Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review of "Everything Men Know About Women," by Dr. Alan Francis

Review of

Everything Men Know About Women, by Dr. Alan Francis ISBN 0939515008

One out of five stars

 I don’t know whether the “author” of this “book” actually has a college degree in psychology. However, it is clear that no such credential is needed to “write” this book. For every page is blank, as it is a gag book, meant to make the joke that men are totally clueless when it comes to women. Which is nonsense, at a minimum a man will know where all the parts are.

  While I am often at odds with the politically correct police, in this case if there was an objection, I would stand beside them. This book is useless, as a joke it is one of the worst ones.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Review of "Oliver & Hope’s Superhero Saturday," by Meg Cadts

Review of

Oliver & Hope’s Superhero Saturday, by Meg Cadts ISBN 9780692607893

Five out of five stars

 This is a book about what the child can imagine, provided they have the appropriate prop. Which is of course a cape, providing all the necessary energy for Oliver the bear, Hope the butterfly and Charlotte the fox to engage in scenarios where they come to the rescue of a pirate ship about to be swallowed by a whale and then disengage a balloon on an around the world journey that gets stuck in a tree. Real heroism becomes necessary when their friend Chewie the dog gets hopelessly stuck in the mud. Once their teamwork frees Chewie, they all team up to fight the mighty mud monster.

 It is quite a Saturday in the lives of the heroes of this story, of course the point is that every day can be a superhero Saturday if you have the imagination for it. This is a story that children will love, for the heroes are all stuffed animals, traditionally the favorite toy of nearly all children. It is easy for them to imagine their soft and fluffy friends engaged in exciting adventures involving great “danger.”

Review of "Casey Back At Bat," by Dan Gutman

Review of

Casey Back At Bat, by Dan Gutman ISBN 9780060560256

Four out of five stars

 This is of course a poetic sequel to the classic baseball poem “Casey At the Bat.” The timeframe is still the early years of the twentieth century and the game is being played between Mudville and Rutland. The winner finishes first and the loser in second, so a great deal is at stake. Once again, it comes down to a single batter that will win or lose the game and that batter is of course Casey. As was the case the first time, he takes two strikes before he swings at the pitch of decision. As is typical of Casey, it is decides the outcome.

 The poetic style is two lines of rhyming verse per page, with many of the images taking up both pages. The best image is the one showing Casey taking his mighty swing. His facial grimace indicates how much effort he put into it. It is a fun book to read, with a conclusion that is not quite what you expect.

Review of "Calculator Riddles," by David A. Adler

Review of

Calculator Riddles, by David A. Adler ISBN 0823411869

Five out of five stars

 These riddles are based on the appearance of the characters on the readout of a digital calculator. When they are turned upside down, eight of the digits look like letters in the Latin alphabet. A zero is an O, a one is an I, a three becomes an E, a four becomes an h, a five is an S, a seven is an L, an eight is a B and a nine is a G. There are many words that can be made from these eight letters and those words are formed by the execution of a linear sequence of arithmetic operations on the calculator followed by turning it over.

 A series of numbers and operations are to be entered on the calculator and they are to be executed in the sequence from left to right, independent of the usual order of operations. The riddle is to determine what the word is before carrying out the calculator operations. They are all simple riddles and the only calculator operations used are addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Many of the exercises would make fun problems in math tests given to elementary school students. Nothing mathematically complex, just simple fun.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review of "The Astronaut Farmer," DVD version starring Billy Bob Thornton

Review of

The Astronaut Farmer, DVD version starring Billy Bob Thornton

Four out of five stars

 While there are several logical holes in the plot that you could fly a Saturn V through, the movie is surprisingly moving. The premise is that Charles Farmer (played by Billy Bob Thornton) left the American astronaut program when his father killed himself and he has regretted that decision ever since. In order to compensate, he has acquired rocket parts from junk yards and literally built a rocket capable of manned flight in his barn. His goal is to fly it into orbit and then safely return to Earth.

 It is a struggle against very long odds, yet it is probably the ultimate in personal dream hobbies. The government agencies are all against him, what triggers their interest is his attempt to purchase a massive amount of rocket fuel. The Department of Homeland Security correctly realizes that such a substance would make an incredibly powerful destructive device.

 His dream continues, even when he faces foreclosure on his ranch, social services believes that that he is putting his children in danger and government representatives refuse to give him permission to fly. When things are at the lowest and it appears that his wife will leave him with their three children, something happens to give Farmer a second chance. He takes it and makes the most of it. There is some peril injected into the flight that was thoroughly predictable, but it can be excused.

 The concept of a man building a serviceable rocket capable of human flight in his backyard is a steep logical climb. “Rocket science” is used to describe complex technical tasks and for good reason. What is absurd is the fact that there is a failed launch from inside his barn and the barn is not burned to cinders. With rocket exhaust temperatures in the area of 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, a wooden barn would ignite and burn very quickly. Finally, if the government refused to allow him to attempt a flight, then they would confiscate his rocket.

 Yet with all of these logical holes, the act of a man being propelled into space sent a buzz up my spine. The best reaction is when the launch is detected at NASA and Farmer’s astronaut friend gives a knowing smile when he realizes what has happened. Townspeople see the rocket going up and there is pride in their faces. These are without question the best scenes in the movie, overwhelming the absurdity. For this movie is fundamentally about pursuing the supposedly impossible dream.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review of "Mother Teresa, A Life of Devotion," A & E Biography

Review of

Mother Teresa, A Life of Devotion, A & E Biography

Five out of five stars

 No one more exemplified a life of selfless devotion than the woman known to history as Mother Teresa. Born in 1910 in a section of the Ottoman Empire that is now Northern Macedonia, she found her calling in a religious order early in life. Arriving in India in 1929 while it was still an integral part of the British Empire, she learned Bengali so that she could interact with the people in their own language.

