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Now & Later
Now & Later
DVD ~ Shari Solanis
Offered by CSTCP Sales
Price: $17.49
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars make love not war, January 28, 2013
This review is from: Now & Later (DVD)
In principle, we have a chamber piece setting two world views up against each other. In one corner we have Bill, a disgraced banker, representing the people who think that their money and/or power will let them get away with anything - but, having been ejected from the system he supported, he is now ready to change his views and indeed his life philosophy.

In the other corner, Angela, champion of free love and social justice, the illegal immigrant offering him shelter for a few days in her gorgeously hippie-styled penthouse flat on top of a derelict hotel, where both the toilet and the shower are completely open-plan and in plain view of everything else, and where part of the neon sign of the hotel serves as lighting for the single room. That room alone is reason enough to watch the movie.

Angela embarks on the re-education of banker Bill, trying to reconvert him into a useful member of society - although it will have to be the society of a different country, as the US authorities want him locked up. With her priorities firmly on her sensual desires, she goes in for the sex first, fitting in the political education later.

To me, as someone who has essentially grown up with the Nicaragua solidarity movement, her political lecturing was a tad over-familiar, although I appreciate that the vast majority of the US audience will not know (or in fact believe, if told) that the CIA sold arms to Iran to finance the removal of a democratically elected government in Nicaragua (it's called the Iran-Contra affair, look it up). This scandal, which was exposed in November 1986, is kind of hard to reconcile with the prevailing US ideology that "we're the good guys", but I can confirm that it is true, I was alive (and young and angry) when it happened. Bill's response "you read too many novels" was hilarious to me, but probably representative of what a vast number of people would say if confronted with these historical events.

People who don't like the gospel she preaches may resent the dialogue, but, as washed-up banker Bill proves, Angela's charm is irresistible, whether or not you share her political opinion. And her roof-top paradise from where she looks down on the social divisions on LA with eagle eyes, is equally seductive.

En Vivo Desde Paris (CD/DVD)
En Vivo Desde Paris (CD/DVD)
Price: $17.99
47 used & new from $8.17

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars practically perfect, December 7, 2011
This is Shakira's fourth live DVD, so you may wonder whether she can add something new to the series, but as someone who knows the first three by heart I can reassure you that the new offering is a combination of the reassuringly familiar with the new and inventive.

Very familiar and mostly unchanged are the songs at the hard core of her repertoire from the 90s albums Pies descalzos and Donde estan los ladrones. As far as I can tell, she hasn't changed a note in her own favourite, Inevitable, since the MTV unplugged concert, and Si te vas, and Ciega sordomuda are similarly steadfast reminders of the good old days.

A lovely new feature is the medley made of A'tini al-Nay (an Arabic song she used to sing as a child), the Metallica cover Nothing else matters, and her own Despedida from the Love in the times of cholera soundtrack. Travel around the world in just a few minutes. Within the same "acoustic" setting is a much-improved version of Gipsy.

Since I saw the show at Paris in December 2010, she added a French song (Je l'aime a mourir by Francis Cabrel) and switched a few more of her announcements to French, which is a nice touch. My only moan about the programme is that none of the collaborators showed up (while Alejandro Sanz did, the last time round).

The DVD with 99 minutes of concert footage and 20 mins "behind the scenes" extras is perfect as always. The CD contains as much of the concert as fits on a single audio CD (big improvement on the 5-track CD from last time!), which means all announcements and a couple of songs (Si te vas, Gordita) were dropped, and the A'tini al-Nay snippet was cut too. The sound editing on the CD is different from the DVD version; there were a couple of places where I think I heard things that weren't so prominent in the DVD soundtrack.

Her last words on the concert recordings are "a la prochaine" (until the next time), so I'm very much looking forward to the next tour and DVD ...

Our Living Earth: A Story of People, Ecology, and Preservation
Our Living Earth: A Story of People, Ecology, and Preservation
by Isabelle Delannoy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.45
95 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful photos put to good use, June 6, 2011
Yann Arthus-Bertrand is famous for his aerial photographs of our planet and its inhabitants. I understand the photographer typically works from hovering hot-air balloons, so his vantage points are distant enough to reveal patterns that we don't see from the ground, but close enough to still see the humans and their vehicles that create these patterns.

