Sunday, August 30, 2020

Review of "The Forgotten War: Korea, 1950-1953," 3 DVD collection


Review of

The Forgotten War: Korea, 1950-1953, 3 DVD collection

Five out of five stars

An accurate description of a war of failure and miscalculation

 When the atomic bombs dropped on Japan led to a quick surrender, the Allies were simply unprepared to deal with the areas of Asia occupied by the Japanese in August of 1945. What was done with two of those areas, Vietnam and Korea, led to extremely destructive and probably preventable wars. When the Second World War ended, the decision to divide Korea at the 38th parallel was made by fairly low-level American officers using a map taken from National Geographic. The Soviet Red Army controlled the northern region and the Allies the south, while the Red Army was strong, the Allied forces in Korea were small compared to those of the Soviets.

 Both sides immediately began working to establish governments favorable to their side in their respective regions. Longtime communist fighter Kim Il Sung emerged as the leader of the north and the equally dictatorial Syngman Rhee as the leader of the south. Both men were determined to unite Korea under their leadership and each requested heavy weapons from their patrons. The Soviets complied while the Americans did not and gave significant hints that what became South Korea was not within the American zone of defense protection. With those two preconditions, it is clear that Soviet leader Stalin gave a somewhat reluctant green light for North Korea to invade the south. This was the first miscalculation in a war characterized by arrogance leading to disaster.

 As a student of history, I was pleased to view the accurate rendition of the actions of General Douglas MacArthur. The Inchon landings were a brilliant battlefield maneuver, one of the best flanking movements of all time. However, this was followed up by an incredible mistake when MacArthur arrogantly believed that the Chinese would not intervene. This was despite the unambiguous messages that the Chinese government was sending and their initial combat probes into Korea. The Soviet Union conducted their first successful test of a nuclear weapon in 1949, so there was the genuine threat of a nuclear war if the United Nations forces were too aggressive.

 Another strong point of the video is the description of the air battles between U. S. and Soviet pilots in what was known as MiG alley. Even though the United States leadership knew that Soviet and American pilots were fighting it out in the skies over Korea, neither side chose to publicize that fact. It was darkly amusing to hear that the best Soviet pilots were called “Honchos” by the Americans.

 Finally, one of the military historians made an accurate assessment of the Korean War, neither side was capable of winning complete victory. As long as the Chinese were involved and could launch human wave attacks, the United Nations forces could not win, and the Chinese were logistically incapable of winning the entire Korean peninsula. That basic fact is still lost on some people that somehow believe that the United States could have won a complete victory in Korea.

 These characteristics, among others, make this a great video about a war that is not recalled with the vigor that it should.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Review of "Hits, Runs & Errors," by Robert Smith


Review of

Hits, Runs & Errors, by Robert Smith

Five out of five stars

 There are fundamentally three eras in baseball. They are the times before Babe Ruth began his run of power hitting, the era from that point until the arrival of Jackie Robinson dramatically expanding the talent pool and then after Robinson. Published in 1949, this book mentions Jackie Robinson, but covers the first two eras.

 More specifically, there is a great deal of coverage of the early years of professional baseball and some of the tactics players used to acquire an edge. One of the simplest was where the home team would place baseballs in the tall outfield grass so when a ball was really whacked, they could run to one of them, pick it up and quickly fire it back into the infield.

 One of the most significant facts repeated here and known only to the more serious followers of the history of baseball is that many blacks played in the major leagues in the early years. Through the efforts of hard-core segregationists like Adrian “Cap” Anson, he refused to take the field against black players, blacks were formally banned from major league baseball in the late 1880’s.

 Many of the names mentioned in this book will be known to even the casual follower of baseball history, yet there will also be many that will be new to the reader. They often toiled for very little, yet these men, through their toil and sweat, built the foundation of what quickly became universally acknowledged as the national pastime.  

