Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review of "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," by Frederick Jackson Turner

Review of

The Significance of the Frontier in American History, by Frederick Jackson Turner ISBN 0804469199

Five out of five stars

Should be required reading in American history programs

 From the first tentative footholds on the east coast until the frontier was officially declared closed by the Census bureau in 1890, the generally westward movement of settlers largely defined the United States. Neither climate, terrain nor the opposition of the inhabitants could stop it. If you couldn’t make it in society for whatever reason, there was always the option to leave and establish yourself on unoccupied (by the whites) land.  It was a compelling lure, even for people that were living in Europe.

 This book by Turner is considered a milestone in history as he sets down the principles of what the frontier was and how it evolved from the first whites to stop and build until the structures of civilization such as schools and civil buildings were functioning. In 31 pages, the reader is given a primer on one of the foundational principles of what made the United States what it is. It should be read by all high school students.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Review of "The Case of the Painted Dragon: A Brains Benton Mystery," by George Wyatt

Review of

The Case of the Painted Dragon: A Brains Benton Mystery, by George Wyatt

Five out of five stars

 The high ranking is given by a man that loved the Hardy Boys series when he was young. Although he has covered many miles since then, I retain the joy of the juvenile mystery. This one features Barclay (Brains) Benton and James Carson, together they make up the Benton and Carson Detective Agency and they solve crimes and mysteries that often baffle adults.

 They have their own batcave equivalent in the upper level of the Benton garage complete with many gadgets, some of which remind you of the opening of the old television show “Get Smart!” They even have codes names that they use when they are on a case. In other words, they check all the boxes in the adolescent boy’s sleuthing/spying fantasies.

 If you take your mind back to when you were in your early teens, you will love this book The phrase “Painted Dragon” refers to an image painted by the deceased by auto accident father of one of the friends of Brains and James. The son is Mikko and he is of Japanese descent and there is a gang that is after a string of valuable pearls. His mother also died in the accident, so Mikko is under guardianship. To the adult mind, there are several logical flaws in the plot, but to the young one, it is a very fun book to read. This is the first Brains Benton book that have read and I wished that I had known of them when I was young.

Review of "Marvel Secret Wars 1872 number 3," Duggan et. al.

Review of

Marvel Secret Wars 1872 number 3, Duggan et. al. 

Five out of five stars

 When I spotted this comic in the local used bookstore, the cover snapped my eye to attention. It contains what looks like an amalgam of Iron Man and an old steam locomotive as well as a man brandishing a sixgun and another wearing the standard clothing associated with the American west.

At first it appears to be a fairly standard western story where the oppressed are going up against the greedy and wealthy barons that are building a dam on the river. However, characters known for being in other times and place are present. They are Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Dr. Banner. It is an interesting twist on a well worn western story and this comic is the third in the series, so if you have not read the first two, some aspects of the plot are confusing.

 However, I enjoyed it so much that immediately after finishing, I began ordering the other comics in this series.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Review of "Youth," by Isaac Asimov

Review of

Youth, by Isaac Asimov ISBN 9781606644683

Five out of five stars

 This short science fiction story is based on the premise of two young creatures (Slim and Red) finding strange little animals after hearing thunder sounds. It is quickly clear that the two animals are in fact space travelers (Explorer and Merchant) and their ship crashed on the home world of Slim and Red. Their fathers are (Astronomer and Industrialist) and the narrative passes back and forth between each of the three groups.

 The interaction between the two in each of the three pairs is the most entertaining aspect of the story. The Astronomer and Industrialist talk about how their world once was, and how it has steadily declined over the generations. There is a smooth road that was built so far back that no one knows how it was done. There is mention of the use of atomic weapons, but even that is rather vague. The Explorer and Merchant are the only two survivors of the crash and they both think almost exclusively along the lines of what their names imply. While Slim and Red put Explorer and Merchant in a cage, they do nothing cruel and do what they can for them.