He has very successfully marketed these photos in coffee-table books with titles like "The Earth from above" and in exhibitions. In this book, his photos are hooked up with facts and figures about the current threats to our environment, and with pleas to save the Earth, which puts the photos to a good use and also gives the reader the warm feeling of doing something useful rather than just looking at pretty pictures.

The text, aimed at young readers, doesn't delve into scientific depths, and doesn't cite sources for the numbers given, which is a bit of a shame. If the photos and alarming facts manage to stir readers up to the extent that they want to find out more, they will have to go googling to find more comprehensive accounts.

by Sefi Atta
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.50
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars women on the verge ... in Nigeria, March 23, 2011
This review is from: Swallow (Paperback)
The book opens with a dialogue between two friends on the bus, on their way to work, after narrowly escaping a possible accident. Rose talks a lot, and preferably about what her friend Tolani should do with her life and her boyfriend, while Tolani herself only gives laconic replies. Both face an uphill struggle trying to survive in the chaotic metropolis of Lagos, Nigeria, in a society dominated by men who tend to be unreliable, molesting, or even criminal.

Tolani doesn't appear to be very good at getting her way through dialogue, even though there is a lot of it going on. Somehow, it never goes her way, and she always ends up swallowing her pride. Her employers kick her around, her useless boyfriend squanders her savings, her mother tells her everything except what she needs to know, and her friend Rose signs the pair of them up for a trip as drug mules, which, again, requires Tolani to swallow her pride, not to mention a condom filled with cocaine.

With its colourful representation of everyday life in Nigeria, this short novel (like Atta's debut, Everything good will come) is very engaging in the short term, for 10 or 20 pages. I especially enjoyed the swipes at us western people ("oyinbo" seems to be the Yoruba equivalent to "gringo"), such as: "... oyinbos write theories about things they can't understand, and by the time they finish, you can't understand either, even if they're writing about you." (p. 167) However, given the very slow pace of the progress our heroine makes, the reading experience is also a little bit frustrating in the longer term. This may very well be intentional, reflecting the frustration that this woman suffers every day. Only in the very last paragraph she seems to have picked herself up. "It's my turn to speak," she says. About time, too.

Mirror-Image Asymmetry: An Introduction to the Origin and Consequences of Chirality
Mirror-Image Asymmetry: An Introduction to the Origin and Consequences of Chirality
by James P. Riehl
Edition: Paperback
Price: $50.02
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars on the importance of handedness, February 23, 2011
The "handedness" that allows us to tell the left glove from the right one is a very important concept in chemistry but not often appreciated, much less popularized. Chemists call it chirality (the fact that Microsoft Word draws a red squiggle underneath this word shows how much it is underappreciated). Having the wrong version of a molecule can have catastrophic consequences as in the case of thalidomide, where one version produced the desired medical effect, while its mirror-image is held responsible for the characteristic malformations.

Author James Riehl, a professor of chemistry whose research involves the study of chiral molecules, links chemical chirality to the whole spectrum of chiral phenomena, which requires a large sweep from physics via chemistry through to biology and even to psychology as he finally arrives at human handedness.

His book is very readable and contains many intriguing factoids to be picked up along the way. I had not realised, for instance, that we can tell apart pairs of mirror-image molecules using only our noses. For example, of the molecule limonene, one version smells like oranges, and its mirror image like lemons. I also learned that the historic Dutch windmills, like so many other things, owe their unanimous chirality to the fact that they were designed for right-handers.

This should be an enlightening and enjoyable read for chemists and lay readers alike.

Calatrava (Taschen Basic Architecture)
Calatrava (Taschen Basic Architecture)
by Philip Jodidio
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
69 used & new from $4.55

5.0 out of 5 stars good introduction to work of a great architect, February 23, 2011
I've been intrigued by Santiago Calatrava's architecture since seeing the station at Liege Guillemins just before it was completed. At that point, not knowing much and wanting to find out more, I found this little Taschen book the perfect introduction. There are short (2-6 pages) chapters on each building and a 15-page introduction.

As a scientist at the interface between life sciences and physical sciences, I am of course particularly attracted to Calatrava's characteristic way of taking inspiration from soft, living, moving creatures and using it for his structures, giving them a life of their own. Biology shines through everywhere in his work, and the book is good in pointing this out, using some of the architect's sketches as well. The photos are brilliant, too, though it may well be physically impossible to make a boring photo of anything designed by Calatrava.

Most importantly, the book contains a world map with the locations of his buildings at the end, very handy for planning travels to see as many of his works as possible (so far I've seen his completed works at Liege, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Lyon).

