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STEPHEN PLETKO "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)

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Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations
Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations
by Eli Rubenstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.81
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.81

5.0 out of 5 stars "We do know how to respomd [to the memory of the Holocaust]. The answers resound in the pages of this book", July 23 2016

“Dombrowa, July 22, 1943

My Dear Sister and Brother-in-Law,

I am writing this letter to you during the last days of my life. We are expecting [our demise] any time…

I don’t believe even a miracle can help us now. My little son…and I are the last sacrificial victims…The only thing that makes it easier on my heart is knowing that [my eight year old daughter] will be saved…It is not our fault. We are innocent, our future is lost and it cannot be changed…

It breaks my heart to have to write this letter to you, but you must know what happened to your family and how they disappeared. I am sorry to say that from the whole family, nobody is alive, we are the last. We are in danger and there is no possible way for us to live through this…

I cannot write any more…This is the last letter from me to you.”

The above are excerpts from an actual letter written by a Jewish female prisoner that appears in this unforgettable book compiled by Eli Rubenstein with “March of the Living.” Rubenstein has been involved with Holocaust education for almost three decades. “March of the Living” is an educational program that brings Holocaust survivors and young people (students) from around the world together to march from Auschwitz (concentration camp) to Birkenau (extermination camp) in memory of all Holocaust victims as well as to demonstrate solidarity against prejudice, intolerance, and hate.

The purpose of this book is to keep the memory of the Holocaust or Shoah (1941 to 1945) alive.

This book consists of photographs, archival photos, a map, survivor testimonies, poems, quotations, and text. It proceeds in a logical sequence and answers such questions as:

(1) What happened? And to whom?
(2) Where did the Holocaust take place? Who let it happen?
(3) Who resisted?
(4) Who survived?

Lastly, the students and survivors get together where the “torch of Holocaust memory” is passed on to a new generation. Survivors recount their Holocaust memories to students while students give survivors the emotional support they need to return to the sites where their family members perished.

The students thus become witnesses to what happened. It is this new generation of witnesses that make a commitment.

This book makes it clear that the Jews alone were not only persecuted. Other groups (such as Poles, Soviet POWs, and the disabled) met their fate during this morally fractured time.

Finally, this is an interactive book where you can view on your smartphone or other device survivor testimony from the archives of the Shoah Foundation and March of the Living.

In conclusion, this is an incredible book that, I’m sure, will help to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive!!!

(First published 2015; note to the reader; introduction; 6 chapters; main narrative 115 pages; 2 appendices [not labelled as such]; acknowledgements and credits)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life
Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life
by Edward O Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.13
36 used & new from CDN$ 18.50

5.0 out of 5 stars "The biosphere does NOT belong to us; WE BELONG TO IT", July 16 2016

“I’ve written [this book] as the last of a trilogy that describes how our species became the architects and rulers of the [new] ‘Antropocene’ epoch [the time of human alteration of the entire global environment], bringing consequences that will affect all of life, both ours and that of the natural world, far into the geological future.”

The above comes from this fascinating, well-written book by E. O. Wilson. He is a biologist (his specialty is the study of ants), researcher (especially in biodiversity or biological diversity), theorist (he proposed the biophilia hypothesis: an instinctive bond exists between humans and other living systems), naturalist (conservationist) and a best-selling author (of more than twenty books).

Wilson is now Professor Emeritus in Entomology (the study of insects) at Harvard University and a lecturer at Duke University. He has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize (twice).

Simply put, this book is about nature. Wilson is deeply concerned about it. He shares this concern with the reader by dividing his book into three logical parts: first he identifies “THE PROBLEM,” then he tells us about “THE REAL LIVING WORLD,” and finally he proposes “THE SOLUTION” to the problem that is affecting our living world.

In the first part (nine chapters) he tells us that the wide variety of life-forms on our planet remains unknown to science. The species discovered so far that can be studied well-enough to assess (namely, animals and flowering plants) are declining in number at an increasing rate.

