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Up Till Now: The Autobiography
Up Till Now: The Autobiography
by William Shatner
Edition: Hardcover
232 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The Past, Worked, December 1, 2009
I've always liked Shatner's portrayal of James T. Kirk; I remember as a kid being startled by one of his post-Trek guest roles, playing a nasty thug on an episode of Banacek -- and a line his character recounted from its imaginary past, "see stars?" I'm pretty sure I've never seen most of his other roles, or at least have never been familiar with them.

A book I read in the 1990s, "Captain Quirk", was also pretty nasty in spots, and a friend of mine borrowed it to read it back then, and never returned it. Just as well. It wasn't much above the level of the supermarket scandal sheets. I've had a similar reaction to perusals of various tell-all type screed from some of the other actors from the Star Trek cast.

Up Till Now has a meandering quality to it, a sort of out-of-sequence storytelling that is the main reason it works. The occasional absurd asides to call attention to Shatner's website, and other ware-hawking, contribute to that structure, and are usually not that annoying. There's just one that goes on far too long, but it was both easy to skip, and helps set up the very short asides which follow it.

I burst out laughing a number of different times, and it is apparent that considerable effort was made to lighten the load, but this a good memoir by a competent actor who has never held a day job in his life, and remains working in a key role in a hit series as he's literally pushing 80 (born in 1931, it sez here).

Considering that broadcast networks blow their budgets on making loads of useless pointless reality [sic] TV shows enjoyed by mouth-breathers everywhere -- and may yet make the series idea referenced on page 204 -- that is not a coincidence.

Bravo, Bill.


The Exodus Decoded (History Channel)
The Exodus Decoded (History Channel)
DVD ~ Uzi Avner
22 used & new from $39.93

15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Baggage Train from Egypt, March 10, 2008
I was pleasantly surprised by this documentary, since what I'd read about it didn't have anything but the really stupid claim -- that the death of Pharaoh connected with the eruption of Thera -- which has been regurgitated over recent years. There's no connection between Thera and Exodus, just as there's no connection between a 2nd millennium eruption and the end of Minoan civilization. While I share the view that unusual natural events made the Exodus possible, Thera was not it; neither is there anything to the "Mt Sinai a Volcano" school of thought.

Jacobivici and company present the case well. The graphical manipulation of various artifacts, IOW the special effects, I found to be eye-catching and helpful. I found the detective work which led to plausible identifications of the Sea of Passage and Mt Sinai compelling. But the supposed connection between the Thera eruption and the so-called site of Avaris (it isn't Avaris) had already been broken by the time of the broadcast when the pumice stone was found to be from a different volcano (and a volcano which erupted 10s of 1000s of years ago, to boot). Even the expert shown in a clip stated that he'd found forty ash grains he claimed were from Thera -- that's a mighty small number for a super-eruption. Of course, I had the same reaction when I learned that the average layer of (supposedly) Theran ash in Crete was 5 mm.

Worst of all was the blatantly false statement -- no doubt made due to overreliance on Charles Pellegrino -- that the supposed Theran super-eruption wiped out Minoan civilization. That's been rejected for at least forty years, and during the last ten or fifteen years the drive to push the supposed super-eruption into the middle of the 17th c BC made the disconnect worse, because instead of 80 or so years for the civilization to die, it's now 150 or more. To put that in perspective, it's as if, in 1859, Mt St Helens had erupted with three orders of magnitude more energy than it did in 1980, but US society managed to survive and thrive, only to vanish next year as a result of that eruption.

Amazon reader reviewer ScienceMinded was exactly correct -- Velikovsky should have been credited, since the naos of el-Arish and the Papyrus Ipuwer are linchpins for the late Dr's "Ages In Chaos". Had Jacobovici et al been familiar with that work, they'd have noted that the name of the site given in the inscription on the naos synchs with the name of the place given in the Old Testament, thus strengthening their case. In 1945, when Velikovsky identified the Papyrus Ipuwer as an Egyptian account of the ten plagues of the Exodus, the general view of its date was Old Kingdom, with some viewing it as Middle Kingdom in date; now Jacobivici states that it is generally seen as a 1st Intermediate Period document, which exactly agrees with Velikovsky.

