Monday, February 28, 2022

Review of "After the Ball: A Woman’s Tale of Reclaiming Happily Ever After," by Barb Greenberg

 Review of

 After the Ball: A Woman’s Tale of Reclaiming Happily Ever After, by Barb Greenberg ISBN 9780982358801

 Four out of five stars

A perfect fit for a “chick niche”

 Fairy tales are generally just that, a tale of things, times and places that are idealistic hopes and dreams. Reality is much harsher, rather than happily ever after it is more a case of struggle with ups and downs as measured on the happiness meter. Greenberg does an interesting thing, she uses the characters of Cinderella and Snow White, lovely girls that marry their princes and then move off to their respective castles.

 Although they are busy being the wives of their spouses, the two manage to keep in touch over the years, meeting on a regular basis to share tea and tales of their lives and woes. They discover that marrying Prince Charming is a wonderful event but that life tends to be hard, even for the social and economic elite. When they were young, both of them had heard a story of a wise woman dwelling in the forest, so at one of their meetings, they agree to flee and seek her out.

 After taking many false paths, the two women arrive at the dwelling of the wise woman, whose name is Annetta. They are welcomed to her home, which begins a process of talking and self-study. That study begins with a paragraph that is completely female in tone


When Cinderella and Snow White snuggled down into the cozy blue sofa and covered themselves with a patchwork quilt, Annetta began her story.


It is very easy to generate a mental picture of this scene, despite the elegant movie renditions of the two characters.

 At this point, Annetta begins her story of a princess that marries her own Prince Charming, a man that turns out to be hungry for power over all things and his wife is but a tool to be used on his quest. When the reality of his true nature becomes painfully evident, the princess gathers a few things and then departs. After wandering for some time and struggling with her anguish, the princess is able to weave her life back together, developing an inner strength to rise above the painful past. This tale emboldens Cinderella and Snow White to do the same thing, so after a few simple gifts from Annetta, they depart and each finds a cottage of their own, constructs a simple life and lives happily ever after.

  When life is good, such as at the start of a marriage, it appears to be a fairy tale, yet tarnish is inevitable. This story is about the fading of the happily ever after scenario and what to do when it all appears covered in rust. Written for females unhappy with their lot in life, this is a book that is a perfect fit for a “chick niche.”

Review of "Africa In Flames," DVD

 Review of

Africa In Flames, DVD

Four stars

Good if you view it through the appropriate lens of the time

 Even viewed through the lens of understanding how Africans were portrayed in the late 1920’s, this “documentary” still has some weaknesses. However, if you factor in how sub-Saharan Africans were depicted in other venues, then this one stands up reasonably well. They are depicted as having intelligence and culture, not as mindless and simple savages.

 The video was filmed in the small Habbania town of Buram in Southern Sudan, stars the actual people of the village and was first released in 1930. It depicts them in their daily lives, the dangers from predators as well as some of their ceremonies. The title of the video is taken from the main event, a prairie fire that forces the villagers to flee across a river.

 While the video is narrated, it is not of the high quality that was seen in later “talkies” If you are experienced in the history of film then you could come close to dating it by realizing that it was made in the transition from silent films to the days when the art of including dialog had been perfected.

 One amusing aspect is that some of the women are bare-chested, which is a reminder of the old standard that bare breasts were allowed to appear uncensored as long as they were covered by black skin.

Review of "The Acme Catalog," by Charles Carney

 Review of

The Acme Catalog, by Charles Carney ISBN 9780811851152

Four out of five stars

Descriptions of the gadgets used by the coyote

 Viewers of "The Road Runner" and other Looney Tunes cartoon shows are very familiar with the products of the Acme Company. Whenever a character receives a new gadget or product, the source is the Acme Company. My favorites were the antics of Wile E. Coyote in his constant attempts to catch the Road Runner, the gadgets were generally spectacular and always flop for one reason or another.

 This book, published by Warner Bros. is a catalog of many of the gadgets used by Mr. Coyote in his battles with the Road Runner and includes some that were not. The emphasis is on deadpan humor, the items are presented as real products, although the descriptions occasionally go a bit frivolous.  If you are a fan of the Looney Tunes cartoons, then you will appreciate and enjoy the products in the catalog, but if you have not seen the cartoons, then you will find most of the entries largely incomprehensible.  

Review of "Academic Genealogy of Mathematicians," by Sooyoung Chang

 Review of

Academic Genealogy of Mathematicians, by Sooyoung Chang

Five out of five stars

A mathematical family tree

  In this book, the word “begat” means supervised the acquisition of a Ph. D. The listings are separated into “schools” based on nations, for example there is the German, Russian, and American schools. The section for each school begins with a “family tree” of the most significant students of the professors and this is followed by short biographies of the mathematicians that were listed in the tree. There are 17 different schools described in the book and a short explanation of specific details about the school, such as what the names of the positions mean is also included.