Review of "Bill Stern’s Favorite Football Stories," by Bill Stern


Review of

Bill Stern’s Favorite Football Stories, by Bill Stern

Four out of five stars

 Bill Stern was a radio broadcaster that covered many of the most memorable sporting events. Literally present at the beginning of the profession, he announced the first remote sports broadcast and the first telecasts of baseball and football games.  He was in the broadcast business covering many different sports for over 30 years, he was active until the early 1960’s. Therefore, it is not surprising that he would have many football stories to tell. However, it must be said that he sometimes took a bit of liberty with the factual accuracy of his stories. As he would say as an opening to some of his stories, “. . . might be actual, may be mythical, but definitely interesting.”

 The stories in this collection are largely focused on the early years of football, when the only real public following was for college football. They are interesting and entertaining in both the historical and personality areas. Many of the names of the players are known only in passing to the modern reader, legends they may have been in their time. Yet, they still keep you reading, for these were the men that built the foundation for the modern multi-billion dollar industries of college and professional football.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Review of "Nick Calm, Agent of C.O.D.P.I.E.C.E., number 1"


Review of

Nick Calm, Agent of C.O.D.P.I.E.C.E., number 1

Four out of five stars

 This is an unusual comic, the background for the captions are black and white images right out of mythology or artwork of the Christian religion. As I read it, my mind wandered as I tried to remember if I had ever seen the images in religious works. They look like they could have been plucked from medieval or Renaissance works.  For example, there is a bat-winged devil with horns and beard right out of the images of the Christian god. 

 Once a background is established, it is used for several panels, with different overlays to progress the story. To me, the artwork is far more interesting than the story in textual form, which in many ways is non-sequential and a bit nonsensical. Designed to be provocative, this comic is unusual, yet has a hint of art history as a foundation.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review of ":Death Takes a Byline," by D. S. Lliteras

 Review of

Death Takes a Byline, by D. S. Lliteras ISBN 9781937907679

Five out of five stars

 Kept me interested till the end

 While I did not read this in one sitting, I did complete it before the day I received it was over. Larry Meachum is a very good but struggling author. His books are being marketed and distributed through a small, independent publisher and sales are at best sluggish. Joe Gagliano is the owner of the publishing company and he comes up with a wild scheme to get Larry’s name and books some valuable publicity and hopefully boost sales. The plan is for Larry to fake his suicide and then assume the new identity of Tony Wilson. Due to an auto accident, Tony was disfigured and after many surgical procedures, he no longer looks like Larry.

 The story opens with Tony Wilson being visited by freelance reporter Susan Kirkpatrick, pursuing a story for a tabloid. It is a bizarre story, namely that Tony Wilson is in fact Larry Meachum. For the scheme for publicity for the books of Larry Meachum was far more successful than the schemers had thought. Two of his books are now bestsellers and the royalties are considerable.

 Where there is so much money there is greed, and it leads to the weaving of an elaborate scheme, there are few people in the former life of Larry Meachum that can be trusted. All are opportunistic, with some showing no hesitation in committing murder. Especially that of Larry/Tony, even those that were closest to him think more of money than they do of him.

 I would read a long section of the book, and then put it down for a while. However, it was not long before the siren call of curiosity was overwhelming, and I picked it up again for another reading session. It is not a deep mystery, but it is a worthy read.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Review of "Take A Deep Breath: A Simple Exercise Guide to Increasing Your Oxygen Intake," by Meera Patricia Kerr and Sandra A. McLanahan,


Review of

Take A Deep Breath: A Simple Exercise Guide to Increasing Your Oxygen Intake, by Meera Patricia Kerr and Sandra A. McLanahan, ISBN 9780757004810

Five out of five stars

Exercises easy to perform and good for you

 There is no question that humans possess excess lung capacity. The fact that people can have an entire lung surgically removed and still live well is proof. Therefore, it is also certain that there are areas of the lungs where the air is not refreshed on a regular basis. Stagnant air is a breeding ground for pathogens, and those areas of the lungs are no exceptions. Given the current Covid pandemic, it makes sense that doing all you can to refresh the air in your lungs is a healthy choice.

