Saturday, December 31, 2022

Review of "Bitch Planet Book Two," by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro

 Review of

Bitch Planet Book Two, by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro, ISBN 9781632157171

Five out of five stars

Hard dystopia based on some reality

 In the content advisory page, the statistic that 1 in 16 incarcerated females reported being sexually assaulted while in prison is stated. This is hardly surprising, anecdotal evidence indicates that the rate is higher in male prisons. Yet, it is a statistic that demonstrates that life in prison his hard, in many cases, the main threat is from other inmates.

 This is the second volume in a series about a dystopia where women are incarcerated in a very high-tech prison. There are AI holograms that simulate people and there are serious fights for dominance among the inmates. Yet, there is an underlying plotline that some of the inmates are political prisoners. Specifically, a woman named Eleanor Doane.

There are snippets of information to references to some form of massive games, extremely wealthy and powerful men that control the lives of most other people. One of those men is referred to as “high father.”

 While this graphic novel is entertaining, it is almost impossible to make sense of it all if you have not read volume 1. I encountered this book in a used bookstore and once I read it, began a search for the first volume. This is a great story, but there are enough holes in the understanding to both intrigue and frustrate you. There is no “story to date” leading page.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Review of "Stop-Action," by Dick Butkus and Robert W. Billings

 Review of

Stop-Action, by Dick Butkus and Robert W. Billings

Four out of five stars

The monster does not appear

 This book about “the most feared man in football,” Dick Butkus is surprisingly tame. There are several videos available online where opponents portray Butkus as a maniac with a killer nature on the field. In one video, he is proclaimed the all-time most feared tackler in the history of the NFL. Which puts him ahead of people such as “the Assassin” Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott.

 There is almost none of that controlled fury in this book. It is a rather tame description of his family life as well as his frustrations in playing for a team that rarely won and even more rarely had a winning season. Most of the failures were on the offensive side of the ball, and Butkus is extremely critical of their performance. However, according to him, he rarely took them to task for their failures.

 If you are looking for the textual equivalent of the fury that Butkus demonstrated on the football field, this is not the book for you. However, it does show Butkus as a human outside of his profession as a human wrecking ball.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Review of "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians," by Caleb Carr

 Review of

The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians, by Caleb Carr ISBN 9780375760747

Five out of five stars

Lessons have not been learned

 As any serious student of history knows and is well documented in this book, waging war on civilians is almost always counterproductive. In the modern world since the advent of aerial carpet bombing of population centers, the mass killing of non-combatants has never led to a capitulation. The first such instance was the Allied bombing of Europe in World War II, which did almost nothing to end the will of the Germans to keep fighting. It took a successful land invasion to force the surrender.

 In the American war in Vietnam, the United States dropped approximately 8 million tons of bombs on Indochina compared to approximately 4 million on Europe in World War II. Again, to no measurable effect. In the Vietnam War, the hawks constantly screamed, “Bomb them back to the stone age!” The North Vietnamese won.

 It is not well known, but in the Korean War, the United States carpet bombed all the population centers in North Korea, again to no effect. Other than to provide a reminder to the people what ruthlessness the U. S. is capable of. North Korea survived the war and is still a nation.

 There is a more recent example, and that is the Second Gulf War. Before the land invasion, the U. S. political and military leaders proudly proclaimed their policy of “shock and awe” against Iraq. They constantly boasted that their initial attack would be so overwhelming that all opposition would quickly cease. While the coalition forces easily moved over land to occupy Iraq, there was no pacification of the country, with a long-standing brutal war that was a combination of a guerilla and civil war. U. S. forces finally withdrew, leaving the situation worse than when they entered. Coalition forces also dropped a massive amount of munitions on Afghanistan, again to no effect on the willingness of the opposition to keep fighting. The ousted Taliban are once again in power.

 As Carr states so very clearly and accurately, killing the civilians never works, yet modern militaries have never learned this lesson. The historical record back to the Roman Legions is used as evidence to demonstrate the truth of this thesis. In this matter, the leaders are so enamored of their expensive weapons that they refuse to learn the obvious lesson of history, indiscriminate killing does not work.

