Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: Tarzan and the Madman

Tarzan and the Madman
And so I face the final curtain...

It has been a long, sometimes bumpy, road from Tarzan of the Apes to Tarzan and the Madman. Along the way, especially around the Tarzan and the Ant Men mark, I wondered if I would ever get through, but I persevered and rediscovered my love for this character and his world. Yes, the books are racist, sexist, and dated, but Tarzan rises above it all and has stayed firmly lodged in my heart.

Now that I have finished the last of the original Tarzan books and am left with nothing but tales told by other authors, I find myself more melancholy than relieved. It reminds me of when I read the series for the first time in 1975. I finished the last book and immediately started over with book one and read all the way through to the end again. Then I went back and read the first six about four more times each. I'm too old and busy to do that now, but I understand the impulse. I don't want to leave Tarzan's company, life is just richer with him in it.

Enough fangirling, let me talk a little bit about this book. Tarzan and the Madman gives us yet another Tarzan imposter. This time around he doesn't look much like Tarzan but he runs around clad in a g-string and carrying Tarzan's weapons while accompanied by the great apes. This Tarzan isn't a good guy, however, he's stealing women and children and carrying them off into the jungle never to be seen again. By the time Tarzan learns of this imposter's antics he has stolen a white girl from her father's safari. Tarzan sets out to kill the imposter and rescue the white girl. As was sadly typical of ERB, he ignores the fate of the black captives and only concerns himself with the white prisoners. There are evil white men, heroic white men, and a helpless white woman whom every male wants, even the apes. What is with the apes and their desire for white girls? There is something very weird about that.

I won't spoil the ending for you but I'm reminded of a lesson learned in earlier ERB books, be careful who you fall in love with because if there are two of you in love with the same girl, one of you will definitely die. It's not possible for you to go off and love another, you must win the love race or croak, those are your only options.

Let's talk about something else that happens over and over again in ERB's books. If you are a woman and you are about to be dishonored (no one in an ERB book would use the word rape) you are honor-bound to kill yourself. They don't call it a fate worse than death for nothing. Talk about blaming the victim! It's probably the second-most problematic feature of this author, right after the horrid racism. I'm not saying that chastity and morality have no meaning, but I'm so glad we have evolved away from the idea that your sexual purity is more important than your life.

This is not a great book, it's probably not even a good book, but there are good moments in it and a nice comeuppance for some bad guys. There are glaring plot holes, including the reason for why the imposter can talk to the apes, that are never explained. The ends get tied up much too neatly even for an ERB novel and Tarzan doesn't get much chance to shine in this one. It's worth reading if you are, like me, a completist and a Tarzan fan, but it won't hurt you to miss it if you can't get your hands on a copy.

I'm giving it four stars, mostly because I'm so sad the series is over. Don't judge me!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: What Da Vinci Didn't Know: An LDS Perspective

What Da Vinci Didn't Know: an LDS Perspective
I read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown against my better judgment and despite the advice from many intelligent people I respect. Honestly, if no one had told me how popular it was I would have assumed it was a bargain basement mystery novel. To be fair, that's exactly what it was. If the author hadn't drummed up interest by throwing in a lot of crazy anti-Christian conspiracies no one but his mom would have read it. The writing is incredibly bad on its own - no need to argue about his ridiculous theories.

So, why read this one? Good question. It's not like I felt Brown needed any rebuttal any more than Bigfoot nuts or alien abductees do. I just thought the authors of this book might have something interesting to say about the subject and it was included in my Deseret Book Plus membership and it was short. Okay, maybe that last factor was the biggest draw. I was in the mood for something that wouldn't take more than a minute and this one fit the bill.

This is not technically a book, not in the format I consumed, anyway. It's actually a recording of three LDS scholars who chat about the problems with The Da Vinci Code and their rebuttals for Brown's theories. It was an entertaining, informative, and short listen and did a great job with what they set out to do, outlining the LDS perspective. If you are LDS and thought Brown had any credibility, then give this a listen. Otherwise, it just gives more attention to a thoroughly forgettable, third-rate novel. The biggest mystery about The Da Vinci Code is how it got so popular. C'mon people, we can do better.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review: Stress and Your Body

Stress and Your Body
5/15/2018 - I'm not done with this, yet, and there will be a complete review later, but I had to complain about something that really bugs me. This series of lectures is presented by a professor with multiple advanced degrees, including at least one in psychology, yet he said that positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement are essentially reward and punishment.

People, stop making this mistake! This is not rocket science, and it's a lot more basic than the neuroscience that makes up the majority of these lectures, so why spread misinformation? It makes me wonder what else he got wrong.

Once and for all, let's get it straight. Positive reinforcement = reward. No one gets these confused. With me so far? Punishment = punishment. Duh. Negative reinforcement is its own thing, it is NOT punishment! ::mutter::


Positive reinforcement - a stimulus which, when applied after a behavior, makes it more likely for the behavior to recur. In simple terms - you do something I like, I give you a cookie... a warm, gooey, chocolate chip cookie with a glass of ice cold milk.

