Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: Runaways Vol. 2 by B. Vaughn et al.

Runaways Volume 2: Teenage Wasteland written by Brian K. Vaughn, pencils by Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa, inks by David Newbold and Craig Yeung, colors by Brian Reber and Christina Strain

Review of last issue here.

The six Runaways are settling in to their new hideout but, being teenagers, have trouble planning their next move. Their parents, a group of villains who call themselves the Pride, are searching for the children and have resources in every precinct and media outlet around. The Runaways try to lay low. They go out for some food only to discover the convenience store is being robbed. They save the youngest robber, who claims his parents forced him to do it after they gained superhuman powers in an industrial accident. So naturally the Runaways welcome him into their group. He throws off the group dynamic, especially when he gets romantically involved and has his own character twist. After cleaning up that mess, the Runaways have a run-in with Cloak and Dagger, two teenaged superheroes from New York City. Cloak and Dagger have been brought in by the LAPD to help find the kids, though they are being manipulated by the Pride in order to get their kids back, safely if possible. More action and comedy ensue.

I was surprised to see how quickly this series turned into a "problem of the month" narrative. Only slim hints point to the bigger story arc where the Runaways actually deal with their parents. Even so, the writing is witty and the characters are fun.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Crossing the Goal by Danny Abramowicz

Crossing the Goal: A Saint Goes Marching On by Danny Abramowicz

Danny Abramowicz grew up in 1940s and 1950s Steubenville, Ohio. The Catholic culture was strong in his life though he didn't really develop in his faith. He loved sports and had some talent, leading from college to a position with the new expansion team the New Orleans Saints. He was a star player with a wife and children, living the good life in New Orleans. That life included the celebrity lifestyle of a star player, which isn't so compatible with home life or faith life. He had eight years on the team, then several years as a football radio commentator. The lifestyle finally caught up with him one morning in 1981 when he realized he was an alcoholic. His life was only going well on the outside. He called a priest friend and joined a local Alcoholics Anonymous group. He began recovering his life, going to church on more than Sundays. He recognized the importance of small groups sharing their faith. He felt the call to organize men's groups, starting with twelve guys at his home and eventually growing into a ministry called Crossing the Goal. In that ministry, men are called to deeper holiness and a personal relationship with Jesus through Spiritual Fitness Workouts. He traveled across the country, taking various jobs in coaching and business, always looking for what the Lord wanted him to do. He continues on to this day, living in Chicago where he helps raise his grandchildren and continues working on men's ministry through local work and Crossing the Goal.

The book is an autobiography as spiritual journey, showing the dark times of his early career success and his eventual turn to Faith. His life became dedicated not only to the Lord, but to his family and his vocation to help others come closer to Jesus. Abramowicz gives a great example of trusting in the Lord even in hard times. The writing is down to earth and moves along fairly quickly. I would have liked a little more depth (the book is 111 pages) but did draw inspiration from his story. He briefly reviews his spiritual inventory and spiritual fitness plan. The book ends with a chapter by his wife briefly reviewing their life together and giving a witness of encouragement.

Recommended for a quick and inspiring but not deep read.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Another Visit to the Laurel Museum, Maryland

See our previous visit here...

We visited The Laurel Museum and enjoyed some of the new exhibits.

The Laurel Museum

In the 1990s, DC American football team Washington Redskins considered moving to Laurel, Maryland, to avoid DC bureaucracy. The attempt failed because some locals were convinced it would bring a lot of negatives to the community (air pollution, vandalism, tax increases, etc.) and successfully shot down the attempt.

Redskins in Laurel--didn't happen

School integration by enforced busing began in 1973 for Laurel residents. Both sides of the community struggled with the issue, since young children were often taken far from their home. The scheme lasted until 1998.

Integration--did happen

After several incidents of alleged racial profiling, the Laurel police department started using body cameras in 2013, which did reduce the number of complaints. One such camera is on loan at the museum.

Body Cam display

Just as the Laurel branch of the Prince George's County Library was about to be reopened, a controversy arose over its name. The library was named after Charles H. Stanley (1842-1913), a former mayor of Laurel and state comptroller whose family donated the land in 1963 for a library to be named in his honor. The controversy arose because he was also a Confederate soldier. Debate raged for a while but the Library's Board of Trustees voted to keep the name.

