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 fiancé, 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 fiancé, 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.