 However, it was not until the famine of 1943 and the growing unrest that was to lead to independence that she found her true calling, which was ministering to the very poor. At the time, even though it was part of the British Empire, Indian society operated under a rigid caste structure with masses of people that were extremely poor. Her ministering to the poor began in 1948, a year after India was granted independence and in the aftermath of the sectarian violence during the partition of the British colony into India and Pakistan.

 Her life of poverty and service was exemplary, although that did not stop many from criticizing her for either not speaking out against repressive political forces or performing acts considered inappropriate. For example, she famously laid a wreath on the grave of Enver Hoxha, the longtime communist dictator of Albania. Proving that no matter how much good you do, there will always be people that will find fault with your actions.

 It is clear from this tape that Mother Teresa deserved her elevation to sainthood. The difference she made in the lives of the poor in India was very significant and she managed to rise above politics as well as the sectarian hatreds that were so much a part of life in India. The video is very well done and shows the conditions on the streets and the people that she worked so hard to assist and keep alive.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review of "A Sherlock Holmes Adventure: The Secret Weapon," video starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Review of

A Sherlock Holmes Adventure: The Secret Weapon, video starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Five out of five stars

 My opinion that Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are the two best actors to ever play Holmes and Watson will never change. The setting for this movie is of course London, England, only the timeframe is in the height of World War II. Released in 1942 when England was still subject to significant bombing raids and no one could foresee the ultimate Allied victory, it is easy to understand the propaganda-like aspects of the film.

 The adversary is of course the powerful and dangerous Professor Moriarty in alliance with the Nazis, despite the fact that Moriarty is also British. The plot features a Swiss scientist that has invented a technologically advanced bombsight that will dramatically increase the accuracy of the bombs dropped from planes. The German agents of course want to acquire the sight or at minimum, keep the British from using it.

 Being Moriarty and Nazis, the villains will stop at nothing, including the killing of people working for the Swiss scientist. One interesting feature is when Holmes allows himself to be captured by the Moriarty gang and the two foes sit and discuss the situation. It was similar to scenes in the James Bond films where Bond dines and converses with an enemy that he needs to kill to save the world and wants to kill him.

 Although there is a lack of the modern special effects that sometimes overwhelm the stories, this is a movie that can be enjoyed, with the pleasure enhanced if you understand the historical context of an England fighting for its very life. There is a very telling scene of Holmes walking through the rubble left by aerial bombing.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Review of "Science Fiction Adventure From Way Out," edited by Roger Elwood

Review of

Science Fiction Adventure From Way Out, edited by Roger Elwood

Four out of five stars

 Some of the biggest names in the history of science fiction contributed to this collection that was published in 1973. The stories were written at the level of the adolescent and there is nothing too far out of bounds regarding the science content. At least within the context of the known astronomical facts of the time.

 The focus is on the people in dealing with each other and their environment, there are no great interstellar battles between different species. Although several stories have strong references to Earth being engulfed in a planetwide conflict that the main characters of the story have fled from. Even when things have gone wrong, these stories have an emphasis on positive outcomes and the success of humanity in the future. Even if the characters have to go to another planet light years from Earth.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Review of "Bonanza: Volume Three, Bitter Water," VHS version

Review of

Bonanza: Volume Three, Bitter Water, VHS version

Five out of five stars

 It is a basic premise of the Bonanza series that the Cartwrights are wealthy and honest and upright citizens. They are respected by most of the other members of their community. Which naturally leads to the recurring plot device of others being jealous and resentful of their wealth and prestige.

 That is the basis of the plot of this episode. One of the neighbors of the Cartwrights is an old friend of Ben’s and by mutual agreement, they share water rights to a stream that runs through both properties. Todd, the son of the friend, is now an adult and determined to make his own way in the world. One thing he wants to do is to sell off his father’s land to the father of his fiancĂ©, an unscrupulous man that is interested in mining silver. If this were to be done, the stream would be poisoned and there would be no water for the Ponderosa cattle.

 The jealousy in Todd for Adam Cartwright runs so deep that it comes to a fight between them, despite the fact they grew up together. Not for the hand of the woman, but simply because Todd feels inferior and considers it necessary to engage in acts of false bravado. The mining man is so unscrupulous that when he discovers that some of his cattle are infected with the deadly Texas Fever plague, he has his men drive them onto the Ponderosa so that the Cartwright cattle will also be infected.

 While there is gunplay, the focus is on the interrelationships between Todd, his father, the fiancĂ©, her father the mining man and the Cartwrights.  Of course, when they are challenged, the Cartwrights stand their ground, even when the odds are against them.

 One of the outstanding features of the best television westerns is that while there is the standard western action of guns firing and fists swinging, the focus is on the relationships. The viewers care about the main characters, forming bonds with them through the screen. In this episode, it is easy to understand why that is the case for this popular series.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Review of "You Will Go to the Moon," by Mae and Ira Freeman

Review of

You Will Go to the Moon, by Mae and Ira Freeman

Five out of five stars

 The library of the elementary school that I went to had a tattered issue of this book and I read it over and over again, adding to the tattering. It fired my imagination to the point where I decided to study astronomy. Eager for more knowledge about other objects in the universe, I began reading the books on astronomy in the small library in my hometown.

