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Ironmaster 75 lb Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System with Stand
Ironmaster 75 lb Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System with Stand

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular design, quality manufacture., February 27, 2015
I've used PowerBlocks and Bowflex SelectTech 552's. I found the Bowflex too fragile, and the PowerBlocks uncomfortable. These are the best of the three by FAR. These are simple, reliable, durable, and have the solid feel of commercial gym equipment. I like "regular" gym-style dumbbells, I just wish they were adjustable. IronMaster achieves this without altering the basic idea. What more can be said? I wasn't sure how I'd feel about square weights, but this turns out to be a huge improvement. They're compact, stackable, and don't roll away. I have no use for the stand, so haven't bothered to assemble it, but it also appears to be well-made.

I went straight to IronMaster and got a better deal than is listed here. IronMaster is a small, family-run business, selling their own designs with minimal overhead. It's hard to avoid the impression that they are gymrats themselves, and influenced by Arnold's philosophy that gyms should be simple and functional. My dumbbells shipped in no-frills packaging with a simple QuickBooks invoice. No infomercials, no workout DVD's, or false promises. I can tell my money went into the product itself and I can't remember being happier with a purchase.


The Conformist [Blu-ray]
The Conformist [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Jean-Louis Trintignant
Price: $16.66
29 used & new from $14.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New US Blu-Ray Edition Offers Rich Insight Into Bertolucci's Masterpiece, December 16, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Conformist [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
[This review pertains to the 2014 US Blu Ray edition only.]

I love this film. I have previously owned it on VHS and DVD and I've watched it at least 50 times. I couldn't wait for Blu Ray and it does not disappoint. To be sure, the original material is subject to the limits of production that existed at the time it was made. Much of the movie is shot in softer focus than we are accustomed to these days. The titles still suffer from some color bleed and the soundtrack is still a bit tinny. But this is an art house movie. No one is ever going to underwrite a complete Blu Ray remaster and overhaul.

Instead, you can expect a HD transfer of a pristine print, giving you access to more of the cinematography, as it was intended for the big screen. This turns out to be very important, since this is universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece of cinematography. The images acquire a remarkable depth of field, and I found myself noticing details I'd never seen before. I found the extent to which this change alone amplified the film's drama and pathos quite remarkable.

The translation is also very, very good. Previous subs and dubs have failed to capture the literary nuance of the script, adapted from Alberto Moravia's masterpiece of the same name. Somehow the English dub here has been improved dramatically over it's incarnation in DVD, and a LOT more of the book comes through. It's not clear to me exactly what they did to fix it. The voices sound identical, and the memorable lines have been translated in the same way, but the speech fits the action much, MUCH better than the DVD sub did. Watching the English dub with Italian subtitles (and vice versa) gives access to much more of the Italian script than was possible with previous editions. One problem: the dub was missing from several scenes on my copy. I don't really care, but it is a little disappointing, mostly because the new dub is unusually good.

The Blu Ray edition also eliminates the abrupt between-scene cuts that featured prominently in older editions. I always found these jarring, and it's nice to learn that they were artifacts of a bad edit, and not a sour note by Mr. Bertolucci.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 28, 2014 3:00 PM PST


Wedge-It - The Ultimate Door Stop - Black
Wedge-It - The Ultimate Door Stop - Black
Offered by ALL MAX
Price: $9.80
6 used & new from $7.75

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Great Paperweight!, September 15, 2014
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It's a cliche to say of useless things: "At least I can use it as a doorstop." Sadly, this device can't even serve that function. True, it deviates from the "classic doorstop" template in several intriguing ways. However, each of these deviations makes it less effective. This thing fails to do even the most basic work of a doorstop: grip the floor to hold the door in place. Instead of a thick, soft pad of tacky rubber, this thing has just a thin film of hard plasticky material, distributed over a puny surface area. On a hardwood or tile floor, it doesn't even slow the door down. Even if the friction were improved, the gadgety high-concept appearance serves no obvious practical purpose. I tried turning it upside down and sideways. I tried to hang it around the door hinge. I tried to use it to cap the edge of the door at floor level. I tried to shim into the gap between the door and the frame. Nothing worked. Maybe I'm missing the million ways in which this is a masterpiece of industrial design, but the thing didn't come with a manual...
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 6, 2015 12:14 AM PST


The Angel and Sorcerer: The Remarkable Story of the Occult Origins of Mormonism and the Rise of Mormons in American Politics
The Angel and Sorcerer: The Remarkable Story of the Occult Origins of Mormonism and the Rise of Mormons in American Politics
by Peter Levenda
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.48
36 used & new from $10.46

55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Piety's Rainbow, August 18, 2012
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Peter Levenda's favorite trick is to take some familiar page from American history and show us that we've failed to understand it. The author notes that, for most people, for most of history, magic was an unquestioned aspect of daily existence. He argues that in order to conjure the full richness of the past to visible appearance, we must take magic seriously as a motivating force and an explanatory principle - of human action if nothing else.

