Why Are We So Clueless about the Stock Market?: Learn how to invest your money, how to pick stocks, and how to make money in the stock market
by Mariusz Skonieczny
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.67

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific book for the beginning investor, 7 Aug. 2009
This is an excellent primer on equities. Skonieczny begins as simply as in a Dummies or Idiot's guide by explaining what a business is and how investing in the stock market is buying a piece of a business. He delineates how businesses are evaluated in terms of bottom line success or failure, the details of which are what the investor should know about any business before buying its stock. This is the fundamentalist approach to investing, the sort of knowledge that cannot be skipped and is known by any savvy investor.

The prose and the illustrations are easy enough for a sixth grader to understand, and that is one of the strengths of the book. Skonieczny knows what he is talking about and has taken the trouble to make it clear to the beginner. A key idea, so basic that it is often overlooked or not really appreciated by the beginning investor is that of risk to reward. Skonieczny makes it clear that any stock market purchase must promise a reward greater than the prevailing interest rates and greater than Treasury Notes and other fixed income instruments because the risk in the stock market is greater. He shows how this thinking is merely an extension of the understanding that you wouldn't start and run or invest in a business unless its bottom line profit potential was greater than what the bank gives its depositors.

When to Buy? (the third chapter) concentrates on the objective value of a company based on its projected earnings relative to the price of the stock. Skonieczny eschews technical analysis. No voodoo technical charts with running averages and ghostly heads and shoulders. Instead there is a simple chart on page 37 showing the price/value fluctuations of a stock. Assuming that we can get a good grip on what a company is actually worth, it is obvious that you buy when the price is less than the value. Simple. And if investors followed this strategy with any kind of real fidelity bubbles and panics would go the way of the dodo.

When to Sell? (a later chapter) follows the same sort of reasoning. Skonieczy writes: "The best time to sell is when projections turn out positive, the company prospers well, and the market realizes its full value by pricing it correctly." He adds, "Another reason to sell is when an investor finds a better investment opportunity." (p. 117)

Skonieczy is not enamored with stocks that are unpredictable and/or have high price to earnings ratios or high volatility. He likes companies with "moats" and other advantages over its competitors. His is not a gambling approach to the market but rather a conservative, fundamentalist approach. Whether you are of similar mind or not, this book is still an excellent guide because to go beyond the fundamentalist approach it is essential to know the basics. It is one thing to gamble blindfolded, another to take calculated risks. And you can't know the risks unless you understand the fundamentals, and understanding fundamentals is what Skonieczy's book is all about as an investment guide.

One of the bits of advice that I especially like is Skonieczy's insistence that we not "blindly over-diversify, preventing our individual picks from having meaningful impacts on the overall performance." (p. 139) What's the value in painstakingly picking the best stocks with the best safe and sane prospects only to water down our portfolio with other stocks just to be diversified? Personally I don't think being diversified in the market is really the key to sound financial planning. I think it's being diversified overall, not just within the stock market. For the long run the wise investor should have some money in stocks, some in real estate, some in bonds, perhaps, some in cash (meaning CDs or such).

This book is particularly timely since we are just coming out of a recession it would appear, meaning that there are many publically traded companies that are undervalued. Reading and understanding the concepts presented in this book and applying them to the market now might very well help the investor separate the good prospects from the not so good ones, the risky ones from the less risky ones.

The Secret Life of Trees: How They Live and Why They Matter (Penguin Press Science)
The Secret Life of Trees: How They Live and Why They Matter (Penguin Press Science)
by Colin Tudge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable resource for anyone interested in trees, 3 Aug. 2009
This book is a treasure for anyone, lay person or professional, who loves trees or is merely fascinated with the amazing forms of life that trees are. But it is more than that. Colin Tudge is not only an expert on trees, he is an evolutionary biologist of the first water, as can be learned from reading just this book, and as can be discerned by looking at a list of the books he has published. Here's an example of his deep understanding of biology:

"In truth, the essence of life is metabolism--the interplay of different molecules to form a series of self-renewing chemical feedback loops that go around and around and around. And they do this simply because, chemistry being what it is, such a modus operandi is chemically possible, and what is possible sometimes happens." (p. 58)

And I might add, given enough time, what is possible probably will happen.

