Saturday, October 29, 2022

Review of "Abraham Lincoln: A Photographic Story of a Life," by Tanya Lee Stone

 Review of

Abraham Lincoln: A Photographic Story of a Life, by Tanya Lee Stone, ISBN 0756608341

Five out of five stars

A great president in a time of great need

 It is almost impossible for modern people to understand how ingrained slavery was in the American social fabric before 1860. It was commonly referred to as “the peculiar institution” and a large percentage of the people in the southern states considered it a fundamental part of their society. Most of those that did not own slaves and were not totally in favor of it still considered black people to be inferior to whites.

 The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency “forced” the southern states to leave the union and start a great war where over 600,000 men died. This was roughly 2% of the population and such a war now would lead to over 6 million deaths. Before the war began, no one really believed that so many would die.

 This book about Abraham Lincoln captures his basic humanity, yet also his nerves of steel. As the casualties and criticism mounted, he never considered a negotiated peace with the Confederacy, something a less timid, determined man would have pursued. Furthermore, he enacted emancipation when it was not yet a popular idea.

 Written for young people, this book is an excellent primer on both the life of the sixteenth American president as well as the deadliest war in American history.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review of "The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight and Live Better," by Jonathan Bailor

 Review of

 The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight and Live Better, by Jonathan Bailor ISBN 9780062267344

Five out of five stars

 Based on simple premise, not all calories are alike

  I am fundamentally extremely skeptical of books where there is the claim that it contains the knowledge that people need to lose weight. Specifically when those claims are made in a sentence that also contains phrases about simultaneously eating more and exercising less. As a fan of bookstores, I have seen many diet and exercise books rise to the level of a bestseller only to become little more than a trivia question a few years later. If there was a reasonably simple solution to the problem of weight loss that could be encapsulated in a book and diet, it would have been found and the creator would be basking in the glow from billions of dollars.

 I was impressed when Bailor opens with the simple statement that all calories are not the same, the claim to the contrary has always puzzled me. I was a biology and chemistry major in college and when we were studying metabolic pathways in biochemistry we learned that the energy available from proteins, fats and carbohydrates is different. Since it is well known, and has been for some time, that the energy levels it takes to extract energy from fats, carbohydrates and fats is different, statements claiming that a calorie of each is equivalent were knowingly erroneous. Furthermore, the end results of the processing are different and essential resources for the human body.

 The second major and also well-known premise that Bailor states is that different people metabolize food at different rates and in different ways. It is obvious to anyone that has known two people of the same gender where one seems to eat a lot, has never been on a diet, yet stays slim and trim. However, the other person is always dieting, counting calories and eating reduced portions, yet is never able to make anything other than trivial reductions in their status of being overweight. If they do succeed in a dramatic weight reduction, they never seem able to keep it off and actually end up gaining it back plus a little more. Like many others I have been reminded of this at holiday family gatherings.

 Using these two facts as the moorings, Bailor describes the subsequent premise that different people have different metabolic settings and that must be changed if there is to be a permanent alteration of an overweight condition. Once again, the solution is one that should not be news to anyone, eat fruits and vegetables, primarily raw vegetables, instead of carbohydrates. I can remember being admonished by the teachers in elementary school to eat the vegetables in our school lunches and seeing posters on the walls explaining the value of eating fruits and vegetables.

 The most impressive aspect of the book is Bailor’s debunking of the position that fats are the most unhealthy food type to consume. For reasons that are unjustified, the consumption of fats was declared taboo years ago yet there has been growing scientific evidence that reasonable consumption of fats is healthy and necessary. The absorption of many essential nutrients is aided by the presence of fats in the intestines.

 Even though most of what Bailor puts forward regarding a healthy lifestyle is not new, he presents it in a concise and effective manner that can be understood by anyone. He also backs it up with pages of scientific references. In my opinion, no area generates more self-serving nonsense than how to eat and exercise to lose weight and maintain that loss. Unlike so many diet books that are irrelevant and unknown a year after they peak, Bailor has written a book that will remain relevant for a long time, for his advice will work for nearly everyone and is based on science.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Review of "Bruises," by Michael R. Simpson

 Review of

 Bruises, by Michael R. Simpson ISBN 9780989715447

 Five out of five stars

Literally fighting back from a divorce

 This is a tale of fighting back from the pain of a divorce and much less contact with your children by becoming a fighter. Simpson was an engineer running his own company and married with two children. Suddenly, at the age of thirty-six he was divorced and uncertain, in his own words he was in Crazyland. People cope with such stress in many ways; in the case of Simpson he began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

 When he started, he was being humiliated over and over again by people that were physically unimpressive. Yet, over time his body started to harden and his mind began to organize so that he became more and more of an emotionless grappler that could maintain focus and react quickly. Simpson accepted the bruises and losses as a necessary rite of passage as he slowly rose up the various belt rankings.

 Although there are a few women mentioned in this book, they can generally be categorized as his ex-wife and women that are either dates or potential to actual sex partners. This is a book about guys that engage in controlled fighting and a good deal of uncontrolled drinking. This is best summed up by the comment on page 202, “A good friend will bail you out of jail. But your best friends will be in jail next to you saying ‘Damn, that was fun!’” There are several short sections describing situations where a person trained in jiu-jitsu was able to defend themselves or stop a crime in progress.

 This book is about a journey through the strenuous times after a divorce and the failing of a business in the recession of 2008. While Simpson does not ever seem to truly emerge from Crazyland, the last chapter before the epilogue is about a bar fight, it is quite a journey, one that many men will envy.