I liked the program's segment on the monuments from Schliemann's dig at Mycenae. His novel interpretation of the images on those stones were interesting. I didn't think he was right, not at all, and thought his treatment of that particular corner of his theory was sketchy at best. Bietak excavated Tell el-Dab'a in Egypt and found Minoan frescoes. Seagoing trade has been going on for thousands of years in the eastern Mediterranean (at least!), even into prehistoric times (the obsidian trade reached Aegean Islands and more).

It is generally thought that Linear A was invented (or adapted?) by the Minoans, and it is nearly universally agreed that Linear A does not contain Greek -- unlike Linear B, which does, and probably was based on Linear A. If Linear A conceals a Semitic language -- and there's only one scholar of whom I'm aware who thinks it does -- then Jacobovici's idea about the origin of these monuments would be strengthened. But he doesn't develop this idea, merely -- and sensationally -- equates a cryptic gold artifact with the ever-popular Ark of the Covenant. There's even a clip of Indy opening the crypt and finding the Ark.

Jacobivici's claim that the Egyptian government doesn't like anyone trying to investigate the Exodus and kept an eye on the documentary group's activities rang true. Anyone who calls that claim evidence of some kind of conspiracy theory is just ignorant. Zahi Hawass has pushed his cuckoo view that ancient Egypt was slavery-free, and anyone who digs in Egypt has to toe that ridiculous party line. In his own book, Kent Weeks, rediscoverer of KV-5, describes a problem his team had with the Egyptian government's destructive mishandling of aerial photos taken by the team in order to map the Valley of the Kings, a problem they had to circumvent by trickery in order to effectively do their job -- and the Egyptian antiquities authorities *like* the Theban Mapping Project. Gantenbrink got banned from the Giza plateau simply for announcing his fairly modest finds in the Great Pyramid. Some people seem to forget that nominally democratic Egypt is a police state.

I didn't notice anything that would make it objectionable for those few parents who still care what their children watch. Jacobovici even closes the show by suggesting, despite the apparent natural causes of the plagues and Pharaoh's death, that God made it happen in order to free his Chosen People. As long as the chronology used in the show isn't taken seriously -- Ahmose was most definitely *not* the Pharaoh of the Exodus -- I think you'll enjoy this disk. I do strongly suggest reading Immanuel Velikovsky's "Ages In Chaos" to get the chronology straight.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 8, 2008 5:10 PM PDT


Pompey the Great (Classical Lives)
Pompey the Great (Classical Lives)
by John Leach
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from $30.75

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uno non potuit tanta iacere solo (p 234), March 4, 2008
This book is well worth reading. I found it enlightening, and it also came to my attention just before Christmas when I got the DVD season two of HBO's series "Rome".

In this thirty year old title, the author makes exhaustive use of surviving ancient sources to reconstruct as much as possible of Pompey's life, giving particular emphasis to the political, military, and financial success. The familiar-to-all part of Pompey's story -- that of his defeat at Pharsalus and murder by agents of Ptolemy -- are briefly covered and fleshed out just a bit. I liked the author's dispassionate approach to his subject, as well as his analysis of Pompey's character and his impact on Rome.

I also appreciated the author's detailed description of the melee that went on during the period generally known as the late republic. Reasons for the shifting alliances among the aristocrats involved in Roman politics are illuminated, and Leach manages to put flesh and blood on some of the cardboard cutouts and marble men to the point that most readers will find they never knew much about the real people. Bravo.


Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps
Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps
by Alan Axelrod
Edition: Hardcover
58 used & new from $2.16

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Devil Dogs, First to Fight, February 11, 2008
Good read. Goes fast. Very good use of first-person viewpoints taken from a variety of sources. Ultimately the entire book is made up of well-integrated and -selected anecdotes. The ending is somewhat anti-climactic, but Axelrod's analysis of the historical significance of this battle seems right on the mark to this reviewer. This will make a nice addition to your library of works on World War I, but keep in mind that the focus of this work is very narrow.


The Mystery of the Sphinx
The Mystery of the Sphinx
DVD ~ Charlton Heston
Offered by Outlet Promotions
Price: $19.88
7 used & new from $19.88

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lion's Share of Attention, April 26, 2007
This review is from: The Mystery of the Sphinx (DVD)
This DVD edition contains the expanded edition -- the NBC broadcast, plus additional footage not aired. Somewhere around here I have both editions on VHS, but rather than an extensive comparison of the differences between the editions, this review will concentrate on the contents of this one.