There were three chapters in this part that I found particularly interesting: “Why extinction is accelerating,” “The impact of climate change: land, sea, and air,” and “The most dangerous worldview.” (I found the last chapter mentioned here to be both disturbing and sad.)

The second part consists of seven chapters. A large part of biodiversity still exists in both species (a genetically distinct population of life-forms) and ecosystems (a locality with distinct physical traits and the distinctive species that live within it) of the living world but the time that remains to save this remaining biodiversity is quickly running out. In fact, it can be practically gone by the end of this century. Wilson tells us that “what follows [in this part] is an image of [biodiversity’s] immense surviving breadth.”

There were four chapters in this part that stood out for me: “The unknown web of life,” “The wholly different aqueous world,” “The invisible empire,” and “The best places in the biosphere.” (The “biosphere” is all the organisms alive in the world at any moment, which together form a thin spherical layer around the planet.)

In the last chapter mentioned here, Wilson tells us that “the selections [of best places] described…are subjective assessments by myself and those chosen at my request by eighteen senior conservation biologists based on extensive field experience.”

The last part consists of five chapters. The global conservation movement has reduced but not stopped the ongoing extinction of species. In fact, the rate of loss is actually increasing. If biodiversity is to be returned to the baseline level of extinction before the spread of humanity, and thus saved for future generations, the conservation effort must be raised to a new level. As well, there must be a fundamental shift in moral reasoning concerning our relationship to the living environment.

This part contains the key chapter that may be The SOLUTION to THE PROBLEM: “HALF-EARTH: HOW TO SAVE THE BIOSPHERE.” Note that this is a proposal to halt the accelerating extinction of biodiversity.

I thought this rather a ridiculous proposal but was convinced after I read the rest of this part and read appendix 1 whose first sentence states that “There exist organizations and recent trends in large-scale land and marine conservation that lend credibility to the Half-Earth solution.”

At the beginning of each chapter are impressive black & white line drawings from mainly the late 1800s that show elements from nature (birds, animals, etc.). These highlight the beauty of nature.

Finally, a problem that some people may have with this book is that Wilson occasionally meanders off-topic. Personally, this did not bother me because he gives his own distinctive insights which I appreciated. Some readers may not, however, like this and may even condemn the book for this.

Also, there is a one-page glossary that’s sandwiched in-between other back-material making access to it difficult. This is very important (at least it was to me). Thus, it should be located right after the main narrative ends and, in my opinion, expanded to include more key words. As well, the appendices (there are two, not one, as the table of contents asserts) should be titled and their presence made known in the main narrative. (In fact, I almost missed the important appendix that I mentioned above.)

In conclusion, this is E.O. Wilson’s most impassioned book to date that reminds us that “we remain a biological species in a biological world.”

(First published 2016; prologue; 3 parts or 21 chapters; main narrative 210 pages; sources; glossary; 2 appendices; acknowledgements; index; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe
The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe
by Thomas Levenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.21
32 used & new from CDN$ 15.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Now I finally understand why Star Trek's Mr. Spock can't phone home, July 9 2016

Here are some facts about the planet Vulcan:

(1) Vulcan discoverer: Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier (by calculation)
(2) First observer of Vulcan: Edmond Lescarbault (an amateur astronomer) in 1859
(3) Size: about one-quarter the apparent diameter of the planet Mercury
(4) Transit duration (time to cross the face of the sun): 1 hour, 17 minutes, 9 seconds
(5) Distance from sun: less than that of Mercury (an intra-Mercurial planet)
(6) Orbit: nearly circular
(7) Period (time to make one revolution around sun): about 20 days
(8) Transits per year: 2 to 4
(9) Brightness: can be seen with the naked eye

The above “facts” are found in this interesting, well-written, and well-researched book by Thomas Levenson. He is professor and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Graduate Program in Science Writing. Levenson is also an author and has received many awards for his writing. As well, he has produced, written and/or directed more than a dozen science documentaries.