 The skeleton of the biographies consists of the time and place of birth and death if applicable, dates of the awarding of degrees and institutions granting them, the name of their thesis and supervisor, significant awards received, primary academic positions and major works and results. No biography is longer than two pages and photos of many mathematicians are included.

 This is a historical reference that can both satisfy your curiosity as well as answer questions that you may have regarding the high achievers in an academic lineage. Biological genealogy is an interest that most of us have; this book will satisfy the equivalent craving in terms of academic offspring. It is a good book for the table in the mathematics coffee room, something to look through during a few idle moments.

Review of "If Women Ran Things," by Cindy Garner

 Review of

 If Women Ran Things, by Cindy Garner ISBN 9780939515165

 Two out of five stars

 Turnabout is a lot of the same

  This book is a collection of jokes expressing female frustration with men as expressed in clichés. While some of them are funny, many are in the category of turnabout, in other words women doing to men what women have been complaining about. Others ignore the fact that women are not exempt from some of these behaviors. For example

 *) Men would be tried for perjury if they didn’t keep their wedding vows.

*) Men would have to wear makeup all the time.

*) There would be a Shopper’s Hall of Fame, honoring women who found the best bargains.

*) Men would parade around in beauty contests while we judge them.

 The first ignores the fact that large numbers of women also don’t keep their wedding vows and the second ignores the fact that many if not most women enjoy wearing makeup. The third continues the sexist stereotype that women live for shopping and the fourth is a clear call to turnabout being fair play. These four examples pretty much sum up the tactics taken in this book.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Review of "Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci," by Jon Scieszka

 Review of

Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci, by Jon Scieszka, ISBN  9780142404652

Four out of five stars

 Joe, Sam and Fred have a book that when they open it emits a vapor that will serve as a time machine. In this adventure, they go back in time to Italy during the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Considered by many to be the all-time greatest breadth of talent, Da Vinci had a wild imagination, a sound scientific mind and the skills of the most talented of artists.

 When they go back, they have no trouble finding Da Vinci, unfortunately they also meet Lord Borgia, Captain Nassti and Niccolo Machiavelli. The minds of these people are on war and the power to make more effective war, so they have no interest in anything that is not a war machine. Therefore, the Time Warp Trio ends up cleaning the toilets in the army of Lord Borgia. It is only after they come up with some clever ruses that they recover the book that allows them to return to their proper time.

 History presented in an accurate and interesting way is history learned and in this case there are some laughs included. Written for the young child, it will also teach some basic history about one of the greatest personalities of history.

Review of "A First Course in Statistical Programming With R," by W. John Braun and Duncan J. Murdoch

 Review of

 A First Course in Statistical Programming With R, by W. John Braun and Duncan J. Murdoch, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2008. 163 pp., $50.00 (paper). ISBN 978-0-521-69424-7.

  R is a package that allows the user to use pre-existing packages to perform some mathematical operations. It is very easy to install and use with a user window that is very similar in appearance to that of MapleÓ and MathematicaÓ.

 However, even the most intuitive of packages still presents some points of confusion, but with this book, you can be up and running, doing very advanced work with R in a matter of minutes. Using a series of code examples, the authors take you through many of the basic capabilities of the package. All that is needed to follow the examples is a basic understanding of control constructs such as the if-then, loops and functions as well as knowledge of the underlying mathematics.

Areas of mathematics that are supported by the basic R package include:


*) Statistical graphics

*) Computational linear algebra

*) Monte Carlo simulations using several different random number distributions such as the Poisson distribution

*) Numerical optimization

*) Linear programming


Windows versions also allow you to set the locale so that languages other than English can be used.

 While it is rare to see in a book, denseness does not have to be difficult, and this book is an example of that. The authors are terse and effective as they clearly demonstrate how to use the R package.  If you lack the budget for the purchase of a commercial computational mathematics package, then R with this textbook provides a very low cost alternative for many classes.

Review of "Citizen of New Salem," by Paul Horgan

 Review of

Citizen of New Salem, by Paul Horgan

Four out of five stars

The early years of Abraham Lincoln

 Abraham Lincoln was very much a child and young man of the frontier. In his youth, the frontier was Illinois and Indiana, where he lived. This book is about his life from 1830, when he was 21, until the time he started practicing law in 1836. These six years were very productive, where Lincoln went from being nearly illiterate to learned enough to pass the bar and engage in an effective law practice.

 He did many things, from captain of the militia in the Blackhawk Wars, he was a local postmaster, he traveled on river barges, owned and operated a store and was at times unemployed. Through it all, he continued bettering himself and made friends of all he encountered. At six-foot-four, Lincoln was a relative giant, and he was apparently extremely strong. When fights broke out at political rallies, he often physically separated the antagonists.