 I can remember hearing about the health effects of deep abdominal breathing in my youth, both from the media and in school health classes. The positive health effects of controlled, relaxed breathing has also been known for a long time.

 Therefore, there is really nothing new in this book. However, that does not in any way diminish the value of knowing how your lungs function and the simple, effective exercises that can help you relax and clear your lungs of stagnant air. In the modern world, we all need simple, effective solutions to manage stress and improve our health. Even partial solutions that can have significant benefits are worthy additions to your personal toolset.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Review of "Benny Hill: The Naughty Early Years, Complete and Unadulterated Set One 1969-1971, Episode 1" DVD


Review of

Benny Hill: The Naughty Early Years, Complete and Unadulterated Set One 1969-1971, Episode 1 DVD

Five out of five stars

 Benny Hill was a first rate comedian as well as a trailblazer in pushing the limits of what was allowed on television. He engaged in sexual inuendo that was heretofore disallowed. He did it with puns, the double entendre, suggestive sight gags and extreme facial expressions. The most common sight gag used in this episode is Hill dressed in women’s clothing  and playing everything from a television addicted housewife to multiple singers to women that are a bit of a vamp.

 There are parodies of medical procedures, a lampooning of international talent contests and a skit where Benny gets what he wishes for and then is content to be returned to what was before. Two characteristic features of the Hill comedy are the slapping of a bald head and the running away from the camera to the theme song at the end.

 One positive aspect of this episode is the underplaying of the laughter. Modern television comedies seem to think that there must be a significant laugh after nearly every line is delivered. Watching this episode took me back to the days when variety shows were taped before a live audience and the laughs had to be earned rather than inserted at will.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Review of "The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny," by Mel Lyle


Review of

The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny, by Mel Lyle

Four out of five stars

 Jack Power is seventeen and his brother Chip is fifteen, the ideal age for main characters in adventure fiction for adolescents. It opens with the Power boys hiking in a remote region of the Ozarks and they come across a small airport. It is owned and operated by a man named Clay and the scene is one where pigs and chickens are running free range.

 The adventure truly begins when a small plane flies overhead and crashes in the thick brush. The only way to reach the site is by having Clay fly his helicopter. They rescue the pilot and transport him to the nearest hospital. The name of the injured man is Lewis and he is one of a small group of men involved in a million dollar stolen treasure. There is a cave nearby with the associated legend that perhaps the Jesse James gang had hidden some of their loot there.

 Other men arrive that may or may not be what they claim to be. With their friend Eddie, the Power boys do what adventurous boys of their age do. They look for and attempt to create clues that will help them solve the mystery. The main clue is scratched on a rare, old penny. However, it is the treasure that is worth a million dollars, not the penny.

 The adventure is constructed following the bounds of such adventures. The Power boys are in danger, but not the kind created by ruthless adversaries. There is a base resolution where all questions are answered regarding the villains, heroes and simple bystanders.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review of "What You Must Know About Strokes," by Amytis Towfighi and Laura J. Stevens


Review of

What You Must Know About Strokes, by Amytis Towfighi and Laura J. Stevens ISBN 9780757004834

Five out of five stars

How to avoid and recover from a crippling medical event

 Putting the current Covid pandemic aside, medical science has excelled at reducing the instances of diseases of childhood and the young adult from being fatal. This has meant that a higher percentage of people suffer from medical events that are based on an aging body. One of the most common and debilitating is the stroke, because it damages the brain. It is the third leading cause of death in the U. S. and the leading cause of serious long-term disability.

 Fortunately, there are many lifestyle changes that can be implemented to avoid a stroke, most of which are consistent with other health issues, namely proper diet and exercise. Smoking is another risk factor. Furthermore, since that which cannot be avoided must be endured, this book also covers recovery and rehabilitation tactics. There is a very positive note in this area, largely based on the incredible ability of the brain to heal itself. This plasticity can be driven by proper rehab tactics that are both physical and mental exercises.