Here's another (the book is filled with deep insights into the nature of life): while speaking of the nitrogen-fixing Frankia (compared to the more common nitrogen fixing Rhizobium) as "yet another, stunning case of convergent evolution," he adds that we see "yet again, the propensity of organisms--one might almost say their eagerness--to cooperate." (p. 187)

The book is in four parts:

Part I "What Is a Tree?" consists of four chapters describing and explaining how a tree functions and how trees are constructed and why they behave the way they do. Additionally, Tudge shows how trees differ from grasses, herbs, shrubs, etc.

Part II "All the Trees in the World," is taxonomy, six dense chapters giving the nomenclature, scientific names and descriptions of the trees, where they grow, how plentiful they are, and how they evolved from earlier types and became distributed the way they are. Tudge includes some chat about differences of opinions among botanists; he shares some history and anecdotes while somehow managing to make the naming and classification of orders, classes, families, genera, species, etc., interesting. I was surprised to learn (amateur that I am) that trees can have a familial relationship to herbs and vegetables such as with legumes.

Part III "The Life of Trees" has three chapters and concentrates on the ecology of trees, how they are pollinated and how they get their sees distributed and how they interact with symbionts, parasites, and mutualists. Included is an interesting section on figs and their unique wasp pollinators. The effect of fire and grazing is discussed.

Part IV "Trees and Us," contains a single chapter, "The Future with Trees," in which Tudge argues persuasively for "agroforestry," which is the simultaneous use of land for both growing trees and other agricultural products, including cows (who appreciate the shade) and free range chickens (who appreciate the cover), and pigs (who appreciate the acorns in oak woodlands), and smaller trees, like coffee trees (which give a better bean because of the shade). With the disadvantages of monoculture (disease, heavy reliance on fossil fuel fertilizers, economic hardships for many, riches for the few, etc.) becoming more and more apparent, agroforestry is a huge step in the right direction.

I would recommend that the reader begin with Part I "What Is a Tree?" but then skip to Parts III and IV "The Life of Trees," and "Trees and Us," and only then delve into nomenclatural thickets of Part II "All the Trees in the World."

There are some exquisite black and white line drawings of trees by Dawn Burford scattered throughout the text.

Back matter includes "Notes and Further Reading," a glossary and an index.

This is the first of Colin Tudge's books that I have read. It won't be the last.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2010 9:00 PM GMT

Doubt [DVD]
Doubt [DVD]
Dvd ~ Meryl Streep
Price: £2.48

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Starts slow but builds to a powerful conclusion, 1 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Doubt [DVD] (DVD)
The doubt is on two levels. One, there is the doubt that Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) molested the boy. The deeper doubt is that if he did, did he do anything wrong? Or on an even deeper level, did the wrong that he did outweigh the good that he did? This last question is at the very heart of the relationship between priests and boys in the near contemporary American society depicted in this film.

Personally I don't believe that the ephemeral culture in which we live can answer that question. Perhaps it is true that people like Father Flynn are compelled to do good in this world for just those boys who most need them because of their "nature" (as Meryl Streep's character Sister Aloysius puts it). Science has a lot of trouble accounting for homosexuality, and understandably most scientists aren't interested in exploring why some men are sexually attracted to boys. The truth from an evolutionary point of view must be that in some sense that attraction leads to, paradoxically, a better fit for not only the boy, which is obvious in some circumstances, but also for the man. How can this be? Most theories about homosexuality invoke male bonding as the evolutionary force that makes the behavior adaptive. Homosexual males bond with other males (homosexual or not) and thereby increase their access to females. So great is the advantage that accrues to such males that even the homosexual males (who mate only to have offspring) have an adaptive advantage over outsider males.

But what is the adaptive advantage to males who are sexually attracted only to boys?

In a way this film (and the direction by John Patrick Shanley based on his play) actually addresses this question. The answer comes from the scene in which Sister Aloysius and the boy's mother (Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller) talk and walk. The mother clearly sees that whether her boy is getting molested by the priest or not is secondary to the fact that the priest cares about him more than his father. In other words (and most specifically in other circumstances) the priest would become the ally of the mother and they would bond. In a world far removed from ours, in the prehistory, they might become as one. Or in a world removed from the celibacy of the priesthood he would love the boy and the mother and she would love him and sex would happen, although perhaps not as frequently as it would if the man were heterosexual. Certainly he is a better man for the boy and for any further boys than a father who would beat his son.