 As a postscript of modern times, the Russian military is systematically reducing the cities of Ukraine to rubble, yet there has not been the slightest wavering of the Ukrainian people in continuing the fight. In fact, it has increased their determination to win the war. Demonstrating that the disease is not restricted to the American military and political leaders.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Review of "Not Another Teen Movie," DVD version

 Review of

Not Another Teen Movie, DVD version

Four out of five stars

The “Airplane” of teen movies

 This movie is so loaded with cliches’ and standard situations of teen movies that it reminded me of the classic comedy “Airplane.” There were so many bad jokes, many of which were predictable, that “Airplane” ended up being funny. By the time it was made, there had been so many airplane disaster movies that often recycled the same situations, there was plenty of well-known material to work with.

 The situation is similar with this movie, the case openly identifies several of the main characters in  a high school along with the roles they will fill. There is the popular jock, nasty cheerleader, the pretty girl masked by her attempts to be unattractive, a token black male with limited dialog and a female foreign exchange student that attends classes while being naked.

 There is the father that is an alcoholic veteran of Vietnam, young males trying desperately to have sex, males peeking into the girls’ locker room, the wild party when the parents are gone and a mushy airport scene at the end where the male professes his love for the girl about to fly away out of his life.

 Of course, there are several lame excuses for a young female to be naked, deliberate ham acting and dialog that is predictable. When watching the movie, it is easy to think that the writers had an easy time with the screenplay. For the scenes are standard fare and in most scenes, the lines to be uttered have to a large extent have already been scripted. Yet, the movie works as a comedy, as long as there is no anticipation of great art.



Review of "PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II," by Robert J. Donovan

 Review of

PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II, by Robert J. Donovan

Five out of five stars

The making of a President

 Starting with George Washington, many of the U. S. Presidents risked their lives in fighting for their country. This book is a reasonably accurate historical account of the wartime actions of John F. Kennedy. Even though he had a back condition that could have kept him out of World War II, Kennedy pleaded with his father to find a doctor that would certify him fit for duty.

 He eventually ended up as the skipper of PT 109, a fast boat that operated against the Japanese in the islands of the South Pacific around Guadalcanal. Like many members of the armed forces, much of their time was spent in routine tasks that bored them. Yet, one night the 109 was cut into pieces when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. This initiated a difficult fight for survival among the crew, it was here that John Kennedy proved his worth as a sailor.

 Although he only commanded a small crew on a small boat, Kennedy’s actions were truly heroic and all the men that survived the collision were eventually rescued. It is a story of perseverance against long odds in the presence of the enemy. Worthy of the song and movie that were made about it. Given the small margin of victory over Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election, the wartime action of John Kennedy likely provided the margin of victory.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Review of "Sharing Good Times," by Jimmy Carter

 Review of

Sharing Good Times, by Jimmy Carter, ISBN 9780743270335

Five out of five stars

Retirement is not his thing

 Years ago, when former president Jimmy Carter was in the news I told a couple of my co-workers that he was a far better ex-president than he was a president. His list of accomplishments in the economic and political arenas are very impressive and he has met with many of the major world leaders. Especially interesting was his rendition of his time with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. There is the real belief that had Kim Il-Sung not died soon after, there could have been a comprehensive deal between the United States and North Korea.

 This book is a non-sequential memoir of Carter’s life, starting with his childhood in rural Georgia. While readers familiar with Carter’s boyhood will learn nothing new, those passages are short. What is really interesting are his travels around the world, his hunting and fishing in remote places and his activism in improving the lives of people in the Third World.

 The Carter Center is one of the leading advocates for human rights and one of the leading organizations in monitoring elections around the world. Carter is also a very hands-on person in building houses under the Habitat for Humanity program. As Carter mentions in this book, Habitat for Humanity is a world-wide organization, something that is not well-known.