When Levenda calls Joseph Smith a "sorcerer", it isn't meant as a pejorative label. Rather, he's offering Smith some overdue professional recognition. Joseph Smith was as powerful, and as successful, a ritual magician as the United States has ever produced. Levenda shows how the young man's exceptional prowess took him from poverty to the head of a major religious movement with political power and the largest paramilitary force in the US.

Levenda situates Smith quite comfortably within the Western esoteric tradition, and demonstrates that he was, at every phase of his life, a practicing magician. This turns out to explain a great deal about Mormonism, including: its connection with Freemasonry, "sealed" marriages, the Solomonic symbolism of the golden tablets, and prophecy. And when it comes to the Mormon faith, the author has no particular axe to grind. Although he's a liberal from New York City, and probably not a Romney voter, but he places Mormonism on a equal footing with mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The revelation of Joseph Smith's magical practice may upset some readers, but it seems if anything to have endeared him to Peter Levenda. As history, the Book of Mormon comes up awkwardly short, especially in the face of recent DNA science. But when considered as the fruit of a magical working it undeniably a magnum opus. Still, this story is ultimately a tragedy in the Faustian mold, as Levenda argues that it was Smith's negligence in a magical operation that proved his undoing. Such is the trajectory of "Piety's rainbow."

I couldn't put it down. But, as with all of this author's work, it's not for everybody. I've been recommending Peter Levenda's books to people for years now, and I always get one of two reactions. Either the reader loves them, or he stops returning my calls.

Good riddance.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2014 3:23 PM PST


Haier PBFS21EDBS 20.6 Cubic Foot Counter Depth French door Bottom Mount, Stainless Steel
Haier PBFS21EDBS 20.6 Cubic Foot Counter Depth French door Bottom Mount, Stainless Steel

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Garbage, December 14, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
While the design of this fridge is ok, the poor materials and construction wreck it. In the 10 months I've owned and gently used it, two of the interior drawers have broken (weak plastic). The metal skin is only a bit thicker than tin foil, and scuffs and dents under normal daily use. Finally, the ice maker went haywire about a month ago, and now generates a solid 2 gallon block of ice every 24 hours, which must be chipped out of the tray in order to keep the fridge functional. I'm now looking at working these issues out with Haier, but given the negative feedback their customer service receives on the Internet, I am really dreading it. I think it's very likely that I'll end up buying a replacement before the year is out. Spare yourself the headache.


Tantric Temples: Eros and Magic in Java
Tantric Temples: Eros and Magic in Java
by Peter Levenda
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $44.73
32 used & new from $37.60

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Esoteric Anthropology, December 10, 2011
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This is a very difficult book to review. The photos are too few and too small to really make this a "coffee table" book, but the book itself is too big and too expensive to qualify as general nonfiction. Similarly, while this book purports to be a positive account of Javanese religious buildings, the author refuses to honor the conventions of academic anthropology, slipping here and there into what can only be called "gonzo journalism." But Peter Levenda is at his best in what he calls the "liminal space" - at the cutting edge of speculative insight. If he is "unscholarly," then so was Heinrich Schliemann.

The author argues that the "Hindu" and "Buddhist" temples of Java must be understood as remnants of an older, indigenous tradition of animistic shamanism. More interesting is his suggestion that the tantric Buddhism of Tibet is a manifestation of this tradition, and was imported to Tibet from Java. This is an intriguing suggestion, and the author demonstrates that it consistent with a good deal of evidence. I am persuaded. Unfortunately, the scarcity of written Javanese history makes it impossible for the author to prove his case here. Further still, the author seems to suggest that the Javanese shamanism (that would become "tantra") was actually just the Javanese manifestation of an ur-religion that spanned the fringes of the Indian ocean.