Laurel Library display

A nearby exhibit talks about Civic Engagement and how local citizens can have an impact on local decisions.

Ways to engage civically (and hopefully civilly too!)

Old time ballot box

Next to the Civic Engagement exhibit is one focusing on local organizations that strive to improve the community through a variety of ways--raising money and awareness for the poor, the hungry, the old, the artistic, and on and on...

Some of the local civic organizations

More displays

And even more displays

The children's area of the museum is located in the basement, which is accessible down a rickety staircase or through a side door.

Guess which door gives access to the basement!

The museum sometimes has summer programs for children. Items from previous programs are still available for visitors to enjoy.

The mechanical advantage

Marble tracks

The basement also has information and items about the history of the building. It was a home for mill workers built by the Patuxent Manufacturing Company in the 1840s. This building housed four families, each of which had separate kitchens in the basement. The families on the main floor had indoor staircases down to their kitchens; those on the second story had to walk down an external staircase. This inconvenience was offset by the upstairs families having access to the attic for storage or extra bedrooms. The display of kitchen wares was fun for our kids to see and play with.

Kitchen table and washing bin

The washing bin in the above picture served both as a bathtub for the family and as a clothes washer. Below is a butter churn that mixed the butter with a crank on the side, rather than the classic "pole in the top" that's often depicted in movies and television.

Butter churn

View of the back of the building

If we follow the same schedule of visiting, we'll come again in two years, just in time to see the time-capsule opening!

2020 can't be that close, can it?

We may try to visit again sooner. Only time (and the blog) will tell.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler

After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the African nation of Wakanda to assume the role of king (who is also known as The Black Panther). Part of the ceremony involves an invitation for any citizen from the five Wakandan tribes: Challenge the current king in combat for the throne. Naturally, being a Marvel superhero movie, he takes on a tough challenger who comes close but can't beat him. Other challenges arise afterward. Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an American mercenary, wants to claim the throne (and not without some justification). Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis at his scenery-chewing best), a weapons dealer who stole vibranium from Wakanda and killed many citizens in the process, has surfaced in South Korea. The Wakandans have a small window of opportunity to catch Klaue and bring him to justice. Killmonger has aligned himself with Klaue in hopes of making it to Wakanda.

Wakanda has been a secretive nation. It's technologically far advanced thanks to the vibranium mine in the heart of the country. They use vibranium technology to cloak themselves and preserve the utopian peace and prosperity that they enjoy within their borders. Such comfort comes at a cost--they have to ignore problems in the larger world, and even in their neighboring countries. Refugees from other African nations have no welcome there and Wakanda provides no humanitarian aid. The Wakandans treasure their secrecy.

The movie works well on many levels. T'Challa has to face personal problems caused by his father's secrets that have caused a political crisis. He faces the royal problem of governing his people well, which includes the nation's standing among other nations--again their secretive nature belies their ability to help other nations and peoples. He's also the Black Panther, a cool action hero who could capture criminals like Klaue on foreign soil. He protects Wakandans and others as well. The action scenes are exciting and distinctive. He deals with problems not always perfectly, but with dignity and integrity. He works to right the wrongs not only of others but also in his own country and his own family. He is a great example of manhood.

Beyond the character of T'Challa, the movie also builds a fascinating and fully-realized world of Wakanda. It is beautiful to look at and has lots of interesting technology and cultural depth. The five tribes have distinctive looks and tech. The major and minor conflicts among the tribes and the people are believable. As the Lord of the Rings movies were a great travel ad for New Zealand, this movie makes viewers want to visit Wakanda (which is sadly fictional and CGI).

The women of Wakanda are amazing too. T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is a technological wiz who serves so much more than the Q role to his James Bond. Ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is a successful spy and powerful agent for Wakanda. The elite forces of Wakanda, the Dora Milaje, are an all-female fighting force featuring Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is dedicated more to Wakanda than to T'Challa. The movie features a lot of strong female characters who are distinctive and admirable, each in her own way.

The villains are well-developed too. Klaue is an unlikely mixture of gleeful brutality and intelligent strategy. Killmonger's backstory is very sympathetic, showing how he sees his ultimate goal as justified, though really it is destructive revenge that will destroy Wakanda's peace and harm the rest of the world too. The performances by the whole cast are top-notch.