 Given the extensive consequences of strokes in the population, this book serves an extremely valuable purpose, more in the recovery rather than in the prevention. This is not a flaw in the book, for there is a great deal of prevention information. It is due to the fact that humans seem to posses an inherent, “It won’t happen to me,” genetic component. Yet it does and since most adults have an intimate companion, there is some excellent material on what can and should be done in caring for a stroke victim.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Review of "Interlude With Interlandi," by Frank Interlandi


Review of

Interlude With Interlandi, by Frank Interlandi

Four out of five stars

 This collection of cartoons is meant to depict college life from the perspective of the faculty, staff and students. However, all of the characters are drawn as if they are professors emeriti. For example, there is a cartoon where a basketball game is about to start, and the referee is getting ready to execute the initial center jump. The players are all drawn with wrinkles on their necks and the facial expression of the sternest of aged professors.

 The situations are parodies of common events in the lives of college students and staff, so in nearly all cases they have worn well over time. The modern college student will understand and appreciate them. Although the humor is often subtle and may not be readily apparent to people that have no exposure to the college scene.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Review of "Eyes Wide Shut," DVD starring Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman


Review of

Eyes Wide Shut, DVD starring Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman

Two out of five stars

It is hard to discern a purpose

 The plot of this movie starts rather basic, a rich, attractive married couple are both having unusual thoughts regarding the course of their marriage. Tom Cruise is Dr. Bill Harford, a man that is sometimes asked to practice medicine and keep his mouth shut about it. Nichole Kidman is his wife Alice and she surprises Bill when she admits to having had fantasies about having an affair some time before. So far, nothing outside the plotlines of many movies.

 However, when Bill encounters an old friend that is now a keyboard player and learns that he sometimes plays blindfolded at secret locations, Bill decides he must attend an upcoming event. Bill becomes involved with some secret society where the observers are costumed and masked and there are many beautiful young women willing to be sex partners.

 The plot turns rather strange, even for such rituals and there are hints and counter-hints of great danger for Bill, Alice and their young daughter. There is an extremely ambiguous ending, it is hard to even speculate on what the actual outcome was.

 Despite the revelation of significant amounts of attractive female flesh, this movie is dull and hard to watch. This was actually the third time that I tried to watch it and the only reason I made it through this time was because Iowa had a horrific storm with hurricane force winds that knocked power out to over 90% of the people in the county. I was home being powered by a generator when I watched it to the end.


Review of "Russia Besieged," by Nicholas Bethel


Review of

Russia Besieged, by Nicholas Bethel

Five out of five stars

 As a two-time traveler to the lands of the former Soviet Union, I can attest to the lingering memory of what the Soviets call “The Great Patriotic War.” Most elderly men walked around with medals on their outer garments and there are war armaments and memorials in many places to commemorate the titanic struggle that took place in Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It is truly the case that compared to what took place in Eastern Europe, all other fronts were sideshows.

 The amount of death and destruction that took place in the Soviet Union is still staggering to contemplate. The best estimates of the total deaths is 24 million, more than one-quarter of all the people killed and the economic destruction was horrific. Both sides carried out a scorched-Earth policy, so the land in the Soviet Union that was fought over was razed twice within a few years.

 This book is primarily a photo documentary of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union in the years where there was doubt as to the victor. The initial welcoming of the invaders is covered, for many Ukrainians thought that the Germans had to be better than the Stalinists. That quickly changed as the death squads did their work and the war became about defending “Mother Russia” rather than the battle between political ideologies.

 It is an excellent primer on the war, showing the citizens that formed the Red Army for what they were. Enormously patriotic people that willingly risked death in order to defeat a brutal and hated invader.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Review of "Brother Juniper Strikes Again," Father Justin McCarthy

Review of

Brother Juniper Strikes Again, Father Justin McCarthy

Four out of five stars

 Humor related to a religious order is of a quite different form. Especially when it was constructed in 1961, a time when so many aspects of life were not allowed to appear in cartoons for public consumption. The author of these cartoons is an actual religious Father and the main character is a monk called Brother Juniper.