Punishment - a stimulus which, when applied after a behavior, makes it less likely for the behavior to occur. You do something I don't like, and I smack your hand. I told you to stop groping me, but you wouldn't listen. Assuming you don't like your hand smacked, you are less likely to grope me in the future.

Negative reinforcement - a stimulus which, when removed after a behavior, makes it more likely for the behavior to recur. Your dryer starts buzzing when the clothing is dry and doesn't stop until you open the door. It doesn't reward you for folding the laundry and putting it away, that's on you, it just wants you to open that darn door.

You see, with a negative reinforcer, you don't like the buzzing so you are more likely to open the door to make the buzzing stop. The removal of the buzzing happens after the behavior and rewards you for taking action.

By the way, there is such a thing as positive and negative punishment, but almost no one makes the distinction. Negative punishment would be the removal of something after a behavior which would discourage that behavior in the future. Your kid doesn't do his homework so you turn off the WiFi and he can no longer play Dota 2. Next time you tell him to do his homework he would, presumably, be more likely to perform the desired behavior. On a side note, punishment is a lot less effective in changing behavior than reward. In fact, many behaviorists in the field have stopped using punishment entirely. It's an exciting trend.

Back to the explanation. It's all about timing and intent. A positive reinforcement and punishment always come after the behavior while a negative reinforcer starts before the behavior and ends when the behavior is performed. The reason it's called negative is because the stimulus is removed not added. Its intent, however, is to increase the behavior, just like with a positive reinforcer. A punishment is always intended to decrease the behavior. Do you see why the two are not the same? If not, just ask, I'll talk about this nonsense for hours.

5/16/2018 - Feeling stressed and depressed? Yeah, well, don't listen to this, it will just make you feel worse. I can sum it up for you in just two words, "stress sucks." There is a lot of science here, much of which I have heard from other sources.

What I was hoping for was not all of the bio-mechanics or neuroscience of stress, but some insight into how to mitigate the effects. There are 24 chapters/lectures here and only one of them offers any advice, more as an afterthought than a serious attempt to help. Of that advice the only thing I remember is that exercise is good for stress relief, but only if it's exercise you like. Forget forcing yourself to go to the gym, if it's not fun it will just make your stress worse. Oh, and that old stand-by, meditation? Nope, won't help you unless you love it.

Now, if only I could get back the hours I wasted listening to this and spend it reading a book I enjoyed or playing Skyrim, that would be a better use of my time and might actually do something to reduce my stress.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: I Can't Make This Up

I Can't Make This Up
I didn't know what to expect going into this. Kevin Hart didn't make it on my radar until a couple of years ago and I still really had no idea who he was until I saw Central Intelligence with Dwayne Johnson and then Jumanji, again with Dwayne Johnson. As an actor, he comes across as shrill and hysterical but still likeable. His performance in Central Intelligence hearkened back (in a good way) to the Alan Arkin role in the original version of The In-Laws with Peter Falk.

I saw this on sale on Audible and thought I'd give it a try. The one thing I figured I'd get was a lot of swearing. Boy was I right, there is a LOT of swearing in this book. If you've got an allergy to raunchy language, avoid this one. I powered through and found the story entertaining and worth the read/listen. I'm glad I got the audio version because the improv and silly riffs made the experience a lot of fun. I enjoyed the arguments Hart had with himself about things like chapter titles and the right spelling for words like desert/dessert. I don't know how much of the text was from the original, but I liked how his personality came through.

I wouldn't go so far as to say this is an inspirational book but it does illustrate the power of persistence. I came away more than a little concerned about his drinking and won't be surprised if we hear about Kevin Hart going into rehab one of these days. Listening to the stories about his marriage were hard. His treatment of his wife was not excusable no matter how awful she was to him. To be fair, he didn't sugarcoat it and made few excuses for himself. I also wasn't thrilled by the flippant way he handled his DUI. This is no afterschool special and he has no responsibility to be an object lesson, but I thought he let himself off a little too easily for that and a few other mistakes he has made.

On a positive note, this is not a tell-all book. There are almost no Hollywood stories and no backstage gossip. Other than talking about smoking marijuana with Snoop Dog, which is hardly news, very little is said about his costars. I would love to have gotten some behind-the-scenes stories about people like the Rock, but I'm glad he didn't share any embarrassing stories about them, either.

More than anything else, this is a story about Hart's younger years and difficulties making it in show business. It's amazing that he succeeded at all with the father that he had. I also came away with a strong dislike of this mother although it's clear that he loved her very much. Anyone who beats their child as much as she did is not doing parenting well. I'm glad that he chooses to see it in a positive light but that's messed up.

The book is entertaining, especially with Kevin Hart's narration. I would recommend it to anyone with a strong tolerance for swearing and an interest in learning about people who claw their way to success. It's not a path I would want to tread, but it was fun to retrace his steps with him. 

Four stars for entertainment value alone.