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.

Review of "Rocket Genius," by Charles Spain Verral

Review of

Rocket Genius, by Charles Spain Verral

Five out of five stars

 Strong and convincing arguments can be made for Robert Goddard having been the most underappreciated genius every produced by American society. He was the intellectual and experimental grandfather to the deadly V2 rockets launched by Germany in the last months of World War II. When U. S. military personnel interviewed the German rocket scientists immediately after the war was over, they were puzzled, almost literally answering questions about how they did it with, “Why don’t you ask Goddard?”

 Although now dated regarding the use of rockets in the space programs, this book is still a valuable primer on the life of a true genius. Unfortunately, most of that recognition as a visionary took place long after his death.

Review of "Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Warped," by K. W. Jeter

Review of

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Warped, by K. W. Jeter ISBN 0671567810

Three out of five stars

 This story takes a long time to develop and has a bizarre and very dissatisfying resolution. Bajor is once again subject to political instability, while there is a series of unusual murders on DS9. The instigating factor is discovered to be an unusual form of holodeck that somehow penetrates into the deepest psychological reaches of the patrons.

 The entity responsible for the difficulties is a human former business associate of Quark’s named McHogue. Yet, Quark is adamant that there is something disturbingly different about him. There is a coup on Bajor with a new government taking power, and they have financial backing from the Cardassians. The new Bajoran leader names McHogue their minister of international trade and there is a plan to build a massive city of pleasure based on the unusual form of holodecks.

 With such a complex plot and so many tangential movements, it takes about 200 pages before the complete background is established, even before the main crisis arrives. It turns out that McHogue’s goals are far greater than was first thought, he plans on modifying the very fabric of the universe.

 Against long odds, Commander Sisko is able to confront McHogue, but the mechanism where he defeats McHogue is very thinly and unappealingly described. It is not out of bounds to put it into the “then a miracle happens” bucket. It is as if the author created a complex situation where the galaxy is at stake and the outlook is grim and had no real idea how to save the day.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Review of "America in the Korean War," by Edward F. Dolan

Review of

America in the Korean War, by Edward F. Dolan ISBN 0761303618

Five out of five stars

Since it was recent enough and so controversial, the Vietnam War is still in the consciousness of today’s young people. Even though they might not know who the adversaries of the Allies were in World War I and World War II, modern day young people know that they happened. This is not the case with the war in Korea. Even people that have some knowledge of it are surprised when they learn how many casualties there were in that conflict. Accurate figures are not known, but the number of deaths is approximately 5 million, half of which were civilians.

 This book is a brief, yet reasonably thorough description of what has often been referred to as “America’s Forgotten War.” It was the first war where stalemate became the goal of both sides, a situation that remains to this day. The two Koreas remain in a state of war and it a shooting war were to break out, the number of deaths in the first day would be catastrophic.

 The level is roughly that of the late middle and early high school student. It is an excellent primer on the war that led to a situation that remains one of the greatest potential flash points in the world today. Therefore, the more that modern students learns about the Korean War the better.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Review of "Adventures in Cartooning," by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost

Review of

Adventures in Cartooning, by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost ISBN 9780545249652

Three out of five stars

 Although the cover indicates that this is a book about creating cartoons and there is some information about the mechanics of creating cartoons, it primarily a book that contains cartoons. The hero is a knight with a horse named Edward and there is a candy chugging dragon that must be defeated. Overseeing it all is a magic elf that is also an expert in creating cartoons.

 There are other characters, such as a whale, knights that have been turned into vegetables and a princess that must be rescued. The story itself is not terribly imaginative, there is some humor and it is all juvenile. If the authors had concentrated more on describing how to create cartoons, this would have been a much better book.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Review of "Classics Illustrated: Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott

Review of

Classics Illustrated: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Five out of five stars

 “Ivanhoe” is arguably the most well-known of the novels by Sir Walter Scott and it is a work of historical fiction set in England in the twelfth century. It is a time when knights were bold and tournaments where they competed in jousts were major events. It is a time when there was a significant distinction between the Normans and the Saxons and there is still hostility, although not open warfare.

 The story also includes references to anti-Semitism, in a panel on page 5 of this comic, Isaac of York a Jewish merchant has been granted admittance. The panel shows him walking within the village and the text is, “Isaac entered. Even the servants withdrew from him in pious horror.”