Review of "Brothers," DVD movie

 Review of

 Brothers, DVD movie

Five out of five stars

 Brutality witnessed makes deep changes in people

  This movie is a powerful tale that has no happy ending, it really gives nothing that leaves you feeling good or with a sense of closure. Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Sam (Tobey Maguire) are brothers and their father is an ex-marine that served in Vietnam. Sam is a marine that is deployed to Afghanistan while Tommy is generally a drunken scoundrel that is considered a failure by their father. Grace (Natalie Portman) is Sam’s wife and she also has a low opinion of Tommy. Sam also has two very young daughters that he is devoted to.

 When Sam is lost and presumed dead in Afghanistan, Tommy steps up and acts as a father to Sam’s girls and does other things for Grace, showing that he cares about their problems. After some time Sam is rescued from the Taliban base and comes back a very changed man. Even though nothing sexual happened between Tommy and Grace, Sam believes that they had sex and he is also haunted by the demons of the war and his captivity.

 The performances here are outstanding, especially that of Maguire, his rendition of the tortured soul with the face and eye movements and even the spit flying as he rages mesmerizes you as you wait for a terrible disaster to happen.

From the people that I have known before and after their war experiences, (Vietnam mostly) what this movie depicts is no exaggeration. If there were an Oscar for the most realistic movie, this would win it hands down. Politicians should watch it before they send their nation’s young people off to war so that they understand the psychological damage war can inflict.

Review of "The Blob," science fiction movie

 Review of

The Blob, science fiction movie

 Four out of five stars

 One of the better B-level SF movies

 There were many “B” grade horror movies made in the 1950’s, when we watched them on the local late show decades later we called them “horrorable.” They generally featured a poorly developed monster, humans initially hapless in response, clich├ęd dialog and several helpless, screaming females. While this movie has some of that, it has two things that are often lacking, a well-developed monster and the incorporation of the rebellious teenager plot that was also a part of many films in the 1950’s.

 Steve McQueen (then billed as Steven) stars as the young teen hero (Steve Andrews) in a small town. A meteorite strikes near an isolated house and the elderly man that lives there goes out and investigates. The meteorite opens and an amorphous creature emerges and latches on to his hand. After the man runs out across the street, Steve stops and takes him to the local doctor.

 The creature feeds on flesh and grows as it feeds. While Steve and his girlfriend Jane (Aneta Corseaut) try to convince a local officer about the danger, the other officers dismiss Steve as a practical jokester. The creature continues to feed and expand and it is up to Steve to warn the town with the help of his friends. When things seem most dire, they discover a way to subdue the creature.

 Now a classic of the s-f/monster movies of the 1950’s, this one has special effects that have stood the test of time and has a minimum of hysterical female participation. The respect that officer Dave demonstrates to Steve differs from the position taken in many other films of that time.


Review of "Medics at War: Military Medicine from Colonial Times to the 21st Century," by John T. Greenwood and F. Clifton Berry

 Review of

Medics at War: Military Medicine from Colonial Times to the 21st Century, by John T. Greenwood and F. Clifton Berry ISBN 1591143446

Four out of five stars

A historical rendition of military medicine

 This book is not a dramatic rendition of the heroic exploits of battlefield medics in the United States military. It is a historical/factual recapitulation of the origins and improvements of battlefield medicine in the armed forces of the United States since they were first formed. There are several comments about the exploits of medics that won very high honors for bravery under fire.

 Appropriate coverage is also given of those that dedicated their service to the improvements of the treatment of injured soldiers and locals that suffered from injuries related to the combat action. Everything from the local treatment of the wounds to the machines used to transport the wounded to more sophisticated treatment facilities to the people that drove the changes are covered.

 If you are interested in the dramatic exploits of combat medics, then this is not the book for you. However, if your interest lies in the factual backdrop of how combat medicine has changed over the centuries, then this is the book for you.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Review of "Night of the Living Trekkies," by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

 Review of

 Night of the Living Trekkies, by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall ISBN


Five out of five stars

Love of Star Trek won over dislike of zombie genre

 While I am not a fan of zombie stories, I am an addict to Star Trek and Star Wars, so much so that I can often speak the dialog of a show seconds before it happens. It is my interest in the two Star genres that led me to pull this book off the shelf at a used bookstore.

 The premise is that there is a Star Trek convention in Houston and military veteran of the war in Afghanistan Jim Pike is working at the host hotel as a second string assistant. His time in Afghanistan and the death of some comrades when he was absent has turned him into someone that wants to be given no responsibility at all.

 The conventioneers arrive in full Star Trek costumes and an outbreak of death and conversion to zombies takes place that proceeds very rapidly. Nearly everyone in the area is quickly converted except for a few people. Using his knowledge of the hotel, his important passkey and combat experience, Jim leads the group to temporary safety in the hotel and then plans to get out of Houston.

 What made this so interesting to me was the inclusion of dialog and actions from Star Trek as well as Star Wars. The anti-zombie action was of minimal interest as I concentrated on discerning the references to videos in the two genres. The titles of the chapters reference episodes and if you are careful, you can catch a clue as to a plot undercurrent. For example, chapter 24 is “Wolf In the Fold” and chapter 20 is “The Changeling” and both give hints to future action.

 The geek references are a strong inducement to read this book, even if you dislike the zombie story format. I loved it and will brag that I did indeed get a perfect on the Star Trek quiz of command.

Review of "Where No Man Has Gone Before," Star Trek original series

 Review of

Where No Man Has Gone Before, Star Trek original series

Five out of five stars

Viewed from the context of the times, an extraordinary episode

This episode, the second pilot shot for the proposed Star Trek series, cleans up many of the problems of the original pilot and sets down the high standards for the show. William Shatner was clearly an improvement over Jeffrey Hunter as the captain of the Enterprise and eliminating most of the emotion from Mr. Spock was a stroke of genius. Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman play their roles of modified humans with extreme ESP powers to near perfection.