This book is concerned with Vulcan, a small, hypothetical planet that was proposed to exist between Mercury and the Sun. Attempting to explain peculiarities on Mercury’s orbit, the French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier (1811 to 1877) hypothesized that they were the result of another planet, which he named “Vulcan” (after the Roman God of Fire). The goal of Le Verrier’s analysis with respect to Vulcan was to construct a model based on Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation. (Note that Le Verrier’s recent success in discovering the planet Neptune in 1846 by calculation lent veracity of his claim for Vulcan.)

The rest of this story is found in this book’s long subtitle which, to me, seems be out of sequence. It should be:

“And How Albert Einstein
Discovered Relativity
Destroyed a Planet, and
Deciphered the Universe”

Here, “Relativity” refers to Einstein’s (1879 to 1955) General Theory of Relativity (1915). The word “destroyed” is too strong (but I must admit that it’s very effective and catches the reader’s attention). Einstein “deciphered the universe” by showing that there is more to it than Newton’s mechanistic universe.

I’ve got to say that I was impressed with Levenson’s slim book. He makes the “discovery” of Vulcan really interesting while sticking to the facts. I enjoyed how he progressed from “Newton to Neptune (1682-1846)” to “Neptune to Vulcan (1846-1878)” and lastly to “Vulcan to Einstein (1905-1915).”

The science is well-explained (translation: you’re never lost) and is enmeshed in a rich historical context. Along the way, you’ll learn how science works—when it succeeds and when it fails.

Finally, black & white diagrams and portraits are peppered throughout. As an added bonus, some of the actual writings of key people are included.

In conclusion, in revealing the forgotten story and drama of Vulcan, this book demonstrates science writing at its best!!

To all who read this review, “live long and prosper.”

(First published 2015; preface xi-xv; 3 parts or 10 chapters with 2 interludes and 1 postscript; main narrative 180 pages; acknowledgements; notes; bibliography; illustration credits; index; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Reasons To Stay Alive
Reasons To Stay Alive
by Matt Haig
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.99
5 used & new from CDN$ 11.38

4.0 out of 5 stars "'To be or not to be' is a daily question for many depressives", July 3 2016
This review is from: Reasons To Stay Alive (Paperback)

'Hey sad-sack! Yes, you! What are you doing? Why are you trying to get out of bed? Why are you trying to apply for a job? Who do you think you are? Mark Zuckerberg? Stay in bed.

You are going to go mad. Like Van Gogh. You might cut off your ear.

Why are you crying? Because you need to put the washing [machine] on?

Hey. Remember your dog, Murdoch? He's dead. Like your grandparents. Everybody you have ever met will be dead this time next century. Yep. Everyone you know is just a collection of slowly deteriorating cells.

Look at the people walking outside. Look at them. There. Outside the window. Why can't you be like them?

There's a cushion. Let's just stay here and look at it and contemplate the infinite sadness of cushions.

P.S. I've just seen tomorrow. It's even worse.'

The above is the entire chapter entitled 'Things depression says to you' and is found in this interesting book by Matt Haig. He is the author of five novels, all of which have been optioned for film. Haig has also written books for children and young adults. His work has been translated into thirty languages.

Despite its title, this book is more of what depression (along with anxiety and panic attacks) is and how Haig felt struggling with it. (Only two chapters are concerned with 'reasons to stay alive.') It would, in my opinion, be helpful to someone who's witnessing depression of a friend or family member, to help them understand the depressed person better and help them (since some suggestions of how to feel better are given).

I feel that this book is not for those struggling with depression. I know if I was depressed, this book might make me even more depressed. Former depressives who read this book, however, might identify with what's said.

This book does not flow. It seems to be a jumbled narrative of stories, lists, and facts.

