Best Mouse Pad I’ve Used – Fun Designs Too

NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad – Raindrop

Raindrop Mouse Pad, Blue

See it at Amazon 

[Rating: 5/5]

Pros: excellent mouse movement, ultra-thin mouse pad, soft cloth surface, non-skid backing

Cons: some people might want more cushioning in their mouse pad


A coworker walking by my desk proclaimed my mouse pad needed replacing.  I noticed it was looking worn.  Since my desk is in a visible area, I decided I needed a mouse pad update.  That is how I came to discover and use the NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad in the raindrop design.  It was a tough decision deciding, too, since so many mouse pad designs are available.


This NatureSmart Allsop mouse pad is very thin with a non-skid underside and a soft cloth surface.  The manufacturer states that its glue-fee assembly does not use or create harmful chemicals.  Plus, the non-skid base is constructed from 60-percent recycled materials.  The mouse pad is also made from all natural rubber.  Mouse pad dimension for 8” x 8.75”.

My Experiences

This is the best mouse pad I’ve used.  I love that the pad is ultra-thin.  The way the surface of my desk aligns with the computer chair, the thinness of the mouse pad does not lift my wrist from the desk.  No more uncomfortable angles from a foam mouse pad that sits too high.

There is no cushioning in this mouse pad.  The cloth surface is smooth and very soft, but it does not provide a cushioned wrist wrest if this is something you need.  The pad is very thin and flat.

The black non-skid backing grips the wooden desk surface very well.  To shift the mouse pad, I need to lift a corner of the mouse pad before I can move it.  I like that the pad doesn’t shift beneath my hand as I’m using the mouse.

I’m using a Logitech cordless mouse, and it easily glides along the pad surface.  There is no hesitation or “jumping” in cursor movement.

The raindrop design is well done.  It almost comes across as a 3D image.  The blue color is vivid, and the design of raindrops against the blue surface is eye-appealing.  If raindrops are not your thing, NatureSmart has a lot of designs to select from.  They also offer the mouse pads in a few different sizes.  This 8” x 8.75” size works great in my space.

This mouse pad is more environmentally friendly than some other options.  It is constructed from all natural rubber.  The product packaging is made with a minimum of 50-percent recycled material.  Even the non-skid backing on the mouse pad is made from 60-percent recycled material.  In addition, mouse pad  construction does not use glue or create harmful chemicals.


This NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad was inexpensive and a great buy.  I’m really pleased with the quality of the mouse pad and how well it works with my mouse.  I find that this flatter mouse pad is more comfortable than my last one, too.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy your day,

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

Other NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad Designs
Click to view on Amazon


Never Die Alone by Lisa Jackson – Never assume it’s over…

Never Die Alone by Lisa Jackson



See it at Amazon 


Pros: decent thriller that held my interest throughout

Cons: very gruesome violence

Twins have had a lot to be frightened of in Lisa Jackson’s Never Die Alone. Why? Because over years, a madman was on the hunt. And his targets? Sets of twins. All killed horribly on their 21st birthday.

The good news is, he’s been caught. The police have “The 21 Killer” in custody. Or do they? Because now another set of twins has gone missing.

Brianna Hayward is on the case. Cousin to the man who’s been currently serving his sentence, Brianna wants to prove him innocent. Not only for her cousin’s sake, but to help find the real killer. And, hopefully, to save Zoe and Chloe’s lives – before the clock strikes midnight, the twins turn 21, and “The 21 Killer” adds another two notches.

Helping Brianna is Jase, a reporter with a huge secret of his own. And Detective Rick Bentz, who shows up in several Jackson novels. Besides this case, Bentz is busy tracking down another serial killer, too.

Overall, Never Die Alone is a decent thriller. There’s non-stop action, and a lot of twists to keep us guessing. And while we are privy to the killer’s thoughts and actions, we don’t really know who he is for quite some time. Thus there’s a mystery for us to solve, as well.

Characters are likeable and for once Ms. Jackson doesn’t force a horrid romance angle down our throats. In fact, my only real complain about this book is the sheer level of horrible violence. It’s hard to read some of the more gruesome details. Of course, this is a thriller, so we go into it expecting violence and shocking crime. It’s just that Never Die Alone goes a bit over the top here and there.