 The Enterprise encounters a buoy from the missing ship U. S. S. Valiant and it contains some rather odd data. After encountering an energy barrier, the crew suddenly becomes frantic over information about E. S. P. and is destroyed. The Enterprise also encounters the energy barrier and the Lockwood and Kellerman characters (Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner) turn into people of extraordinary abilities, although it takes Dehner longer.

Mitchell rapidly achieves Godlike powers and Kirk tries to maroon him on a remote planet. Mitchell learns of the plot and with Dehner's help, Kirk has a fight to the death with Mitchell and kills him.

 We see here the fundamental position that a captain of a starship exploring the unknown may encounter. Gary Mitchell and James Kirk are clearly friends of long standing, yet Kirk must kill his friend in order to protect his ship, crew and probably the rest of humanity. It is not an easy thing to live with, yet it does summarize the dynamic energy and responsibility of a starship commander.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Review of "Bootlegger’s 200 Proof Blackjack: A Survival Guide for Playing the Tables," by Mike “Bootlegger” Turner

 Review of

 Bootlegger’s 200 Proof Blackjack: A Survival Guide for Playing the Tables, by Mike “Bootlegger” Turner ISBN 9780757000485

Four out of five stars

 A system that will almost work to win

  Unlike gambling games such as slot machines, blackjack and other card games involve a level of skill in playing. While the gambling industry constructs every game so there is a house edge in the play, by implementing simple tactics it is possible to reduce that edge and in certain circumstances shift the odds in your favor. Much of this is simple card counting, for example if two aces are showing, the odds of getting an ace are less than if none have appeared.

 One of the simplest tactics is to keep track of the low cards that have been played, as the dealer odds drop when the remaining cards have higher value. Turner explains this tactic for play involving single or multiple decks. Extensive charts and a removable quick reference card are included.

 Turner also covers some of the less sophisticated ways to win at casino gambling, such as taking advantage of coupons, maximizing comps and trying to find a less competent dealer that inadvertently flashes their hole card. There is a section on how to slow down the play so one has to make fewer bets over time in a casino where you get increased comps the longer you play.

 Unlike some of the more grandiose and wrong gaming strategies that have appeared, Turner clearly states that all the systems for playing blackjack in this book are ways to reduce the likelihood of losing and are not ways to get rich. Most of the techniques in this book can be learned and implemented by all players, so if you are planning a trip to a casino and love to play cards, read this book first. For if you are a really good card player then you no doubt are already using a form of Turner’s system.  

Review of "National Geographic: Your Best Brain Ever," by Michael S. Sweeney

 Review of

 National Geographic: Your Best Brain Ever, by Michael S. Sweeney ISBN 9781426211706

Four out of five stars

Holistic fitness for brain power

 While reading this book I was reminded of the adventures of “The Man of Bronze”, Doc Savage. He is a fictional character of the 1930’s that dedicated his life to the fighting of evil and righting of wrongs and he is capable of great physical and mental feats. Unlike other fictional heroes, Savage has no superpowers; all of his talents are the consequence of daily exercises that are physical, visual, olfactory, mental and auditory.

 The basic premise of this book is that if you want to keep your mental faculties, you must exercise your entire body, including your brain. It is also necessary to eat a well-balanced diet and avoid the foods such as processed sugar and fats that are known to be bad. Mental exercises are included along with those that move the locomotive muscles.

 Some of those exercises involve identifying scents and noises, along with memory challenges such as crossword and other puzzles. There was nothing in this book that is new, there were news reports decades ago that touted the conclusions that to remain mentally sharp it was necessary to “exercise your brain.” While acknowledging that learning new things such as a language is harder when you get older, the proponents always mention that the benefits from trying were demonstratively apparent. My classmates and I were repeatedly admonished in elementary school to eat fruits and vegetables, so those recommendations in this book have been around for a long time. 

 Although the information in this book is not new, it is still valuable. With an increasingly more elderly population and consequently more people being diagnosed with dementia, fear of suffering from that illness is common. While the cause of Alzheimer’s is still largely unknown, one of the few preventive treatments is whole body exercise and that is what is described in this book.

Review of "Body Count," movie

 Review of

 Body Count, movie

 Two out of five stars

Plot is unclear and uninspired

 The plot of this movie is convoluted and unclear and much of the action is rather predictable. There are some cops that are corrupt, but it is difficult to determine which ones or what they did. This is not the ordinary hiding of the guilty in order to develop the plot; I never did understand what the guilty actually did.

 Sonny Chiba plays a ruthless hired killer called Makoto that is captured and sent to prison based on the actions of informants and dirty cops. Brigitte Nielsen plays his deadly female companion, and she helps Makoto break out of prison, killing a few guards in the process. The two of them then embark on a spree of tracking down the informants, brutally killing them and everyone else that stands in their way.

Eddie Cook (Robert Davi) and Vinnie Rizzo (Steven Bauer) play two Special Crimes Agents that are involved in the Makoto case and they are foiled over and over while their officer buddies and cooperative street people are killed. A beautiful female FBI agent is assigned as part of the task force and at first she is shunned but then the inevitable happens and after she flashes her buttocks in a sauna, a romance brews.

 While there is a two-track chase scene at the end, it is so cheaply done that it is operationally at the level of a poor network television scene. The martial arts expert Makoto is suddenly incapable of fighting and the crack assassin Nielsen character loses the ability to shoot straight. Even the sex scene lacks real passion and fails to even appear to be spontaneous. I found it to be a boring movie.

