Monday, December 23, 2019

Book Review: Aloha Rodeo (Hawaiian cowboys, Wyoming's Frontier Days) (OT)

Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, The World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West, by David Wolman and Julian Smith (HarperCollins, 2019, 242 pages, $27.99)

A: What did Hawaii and Wyoming* have in common in 1908?

A: Cowboys!

Q: Cowboys?

A: Yup.

Primarily a history book, Aloha Rodeo will tie many well-known facts together if you have lived in Hawaii or Wyoming (or even many locations in the West) – from the annexation** of Hawaii to the near-extinction of the American buffalo to wild cattle (an invasive species) introduction on the Big Island to the Parker Ranch, a town in itself with 300,00 acres. From Queen Liliuokalani to Cheyenne’s Frontier Days (according to Wikipedia, the rodeo is now ten days long!)

Fortunately, the book is fairly short for other readers. The first couple of chapters can easily be skipped with no loss of momentum while the crux of the story, about the three Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) who win surprisingly at an early rodeo on the mainland, takes only the final quarter of the book and sounds much like the re-telling of an athletic competition, play by play.

Surprising tidbits of historical culture can be found: having canines for dinner (and not for company), the history of bulldogging and how real canine bulldogs did their job, the origin of the name of the Buffalo Soldiers, a wolf-roping event*** that was such a disaster, it was never held again.

Another thread running through Aloha Rodeo educates the reader about the Wild West of America which lasted only a few decades before the Easterners started idealizing the rapidly disappearing life and times of the American Cowboy with dime-store novels and not-so-realistic re-enactments of life such as Custer’s Last Stand and Wild Bill Cody’s Wild West Show with Annie Oakley. What the Easterners wanted, the Easterners got, in the way of titillation, much of which ended up in our children’s history books.

This reviewer believes the subtitle is quite a bit off as well. The reader expects a story about three Hawaiian cowboys but that only really begins two-thirds of the way through. Aloha Rodeo is primarily a history book with a few stories tossed in, followed by a blow-by-blow description of a rodeo. For those not familiar with rodeos, it may awaken an interest. The World’s Greatest Rodeo may refer to Cheyenne’s Frontier Days although the Calgary Stampede was more familiar to this reviewer growing up in the American West. And finally, this reviewer never really found out what the hidden history of the American West referred to. Perhaps an Easterner will understand that, however.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of topics touched upon to whet the appetite besides rodeos and the equine history of the Hawaiian Islands and their invasion by Americans: the near extinction of the buffalo, women’s rights, cowboy life, to name a few major ones.

*Wyoming’s motto: Equal Rights (a story in itself about women in the Wild West). According to the Denver Post, writing about an early rodeo in Wyoming, “When a young lady is gritty as well as pretty, she wins the crowd.” (p. 192)

**Hawaii surrendered to the US in 1898 and, two years later, held the Big Island’s first Fourth of July rodeo. The state has historically been a crossroads of people and cultures: in 1900, the island of Hawaii’s population of 154,000 was composed of 20% Hawaiians, 40% Japanese, 7% Caucasian (haole), 17% Chinese, 11% Portuguese and 5% part-Hawaiian while the mainland was 90% white –  Hawaii was truly more of a melting pot than the mainland was.

***Wolves were feared and hated in the West of yesteryear. This event consisted of roping two wolves, half-grown canines, one of which was petrified and took to ground in the grass, attempting to hide, trembling, while the other was lassoed after only 50 yards and then drug behind the galloping equine. Fortunately, the audience was not impressed with this barbarous cruelty and the event never again was part of Frontier Days.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: Fire and Fury (OT)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff (Henry Holt and Company, 2018, 339 pages, $30)

#1 New York Times Bestseller! Controversial!*

I did read James Comey’s book and was inspired so when I saw Fire and Fury at a yard sale for a buck, I grabbed it. We here at DogEvals finally gave in and decided to post a blurb about this book (we are always late!). A blurb is a short blog!

Note that this book covers the first nine months of the Trump Administration so, by now, it is history and we can put it all in perspective.

If, . . . .

Fire and Fury is a fun book! You will like it better if you are a news junkie and really pay attention to the news every day or if you are a PolySci major who has studied government. Either way most readers will be familiar with all the names, with who’s been good and who hasn’t (sounds like Santa Claus asking).

If you are just an ordinary person (like me) who tries to keep up but finds it all too complex, join the party! Author Michael Wolff is here to help.