Still, a decent thriller with a lot of intrigue and a fascinating back-story. Well-worth the time.

Also by Lisa Jackson:

Almost Dead
The Night Before
Wicked Game
Wicked Ways

Dead, Without A Stone To Tell It – Decent start to the series

Dead, Without A Stone To Tell It




See it at Amazon 


Pros: decent thriller with characters I’d like to follow

Cons: a few dumb moves and a weak ending

I love picking up a book at random, enjoying it, then discovering that it’s the debut novel of a series! That’s what happened with Dead Without A Stone To Tell It, by Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan.

This is the book where we meet Policewoman Leigh Abbott. A cop with a chip on her shoulder and a lot to prove. When her latest case revolves around a recently unearthed single human bone, she needs help. She approaches forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell. Together, along with Matt’s team of students, the duo follow the clues as they lead to a horrendous pattern of torture and murder. Until, at last, the hunters become the hunted.

I enjoyed this book, in particular, getting to know these characters. I’m glad to hear they continue working together in future books and I’ll definitely check those out. But as for this book, the case was interesting, and I definitely wanted to know how it would all work out. In particular, it was fascinating watching the combination of forensics, anthropology, and good old-fashioned detective work. Think Bones.

However, Dead Without A Stone To Tell It is not perfect. There were two instances of stupidity that I found difficult to swallow. Both involve Leigh, a policewoman who should know better than to do the things she does. Like not reporting an attack against her home for no reason that made any kind of logical sense. Of course, by not reporting it, consequences ensued. Like we didn’t know that would happen! Then there was the time she brought herself, and a civilian into a terribly dangerous situation, without waiting for any kind of backup. Another one of those times where I rolled by eyes knowing how that was going to work out!

Finally, the ending is a little bit weak. Not quite as bad as “the bad guy suddenly decides to confess all” but it’s close. I.e., the authors appear to have tired of telling the story and decided just to cut to the chase.

Still, this is a fine thriller, and a decent debut. I look forward to seeing what else Abbott and Lowell can do, in subsequent novels.


The dolt, the bitch and the Soprano.

The Mexican


$5.97 at Amazon 


Pros: James Gandolfini

Cons: Julia Roberts, ending is a letdown

The Mexican is an example of a meal from Chi-Chi’s thinking that it’s real Mexican cuisine. The cooks claim they put quite a bit of work into this meal, yet it is still overcooked in some places and under-cooked in others.

The film begins as Jerry (Brad Pitt) is told that he owes the crime boss that he works for (as a delivery boy) one last job. His assignment: travel south of the border and retrieve an antique pistol (the Mexican of the title) that has a long history behind it and deliver it to the crime boss. As we’ve already established, Jerry is a royal screw-up. In fact, Leslie Nielsen could play him quite well if he were 30 years younger.

The news of Jerry’s assignment does not go over well with his girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts). She literally throws a tantrum when she hears the news and promptly splits, headed for Vegas while he heads South of the border. Of course, neither of their plans goes according to plan.

Jerry finds himself in increasingly tough situations that he can’t get out of. He gets his car stolen, he gets beaten up, he gets shot at etc.

Samantha meanwhile finds herself getting kidnapped at the airport by a hitman named Leroy, played by James Gandolfini. It is here where the movie, which had been kinda ambling along for a while without really going anywhere, starts to pick up steam.

Leroy was assigned to kidnap Samantha as a means of ensuring that Jerry does his job. However it turns into something that is far different from the usual kidnapping. Samantha and Leroy strike up a conversation and take a liking to each other. No romance though, for Leroy is gay. Before long, they are airing out their problems to each other, while Jerry is having a hell of a time down in Mexico.

The Leroy character is easily the best thing about the whole movie. His hitman is a character who is tough yet sympathetic. He shares a lot of the same qualities as Tony Soprano, yet he is not a Tony Soprano clone.

Problem is, whenever Leroy goes off screen, the movie starts to drag. The scenes with Jerry in Mexico have some limited amusement value to them, yet they get old fast. And the conclusion of the film itself is a major letdown.