 The plot is simple, a boy is fascinated by the moon and he is told how he will go there. He is a passenger in a three-stage rocket that leaves Earth and travels to a giant space station. From there, he boards another ship that is the lunar lander. It takes three days to travel to the moon from the space station and some of the various entertainment activities are listed.

 While this imaginary adventure does not match how the first lunar flights went, it is a logical rendition of how more routine trips to the moon will be done. A powerful rocket to a space station followed by a shuttle trip using a reusable ship that lands next to a dome-shaped permanent base.

 This book fired my imagination and I am sure many others have experienced the same pulsations of desire to leave Earth and walk and work on the Moon. Someday it will be as routine as depicted in this book, one can only hope that it is soon.

Review of "The Indians Knew," by Tillie S. Pine

Review of

The Indians Knew, by Tillie S. Pine

Five out of five stars

 I acquired a copy of this book at a garage sale when I was very young, and I read it over and over. It contains a series of basic survival tactics used by the Native Americans and in many cases taught to the encroaching people of European descent. There are three sections for each topic, a description of the subject under the heading, “The Indians knew,” what is done in modern times based on this knowledge and then a simple experiment/exercise that the reader can perform to illustrate and reinforce the topic. All of the exercises are easy to understand and safe to implement.

 The Native Americans survived and thrived on the North American continent for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. Unlike in Europe and Asia, famine was unknown as the people lived in harmony with nature rather than doing all they could to exploit and “conquer” their new world. This book contains a small amount of their knowledge and is a worthy addition to any library where multicultural coverage is considered essential.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review of "The Old Corral" movie starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers

Review of

The Old Corral movie starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers

Three out of five stars

 When you see from the box that this movie stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, it is immediately clear that there will be a lot of singing. The Sons of the Pioneers are also featured, increasing the amount of crooning that is done. There is some gunplay and swinging of fists, but not a great deal and all rather weakly executed. Gene Autry plays the Sheriff and, in a role out of character for him, Roy Rogers plays a villain, although not the main or worst one.

 The plot is pretty weak, a female singer is a witness to a gangland killing in the city and flees the area, going out west by bus. There she is befriended by a man that recognizes her and wants to make a deal with the mob boss searching for her. There is also a romantic flame kindled with Sheriff Autry, one of the feeders of that flame is their singing together.

 The purpose of the western environment is to provide the context for most of the songs performed by the characters. The Sons of the Pioneers are in jail, so they sing lamenting songs, Autry and Rogers burst out themes related to the west.

 Most modern viewers will find the western where the main characters do more singing than fighting rather incongruous. Yet, Autry, Rogers and others made their careers by doing just that and the public enjoyed it. Autry made enough wealth to buy a major league baseball team. With the high level of graphics and the demand for intense visual action, it is unlikely that something like the singing cowboy will ever be viable again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review of "The Mountain That Loved a Bird," by Alice McLerran

Review of

The Mountain That Loved a Bird, by Alice McLerran ISBN 0590468480

Five out of five stars

 This children’s story is an encapsulation of how new mountains are encroached on by nature, going from the initial bare rock to vibrant green ecosystems. It starts with a mountain that is sad because it is all bare rock, there are no plants growing on it and so there are no creatures as well. Finally, the boredom is broken a tiny bit when a bird lands on the mountain for a short rest. The mountain expresses a desire for the bird to stay but it can’t. It is looking for a place to build a nest and without food, water or any nesting materials, it cannot build a nest on the mountain and live there. Therefore, the bird soon flies away. While it is not stated, people with knowledge of biology will understand that it almost certainly left behind a small deposit of organic material.

The bird and its descendants come back each year for a short time until a seed is brought and deposited in a crevasse. It sprouts and the roots begin to penetrate the cracks in the rock and start the generation of new topsoil. In later years more seeds are brought to the mountain and after many years, what was once only barren rock is now a lush, green forest with many insects and wild creatures.

 It is a standard section of Earth science to study how new mountains are slowly colonized by plants, insects and animals until the areas below the tree line are green forests teeming with wild creatures. This book describes that evolution in an entertaining and educational way. It may seem to be a fairy tale, but it is in fact a science lesson.

Review of "American Tale Tales," by Mary Pope Osborne

Review of

American Tale Tales, by Mary Pope Osborne ISBN 0590464833

Five out of five stars

 These tales are indeed tall, exaggeration is too light a word to use to describe the structure of the stories in this collection. As an example, here is the second sentence in the story about Paul Bunyan. “When he was only two weeks old, he weighed more than a hundred pounds, and for breakfast every morning he ate five dozen eggs, ten sacks of potatoes, and a half barrel of mush from a whole sack of cornmeal.”  Now that is what you would call a whopper of an exaggeration.

 The real/mythical people described in these stories are:

*) Davy Crockett

*) Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind

*) Johnny Appleseed

*) Stormalong

*) Mose

*) Febold Feboldson

*) Pecos Bill

*) John Henry

*) Paul Bunyan

Of course, Crockett and Appleseed were real historical figures, Crockett died a hero at The Alamo and thanks to Appleseed, many pioneer families found bearing apple trees when they arrived on the frontier. Others are lightly based on real people where the legend far outpaced their achievements.

