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Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring)
Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring)
Price: $9.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reading !, December 5, 2012
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Current events tell of many stories where the voices ( or votes) of the people are being hijacked by the political parties. It so happens that people who don't further inquire into the political soundbytes that are spewed, are in effect disenfranchised from the political process and unwittingly conform to misinformation.
In this book of we find Christopher Hitchens engaged in a series of letters, written in earnest prose about the necessity of nonconformity for the survival of the modern liberal society.
Each small chapter, acts as an addressed letter in an ongoing correspondence with an unnamed addressee, referred to as " X ".
The overall theme of this work is concerning the function of the "Radical" and the places in the world where political situations had called for the Radical to dissent from the collective instinct. To dissent is to remain independently minded and askew from where the collective instinct has become the insecure mob - blindly following an "infallible" leader.
Hitchens doesn't hesitate to disclaim that the sources of irrationality and prejudice that stem from the mob populist consensus, are petty, private, archaic and primeval urges ;

"There is no limit to human anti-intellectualism so there must be no limit to reason."

It must be noted somewhere in this review that Hitchens is an exceptional prose stylist and his letters are wonderfully engaging and nuanced from the outset, often striking a self-reflective note. Included his letters are personal lessons that were learned firsthand while answering the call to investigate a Moral crisis. These investigations certainly grounds his commentary when citing literary scholarship, ranging over vast landscapes of the humanities and politics.

The first of Hitchens letters' begins clarifying the role of the radical or dissident, with examples of individual struggles against the collective instinct.
For Hitchens, the dissident is to be earned rather than claimed. . .
i.e The one's who have earned to call themselves "dissident" were those who took a risk in going against "surreptitious conscription's" that are employed in order to exploit and control the masses. The radical dissident also maintains a commitment to explore the unconventional and contrary positions, which is shown to be a honorable commitment to personal integrity . This commitment is a "social contract" that is a prerequisite to democracy and to civilization, with Justice ideally taking precedence over corruption.

Throughout the letters Hitchens repeatedly informs the reader on how the dissenter deals with the struggle of societal conflict, where tribal solidarity and the intolerance that arises from it can be led to militarism, where the Law suddenly serves the interests of the State first - and the People second. To be ever more clear and concise, Hitchens later provides important aspects of being a radical in contrast to merely being a "reactionary" among other pitfalls that the radical must avoid. For clarity and to avoid confusion, the radical dissident or contrarian does not rest solely in any particular disagreement, but uses dissent as a way of being perpetually at odds with the mainstream.

Hitchens gives applicable advice about being eternally vigilant and persistent in the face of unrelenting opposition through his journalistic experience, coupled with his remarkable use of numerous literary examples.
One cannot easily dismiss Hitchens as employing merely idealistic anecdotes which can't be used in "real" complex situations, when one purveys the numerous examples that grounds his arguments -
especially when the arguments are recorded from people who experienced confrontations with the intolerant mobs and/or the State which sought to suffocate and extinguish the dissident voice of the disenfranchised minority. . . such as the abolitionist John Brown, Emile Zola, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella to only name a few who regarded a compromise as a disgrace.
Ever more helpful is Hitchens when further describing the mindset one needs in order to dissent when necessary.
These descriptions further outline good tactics to use when in opposition, as when dissecting common arguments employed against those who oppose status quo's and further capitalizing by providing great rejoinders to those arguments.

Hitchens highlights the use of irony to expose or to question - using methods of sarcasm while enduring an "As if" duration while criticizing the system - always a dissident from the status quo.
This helps the dissident when engaging a non-violent political rebellion. Patiently embrace the struggle and make it your own.
But the use of irony or sarcasm in a critical fashion something, Hitchens would characterize as "behaving literally and acting ironically". "Behaving literally and acting ironically" is opposed to “a world of timidity” where everyone is trying to be politically correct and where identities are constructed around one’s “offendedness” to any sort of direct criticism.