 Given the length and complexity of the novel, the story in this comic is of necessity abridged. Yet, it does capture the essence of this complex novel of a time of knighthood, assimilation and accommodation. It also features one of the most well-known English kings, Richard the Lion-hearted. This is an excellent introduction to a complex story about a complex country. The panels that include the bandit known as Robin Hood increase the subplots and intrigue.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Review of "First Scalp For Custer: The Skirmish at Warbonnet Creek, Nebraska, July 17, 1876," by Paul L. Hedren

Review of

First Scalp For Custer: The Skirmish at Warbonnet Creek, Nebraska, July 17, 1876, by Paul L. Hedren ISBN 0803272359

Four out of five stars

 The title of this book is ambiguous, when I read it, I thought it meant the first scalp taken by General Custer in his battles with the Native Americans. That is not the case, the reference is to the first Native American scalped in revenge after Custer was completely defeated at the Little Big Horn. Three weeks after Custer’s death there was a minor skirmish between the American Fifth Cavalry Regiment and a group of Cheyenne at Warbonnet Creek in Nebraska. There was only one death in the fight, the Cheyenne warrior Yellow Hair was killed by scout William (Buffalo Bill) Cody. Cody did in fact take the scalp of the dead warrior and he used the event and the evidence in his subsequent Wild West Shows.

 The authors went to great lengths to research the facts of this battle that was minor, yet significant as it was the first combat after Custer’s defeat. Recollections were checked and cross-checked until the researchers were confident that they had an accurate chronicle. There are many photos of the Army officers, locations of the action and the monuments to the event that were put up in commemoration.

 Although the battle was significant only within the context of the only major defeat suffered by the American Army at the hands of the Native Americans, it is still an interesting event, making this book important. It is also significant that the whites did in fact scalp their dead Native American adversaries.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Review of "On the Waterfront," starring Marlon Brando

Review of

On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando

Five out of five stars

 Given the gritty, hard facts of life presented in this movie and the superb performances by all the players, especially Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, it is easy to see why it won so many Academy Awards. Like many great movies, it was a surprise success, there was also a great deal of controversy. Since it depicted the union of stevedores as being controlled by a ruthless organized crime syndicate, there were many voices of protest from the actual leaders of unions.

 Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former prizefighter that now works unloading cargo ships. The local mob completely controls the union and they will tolerate no dissent, they decide if a man works or not. When Malloy’s friend is killed and he starts becoming involved with the friend’s sister, Malloy must decide whether to continue to go along with mob rule or to become a government witness.

 It is my personal opinion that the best performance is by Karl Malden as the local priest that stands behind the men that want to get the crooks out of the union. His passion and principles provide a role model for the others to do the right thing. This movie provides one of the all-time best lines, “I coulda been a contender.” This is a movie that you watch every few years to see how actors truly play their roles and say their lines.

Review of "Classics Illustrated: The Prince and the Pauper," by Samuel Clemens

Review of

Classics Illustrated: The Prince and the Pauper, by Samuel Clemens

Five out of five stars

 The basic plot of this classic story by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is one of rags and riches being interchanged. The setting is a kingdom run by an absolute monarch, his word is law, even to the extent where a person that displeases him can be put to death. The two main characters are a poor boy named Tom Canty and the son of the king, Edward Tudor. Tom is beaten by his father when he displeases him, while Edward is of course pampered.

 When the two boys meet and discuss their lives, they decide to swap clothes so that each can be the other for a short time. Once this is done, they realize that they could be identical twins. Edward quickly discovers that playing the role of Tom is very unpleasant, for it is easier for a poor boy to adapt to the role of the pampered royalty than it is for the royalty to live as the poor do.

 Edward struggles to stay alive and somehow find a way to get back into the palace grounds and recover his position. Tom tries to explain the situation to the members of the royal court, but no one believes him. Finally, after the king dies and Tom is to be coronated, the two boys meet once again, and their roles are switched back to normal. Tom and Edward remain friends and Edward vows to rule far more justly, for he now understands the plight of the poor.

 I have long taken the position that the classics of literature should be learned by any and all means possible. Although the story is of necessity abridged, this comic provides the essence of what is really just a very long fairy tale.