Review of "Balance of Terror, episode 9 of Star Trek," the original series

 Review of

 Balance of Terror, episode 9 of Star Trek, the original series

Two worthy adversaries, only one can live

 As the Federation expanded out into space, they encountered a race called the Romulans. A vicious war ensued, where no prisoners were taken, so no Federation member has ever seen a Romulan. The peace treaty that ended the war was negotiated via subspace radio and one of the points of the agreement was to set up a neutral zone of space. Any movement by either side into the neutral zone would be considered an act of war. To monitor the neutral zone, the Federation set up a series of listening posts along the Federation side of the neutral zone.

 Those outposts are under attack by an unknown ship that possesses a weapon of tremendous power. It easily penetrates the defenses of the Federation outposts, systematically destroying them. The Enterprise is the ship sent to investigate and they become involved in a cat and mouse game with a Romulan ship. Spock is able to penetrate the signals of the Romulan ship and obtains images of the Romulan bridge. It turns out that they look like Vulcans, so some people on the Enterprise suspect that Spock is a spy.

 In a strategy meeting, Spock recommends that the Enterprise attack the Romulan ship, noting that they most likely have a Vulcan heritage, which means that they are very warlike. If the ship were to return to base with a report that they were able to destroy at will, then a full scale attack would follow. Kirk decides to attack the Romulan ship and they take shots at each other, with damage but nothing decisive. The Romulan commander proves to be a Shakespearean personality, unhappy with the consequences of his actions, but too steeped in duty to do otherwise. Kirk and the Romulan commander match each other move for move until the Enterprise manages to get off a few phaser shots that fatally damage the Romulan ship. The Romulan commander cannot surrender and destroys his ship.

 This episode introduces the Romulans, a species that made far too few appearances in the original series. Having them share a common heritage with the Vulcans was a stroke of genius and Mark Lenard, who played the Romulan commander, should have won an award for his performance. The only problem is when the crew members of both ships talk quietly and make little noise so that the other ship will not hear them. This mimics the actions of submarines, but since sound cannot travel through the vacuum of space, it is thoroughly useless. Also, while the Romulan ship has a cloaking device and could hide from other ships, the Enterprise does not, so they would always be visible. 

  While this episode is not as original as many of the others in the series, it makes up for it in the quality of the performances. Both Kirk and the Romulan commander know what must be done, are in command, yet freely express their doubts. When the battle comes, neither hesitates and Kirk proves to have the superior tactical skill. The reality of war is also brought home by the only battle death on the Enterprise. At the beginning of the episode, Kirk is about to perform a wedding ceremony, and it is interrupted by the call to war. The episode ends with Kirk comforting the woman who was to have been the bride.

Review of "Alan Turing: His Work and Impact," by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leeuwen

 Review of

 Alan Turing: His Work and Impact, by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leeuwen ISBN 9780123869807

 Five out of five stars

 Turing’s impact was considerable

  Although he only lived 41 years, Alan Turing had a significant effect on the world. Through his work in decoding the German military message in World War II, he arguably did more to keep Great Britain from losing the war in the dark time after the withdrawal at Dunkirk than any person other than Winston Churchill. His development of the simple Turing Machine not only solved one of the famous Hilbert problems; it put forward a model for computers that mimics the power of the fastest supercomputers.

 This thick volume is a collection of his most significant papers along with commentary by people that appreciated and furthered his ideas. What will astound even the people that know the work of Turing is the breadth of his interests and depth of his competence. Some of his writings are classic works in machine game playing, biology and artificial intelligence that can still be used to educate. As early as the late 1940’s Turing was putting forward serious ideas about the future of computing, even though at the time computers were relatively incapable hulks. Although his Turing test for artificial intelligence is now not considered proof positive of machine intelligence, there is no question that any intelligent machine would have to be able to pass it.

 In some ways a person that thought decades ahead of his time, Alan Turing died much too young. Whenever the topic is the social cost of prejudice, there is no stronger argument against it than citing the case of Turing, a man that was most likely hounded to suicide for his being gay at a time when it was a criminal offense. If you doubt that, simply scan the subject lines in the table of contents of this book.

 Review of

The Amanas Yesterday: A Religious Communal Society, by Joan Liffring-Zug

Four out of five stars

 An instance of creative destruction

  As a lifelong resident of Eastern Iowa, I have heard about the Amana Colonies all my life and have been there several times. They are known for the superb and bountiful meals in the restaurants, where the side dish bowls never empty. The only mention that I can remember of the Amanas in my K-12 educational experience was the description of the colonies as a communal (communist) society. Given the extremely negative light that communism was presented in during the years of the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet block, this was most unusual.

 This book has brief textual descriptions of a large number of high quality images of the infrastructure and people of Amana in the years from 1900 to1932, when the communal society was officially ended. Everything is neat and orderly, bushes and trees are trimmed and the people and animals are going about their business. Wooden fences and sidewalks are straight and keep everything in its place. While there is some variation in the designs on the women’s dresses, they are all dressed in the same style. Nearly every chore was done together, from harvesting ice to sorting vegetables to knitting.  The people were organized based on their skills and professions; there literally were butchers, bakers and candlestick makers along with other professions such as blacksmiths and cattlemen.

 A common religion brought the people of Amana from German-speaking areas of Europe and that was an integral part of their life. They were also very industrious and community minded, building a functioning society that could probably have lasted forever if an economic depression and technical advancement had not happened. This glimpse into their lives pulls your nostalgic strings.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Review of "Across Great Divides," by Monique Roy

 Review of

 Across Great Divides, by Monique Roy ISBN 978-0615846682

 Five out of five stars

True story of the brutality of oppression

 Eva and Inge are two German assimilated Jewish identical twin sisters and the story opens with them at a performance of the Berliner Philharmonie in 1932. Before the music starts there is an interruption when a small man appears in a balcony box and is cheered. That man is Adolph Hitler, the leader of a German political party that is rapidly growing in strength and a man that many Germans see as the potential savior of a nation that is mired in the depth of the depression.