Oh yeah, then there's the sex. In an attempt to speculate as to the religious rites and beliefs of the tantric temple builders, Levenda shows us contemporary Javanese tantrism, as it exists in the heart of modern Islamic (!) Indonesia. In one notable ceremony, men and women gather at a sacred cemetery at night to have sex with strangers. The participants approach this as an act of sacred transgression and magic - and not inconsistent with their nominal Muslim faith. Levenda compares this rite to tantrism as it exists in other parts of the Indian Subcontinent and finds a continuity, a continuity which he argues must extend back to the time of the temple builders. He confirms this by identifying the tantric themes in the architecture these sites.

I'm not sure how this book will be received by readers interested only in Indonesian history or anthropology. There's no question that this is probably the best account of the Javanese "tantric" temples available in English. But there is also clearly a deeper significance here, too. I approach this book as a rabid fan of Mr. Levenda. As good as I believe this book is on its own terms, it takes on an eerie magnificence when viewed in light of his other books.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 1, 2015 4:41 PM PDT


The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.69
134 used & new from $2.28

230 of 248 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a novel at all..., November 10, 2011
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I am compelled to write this based on the extraordinarily misleading review below. If you don't already know what this is, DON'T buy it. Not only is it not a novel, it's not even a story. Come to think of it, it ain't even, strictly speaking, a "book"! So if you're looking for an introduction to Philip Dick, you should really try something else. Most of us start with Blade Runner.

To explain, toward the end of his writing career, Philip Dick had a visionary/religious/mystical experience. Like all such experiences, it was exceptionally difficult to verbalize, rationalize, or explain. If the experience itself didn't drive Dick mad, the task of making sense of it clearly did, at least for a time. Dick entered a period of heightened creativity, struggling to give voice to his religious experience through writing. Dick called this process, and the body of text it produced, his "Exegesis." Traditionally, the word signifies the process of expounding upon and interpreting a work of literature, typically a religious text; here, the object of Dick's literary critique was his own mind.

This book is a relatively narrow selection of pages from that effort. It reads like a philosophical journal, and consists of outlines, correspondence, doodles and rambling essays on science, creativity, ancient history, religion, death, and drugs. This is the raw ore of genius, but it is extremely unrefined. Worse, it has an eerie "tinfoil hat" feel to it; one gets the strong sense that Dick was flirting with mental illness. The casual reader is certain to be alienated, and unnecessarily, since the Exegesis formed the basis for several excellent works of narrative fiction. VALIS, Dick's crypto-autobiographical novel recounting the same events is infinitely more accessible.

But, if you, like me, are more than a casual reader - if you have read Valis and Ubik (and possibly Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati to boot) - if you take seriously the possibility that Dick contacted a divine intelligence in February of 1974, then this book is for you. And if that's you, then the content will speak for itself.

But the editing? In my view, it's above average. Since I have never seen the file cabinets from which these pages have been selected, I can't attest to their completeness. However, the stuff that's here is consistently engaging and seems to have been selected with care. Better still, the text has been annotated by a multidisciplinary team of editors, ensuring that the reader has a guide for some of Dick's frequent digressions into brain science, Biblical hermeneutics, and pharmacology.

This is much better than I'd hoped and the serious fan/student will be very, very happy.

[UPDATE: In a previous version of this review, I complained about the absence of explanatory material on Bishop James Pike. A comment below pointed out that there is in fact a detailed entry on Pike at the back of the book. My mistake. My gripe is withdrawn.]
Comment Comments (27) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2013 9:56 PM PDT


Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason
Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason
by Manuel DeLanda
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.95
42 used & new from $14.74

75 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Organon, March 20, 2011
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You've read some Mandelbrot. You've read some Prigogine. You've wracked your brain against Alan Turing and Godel, Escher, Bach. You've watched spontaneous orders emerging from chaos and groked that is a metaphysical and epistemological game changer. You SENSE that there is something fundamentally wrong with the linear/reductive/determinist/Cartesian outlook. But where to go from here? What does it mean? Despite the best efforts of brilliant people like Stuart Kauffman, the philosophy of complexity has simply has not caught up to the mathematics.

But Manuel DeLanda has been living on this island for a very long time. He's been busy excavating the conceptual soil underlying the sciences of complexity, and he's made some intensely interesting discoveries. Where other thinkers' best efforts have foundered at the threshold of mysticism, DeLanda has hewn relentlessly to scientific materialism and, in so doing, has found objective patterns and significance in the logic of the complex.

