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Profile for R. M. Williams > Reviews

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R. M. Williams "just an avid reader" (tucson, arizona USA)

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Gods & Generals (Widescreen)
Gods & Generals (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Jeff Daniels
Price: CDN$ 5.88
70 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 3 men and 3 battles in the 2nd American revolution, Dec 8 2003
This review is from: Gods & Generals (Widescreen) (DVD)
I finally had the opportunity to watch _Gods and Generals_ last night. I watched it, my wife went to bed after 2 hours of the 4 hours, partly because she needed to get up to go to work this morning, but mostly because i think she gets tired of me cheering for Johnny Reb. I am an unashamed Southern sympathizer even though i was raised in southern California, it may very well be genetic however as my mom's people come from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the one time i met my grandfather it was pretty obvious he was Southern. I watched the movie, absorbed by the characters, heart raced by the battle scenes, in tears at the horror and destruction of war. I yelled at the lines of foolish men throwing their lives into a pit as the walked into the hail of cannonfire and minibullets (come to think of it my wife might of disliked that part to), laughed as 1 of the 3 main characters hailed from Maine (my wife's adopted state), a college professor of history and philosophy, but warmed up to him as he quoted Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon at length just before a battle. So in general i acted like a crazy football fan at the finals, cheering the Gray and booing the Blue.
But as i reflect upon the movie, it is the Christianity of the Generals that comes through most strongly, and here i am as little impartial as i am to the participants. I share in the conservative faith of Jackson, i think Robert Dabney is one of the best theologians America has ever raised up. I was truely amazed that a movie would be done in modern secular anti-theistic America where the lead characters really pray, really believe, really love the Lord, (Wow, how did that get past the censors?) or be thought to make any money? Their faith is not dumbed down, the hard parts are presented as in where Jackson sits and cries for the death of a little girl by scarlet fever as his men remark-but he didnt cry for all the men we've lost. The minority view of the war is presented straight forward at several places: the Civil War as the Second American Revolution, the role of the Irish, slavery as a side issue not the important one, the contradictory role of the races in Jackson's praying with his black cook, or the protection of a white family's house by their brave women slave and her children and her talk to northerners about wanting to be free, for example. I had even hoped that somewhere on the extra disk would be several alternative endings where the South won.
And this is where my thinking is pushed by this most extraordinary movie, alternatives. They all revolve around the Faith and slavery, Biblical Christianity and ethnic relationships where a history of such epic proportions and such real horror intertwine with fundamental principles and good sound religious belief. This is the great value of the movie being as true as it possibly can to the historical conditions of the Civil War, for it was a religious as well as an economic, (industrial v. agarian), political (right to sucession), or what-have-you war. This is often minimized in our era of weak believism, mild feelings about religious things, a general feelings that religion isn't a great motivator, money and politics are. Well, secular America meet your great great grandparents, see their religious beliefs mirrored in the young suicide bombers in Israel, or the car bombers in Iraq. Religious beliefs are worth dying and even killing for, today as they where in 1861-4.
But it is in the mixture of truth and error that the movie hints at in the relationship of the races that is to me the takehome message that i need to dwell on, for those issues are not finished in today's America and the war was finished so long ago. Jackson (not in the movie but in real life) knelt with slaves in church, praying to the same Lord. Lee owned slaves, Dabney defended slavery in a book 20 years after the war. The South did fight to preserve the 'peculiar institution', slavery, abolitionists where Christians as well, although often Unitarians not Presbyterians. And this is where the present hits 1861 headon, and the power and the bright coloration of history so as to make it alive and real in the movie has great value. This is the extraordinary opportunity that the movie gives us, to revisit and re-evaluate our past, as if the issues are meaningful to us, important to us as they were to Jackson, or Lee, or whats-his-name you know the Maine guy. That is why i recommend even Yankees to watch the movie, to learn what moved our ancestors in a way that a book just can't do. So thanks all of you who contributed to this movie for an accurate picture of a piece of the War for Southern Rights.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2-Disc Collector's Edition) (Bilingual)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2-Disc Collector's Edition) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
Price: CDN$ 8.00
124 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars as advertised, Dec 5 2003
It's a good movie and like we did, a cozy and humorous way to spend an evening. Surprising part was the underlying humor and how the scenes from the Disney ride popped up. I almost shouted to my wife several times---"hey remember that scene, its in the ride!!"
Excellent performances, decent plot, but the spectacular special effects really, really, are the icing on a tasty cake. the scenes as the skeletons move from moonlight to people in the dark are very well done.
I look forward to the 2nd disk of extras for tomorrow night's diversion, if they have anything on how the SFX were accomplished or pieces of them actually doing it, i would watch as carefully as i did the movie.
I'm surprised it went to dvd so fast, i hadn't even had the chance to see it in our local cheapseats movie. But i don't mind, even on the smallest screen it is worth while and a good flick.