This video presents the views of John Anthony West and Dr. Robert M. Schoch vis a vis the dating of the Great Sphinx of Giza, along with three critics of that view, as well as some waldorf salads on the side, if you get my meaning.

The video is well produced, the transfer to DVD was well done, and this extended version is divided into bands which are handy ways to skip the irrelevant or distasteful. Charleton Heston does a creditable job as narrator and host, part of the time with a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

The story unfolds. West's discovery is described, then West himself tells how he found he was on the right track, and searched for a geologist who would actually study the problem at the site and then publicly state his findings. That geologist turned out to be Dr. Robert M. Schoch. Step by step they build their case, using the geology of the Sphinx and environs, as well as the mudbrick monuments at Saqqara (which I think had just been reopened to the public at the time this was filmed), the Inventory Stele, the Dream Stele, NYPD forensics, paleoclimatology, and a seismic experiment permitted by the Egyptian Antiquities Authority. The late Boris Said, who was involved in the production, can be seen swinging the sledgehammer, and later bonking a chunk of broken obelisk.

There's a decent amount of footage of James F. Romano (who died untimely at age 56, in 2003, years after this was filmed), in which he makes some good sound bytes, but also heaps abuse on the whole idea of a predynastic Sphinx. At one point his words are used to help make the case, which I found amusing -- he states that the idea that Egyptian sculpture is perfectly symmetrical is "absolutely wrong", and that the Egyptians noticed subtle differences in the real and included them in their images. This is followed by a comparison between a known likeness of Khafre and the head of the Sphinx and how they don't match. I love that part.

James J. Hurtak has a few brief appearances, none of which detract much from the program, and in fact add some humor. If you take James J. Hurtak seriously in this, I'm just glad I don't know you. He isn't credited on the DVD box as being a member of The Scientific Team (those names are West, Schoch, Dr. Thomas Dobecki, Professor John Kutback, and Detective Frank Domingo), for which I'm thankful. Hurtak may have originated the notion that there are artificial structures on Mars, a view he has promulgated since circa 1971.

Richard Hoagland has an easy-to-skip band near the end of this edition. West does an intro, seeming to give his imprimatur to what Hoagland is about to say. Much of this footage is from Hoagland's talk at the UN building (he didn't appear there under UN or any other official auspices, and his Angstrom Medal has all the significance of a casino poker chip). Hoagland first states that the "Face on Mars" has 95 per cent symmetry, then shows that each half, when mirrored against itself, yields a different image -- which means, to any reasonable person, that there isn't any symmetry at all. It's a heads-he-wins-tails-we-lose kind of approach. I am mystified as to where the money comes from to support such a cockeyed delusional system.

The Face on Mars was an artifact -- an artifact of the low resolution of the Viking orbiter's cameras. The original images of the Face consist of about three dozen pixels each. The newer (1990s) images of Cydonia show what most people already figured -- that the "Face" is just an unremarkable, natural formation. More to the point, the so-called Monuments of Mars don't have any bearing on the Great Sphinx of Giza. The silly detour into this [...] is a detriment to the entire presentation. This is easily skipped, or may even produce no little amusement. It should not create an impediment to your purchase and enjoyment of this disk.

West can be amusing (his reference in this video to "smart old us with our hydrogen bombs and striped toothpaste" for example), but on his website sometimes comes off as childish and hostile. This video appears to be West at his best.

Schoch's final words in this video include his opposition to the idea that extraterrestrials had anything to do with the Sphinx. He has made his case for water erosion and a predynastic date for the Sphinx, while only (and wisely) following West up to a point. Although it is mentioned a few times, I didn't think that enough emphasis was given to the obvious fact that the head has been recarved. In any case, I recommend this video to adults who will watch carefully, as well as children, provided their viewing of it is supervised.


The History Channel Presents Julius Caesar's Rome
The History Channel Presents Julius Caesar's Rome
DVD ~ Artist Not Provided
4 used & new from $9.00

36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Getting your aqueducts in a row, April 24, 2007
This two disk set is (in my view) in reverse order. The basic outline of Roman history is found on disk two, and that's a good place to start, particularly parents who buy this for their children to watch. The first disk has an episode on Julius Caesar -- what appears to be one of the old A&E Biography broadcasts -- and an episode on Anthony and Cleo.