Chocolate Unwrapped: Taste & Enjoy the World's Finest Chocolate
Chocolate Unwrapped: Taste & Enjoy the World's Finest Chocolate
by Sarah Jane Evans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.65
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars how to appreciate real chocolate, January 20, 2011
As someone who likes to match up red wine (Cotes du Rhone) with dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or more) I was intrigued to see that the wine critic of BBC Good Food magazine has published a book about chocolate. I should warn you that the word "chocolate" is used in the narrow sense here - if you like your "dairy milk" bars containing vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, you've probably dialled the wrong number.

The book opens with a 50-page introduction into the history and production of chocolate, complete with a how-to guide to tasting. This is followed by an alphabetical compendium of some 80 brands of chocolate from around the world, from Akesson's to Zotter. Each gets two pages, and from each brand one bar, 70% or nearest offer, is marked up with flavour notes where the author's main job as a wine critic shines through.

The first part is well written and contains lots of interesting facts, both from food science and history. Chocolate feels smooth, for instance, only if the particle size is 30 micrometres or less. I also learned that more than half the world production of cocoa beans comes from just two countries, namely Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. And that the UK insisted on EU rules permitting up to 5% vegetable fat in "chocolate." Remember to read the list of ingredients before you buy any. The good news, though, is that the appreciation of real chocolate, made from fairly traded ingredients of well-defined origin, seems to be a growing trend around the world.

The list of chocolate brands is also surprisingly readable, thanks in part to the interesting mix of people who at some point of their life decide that their vocation is to produce chocolate. (Having read the first part of the book describing the difficulties involved, you know that they have to be a bit mad to choose this as a career!) While there are of course those who have inherited a family business or come from a background of patisserie or other fine food, there is the odd scientist, lawyer, and management consultant sprinkled in who discovers in mid-life that the quest for the perfect chocolate bar might be more satisfying than whatever they were doing in their previous career.

On top of that, the book is mouthwateringly illustrated with colour photos of lots of chocolate bars, details of the production process, and the plants. And it is beautifully produced, inside and out. Considering this, the book is very good value. Quite a few of the chocolates introduced here will probably cost more per weight.

Room in Rome
Room in Rome
DVD ~ Elena Anaya
Price: $16.79
32 used & new from $12.73

129 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another masterpiece from Medem, January 13, 2011
This review is from: Room in Rome (DVD)
I was a huge fan of Julio Medem's small but exquisite oeuvre already, but Room in Rome easily made it into the top five of my all-time favourite films (where it competes with Medem's Sex and Lucia (Unrated Edition)). What, you may ask, makes it so special?

First the set-up - a one-night encounter in a hotel room, which the camera never leaves except to peep out onto the balcony or through the entrance of the room into the corridor. This would work brilliantly in a very small theatre as well. The basic idea is borrowed from a Chilean movie (En la cama) with a couple of very important tweaks. Medem turned the man of the first movie into a woman, and he moved the room to Rome, and embedded it in Italian art history. There are paintings on every wall and even on the ceilings, which play an important part in the movie.

Alternatively, to relate it to a better known movie, one could call it an all-female "Before Sunrise" set indoors and in a different city. In one rollercoaster night the protagonists get to know each other and learn to trust and love each other.

So in that room, we have two women, not too many clothes, lots of art, and modern IT equipment enabling them to show each other their outside lives via Google Earth. Oh, and a splendid view from the balcony over the roofs of Rome. (One could have called it Room with a view, had the title not been taken by some other movie.)

Let's get the clothes issue out of the way first, as it seems to have scared UK distributors to an extent that they didn't give the film a chance in the cinemas. Yes, both women are undressed for most of the length of the movie, but after about two minutes that appears completely normal and one stops noticing it. In a sense, considering their respective vulnerabilities and difficult path towards mutual trust and truthfulness, one could argue that most of their nakedness is psychological rather than physical. Seen this way, the cosy white bath robes they put on for breakfast in the end seem to represent the comfort and protection of a trusting (if time-limited) relationship.

More interestingly, the art, chosen by Medem's wife and art director Montse Sanz, tells us something not only about the story and its possible interpretations, it also offers insights into Medem's philosophy when Natasha cites the Renaissance artist Leon Battista Alberti, seen in one of the paintings, as saying: "The artist must know at all times what he is representing."