 One of the most interesting statements in the book is on page 28. It is a passage in a description about the one-room cabins. “Family and visitors slept together, in an unbroken decorum. Women drew off their frocks and men their jackets and shirts and breeches, and hung all these on pegs in the wall. All retained their underclothing and nobody felt ‘consciousness of impropriety or indelicacy,’ a citizen declared.”

 Written for the YA market, this book covers only a few years in the life of one of the greatest Americans. Yet, it captures the essence of what made him the unique man he was.

Review of "Green Lantern Annual #6," by Ron Marz et. al.

 Review of

Green Lantern Annual #6, by Ron Marz et. al.

Five out of five stars

Green Lantern “becomes” John Carter of Mars

 I am a fan of both the comic book heroes and the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The stories by Burroughs literally define what pulp fiction is. Carter was a former Confederate officer and when he falls asleep in a mysterious cave he travels by astral projection to Mars, called Barsoom by the natives. While there, he battles weird beasts and wins a princess.

 In this story, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner buys a strange painting at an auction. When he hangs it on the wall in his dwelling, he somehow is drawn into the painting and is now in a strange world much like Barsoom. He still has his power ring, but it does not react in familiar ways. His first action is to rescue the scantily clad Princess Saria Amenthis from mortal danger.

Having a power ring makes Rayner’s adventure unique, yet it is still one from the pulps. Despite the inherent absurdity, it is a fun story. For it is not how the hero gets there that matters, it is what is done during the adventure. It is a fun story, one that can be strongly recommended to those that love the pulp stories.

Review of "Game Theory: A Graphic Guide," by Ivan Pastine, Tuvana Pastine and Tom Humberstone

 Review of

Game Theory: A Graphic Guide, by Ivan Pastine, Tuvana Pastine and Tom Humberstone, ISBN 9781785780820

Five out of five stars

Game theory presented largely without math

Game theory is one of the most practical areas of mathematics. It can be used to model, and many times even predict how human driven activities will play out. Everything from the behavior of economies and markets to social interactions to how business competitors and criminals will act in their own self-interest can be effectively analyzed.

 The scenarios are all very interesting and presented with a minimum of formal mathematics. Most of the formal mathematics is in the form of simple matrices and basic expectation equations. The applications are so wide ranging, most practitioners of economics and other social sciences will find useful information in this book.

 While there is a lot of irrationality in human behavior, there is a lot of underlying and sometimes hidden rationality. The authors pull the rationality out and explain it in clearly understood detail.

Review of "Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars 1948-73," by John Laffin and Mike Chappell

 Review of

Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars 1948-73, by John Laffin and Mike Chappell ISBN 0850454514

Five out of five stars

Excellent distillation of many wars

 World War II spilled over into the Middle East when Allied forces defeated the Vichy forces to take control of Lebanon and Syria. The destruction of Jews in Europe led to the movement for a Jewish state in Palestine, which was established in 1948. It took only a short time before the armies of the Arab nations attacked the new state in an attempt to destroy it. From that date until the publication of this book in 1982, there has been almost a constant state of war between Israel and the Arab states.

 This book is a synopsis of those wars with an emphasis on the performance of the Arab armies. Fraught with organizational deficiencies and incompetence, from the information in this book, it is easy to understand why the Arabs were consistently defeated. Officers were assigned on the basis of privilege rather than talent and almost never led from the front. One of the most telling facts was that when the Israelis overran Syrian positions, they found some of the artillery gunners chained to their guns.

 Vastly outnumbered since 1948, Israel has managed to retain military superiority over her Arab enemies. This book does a great deal in explaining why. Furthermore, the authors also point out the times when an Arab unit performed exceptionally well. This even balance is key in establishing credibility.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Review of "Pro Quarterback: My Own Story," by Johnny Unitas

 Review of

Pro Quarterback: My Own Story, by Johnny Unitas

Five out of five stars

The quarterback of the sixties

 In the 1960’s there were really only two superstar quarterbacks, Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas. Both were incredible leaders and were winners. They were gutsy, generally called their own plays and were not afraid to take a calculated risk. Even on third and short the defense could not crowd the line for fear of being the victim of a long pass.

 This is the story of Johnny Unitas up until 1965, after he had several successful seasons. It is both personal and professional, he talks about his childhood, college career, breaking into the pros and what he does to achieve and maintain stardom. He is constantly going over the playbook, watching film, practicing and talking football. His descriptions of Raymond Berry and the dedication he had to being a wide receiver are revealing. There were many faster and shiftier than Berry, yet there were none with his skills for getting open and catching any ball that came near.

 It is clear from this book that Unitas was a very humble man. He gives great credit to his teammates and explains how his success starts with the performance of the offensive line. Modern books by sports stars tend to concentrate on the tell-all and not about the subject at hand, how football is played. This book is in the old school, it is about Unitas and his life as well as the details that need to be mastered in order to be successful as a pro quarterback.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Review of "All are Welcome," by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

 Review of

All are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman ISBN 9781338741858

Five out of five stars

Nice, simple book about letting all participate

 For any individual person, there are more people unlike you than there are like you. Therefore, it is very important that a child learn at an early age to be comfortable with people that look and act differently. Whether that be skin color, clothing worn, religious beliefs or social mores.