With everything I've said thus far, it might seem that I did not like this book. Right? Well, no. I actually liked it. Why? Because this book is very creatively written. The above chapter extract is a good example of this.

As well, while the seriousness of his condition is never in doubt, a wry humour is evident on Haig's writing. For example, there is a chapter/list entitled 'Things you think during your first panic attack' and this is followed by 'Things you think during your 1000th panic attack.' Some other examples include 'Things people say to depressives that they don't say in other life-threatening situations' or 'Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression.' I also enjoyed his three 'Conversations across time' where there is an exchange between 'Now me' and 'Then me.' I can go on and on, but I think I've said enough.

I mentioned above that Haig does give suggestions of how to feel better. These suggestions are based on what worked for him. Medication is discussed briefly. Notably absent is a discussion of therapy, presumably something Haig never even tried.

And don't worry! There is no psychobabble found in this book.

At the end, there are appendices. These consist of advice and resources for people seeking help.

The book itself is divided into five parts: falling, landing, rising, living, and being. Each part consists of many chapters (really vignettes and lists). All pages are double-spaced.

Finally, this book contains no index or table of contents. While I can see why there is no index, I can't fathom the lack of a table of contents. A wealth of information is given but there is no easy access to it. I think a table of contents indicating each part with its chapter titles and page numbers would have been most helpful.

In conclusion, this is a brutally honest, intensely individual, creative response to a period of profound crisis, and an account of what pulled one man from the brink!! I leave you with five items found in a list in this book entitled "How to live:"

1. Be gentle with yourself. Work less. Sleep more.
2. There is absolutely nothing in the past that you can change. That's basic physics.
3. Hate is a pointless emotion to have inside you.
4. Beware the gap. The gap between where you are and where you want to be. Simply thinking of the gap widens it. And you end up falling through.
5. Listen to Hamlet, literature's most famous depressive: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

(First published 2015; preface [not labelled as such]; a note; 5 parts or 70 chapters; afterword; main narrative 250 pages; further reading; acknowledgements; permission credits; 2 appendices [not labelled as such])

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance
A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance
by Theodora Ross MD PhD
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.61
45 used & new from CDN$ 7.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Do you have a genetic predisposition to cancer? This book tells you how to find out and, if you do, what action to take, June 25 2016

“Some of you may already know that Theo [the author] was diagnosed with melanoma [a type of skin cancer] in the fall. She had surgery, we [the author and her husband] caught it early, and all indications are that she is cured. However, as a result of this, and the very strong history of cancer in Theo’s family, we recently sought genetic counseling.

We have been advised that there is a high probability that Theo could develop certain additional cancers. As a result, we have been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks meeting with doctors and surgeons to discuss ways of prophylactically [medical-speak for “preventatively”] reducing Theo’s cancer risk.

Theo has not been diagnosed with any new cancers, her life is not in danger, and we expect to be able to resolve all these issues over the next several months. However, the medical issues are complex and distressing. As a result, Theo and I are quite preoccupied as we work to resolve them.”

The above is part of a message that the author & her husband told their colleagues and is found in this very personal, very informative, important book by Theodora “Theo” Ross, M.D., Ph.D. She is professor of internal medicine and the director of the Cancer Genetics Program in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Ross is a researcher on cancer susceptibility genes as well as an oncologist (“cancer doctor”) not only for breast cancer but for all types of patients who have a family history of cancer.

As you may have deduced, this book is about cancer. Not cancer in general but a certain type of cancer.

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential of spreading to other parts of the body. At the molecular level, it is caused by a mutation (alteration) in DNA. Most of these mutations are acquired externally from the environment (carcinogens) and occur in cells of the body (excluding the reproductive cells). This is the type of cancer most people are familiar with.

However, some people inherit mutation(s) in the germline (refers to those reproductive cells that pass on genetic material to offspring). These mutations occur in certain genes (molecular units of heredity). This forms the basis of what is known as inherited or family cancer syndrome. This is the cancer this book is concerned with.