 There is a somewhat unexpected twist at the end, which explains why there are no descriptions of the normal actions of sentient creatures as they go about their daily lives. That makes this story a solid example of how short science fiction stories can pack a great deal of symbolism into a small amount of well chosen words.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Review of "The Invaders: Alien Missile Threat," by Paul S. Newman

Review of

The Invaders: Alien Missile Threat, by Paul S. Newman

Four out of five stars

 This pocket illustrated novel by Whitman is a companion to the television series called “The Invaders.” It ran for two seasons 67-68 and starred Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent. Vincent accidently witnessed an alien landing and then made it his mission in life to thwart their attempt to take control of Earth. In this book, an alien craft explodes in space, high enough and large enough so that a large segment of the American population witnesses it.

 Needing energy resources, the aliens are trying to get control of some nuclear power at a government facility and have infiltrated it. Vincent and some human allies that he manages to acquire battle with them in the hope to thwart the alien’s nefarious plot. At the end, David and his comrades in arms defeat the aliens, but in a manner where all proof of their existence is destroyed. Which was a recurrent theme of the series, for one of the main premises is that Vincent is very much a lone sentry standing against the alien control of Earth.

 This was a science fiction series that demonstrated some promise, yet it was constrained by the seeming necessity of keeping Vincent as an isolated battler against the powerful alien forces that can assume human form. While he does find a small number of people that believe his premise, they are rare and isolated.  Which points up a weakness in the science backdrop of the show. The energy requirements of moving from planet to planet is so large that even the technology of the sixties would have detected it. The idea that a spaceship could enter the atmosphere and land undetected is too far-fetched to be believed.

Review of "Cartoons for the John"

Review of

Cartoons for the John

Five out of five stars

 The title is a bit of a misnomer, this is a book of cartoons about sex. As always in books of cartoons, there is a wide range in the level of humor, much of which is due to personal taste. Yet, if you are a fan of such reading material, which is well suited to the short snippets of attention when on the john,  then you will find the book entertaining. The cartoons are material that you can read over and over again with amusement and they require little to no concentration.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Review of "Bluecoats: The U. S. Army in the West 1848-1897," by John P. Langellier

Review of

Bluecoats: The U. S. Army in the West 1848-1897, by John P. Langellier ISBN 1853672211

Five out of five stars

No question the author is an expert in the subject

 While I personally have little interest in the history of military uniforms, I also know that there are people that are diligent in their study. Only a few pages into this book, it is clear that the author is an expert. Photos of soldiers posed in their military uniforms are given with detailed textual explanations of what is right and wrong with their clothing and accoutrements. George Custer appears in at least two of them. Pay was poor for the soldiers on the frontier and the uniforms were often ill-fitting and uncomfortable. Therefore, the soldiers often made do with what else they may have, and the author explains the discrepancies.

 If you have any level of interest in what the American soldiers in the west wore in the last half of the nineteenth century, this book is one of the first places you should look.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Review of "America’s Dizzy Dean," by Curt Smith

Review of

America’s Dizzy Dean, by Curt Smith ISBN 0827200145

Five out of five stars

Dominant as both a player and a showman

 Jay Hanna or Dizzy Dean was a man whose talent for pitching a baseball was exceeded only by his incredible brashness. Even though he was an essentially uneducated country boy, he approached the world as if he knew all about it. He won an amazing 121 games (five complete seasons) before he turned 27 and it seemed likely that he could have approached 300 for a career if he had not been injured and hurt his throwing arm.

 Dean was given the nickname “Dizzy” for his wild antics and frequent mental blunders. Some of it was an act, but few were ever sure as to how far it really went. One of the best baseball quotes of all time appeared after Dean was hit in the head by a ball thrown in an attempt to complete a double play. It was , “X-rays of Dizzy Dean’s head reveal nothing.”  

 After his career as a player was over, Dean became a broadcaster, famous for his country banner and butchery of the English language. Yet, he was unapologetic for his speech patterns. He was very poor as a child, growing up picking cotton for a pittance and his baseball career spanned  the Depression.

 It is easy to give the man that came to be known as “Ole Diz” a great deal of slack when describing his life. While Smith gives him some, he does not go too far with it. Therefore, this is an excellent biography of the man that plausibly could have gone down as one of the top five pitchers of all time. All accounts are that he was a joy to listen to when broadcasting a game, he became the first true star of the baseball airwaves. Even though teachers of English constantly complained about what he said.