 The basic, simple and effective message of this book is that all people are welcome at their school and in their community. Using text as well as images drawn in a simple style, groups of children with a few adults are used to put forward the basic message that children quite naturally are drawn to. Namely, that while other kids may be different, they are still kids and generally are fun to play with.

 This is a nice book for inclusive training for the early elementary school child. It belongs in the curriculum of all elementary schools.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Review of "Eleanor," by Barbara Cooney

 Review of

Eleanor, by Barbara Cooney, ISBN 0439137365

Five out of five stars

The childhood of Eleanor Roosevelt

 One of the most influential and accomplished women in the history of the United States was Eleanor Roosevelt. During her time as First Lady, she seemed to be everywhere, she was a strong and vociferous champion of the poor and minorities. Due to President Franklin Roosevelt’s infirmity, she was his eyes and ears, traveling the world and even touring a coal mine in Appalachia. However, her childhood was not a happy one, and that is the subject of this book for children.

 The coverage is from the time of her birth to her late teen years, long before she became a public figure. The emphasis is on the difficulties she had, particularly the loneliness and constantly being reminded that she was not a physically attractive girl. Both her parents died when she was young and after that she was raised by relatives. As Roosevelt herself admitted, much of her advocacy for the poor and downtrodden was generated by what she experienced as a child.

 Born into privilege, Eleanor Roosevelt was a pioneer for woman in many ways. She is arguably the most transformative female figure in the history of the United States. Her list of firsts for women are impressive, including being the most hands-on First Lady in the history of the country. This book is an excellent rendition of the early years of her life and is an excellent resource for the study of the changing role of women in American society.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Review of "The Amazing Mets," by Jerry Mitchell

 Review of

The Amazing Mets, by Jerry Mitchell

Three out of five stars

At times rambling and always non-sequential

 The return of National League baseball to New York City was a major event, it reversed a trend westward when the Dodgers and Giants both relocated to California. Unfortunately, the new team, called the Mets, was a horrible team. Nearly all the players were well past their prime, the management hoped to get a year or two out of them before they retired. Furthermore, the Mets acquired Gil Hodges and Duke Snider, old Brooklyn Dodgers, in the hope that they would bring fans of the Dodgers to the stadium. Well past their prime,  by then they were marginal players.

 The descriptions of the Mets and the performance of the players and fans in the early years is fun to read but is very non-sequential. It also reaches the point where it is somewhat repetitive. The early Mets were a horrible team, yet they were beloved by their fans, who stuck with them no matter how bad they were. This is not a history of the early years, but a somewhat scattershot rendition of the first two years of the Mets.

Review of "Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman," by Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney

 Review of

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman, by Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney ISBN 9780140561968

Five out of five stars

Fictionalized account of Tubman’s childhood

 The authors readily admit in the preface that this account of the childhood of Harriet Tubman is fictionalized, although the basic facts are true. This book only covers her childhood until she was approximately nine years old. Too clumsy to work as a house slave, she was relegated to working the fields on a plantation on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.

 Although some events are fiction, they have the appearance of truth, so it is possible that some are true. Tubman was rebellious as a child, once to the point where she was whipped for disobedience. She was constantly looking for a way to escape to the northern states and freedom. A fellow male slave spent time teaching her how to find her way via the stars and forest signs as well as how to find food while on the trail.

 This is a great story for children, it is educational in the sense that it gives information about the plight of slavery as well as the life of a former slave woman that worked to change the world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Review of "Hochzeit Dutch Hops: Colorado Music of the Germans from Russia, 1865-1965," by Mark Warren and Marilyn Hehr Fletcher

 Review of

Hochzeit Dutch Hops: Colorado Music of the Germans from Russia, 1865-1965, by Mark Warren and Marilyn Hehr Fletcher

Five out of five stars

Description of a unique form of folk music

The Volga Germans were people recruited by  Czarina Catherine II in the 18th century to leave their native German lands and move to the area of the Volga river. They were allowed to retain their German language, culture, religion and traditions. At the time, Germany was an impoverished area with no central government and had been devastated by what seemed to be endless war. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the Volga Germans emigrated to the American Midwest. When they did so, they retained their cultural heritage.

 However, for many reasons, they were given the cultural designation of being Dutch. For example, the Pennsylvania Dutch are in fact ethnically German. This book is about the Volga German music tradition, which is why the word “Dutch” is in the title.

 The coverage is of some of the music groups that developed in order to provide the entertainment needed at weddings and other get togethers. The groups traveled to where they had a gig, most groups performed in several of the states adjoining Colorado, where there were other Volga German communities.