I don’t know how a 339-page book can be called light reading but I found it easy to lay down and pick up again and not lose any part of the plot, perhaps because I know how it all turns out.

Again, note that this book covers only the first few months of the Trump administration and we are a couple of years past that. Nevertheless, it is a fun book, especially if you like gossip. However, it all seems so real and fascinating at the same time.


Wolff wrote 22 chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue, with chapters ranging chronologically from Election Day, Trump Tower and Day One through Jarvanka, At Home and Comey to Mika, Scaramucci and General Kelly. Alas, no Pence, no Stephen Miller, no Kellyanne. . . . but you can read the chapters in any order.

Did you know that Mr. Trump is on the phone to old friends in the evening, asking how things appear to them? Do you know why son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon are seldom in the same room?

And my final question is, just who is author Michael Wolff anyway and how did he learn all this ‘stuff’ and when is his next book coming out? And, Michael, not to worry – I don’t think Mr. Trump will ever read a book of yours (or anyone’s?).

*Other descriptors (not mine: others beat me to it): brilliant, stormy, outrageous, mesmerizing, volatile, riveting, explosive

Monday, December 16, 2019

Mariah Carey's Number One: All I Want for Christmas (about a puppy)

According to NPR, "Mariah Carey's holiday juggernaut 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' just this week topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in the song's 25-year history." (NPR, 16 December 2019)

So, we are reposting our blog from two years ago - about this song/DVD! Enjoy!

Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You (Universal 1440 Entertainment [a production entity of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment]; November 14, 2017; 1 hour, 31 minutes, $9.99; Blu-rayTM, DVD, Digital and On Demand)

New Family Holiday Classic! (Preview the trailer here)

Maria Carey sings three classic Christmas songs* as the warm and wonderful narrator: young Mariah is voiced by a talented Breanna Yde. Ms. Carey also was the co-executive producer and co-wrote the book – a woman of many talents, for sure.

A Girl’s First Love is. . . A Puppy!

What does a little girl want for Christmas? Every year? A puppy, of course.

Grandma Lucy takes little Mariah to the pet store (“just to look”) where Mariah falls in love with a Princess of a little white puppy. Too bad Dad is allergic to dogs.

But, wait! Dad brings home a dog for Mariah to take care of for a few days. Jack, the Jack Russell Terrier, belongs to Uncle Reggie who is on vacation. If Mariah does a good job, she can get a dog. Oh, boy!

But wait until you see the kind of trouble Jack gets in to right up to the surprising finale!

Mariah’s Christmas Story

All I Want for Christmas is a 90-minute long, delightful story with twists and turns for the whole family. Each family member will identify with at least one someone, or more – from little sister who tries so hard and wants to help but is rebuffed and ignored by her big sis, to little brother who acts more like a teasing big brother, to Grandpa Bill whom Mariah has to rein in to prevent his practical jokes from backfiring and getting them all into trouble with the neighbors. Mom is a perfect mom and dad just wants everyone to get along. From the smart little Jack-dog to Mariah’s pretty pink bedroom, even boys will love this movie and won’t be able to stop laughing at Jack’s antics – or guess what is to come.

Who is Mariah Carey?

Simply the best-selling female artist of all time with more than 200 million albums and 18 Billboard Hot 100 #1 singles (17 self-penned), more than any solo artist in history.

Mariah has been awarded several Grammies, 21 American Music Awards, Billboard’s “Artist of the Decade”, the World Music Award for “World's Best Selling Female Artist of the Millennium,” – with her distinct five-octave vocal range and prolific songwriting, Mariah is truly unforgettable. 

Singer, Songwriter, Producer

The picture book of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You came out in 2015 and can be purchased here. And now you can even gift coffee mugs and sweatshirts - and more. Mariah also appears in the movies Precious (2009) and The Butler (2013).

A Congressional Award recipient, Mariah has generously donated her time and energy to philanthropic causes including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, World Hunger Relief, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Mariah also founded Camp Mariah in partnership with the Fresh Air Fund, a retreat for inner city children to explore career development.   

I Predict. . . . It’s Puppy Love!

I predict that all little girls will want a dog or two – and long blond hair that swings! I predict that little boys will try to emulate some of the pranks they see so, beware! And I predict that families will watch this movie again and again. Ms. Carey has a lovely voice as the narrator as well.

To the grown-ups: if you didn’t recognize the voice of Grandpa Bill the first time through, you will want to watch the movie again and listen for The Fonz, Henry Winkler!