 From climbing mountains to jogging in remote places to traveling to other countries and meeting with their leaders, Jimmy Carter and his wifeRosalynn Carter have indeed kept busy since he became an ex-president. It is clear that they have enjoyed their life since then, whether it be in events involving family or just the two of them on yet another adventure. Jimmy Carter also demonstrates once again that he is a very good writer, the prose is simple and understandable. This is a fun book to read, far more than a simple, “How I spent my retirement” synopsis.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Review of "The League," by Thatcher Heldring

 Review of

The League, by Thatcher Heldring, ISBN 9780385741811

Five out of five stars

Coming of age as a young teen

 Wyatt Parker is about to enter high school and he is small for his age. That is one of the primary reasons he is regularly bullied and lacks the self-confidence to stand up for himself. His father is an ardent golfer and wants Wyatt to feel the same way, even though he doesn’t have a passion for the game. Wyatt has a desire to play more energetic sports, but his parents are afraid that he will get injured.

 Wyatt’s older brother Aaron is a bit of a rebel, and he is a member of a sandlot football team that plays another team. While they have some rules, they bang each other up quite a bit. Against the wishes of their parents and lying to them about their whereabouts, first Aaron and then Wyatt are on one of the teams.

 At first, Wyatt is reluctant to put himself at risk, but suddenly he is belted by Aaron, who tells him that if he survived that, he could take it, so get into the game. Realizing that he enjoyed the contact, Wyatt finds himself enjoying the significant physical contact. Both boys lie to their parents about their activities, so there is an eventual day of reckoning.

 Wyatt is also friends with Evan, the girl next door. They bounce around the idea of “dating,” doing things together but being careful not to do date things such as holding hands. When Wyatt encounters the primary bully that torments him at school, he discovers that his willingness to take the punishment garners him respect and the bullying stops and there are movements towards actual friendship.

 Even though Wyatt deceives his parents and lies to one of his friends, this book succeeds, because ultimately it is the story of a boy chasing his dream and that pursuit has a very positive effect on his life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Review of "100 Things Bucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," by Eric Nehm

 Review of

100 Things Bucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, by Eric Nehm ISBN 9781629376189

Five out of five stars

100 key points in the history of the team

 The Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise was formed in 1968 and they finished last in their division in the season that ended in 1969. They were fortunate enough to win the coin flip for the first pick in the draft and they selected Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after 1971.) They also traded for the great Oscar Robertson, allowing them to win the NBA title in only their third year of existence. A record for any major sports franchise.

 This book contains the facts of that achievement as well as the other highs and lows of the franchise up until the time of publication in 2018. There is a clear bias in the reporting, but nothing that will make the non-Buck fan revolt. All aspects of the franchise are included, from the trade of Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers, to the machinations of the ownership and the political entities that managed to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee to the mascot Bango. The entry about Bango doing a backflip slam dunk off a ladder will prompt all readers to look the video up online. I watched it and it is amazing.

 This compartmentalized history of the Milwaukee Bucks is very interesting, there are some insights that are not found elsewhere to this precision. You don’t have to be a Bucks fan to enjoy it.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Review of "The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts For Worse Children and A Moral Alphabet," by Hilaire Belloc

 Review of

The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts For Worse Children and A Moral Alphabet, by Hilaire Belloc

Four out of five stars

Humorous nonsense verse for children

 Using some made-up words and others that really do not go together very well, the author has created a book that will amuse and entertain children. Especially if it is read to them by an adult with any talent in theatrics. There are also many puns.

 For example, there is the brief segment:

“I shoot the Hippopotamus with bullets of platinum. Because if I use leaden ones his hide is sure to flatten ‘em.”

There is also a short segment called “The Camelopard.” It is about a giraffe.

 The book is divided into short sections of verse about living creatures, mostly animals. Detailed illustrations that often exaggerate the features of the referenced animals accompany each section of verse. The text is generally not simple, speaking it aloud will challenge the young reader both in understanding and speaking it.

Review of "Unknown Iowa: Farm Security Photos 1936-1941, A Classic Portrait of Iowa and Its People," John M. Zielinski

 Review of

Unknown Iowa: Farm Security Photos 1936-1941, A Classic Portrait of Iowa and Its People, John M. Zielinski, ISBN 0931014018

Five out of five stars

The faces and context of despair

 Those who understand history know that the Great Depression did not begin with a crash of the American Stock Market in 1929. It was an economic collapse that was over ten years in the making in the rural farming areas. Prices for farm produce rose dramatically during and immediately after World War I. Land prices also went up, leading to ease of credit for production.