Putting it all together, inherited or family cancer syndrome is a genetic disorder in which inherited genetic mutations in one or more genes negatively affect people to the development of cancers (and may also cause the early onset of those cancers).

There is a more deeply personal reason of why this book was written: through genetic testing, Ross has discovered that she is a carrier of a cancer-causing mutation and, as well, has a strong family history of cancer. Thus, her predisposition of developing cancer is quite high. She has been living with this knowledge for over a decade and so has had to navigate a jungle of anxieties, losses, denial, judgement calls, and treatment options.

Ross passes the KNOWLEDGE she has gained to the reader. She blends together the science of DNA, personal stories, and perhaps, most importantly, practical suggestions. I found that because she inhabits the worlds of both doctor and patient simultaneously that this blending was quite effective. I also appreciated her rational, clear-thinking style that is evident throughout this book. And don’t worry! All scientific and medical terms are defined in the main narrative.

The fact is people need guidance in discovering their family histories, confronting those histories, and making the crucial decisions that will protect both them and their families. I can’t think of a better qualified (both professionally and personally) guide than Ross.

The first thing that I noticed about this book is that its table of contents is user-friendly with each chapter not only having its customary chapter title but the sections included in each chapter are included. This means you have everything inside this book before you. So, say you think that you may need help with the GENETICS. Then go to the chapter entitled “The Double Helix” and then to the section under this title entitled “A short (very short) tutorial in genetics.” Or perhaps you’re having problems with decision-making, then go to the chapter entitled “How to Manage your Cancer Risk when Information is Limited” and then go to the section “Tools for resolving decisional conflict.”

There are two informative pictures included. One is of a pedigree or “family tree” of Ross’ family that she created. Ross tells us that “If you have any questions at all about the cancer in your family, performing this exercise [of creating your pedigree] is a must.”

The two appendices are just excellent. They have a wealth of additional information on inherited cancer syndromes. There is also an extensive resource list of cancer websites.

Finally, I said above that certain terms are defined in the main narrative. This is fine but I think a glossary to supplement this would have been helpful. In this way, a reader that forgets the meaning of a key word does not have to hunt through the main narrative (which can be frustrating) to find its definition.

In conclusion, this book will empower you to face your genetic heritage with COURAGE and to make decisions that will keep you and your family healthy. This book also demonstrates why Dr. Theodora Ross is one of the best, if not the best, in her field!!

(First published 2016; foreword, xiii to xv; 8 chapters; main narrative 195 pages; acknowledgements; 2 appendices; resources; notes; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


National Geographic Mysteries Of The Uns [Blu-ray]
National Geographic Mysteries Of The Uns [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ n/a
Price: CDN$ 28.06
17 used & new from CDN$ 24.29

5.0 out of 5 stars So, you think you've seen everything. I bet you haven't seen the things in this movie, June 19 2016

“[A city is shown.] Looks like an average city. We know what we will see on these streets, inside these walls, or so we think.

[Zooms into people in the building.] The people living in this apartment building are surrounded by things they can’t see. All of us are. Everywhere. Things too slow for our eyes to detect or too fast to follow. But things that can be seen only through light waves invisible to us.

A day in their lives [that is, the lives of the people in the building] will look a lot different if they could see all the light waves around them. Or see other worlds around us that are too small—microscopic-- or smaller yet, down to the heart of matter itself.

Imagine if for one day we could see what they [the people in the building] can’t. All that’s too slow, too fast, too small, or simply invisible. It would forever change our understanding of the planet we live on.”

The above is spoken by the narrator (actor Forest Whitaker) at the very beginning of this fascinating documentary.

This film reveals phenomena that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

First, we are transported to the INVISIBLE world of light (ultraviolet, X-rays, etc.). The more invisible light we can see, the more secrets we can uncover about the world around us.