It's hard to find flaws in the movie. The big battle at the end is occasionally over the top but hardly the CGI overload like Wonder Woman's or Guardians of the Galaxy's endings. The movie is action-packed, intelligent, and well-developed.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea by M. Mignola et al.

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea story by Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni, art by Gary Gianni, colors by Dave Stewart

After Hellboy left the B.P.R.D., he wandered around for a few years before winding up in Hell. This tale comes from that middle period. Hellboy is sailing the ocean and is picked up by the Rebecca. The Rebecca's captain puts him in chains and hopes to sell him to P. T. Barnum as a side show freak, which definitely shows something odd going on since it's the late twentieth century for Hellboy. If that wasn't weird enough, the captain answers to a strange woman who has hired the ship to find an ancient serpent. She's a member of the Heliopic Brotherhood, a group of scientist exploring and exploiting some Lovecraftian phenomena in Hellboy's world. All Hellboy fans know the Heliopic Brotherhood means trouble. And they have trouble aplenty.

The story is typical Hellboy, which is a fun treat. Mignola quotes The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to bookend the tale, which works well for the cursed nature of the characters. The art is more reminiscent of Richard Corben than Mignola, but that's okay because Corben's style works well for the weird horror genre (Corben has worked successfully on previous Hellboy and B.P.R.D. stories). The book is excellent all around.

Recommended, highly for Hellboy fans.

Sample text, featuring Hellboy's opinion about the woman's plan...

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph by T. E. Lawrence

T. E. Lawrence was a British officer assigned to help the Arabs fight against the Turks during World War I (he's the titular Lawrence of Arabia, for those who have seen the film). This book is his chronicle of the two-year campaign known as the Arab Revolt. Under his advice, the Arabs, led by Emir Faisal, waged more of a guerrilla war against the Turks, cutting supply lines (typically rail lines) and outmaneuvering the enemy. The campaign was highly successful, ending in the conquest of Damascus in October 1918 and the establishment of an independent Arab state.

The book is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the story of the military actions is told in excruciating detail, with every trip through desert described lovingly by Lawrence. With over 600 pages of text, the places start to blur together. The moments of action are exciting but all the traveling back and forth takes its toll on the reader. The book would definitely benefit from editing on this front.

On the other hand, Lawrence is a fascinating character and he's honest enough to show his good and bad aspects. He clearly loves the Arab people and wants them to form their own independent country. He dresses like them and is often mistaken for an Arab. He also has contempt and arrogance toward the Turks, almost to the point of racism. The political intrigue among the various Arab tribes and with the British command (which was more or less supportive) shows their personalities, always through Lawrence's lens. He also has doubts about his mission. He sees himself at times as a guiding light for the Arabs and at other times as a fake who can't possibly succeed. His adoption of Arab dress and customs occasionally makes him feel like a hypocrite, desiring the Arabs to have independence while he has to lead them to that independence.

While parts of the book are great, they are separated by a lot of descriptions of traveling in the desert/mountains/valleys. I'm usually against abridging books but this book would definitely benefit by being shorter.

Recommended for the character study of Lawrence and some insight into the period and the events of the Arab Revolt. I think the movie is just as good--even at an almost four hour running time, it's still quicker than this book.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Klondike Derby 2018

A popular event in our local scouting community is the Klondike Derby. The derby is an outdoor event held in January inspired by the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s. Around 100,000 prospectors rushed to northern Yukon when gold was discovered in 1896. Everyone had an adventure though very few gained wealth. The spirit of adventure lives on in the Klondike Derby.

The organizers make two routes on the derby--one for the younger Cub Scouts, another for the older Cubs and Boy Scouts. My son is a Webelos, so he took the second route. Our Cub Scout Pack has a sled on wheels that could run in snowy or non-snowy conditions. We were lucky with the weather and had a fairly dry and warm (high 50s) day for our run. The Boy Scout trail runs about three miles along the trails of Patapsco State Park, with various activity stations along the route.

My boy with the sled

Unfortunately, a few of the boys who had signed up couldn't make it, so our den had only two boys. I was a little disappointed but we did get through the various stations fairly quickly.