 This is a fun book to read, while other cultures may have similar myths, these are based on the people and environment of European based North Americans.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Review of "Bonanza: Feet of Clay" episode

Review of

Bonanza: Feet of Clay episode

Five out of five stars

The tender side of Hoss Cartwright

 The mother of a boy in the 8-12 age range dies, leaving him all alone. His father has gone away and despite his promise to return, has not done so. His only known relative is an uncle that lives some distance away and it will take many days for him to arrive. When no one else will take custody of the boy, Ben Cartwright agrees to care for him.

 However, the boy is into mischief on a regular basis and Ben gets extremely frustrated. Finally, Hoss tells Ben that perhaps he has forgotten how to talk to young people. Agreeing with Hoss, Ben allows Hoss to make the attempt to fill the role of parent. The boy and Hoss hit it off very well after some initial difficulties.

 When two escaped convicts appear in the area near the Ponderosa, all available men are mustered to look for them. Leaving Hoss and the boy at the Ponderosa. One of the convicts is the boy’s father and when they arrive at the Ponderosa, he contacts the boy, asking him to bring the two escapees some food. There is a violent confrontation between Hoss and the boy’s father and the outcome turns the boy against Hoss. Despite his emotional turmoil, Hoss manages to keep his focus on the boy and there is the inevitable and predictable happy ending.

 This episode has Dan Blocker doing some emotional acting, something that he and the Cartwrights are not known for. While his acting is not spectacular, it is at least tolerable, it is most unusual to see a man six-foot-four and over 300 pounds crying. The incongruity of it, makes it work.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review of "Bonanza: The Fear Merchants," episode of the Bonanza television series

Review of

Bonanza: The Fear Merchants, episode of the Bonanza television series

Five out of five stars

 While this episode first aired on January 30, 1960, the message remains appropriate for the latter years of the twenty-teens. There has been a major outbreak of anti-immigrant sentiment around the world, nowhere more pronounced than in the country that has accepted more immigrants than any other, the United States.

 The premise is that a major candidate for mayor of Virginia City is campaigning on a strong and uncompromising dislike of people of Chinese descent. The episode opens with Hop Sing, the Cartwright’s cook, being beat up by thugs in the employ of the candidate. When a Chinese boy in his late teens is falsely accused of murdering a teenage girl, public sentiment runs strong and the only allies the Sheriff has against a lynch mob are the three Cartwrights.

 Much of the dialog could be transplanted into the modern conversation, where several highly ranked politicians openly accuse immigrants of being non-American and criminals. Just as significant are the people that acquiesce in accepting the most inflammatory rhetoric.

 This is a superb episode, showing the Cartwrights as the upstanding and brave citizens they claim to be. Without them, Virginia City would have reverted to mob rule and an innocent man would have been killed by the actions of a cold and ruthless man.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Review of "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold," starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels

Review of

The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels

Five out of five stars

 There is no western hero more iconic that the Lone Ranger with his faithful sidekick Tonto. Furthermore, Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto are firmly entrenched as the best ever in the roles. After years of playing them on television, two full-length Lone Ranger movies were made. This one is the second of the two.

 There is a wave of crime and terror taking place at the hands of a gang of hooded criminals that are ruthless. Several Native American men have been killed and there is uncertainty as to why. The local law is of no help to the Native Americans and tensions between the whites and Native Americans are growing.

 The Lone Ranger and Tonto ride into this situation and quickly become the primary force investigating the crimes. Prominent local citizens are the brains behind the crime spree, for the Native Americans are being killed for the medallions they wear around their necks. Each is a piece of a puzzle that when put together will be a map to a lost city of gold.

 The plot generally follows the formula for Lone Ranger adventures, modern viewers may object to the racial discrimination. For example, Tonto is beat up when he enters a saloon as there is a policy that no red men are allowed. Silver demonstrates a high level of intelligence in this movie, challenging Roy Rodgers’ Trigger as the smartest horse in show business.

 As heroes go, the Lone Ranger was the ultimate in following the law and always doing good without asking for anything in return. The crime is of course solved and as must be the case, the last line of dialog is “Hiyo Silver away!”

Review of "What You Must Know About Dry Eye: How to Prevent, Stop or Reverse Dry Eye Disease," by Jeffrey Anshel

Review of

What You Must Know About Dry Eye: How to Prevent, Stop or Reverse Dry Eye Disease, by Jeffrey Anshel, OD ISBN 9780757004797

Five out of five stars

 Even if you do not suffer from dry eye, this book is worth reading for the information about the functioning of eyes. Even the thin layer of liquid protection on the exposed surface of the eyeball is an extremely complicated structure. Until I read this book, I had no knowledge of this. One fact that seemed obvious in retrospect is that the blink reflex is the fastest reflex in the human body.

 While dry eye can lead to difficulties and can require medical attention, in nearly all cases it can be treated and even cured by performing some basic actions. This includes diet, topical liquids and over the counter and prescription drugs. Dry eye is a condition that you can have without realizing it, so this book is also valuable as an element of awareness.

 Many popular books about medical conditions are full of fluff and questionable claims regarding treatments. This is one that rises above that and is worthy of being kept on your shelf of medical books for reference purposes.

Review of "The Hero Two Doors Down," by Sharon Robinson

Review of

The Hero Two Doors Down, by Sharon Robinson ISBN 9780545804516

Five out of five stars

 Written by the daughter of the great and pioneering baseball player Jackie Robinson, this book is a slightly fictionalized account of one component of his incredible life. Once he was established as a star for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie rented an apartment in an almost exclusively Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was a short distance from Ebbets Field and Jackie’s wife and son lived there as well.