I would argue that the film contains more classical art than we see on the walls. Many of the poses of the women remind me of paintings - most of them reclining nudes, obviously. Towards the end, Medem acknowledges artworks as a source of inspiration explicitly when he makes Natasha copy the pose of the Venus of Milo, which is present in the room as a small scale model. Come to think of it, with all the gorgeous lighting and colours, many of the frames would make nice paintings.

Ironically, the state of the art IT equipment including a smartphone and a laptop running Google Earth (or the Microsoft equivalent) almost seamlessly becomes as important as the Renaissance paintings, as it's the only connection to the previous and outside life of the protagonists. Talking of technology, I also love the fact that Alba turns out to be an engineer who came to Rome to plug an invention she made. While she failed to score a contract on this occasion, her business seems to be going ok, judging by the quality of the hotel room she booked. And as Natasha is an art historian, the story could be read as a "two cultures" dialogue as well.

The five languages - some of the most touching moments involve each character speaking their native language (Spanish / Russian), assuming the other won't understand. But the English dialogue, with just enough of an accent to identify the origin of each character worked surprisingly well for me (I do like my Spanish films and am not necessarily happy if people switch to English). It's sad and ironic, however, that Medem's first film to feature dialogue mostly in English wasn't actually shown in UK or US cinemas. We also get some Italian (via the singing room service waiter) and some Basque via a video, reminding us of Medem's cultural background (I understand that, genetically, he is as much German as Basque, namely 1/4 each).

The music of Spanish (but English singing) singer-songwriter Lourdes Hernandez, aka Russian Red (a pseudonym she borrowed from her favourite lipstick, apparently) is perfect for the movie, not only because her accent matches Alba's.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2014 2:22 AM PDT

Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine
Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine
by Marcello Pennacchio
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $46.30
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1400 plants to burn and produce smoke, January 13, 2011
This is a compendium listing 1400 plant species, so it could very well be boring. However, it is dedicated to plants that have been burned to produce smoke for various purposes, and it's the rich variety of these purposes that makes this book interesting. Obviously, burning plants to do something with the smoke is an ancient and practically universal behaviour, which in our time has been funnelled into the global habit of smoking mass-produced cigarettes, and thus disconnected from its diverse cultural roots.

The 30-page introduction categorises the uses of smoke: medicinal is the largest group by far, followed by religious/magical/ceremonial, and recreational. It also cites some of the more suprising examples, e.g. "in Bulamogi County, Uganda, men smoked various plants to rid themselves of their wives." (That's under magical, not under medicinal use!)

The species list spanning 148 pages from Abies amabilis through to Zornia glochidiata is clearly for reference and/or the specialist reader only. You may want to look up your favourite plants. About one of mine it says: "the latex of this plant was burned to produce smoke that was inhaled in parts of Iran for general gastrointestinal disorders." That's the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga). You may not want to read all 1400 entries, but the introduction is very enlightening for all of us.

The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine
The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine
by Kevin Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.57
166 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars reporting the real genome revolution, January 4, 2011
Back in 2000, when the draft sequence of "the" human genome was announced, hopes were high that a genetic understanding of common diseases would soon follow. This anticipated revolution in genomic medicine hasn't happened yet. However, a very different kind of revolution has happened, namely the development of fundamentally new and much more efficient methods to sequence huge amounts of DNA. As a consequence, the cost of sequencing a human genome has fallen faster than that of computer hardware. In order-of-magnitude terms, the first human genome (2000) cost around $ 1 billion, James Watson's (2007) $ 1 million, and this year many individual human genomes will be sequenced for not much more than $1000 per head.

This very real genome revolution has been underreported in the general media. Worse, it hasn't yet influenced the thinking of many medical professionals, even though it is bound to change the ways in which they will be able to prevent and treat disease. Kevin Davies, who has followed these developments closely as the editor of the magazine BioIT World and has interviewed many of the main protagonists over the years, now aims to popularise the new genome revolution in this very readable book.

Along with the progress in sequencing technology and personal genomes, Davies also covers the work of direct-to-consumer companies such as 23 and me, and also reports his own experience gained with these services. It emerges, however, that these companies are already at risk of becoming obsolete if they keep looking for simple answers from single base mutations (single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) although the large-scale view of the complexity of entire genomes is becoming more and more important.

This is a well-informed and very accessible account of the fast-moving developments that will change medical and pharmaceutical world very soon. Naturally, it will become dated very soon, so read it now.

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