 This is an interesting book about a very localized American subculture with roots in two separate and largely distinct European countries. From what you read the people had a lot of fun. Many of the wedding celebrations and associated dances lasted for days.

 As an interesting side note, the parents of band leader Lawrence Welk were ethnic Germans that emigrated from Czarist Russia in 1892 and settled in North Dakota.

Review of "Dale of the Mounted DEW Line Duty," by Joe Holliday

 Review of

Dale of the Mounted DEW Line Duty, by Joe Holliday

Four out of five stars

The modern Mountie battles spies

 The setting is the height of the Cold War when the United States and Canada are building the Distant Early Warning or DEW line radar system in the far north area of Canada. It was designed to give the earliest possible warning if Soviet bombers were flying to attack the United States and Canada. Dale Thompson is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Mounties) and when the book opens he is tasked with overseeing a group of refugees fleeing the communist oppression in Europe. The timeframe is immediately after the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

 The concern within the government is that certain undesirables, specifically members of the communist secret police, are among the refugees. There is in fact one such person, a man named Kovass. His mission is to infiltrate the construction sites of the DEW line and do whatever he can to sabotage the effort. Kovass will do anything necessary, including the committing of murder in order to achieve his ends.

 It is a battle of wits in the far north between Dale and his allies and Kovass and his allies, including unwitting recruits among the locals. There are several close calls, some success by Kovass, but eventually, Dale and his fellow soldiers are able to defeat the spy network and remove the danger.

 This is very much an adventure novel of the fifties, when the Red Scare was a dominant social phenomena. Some knowledge of the events in Europe in the mid-fifties is helpful in understanding the context, but it is not necessary to enjoy the adventure. Well done spy stories at the YA level are always entertaining, and this is one of them.

Review of "The Great War WWI," Timeless Media Group

 Review of

The Great War WWI, Timeless Media Group

Four out of five stars

Too much repetitive video out of context

 The origins of the First World War were both simple and complex. They were simple in that there was a system of alliances that counterbalanced each other and there was an arms race, specifically at sea between Great Britain and Germany. This created a natural rivalry between the two groups, where no nation was secure enough to not support the nations allied with it. It was complex in that the alliances were not as rigid as all sides felt they were.

 This set of DVDs starts with the origins of the war and does a reasonable job in explaining how the war started. It also points out that few if any people on either side had any idea that the war would be as destructive as it turned out to be.

 In the middle, the description of the conflict is very nonlinear and repeats the same video loops over and over again. Sometimes, the video does not match what is being described. At times the movement from one video to the other is logically and temporally inconsistent.

 The examination of the war ends with the rather abrupt end and the political and social aftermath. One unusual treatment is that of the Allied involvement in the Siberian area of the emerging Soviet Union after the collapse of the Russian Empire. This is an area of history not often covered. Few people in the United States know that a significant number of American troops were in what is now Russia after the German surrender.

 While this is not a high tier video description of the First World War, it is still good enough to be part of the education of modern students in this brutal conflict that was a war beyond anything anyone thought possible.


Monday, February 14, 2022

Review of "He Ain’t No Bum," by O. A. Phillips and Ray Buck

 Review of

He Ain’t No Bum, by O. A. Phillips and Ray Buck

Four out of five stars

A laudatory, not a biography

 This is one of those sports books that is purported to be a collaboration between the principal and a writer. That is not the case here. The book consists of many quotes from Phillips while he was the coach of the Houston Oilers of the NFL and material written by Buck that is very laudatory of Phillips. In many ways it is a bit of a textual lovefest.

 While he was coaching the Oilers, Phillips was one of the most quotable members of the NFL coaching fraternity and in that area this book is good. He was a humorous man, most of it was of the deadpan variety. He was unorthodox in many ways, when asked why he did not have full contact scrimmages, he replied, “Houston isn’t on our schedule.”

 If you are familiar with the Houston Oilers of the seventies, this is a book you will enjoy. It is unfortunate that Phillips was never able to make it to the Super Bowl. While he was a good enough coach and he had the players, the problem was that there was a better team at the time, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Review of "Cruel Shoes," by Steve Martin

 Review of

Cruel Shoes, by Steve Martin

Four out of five stars

Martin at his slanted, twisted best

This book is a collection of short stories with a humorous bent. Like most of Martin’s humor, it is twisted and logically inconsistent. Therefore, while it is not overwhelmingly funny, the stories do take you down paths towards a humorous goal that is often not apparent at the start. No one does this type of humor better than Martin and he generally does it without swearing. Which is unusual in the modern world of humor.

 While it is clear that Martin’s style of humor is not for everyone, it is something that makes you understand how wide the spectrum of comedy really is.