Next, thanks to time-lapse photography, we experience events that occur TOO SLOWLY for human perception. We are shown the ultimate time-lapse image: the anatomy of the Earth brought to life.

Thirdly, we get to “see,” due to high-speed cameras, the beauty and drama of events that occur in the flash of a microsecond. That is, we experience phenomena that is TOO FAST for our vision. Here, we are shown “the greatest flyer in nature.”

Finally, we enter the TOO SMALL or microscopic world. The microscope allows us to see creatures in common pond water that we never knew existed.

The electron microscope allows us to magnify things even more, up to a million times to reveal things both bizarre and beautiful.

Then we get to experience the nanoworld, an incomprehensibly small world where we are allowed to actually see individual atoms. Incredible!!

If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess that everything in this documentary is visually stunning and, for me, unforgettable. As well, the narration is just excellent.

The disc itself (released in 2015) has two interesting extras: a “making of” (15 min) and a photo gallery.

Finally, there is a second disc that is a 3D version of this film. To watch this, you need (1) full HD 3D TV (2) compatible 3D glasses (3) Blu-ray 3D video player and (4) high speed HDMI cable.

In conclusion, this is an unforgettable documentary that shows you things that you have probably never seen before. I leave you with what the narrator says near the end:

“We’re on the threshold of extraordinary [scientific] advances born of our drive to see what’s hidden in the world around us.”

(2013; 36 min excluding end credits; 8 chapters; wide screen; 2 discs; no sub-titles; National Geographic)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Bilingual)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Henry Cavill
Offered by LoganMedia416
Price: CDN$ 17.99
9 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Man from C.O.O.L., June 12 2016

“Oh, and you have a new codename.
And rather a good one: U.N.C.L.E.”

The above dialogue comes from this action comedy adventure spy film directed by Guy Ritchie. It is based on the T.V. series of the same name which ran from 1964 to 1968. (“U.N.C.L.E.” stands for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”)

Briefly, at the height of the Cold War (early 1960s), CIA agent Napoleon Solo (“Man of Steel’s” Henry Cavill) and KJB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) must put aside their hostilities to stop a mysterious international organization bent on threatening the delicate balance of world power. These two sworn enemies now find themselves having a common mission: finding a kidnapped German scientist who is the key to penetrating this organization.

To tell you the truth, I did not have high hopes for this movie. The negative reviews I read for it seemed to confirm my view. However, I still watched it and found that it wasn’t all that bad, had intriguing twists and turns, and good action. Then the last 25 minutes for this movie came. I was blown away! (I conclude that the negative reviewers did not watch the entire movie.)

Everything came together nicely and I saw action sequences I had not seen before in the movies. I was impressed!

I was especially impressed with the last five minutes. There was no action during this time but the acting, in my opinion, was first-rate.

In my opinion, Henry Cavill as Solo absolutely nailed his part. He brought the “cool’ to this movie. Apparently others who wanted to play this part included Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Leo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe.

Oh, I forgot to mention one other person in this movie: Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly. (Waverly is a high ranking MI6 operative and eventual head of U.N.C.L.E.) In this movie, Grant has few scenes but he’s an absolute delight in all of them. (He is the one that utters the first and third lines in the above dialogue.)

I should tell you one other thing (which you might have deduced from the dialogue above). This is NOT a U.N.C.L.E. movie!! The above dialogue contains the LAST lines of this movie. Thus, this is actually a pre-U.N.C.L.E movie where the U.N.C.L.E. team is assembled.

The U.N.C.L.E. team that’s assembled consists of Solo, Kuryakin, Waverly, and a woman named Gabriella “Gaby” Teller (Alicia Vikander). I don’t remember a women on the team in the original series but this may be a nod to “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E” which appeared on T.V. and lasted only one season (1966-1967). Anyway, I thought this was a nice touch.

Other people that appear in this movie are international football star David Beckham, Hitler, and JFK.