There are other concerns mentioned that are directed against the "concilliary" minded, who argue for the suppression of known facts by the following rationale that sometimes the truth cant or shouldn't be told at this time. For Hitchens this notion of the "concilliary minded" also promotes censorship of criticism, such as when the satirical questions the obvious.
Although Hitchens jokes such a radical can be boring, he still takes time to suggest for the employment of different types of "wit" humor that has been employed in radical statements or criticisms in order to soften the cushion.

All throughout these letters are references of the courageous determination of individual people and their spontaneous resistance to episodes of bullying or bigotry, or a challenging "pedagogical stupidity", somehow being effective enough to dishearten those whose courage was mob-derived.
Hitchens providing his own observations and literary examples of the fact, that noble or moral reactions be shown as being innate - stressing that these reactions will continue to occur and without them being dependent for their occurrence upon the transmission of "morality tales". Indeed there can be shown where moral reactions take place spontaneously.
The narration always includes many examples of different times and places where the role of the dissident or one who speaks out in the cause of morality, is not confined to the saintly or celebrity and is usually more genuine. These examples seem to be a valid argument against the claim that religious belief is necessary condition for moral actions - soon afterwards, Hitchens uses many examples to demonstrate how the argument of morality being dependent upon a mythic or religious transmission is a misapprehension of what really takes place.

This comes to the letter that dissents from institutions, particularly religious institutions that actually ask that people to "check your intellect at the door" and listen to the "wise person" or "books of wisdom", further aspiring mental annihilation. This subtle imposed ignorance keeps the masses in a haze, but sufficiently free to do the bidding of its leaders, however harmful they may be. This quieting of the faculties of reason easily endangers people, making them more susceptible to being deluded by the current religious conformism, centrism or large consensus. One ever common example of the mental dangers of Non-judgement, are people becoming morally apathetic or being "non-critical" on positions which has often led to moral transgressions of those who decide to remain neutral in times of crisis - such as the Catholic German Priest's being concilliary or somewhat accommodating to Hitler and his political purposes.

It is in this context where Hitchens of his own term he likens, "anti-theism" as part of a ongoing criticism of Religion and its harmful applications. One notable criticism regarding Religion and its harmful applications, is of how the Christian claim of "vicarious redemption" is in fact, repulsive - with any sort of actual application rendered absurd ;
For example Hitchens writes, "I would not throw my numberless sins onto a scapegoat and expect them to pass from me" It follows that you should not assume anothers actual crimes as if they were your own;
For one thing you really didn't commit them and might have died than instead of committing them - this impossible action of vicarious redemption robs people of individual responsibility.
In short, this claim is not intellectually honest and is therefore adverse to grounded reasoning.

This is certainly a thought provoking book that is enjoyable to read and useful to employ. Regardless of what one thinks of the arguments and positions put forth in these letters, Hitchens always puts forth sound rationale for why he thinks the way he does - ever provoking the rational salience of a fellow contrarian.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Hardcover
241 used & new from $1.05

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Review From Someone Who Actually Read The Book, May 21, 2012
Christopher Hitchens, author of many great books such as "The Missionary Position" or "Why Orwell Matters" has come back in this book to focus on the function of religion and its place in our world, while debating the merits and demerits of religious institutions in the societies in which we live.
In this book, Hitchens lays out a very convincing case for not only why religion is useless for true moral and ethical insight, but also why it is dangerous - inspiring good people to say and do wicked things. . .

Early on, to provide as a running example, Hitchens cites an "Atheist credo" to place in contrast with religious beliefs and principles;

"Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
We do not hold our convictions dogmatically".

Ergo, since religion is to be exposed as being "man-made", Hitchens affirms that an ethical life can be lived without the religious stamp of approval.
Hitchens is also quick to warn the reader in a type of disclaimer,
that while he writes and people read, "people of faith are in their different ways planning our destruction and of hard won attainments".