 This was a fun book to read, it describes the first professional baseball player that was as much an entertainer on the field as he was dominant when on the mound.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Review of "Deliverance," DVD version

Review of

Deliverance, DVD version

Four out of five stars

Male bonding adventure gone very awry

 This movie opens up with a very basic premise, four businessmen from Atlanta are about to take a canoe trip down a very rough river in the most rural of areas in the mountains of Georgia. A dam has been constructed that will create a lake out of most of the river, so this is their last chance to experience this adventure.

 In one of the best scenes ever in a movie, early on one of the men plays the instrumental song “Dueling Banjoes” with a local boy. All of the local men are portrayed as mentally weak and backward and treated as such by the four men from the city. The boy on the banjo is portrayed as an idiot savant in the area of music.

 What seems to be a pending duel between man and nature quickly becomes a battle between the four men, nature and two very rough men of the mountains. When the two teams of two are separated, one of the teams encounters two local men that are portrayed as being slightly above animals. One of the businessmen is sexually assaulted and when the two locals start planning to sexually assault the other, he is shot dead by a hunting arrow.

 This increases the tension as the four men debate what to do with the body. They eventually decide and continue on their trip. However, all is not well within the group, and when one appears to passively just fall out of the boat and drown, they believe that he was shot, even though no one heard the sound of a gun.

 After one receives a serious injury, the three remaining men finally make it back to civilization and tell their made up story to local law enforcement. While there is no hard evidence that they are lying, the deputies do not believe them.

 This movie was groundbreaking in the sense that it portrays some types of sexual content that was generally taboo in the mainstream movies. It is an action/adventure movie that is harsh and unpredictable. One most significant fact about the movie is that the four male actors did their own stunts, when the canoes are going over the rapids, it is the actors that are riding the waves.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Review of "Forgotten No More: The Korean War Veterans Memorial Story," by Carol M. Highsmith and Ted Landphair

Review of

Forgotten No More: The Korean War Veterans Memorial Story, by Carol M. Highsmith and Ted Landphair ISBN 9780962087734

Five out of five stars

The war that did most to defeat communism

 The Korean War was a war that did not affect the home front like World War II did. Other than the loss of young men, people in the United States were not asked to sacrifice to support the people fighting it. At the time, television was on track to become the universal form of entertainment that it is now. One of the most telling stories I have heard is when a fighting man returned from Korea, when he arrived home, his family members were more interested in watching the network show they loved than engaging in a true welcome home.

 Yet, over 50,000 Americans died in the Korean War with millions of people of other nationalities also losing their lives. It was the first war of the nuclear age, so the best that the United States could hope for was a return to the status quo and the avoidance of the use of nuclear weapons. Which is what was achieved.

 This book is a brief history of the Korean War along with the movement to create a memorial to the U. S. men and women that fought in it. There is mention of the brutal weather that the people endured on the Korean peninsula and how the Chinese used human wave tactics to wear down and overwhelm the UN forces.

 The Korean Veterans Memorial is a very moving structure, for the statues depict men in a war zone, wary, frightened, and determined. All characteristics that were needed through the dramatic action up and down the Korean peninsula. Rapid offenses followed by desperate retreats, often under appalling weather conditions.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Review of "Giant Days: Volume 1," by John Allision

Review of

Giant Days: Volume 1, by John Allision, ISBN 9781608867899

Five out of five stars

 A summary of a major life transition

 A woman I know once told me that her menstrual cycle has been disturbed only three times in her life, during her two pregnancies and when she went off to college. For many, if not most young people, moving away from home to go to school and live in a dorm is the most traumatic event in their young lives. Suddenly placed in a new environment with people around them, adjustment and adaptation are the major requirements.

 This graphic novel features three young women of vastly different backgrounds and appearances. Daisy was home schooled and is na├»ve, Esther is extremely pale and is a catalyst for drama while Susan is logical and studious. They quickly become friends and navigate their new social scene, which includes old male flames, hints of same-sex relationships, occasional study and exploring the good-times social scene.