 Their father Oskar is a jeweler with a great deal of knowledge of diamonds and his wife Helene shares his high level of loyalty to the German nation. Oskar owns a jewelry shop and is doing quite well despite the deep economic problems in the country. Eva and Inge are best friends with Trudy, an Aryan girl their age and they are so close that Trudy is one of the few people that tell the twins apart.

 This book is the story of that Jewish family as Germany stepwise descends into a horrific place to be a Jew. Old Aryan friends are forced to ignore them and more and more of their Jewish neighbors are suddenly disappearing. Finally, when the Kristallnacht takes place, Oskar and Helene are convinced that they must leave Germany and the whole family embarks on a dangerous journey that takes them westward from Berlin to Belgium.

 After the war breaks out the Nazi terror follows them so they leave once again on an extended journey down through Spain then Portugal to Brazil and eventually settling in South Africa. The war in Europe has ended and now they find themselves observing the implementation of apartheid, the brutal control of the majority black population of the country. Having experienced so much hatred themselves, they dislike the treatment of blacks but are uncertain how to react, as they once again feel powerless against the strength of a police state.

 As the blurb on the back cover indicates, this story is to some extent a biography of the author’s grandparents, who were Jews that fled Europe when Hitler rose to power. The events of persecution described in this book are historically accurate and there were many people that risked their lives to aid Jews. It is unfortunate that so many of them are lost to history as they were also victims of the deadly plague of Nazism.

 This is a great story of struggle, loss, triumph and uncertainty as the family manages to stay together through traveling thousands of miles under great danger and find a home in a strange land. The interaction between the South African policeman and the Jew Max is a microcosm of the pressures of dealing with the power of a police state expressed in the body of a single man that has the right to imprison you without charges.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Review of "Baseball Wit," by Bill Adler

 Review of

Baseball Wit, by Bill Adler

Five out of five stars

The funniest sports book I have ever read

Baseball is unlike any other sport in that the people who make their living in it seem to be funnier than those in other sports. Adler has collected some of the best anecdotes about this wonderful game and while knowledge of the sport is helpful to enjoy them, it is not necessary. Of course, the two masters, Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, are well represented. Classics like, “It gets late early out there” and “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there anymore” still make me laugh after reading or hearing them scores of times.

 I love baseball and I love to laugh. I experienced both when I read this book. It is the funniest sports book that I have ever read.

Review of "Blaze Starr Goes Nudist," a Doris Wishman movie

 Review of

Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, a Doris Wishman movie

Four out of five stars

Tame now, groundbreaking then.

  Unlike some of the other Wishman movies, this one has a plausible plot. Real-life stripper Blaze Starr plays a nightclub performer that is suffering from career burnout. One day when she wanders away from her pestering manager she enters a movie theater and sees a movie about a nudist colony. She visits the location and is very pleased when her application is accepted. From that point on she disappears from the view of her professional handlers and spends her weekends at the nudist camp. Blaze finds it very relaxing, but her absence infuriates her manager.

 Beyond this plot, the action is pure Wishman and can be summed up with the phrase, “Show female breasts, perhaps some back crack and then show more female breasts.” This is most evident in the scene where Blaze and two other women remove towels from a clothesline. They smile and nod their heads but there is no pretense at all that they are actually talking to each other.

 Modern viewers will recognize the standard T & A principles of shooting, where the women are careful to keep one leg over the other to avoid any appearance of pubic hair. The shots of the men are even more rigid to avoid the appearance of what is now called “the junk.”

 With activities among the naked people where no attempt was made to have them appear real, this movie was nevertheless a trailblazer in what could appear on film. It was made in 1962, when all but the mildest form of swearing was disallowed in movies and even the partial appearance of a breast due to a female bow was forbidden. If you view this movie with that understanding, then it becomes tolerable and perhaps even enjoyable.

Review of "The Avengers: The Ultimate Guide to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes," by Scott Beatty et. al.

Review of

 The Avengers: The Ultimate Guide to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, by Scott Beatty et. al. ISBN 9780241186565

Five out of five stars

History of the greatest team of heroes

  Originally assembled in 1963 by the brilliant team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Avengers group of superheroes has undergone dramatic changes in the last fifty years. Their first foe was the Norse God of Evil Loki and the original members were the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp. From this beginning many members have joined, left, switched sides, gone mad and re-joined. They have battled foes with origins on Earth to the farthest reaches of our universe, other universes and even across time. One would be hard-pressed to find a Marvel superhero that was not at one time an Avenger. 

 This book is an atlas that tracks many of the changes that have taken place in the group, including the West Coast Avengers and the occasional appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers. The range of superpowers of the members of the Avengers is great, providing for a very large range of creative options and at times increasing the number of potential opponents for the Avengers.

 As even the author of this book concedes, the number of heroes and storylines in the Avenger saga are so large, one needs some form of scorecard to keep track of it all. This book is one with beautiful pictures of the powerful heroes. It also allows you to see how the depictions of the heroes have changed over time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Review of "The Adventures of Charlie Bubbles!," by Paul Carafotes

 Review of 

The Adventures of Charlie Bubbles!, by Paul Carafotes ISBN ‎ 9781502981899

Five stars

A simple and safe adventure that will entertain children, since they all love bubbles

 Charlie is a toddler with the ability to blow bubbles of all sizes. One day he is in his crib and the bubbles floating out the window attract two bees. One is nice and is called Honey Bee while the other is Mean Bee with a desire to sting things. The bees frighten Charlie so he blows a bubble large enough to contain him. When a breeze comes along Charlie is lifted out of his crib and he floats out the window, the first step in his adventures.

