Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review of "The Ruble War: A Study of Russia’s Economic Penetration versus U. S. Foreign Aid," by Howard K. Smith and five other correspondents of CBS News.

Review of

The Ruble War: A Study of Russia’s Economic Penetration versus U. S. Foreign Aid, by Howard K. Smith and five other correspondents of CBS News. 

Five out of five stars

 The context of the publication of this book in 1958 is set by the famous line uttered by Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev to Western diplomats in 1956. The phrase was likely mistranslated as “We will bury you,” when in fact it should have been something like, “We will outlast you.” The point was that the command economy structure of the communist states led by the Soviet Union would outperform the capitalist economies of the west.

 Thirty years after the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of its’ Eastern European empire, the notion of the west ever losing the economic struggle with communism seems absurd. However, those with greater depth of understanding will realize that the ideological struggle between capitalism and communism is not yet over. In only a few decades the People’s Republic of China has risen from an economically backward nation to one having what is arguably the largest economy in the world. No political figure in the world wields as much internal power as Chinese President Xi Jinping.

 The authors of this book briefly describe the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in seeking influence among other nations by providing economic aid and assistance through investment in infrastructure. At the time, there were many reasons to believe that the Soviet Union would prove to be a stiff competition to capitalism. With the messiness of having to extensively debate issues in democracies before any action can be taken, the authors state that this would fall behind a system where the leader can “make it so” by stating their position and giving the order.

 This book is a fascinating look back to a time when communism was considered a real threat as an alternative economic and political system and there was reason to believe that it would eventually prove to be superior to capitalism.

Review of "Games and Puzzles," by Saalfield Publishing Company

Review of

Games and Puzzles, by Saalfield Publishing Company

Five out of five stars

 This short collection of simple puzzles will entertain and challenge you. Like all such books, the level of difficulty varies widely, often based on the mindset of the person attempting to solve them. Solutions to the puzzles are not included, so you are on your own and cannot cheat even if you want to.

 There are wordplay puzzles, interpreting pictures as objects, moving objects in a grid to obtain a pattern and one that is operating with numbers. While the games and puzzles are old, they never grow old and uninteresting.

Review of "Harriet Powers Journey from Slave to Artist: Sewing Stories," by Barbara Herkert

Review of

Harriet Powers Journey from Slave to Artist: Sewing Stories, by Barbara Herkert ISBN 9780385754620

Five out of five stars

Harriet Powers was born into slavery, but her artistic skills were a natural talent. Her mother was one of several slave women that did seamstress work for their master. Yet, they were occasionally allowed to work on their own projects and held quilting bees. Their products were quilts that told detailed stories.

 Harriet’s lifespan covered the American Civil War, which freed her and her husband from bondage. Better off than many when the war ended, they were able to buy a few acres of land and work for themselves rather than sharecrop. Through this time, Harriet continued her quilting and so impressed a woman named Jennie Smith that she eventually purchased one of her quilts and once it was seen by others, people at Atlanta University commissioned another quilt. In 1902, Atlanta University held a conference called “The Negro Artisan” and Harriet’s work may have helped inspired it.

 Written at the level of the late middle school child, this is a book that tells a story of how artistic skill triumphed over adversity, even the power of slavery over people.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Review of "Jenny Dean: The Secret of the Invisible City," by Dale Carlson

Review of

Jenny Dean: The Secret of the Invisible City, by Dale Carlson ISBN 0448190044

Three out of five stars

 This is fundamentally a juvenile adventure book with the main character a girl and having a plot based on a science fiction premise. While it is interesting to read an adventure book where the main character is a teenage female, the premise is weak.

Jenny is in Kansas and Thanksgiving is fast approaching. There is a sudden, massive cyclone that passes through, totally out of character with the fall season. After it is over, Jenny is out riding a horse when she encounters an invisible barrier. It is the border of a city called Krishna-La and it is populated by space aliens. The cyclone was just the manifestation of their landing on Earth.

 The aliens prove to be very adept at manipulating the thoughts and emotions of humans, starting with Jenny. When her friends and family encounter unusual manifestations such as a Masai warrior, Jenny begins to suspect that the aliens are laying the foundation for a takeover of Earth. While the issue is resolved, it is not done with great style or flair.  Another character is Mike, Jenny’s juvenile love interest, his presence does not advance the plot a great deal.

 With such a weak premise and lackluster writing, this is a book that you will read and enjoy a bit. After that you will likely forget about it.

Review of "Look And Find Superman," by Joe Edkin

Review of

Look And Find Superman, by Joe Edkin ISBN 0785313540

Five out of five stars

 This is an instance of an image search book where the reader is given a set of images that they are to search for and find in an oversize two-page picture. The theme is of course Superman, and it features him in action with friends and foes. What is different about this book is that the list of images to find is small, 6-8.

 As is the case with all such books and viewers, a few of the images are found almost immediately, while the remainder often require a systematic sector by sector scan. With such a large picture and so few images to find, there is a great deal of opportunities for similar distractors and the creators have done that.

 This is a fun book to look through, providing entertainment for people of all ages. It is not necessary to understand the Superman history to enjoy it.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review of "Studies in Iowa History: The Negro In Iowa," by Leola Nelson Bergmann

Review of

Studies in Iowa History: The Negro In Iowa, by Leola Nelson Bergmann

Four out of five stars

 Published by the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1969, this pamphlet is generally a factual recollection of the numbers of African American people in the state of Iowa from the time the territory was opened to white settlement. Since many of the early settlers migrated up from southern states where slavery was legal, some slaves accompanied those migrants. However, they were few, yet the intense dialog regarding the future of slavery was part of the social and political fabric of what was to become the state of Iowa.

 There are several pages devoted to the social and economic actions of the African Americans, from the early days there were African American professionals, although most worked as laborers or domestics. It is interesting to note that there were many firsts, from the awarding of advanced degrees to the holding of state and local political offices.

 One of the most interesting topics covered is the town of Buxton, Iowa. Created as a consequence of the local coal mines, the peak population was between eight and ten thousand people and it was fully integrated. It was a company owned town, yet all workers were treated equally. Many black people that grew up there said they never experienced discrimination until they moved to other areas of the country. Unfortunately, the collapse of the coal industry led to it being a ghost town by 1927.

 There is much in this book that will make Iowans proud of their heritage of how black people were historically treated in the state.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Review of "Catwoman" starring Halle Berry DVD version

Review of

Catwoman starring Halle Berry DVD version

Five out of five stars

 A fellow fan of superhero comics once asked me my opinion on the hottest female superhero and my answer was the She Hulk. After watching this movie, my answer will now be Catwoman with Halle Berry in the role. Dressed in a sultry and revealing leather costume with a body as lithe as a cat and a sultry demeanor, she embodies sensuality. Unlike the earlier version that was a super villain, this iteration is fighting evil, specifically a cosmetic company that is about to release a new product. Their research has demonstrated that the product is dangerous to use, but the lure of massive profits is too great.

 The movements of Catwoman are a triumph of special effects, she leaps and walks on narrow surfaces like a cat and sometimes eats like a starved animal. Action scenes are intense and amazing to watch without there being too much smashing and bashing. Catwoman relies more on her avoidance skills than she does on simply whacking on her opponents.

 There is a dynamic love interest along with a best female friend that adds significant humor to the movie. The friend is not a sidekick in the usual sense, just a friend with a humorous bent that helps keep the alter ego of Catwoman thinking and acting like a human female.

 This is a fun movie to watch, one of the few superhero movies where women will enjoy the chic-flick aspects.