*The song ”All I Want for Christmas is You” dates from 1994 with more than 14 million copies sold. In 2016 it held at #1 on Billboard’s “Holiday 100” for four straight weeks and was the most streamed holiday single. Mariah also sings “Christmas Time is in the Air” and “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)”.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Book Review: Make it Concrete (Israel; Holocaust author; a dog, too)

Make it Concrete, by Miryam Sivan (Cuidono Press, 2019, 221 pages, $16)

What’s It All About?

If a book can be about the whole world, about all of life (even yours), Make It Concrete is that book. A sweet book, set in Israel, about everything: about affairs (and some X-rated paragraphs), about children, about love and divorce, about dogs, about fear and escape, about one’s mother and about being a mother oneself, about having a child in the Army and not being able to reach her during a firefight, about not ever fitting in when one lives in a different county, and, finally, about having a different native language from both your mother and your daughter.

And it is also about a JRT named Woody and his relationships with the human members of his family and how they feel when they cannot find him. How he appears throughout the book as a constant that can bring the family together.

And Isabel's daughter was a K9 handler in the Army (in Israel, everyone serves in the Army - another roadblock in the road of Isabel really understanding her children and adopted country - she married and started a family as soon as she relocated to Israel, thus becoming exempt from military service and that way of life and memories).

And What About Concrete?

And concrete itself, housebuilding and the structural components of both a house and of life, plays a major part in the story, both in settings and in one major character.

And What About The Story?

Isabel Toledo is an expatriate living in Israel, a ghost-writer who pens the stories of Holocaust survivors into books for decades and whose mother is one such survivor who has never spoken of her experience. Why not? The question haunts Toledo.

Toledo is also descended from Spanish Jews so the reader is exposed to that side of history (but can gloss over it).

The Writing Itself

Author Miryam Sivan writes melodically, like a sonnet or an epic. Concrete is a long book that gets shorter the further into it you read. It finally ties all the loose ends in the end but perhaps too quickly for the majority of the book is slow and a story to savor because it is about everything. Like the life we live, we learn all about Isabel’s life – her dog, her children, her best friend, her parents whom she calls by their first names (to add to the voluminous cast of characters).

There was much research put into Concrete – from Israeli names (many) to Spanish history to Czech culture to Jewish traditions.


Our protagonist vacillates between being a good author of others’ stories but at a price that may be too high for too long, between one man in her life and another and also believing she needs to be alone, about wanting to ask her mother about how she survived the Holocaust yet not being able to do so.

Isn’t that what even our life is all about – vacillations? And decisions that we make or are made for us.

(As a former expat myself, I could empathize with the author’s feelings of being lost even in her family and, as a veteran, I can now better understand my mother’s concerns for my survival [our protagonist’s concern verges on panic]).

Friday, December 13, 2019

Book Review (OT): The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (Broadway Books, 2011, 382 pages, $16.00) Also an HBO movie (2017) starring Oprah Winfrey and Leslie Uggams.

It was sometime in the 1970s. I was a grad student in genetics. It was in our weekly Animal Science department seminar that I first heard about Temple Grandin a couple of states away - and that I also heard of HeLa* cells - we were told they were named after Helen Latham (at least that is what I remember).


The Book

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was selected as the 2011-12 Howard Book Connection book so you know it is worth the read: so, too, is any book with a readers’ guide (questions for a book club discussion). You can also listen to a radio program, Famous Tumors.

The Howard County, Maryland, public library has 66 copies: if you are connected to the community college, Henrietta is also available there.

Look closely and you will see (Henrietta’s?) cells on the cover, along with that iconic photo of Henrietta as a young woman. Look even closer and you will see the He and La in her name are in boldface: her cell line is the HeLa cell line, so named because the convention of the day was to use the first two letters of the person’s first and last names.

Who was Henrietta Lacks?

Henrietta lived in Clover, Virginia, and married a cousin, had five children (two of whom were too young to remember her) and moved to Baltimore near Johns Hopkins hospital (Victor McKusick, the father of human genetics, was involved and at Hopkins at the time). Before the age of 30, Henrietta, so vibrant and popular and caring, had died quite quickly of cervical cancer, eight months after the initial diagnosis. This was in the early 50s. Some of her cells were saved and were soon found to divide ‘forever’ rather than die after about 50 cell divisions. This finding turned out to be earth-shattering in the medical research field and made so many other discoveries possible.

But were the cells donated or taken (stolen) without her knowledge or the permission of her family?