Meryl Streep who has given us so many brilliant performances gives yet another one here. And Hoffman ditto. I have said it before and I'll repeat it, Meryl Streep is nearly flawless in everything she does. Philip Seymour Hoffman ditto. To see two of the greatest actors of our time in the same film is quite a treat. To give them such indelible characters to work with and such a compelling story to act out is really wonderful. And I must say that Amy Adams who played Sister James was also excellent and was not noticeably overshadowed by Streep and Hoffman. Viola Davis who played the one scene as the boy's mother was also excellent.

The movie starts slowly as in a play, which it is. This is allowable since the play-going audience has an investment and won't get up even if the first act goes slowly. After a few minutes the story picks up and gathers power until, with a not entirely discernable suddenness, we are enthralled. In the end we realize how quickly the story was actually told.

Do not give up on this after the first ten or fifteen minutes. It is a story about an issue for our times not to be missed, told with dignity and compassion for all concerned, and with a deep appreciation for the subtleties and paradoxes of human nature and the complexities of our world.

by Frank Ryan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The startling (and scary) role played by viruses in biological evolution, 19 July 2009
This review is from: Virolution (Paperback)
A major thesis of this amazing book is that plants and animals including most significantly humans co-evolve with viruses. The term "virolution," presumably coined by Dr. Ryan, who is both a physician and an evolutionary biologist, comes from the words "virus" and "evolution" but also suggests the word "revolution." The idea is that instead of being merely agents of pathology, viruses can also work together with their host to help it survive. Ryan gives the example of grey squirrels imported from America invading the territory of red squirrels in Britain. He writes:

"At first naturalists assumed that the grey squirrel was winning the survival battle because it was larger and more aggressive than the native counterpart, but now we know that the grey squirrel is carrying a squirrel pox virus that causes no disease symptoms in its symbiotic partner but appears to be lethal to the red squirrel." (p. 96)

In other words what we have here is war by an organism's own viral pathogens! Survival of the fittest may include carrying around lethal viruses that can wipe out your ecological competition. Ryan notes "We believe that HIV-1, the main virus of AIDS, was transferred to people from a specific group of chimpanzees. We also know that, in chimpanzees, HIV-1 grows freely and reproduces in their internal organs and tissues, but it causes no evidence of disease." (p. 86)

So what apparently happened is some bush meat eaters shot some chimps, ate and/or sold the meat and humans got the virus. Revenge of the dead chimp! Well, perhaps. But look at it this way. Imagine humans in prehistory or even humans a few centuries ago in the Congo jungle looking to take over some chimp territory. After some close contact, the virus jumps from the chimps to humans and the humans die. Survival of the fittest!

Ryan refers to this as an example of "aggressive symbiosis," and this is how it works in general: two similar species occupying similar ecological niches come into contact. Which is to prevail? One carries a virus like a loaded gun in its tissues. The virus jumps to the other species and typically is extraordinarily virulent and kills them. Or perhaps there is a dueling of viruses, one from each species. At some point the only survivors are those with immunity to the viruses.

Ryan makes a further point with this example (quoting Max Essex on the deliberate use of a myxomatosis virus to kill rabbits in Australia): "The...virus killed...some 99.8% of the rabbits. But then two things happened. Number one - within four years, the resistant minority grew so you had a different population of disease-resistant rabbits... And number two - the myxomatosis virus that remained [as a persistent infection in the rabbits] was less virulent, so I think there is crystal-clear evidence that both the host and the virus attenuated themselves for optimal survival in that situation." Furthermore (and this brings us back to the previous point), any new rabbits brought in would be at a disadvantage because they would have no immunity to the virus and the surviving rabbits would. (pp. 87-88)

In other words looked at from an evolutionary perspective, host and virus worked together in a mutualistic symbiosis. In my mind this raises the question, what really did happen to the Neanderthal? We do know what happened to the natives of the Americas when they came into contact with the smallpox virus carried by the Europeans. Could a virus from homo sapiens have wiped out the Neanderthal, or at least helped humans become the sole hominid survivors?