One important thing I felt that set this book apart from other critiques on religion, is Hitchens employing of his actual "first-hand" experience that came from traveling during his prolific career in journalism.
Each example used, seems to expose even more fraud behind varying religious institution's and their relationships with any given State Government.
Hitchens candidly recants personal experiences of witnessing European towns (such as Belfast), torn apart by sectarian warfare from rival Christian sects, or of interviewing people whose relatives and friends were kidnapped, killed or tortured by rival religious death-squads.
Among other examples are of ethnic or religious cleansing ( i.e Milosevic, xenophobic nationalism and the anti-muslim crusade*) ordered and then being carried out by unofficial militias or gangs, operating under Milosevic "deniable" control, blessed by orthodox priests and bishops.

Being that Hitchens is not an "armchair campaigner" and has repeatedly went out into the field ( i.e countries ) and talked to people who lived where certain atrocities took place, one gets the a more authoritative feel that is sometimes lacking when an author gets all their information and opinions just from sitting inside their office - being isolated from the very events that are written about. This type of "firsthand" experience is very much reflected in Hitchens written style of commentary employed throughout the chapters.

I was further amazed how the author himself was personally confronted with religious bullying, as when he publicly defended the author, Salman Rushdie against the "fatwa" that was placed on him by the Ayatollah. Indeed, Hitchens and other publishers of Rushdies work still stood by Rushdie fully knowing that through force the "true believer" cannot rest until the whole world, bows at the knee".

Hitchens never hesitates in giving different real-life or even better, current examples of religion interfering and jeopardizing Government policy.
The reader can repeatedly find historical and current events that are relevant on the topic of atrocities against humanity which had sectarianism at its root. The Historical events cited in the topic are further supplemented with important details, overlooked by Media edited sound-byte's.

So many of the examples gives the reader a sense of irony, such as the current interpretation of the historical U.S political landscape.
One can easily find that there was originally a distinction made by the Founding Fathers of the United States - such as James Madison ( author of 1st amendment ) which prohibited any law respecting an establishment of religion coupled with Article VI, stating that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust".

In current politics this seems to be quite the contrary, with politicians having to declare their religious affiliation and devotion in order to get elected.
These ironies leaves us to lament with Hitchens of our time following 9/11, where instead of a rational discussion about the best way to contain and defeat religious fanaticism, we have the actual reinforcement of sectarian mania, hijacking the discourse and of Politics at large . . .

Hitchens must also be applauded for his clarification of actual historical events and of its leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, MLK or Gandhi and the details that lie beneath the streamlined, "wishful thinking" version of the role of religion and how it really played out in the absolutionist / anti-absolutuionist and civil rights movement.
Indeed, one finds in this closer study, provided by Hitchens that religious institutions were constantly dragging its heels in the face of progress ( or societal transformation ), if not flagrantly condoning slavery , segregation, or rejecting the notion of Animal Rights.

To further illustrate the madness that results when faith goes unchallenged by reason, Hitchens shows how religion, faith and superstition distort our whole picture of the world. This distortion seen in the example's of the religious minded, discarding medicine for reasons of believing it to be a conspiracy against religious believers.
This conveyance of wrong information is shown to have disastrous consequences such as the further spreading of smallpox to areas along the route to Mecca. It doesn't take Hitchens too much to leave the reader to recognize this falsification is either ignorance being fed by more credulity or religious hypocrisy, in letting the religiously faithful slowly die via infection of HIV/AIDS or Polio.

With example after chilling example, Hitchens demonstrates how people in a Society are supposed to tolerate physical and/or psychological abuse and insults to women and children because of the taboo or even death warrant in criticizing this abuse that happens to fall under the scope of "religious practices".
These examples certainly expose religious dogmatism as the moral enemy of the good, wrecking those born or even unborn children as mere manipulable objects of their doctrine.
If these dogmatic claims can be preached under the protection of an established religion, we are in turn expected to take them at face value . . .

Such examples leads the reader into Hitchens other important lessons and warnings;

Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outstretched hands, offering conciliation, solidarity and uplift while these sects compete against each other.
Hitchens asks us to remember how barbarically religious authorities behaved when they were strong and were making offers that people couldn't refuse. "If we chance to forget what that must have been like, we only have to look at the states and societies where the clergy still has the power to dictate its own terms".
Unfortunately, some of these archaic dictates can still be seen as remnants in modern societies with the efforts made by religion to secure control, education or to pass anti-insulting laws of a deity or its prophet.