 Stephen Satlow was an eight-year-old Jewish boy that lived in Brooklyn and was a devoted fan of the Dodgers. He did in fact live two doors down from where the Robinson family lived. Before Jackie moved in, a petition was circulated in the neighborhood stating their opposition to having blacks live in the area. The Satlow adults refused to sign it.

 It was not long before the Robinson and Satlow families were close friends, a relationship that remained until this book was written. Stephen quickly became a hero among his peers due to his friendship with Jackie, for Jackie was a generous man and made a large number of tickets available to Stephen, his family and classmates.

 This book shows another side of Jackie Robinson, the devoted family man that was also a low-level community activist. It is a very good story of how small acts of kindness do make a significant difference in the lives of others.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Review of "PBS Home Video: The Natural History of the Chicken"

Review of

PBS Home Video: The Natural History of the Chicken, VHS version

Three out of five stars

 The phrase “natural history” is generally used to reference a scientific study, albeit presented in a popular form. That was my thought when I decided to watch this tape and why I was disappointed. This is not a scientific analysis of the role of the chicken in human society down through history, but a series of short stories that involve chickens.

 The least useful is the story about a man that has a very large number of roosters that crow a lot, causing so much noise that the neighbors have trouble conducting their lives. After their initial complaints, the neighbors filed legal action and there are short interviews of the people on both sides. I have no idea how conforms to the natural history of the chicken.

 Another story features a woman that has a pet chicken that she washes regularly and cuddles with. The most interesting story is a documented case of a headless chicken that lived for some time after its head was cut off. It seems unbelievable, but there is convincing documentation.

 While the stories are interesting, in most cases they are more about relationships between humans and chickens where the chickens are not quite a secondary partner.

Review of "Indecent Proposal," VHS version

Review of

Indecent Proposal, VHS version

Five out of five stars

 When this movie came out, there were many people that derided the plot device of a man offering a married couple a million dollars for a night with the wife. Their claim was that it was immoral and truly indecent. That is too bad, for it misses the real messages of the movie.

 First and foremost, this movie is about the power that money gives the rich over those that are down on their luck and are desperate. They are willing to grasp at any chance they have to right their errant financial ship. Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson play Diana and David Murphy, a married couple that go to Las Vegas with their last stake in the hope that they will win big enough to pay themselves out of their financial hole. When this doesn’t work, John Gage (Robert Redford) offers them a million dollars for a night of passion with Diana. After a reality gut-check, the couple agrees to the proposal.

 Tensions mount between the couple afterwards and the course of their relationship sours. It becomes a test of what they believe about each other and how they will weather the emotional consequences of selling out. In the end, the movie becomes a complicated love story.

 Mao Zedong famously said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” What this movie illustrates is that all power grows out of the pile of cash available. When people are down and desperate, the person that can offer massive amounts of money has the power. After all, there must be a way for those seeking power to pay for the guns and ammunition.

Review of "Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Tales: Vintage tales from Disney’s most popular animated short films"

Review of

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Tales: Vintage tales from Disney’s most popular animated short films, ISBN 9780789324733

Five out of five stars

Creative genius is not a strong enough phrase to describe the people at the Disney entertainment company. From the first viewing of the classic “Steamboat Willie” cartoon through all the early years, they pushed the envelope and literally redefined the world of animated entertainment and engaging characters that became stars and household names.

 This book contains images and lyrics from many of the short, animated films starring the classic Disney characters. Mickey Mouse and his supporting characters are the stars, but there are a few from the “Silly Symphony” series. As is always the case with Disney, the artwork is exquisite.

 What is sometimes lost in the viewing of the films is the quality of the dialog. Reading it from the text will make you appreciate the rhyming structure and why it appeals to children of all ages. This is not only a book for to be read by and to children, it is a book that adults will enjoy as well. Cartoons entertain all people willing to accept them as joyful viewing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Review of "So Far From the Sea," by Eve Bunting

Review of

So Far From the Sea, by Eve Bunting ISBN 0439172411

Five out of five stars

 There are many dark features in the history of the United States, slavery with the subsequent Jim Crow rules and the near extermination of the Native Americans are two of the most prominent. One that was less deadly yet just as dark was the roundup of Japanese Americans after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In a moment of national hysteria, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to collect all Japanese American and place them in what were de facto concentration camps. This order was made despite no evidence that the people of Japanese ancestry were any threat to the United States. The executive order was ultimately upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

 In general, the people that were rounded up lost all their possessions, there are many ugly stories of their neighbors running to pillage their possessions as soon as they boarded the transports. Most real estate the people of Japanese ancestry owned was then taken over by others and when they returned to claim their homes, they were generally unpleasantly rebuffed.

 This book revisits that dark time using the plot device of a modern Japanese family visiting the site where the father’s family was interned under 9066. Nearly all of the structures are gone, one of the few remaining is the one they came to see, the cemetery where the father’s father is buried. They place mementos on the grave, including a Cub Scout neckerchief. This had special significance, for the father was told to put on his Cub Scout uniform to greet the soldiers so that they would know that he was an American boy.

 Remembering the dark events of the past will always remain one of the best ways to prevent similar events in the future. Therefore, this book is an excellent educational device to demonstrate to modern schoolchildren one of the bad things that happened when there was a hysteria over a group of people that were “different.”