 As he floats along a squirrel sees Charlie in the air and it gets scared so it climbs inside a pumpkin shell. Charlie lands and starts talking to the squirrel. After they get acquainted they hear a series of hiccups coming from a garbage can. Inside they find a discarded stuffed bear that is sad over being thrown away. Now lonesome for home and getting hungry, Charlie and his new friends move along until night falls. Fortunately for Charlie, while the bear is old his fur is still soft and warm.

 Their adventures continue until the three of them once again encounter Honey Bee and Mean Bee. Taking pity on Charlie, Honey Bee guides him back to his home and using another bubble, Charlie floats back into his crib where his mother is very happy to see him.

 This is a nice story with a happy ending that will keep the attention of children and leave them with happy thoughts when it is done. There are no great dangers, as in scary monsters, the danger of Mean Bee, which is clearly male, is offset by the female Honey Bee. The images are very colorful without being overwhelming and contain a great deal of detail that will exercise the young eyes just learning to discern details.

Review of "America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fatal Decision to Enter World War One," by Burton Yale Pines

 Review of

America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fatal Decision to Enter World War One, by Burton Yale Pines ISBN 9780989148733

Five stars 

Outstanding analysis of the failure of American statesmanship during and after World War One

Pines states two main conclusions, neither of which I can find strong arguments against. The first is that had the United States not entered World War One in 1917, it would have ended with a negotiated settlement that all sides would have hated but endured. Despite the collapse of the Russian armies in the east, Germany did not have the military power to win in the west. The four years of war had so drained the country economically and there had been so many casualties that there was very little left with which to continue the war. The German people were starving due to the British blockade.
Britain and France were also at the end of their resources, in that their manpower was drained and their finances were exhausted. They simply no longer had the strength for offensive operations and the French army had essentially staged a mutiny against further offensives. British politicians had also reached the point where they were beginning to veto any further British offensives.
Pines does an excellent job in describing this situation, using historical precedents for the conclusion of previous destructive and inconclusive European wars where the negotiated peace lasted for over one hundred years. Therefore, absent the American armies, mutual exhaustion would have ended the conflict. The relief that the war was over would most likely have dominated the anger at having given so much for so little.
The second is that American president Woodrow Wilson was incredibly inept at protecting American interests and maintaining even a semblance of American neutrality in the first three years of the war. When Britain walked all over America's rights to unfettered sea access to the Central Powers as a neutral, Wilson's response was extremely weak. The British were allowed free reign in pumping the American media full of their war propaganda while the Germans were denied equal access to put their side forward.
Then, after having put forward an idealistic blueprint for a settlement for the war that the Germans accepted, indeed based their request for an armistice on, Wilson wilted under the pressure from Britain and France, allowing them to increase their colonial holdings from what had been parts of the German and Ottoman Empires. The "treaty" that ended the war was so punitive against Germany that even some of the people on the Allied side spoke of it being a document that would lead to a second round of fighting.
I completely agree with Pines that Wilson was totally overmatched in the area of foreign affairs and the negative consequences of his mistakes are still being felt. Pines puts forward the following line of reasoning. If America had not entered the war (had Wilson not made so many mistakes) then World War One would have ended with a negotiated settlement. Germany would then not have suffered such deprivations in the 1920's that destroyed the middle class, the anchor of economic and political stability in the country. Hitler would then not have risen to power and World War Two in Europe would not have taken place. The Soviet armies would then not have driven to the center of Europe and there would have been no Soviet satellite states in Europe.
While all of this is speculation, it is very intelligent and logical speculation backed up by a great deal of historical analysis. Pines demonstrates a superb understanding of European history, so much that even his extensive speculations are based on solid principles of scholarship.

Review of "Dog Tags: Divided We Fall," by C. Alexander London

 Review of

Dog Tags: Divided We Fall, by C. Alexander London, ISBN 9780545477079

Four out of five stars

Too much emotional angst

 While the American Civil War was brutal and hundreds of thousands of men died or were left permanently damaged, there were also countless permanent emotional scars. There are some very good aspects of this book, specifically the recounting of how there were abolitionists and pro-union people in the Confederate States. However, the different emotional states of the main character, a boy named Andrew, are overplayed.

 Andrew’s mother and father are learned people living in Mississippi during the Civil War that insist on book learning for their two boys and they do not own slaves.  Yet, they are loyal to the Confederate cause, believing that the fight is against northern tyranny. Andrew is twelve and his older brother Julius is sixteen. When Julius joins the Confederate Army, Andrew wishes that he could also join.

 As a consolation, Andrew joins what is called the Home Guard, which is designed to protect the local people from Confederate deserters and runaway slaves. As always seems to be the truth in such cases, the other members of the Home Guard are the male dregs of society. Andrew’s dog Dash is a superb hunting dog, capable of tracking the faintest of scent trails.

 When Andrew and Dash track down a Confederate deserter and one of the Home Guard shoots and kills him without reason, Andrew begins to question his loyalty to the cause. He quits the Home Guard and engages in some actions that he considers disloyal. Other events follow, including a search for his brother that has gone missing.

 There are many different instances where Andrew questions his actions and his motives, even to the point where he is furious at Julius. That aspect of the story is overstated, diminishing what could have been a great story of the conflicting loyalties and beliefs that were present among the people on both sides of the bloodiest American fight.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Review of "Long Gone," by Paul Hemphill

 Review of

Long Gone, by Paul Hemphill ISBN 0670437883

Four out of five stars

Not your usual sports fiction

The timeframe is 1956 and the location is the area around the Florida panhandle. Stud Cantrell is 39 years old and was a rising star in the Yankees organization until he ended up in Korea with shrapnel in his leg. His potential as a star in the major leagues gone, he has spent his adult life playing minor league baseball. He is now 39 years old and player-manager for the lower Class D Graceville Oilers. While still a good hitter and pitcher at that level, he is a hard-drinking womanizer with no real prospects for advancement. He also knows that his clock is rapidly ticking towards the time when even the Graceville team will be beyond his skills.