Review of "Cubs Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Real Fan!" By Lew Freedman

Review of

Cubs Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Real Fan! By Lew Freedman ISBN 9781572438163

Four out of five stars

 This is a book by a fan of the Chicago Cubs baseball team written for other fans. It is a disjointed, nonsequential rendition of some of the high points in the history of the team. It includes descriptions of some of the great players that donned the uniform, such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Greg Maddux and Ron Santo. Although there have only been a few championship caliber teams in the last half-century, as Freedman points out, the Cubs were once a powerhouse. They are also a very old franchise, one of the pioneers of major league baseball.

 There are many repeats, albeit in slightly different contexts. Popular Cubs announcer Harry Caray is the subject of a lengthy bio, it would have better if there was more coverage of his fellow legend of broadcasting, Jack Brickhouse.

 This is light sports reading at its best. Nothing heavy or controversial, very little in the way of dirty laundry regarding the players and a book that you can read in snippets. Fans of baseball in general and the Cubs in particular will enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review of "Goin’ Someplace Special," by Patricia C. McKissack and Jerry Pinkney

Review of

Goin’ Someplace Special, by Patricia C. McKissack and Jerry Pinkney ISBN 043945624x

Five out of five stars

 The context is the southern United States during the time of Jim Crow segregation and the main character is a young black woman living in a city. Her name is ‘Tricia Ann and for the first time she is going to go by herself to the place she calls “Someplace Special.” Her mother helps her don her best dress and gives her warnings to remember what she has been told.

 For young black women at that time and place, it meant far more than the normal warnings that parents give their female children that are venturing out alone for the first time. Nearly every place she will go has white and colored sections and she must not cross the social lines.

 ‘Tricia Ann takes the bus and walks past empty seats until she is in the colored section. She goes to the park and admires the fountain until she must sit down, only to discover that the bench is for whites only. When she is at the front door of a hotel, there is a crowd of fans that she is caught up in and is pressed inside, only to be told to get out.

 Finally, she arrives at the public library, with the sign out front “Public Library: All Are Welcome.” For ‘Tricia Ann, it is truly Someplace Special, for it is one of the few public places where blacks are welcome with whites.

 In the late 1950’s the library board of the city of Nashville, Tennessee voted to be fully integrated and that act is the basis for this story. It is a slightly fictionalized account of her childhood in coping with segregation. Black parents routinely did not their children venture out alone until they were mature enough to deal with the segregation and frequent ridicule by whites.

 Young people today have very little idea what was standard social policy only a few decades ago. This book of more fact than fiction is a lesson in how things used to be and hopefully will never be again.

Review of "Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys," by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard

Review of

Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys, by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard ISBN 0689800762

Five out of five stars

 This is one of those stories of historical fiction that was no doubt fact for many people. The time context is after the American Civil War, the slaves are freed and nearly all black people in the south are illiterate. The Quakers have established a school for blacks seven miles from the residence of the main characters, they walk to the school at the start of the week carrying their food for the week as well as spare clothing. The students stay at the school during the week and then walk home for the weekend.

 Virgie is a young girl with five older brothers, and she is determined to start school in the fall. She is told that she is too small, and girls have no need for formal schooling, a position that she rejects. Finally, her father relents and agrees to allow Virgie to go to school. After their things are packed, and their father tells the older boys to take care of Virgie, the six of them start their trek to the school.

 There was indeed such a black family (Fitzgerald) that lived seven miles from Jonesborough, Tennessee and walked to the Quaker school there. This book is based on tales of their lives that were passed down through the generations until it reached the author. Therefore, this book is more a work of fact than fiction. It is a great story about a young girl determined to learn, it also demonstrates how there were groups that did what they could to assist the recently freed blacks to rise up above the level of subservience.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Review of "The Art of Minnie Mouse," Disney Editions

Review of

The Art of Minnie Mouse, Disney Editions ISBN 9781484767733

Five out of five stars

 The Minnie Mouse character was literally present at the creation of the more famous Mickey Mouse. His first cartoon was “Steamboat Willie” and Minnie was his love interest in that classic. Walt Disney himself was the voice of Minnie in this as well as other early Mickey/Minnie cartoons.

 Over the years, her wardrobe has dramatically changed, from the simple skirt to a more modern and complete wardrobe. She is often featured wearing makeup, particularly around the eyes. She is now a truly modern woman.

 This book is a textual and visual depiction of the evolution of the physical appearance of Minnie over the years. Following the general trend of the depiction of female characters in entertainment, Minnie has also developed a more assertive personality.