In the years from 1920 to 1929, the prices for farm produce dropped dramatically. In the years from 1909-1914, the average prices received for corn and a hog from the feedlot were 83.6 cents a bushel and $7.24 per hog. By 1933, the prices had declined to 19.4 cents a bushel and $2.94 a hog respectively. Some farmers that sent livestock to a distant market ended up getting a bill, for the cost of the freight exceeded the value received for the livestock.

 This situation bankrupted nearly all small farmers in Iowa, and when they had no spending money and could not pay back their bank loans, local businesses also failed. This book is a collection of photos and captions that show the faces of the people that are broke with no hope of earning a living for themselves, much less their children. It was a time of struggle, where only government programs could offer any hope of putting food in front of people suffering from malnutrition and even outright starvation.

 The facts of the low farm prices are explained in the captions associated with the photos of the people. This is an excellent record of how so many people struggled during the Depression and why they ended up destitute.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Review of 'Iowa “The Land Between the Vowels",' by Bruce Carlson

 Review of

Iowa “The Land Between the Vowels,” by Bruce Carlson

Five out of five stars

Growing up in Iowa in the early twentieth century

 Books like this that are a collection of reminiscences of childhood and early adulthood raise interesting thoughts in modern readers. From autos that were becoming common possessions to the slow arrival of electric power and appliances, things were starting to change dramatically in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Yet, in most rural areas, the farmhouse was largely unchanged from the previous century.

 One of the most amusing stories is about four boys that somehow acquired the monstrous sum of $2. Even better, they were free to spend it any way they wanted. They hitched up a buggy and took a trip to Duffy’s General Store, where they gorged themselves on soda pop, ice cream and candy. Their indulgence was so extensive that all four of them got seriously ill on the way back home.

It is interesting to hear how they had to repair the buggy when wheels went bad. Nearly all farms had an old, parked piece of horse-drawn equipment, so when a wheel went bad, they were given a replacement wheel that they swapped out themselves.

 Another of the most amusing stories is when they convince their city friend that if you run around a roosting owl and get it to follow you with its’ eyes, it will twist its’ head off. An unusual modification of the classic Iowa story of hunting snipe.

 While they lacked the modern forms of entertainment, from books like this it is clear that boys in the first quarter of the twentieth century still had a lot of fun. It was necessary for them to create their own entertainment and it is clear that they were masters at it. Along with getting into some occasional serious trouble.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Review of "Japanese Fairy Tales," by Iwaya Sazanami

 Review of

Japanese Fairy Tales, by Iwaya Sazanami

Five out of five stars

Many similarities to European tales

 These six tales by the legendary Japanese storyteller Iwaya Sazanami have many characteristics of classic European fairy tales. In “Momotaro,” an old, childless couple have their wish for a son granted via magic. That son then goes off to fight a set of ogres that have terrorized the local people for years. As is usual in such stories, he comes back to his parents a hero, having vanquished the entire team of ogres.

 There are many sentient creatures that exhibit human traits, there are cruel and avaricious humans and others that are very kind. In many ways, the characters are similar to what appears in the European fairy tales. There are many reasons why Sazanami is called the Japanese equivalent of Grimm of Germany. Like the Grimm fairy tales, Sazanami simply collated and organized rather than wrote these stories of ancient Japan.

 Despite the large cultural differences between populations, when examining fairy tales, it is easy to recognize how similar humans are.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Review of "A Preface to Democratic Theory," by Robert A. Dahl

 Review of

A Preface to Democratic Theory, by Robert A. Dahl

Five out of five stars

Predicate calculus applied to voting

 This is one of the most unusual political science books I have ever read, for there is an occasional reference to mathematical formulas to express how votes are created and applied. Line graphs are also used to express percentages of eligible voters differentiated based on the strength of their preferences.

 For example, on page 39 there is the formula:

NP(x,y) > NP(y,x) ↔ x Pg y.

It is explained in the text. NP(x,y) means “the number of citizens that prefer x to y,” and x Pg y means “x is then chosen as government policy to y.” It is a mathematical way of saying that if the number of people that vote for option x over y is greater than the number that vote for option y over x, then the government accepts option x as policy.

 The author refers to the ideas of James Madison in describing the various ways that factions, both in the majority and in the minority can somehow seize power in a government. There is analysis of how more than one minority faction can align themselves into the equivalent of a majority in order to take and share power. Making it a very detailed analysis of just what democracy is.