 Into this mix walks teenager Jamie Weeks with little more than a bat, glove and baseball spikes. Jamie has hitchhiked from Alabama in the hope that he can make the team. When Jamie meets Stud, he tells him that he can help, so Stud gives him a tryout. While Jamie is great with a glove, his hitting prowess is modest.

 Furthermore, a black catcher named Joe Louis Brown arrives and wants to play for the Oilers. Even though the major leagues have been integrated for almost a decade, this is the deep south and blacks are not allowed. Therefore, Joe becomes Jose and Venezuelan, lacking any knowledge of English.

 The addition of the two players and a tremendous resurgence by Stud leads to the Oilers challenging for the league pennant. It all comes down to the final day of the season where it is win or go home. While this is largely a routine, big game at the end, plot of sports fiction, this ending is quite different. Stud survives to play another season with his hot, young bride, but he sacrifices a great deal.

 This is a very adult instance of sports fiction, there is swearing, sex, religious fervor and fierce racism. The best part of the book is when a group of the KKK stop the team’s bus and try to extract Jose. While Stud may have his faults, there is a significant good streak within him. Generally speaking, this book is probably more realistic than most books of sports fiction.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Review of "The Deadly Dinner Party & Other Medical Detective Stories," by Jonathan A. Edlow, M. D.

 Review of

The Deadly Dinner Party & Other Medical Detective Stories, by Jonathan A. Edlow, M. D. ISBN 9780300171266

Five out of five stars

Great, true detective stories featuring medical investigation

 In this book, people get sick and at first even the best medical people are baffled by their symptoms. The stories are true and feature some rare and fascinating illnesses. In each case, the author presents the history of the medical topic that is relevant in that case. In many cases, the history goes back into the BCE era. While the people of that time did not have the knowledge of disease causation of modern times, the way they described what they saw demonstrates that they were first-rate observers.

 In most cases, the ultimate diagnosis is nothing close to what was first considered. The illnesses are so rare and the circumstances so unusual that it takes a great deal of thought and first rate detective work in order to finally reach an accurate conclusion. In one case, in a textile plant only smokers are getting ill. What was happening was that the workers were getting small amounts of the raw materials on their bodies and then on their cigarettes. The temperature of the cigarettes was high enough to vaporize the materials into extremely toxic fumes.

 Cross referencing data, persistence and sometimes pure chance encounters combine to create a series of very well-written detective stories where the goal is to the find the conditions and context culprits that are making people sick.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Review of "Russia As I Saw It," by Vern L. Schield

 Review of

Russia As I Saw It, by Vern L. Schield

Four out of five stars

The author grew up in Iowa and is a classic case of the self-made man. He was a talented mechanic and founded Bantam, a company that made heavy construction equipment and was located in Waverly, Iowa. When I was young the term “Bantam” was used to refer to all machines that had a certain form.

 In 1956, after years of effort, Schield was allowed to take a tour of the Soviet Union. At the time, this was a very difficult thing for an American to do. This book is an account of his experiences in what was truly a very foreign land at the time.

 Consistent with the accounts of other travelers of that time period, Schield found the Soviet people extremely curious about Americans. For many, he was the first one that they had encountered. He took many pens with him, and they were a prized possession of the recipients. Even though they could not read the text, the promotional material that he brought with him was pored over by the people he met.

 This is one more demonstration that when people meet, even those under adversarial governments, human curiosity wins out over animosity. An expert on heavy construction equipment, Schield also provides some expert commentary on what he saw in action during his trip.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Review of "Womp Womp, Issue 2," by Brandon Lehmann

 Review of

Womp Womp, Issue 2, by Brandon Lehmann

Four out of five stars

Good comics, repetitive images

 While the short stories in this collection of graphic stories are good, they suffer from the issue of having repetitive images with few things other than the dialog balloons changed. For example, the first story is about the invention of the making of bread. There are 18 captions that have the same two men in the foreground with the same two people in the background. There are no discernable changes in the background and the position of the arms of the two main characters does change. Specifically, the arms of the character on the left. The topic of how complex the operation of baking bread and how the discovery of the process was not an easy task is one that is interesting. It was no doubt a series of trials and likely accidents that led to the development of the process.

 The second story is a short one that is right out of the story by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado.” There are nine captions with a man holding a mason’s trowel and leaning against a half-finished brick wall and speaking to someone on the other side. In this case, the topic is not wine, but the usefulness of walls.

 Some of the other stories offer social commentary about commercials for pharmaceuticals, men with their shirts off, book reports in school and a spoof of the Hercule Poirot character from Agatha Christie novels. While some are simplistic, others require knowledge of various literary works in order to understand them. It is a fun book and a quick read.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Review of "Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor Quarterly"

 Review of

Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor Quarterly ISBN 1569711690

Five out of five stars

Bizarre as only Ellison can do it

 This collection of short stories in graphic form show Ellison in his most twisted form. They depict people and situations that are most unusual. Some of the basic plot devices are standard science fiction fare, for example, the man that goes back in time and meets himself as a child. Yet, it takes a twist that is pure Ellison.

 My favorite is the love story featuring an elderly man and woman. He is a serial terrorist that plants pipe bombs in the city and he identifies an elderly woman that is apparently stalking him. When he confronts her, she saves him from arrest by killing an officer, she is also a serial killer. The only possible outcome of this meeting is love as they walk away arm-in-arm to what they think will be a happy life together.

 Twisted is as twisted does is a great explanation of the work of Harlan Ellison. These stories are an existence proof of that adage.