In the largest sense, this idea of host and virus working together would seem to be more powerful than any kind of sharp tooth and massive claw in the struggle for survival. The old idea of survival of the fittest must now be seen in a different light. I have said for many years that "everything works toward an ecology" and "everything works toward a symbiosis," meaning that in a typical environment, if one species is able to work together with another, they may enjoy an advantage over rivals. Consequently, those species that are able to form symbiotic relationships are the ones more likely to survive. What this means for evolutionary theory, as Dr. Ryan has pointed out, is that symbiosis is a much more important part of evolutionary biology than has previously been thought. My guess is that the revolution begun by Lynn Margulis, who first saw the eukaryotic cell as a mutualistic development from parasitic relationships, will be accelerated by the work of Ryan and others to the point where the prevailing view from evolutionists will be that it is cooperation rather than competition that most characterizes fitness.

And that is what makes this book so important. It signals a great shift in our understanding of how evolution works.

But that is not all. Ryan shows that the so-called "junk DNA" in genomes is anything but. Much of it is viral ("endogenous retroviruses") and it is there as evidence that humans and pre-humans went through many periods of aggressive symbiosis including the horrid plague stage. We now see that plagues, from an evolutionary perspective, are common and part of how the evolutionary process formed us. Furthermore Ryan writes about how viral genes can help with the development of the embryo in the womb. In other words, viral DNA in part directs the protein building that makes for human beings, and indeed for many forms of life.

In the latter parts of the book Ryan explores the role of viruses in autoimmune diseases and cancer. He also considers the role of hybridization in evolutionary change and that of epigenetics. Particularly interesting is the work Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb that suggests that "new species might arise through the inheritance of acquired epigenetic changes," causing Ryan to remark, "they were resurrecting the long-discredited spectre of Lamarckian evolution." (p. 312)

The book is dense, difficult and perhaps revolutionary in scope.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2015 7:26 PM BST

CHASING LOLITA: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again
CHASING LOLITA: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lolita as a "candy woman", 5 July 2009
It is often complained in the postmodern literary world that Lolita did not have a voice in Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel. But in fact it is one of the great accomplishments of that novel that indeed her voice came through loud and clear, even though filtered through an "unreliable" and self-serving narrator in the person of Humbert Humbert. Not only did her voice come through in an indelible way that still enchants readers (and occasioned this book), but so too did her intentions and her actions. Had it been otherwise we would not be discussing her today.

I like to compare what Nabokov did in Lolita to what Mark Twain did in Huck Finn. Both novels are jewels of American literature and both novels are first-person singular narratives. Both narrators can be considered unreliable in the literary sense, Huck because he is mostly unlettered and presumably lacks any literary skills, and Humbert because of his bias. The trick for the novelist when using such a conceit is to make the world (that the narrator sees and describes) authentic and vivid despite the narrator's shortcomings. This is not easy to do.

But what Graham Vickers is getting at here in this splendid cultural "biography" of Lolita is that the persona of Lolita has not only been corrupted by the popular culture but to insist that she never was the girl that she has become, that "Lolita" has become a catchword for something Nabokov's little girl never was. In America she is the Lolita seen in the famous photo of Sue Lyon (who starred in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film) behind heart-shaped sunglasses licking a lollipop. In Japan she has become Lolicon or Loligoth, a pornographic sub genre of child-like sexual objects. Elsewhere she has become a symbol of oppression, "the confiscation of one individual's life by another" (p. 218, quoting Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran).

Vickers shows that Lolita had predecessors, real life ones as well as literary and cinematic, Edgar Allan Poe's Annabel Lee, Lewis Carroll's Alice Liddell, D. W. Griffith's Dollie, Carroll Baker as "Baby Doll," Gigi, etc. And of course Lolita has had successors, many of them. Vickers recalls the real life cases of Elizabeth Smart, Sally Horner, Jon Benet Ramsey, Amy Fisher, and others. He recalls Brook Shields in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978), but missed Melissa Joan Hart in TV's "Clarissa Explains It All." Miss Hart was in the casting call for Adrian Lyne's Lolita from 1997, but by then was a bit too old for the part. There have also been some literary take-offs on Lolita. Vickers gives us a little of Pia Pera's "Lo's Diary," and Emily Prager's "Roger Fishbite." He takes note of the Barbie Doll phenomenon and pornography on the Internet. In short, Lolita or various approximations or misapprehensions of her have become a staple of the popular culture.