The background music for this movie is just fantastic. Listen for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” theme song.

Languages spoken besides English are Russian, German, and Italian. These foreign languages are all sub-titled.

Film location were in London, England; the UK; and Italy.

When the end credits for this movie roll, DON’T EXIT. Why? Because you can read the dossiers of the U.N.C.L.E. team.

This movie, so far, has earned about 1.5 times its operating budget.

Now for the big question: “Would I watch a sequel to this movie?” You betcha. (According to Waverly, their new assignment will be in Istanbul.)

Finally, the DVD itself (the one released in 2015) has one extra. It lasts seven minutes and I found it to be quite good. It’s too bad that there were no snippets from the original T.V. series.

In conclusion, this is a respectable movie that resurrects The Man from U.N.C.L.E. What I learned from this movie: saving the world never goes out of style.

(2015; 1 hr, 50 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 12 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals
The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals
by Investigator Institute of Ecology Gerardo Ceballos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.16
31 used & new from CDN$ 28.61

5.0 out of 5 stars It's time that "we as a species dedicated ourselves to preserving--instead of destroying--nature", June 4 2016

“Humanity has unleashed a massive and escalating assault on all living things on this planet. The purpose of this book is to shine a spotlight on this onslaught, focussing on losses of animals that are most familiar to people: birds [warm-blooded, backboned animals that have feathers and wings] and mammals [warm-blooded, backboned animals].”

The above comes from the preface of this eye-opening and well-written book by Geraldo Ceballos and Anne & Paul Ehrlich. Ceballos is one of the world’s leading ecologists. He is professor at the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Anne Ehrlich is a senior scientist emeritus at Stanford University (in California). Paul Ehrlich is an award-winning professor of Population Studies and the president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford. He has authored more than forty books.

This book blends both words and pictures in a moving account of what the author’s call “the sixth mass extinction” of animals, specifically birds and mammals.

It discusses those birds and mammals that are now extinct, those that have been lost in more recent times, and those that we are close to losing.

Why does it matter? Who cares if some birds and mammals go extinct? These questions and more are adequately answered in a chapter entitled “Why it all matters.” And can we, the human species, do something and “permit adequate living room for our only known companions in the universe?” The answer to this questions is found in the last chapter entitled “Beyond mourning.”

This beautifully-designed book includes amazing nature colour photography that shows the diverse wildlife threatened with extinction including gorgeous two-page spreads at the end of each chapter. I counted almost 85 pictures (including drawings).

My favourite two-page spread is of the mountain gorilla. The last sentence of the caption for this picture says, “A world without wild populations of these close relatives of ours would be a sad place indeed.”

This book’s cover (shown above by Amazon) is quite interesting. It shows an array of four rows of animals and this array is fading to black. All the animals in the bottom row are either critically endangered or extinct.

The top row shows (scarlet macaws, a tiger, a chimpanzee, and Indian rhinos). The top middle row has a (gray whale, whooping crane, polar bears, and an indri). The bottom middle row shows a (giant panda, black rhino, chital, and orange hawk-eagle). The bottom row has a (kiwi, lowland gorilla, aya-aya, and baiji).

Finally, there is an appendix that has the common and scientific names of plants and animals mentioned in this book. I counted all of these names and found that there are just over 305 names!!

In conclusion, this beautiful book is both an accurate history of the problem of species extinction and a visual reminder of what the world still stands to lose if it doesn’t change its course!!!

(First published 2015; preface, ix - xi; acknowledgements; 10 chapters; main narrative 180 pages; appendix; recommended reading; index; photography & illustration credits)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Design Toscano Assyrian Winged Bull Wall Sculpture
Design Toscano Assyrian Winged Bull Wall Sculpture
Price: CDN$ 44.95
10 used & new from CDN$ 44.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A museum-quality historic work of art!!, May 28 2016

'From an era where the kings of Assyria ruled a vast empire [Assyria was an Iron Age Mesopotamian empire that existed between 911 and 612 BC], this direct cast is part of the rich ornamentation of the palace of Khorsabad [a village in northern Iraq].