Review of "The Secret Surrender," by Allen Dulles

 Review of

The Secret Surrender, by Allen Dulles

Five out of five stars

Solution to a complex problem

 One of the greatest accomplishments of the Second World War was not achieved on the battlefield, but in a secret negotiations. During the war, Allen Dulles was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) chief in Switzerland. The OSS was the precursor to the CIA. As a neutral country having borders with Germany and Fascist controlled Italy during the war, it was a place where both sides could move and interact relatively freely.

 In the last year of the war as the Allies bloodily moved up the Italian peninsula, it became increasingly clear that Germany was going to be defeated. The questions then took the form of how many would die, how much physical destruction there would be, and which forces would be in control of what territory on the day the war ended.

 Dulles and his team were the intermediaries between Allied commanders, the German commanders in northern Italy and the Italian partisan fighters working against the Germans. Through perseverance, determination, great courage on the part of some German commanders and some incredible luck, a surrender in place of the German forces took place May 2, 1945. This action saved a great deal of death and destruction in northern Italy and kept communist forces from taking control of a large section of Italian territory.

 This is a fascinating book as Dulles explains all of the conflicting forces in play as German power and control began to wane in Northern Italy. Some of the German commanders took great personal risk in their negotiations, there were genuine threats against their person and members of their families. History is replete with colossal failures of the intelligence communities this was one of the incredible successes.

Review of "Barnstormers: Three Kids, A Mystery and a Magic Baseball," by Loren Long and Phil Bildner

 Review of

Barnstormers: Three Kids, A Mystery and a Magic Baseball, by Loren Long and Phil Bildner ISBN 9781416918639

Four out of five stars

Too much incidental magic

 The best characteristic of this book is the introduction and explanation of baseball terms from the early years of the game. Phrases such as “left garden” for left field, “ace” for a run scored, “ant killer” for a hard ground ball, “striker” for a batter, and “hand down” for an out are introduced and explained.

 The context is a game between the Travelin’ Nine that is traveling (barnstorming) across the nation playing local teams and the year is 1899. The game in question is being played locally in order to retire some of the massive debt that has been incurred by the Payne family. Griffith, Ruby and Graham are the three Payne children, and they do what they can to help out, passing out flyers and rooting during the game.

 While the basic information about the game played in this timeframe is interesting, the on field apparitions seen only by some are aspects of the plot that sometimes seem senseless. They have no affect on the outcome, add nothing to the revenue from the game and are overemphasized. They are a weakness in what is otherwise a very entertaining book.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Review of "Star Wars Jedi Quest," by Jude Watson

 Review of

Star Wars Jedi Quest, by Jude Watson ISBN 0439367174

Four out of five stars

 Anakin and Obi-Wan between episode 1 and 2

  Anakin is in his early teen years and rapidly becoming a true Jedi knight. However, he is still a boy, so he is lacking in the superb mental discipline that is characteristic of a Jedi. Obi-Wan does his best to keep his occasionally rebellious Padawan under control, but he is not always listened to. In this case a slaver named Krayn has been raiding planets for some time in order to have labor for his spice works. Obi-Wan and Anakin are given the task of infiltrating Krayn’s operation in order to learn the specifics so that it can be shut down.

 Getting inside Krayn’s ship is fairly easily done, but when they encounter some slaves, Anakin remembers his youth where his mother and he were slaves. Therefore, he picks an inappropriate time to disobey Obi-Wan and Anakin is enslaved in the spice works. It is a brutal place where slaves are often severely punished, poorly fed and frequently worked to death. Anakin seems to have no hope until he receives aid from an unusual source. Since Obi-Wan knows where Anakin is held, he poses as a consultant in order to infiltrate the planet.

 Written at the YA level, this book is a solid element of the print thread of the Star Wars story. It portrays Anakin as he most certainly would be at the age of twelve. Extremely talented and capable in the Jedi arts, yet impulsive and emotional as he grows into the role of a Jedi knight. The action moves well and there are hints regarding his dark and twisted future.

Review of "Go, Team, Go!," by John R. Tunis

 Review of

Go, Team, Go!, by John R. Tunis ISBN 9780688092863

Five out of five stars

Great lesson about the character of sports

When I was in middle school, I read every sports fiction book in the Harding Middle School and Hiawatha public libraries. This was one of my favorites and I enjoyed it just as much when I read it again. There is a lesson in this book that transcends sports, which is something that Tunis does as well as anyone.
The high school basketball team of Ridgewood, Indiana has won the state title and the players are on top of the world. However, this is a town that has its’ problems. There is a great deal of gambling going on and many citizens are betting that the team will win the state title the following year. All of the starters are back, so it seems like a good bet. Unfortunately, the team members start to believe that the rules do not apply to them. These beliefs are buoyed by the majority of the people in the town, who feed their egos. When the only real bad apple among the varsity players is disciplined, the remaining four players resign.
Rather than back down, the coach stands firm and plays his B team. At first they get shelled, but gradually they form a cohesive unit. When the school holds a pep rally in support of the new team, they catch fire and start to win.
The story is told from the perspective of Little Tom, son of the mayor and a member of the original varsity. He spends a great deal of the story feeling sorry for himself and making excuses for his bad behavior. Finally, to his credit, he goes to the coach and offers to help with the team. The coach readily accepts the help and together they coach their team deep into the state tournament. Since he was man enough to admit his mistake, his girlfriend takes him back and he rises above what he was to become a man proud of himself once again.
This story is a reminder of what seems to be lacking in sports these days, a concern for the character of the players that rises above concerns for winning. While winning is always desirable, how you play the game will almost always matter more in the long run. Tunis writes those points as well as anyone ever has, which is why I admire him so much as a writer. He teaches a very valuable lesson about life by wrapping it up in the thrill of sports.