 This is a fun book to look at. While the wardrobe and other appearance changes are targeted at young female readers, it is enough of a history to be interesting to adult males as well.

Review of "Disney Alice in Wonderland Cinestory Comic," adapted by Jeremy Barlow

Review of

Disney Alice in Wonderland Cinestory Comic, adapted by Jeremy Barlow ISBN 9781987955057

Five out of five stars

 Mathematicians, of which I am one, regularly point out the Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), the 
author of the classic “Alice in Wonderland” was a mathematician/logician. No book ever published has a wider spectrum of memorable and original characters, it is a book that is just as entertaining for adults as it is for children, even though it was published over 150 years ago.

 This book is a graphic novel rendition of that classic tale and is based on the Disney movie, and it expresses all of the wonder and nonsensical dialog of these entertaining characters. I have read “Alice in Wonderland” and several books that contain commentary about it and when reading this version, I was once again amazed at the originality of the characters. The artwork is superb, the exaggerated features of the creatures adds to their imprint on your mind.

Review of "The New New Rules," by Bill Maher

Review of

The New New Rules, by Bill Maher ISBN 9780399158414

Five out of five stars

 Bill Maher is one of the funniest people in America and while he is liberal and hard on the conservatives, especially the last two Republican presidents, he does not spare his ideological brethren. His HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher” is the place where these “rules” first appeared, and Maher has his delivery honed to a fine edge. Many times, he his guests laugh along, sometimes hysterically. Even the conservatives chuckle at the jokes targeted at conservatives, although there is the occasional groan.

Political humor and satire is an essential component of a free and democratic society, there are many countries of the world where Maher would be jailed or even executed for what he says. Republicans and their mouthpieces often use the phrase “American exceptionalism.” The fact that Maher is allowed to openly say these great jokes is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that the phrase is true, even though those that utter it often criticize Maher for what he says.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Review of "The Moon Dragons," by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe

Review of

The Moon Dragons, by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe ISBN 9781467763141

Five out of five stars

 The dragon is a mythical creature that has appeared in countless stories of legend, from folktales to science fiction to songs to movies and television series. There is also a wide spectrum in the way they are treated, from the loving playmate in the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” to the fire-breathing bringer of death. In this book, they are presented as creatures where humans have almost hunted them to extinction, so they confine themselves to a region where humans simply do not go.

 The legend of the Moon Dragons is widely held in the kingdom and the king demands that one of them be brought back to his castle. Hunter after hunter goes up into the misty mountains searching for a Moon Dragon, but none are ever found.

 Finally, a poor young woman named Alina announces that she will go alone in searching for the Moon Dragons and she is ridiculed. Armed with the song that her grandmother taught her, Alina goes off into the mist and she sees a small set of Moon Dragons flying and playing in the moonlight. She returns to her village and rather than admit to what she saw, she protects the dragons by telling everyone that she never saw them.

 Although she does no slaying of dragons or gets rich and powerful, Alina is a genuine heroine in this book. Her example of doing the right thing at her own expense is a valuable lesson to children. There are some secrets that must be kept, no matter what the personal consequences.

Review of "Peach Boy: A Japanese Legend," retold by Gail Sakurai

Review of

Peach Boy: A Japanese Legend, retold by Gail Sakurai ISBN 0816734097

Five out of five stars

 This old Japanese folktale shares many characteristics of many legends of other cultures. A poor old couple is childless until the woman finds a giant peach floating down the stream. She takes it home, thinking that they will have some fresh peach as part of their next meal. They are surprised when it opens, and a young boy emerges.

 He proves to have a ravenous appetite and grows rapidly, becoming strong and very helpful to those around him. A group of ogres has terrified the population, stealing their valuables and destroying their possessions. The boy vows to fight and defeat the ogres and after acquiring a sword and being given provisions, he sets out on his adventure.

 Along the way, he aids some wild animals by sharing his dumplings and they accompany him on his journey. Once he arrives at the castle of the ogres, with the assistance of the animals, he beats up the ogres and gets them to give up their treasure and forever leave the villagers alone.

 The child being found floating on a river is a very old and ubiquitous story, think Moses of the bible. Growing up to be the hero and sharing his belongings with wild creatures is also found in many other tales. This is a nice story with a simple plot, the hero saving his family and neighbors from a consistent threat that no one else seems capable of dealing with. While not original by any means, it still makes for a good tale to be read to children.