Review of "Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia and the True Enemies of Free Expression," by Charb

 Review of

Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia and the True Enemies of Free Expression, by Charb ISBN 9780316311335

Five out of five stars

Passionate defense of free expression

 The author, Stephanie Charbonnier, was the editor in chief of “Charlie Hebdo,” a satirical publication based in Paris, France. On January 7, 2015, two gunmen invaded the offices of the publication, killing 12, including Charbonnier. They specifically sought him out as the prime target of their attacks.

 A few days before the attack, Charbonnier had completed this manifesto in defense of the freedom of expression. In it he not only states his position, but also criticizes the people who kill and persecute others in the name of their religion and those who submit to their wild claims. People in the media, to many forms of organized religion to government officials are targeted by his ire. Those criticisms are not mean-spirited but are those of an intellectual.

 This is one of the strongest defenses of the basic human need for freedom of speech and why it is important that it be maintained. Unlike many who support it only when it benefits them, Charbonnier issued blanket endorsements of the principle, even when it deeply offends. Ultimately, that position cost him his life.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Review of "The Stars Tell How the Pros Play Football," by Berry Stainback

 Review of

The Stars Tell How the Pros Play Football, by Berry Stainback

Five out of five stars

Great look at how the pros think

 It is a ridiculous cliché that football players are strong, ferocious and unintelligent. Not only do they have to be smart they also have to be able to make reaction decisions in fractions of a second. A player from each position is interviewed. They are:

*) Center
*) Guard
*) Offensive tackle
*) Tight end
*) Wide receiver
*) Quarterback
*) Running back
*) Defensive tackle
*) Defensive end
*) Middle linebacker
*) Outside linebacker
*) Safety
*) Cornerback
*) Punter
*) Place-kicker
*) Kick returner.

Each player then gives a detailed explanation of the keys that they read when the play starts. Those reads must be done very quickly, for being even a half-yard out of position can make the difference between the success or failure of a play. No one can read this book and not appreciate how knowledgeable the star players have to be.

 There is more in-depth knowledge about playing the game of football in this book than many others that claim to reveal the “secrets.” Reading this book will help you understand why a play succeeded or failed the next time you watch a game.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Review of "One For the Record: The Inside Story of Hank Aaron’s Chase for the Home Run Record," by George Plimpton

 Review of

One For the Record: The Inside Story of Hank Aaron’s Chase for the Home Run Record, by George Plimpton ISBN 9780316326933

Four out of five stars

Not the best of Plimpton

 I have been a fan of George Plimpton for a long time. Some of his books about sports are classics, providing insight into professional sports that is unmatched. Yet, this one is not as much of a page turner as some of the others. The event is certainly worth a book, the magnificent night when Hank Aaron hit home run number 715, was an incredible moment.

 Plimpton does his usual thorough work in going behind the scenes, to the point where he asks the people that will be broadcasting the game if they have a “One small step for a man…” phrase waiting for the moment. Perhaps it is unfair to compare this book to the classic books where Plimpton himself was the focus where he performed against the pros in a sport. In those books, the reader can clearly relate to the desire to get on the field of play at least once.

 While I enjoyed this book about a baseball player that still remains underrated, the prose doesn’t rise to the level of Plimpton’s usual high standards.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Review of "Passionella and Other Stories," by Jules Feiffer

Review of

Passionella and Other Stories, by Jules Feiffer

Five out of five stars

Some of the best social satire

 One of the most enduring fairy tales is about the oppressed girl Cinderella. Forced to work herself to exhaustion by her evil step-relatives, through a magical person, Cinderella manages to attract the right man and be uplifted from her life of toil.

 The first and title story in this comic collection is a modification of that story. Ella is a dumpy-looking chimney sweep that works in tall buildings in town. Suddenly, she is told that her job is being automated and she is no longer needed. Desperately hungry, she falls asleep watching late night television. Suddenly, the picture vanishes, and she hears a powerful voice introducing her neighborhood godmother and telling her she will have her most cherished dreams.

 With a plink, plank, plunk, Ella is transformed into a beautiful woman in a flowing gown and a truly massive and pointy bosom. Suddenly, she is in demand as an actress, but only maintains that appearance during the late night show hours. As the story progresses, Ella learns how to manage herself and meets the man of her dreams. It turns out that he is also the beneficiary of a plink, plank, plunk and they fall into each other’s arms as a well matched and quite ordinary couple.

 The next story is a parody of the military mind, where four-year-old Munro is drafted. Despite his protestations and obvious lack of qualifications, the military refuses to discharge him. It is only when he engages in nonstop crying that they suddenly discover the mistake and release him.

The third story is an odd one, George lives on the moon, yet does not need to eat, drink or sleep and needs no space suit in order to survive. With nothing more to do, he moves rocks around. When a rocket is launched from Earth he suddenly becomes a defender against the alien invasion.

 The last story is a parody of international arms races in general and the pursuit of even more powerful nuclear weapons in particular. It ends with the detonation of a bomb so powerful there is nothing of human significance left.