This set has the virtue of portraying Cleo pretty accurately, and that's refreshing. There have been recent attempts to transform ancient female despots into modern feminist icons, and in the case of Cleopatra it has been especially inaccurate, misguided, and wrongheaded. Cleopatra was set on her throne, and kept there, by Roman power, and by her involvement with the losing side in the Roman civil war she lost everything. About the only criticism I have is that Cleopatra is mentioned a little too often.

The choice of Joe Mantegna as the narrator was excellent, although he persistently pronounced "consul" as "council", and tetrarchy as "tet-tree-archee". Mantegna did a great job otherwise. Of course, his performance was tempered somewhat by the script.

The script misuses the term "codependent" by claiming that the Emperor Claudius was "codependent" on drinking and gambling. Codependence is a condition existing between two people. At one point came the line, "Augustus may have invented the term dysfunctional family" (no, he didn't).

The script has some specious references to modern politics, such as referring to the Augustus-era morals laws as a "family values plan", and refers to Roman armies as "soldiers of fortune". There's an obnoxious reference to the Emperor Constantine having been "backed by his Christian Coalition". One of the British talking heads refers to the Emperor Justinian's wife Theodora as "the Nancy Reagan" of his "administration", and speaks of "the Oval Office of the Eastern empire". Nancy Reagan wasn't "the power behind the throne", but I suppose that interpretation persists in the UK because of the long reign by their own figurehead queen.

The same talking head gives a free pass to Nero, who was a vicious murderer and incompetent egomaniac -- just as he is generally portrayed. Other aristocrats are heaped with abuse by the same guy. That was just silly, and should have been edited out. When the only good thing that can be said about Nero is that he had his own mother (Caligula's sister, and ex-wife of her own uncle) executed, that should tell you all you need to know about him.

Based on an anecdote, it is claimed that the Emperor Justinian owed the final 50 years of rule to Theodora, who purportedly convinced him to stand and fight (and slaughter thousands) in the denouement of the infamous chariot race riots in Constantinople. I regard this as more politically correct nonsense, appearing as it does among other such rubbish. Also in this category is the claim that adulterous women sent into exile were being singled out for being dangerous. That's only true in the context of venereal diseases. Women who were poisoners (and therefore dangerous) often wound up executed, not exiled.

Other oddities include the term "Imperial Roman Empire", which is used to set up the use of "Imperial Roman Republic". While that suggests that the empire preceded the emperor, which is correct, it would make more sense to just come right out and say that, and then drop these silly terms. There's a wacky reference to "27 fatal blows" to Caesar. There's a claim that "Julius" was Caesar's first name (it was Gaius).

The republic never fell in the first place -- over time, the senate became more representative of the people as the demographics of the empire changed due to conquests of everything from Scotland to Arabia. This change led to resentment by the aristocracy, which owed its position to having been born. The emperor is analogous to, and the root of, the US presidency; the Roman state's separation of powers arose through trial and error (and civil war, and other mayhem) but there wasn't a time when the senate vanished. Adherence to the view that the senate before Julius Caesar was somehow a democratic institution is obnoxiously elitist. And clinging like a dingleberry to the nobility of a group of senators who -- in the Senate chamber -- stabbed to death a legally appointed chief executive is even worse.

If anything, Julius Caesar was too lenient. No mention is made of the patrician plundering and land-stealing from soldiers who were out serving in Roman armies -- the very origin of the practice and popularity of land grants for the veterans. No mention is made of earlier politicians, the Gracchi, who were killed or ostracized for objecting to this and other aristocratic misconduct and crimes.

Roman expansion came about in response to early barbarian invasions, including a Gallic invasion in which Rome itself was sacked, and to wars by and with neighboring city-states which controlled all the smaller towns in their small empires. The Punic wars resulted from conflicts over colonial holdings with which Carthage tried to control trade. Carthage had earlier forced out fellow Phoenician city-states, as well as the Greeks.

In the finale, Islam is grouped with Judaism and Christianity as part of the legacy of the Roman Empire. Rabbinical Judaism rose to greater importance because the Romans destroyed the Temple; Christianity is an outgrowth of Judaism; Islam was and is the enemy of both, and indeed of all other religions and political systems (particularly democracy) and became one of the influences which led to the final destruction of the remnant of the Eastern Roman empire by the Turks. Claiming otherwise as this script does is ridiculous.