Review of "Treasures of Russia: St. Petersburg and Its Environs"

Review of

Treasures of Russia: St. Petersburg and Its Environs, ISBN 978-5888100592

Five out of five stars

 Having spent a few days in St. Petersburg before the complete collapse of the Soviet Union, I can personally attest to the sheer beauty of the structures in this old imperial capital city. I was there with a delegation of American computer professionals and some of our meetings took place in palaces appearing in this book. We spent a half-day touring the Hermitage, seeing some of the most impressive and priceless artwork.

 We also went on an extensive tour of the Peterhof Palace with the many gold colored statues and fountains. Elegant and impressive, it is a tribute to the sheer will of Peter the Great to create a monument to his grand design for the Russian Empire. Those of us that understood the history of the region speculated on how many impressed workers died while creating this masterpiece of architecture.

 St. Petersburg is truly a city of wonders, with more fascinating sights that can be seen in a vacation of several days. This book of beautiful photographs captures the essence of what is there, but there is nothing that can match walking through the grounds of an imperial palace or seeing a painting by a master from less than twenty feet away. It is truly the cultural capital of Russia.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Review of "A Breed Apart: A Novel of Wild Bill Hickok," by Max McCoy

Review of

A Breed Apart: A Novel of Wild Bill Hickok, by Max McCoy ISBN 9781585479597

Five out of five stars

 Although his given name was James Butler Hickok, history, legend and myth all refer to him as Wild Bill Hickok. Although he did some of the things that have been claimed, his exploits have been greatly exaggerated by Hickok as well as by those that wrote about him. It all starts with precisely how many men he killed, both as a lawman and as a man living on the edge of the law.

 This novel is based on some facts, particularly his actions during the American Civil War and his work as a Union spy and a scout. One event in particular stands out, it is the gunfight he had with onetime friend Davis Tutt, where both drew their pistols in what was likely the first “fast draw” form of duel made so popular in the Western video genre.

It is an interesting read, Hickok was a complex man, deadly with a gun and willing to tell the tallest of stories, mostly about himself. Hickok also had many allies in the media when it came to making the tall tales of his exploits even taller. Like many men of western legend, he was sometimes the law and other times the target of legal accusations. I enjoyed it very much, it encapsulates the complexity of the men that fought on and died in the American frontier.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Review of "An Introduction to the Use of Generalized Coordinates in Mechanics and Physics," by William Elwood Byerly

Review of

An Introduction to the Use of Generalized Coordinates in Mechanics and Physics, by William Elwood Byerly

Five out of five stars

 Despite the title, this is not an introductory book on the use of coordinates. That is clear starting with the second page, where the component velocity equation is given using partial derivatives. The sections of the first chapter in sequence are “free motion of a particle,” “constrained motion of a particle,” “motion of a system of particle,” “plane motion of rigid bodies,” “the billiard ball,” “the gyroscope,” “the choice of coordinate,” and “nomenclature.”

 Throughout this book, your understanding of partial differential equations and integration as applied to physics will be challenged. Yet, despite all of the technological advances since this book was first published in 1916, it still could be used as a textbook in classes covering this material.

Review of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," DVD

Review of

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, DVD

Four out of five stars

 Wolverine likely has the most volatile, dynamic personality of all the X-Men. While he is a mutant in the sense that he has incredible recuperative powers, the physically indestructible characteristics of his powers derived from metal were made by science not nature. As is often the case with stories like this, they are the consequences of a secret government program to create a super soldier. In such stories, it is necessary to have a powerful and ruthless villain that is the government agent overseeing the program. This story has that character.

 Logan has a brother that shares his recuperative powers and the opening has them fighting side-by-side in many wars. When the major wars are over and the only fighting to be done is for hire, the two brothers join a mercenary band of mutants. They track down the Earth point of origin of a meteor and when the order is to slaughter all the inhabitants of a village in Africa, Logan walks away from the mission and the group. He “retires” to a logging job in Canada, but as expected, there is no retirement from his previous line of work.

 There is a great deal of action, a lot of subterfuge and some superb special effects. The government program involves the capture and control of many mutants, which leads to the major logical hole in the plot. Professor Xavier appears to take them to his special school only after they have all been released from government control. Which implies that Xavier either did not know of their imprisonment or did so and waited until they were freed. Both of which are logically untenable given Xavier’s significant mental powers.

 That weakness aside, this is an action movie derived from the comics that remains true to the original story. It also explains Logan’s attitude towards the world and his having no memory of his past.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Review of "The Wapsie-Pinnekon Legend" by Frank Vierth

Review of

The Wapsie-Pinnekon Legend by Frank Vierth

Five out of five stars

 Growing up in Eastern Iowa I became very familiar with the local place names. Furthermore, I am aware that a large percentage were derived from the Native American inhabitants. Yet, until I read this book, I was unaware of the origin of the name of the Wapsipinicon river. It is based on a legend, the topic of which is as old as human emotions and conflict over mates.

 The legend is that there was a beautiful maiden named Wapsie that lived in a Native American village at what is now the location of the Iowa town of Quasqueton. A man named Pinnekon lived in a neighboring village and the two of them fell in love and were about to be married. While canoeing on the river that came to bear their name, Pinnekon was shot by a jealous man and fell into the river. Wapsie tried to rescue him and the two of them sank between the waves.