Jules Feiffer is an extremely talented cartoonist. In this book he demonstrates his artistic talents as well as a keen sense of how to ridicule the innate behaviors of humans.

Review of "The Typical American," by Charles Edward Locke

 Review of

The Typical American, by Charles Edward Locke

Two out of five stars

Anything but typical

 This book contains two essays and neither one should be considered a reference to the typical American. The first one is a very laudatory discussion of how wonderful a man George Washington was. While it is true that Washington had the opportunity to take complete control of the United States and turned it down, his life was not a sequence of great successes. While there is no problem in praising Washington for his great achievements, putting him up on a pedestal like this is something that Washington himself would have opposed.

 The second essay was written shortly after the Spanish-American War where the United States wrested control of Cuba and the Philippines from Spain. Some of the statements about the Filipinos are extremely racist. For example, on page 22 there is the sentence: “The acquisition of the Philippines, with their eight millions of semi-pagan population, seemed a part of the war for humanity.” Shortly after there is the phrase, “…a people redeemed from savage indolence and habits,…” This essay is very Kiplingesque.

 Given that over a century has passed since these essays were written and there is some natural slack given to the author, it is still very racist and patronizing. In many ways, the Filipino people traded one colonial power for another.

Review of "Time for the Stars," by Robert Heinlein

 Review of

Time for the Stars, by Robert Heinlein

Four out of five stars

Very much in the Heinlein niche

 People familiar with the styles of science fiction writers of the 1950’s would recognize this as a work of Robert Heinlein very quickly. The father of the two main characters is very much anti-government, to the point of being on the edge of a revolutionary. Later, when there is discussion about the captain of the ship always being right, there is the clear expression of authoritarianism.

 Tom and Pat are identical twin teenaged boys, and they were born outside the normal quota of children that married couples can have. They are close, yet far apart, certainly beyond the cliché of how identical twins are generally depicted. Yet, they do have one very significant skill in common. Properly trained and coached, they can communicate with each other telepathically.

 With overcrowding a real issue, the government is embarking on project Lebensraum, where spaceships are being sent to investigate nearby stars in a search for other habitable planets. There is no faster than light drive, so it will take years for a ship to reach their assigned stars. In order to maintain communication over the vast differences, identical twins that demonstrate a significant level of telepathic  ability are sought out and trained. One will remain on Earth while the other will depart on a spaceship. The ships will approach the speed of light, so the twin that remains on Earth will age must faster than the one on the ship.

 Tom is the one that departs on the ship, and they have several adventures on the newly discovered planets. Heinlein makes most of his characters quirky, specifically the professionals. On one planet, they encounter a water dwelling species that fights back and nearly destroys the entire crew of the spaceship. Heinlein wraps up the adventure with a speech by an attorney explaining how important their mission was to the human species.

 This is a YA adventure in the classic mold of the science fiction of the fifties. A powerful drive motor that allows for near light speed travel and telepathy are fundamental components of the plot with no attempt to explain how they work. It is narrated from the perspective of a young man, with the usual conflicts and rivalries between brothers. Even though their role in society is extremely critical, personal feelings creep in.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Review of "Red One Issue 1," by Xavier Dorison et. al.

 Review of

Red One Issue 1, by Xavier Dorison et. al.

Five out of five stars

A hot and deadly superspy is introduced

 The first issue of a comic introducing a new character is always a challenge. It is necessary to give a reasonably complete background as well as show the character in action that will hold your attention and drive you to want more. The authors are successful in both areas.

 There is a strong puritan movement in the United States and the group is protesting what they believe to be morally destructive popular media such as movies. The group is backed by a hooded ninja-type vigilante called “The Carpenter” that will not hesitate to kill the players in the movies deemed inappropriate.

In response to the changes in America, the Kremlin decides to send their best soldier to the United States and remain undercover. That soldier is a very sexy female with an attitude. The timeframe is during the reign of Leonid Brezhnev, so there is the undercurrent of détente within the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

 The agent ends up in Hollywood as a driver for a very controversial and obnoxious film producer, setting the stage for a great deal of potential action. On the last page she meets her contact and is outfitted with a very tight and hot uniform made of strong, resistant material with pockets for the cool spy-like devices.

 This is a great comic and after reading it you will pine for subsequent issues.

Review of "Defensive Football," by Dick Anderson & Nick Buoniconti

 Review of

Defensive Football, by Dick Anderson & Nick Buoniconti

Five out of five stars

Solid fundamentals from two stars

 Nick Buoniconti is in the pro football Hall of Fame and Dick Anderson is in the College Football Hall of Fame, so both had illustrious careers. They were also members of the famous Miami Dolphins “No-Name Defense” that led the Dolphins to an undefeated season. It was the defense that led the way to victory in Super Bowl VII.