A portion of the book is devoted to what amounts to reviews of the two films mentioned above that were adapted from Nabokov's novel. Vickers didn't care much for Kubrick's version, faulting it for lack of authentic atmosphere and for being ten years out of chronological reality. Both of those criticisms I think are valid. However, his faulting of the work of Shelly Winters as Charlotte Haze mystifies me since I think Winters was absolutely brilliant. He also didn't care for all the latitude that he believes Kubrick gave Peter Sellers, and again I tend to agree. However Sellers was brilliant in parts, so much so that his character materially changed the movie. Which leads us to the main criticism of Kubrick's film: it wasn't as true to the book as it could have been. Once again I agree, but overall Kubrick's film was deeply true to Nabokov's black comedic intent in a way that Lyne's film was not.

To be fair, Kubrick's Lolita was an excellent movie, but not the Lolita that Nabokov wrote. It couldn't have been for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Eisenhower America to which it was to be shown, wouldn't tolerate a real Lolita. It was, as Nabokov put it, a "vivacious variant" of his book. (p. 120).

Vickers very much liked Lyne's version. He raves about Dominique Swain's performance as Lolita and extends kudos to Lyne for the more realistic atmosphere. Lyne's film was indeed much more atmospheric employing a myriad of details from the late 1940s road culture as well as authentic music. However, Dominique Swain, was not a nymphet. She was a fully grown teenager, a talented and interesting teenager, but hardly what Humbert had in mind. To try to hid this obvious fact, Swain was dressed in somewhat laughable little girl outfits and swaddling bras. Sue Lyon, also a teenager, was, because of her more delicate figure, closer to Humbert's ideal.

One of Vickers' most penetrating insights is to see the Lolita of 1947 as a precursor of today's teen and preteen consumer. He writes: "America's golden period of consumerism might still be two or three years in the future, but even during the relative austerity of the late 1940s, the constant allure of consumer goods and services is already a potent force in Lolita's young life." (p. 146) Two pages later, Vickers refers to Lolita as "that ideal consumer" who would "become an enduring object of interest to the commercial world."

To this we could add that while teenage and preteen girls have been oh so carefully taught by corporate America through the mass media to consume, they themselves have become articles of consumption. The very interesting thing is they know it. In reference to Prager's role reversal novel, "Roger Fishbite," Vickers notes that it seems that "some dolled-up little girls at a beauty pageant...know all about JonBenet Ramsey and are generally philosophic about the tiresome attentions of men: 'They can't help it,' said Mary Jane. 'We look so beautiful, like little candy women or something.'" (pp. 214-215)

The Hot Spot [DVD] [1990]
The Hot Spot [DVD] [1990]
Dvd ~ Don Johnson
Offered by 101Trading
Price: £7.13

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Steamy film noir, 3 July 2009
This review is from: The Hot Spot [DVD] [1990] (DVD)
The hot shot (not to be confused with the hot spot, which is located...well, on the person of Dolly Harshaw, as you'll see) is Harry Madox (Don Johnson) who has just arrived in Podunk, Texas. What he's hot about is selling used cars and bedding floosies. He scans the small town scene to see what's available. He's a hunk with a gift of the macho and an ability to move clunkers off the lot. What he finds is the used car lot of George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin) in need of a salesman. George has a bad heart and a young and sexy wife, the aforementioned Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen, who once played in a movie called "Zombie High" or "The High School that Ate My Brain"). She's a woman who always gets what she wants, and once she sets her rapacious eyes on Harry, Harry is what she wants.

Harry has other plans however. There's this bank in town that he just happens into as there's a fire going down the street. The bank is wide open and there's nobody there but this blind old black guy and the bank manager. Seems that the surveillance system isn't working and what's more all the tellers are off fighting the fire because they all belong to the volunteer fire department. This gives Harry ideas.

One more complication. Doing the books for George is Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly at 19) looking about as tasty as pie a la mode and as ripe as a peach about to fall off the tree. Harry soon discovers that she is as sweet as Tupelo honey and nearly as innocent as a small town girl can be with one strange problem. It seems that a country degenerate named Frank Sutton (William Sadler) has got some kind of hold on her.