 This pamphlet is a reprinting of the original story that is in the form of an epic poem, with alternate lines rhyming. It is a tragic love story of the traditional form, great joy followed by jealousy leading to tragedy. The book is a reprint published as part of the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the town of Quasqueton. It is proof that human lends are remarkable consistent across cultures.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Review of "What A Wonderful World," by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele

Review of

What A Wonderful World, by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele ISBN 0439207460

Five out of five stars

 The text of this book is the lyrics of the song “What A Wonderful Word,” made famous by the great Louis Armstrong. It is a message of togetherness and the essential oneness of the human species. While there are many children in the images, the star is of course the great Satchmo, he appears in many of the images, mostly as a secondary character.

 There are indeed trees of green, red roses, clouds of white and many animals resting comfortably in the wild. The inclusion of animals is an emphasis that humans share the planet with the other life forms that have their needs if they are to survive as a species. Colorful without being overwhelming, the images are very well done and are an excellent complement to one of the best brotherhood songs of all time.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Review of "Bill Maher: The Decider, Live!," DVD

Review of

Bill Maher: The Decider, Live!, DVD

Five out of five stars

 The live comedy routine recorded on this disk took place in the last years of the administration of George W. Bush. Yet, many of the jokes could be recycled into more modern performances, all that would be needed would be to change the names of the players. Maher is a master comedian; it starts with great material and he has the timing and delivery honed to perfection.

 Since many of his jokes are at the expense of President Bush, they suffer a little bit of age-related degeneration. It will be helpful if the viewer understands some of the history of the time. Despite the foolishness of politicians, humorous political commentary is quite hard, for you have to be harsh but only to a point. In this HBO Comedy Special, Bill Maher proves once again that he is a master of the craft.

Review of "Predator: Race War" comic, 1 of 4

Review of

Predator: Race War comic, 1 of 4

Five out of five stars

 There is at least one member of the species known as Predator active on earth. Like all others, it is a hunter, stalking, killing and dressing out humans that are capable of putting up a reasonable fight. Many humans have been its victims, there is a team of talented, dedicated and unusual humans that are aware of its existence and is attempting to track it down and stop the march of trophy deaths.

 This story is an excellent first installment of what is certain to be an engaging story. The search for the alien Predator is complicated by a known serial killer that claims to be responsible for the majority of the kills by the alien hunter. The claim is made to complicate the case for the prosecution of the serial killer, by claiming the additional victims, the goal is to get better treatment by the prosecution and in prison.

 Hunting such a skilled and resourceful hunter is a very difficult task, it takes a great deal of preparation and research. That foundation is laid down and I am eagerly searching for the subsequent three volumes of this engaging story.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Review of "Religulous," starring Bill Maher

Review of

Religulous, starring Bill Maher

Five out of five stars

 This video is Bill Maher at his best, being a hard skeptic concerning religious faith and asking very tough questions of some of the people that believe. While I am sure that he had to cherry pick a bit in finding people to interview, in some sense it was surprising that some of the people agreed to face Maher’s very tough questions. There are many times when the person he is interviewing seems to go into brain lock when Maher asks a question that points out a major logical or historical inconsistency of a religious faith.

 Maher travels to Israel and Rome in his filming of this video and recounts his own religious upbringing in the Catholic faith and Jewish roots. There are times when he angers the interviewee, one of the most interesting sessions is when he is talking with a small group of American men in what appears to be a trailer and one stomps out in anger. To their credit, the others stay and carry out a respectful conversation, even though they are frustrated with Maher.

 While many strongly claim otherwise, religion is a work of the human mind and emotions, you see both of them expressed in this video.

Review of "A League of Their Own," VHS version

Review of

A League of Their Own, VHS version

Four out of five stars

 Put bluntly, despite his impressive acting skills, Tom Hanks has difficulty playing a drunk. Furthermore, his character having that problem is an unnecessary and annoying component of the story. The premise is a look back at the inaugural All-American Girls Professional Baseball League season. The year was 1943 and most of the best major league players were off fighting World War II. President Roosevelt himself decreed that baseball would continue to be played during the war and in an attempt to keep interest in baseball alive, some of the owners of the major league teams decided to create a professional league of women players.

 This movie is a mostly fictionalized look at the first year of the league, although they get the main principles correct. The women were carefully managed with a strict code of behavior regarding dress, appearance and overall conduct. For example, they were all required to attend charm school and smoking and drinking in public places could lead to fines and even suspensions.

 Overall, the movie has a fairly predictable plot, it follows the Rockford Peaches through their first season of play. There is of course the big game at the end, won by one of the stars when she was down to her last strike. Tom Hanks plays the manager of the Peaches and when the season starts, he is a barely conscious drunk with no competitive fire, a role that Hanks does not play well. He sobers up over the course of the season and starts taking his job seriously. The movie would have been better if the Hanks character would have been serious from the beginning.

 One positive aspect is the inclusion of the fact that there was a war on, and young American men were being injured and killed on the battlefield. In those years, nearly all young women had a husband, brother or other close male relative potentially in the path of a killer bullet.

Review of "Having a Baby is Fun! Cartoon and Baby Name Book," published by Crib Diaper Service

Review of

Having a Baby is Fun! Cartoon and Baby Name Book, published by Crib Diaper Service

Four out of five stars

 This pamphlet published by a diaper service in the days where only cloth diapers existed is an incredible look back. It contains a series of cartoons related to dealing with babies as well as lists of names for girl and boy babies. The many references to a stork delivering a baby will amuse and puzzle modern readers. Of all the absurdly quaint tales ever told, the one about a stork flying in carrying a swaddled infant in its beak has to be the most bizarre.

 In the modern world of disposable diapers, the concept of companies that dealt with cloth diapers, picking up the soiled and delivering the clean also seems to be a concept not to be missed. The alternative was a regular special session of laundry with particularly “dirty” clothes.