Cast in quality design resin and hand-painted in the Neoclassical tones of ebony and gold.'

The above description of this exceptional wall sculpture or plaque is found at the seller''s website. The seller, Design Toscano, is a good source for statues and other historical and antique replicas.

Human-headed winged bulls were protective genies that were placed as guardians at certain gates or doorways of the city and the palace. Symbols combining man, bull, and bird, they offered protection against enemies and evil spirits.

These winged bulls were motifs of Syrian inspiration and one of the characteristic features of the decoration of Assyrian palaces.

This particular plaque depiction may date back to 71 BC when Sargon the second founded his capital, now present-day Khorsabad. (Sargon the second was a king who ruled the Assyrian Empire from 722 to 705 BC.)

For this piece, I found the attention to detail quite astounding. This sculpture is precisely painted in black and gold. It appears to be well-made and durable. To tell you the truth, this wall sculpture exceeded my expectations and I can now understand why such a piece is found in the Louvre, Paris.

Note that the winged bull had five legs. The fifth leg is visible only when viewing from the front. Since we see this winged bull from the side or in profile, only four legs can be seen (since the fifth leg is parallel with the front leg that's shown).

Finally, here are this particular plaque's dimensions (inches): (width X depth X height) = (10 X 1 X 9). Its weight (pounds) = (3).

In conclusion, this is a beautiful sculpture, a museum-quality historic work of art!!

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future
The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future
by David R. Boyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.34
34 used & new from CDN$ 10.83

4.0 out of 5 stars "A new human right--to live in a healthy environment--has emerged and is now endorsed by 90% of the world's countries", May 21 2016

“Yes, the world faces substantial environmental challenges—climate change, pollution, [species] extinction. But the surprisingly good news is that a remarkable number of environmental problems have been solved, while substantial progress is ongoing on others.

[This book] chronicles these remarkable success stories and suggests a bright green future is not only possible, it’s within our grasp.”

The above comes from this extremely positive book by David Boyd. Boyd is an environmental lawyer, professor, and award-winning author.

Before reading this book, I read some of the endorsements for it. Endorsing it were people like Jane Goodall (primatologist, anthropologist, U.N. Messenger of Peace), David Suzuki (geneticist, professor, science broadcaster, environmentalist), and Elizabeth May (Canada’s first Green Party Member of Parliament, lawyer, author, environmentalist). I said to myself, “This book must be good.”

I was not disappointed. This book was not only good, it was fantastic.

This book does EXACTLY what it says it’s going to do. It provides kind of an antidote to the plague of ecological negativity we’re bombarded with by giving readers a sense of optimism that a greener, cleaner, healthier, and happy future IS possible.

This hopeful attitude isn’t based on cherry-picking some heart-warming, kumbaya anecdotes but is based on a sober and balanced examination of the FACTS about humanity’s past environmental successes (there’s an excellent chapter on how humanity saved the ozone layer), current trends (such as people demanding and using electric transport), and future possibilities (such as the future of buildings).

To be totally honest, the extent of the good news regarding progress to solving our environmental problems astonished me.

And what is the optimistic environmentalist’s message to the world? Answer: we can do better. The solutions to all our environmental problems are available NOW, and implementing then will make us wealthier not poorer. All over the world, this vision is becoming a reality.

Finally, the only problem I had was that this book had no index. This is truly a pity. A wealth of important information on a critical issue is presented but there is no easy access it.

In conclusion, David Boyd has given us all a great gift: a book to lift our spirits. We must all become optimistic environmentalists because, after all is said and done, the Earth is a beautiful place to call home.

(First published 2015; introduction; 3 parts or 10 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 205 pages; bibliography; acknowledgements; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


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