Darwin's Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World
Darwin's Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World
by Michael R. Rose
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 43.95
24 used & new from CDN$ 2.14

3.0 out of 5 stars Solid survey, starts with life of Darwin, Dec 1 2003
It is really an introduction to the consequences of Darwinian evolutionary biology in the modern world. But to get there the first 1/3 is a rather nice simple biographical sketch of Darwin and his times. One particularly good accent was on the Platonic essentialism that marked much of the historical thinking about biology up to Darwin's time. As such this part of the book would be a good first read for a high school student on Darwin.
The second half is his desire to convince people that Darwinian thinking is crucial for a good understanding of not just the natural biological world but for greater issues like sociobio to medicine. As such is a good general survey of an extremely polarized subject material without getting bogged down in the debate itself.

The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life
The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life
by Paul Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.00
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars rather complete intro to abiogenesis and EB interface, Dec 1 2003
It's a breezy introductory work by a person very much at the current heart of the debate, and as such is a good recommendation. The problem is that it is a popular book directed at the common reader, nothing difficult, nothing particularly new or stimulating. It is right at the interface of evolutionary biology and abiogenesis, as such would be a good entry level book for a high school student who would like to learn more about the broad subject material without being bogged down in the details of the controversies. He seems to hit all the important issues in the topic, shows that he has thought deeply about the subject material and is really interested in the reader getting the gist of the debate elements. The big advantage is completeness of coverage, the drawback is the shallowness of each chapter, where you really want to know more about what Davies has thought about.

Dreamcatcher (Widescreen) [Import]
Dreamcatcher (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Morgan Freeman
Offered by MusicaMonette
Price: CDN$ 18.99
43 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars couple of hours of escapist but interesting movie watching, Nov. 30 2003
I like Stephen King, i don't read many novels and have only seen his movies. This one is suspenseful and right on the border between sci-fi and horror. Like all of the movies of his i have seen, he builds suspense in 2 neat ways:
First is to involve the ordinary in extraordinary and suspenseful ways. The bathroom scene, the matches and toothpicks for instance. This is a lot like Hitchcock, where the ordinary takes on a macabre colored glass look that pretends that we are seeing through King's or Hitchcock's extraordinary and talented eyes rather than our own.
Second, he gives us just enough information to be tantalizing and interested, gets the creative juices flowing, something like the clues on Perry Mason, not quite enough to spoil the surprise but enough to get us involved in the plot and the characters.
Maine, in snowy winter, with 4 friends and a strange story back 20 years. Coupled with a ET crash and lots of animals and bodily functions humor. Just a nice evening, partially shut down rational thinking and enjoy the scenery.

Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
by Stephen Jay Gould
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not an essential read, but a pleasant one, Nov. 30 2003
I come to the book partly as a result of a direct self-study on the issues of creation-evolution-design debate, and partly because i like SJG's writings. At this point i am rereading some of his collections of essays in order to psych myself up for the week or more that his 'brick' _The Structure of Evolutionary Theory_ will take. I don't like baseball and had only skimmed this book previously, so for a couple of easy reading hours it occupied my mind.
It is basically about how to think about statistics. Summed up on pg 169ff. "Life's necessary beginning at the left wall. This is a takehome message from the excellent example of the drunkard's walk, pg 149ff. Left wall's are 'no one can earn less than zero dollars', 'no one can live and weight less than 50 lbs'. but Bill Gates can make enough money to skew the income and wealth curves so they look like capital 'L's. "Stability throughout time of the initial bacterial mode", most of the world's biomass is bacteria, no you or me. "Life's successful expansion must form an increasingly right-skewed distribution", this is the reply to evolution as progressive complexity to eventually produce US, thinking, creative, human beings. We are the >.400 baseball score, we are the very few that prove the rule that the masses are bacteria. "The myopia of characterizing a full distribution by an extreme item at one end", "Causality resides at the wall and in the spread of variation: the right tail is a consequence, not a cause", The only promising way to smuggle progress back into such a system is logically possible, but empirically false at high probability" and "Even a parochial decision to focus on the right tail alone will not yield the one, most truly desired conclusion, the psychological impetus to our yearning for general progress-that is, the predictable and sensible evolution to domination of a creature like us. endowed with consciousness."
It is not an earth-shaking book by any means, rather a collection of essays where the most interesting part is his explanation of dealing with cancer, which apparently is what he died from nearly 20 years after the first diagnosis, and the reasoning about statistics that started with his predicted death rates from it as he lay there in a hospital bed.
The drunkards walk could have been greatly enlarged, so for instance, by the addition of multiple drunkards bumping into each other, thus temporary right walls. Much like the biosphere is a changing mosaic of different species and different individuals.
But like all his essays, it is time well spent, not just to get a new example or more ways of handling data, but for the pleasant time with SJG and his excellent writing.

