25 September 2013

Film review: Invictus (2009), by Clint Eastwood, *****


What does Nelson Mandela do after becoming president of South Africa? He rejects revenge, forgives oppressors who jailed him 27 years for his fight against apartheid and finds hope of national unity in an unlikely place: the rugby field. Clint Eastwood (named 2009's Best Director by the National Board of Review) directs an uplifting film about a team and a people inspired to greatness. Morgan Freeman (NBR's Best Actor Award winner and Oscar nominee for this role) is Mandela, who asks the national rugby team captain (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Matt Damon) and his squad to do the impossible and win the World Cup. Prepare to be moved--and thrilled.

The Invictus Blu-ray special features include an exhaustive "picture-in-picture" option that shows background on the film's production while you're looking at the relevant section in the movie itself; comments come from members of the filmmaking team as well as some of the real-life folks involved in the true story. We also learn that the film's single most powerful scene, a visit to the cell Mandela occupied for so many years, was shot on location; a replica had been built on a sound stage to allow for greater camera movement, but Clint Eastwood wisely nixed that idea.
President Mandela hands the 1995 world cup to Springboks' captain Pienaar


An essential film to understand how present-day South Africa came about in the mid-1990s. it is recommended to anyone trying to see the difference between Mandela's approach and that of other leaders in the region, who chose confrontation over cooperation after kicking out white minority rulers. Mandela gives us all a great lesson in humanity as well as shrewd politics. This film has the great merit of reminding the world of an episode that would have otherwise been forgotten.

20 September 2013

Book review: Diving Indonesia's Bird's Head Seascape (2011), by Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock, *****


Home to more than 1600 fish species and three-fourths of the world's known corals, the Bird's Head Seascape, the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, is one of the world's premier dive destinations. This book is a comprehensive guide to 200+ sites where divers can observe this wondrous gathering of whale sharks, manta rays, secretive octopus and never before-seen fish. Detailed information on endemic marine life, the regions cultures, suggestions for land adventures and travel tips make this an indispensable guide for anyone traveling to this enchanted destination.


This is essentially a comprehensive review of the region's dive sites, with lots of detailed data for each, such as depth, coordinates and suggested lenses for photographers. There is also a variety of info sheets on what to do and not to to, conservation, responsible tourism and life on land. Several of the many photograph are outstanding.

This is more a book to prepare a trip (there are many dive areas dovered and one has to choose) or to bring back memories afterwards. I would not necessarily recommend taking it along as it is rather heavy and, once a choice of boat is made, it is rather difficult to have any say in where the cruise leader will go anyway. Unless you have your own boat, GPS coordinates will be of little use.

18 September 2013

Book review: Wealth and poverty of nations (1999), by David Landes, *****


The history of nations is a history of haves and have-nots, and as we approach the millennium, the gap between rich and poor countries is widening. In this engrossing and important new work, eminent historian David Landes explores the complex, fascinating and often startling causes of the wealth and poverty of nations. The answers are found not only in the large forces at work in economies: geography, religion, the broad swings of politics, but also in the small surprising details. In Europe, the invention of spectacles doubled the working life of skilled craftsmen, and played a prominent role in the creation of articulated machines, and in China, the failure to adopt the clock fundamentally hindered economic development.

The relief of poverty is vital to the survival of us all. As David Landes brilliantly shows, the key to future success lies in understanding the lessons the past has to teach us - lessons uniquely imparted in this groundbreaking and vital book which exemplifies narrative history at its best.


Why are some nations so rich and some so poor? One usually hears a... wealth of common sense reasons which however are rather ...poor explanations! Some rich nations are big, some small, and many poor countries are also big or small. So size, in this case, does not matter. Same for natural resources: some rich nations are well endowed but many poor nations are too. Geographic location also seems pretty much irrelevant: some rich countries are in hot regions, some in cold ones. Same for poor countries.

What makes the difference, according to landes, is mostly cultural and ethical factors. A provocative and most informative book. Travelers will find many ideas in this book to understand the economy of countries around the world.