But don't expect it to come easy. The reason for DeLanda's success is his aggressively ecclectic outlook, and it may be a bit difficult to see through his goggles. He's a continental philosopher who writes about science, and a dogmatic materialist who thinks like a medieval scholastic theologian. One can't help but feel that this book is the fruit of his different way of thinking. The back blurb describes this book as a new "Organon" (echoing Aristotle and Bacon). I can't put it any better. This is, quite simply, "what's going on" behind complexity/chaos/emergence. Sadly, the concepts can't be summarized for purposes of a book review, but it's breathtaking.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 2, 2013 4:33 AM PDT


The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers (Philosophy Of Popular Culture)
The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers (Philosophy Of Popular Culture)
by Mark T. Conard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $43.32
52 used & new from $8.51

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rebirth of Tragedy, October 26, 2010
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Friedrich Nietzsche believed for a time that the composer Richard Wagner would be able to unite all the noble impulses of art into an opera capable of sublimating European culture, just as classical tragedy ennobled the Athenians. Wagner failed, even in Nietzsche's judgement, but I am reminded of him every time I see a Coen Brothers film. Like Wagner, they have created a stage upon which the plastic/Apollonian (cinematography, lighting, set and costume) engages the musical/Dionysian (script, drama, soundtrack). But where Wagner failed, the Coens have succeeded. Their films together constitute the rebirth of tragedy here in modern America - a multimedia art of moral choice, with a philosophical vocabulary and contemporary significance. There's nothing deeper or more relevant on the American scene.

And I guess that accounts for just why this book so utterly blows the doors off any other "Philosophy of" book I've encountered. Like Woody Allen or Stanley Kubrick, the Coens produce film that is not merely philosophical, but is philosophy itself - the kind of art that drives fans to study philosophy in the first place.

But, in approaching the Coens, you do need some guidance. These are two guys who know the canon, cold, from Homer (O Brother Where Art Though) to Kant (See Walter in the Big Lebowski) to Heidegger (Barton Fink). At least part of the opacity of their films stems from the audiences unfamiliarity with these themes. And this is where this book comes in handy. This is a collection of truly thoughtful, high caliber works of scholarly criticism. It is so much better than similar titles like "The Simpsons and Philosophy" that I kinda wish it had a different title.

Oh well, bottom line: if you like either philosophy or the Coen Brothers, you'll LOVE this book. Expect to gain new insights on Barton Fink's wallpaper, the Dude's relationship with the old cowboy, and the nature of Anton Chigurgh. The authors are all philosophers, but they clearly love and understand film, and come at some of these problems from a film-studies perspective. I can only hope the same people involved in this will follow up with a "Philosophy of David Lynch."


Nietzsche and the Nazis
Nietzsche and the Nazis
DVD ~ Stephen R.C. Hicks
2 used & new from $74.95

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dude, it's an ethos., September 21, 2010
This review is from: Nietzsche and the Nazis (DVD)
This documentary is an unusually fine example of what philosophy can do when it's done properly. Stephen Hicks takes the viewer on a information rich tour of the intellectual history of 20th Century Germany. His presentation is scholarly, fastidious, and fair.

Hicks refuses to completely acquit Nietzsche of responsibility for Nazism, but he doesn't stoop to cheap caricatures, either. Nietzsche, no pale criminal, would likely accept responsibility for everything Hicks levels at him. After all, to call Nietzsche "dangerous" is merely to appreciate him in full.

But Hicks is not merely doing positive intellectual history. This video essay is also a normative philosophical endeavor. Hicks takes the unfashionable view that ideas have consequences, that they drive history. Hicks appreciates that Nazism was a highly sophisticated and fully-articulated philosophy. As Walter put it The Big Lebowski, "Say what you want about National Socialism dude - it's an ethos." Nazism was not a spasm of madness, but a coherent response to perennial questions. It is not enough that we dismiss Nazism, or simply forget it; in the long run it's certain to emerge once again. Instead, Hick holds, we have to engage it - and engage Nietzsche - to determine and then to prove where each goes wrong and why.

Hicks sees philosophy as a sort of ideological bomb squad, dispatched to dismantle rogue ideologies before they become catastrophes. As thrilling as I find this notion, my view is a bit more cynical. In 1930's Germany, Hicks has identified one of the few points in the last 2000 years when philosophy had some causal traction on the highway of world history - and in that instance the result was not pretty.

Still, if you're interested in these things you'll be hard-pressed to find a more engaging three hours of television anywhere.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2012 12:48 PM PDT


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