HeLa cells were soon in great demand in labs all over the world. Since scientific research is more ‘shared’ than other fields, HeLa cells were available at reasonable cost and were the first mammalian cells found to be ‘immortal’ (to be able to live outside the body) – chicken cells previously had been found to have this characteristic but humans are mammals and research needs to be done on them sooner or later.

The Controversy

HeLa cell lines were incredibly important to medical research (HIV drugs, etc.) but in the early 50s research was still being done on people, especially minorities, without their permission. Was this the case with Henrietta? It depends on how you look at it. And should her family and descendants be proud of her place in history or should they have received money from the sale and distribution of her cell line to labs all over the world?

Today, many members of the Lacks family cannot afford health care. . . .

About Privacy or the Invasion Thereof – and a Question of Ethics

HeLa Cells
After a while, articles appeared about HeLa and someone called the woman Helen Lane or Helen Larson, or, in the 70s when I was in grad school, Helen Latham – all generally white women’s names.

Henrietta Lacks, however, was an African American from southern Virginia. Some of her family never made it past fourth grade while others joined the military or were incarcerated or became addicts or attended graduate school or died as a teen in a mental institution (Crownsville, MD). Much like the rest of the country during these times.

For years after HeLa cells became so valuable, members of the Lacks family were asked for vials of their blood to determine if their normal cells had the same characteristics as Henrietta’s cancer cells. Family members thought tests on their cells would determine if they had cancer or would develop it so they waited patiently for results that never came.

HeLa cells traveled into outer space. They were mixed with mouse cells and grown in the lab. Members of the family thought Henrietta would become a mouse-human or a clone. Medical researchers didn’t explain well enough so the family could understand – was that common in the 50s? Probably so. It was thought that the average person could not understand DNA so nobody bothered to explain in terms they could comprehend.

Could the family sue on the grounds that someone revealed Henrietta’s name and medical records? (They could, today.) And what about the statute of limitations?

Can one sell a lung or a kidney? How about cells? How about patenting them, if they are unique?

Henrietta's Daughter with a Photograph of HeLa Chromosomes

A Profound Discovery

The reader will learn about the vaccine for hepatitis B, how a hemophiliac found out he had the answer in his cells and convinced a Nobel-winning medical researcher to work on the problem and solve it! He gave his cells exclusively to that researcher in lieu of making a fortune on them. Such is the way science has been done.

Where does HeLa fit into the history of medical research? Can one sue a medical researcher for using one’s body in research without one’s permission? What about releasing a patient’s photo? What if the spleen or liver or pancreas in question is cancerous and must be removed – to whom does that removed organ now belong? All these are questions that you may not have thought about but now will, thanks to Rebecca Skloot’s book.

How the Book Reads

Henrietta is a fairly long book, with 38 fairly short chapters. It is not written chronologically but reads so smoothly you may not be aware of it. It is a bit about science but also about a family and a period in American history – the Fifties of Black Americans in rural Virginia and inner-city Baltimore, as well as the beginning of rapidly growing medical research, especially genetics. This was before the time of HIPPA and consent was not needed to use human subjects in research. Perhaps because of the Lacks family, this is now changed.

Henrietta is a human-interest story as well as a book that glosses over the science – so don’t let a lack of technical knowledge stop you from reading it.

I did, however, think the book could have been tighter. It focused on the same threads over and over again and might have made the points better with less emphasis. However, as it is, it was a New York Times bestseller for more than six years and reached number one - but it took ten years to write.

The author includes a timeline, a list of characters, an afterward, and nine pages of acknowledgements!

Questions Remain

Should the Lacks family have received a percentage of the monetary benefit from Henrietta’s cells, particularly since they believe the cells were stolen from her? Vials of her cell line could be bought for $25 or, today, for up to $10,000.

Food for thought. And for ethicists. And for liberal arts majors to ponder – and voters and researchers and you!

*p. 254 - “Hela is the native name of the country of Sri Lanka, . . . of a defunct German tractor company, an award-winning Shih-Tsu dog, . . . a seaside resort in Poland, ad advertising firm in Switzerland, a Danish boat where people gather to drink vodka and watch films, and a Marvel comic book character who appears in several online games; a seven-foot-tall, half-black, half-white goddess who’s part dead and part alive. . . responsible for plagues, sickness and catastrophes; she’s immune to fire, radiation, toxins, corrosives, disease and aging. She can also levitate and control people’s minds.”