Two-man sled

The first station was Inspection, where some older scouts made sure we had enough supplies (food, water, first aid kit, etc.) to make the trip. We also had to give our den cheer. Not having thought up one beforehand, we used the pack anthem as our den cheer, which worked well enough.

The second station was the two-man saw, which worked out perfectly with our boys. After a few pointers on safety and technique, the boys got to work. They sawed through a small log with a large saw.

Supervised cutting

Whose turn is it to pull?

Coffin-shaped saw container

Plenty of wood nearby for practice

The next station was also potentially deadly--Axe Safety. The older boys taught general blade safety, like making sure no one is close enough to get hurt when you open a pocket knife or swing an axe. After learning some axe technique, the boys chopped some fallen logs.

Safety training

Ready to cut


My favorite part was the hot chili served by the Boy Scout troop sponsoring the Axe Safety station. The chili was only for the grown-ups, so we'd have something to do while the boys did the real work.

The next station was the Mayor's Tea. Here, the scouts had to boil a cup of water on an open fire and make tea for the mayor. Seattle Mayor William Wood resigned his post and joined the prospectors on their rush north and he is commemorated (sort of) here. The stand-in mayor taught the boys the best way to build a chimney-style fire along with other tips to make a good fire.

Mayor teaching fire techniques

Showing a good piece of wood

We were given a wax-coated paper cup and a tea bag and told to come back with a cup of tea. They assured us the cup wouldn't burn in the fire.

The boys gathered wood and built a good pile in an iron pan sitting on a rock.

Adding kindling and fuel

Using an egg-crate starter

Using a match, pretty easy

The fire begins

Trying to heat the cup by hand, not so easy

Cup nestled in the fire

Now, I don't want to say the people running the station were wrong, but our fire must have been hot enough to get the top of the cup (where there was no water) to catch fire and start burning. We tried to remove the cup, resulting in some of the flame reaching the nearby dry grass. While the two parents kept stomping out the fire's attempt to spread, the boys went to find a bucket of water. After a harrowing thirty seconds, a pail of water was brought over and we were able to extinguish the potential forest fire. I was too busy on fire control to get any pictures! The water in the cup did get lukewarm but we were too shy to offer it to the mayor, especially since bits of the burnt part of the cup were floating on top. We did get good marks for the station because nobody panicked and we kept the situation under control.

We moved on to the next station, which ironically enough was Outdoor Ethics. One big idea is leaving things the same as we found them and to have safe practices with tents and cooking fires. I think they should reverse the order of the stations for next year.

Learning about outdoor ethics

Pointing out things wrong with the tent set-up

The next station developed an important skill for all gold rushers and outdoors people--building a shelter from natural materials. This station was a lot of fun for the boys, who were proud to show off their accomplishment.

Building a shelter

In the shelter

Another nearby shelter

A longish walk brought us to the next station where the boys were challenged to make matchless fires. That is, they weren't allowed to use matches. We brought flint and steel with us but my son wound up using the station's equipment. We didn't mention how things went with the Mayor's Tea.

Tinder in an aluminum pan

Getting the right starting material

The fire gets going

Everything went well here, except that this station was another one that offered treats to the parents. I had a donut. My son saw me eating it. Once he finished making the fire, he asked if I had any left. Sadly, I did not. I promised to get a donut on the way home.

The next station was first aid, a common need in the Yukon and a handy skill for anyone to have.

First aid station (learning first aid, not receiving it)

Climbing a tough hill, we came to the basic knots station, which was a breeze for our experienced scouts.

Learning knots

One final push got us further up the hill to the two final stations--lashing and map reading.

Two stations right next to each other!

Lashing taught the boys how to tie sticks together securely. The boys worked together to make a goal post and then got to kick a football to try and score.

Lashing logs together

Lining up to kick

My son kicks

His second kick

Right across from the lashing station was Ulcer Gulch canteen, where snacks and food could be bought. By this point, the day was almost done, so all the donuts were sold out. I bought my son a bag of chips as a substitute. He was happy with that.

The final station was map reading. I didn't see any of the details here because I chatted with the troop members and enjoyed some free lemonade they offered (they also had coffee, tea, and hot cocoa but the day was too warm for that).

Some map skill

We had a lot of fun at the Klondike Derby and may try it out again next year.