 Since the focus is on life in a male religious order, the only role played by females is as props. With very little room to humorously maneuver, the main character is depicted as a bit of a bumbler, which serves as the generator of the humor. He is short, wears a black robe while the other monks wear gray and is always doing something wrong.

 Not a blast of giggles by any means, this book is a demonstration of how humor can be wrung from almost all human situations, even the actions of monks in a religious order.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Review of "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game," by Dan Barry

Review of

Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game, by Dan Barry ISBN 9780062014481

Five out of five stars

 The longest professional baseball game ever played started on April 18, 1981 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the first 32 innings were played over eight hours, literally from dusk to dawn. When sanity finally took hold and the game was halted, people were rising and preparing for their Easter Sunday events. When the game was resumed, it only took one inning to end it. It was a game that featured two future Hall-of-Fame greats, the ironman Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs. Ironically, they both played third base in the game.

 In many ways, the continuation of the game was due to glitches and oversights. While there was a curfew in the area, the official rules did not allow for stoppage and the one person that could order the game halted, the president of the league, could not be reached until the 32nd inning. The night turned bitterly cold, making all baseball movement difficult, the great Ted Williams always argued that it was difficult to hit in cold weather.

 Some of the players nearly compacted a season’s worth of futility in the game. Oner player went zero for thirteen and another was zero for eleven. The Rochester team managed 18 hits in 105 at bats for an average of 0.171 and the Pawtucket players were 21 for 114 for a batting average of 0.184. There were some amusing moments when people simply could not believe that the game was still going in the very early morning.

 Although the game is historically interesting, what makes this book is the very engaging prose of Barry. He demonstrates that he is a writer of the first caliber, delving deep into the backgrounds of the players, managers and executives of the teams. He also describes how the stadium was built on what was very unstable marshland. Even if you know little about baseball, you will find this book one of the most entertaining available. Great writing can always make what some would find a dull subject interesting.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review of "Never Give In! The Challenging Words of Winston Churchill," selected by Dorothy Price and Dean Walley

Review of

Never Give In! The Challenging Words of Winston Churchill, selected by Dorothy Price and Dean Walley

Five out of five stars

In the long history of political figures, no one had more adventures and impact on the world as well as more words penned about and by himself and the world than Winston Churchill. Unlike so many of the political war hawks, Churchill was a member of the military and was in harm’s way in India, Sudan and Southern Africa. It is arguably the case that he was the only British leader in the years of the Second World War that could have led the British to their ultimate victory. Churchill was the author of many books and in 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

 An inspiring and brilliant orator with a sarcastic wit that was difficult to equal, Churchill uttered many profound things as well as some that were rather quaint then and in retrospect. He was a product of the British imperial mentality, so much of his thought was based on an inherent superiority of the English-speaking people.

 This book contains many of his most famous statements used to warn and then rally his nation when it faced the existential menace of fascist Germany. He also was a leading voice in warning about the growing power of the Soviet Union as it was swallowing up the nations of Eastern Europe.

 This book is but a primer of the literary and political life of Winston Churchill, a man who knew how to write and deliver lines of power and influence.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Review of "The Questionable Mad," edited by Albert B. Feldstein

Review of
The Questionable Mad, edited by Albert B. Feldstein

Four out of five stars
 One consequence of some of the humor that appears in Mad Magazine is that it becomes dated. For example, any item that is based on a current event or an active public figure will make little sense to a young reader thirty years later. There is little of that in this collection. Another item of humor that can also be rendered obsolete over time is something based on a social norm that has changed. There is one of that type in this book, it is “The Lighter Side of Smoking.” Reflecting the times, smoking indoors and at parties and the paraphernalia are depicted as a socially respectable action.
 Despite this caveat, this is overall a fun book to read, a look back on what was humor on the edge in the early sixties. There is no better parody of the Cold War than the recurring saga of “Spy vs. Spy.”