 All events in their lives are of course exaggerated, but still are grounded in the reality that girls experience when they go off to college. Cliques of their old school are vaporized; they are forced to (con)form to new social circles and take the first steps in what will be for most of them the true transition to adulthood. It is a fun book to read for people of all ages and genders.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Review of "Cases of Sherlock Holmes, First Collector’s Issue: The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet ,"comic version by Renegade Press

Review of

Cases of Sherlock Holmes, First Collector’s Issue: The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet comic version by Renegade Press

Five out of five stars

 There are many famous fictional detectives that have delighted and entertained people for almost two centuries. The first such detective was C. Auguste Dupin, first introduced by Edgar Allan Poe in 1841, but the most famous is Sherlock Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes first appeared in 1887 and was so popular that there was a public backlash when Doyle tried to kill off Holmes. He remains the most popular fictional detective of all time, with many high quality stories and other productions continuing the character. I have read the complete collection of the original Doyle stories as well as many in isolation.

 This Doyle story in comic form keeps within the genre of the Holmes character. It is set in crowded and dirty London of the late nineteenth century and is completely within the lane of the stratified, class conscious British society. A wealthy financier rushes to Holmes’ residence with a problem. He granted a loan to a wealthy and very public man, accepting as collateral a national treasure that would be described as priceless. While that item was not entirely missing, most of it is present after some kind of robbery attempt and part of it is gone.

 Holmes of course listens to a complete description of the events and investigates, tracking down the criminals as well as removing the suspicions of the innocent. It is a story told using both text and images, which are in black and white. There are no dialogue balloons. Perhaps the most interesting image is on page 5, which is an extremely accurate rendition of Prince Charles, currently first in line to the British throne.

 Although it is short, this story has a natural flow and has a specific conclusion. The last four pages contain the beginning of a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. Any doubts that the great Holmes can properly appear in a comic book were dispelled by this gem.

Review of "The Worst Call Ever!," by Kyle Garlett and Patrick O’Neal

Review of

The Worst Call Ever!, by Kyle Garlett and Patrick O’Neal ISBN 9780061251375

Five out of five stars

Even when meant to be exact, officiating is not

 Major league baseball keeps records of errors players make as it is a fundamental component of all sports. Some of those mistakes decide games, even those involved in determining champions. Histories of baseball mention them. For example, there is the famous “Merkle’s Boner” in baseball that determined the winner of the National League pennant in 1908.

 Being human, the people that officiate games in the major sports also make errors, most of which are simply making a bad call. One of the most famous was the safe call by first base umpire Don Denkinger in game six of the 1985 World Series. It arguably determined the winner, although the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to simply give up after that call. More recently, there was the erroneous safe call made by Jim Joyce in what would have been the last out of a perfect game.

 Published in 2007, this book was written after replay review was instituted in the NFL but before it was first used in major league baseball in 2008. It features bad calls made by officials in all of the major sports, including golf, auto racing and even curling. It is an interesting history of what has gone wrong in the inexact science of arbitrating professional sports.

 While the advent of replay challenges, some of the most egregious errors that have happened since have been corrected at the time. However, there are still errors and no-calls that manage to elude the watchful eyes of all aspects of the video review. There was no event worse than the one now known as the “Fail Mary,” a bad call that decided the winner of an NFL game. So officiating is still an exact operation.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Review of "Norman Rockwell Collection 500 PC Jigsaw Puzzle a Time for Greatness"

Review of

Norman Rockwell Collection 500 PC Jigsaw Puzzle a Time for Greatness

Three out of five stars

Unnecessarily difficult

 While I enjoy the subject matter and the image, this puzzle is unnecessarily difficult because the pieces do not interlock very well. There were many times when I had to reattach sections because of a very minor bump. Even a light nudge to a leg of the card table could pop pieces out of their sockets. Moving a separate section from one location to another is almost impossible.

 The pieces are very irregular in shape, which ordinarily does not bother me. In this case it did, because much of the instability was due to the lack of uniformity in the pieces.

Review of "Fantastic Voyage," by Isaac Asimov

Review of

Fantastic Voyage, by Isaac Asimov ISBN 0553271512

Four out of five stars

 Too many cliffhangers

 As Asimov mentions in his autobiographical material, since this was a novelization of a movie, he was much more limited in what he could write. Therefore, he had to go with far more cliffhangers than is usually the case and he had to improve on some of the scientific howlers that appeared in the movie. Within these limitations, Asimov did an exceptionally good job in creating a book of science fiction out of an item of entertainment.