So what we have here is a setting for film noir circa 1990 done up in color with a lot of upper body and tail end nudity and plenty of steamy sex. Will Harry pull off the bank job and retire to the Caribbean? Or will he put on George's shoes and service the very serviceable Mrs. H? Or will he succumb to the charms of Gloria? Or will he end up afoul of the local law or meet foul play at the hands of Frank Sutton? Stay tuned. I know I did even though this is not exactly a masterpiece.

Top three reasons to see this diversion are:

(1) Virginia Madsen, who is as hot as the barrel of an AK-47 as it unloads with a mind devious enough to delight the devil himself.

(2) Jennifer Connelly, who is pretty enough to awaken the libido of the dead.

(3) The nice twist at the end in which we learn that life has a certain perverse logic to it, proving that the hero may not get what he wants, but hey, things could be worse.

I guess I should also mention the direction of Dennis Hopper who has garnered over 200 film credits in a career going back to the fifties. Can you believe he played in the classic teen angst film Rebel Without a Cause from 1955? Here he just panders shamelessly to the prurient interest of the audience while moving the action along at a spritely pace.

One problem for today's sophisticated viewer: beware of being overcome with a constant stream of cigarette smoke. I mean, did the tobacco industry front the cash for this?

The African Queen [DVD]
The African Queen [DVD]
Dvd ~ Humphrey Bogart
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £14.93

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just one of John Huston's great films, but one of the best, 30 Jun. 2009
This review is from: The African Queen [DVD] (DVD)
There are three primary reasons you might want to see this classic.

First it is a beautiful and touching love story. Strait-laced teetotaler (and maiden sister of a preacher) Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) meets a kind of ordinary joe who is a handyman deluxe sort of guy, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) a man who is a bit crude and likes to swill his gin. They're in the middle of Africa during the Great War. Her brother has been killed, the Germans have the natives where they want them and, well, Charlie has an old river boat and offers to give the high-toned woman a ride.

There is nothing quite like the sparks that fly from opposite poles. And yes, opposites do attract, but of course it takes them awhile to feel the magnetic force. The beautiful thing about this love story is how Charlie proves his mettle and wins her heart--a heart never won before--by sheer gumption and by finding the courage he never knew he had--egged on and inspired by her relentless strength of character. The moment that she realizes, despite all the differences between them, that she loves him is beautifully and exactingly captured by John Huston's superb direction.

The second reason to see this cinematic masterwork is the performance by Katherine Hepburn. She has given many outstanding performances; there is hardly an actor anywhere held in higher esteem, nor one who has had a more lasting and admired career. I have seen many of her movies but never have I seen her better. She is just perfect for the part and delivers every line with style and a deep understanding of her character. She allows us to understand that Rose's crazy, naïve beliefs about what is possible infect Charlie to the extent that he becomes something more than himself, and it is that self that she falls madly in love with.

The third reason is the inspired performance by Humphrey Bogart. This is not the usual worldly-wise, tough guy that Bogart usually plays. Instead he is an ordinary, though pragmatic joe who knows his limitations. He didn't last this long as a self-styled river boat captain without taking certain precautions in what he would venture and what he would not. Yet, so taken with the relative status and the exquisite high-toned righteousness of Miss Rose Sayer, he is able to do things that ordinarily he wouldn't try. And when she falls in love with him, he is amply rewarded, and the audience loves it.

I should add that shots of the boat, the African Queen, and of the animals along the river and in the river seemed authentic and atmospherically perfect even though I've seen a couple hundred much more modern African nature videos.

By the way, this movie contains the famous quote, spoken by Miss Hepburn: "Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we were put on this earth to rise above."

One more thing to add: the movie was adapted by C.S. Forester and James Agee from Forester's novel. Those are two of the best writers to ever work a Hollywood screenplay, and it shows. The dialogue and the development of character and story are exquisitely done so that one is lost in the events and only returns to the real world when the movie ends.

Truly, they don't make them like this anymore.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2011 2:59 AM GMT

I've Loved You So Long [DVD]
I've Loved You So Long [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kristin Scott Thomas
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and touching story about the love between sisters, 26 Jun. 2009
This review is from: I've Loved You So Long [DVD] (DVD)
I need to watch a movie like this once in a while. Otherwise I might never cry. And crying is cathartic.