When coming to the chapter on "Argument from Design", I became even more impressed with Hitchens accumulation of logical argument and scientific facts.
For instance, Hitchens is able to utilize Dr. Michael Shermers analysis of how complete organisms such as the eye can be shown to have been developed through an evolutionary process, adding more weight on top of the immense data that all animals share common ancestors - all the way back to sightless bacteria.
Needless to say that these scientific explanations are in contradistinction from what religion would have us believe about our nature and our relationship to other animals.
It is here where Hitchens adds insult to injury against the religious creation theories a.k.a "Intelligent Design" theory, when describing how something like the complex eye is still filled with many flaws - further undermining the concept of an "intelligent designer" who cant seem to get anything right, stumbling along though creation, dumbfounded in the midst of trial & error.

The area in the book that seems to hit with the hardest proof of Hitchens premise is his emphasis in the essential concomitant ideals of the totalitarian and theocratic governments.
At its very roots Hitchens is able to demonstrate in detail how totalitarianism is found to be religious.The basic premise and hence function, is through Dictatorship on earth with the outlandish ambition of somehow having an absolute control in the "life" to come. . .
Once current and historical examples are examined in detail, both theocracies are shown to have started with the encroachment on a free society, always leading to their eventual horrific outcomes.

Hitchens examples of the basic viewpoints and practices of
Totalitarianism and Theocratic Fascism ;

- Both features the offense of "thoughtcrime" or of its like, where people can be punished for having their thoughts regards as "impure" "heretical" which in other cases being synonymous with the accusation of "demonic possessions".
In the view of the State, all of these are labeled as "evil" and therefore are regarded as a "danger" to the State.

- Orders of the State are to be obeyed and faithfully carried out.
while the Clericicy is reinforced of absolutism.
"In order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible"
George Orwell

- A religion is declared to be the national ( or exclusive ) religion.

- Religious scapegoating, equated with the non-conformed being an "enemy of the state".

- Monopoly over social issues and education with the aim to brainwash the youth with fascist state propagation and to maintain control at whatever cost necessary.
This is to reinforce the totalitarian view that the people can't be moral without its permission.

- Symbiotic relationship with religious heads, urging followers to vote for the political party
( i.e where the "leader" is a man sent by providence ).

- A splintering of different religious based groups with official or unofficially backing by the church, instigating uprising in different countries with varying results.

- Scapegoating can also lead to the rounding up of other countrymen that may not have originally been the targeted focus of the opposition ( i.e sympathizers ).
This has repeatedly led to the hijacking of the rest of the demographic of the political party, who would have initially opposed the government sanctioned subjugation of scapegoats.
If the religious institution within the State isn't persecutive of the actions of totalitarianism then it's usually completely passive.
Hitchens is poignant enough to remind the reader that inaction is itself a policy and decision which amounts to a "moral surrender" with appalling consequences.
For Hitchens, this parallels the moral collapse and unscrupulous political accommodation of the religious figureheads.

- The State creating loopholes in their religious systems so that people may commit crimes by calling an action something else
( such as Iran's legalized prostitution, or what is called a "short-term marriage" complete with divorce ).

I found Hitchens narration in these parts as fast paced, holding my interest when weaving from moments of the present back to the past of the first 'like events' taken place, then traversing back where a certain idea or attitude evolved and what societal ( religious and other ) pressures railed against free-thought ( or Atheism ) , accompanied of course with the rearguards and revenges of the religious institutions against the free-inquiring thinkers, such as Galileo Galilee and of their fall to religious Inquisition's.
As a seasoned intellectual, Hitchens easily weaves many historical scenarios, intellectuals, and religious figures into his case, grounded by Reason and sound principles against religion - ever betraying the incredible amount of scholarship he has amassed in his lifetime.