 The three branches of the federal government are also described and compared. Of particular interest are the cases mentioned where the United States Supreme Court declared popular laws passed by the Congress unconstitutional more than once. These rulings were eventually overturned by a later court, albeit decades later. These sections of the book seem particularly relevant in the years of the Roberts’ court.

 A scientific examination of what democracy is and how it is implemented in the United States, one can see how the contents of this book can be applied to the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, where the winner lost the popular vote by millions. The victory was in the Electoral College and not the sum of what was in the ballot boxes.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Review of "Burn This," executive producer Bill Kennedy

 Review of

Burn This, executive producer Bill Kennedy

Four out of five stars

Humorous pseudo-cards

This book is a collection of humorous pseudo-cards with the equivalent of a front and a back. They cover many different topics, from holidays, to satire to love. For example, on pages 65 and 66 there are the captions, “You create in me . . . a burning sensation.” On pages 117 and 118 the captions are, “Here is the secret of eternal youth . . . lie about your age.”

 An image amplifying the caption appears on each page and they all are a positive and humorous emphasis. Nothing profound, just base humor in a couple of short sentences.

Review of "The Russian Revolution: 1917-1932," by Sheila Fitzpatrick

 Review of

The Russian Revolution: 1917-1932, by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Five out of five stars

An event that still reverberates in the world

 While there is a clear start to the revolution that overthrew the Russian monarchy, it was centuries in development. The Romanovs held the title Tsar of the Russian Empire from 1613 until 1917. Therefore, there was a great deal of history of the monarchy in Russia before it ended. Fitzpatrick spends some time setting the historical context, just enough to establish an understandable background.

 Fitzpatrick is also correct in putting forward the proposition that the revolution lasted much longer than the years until the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold over the land that became the Soviet Union. After the Civil War ended, the nation was in a terrible condition. One of the amazing facts was that the Soviet Union in the early twenties was less industrialized than it had been before the start of World War I.

 The Soviet leadership understood that the nation had to rapidly industrialize if it was to survive in the modern world. Therefore, the drastic and ruthless actions directed by Stalin were rightfully considered a continuation of the 1917 revolution in how they changed what was the Russian Empire.

 This is an excellent description of one of the most transformative events of the twentieth century. In less than two decades, a prostrate country that was broke and agrarian was transformed into an industrial giant capable of fighting off the most powerful military machine on the European continent. Recent Russian history has its roots in what happened over a century ago.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Review of "A Treasury of Mark Twain: The Greatest Humor of the Greatest American Humorist," edited by Edward Lewis and Robert Myers

 Review of

A Treasury of Mark Twain: The Greatest Humor of the Greatest American Humorist, edited by Edward Lewis and Robert Myers

Five out of five stars

In only a few words, the best social satirists and humorists can make a point that other people need pages to express. There have been none better at this than Mark Twain, and that is demonstrated in this book. The comments are short, generally 4 or 5 to an eight inch by five inch page. Yet, they are packed with a very effective meaning.

 There is nothing highbrow about the messages, Twain was not known as a writer where the reader needed a dictionary to understand his work. A joy to read over and over again, Twain has often been called a master of folk wisdom. Clearly, the emphasis should be on the second word.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Review of "Defending a Ghost," by John P. Derryberry

 Review of

Defending a Ghost, by John P. Derryberry ISBN  9781365347580

Four out of five stars

A virtual, rather than a real ghost

 This largely autobiographical book features a male adolescent who lost his father and separate best friend within a short period of time. He goes through a great deal of extreme grief, even to the point where he is verbally abusive to his mother. Sports are somewhat of a release, yet since his father coached, talked and played sports with him, they were also a reminder of his loss.

 At times overwhelmed with anger at his situation, the main character finally reaches the point where he is enjoying playing basketball again. He is good enough to play at the small college level, and the rendition moves back and forth from his adolescent years to his first years of college ball.

 The ghost in this case is virtual rather than a “real” one. The main character struggles to emerge from the great sense of loss, looking and doing almost anything brings back a memory of his father. Anyone that has struggled to emerge from the grief process based on an early death will relate to this book.