 The premise is that the Cold War between the United States and the Other Side is very active and tense. A scientist named Benes is on the other side and he has knowledge that could overturn the delicate balance of power between the two sides. An American agent named Grant was able to spirit Benes out of the area controlled by the Other Side, but they are so desperate to keep the knowledge from the Americans that agents of the Other Side launch an attempt to assassinate Benes. While they do not succeed, he sustains a head injury and a major blot clot in his brain. Using new technology to miniaturize large objects down to the size of bacteria, a submarine containing a small team is injected into Benes’ blood in order to destroy the clot.

 The strength of this book is Asimov’s detailed descriptions of the microstructures of the human body. In each instance it is possible for the reader to develop a crisp mental image of the structure and its function. This makes up for the seeming never-ending sequence of major problems that must be overcome. After reading this book I now want to see the movie for the first time.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Review of "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle," DVD

Review of

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, DVD

Four out of five stars

The right blend of stupid when that is what you need

 There is no pretense of intelligence by the creators of this movie. Harold (John Cho) is a white collar worker in finance that is so low on the corporate ladder that he feels the need to do extra work in order to get along. He is also very shy with girls, becoming completely tongue-tied when he is alone in an elevator with a girl he is attracted to. Kumar (Kal Penn) is a genius fully capable of handling medical school yet seems to have no ambition to do anything more than smoke marijuana and annoy the people around him.

 After consuming their last joint, they develop an overpowering craving for White Castle hamburgers. Unfortunately, this requires a lengthy journey, so an unusual road trip is on and the tale has begun. There are the seemingly obligatory moronic other guys their age, a spooky guy right out of the horror genre, cops that couldn’t whip a light bulb in a spelling bee and bare female breasts. While none of that is original, some of their methods of transportation are. Their encounter with the spooky guy is more than a little gross yet has some originality that fits with how this movie plays out.

 Sometimes what we need most is mindless entertainment to tone us down from the stress of our lives. In those situations, this movie can be medicinal.

Review of "The Stag At Eve," ideas by Walter Schmidt

Review of

The Stag At Eve, ideas by Walter Schmidt

Five out of five stars

 Published in 1931, this collection of cartoons ribald for the time is a look back at what was the limits of material that could be published in polite society. There are of course none of the harshest of the bad words and only the hints of actual sex. There are occasional bare female breasts as well as hints of backside cracks.

 The clothing, even that of the intimate occasions, is very much of the early thirties. Suits, ties and hats for the men, gowns, and jewelry for the women when they are in public. With few exceptions, all of the people are of the wealthier class, making it an outlier for what was really the case in the early years of the Great Depression.

 This is a humor book that must be seen through the lens of a historical retrospective to set the context of different times, both societal and economic. These cartoons were meant to amuse the wealthier people, not those struggling to survive amidst widespread hardship.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Review of "Little Brown Koko Has Fun," by Blanche Seale Hunt

Review of

Little Brown Koko Has Fun, by Blanche Seale Hunt

Two out of five stars

 The only reason I assign two stars to this work is that it demonstrates what was considered acceptable racist content at the time of publication, which was 1945. The author’s work appeared monthly in “Household Magazine” and the hardcopy versions of her work sold over 600,000 copies. The text is some of the most blatantly racist material you will ever see in print for the masses. In this case, it is directed at children.

 To understand the level of racism, I will quote the first paragraph verbatim.

“Little Brown Loko’s nice, big, ole, good, fat, black Mammy went to town one afternoon and left him at home to keep the chickens scared out of the flower-beds. But before she left she took one of her big, fat, black fingers under Little Brown Koko’s little, flat, brown nose and said, ‘An’ mind, Little Brown Koko! Don’t you-all skeer up no mischief while I’s gone.’”

 It is amazing that such material was once considered quality reading material for young people, yet it is important to look back and understand some of the more blatant racist expressions if the world is to move forward and continue to put such material in the dustbin of history.