Still, with these provisos, worth buying.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2008 5:15 PM PDT


Kensington 64475 Mouse-in-a-Box USB/ADB Mouse (PC/Mac)
Kensington 64475 Mouse-in-a-Box USB/ADB Mouse (PC/Mac)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fuzzy, March 19, 2007
This is nothing but a USB to ADB adapter, which is analogous to those USB to PS/2 adapters which sometimes accompany Wintel mice, plugged into a USB mouse with a cheap and cantankerous cord. As Kensington warned me, it doesn't work with the Apple IIgs ADB port. I plan to try the adapter with some other USB optical mice to see what results. If one wants an optical mouse on a classic Mac with ADB, this will be the only alternative (the MacAlly mouse is opti-mechanical). Mac owners with PCI slots in their CPUs will probably be better off installing a compatible USB card.


Gettysburg (Widescreen Edition)
Gettysburg (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Tom Berenger
Price: $4.67
326 used & new from $0.01

14 of 53 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Fix Bayonets!, March 19, 2007
Until the action sequences and battle simulations, this thing plods. The script is very poor. Martin Sheen turns in another wooden portrayal. It had to be long to cover the three days of battle, but basically the only worthwhile aspect is the action, beginning with the struggle on Little Round Top. Using reenactors and authentic locations was about the only good idea at work in this thing. Despite all that, probably worth seeing, just for the action, and here and there some of the performances.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2014 12:15 PM PDT


Earthsea
Earthsea
DVD ~ Attila
Price: $8.66
79 used & new from $0.24

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ged Outa Town, March 19, 2007
This review is from: Earthsea (DVD)
Not a bad adaptation, although it was predictable. Danny Glover's role was appropriately sanctimonious, but was sufficiently limited that it didn't wreck the feature. I read the underlying novels 25 or more years ago, and while it seems to me that a lot of stuff was in the movie that wasn't in the books, and (of course) plenty in the books which didn't make it to the movie, and there is a sappy moral of the story, and a lot of winkie-teasin' with no action, I may watch it again.

Besides reading the originals, track down UKL's short story "The Word of Unbinding" to see the original idea that led to the large Earthsea trilogy. J.K. Rowling wishes she had the talent and imagination of Ursula K.

I'm not too sure about some of the casting, but this was a made-for-TV miniseries. Kid safe, other than the witless demonology and witchcraft, so this is recommended.


The Exodus Revealed: Searching for the Red Sea Crossing
The Exodus Revealed: Searching for the Red Sea Crossing
DVD ~ Exodus Revealed
Offered by discount_christian_media
Price: $9.99
33 used & new from $4.81

21 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Actually, Not Bad!, June 19, 2006
I never thought I'd find compelling the argument that Mt Sinai was in Saudi Arabia. While I still don't believe it, and it isn't the main focus of the video, the producers and director didn't make the whole "Sinai in Arabia" scenario look completely ridiculous.

Most of the time in this video is spent trying to establish the proposition that the Parting of the Sea during the Exodus took place across a very deeply submerged sand spit which sort of crosses the Gulf of Aqaba. The sand was deposited by erosion brought on by centuries of flash floods triggered by rains falling over hundreds of square miles of the Sinai and issuing out of a wadi. What that means (even assuming a Miocene age for the Great Rift, and I don't) is that whatever the level was 3500 years ago, the sand must be even deeper now. The sand spit would have been under even more water then, and anything on or near the surface of the sand must be much more recent.

There's just no evidence for the Exodus having taken place at the Gulf of Aqaba. The time frame isn't consistent with the only literary source for the story -- the Book of Exodus -- and I have to conclude that the only reason it was dreamed up in the first place was to make the Sinai-in-Arabia idea more plausible.

One problem that generally crops up in these videos (and in many books) is that the Exodus is chronologically placed during the New Kingdom. The bright spot is that the various talking heads in this program place Joseph in the Middle Kingdom and date the Exodus to circa 1450 BC. For the latter they get a bravo.

Lennart Moller, author of "The Exodus Case: New Discoveries Confirm the Historical Exodus", appears here and there throughout, and while he subscribes to the view that the Parting of the Sea took place at Aqaba, and takes a dive (so to speak) to look at the coral formations (and modern piece of brasswork) which are often claimed to be remains of chariot wheels from the pharaoh's army, his contribution is very positive.

This is a decent video. It has a broadcast version (which I didn't watch), a director's cut which is about 30 minutes longer (if memory serves), and about five short overview segments pertaining to different aspects of the Exodus.


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