Of course Hitchens is more than fair, using witty derision without ever resulting to any mere cheap provocations.
There is even a point where Hitchens tries to give consolation to the religious leader, and confessing how hard it is to leave firm and dogmatic convictions behind , when talking of his own earlier experiences of being a Marxists - slowly watching these ideals become rigid and not being able to serve as a realistic guide for the future of society - but feeling more liberated afterwards after finally letting go.

The case against religion is a literary "roller coaster ride" with Hitchens possessing the rare ability to show just the right amount of respect to one's beliefs while he crucifies them:
Hitchens even capitalizes on a manner of fairness when providing examples of the seeming flaws and weaknesses of secular philosophies, which is linked with the very religious impulse that they tried to oppose.
Hitchens is still able to use this example and effectively drives home his original premise,
"The Religious impulse really does poison everything". . ."infecting us in our most basic integrity".

With a refreshingly realistic outlook, Hitchens readily admits that he wouldn't prohibit religion even if he could - even continuing to observe religious functions first hand, without insisting on the polite reciprocal condition, "which is that they in turn leave me alone - which religion is ultimately incapable of doing". Such elements put together in such a form, makes this book a fascinating read.
Hitchens style of prose is sharp and relentless as much as it is equally honest and fair, making this work a great study on the damaging effects of religious institutions. One of many important lesson I got from this work is that;
In order to progress, we must use the faculties of critical thinking to pressure and freely criticize religious ideals or practices, when they either ask to be taken a face value or demand to be deemed as "infallible".
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2012 1:18 PM PDT

A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from $18.89

23 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Someone Who Actually Read This Book . . ., February 2, 2012
"Universe From Nothing" is a thought-provoking book, detailing how science has went about discovering the origins of the universe.
Krauss' subject matter is derived from the observable experiments and Data supporting the theory that the universe was created due to the big bang, which itself arose out of a state of rapid quantum fluctuations - from nothing.
Along with educating the reader on how the rigorous testing of evidence supports the theory that the universe sprang from nothing, Krauss finds it of equal importance to educate the reader by clarifying what "nothing" really is and how the scientific understanding or usage of the term "nothing" is more informative than the Philosophers or Theologians semantic, hopelessly abstract and non applicable definition. Since the theologian contributes nothing more than mere backpedaling the definition into obscurity, Krauss argues that the scientific understanding of nothingness indeed replaces the relevatory or imaginative proclamations with more useful operational efforts to describe "nothingness".

Early on, Krauss sets the tone for the reader to explore implications by scientific discoveries by providing the scientific ethos for furthering our understanding of nature;
1) Follow evidence wherever it leads, even if the conclusions are startling or unexpected
2) If one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove it right
3) The ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment.

Throughout the chapters the reader is taken through the steps of the last 100 years in how the idea the ideas of size and shape of our Universe has drastically changed through a push and pull of theoretical science either being confirmed or denied by the advancement of scientific observation and testing.
This fascinating tale evokes many of the centuries observational discoveries in Physics and cosmology such as Edward Hubble, who confirmed that the expansion of the universe wasn't only happening but in fact accelerating, disproving Einsteins formulation of a "static universe" -
Other profound discoveries are thrown into consideration such as the "CMBR" ( Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation ) which supported the theory of the "big bang", or of the methods of how Krauss and others took in calculating the shape of the universe - leading to other profound discoveries such as the concept of "dark matter" ( or dark energy" ).
These discoveries in turn lead to other startling discoveries of our universe. . .which leads the path to the the thesis of the book.
I found the this section always engaging with Krauss always employs different methods, facetious analogies or graphs in helping the layman understand how the other scientists came to their conclusions, always underlining his useful premise;
"The Universe is the way it is whether we like it or not".

The integrity of Krauss work is further demonstrated with Krauss mentioning how he was cautious with the first data that comes in, might not be representative of all the data, systematic errors that could affect the data. "Speculations are fine, especially if it promotes new avenues for experiment. Krauss further calls for composure and being conservative as possible when examining real data.