 This cartoon book is a somewhat amusing look back at what passed for baby humor in the fifties. To the modern eye, it was an odd way to look at dealing with newborns. I give it four stars in deference to the historical references.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review of "MikWright … family Style"

Review of

MikWright … family Style, ISBN 9780740718779

Five out of five stars

 This collection of images and associated snippets of text will generate a minimum of chuckles in nearly everyone. There are a few jokes that contain sexual innuendo, but very few that reach the level of crude or obscene. At least to modern readers. To appreciate the joke, one must be able to comprehend the combination of text and sight gag.

 For example, there is the image of the man on a ski life with the caption, “when Emmett reached the peak, he got off.” There is another with woman on a statue of a bucking horse with the caption, “you should see the stud that bucked me Saturday night!”

This is one of those books you read through quickly for the first time, set it aside for some time and then read it again, often in snippets. It is a great toilet read when you need to get your mind off the immediate need to do some business.

Review of "The Natural Superiority of the Left-hander," by James T. deKay

Review of

The Natural Superiority of the Left-hander, by James T. deKay ISBN 0871313073

Four out of five stars

 Despite a significant amount of study, there has been no definitive conclusion as to the reason why approximately ten percent of the human population is left-handed. There is conclusive evidence that there is a genetic component, but no specific cause is known. This book is a description of many of the facts of being left-handed, including the bias in the construction of tools towards the right-handed and words used to describe left-handers as somehow sinister.

 Two of the most interesting facts concern the concentrations of left-handers in some populations. There is evidence that one in three Native Americans was left-handed at the time of the arrival of the Europeans. When NASA conducted batteries of tests on astronaut candidates, twenty-five percent of the group deemed the best and brightest were left-handed. Far higher than the percentage in the general population.

 The book closes with an absurd statement, that left-handers are almost a different species than the balance of the population. There is not much evidence for this claim, it perpetuates the idea that left-handedness is somehow bizarre and should be suppressed. Some of these facts are fun, others a bit silly, but all are interesting.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review of "Korea Reborn: A Grateful Nation," published by the Republic of Korea

Review of

Korea Reborn: A Grateful Nation, published by the Republic of Korea

Five out of five stars

 Much has been said about the rise of the People’s Republic of China from a poor country to a major economic power. A lot of additional ink has been used to describe the rise of Japan from the complete defeat in World War II to one of the top five nations in terms of national GDP. Often lost in this is the incredible story of South Korea, completely devastated by war in 1950-1953, the nation rose to the status of a major economic power. South Korea now ranks at roughly eleventh place in terms of national GDP.

 This book is a history of this, but it is more a tribute to the American blood and treasure that went into the stalemate form of victory won in the war from 1950-53. With Korea still split into north and south sections with completely different political and economic systems, it is an existence proof of the failure of communism.

 The story is told in a small amount of text injected into a collection of images. There are scenes from the devastating war and then there are images from the modern nation with an emphasis on the urban areas. It closes with tributes to the men and women that fought in the war to defeat the north, one fact not often emphasized is that men from many different nations fought and died in Korea under the United Nations mandate.

 The Korean War should be labeled as what it is, the conflict where communism was checked and thereby defeated. For it is a political system that must be everywhere, or it will only exist in spots. Any attempt to impose it can be easily countered by the simple statement, “Look at the two Koreas.” This book demonstrates that fact.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review of “The Shakiest Gun in the West,” starring Don Knotts, video

Review of

“The Shakiest Gun in the West,” starring Don Knotts, video

Three out of five stars

 Andy Griffith has been quoted as saying that he knew within ten minutes of working with Don Knotts that he had to let Knotts be the funny man while he played the straight man. It was the interactions between Griffith and Knotts on the set that made “The Andy Griffith Show” the classic comedy it is. Furthermore, unlike other two-member comedy teams, Griffith and Knotts truly liked each other and were the best of friends until the end. Griffith was at Knotts’ side when he died.

 This movie stars Don Knotts in a role similar to that of Deputy Barney Fife, a bumbler with a good heart, but still a bumbler. His character is a dentist by trade and after graduation from dental school he leaves Philadelphia to practice his craft in the west. There is a continuous set of bumbling acts by the Knotts character, as he never seems to do anything right.

 The problem with the movie is that there is no strong straight person for Knotts to play against. Barbara Rhoades plays Bad Penny Cushings and is the straight person, but their comedic chemistry is just not there. This forces Knotts to try to carry the scenes himself, and it just doesn’t work.

 This movie points out how necessary it is for a comedian to have a straight person to contrast with. Knotts was typecast as the bumbler, but even the best comedic bumblers need the straight foil to make it work the way it should.  

Review of "Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds," by Cynthia Rylant and Barry Moser

Review of

Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds, by Cynthia Rylant and Barry Moser ISBN 0590512587

Five out of five stars

 The area known as Appalachia is a significant area of the United States and remains generally poor, despite many government efforts to stimulate economic development. Some people refer to the residents as “hillbillies,” but the referents often take that as an insult.

 This book is meant to be a primer on the people that make their homes in Appalachia. While they may not have a lot of wealth, they do have a lot of pride in their heritage and region. Coal mining is a main industry in the area, it is a dirty, dangerous occupation that has been a part of the heritage of many families for generations.

 Written at the level of the late elementary or early middle school student, this is a book that does an excellent job of introducing all people to a region that is often misunderstood and sometimes belittled.