The Arch of Knowledge: An Introductory Study of the History of the Philosophy and Methodology of Science
The Arch of Knowledge: An Introductory Study of the History of the Philosophy and Methodology of Science
by D. R. Oldroyd
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from CDN$ 80.04

5.0 out of 5 stars the best intro to the field of the philosophy of science, Nov. 26 2003
Simply a wow, must stop and read book IF you are interesting in any aspect of science. My only regrets in reading the book are that (1)i am finished with it (2)that i didn't read it 30 years ago. Not because it is original or thought provoking as much as it is that ellusive puts-it-all-together broadly covering subjects that you know something about but just-couldn't-put-it-into-words type of book. That review article that gives you the needed perspective and points to a million places for further study, thus energizing what looked like an impossible task you were just about to abort.
The author is witty, interesting, well spoken and at points understatedly humorous. He has that professor's mind shaped by years of trying to convince students that what he finds fascinating is in fact something that ought to keep them awake in their lecture hall seats. The organizing principle is stated, restated, reshaped and appears in slightly different forms in every chapter and is an image that can be seen and reworked a million times in a learner's mind. This is the title, the arch of knowledge, up one side from the empirical via induction to general principles and down the other leg via deductive reasoning (this is just one of the incarnations of the arch), the whole thing is science, but the analysis of the arch is metascience(the author's word) and his book is meta-metascience(again his word) as it discusses the various way of constructing and understanding this analogy.
The organization is historical, starting with the "Ancient Tradition" with the Greeks, and proceeding chronologically via the careful analysis of individual's, their contribution to the architecture of the arch, and with particular attention to the problems they encountered and were desireous of solving. Contextualization, the putting into a great big picture of the march of science and of the flow of metascience in thinking about science, is always in the forefront of the author's intentions. There are times where he literally says that there is more interesting things to talk about here, that he is really interested personally in the topic, but it would interfere with the flow and learner's understanding if he were to pursue this topic. Along with this, both the individual chapter endnotes and the reference section at the book's end are treasures of 'where-to-go-from-here', but only complaint is that the book is dated 1986 and thus the references are dated and/or hard-to-find. But the book, being a historical survey could be updated by the addition of a new chapter or two, not necessarily a complete rewrite as is often needed in the sciences.
There have been many times in the recent past where i wished for such a book to be able to share the title with someone in an online discussion that just appeared to know nearly nothing about the big issues underlying the philosophy of science. Well now i have the book title to share. I am almost to the point that i would appreciate a comprehensive quiz or a required reading list in order to enter into discussion groups on technical or scientific topics. The pure bulk of garbage, of uneducated or foolish opinions, makes the noise to signal ratio so high that i contemplate leaving and sticking just to peer reviewed journals and published books. This book being read by a significant portion of those attempting to discuss issues in the creation-evolution-design CED debate, (which is the forum where i dwell of late, and what brought this book to my attention), would certainly uplift these discussions, to everyone's benefit. If you want to discuss evolutionary biology, or the relationship of science to religion as it impinges in this sphere, you simply must grasp the material presented in this book. Otherwise you are wasting time, rehashing, retracing, rebuilding the doomed, and generally not getting anywhere constructive. And that is the value of such a book: basic, learnable, systematic introduction to a rather complex twisting field that is of general interest to significant portions of the general public, who may be, and often are tempted to think that science is democratic in that even the uninformed opinion (that is their's) is of value. "Everyone has a right to their opinion, but no one has a right to demand that i take their opinion seriously UNLESS they have done their homework." In general philosophy of science 101, this is the best book i have yet encountered. Go for it.

Hearts & Minds (Widescreen)
Hearts & Minds (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
Price: CDN$ 42.99
15 used & new from CDN$ 16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars another generation's war, Nov. 20 2003
This review is from: Hearts & Minds (Widescreen) (DVD)
i came of age in the US during VietNam on the evening news. I had a favorite and influential uncle who spent 3 years fighting there. I was unprepared for how deeply the documentary effected me.
just get it and watch it.
and hopefully iraq does not become vietnam.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life
Jonathan Edwards: A Life
by George M. Marsden
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 37.95