French cinema is about relationships. I wonder how it became so intensely about relationships in a way that no other national cinema is about relationships. I don't know. This one is the about the relationship between sisters done in a way that I have never seen before. And that I like. I am so bored with reprises and remakes of themes, as good as they sometimes are. This is not about sisterhood politically. And thank you for that. It is about real sisterhood under confusing and difficult circumstances, when there is estrangement for very good reasons, yet there is love to overcome whatever it is that causes the distance.

In this case Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has been released after 15 years in prison. Her younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) who always adored her and looked up to her takes her in. She has her own family, two adopted Vietnamese girls, a husband and a father who is old and can no longer speak. Naturally bringing Juliette into their household is risky. What has Juliette done and why? It is really unspeakable and yet Lea believes like all "bleeding hearts" that her sister is essentially good and whatever happened happened for a reason, and so do we in the audience. Kristin Scott Thomas plays this part of the film with a long, suffering face and the sort of resignation that comes with complete defeat. So we know. Whatever happened to her, whatever she did was forced upon her by the fates. What we don't know is exactly what that was.

I cannot say enough about the exquisite performances by both Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein. The direction by Philippe Claudel was, in the French manner, focused on people and who they are, done unobtrusively in the best invisible style in which the story and the characters are what we see without directorial distraction. We are lost in the story and the existential conflict between what we are and what is thought of us by others. We are caught between the appearance of life and the reality.

The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design
The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design
by Leonard Susskind
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

38 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly an unconvincing justification of string theory, 22 Jun. 2009
The first thing to note is Professor Susskind's insistence on using 14 billion years as the time since the Big Bang whereas most authorities today give 13.7 billion years. That of course is a minor point. More troubling is Susskind's unconvincing and quixotic support of the anthropic principle in cosmology. He characterizes the principle as "really shorthand for a much richer set of concepts that I will make clear in the chapters that follow." (p. 7)

Unfortunately--perhaps revealing the poverty of my discernment--after reading nearly four hundred pages of rather dense text I was not able to appreciate his "richer set of concepts." What I do know is that "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" (title of John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler's book from 1986), which I like to call the "anthropic cosmological fallacy," is really a kind of mystical expression that declares we are here only because of a miraculous series of events or conditions, when in fact we are here precisely because we are the sort of creatures that those events and conditions allow.

A better way to state the cosmological anthropic principle is simply this: if things in the universe were not as they are we would not be here. This avoids the unfortunate suggestion that somehow we cause the universe to be the way it is. We cause nothing. We are a result--an example--of what is possible considering the way the universe is. Notice "a" result, "an" example. Other beings might be here if the laws were different.

On page 363 Susskind writes that the anthropic principle "provides marvelous explanatory power for questions like, why is the cosmological constant small?" But this is not so. It happens that a small cosmological constant is compatible with a universe that allows life as we know it to exist. Again there is no causation, and life itself provides no explanation for a small cosmological constant. If aphids appear in your garden we can say that they would not appear in your garden if you grew cacti instead of vegetables. This does not mean that the growing of vegetables caused the existence of aphids. It merely says that of all the places that aphids could exist, your vegetable garden is one of them.

In the glossary Susskind defines the anthropic principle as "The principle that requires the laws of nature to be consistent with the existence of intelligent life." If we turn this around and say that "the physical characteristics of intelligent life must be consistent with the laws of nature," we can better see the direction of causality and why most physicists consider the anthropic principle to be vacuous.

It would help a lot if Susskind and others when they use phrases such as "for life to develop" to include the left-out qualification "for life to develop AS WE KNOW IT." That way they will be reminded that all this "fine-tuning"(a phrase that implies a fine-tuner, by the way) they are raving about is just an after-the-fact projection of an anthropomorphic perspective.

Another problem I had with this book is Susskind's unrelenting endorsement of string theory as something proven and true, as something "discovered." Also annoying is his answer to the fact that string theory has no--zero--experimental support: namely that experimental support isn't really necessary. See especially Chapter Nine "On Our Own?" in which he speculates on whether the Standard Model in particle physics (and of course string theory) could have been discovered without experimental verification. It might be better if Susskind said that he and the others "designed" or "created" string theory instead of saying they "discovered" it, which suggests that string theory is somehow true. A mathematical representation of the world is what they "discovered."