In the last chapters the reader finds a wonderful description of processes of how a universe could come from nothing.
Some of the conditions that conspired to produce the shape of the universe that it is today such as the process of Inflation, whereby the energy of empty space/nothing gets converted into the energy of something - Empty space, endowed with enough stored energy which dominates the expansion of the universe, effectively creating everything we see.
It was mind-bending to discover that what we know or perceive as "empty space", is an unstable boiling brew of virtual particles that "pop" in and out of existence.
This fluctuation of energy happens so quickly that only the indirect effects of virtual particles can be measured before a positron meets the first electron, coincidentally annihilating each other and thereby returning back into empty space.

Krauss details more on the scientific method by citing the "paragon of good science" as when scientists use models that can be tested and falsified. Instead of working with questions of "why" something works, the work and inquiry of the scientist is to frame these into "how" questions, which allows the production of new knowledge and understanding of the phenomena. "How" questions are thus differentiated from purely theological questions, which presume the answers up front.

Richard Dawkins is also featured in the afterward, contributing a shorthanded yet chatty recap, successfully solidifying concepts that perhaps the reader was only beginning to correctly conceptualize together with underlining the significance of Krauss' work in the face of Philosophica and/or Theologian myopia . . .

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed Krauss' narrative and his facetious nature in trying to relate this profound and convincing discussion to the reader interested in Science, or those who follow the developments and discoveries more closely.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2012 1:10 AM PDT

Left on Red
Left on Red
by Darlene Rebechi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $26.60
18 used & new from $13.18

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Read !, June 3, 2011
This review is from: Left on Red (Paperback)
"Left On Red" is a 'multi-layered' epic adventure that employs a strong interplay of the metaphysically sublime with the dangerous situation's of everyday life. Woven into this book is a shroud of mystery and metaphysical possibilities, making the book read like a 'lucid dream of pulp-fiction'.

The Author has the story narrated through the main character - Shirley Martucci, a young woman who identifies with the counter-culture movement of the 1970's. The narration has a wonderful 'journalistic' feel to it with Shirley talking about past event's transpiring in the present-tense.

Within the first 3 pages, the reader is given a good sense of identification of Shirley's past, present and future motives and expectation's already put into focus. This element makes the readers task easier to keep pace with Shirleys traveling from North America to the Carribean, Central America, South America and back again.

Some of the other character's that are 'along for the ride' are consisted mainly of the key Drug-runner's of "Acapulco Gold" Marijuana and Cocaine, menacing militant middlemen, Shamanic Healer's and a history making idealist lawyer - turned into the morally heinous antagonist.
One gets an ever increasing view of the strength of the main character, when she is found dealing with the constant bombardment of chaotic event's. For example when Shirleys supporting love interest's become surprisingly changed by the surrounding circumstances in their tenacious lives, She is caught in the middle - holding the pieces together until something even more unexpected awaits around the corner...

For the most part the story follows in a linear sense with the exception of a few chronological jumps, which quickly fall into place and allow a more in-depth meaning behind Shirlys constant struggles.
This is an example of how the Author is able to use this style of chronological jumps in describing the effects of time as being both linear and circular. This method is constantly complimented with the main character being caught up in the strong fatalistic undercurrent's of the generational "family curse" of domestic abuse, dysfunction and corruption, coupled with her goal of ending this curse with the aid of her spiritual advancement.

At large, the author uses very effective storytelling. What I found exciting about the authors method of story telling, is being able to convey a pervading sense of irony that follows familiar patterns and yet somehow still has the ability to shock the reader with the unfolding of event's. This kept me in a state of constant anticipation, especially where Shirley has to force a way out of the most dire of situations.

All of what I said above made "Left On Red", a rich and complex adventure story that oscillated between layer's of the Existential and the Metaphysical.

Handbook To The Sculptures In The Peshawar Museum
Handbook To The Sculptures In The Peshawar Museum
by H Hargreaves
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.33
10 used & new from $22.93

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars where are all of the pictures corresponding to the analytical descriptions? Lame!, December 12, 2008
Nuff said! If Im going to order a catalogue of sculpture in a museum,
I want more than 5 pictures in the book!

Page: 1