5.0 out of 5 stars biography plus theology of a serious and important man, Nov. 12 2003
First, this book confirms my earlier suspicion that anything written by George Marsden is extraordinary and a must read, simply because of the quality of the research and the writing. The book was a 'from the pulpit recommendation' and as such not on my usual list of suspects to be read, i am however grateful for the recommendation and thankful for the time spent reading this biography of a very important and interesting person.
Second, the purpose of the book is aptly summed up by the author in the last chapter, "My belief is that one of the uses of being an historian, particularly if one is part of a community of faith, is to help persons of such communities better understand what they and their community might appropriate form the great mentors of the past and what is extraneous and nonessential. ... It should also be to help people see how to put things back together again. We need to use history for the guidance it offers, learning from great figures in the past-both in their brilliance and in their shortcomings. Otherwise we are stuck with only the wisdom of the present." pg 502
The book naturally breaks up into 3 pieces: the first, the much greater, is the biography of Edwards reaching a culmination in the church severing the pastoral relationship with Edwards that had been theirs for 26 years. The problems, both interpersonal and theological are summed up nicely in chapters 17 "A House Divided" and 18 "A Model Town No More". If you only have a limited time to invest in this book, i would start with reading these two chapters first. The next piece is the rest of his life, upto chapter 25. The final part is the systematic presentation of his theology in an historical context with one eye on its influence for the next 100 years in America. If you are primarily interested in Edwards as a theologian i would start but reading 26 "Against and 'Almost Inconceivably Pernicious' Doctrine" to the end.
The major threads in the biography appear to be:
Edwards as smitten by the beauty of God and His universe. The fragility of life and the necessity of getting right with God now as a consequence of mortality. The importance of 3 big controversies in Edwards' life: Old versus New Light, or the meaning and significance of emotional/enthusiastic revival, discipline in the church as illustrated by the boys and the midwife manual, which lead up to his dismissal from the church, and the place of reason in the life of a very bright man with deeply held convictions.
I appreciated the book, it is not a hard read, slanted to the general reader with all the hard stuff and references in endnotes. It moves evenly throughout with none of the low boring spots you might expect in a work this long. I would recommend it to most anyone with an interest in either theology or pre-Revolutionary America.
I am on the lookout for followup material. please email to rwilliam2 at yahoo. i have _Theology in American_ by Holifield and _America's God_ by Noll in hand.
as well as: The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards
by Sang Hyun Lee
thanks for reading this short review. i hope you pick up the book on this recommendation.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity
Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity
by Elaine Pagels
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.90
94 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars interesting, thought provoking, but is it right?, Nov. 9 2003
If you just have a chance to glance at the book, (1)read pg 150, this is the last page before the epilogue(and is a very concise summary of the book's topics), then read the (2)epilogue, then chapter 1 (3)"the kingdom of God is at hand".(these will give you the best idea of the type of writing and whether it means with your interests) The meat of the book is chapter 6 "the nature of nature" which is an extended argument against Augustine's view of original sin as 1)carried by semen 2)at odds with the radical moralfreedom that the early church taught 3)at odds with natural science. 4)is primarily a cynical justification of the power of religious and political organizations
I really don't know who to recommend the book to. It is written not for scholars, although rebuttal of her points would require at least as good a scholar as she is, but rather at an undergrad level. Educated laymen, interested scholars from associated disciplines, people following an interest in Augustine, early church history particular the gnostics(her speciality) would be the natural audience. I read it as part of a deliberate study on Gen 1-3 and interpretations and found it most interesting and provocative with regards to this interest.
She is a good and competent writer, holding your attention and making effort to explain difficult and esoteric historical points not only clear but relevant. A noble and achievable goal in this book. As to the content, there are only a few points that i am particularly competent to analyze as they cross my interests or knowledge base. In several of these she had misread orthodox thinking and comes close to strawman arguments, however i am not sure if this stems from her committments in the field or from my lack of historical depth. But it doesn't demolish the arguments only make them not-persuasive to me.
The book is an extended historical and theological introduction to the exegesis of Genesis 1-3, in particular, the relationship of Adam-Eve-the serpent to the questions of freewill or moral competence-to-choose. She is most detailed and fact-based when she talks about Augustine in chapter 6, but most interesting as she outlines the 4 or 5 centuries of intellectual history in chapter 1. As a secondary, but certainly interesting theme, there is the interpenetration of religious with political thinking. Why doctrines are not hand delivered from God above but rather are often the result of backroom manipulations and intrigue. It is this tension between ideas as independent creatures, like Plato's forms, and as nothing more than justifications of power structures and hierarchical institutions that supplies a movement, a dynamic that makes the book readable and engaging.
I am, of course, aware of Prof. Pagels by reputation, however this is the first book of hers i have had the pleasure of reading and as a result will be interesting in finding more, particularing in her field of Gnostic studies and the Nag Hammadi manuscripts.

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