I also don't think that Susskind did a very good job of explaining why we should believe that string theory is an accurate description of our universe. I had the sense of a man trying to support his prodigal son by saying "Trust me he's going to turn out right" despite the fact that he hasn't done anything yet to prove it. "Just see how good-looking he is!" Well string theory may be a beautiful mathematical edifice, but until some beautiful experimental support comes along, it will remain as it objectively is, just one way of describing reality.

Curiously, after all the confident expressions about the truth of string theory, Susskind describes string theory as "our best guess for a theory of nature." (p. 302) A guess!

By the by, Susskind explains that after many years famed physicist Stephen Hawking gave up his heretical idea that information is lost in black holes and came around to agree with Susskind and most physicists that information cannot be lost. What is not mentioned in this book is Hawking's addendum. I suspect it is not mentioned since it amounts to a satire on Susskind's position. What Hawking said was that the information lost in black holes in this part of the "megaverse" would be preserved in other parts in which there are no black holes. In other words, Hawking came up with an argument, like that of Susskind's Landscape, which relied on information from parts of the universe which can never be reached! The salient point is that his statement, like the reality of Susskind's "Landscape," cannot be proven one way or the other

Sometimes we reveal ourselves and our ideas without meaning to. In reference to the idea of supersymmetry, Susskind writes, "...the whole exercise was only a mathematical game, a pure theoretical exploration of a new kind of symmetry that a world--some world not our own--might possess." (p. 241)

Could this be an unconscious but accurate expression of the true nature of string theory?
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One to Nine: The Inner Life of Numbers
One to Nine: The Inner Life of Numbers
by Andrew Hodges
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.91

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for the mathematically challenged, 17 Jun. 2009
Oxford Fellow Andrew Hodges, who wrote the very well received biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma (1992), uses--rather quixotically I might say--the one to nine format to delve into the world of mathematics. His emphasis is on number theory, mathematics as applied to physics, and mathematics as applied to cryptology. The text is difficult, and the puzzles strewn throughout, whether labeled, EASY, GENTLE, TOUGH, HARD, TRICKY or DEADLY, proved mostly too difficult for this non-mathematician.

For those readers versed in number theory, that branch of mathematics in which numbers are explored purely for their own sake without even the dream of a practical application, this book is probably a delight. And for cryptologists it is probably a double delight since Hodges explores in some considerable depth the delicious irony of how pure mathematics became contaminated, as it were, when it was noticed some years ago that the encryption of messages could be facilitated by using very large numbers with unique divisors. While it is easy to multiply two even very large numbers and get a unique result it is enormously difficult to find the unique factors that make up a very large number.

At any rate that is my understanding. And if I have gotten it wrong it is only because I am not much of a mathematician. Which brings me to the central criticism of this book. To put it bluntly I don't think anyone but a mathematician can fully appreciate Andrew Hodges' text. It's that difficult. Additionally, Hodges, who is a physicist as well as a mathematician, brings string and twistor theory into the fray further multiplying the difficulties for the general reader.

But even more off-putting (and this explains some of the negative reviews this book has garnered) is the fact that the book is more than a bit self-indulgent. Hodges's political views are a bit too obvious and gratuitous (although not necessarily disagreeable). He digresses often, sometimes whimsically, sometimes unaccountably. He employs naked jargon, insider allusions, and unexplained references. His subject matter spills over and jumps around from one chapter to other making the "One to Nine" structure seem artificial what with matter pertaining to the number six, for example, appearing in the chapter on the number seven and vice-versa.

I think it's obvious that the sort of book that Hodges has written here must needs another sort of structure, perhaps in three parts, one dealing with encryption, the second with pure number theory, and the third with mathematical physics. He is following to some extent (as he acknowledges) the structure that Constance Reid used so successfully in "From Zero to Infinity" (1956, new edition 2006) in which the chapters were entitled "Zero," "One," "Two,"..."Nine," and then "e" and "Aleph Zero." It's too bad that Hodges didn't emulate Reid's reader friendly prose--and he's a good enough writer to do it--instead of her structure.

Finally I didn't like the fact that the reader has to go to a Website to get the answers to the puzzles!

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