 This book is a description of the fundamentals of defensive football as practiced by the Dolphins. Their pass defense was almost exclusively a zone, so the emphasis is on how to do that well. Buoniconti covers the actions of the linemen and linebackers, while Anderson covers the safeties and cornerbacks. Since Anderson was also a punter and punt returner, he covers those two areas as well.

 Since the emphasis is on fundamentals of how to move and react, the information is still valid in the modern game. Defensive players still need to establish an edge on a wide running play, drop back quickly and read the actions of the offensive players and work as a team to stop whatever play is being run.

 Two of the best at their positions in one of the best defenses of all time, Anderson and Buoniconti explain in simple language how to play defense and have that side of the ball make your team a winner.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Review of "Classics Illustrated: The Deerslayer," by James Fenimore Cooper

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Five out of five stars

Excellent abridgement of a classic American novel

In the popular depictions of the battle between Native Americans and those of European extraction, the taking of scalps of dead enemies is nearly always restricted to the Native Americans. One of the most significant features of the Cooper writings is that he openly mentions that the Europeans also scalped their dead foes. The hero of this story is Natty Bumppo, known to his friends as Deerslayer. When one of his companions states, “The Governor’s raised the price on Indian scalps. Fifty pounds for each scalp you get.” Deerslayer’s response is, “No . . . scalpings out of my line.”

 As the Europeans began their inexorable movement northward in New York State, they encountered several Native American tribes. Some were much more warlike than others. That fact is also expressed in this comic. Both sides in the struggle are represented as sometimes being principled and other times being ruthless. For example, when the simple-minded white girl encounters the Native Americans, they do not harm her in any way.

 Popular media generally expresses the conflicts between Native Americans and those of European extraction in an extremely biased form. In “The Deerslayer” and his other works of this genre, Cooper expresses the complexity of the relationships between the Native Americans and the Europeans, some on both sides befriended the other at times, doing all they could to allow the two groups to live together peacefully. That principle is continued in this comic. It is a worthy addition to resources used to teach about the early expansion of the American colonies under British rule.

Review of "Babe Ruth: Baseball Boy," by Guernsey Van Riper Jr.

 Review of

Babe Ruth: Baseball Boy, by Guernsey Van Riper Jr.

Five out of five stars

Unusual biography of this transformative star

 I first read this book when I was in elementary school. Fortunately, the local library had a large set of books in the Childhood Biography series. What makes this book more interesting than other biographies of Babe Ruth is the concentration on his childhood. The book is 192 pages and the first mention of his actions as a major league player is not until page 160.

 The focus on the childhood of George Ruth makes this a very attractive book for children, independent of whether they are into baseball or not. Ruth is depicted as a typical troubled child getting into the kind of difficulties that unsupervised children are prone to encounter. In so many ways, this makes it much easier to relate to Ruth. Many boys will read this book and conclude that as a child, Ruth was just like them.

 Although this book was published in 1959, it has worn well over the years. Sixty years later, boys are still boys and without parental supervision, they will get into mischief. Ruth is another example of a boy in trouble that manages to find his passion and become a transformative figure in that field.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Review of "Classics Illustrated: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court," by Mark Twain

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain

Five out of five stars

An excellent synopsis of a classic tale

 This is my favorite novel in the Twain writings where the topic is fantasy/science fiction. A worker (Hank Morgan) in an arms factory is hit over the head by a co-worker and when he regains consciousness, he is living in England in the time of King Arthur. Considered the ultimate outsider, he is scheduled to be burned at the stake. While in prison, he learns what day and year it is. Being a learned man, he realizes that a solar eclipse is going to happen right at the time of his execution. Which is amazing, for the year is 528 CE, over one thousand years before the time he was knocked unconscious.

 In the tradition of stories like this, he claims that the sun will be devoured if he is not let go. It works in this case, and he becomes a key advisor to King Arthur. Morgan then proceeds to create a rapid industrialization of the English society, including the stringing of telegraph and telephone cables and creating schools in order to educate the masses.

 Problems arise and it is up to Morgan to solve them, including when the King and Morgan don disguises and go out among the people. They are not recognized, and their lives are in danger. Fortunately, knights in service to the king arrive in time using a humorous form of transportation. There is a major revolt, and it is put down using advanced devices such as electric power and machine guns.

 Merlin, the court magician to King Arthur, casts a spell on Morgan after he is wounded so that he will sleep for thirteen centuries, waking up back in Connecticut. No mention is made if anything is different as a consequence of Morgan’s time travel.

 Twain makes no attempt to scientifically justify how things are made to happen, from the travel back in time to how the industrial revolution in old England was carried out. With the devices that Moran created, it would have been simple for England to have conquered the world. The machine gun was used by the colonial powers in the nineteenth century to great effect. In the sixth century, it would have been overpowering and considered an act of witchcraft. Yet, this is an entertaining story as long as you accept the main premise of time travel.

 This is an excellent adaptation of a classic story and could be used in middle school literature classes.