The biggest problem with the film is the overall relationship between Jerry and Samantha. They spend way too much time bickering, only to come together towards the end. Other films feature bickering couples that get their quarrels resolved through danger and sometimes that element works. Here it doesn’t. The chemistry between Pitt and Roberts comes off as somewhat forced.

Also Samantha is such a shrew! Her opening hissy fit where she throws things off of the balcony and yells stuff at Jerry in a screechy voice made me wonder if Roseanne Barr had wandered in from another movie set (for a movie that I would definitely avoid). I don’t know who should be blamed more for Samantha being so annoying, the screenwriter for writing her that way or Roberts for playing her like that. So I will divide the blame equally between the two of them.

So The Mexican has too many strikes against it for me to recommend it (in good conscience anyway). It is better than a lot of the crap that was released to the multiplexes around the same time (See Spot Run) and the Gandolfini performance is good. So if you do decide to see it, fast-forward to the Leroy scenes. Otherwise you’ll find yourself checking your watch quite often.

PBS’s Comprehensive and Illuminating Examination of THE BOMB


on PBS

See it at the PBS website 


Pros: Detailed and immensely provocative, with plenty of moments both comical and sobering

Cons: This documentary asks the hard questions and is quite provocative: itt’s not the flag-waving piece some viewers might desire

Timed for broadcast to roughly coincide with the seventieth anniversary of the concluding events of World War II, the two-hour PBS documentary titled simply The Bomb tells the chronological history of nuclear weapons and their effects on world history. Beginning with the theoretical discovery of nuclear fission in pre-WWII Germany, the film’s first half goes on to chronicle the whole of the Manhattan Project that saw the United States develop the first true weapons of mass destruction. During this segment, The Bomb covers nearly identical territory as Discovery Channel’s How We Built the Bomb, yet the PBS show is a tidier production, presenting a more wide-reaching examination of the topic in a fraction of the time. I’d almost say that PBS’s straight-forward documentary is the ideal companion piece to Discovery’s more movie-like program, sinceThe Bomb attaches actual faces to its explanation of the story.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 65th Anniversary

From here, The Bomb continues to discuss what happened after this initial display of power, tackling the subjects of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction that, while absolutely preposterous and more than a bit maniacal, probably kept the human race from destroying itself.   The main body of the program more or less ends with the dissolving of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the cessation of US nuclear testing in 1992, but features an epilogue of sorts that cautions about how these weapons will forever remain a threat – particularly as more and more foreign nations develop their own nuclear programs.

Consistent with typically outstanding PBS shows like Nova and American Experience, The Bomb is a straight-forward production consisting of interviews with former military personnel, scientists, and political figures as well as historians and researchers well-versed in the subjects being discussed. The program makes use of an extensive collection of archival footage, a surprising amount of which is in striking color and much of which was restored specifically for inclusion here. A sort of teaser which pops up before the film begins shows a before and after comparison revealing how effective this restoration was, and the story is held together by a well-written narration.

While there are some carefree moments scattered about – such as a sequence when public fascination with all things atomic during the late ‘40s, including the development of the bikini swimsuit, is investigated – the overall tone of the documentary is more frequently serious if not ominous and menacing. It seems like the producers went out of their way to find the most awe-inspiring and inevitably unsettling images of atomic explosions. There is a frankly unbelievable amount of actual film footage of these events (some from tests that I’d never even heard of), and the program starts to border on being downright scary when covering the era of McCarthyism or showing efforts during the ‘50s on the part of America and the Soviets to construct almost inconceivably powerful thermonuclear devices. Also frightening (though darkly humorous in a way) are segments which focus on the ideas of being prepared for potential nuclear strikes – including the infamous Duck and Cover cartoon.

Considering the controversial subject at the heart of the documentary, it might not be surprising that The Bomb could be declared “thought-provoking” for making a viewer really examine and question the situations being discussed, but I think the program’s strongest aspect is its challenging nature. The Bomb purposely avoids notions of patriotism often attached to discussions about atomic weapons, and instead actually forces the viewer to confront cold hard about the actualities of nuclear war. Footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki shows unfortunate victims of those blasts and their horrific wounds, and while the historians interviewed during the production acknowledge the scientific accomplishment that the development of the bomb was, they are equally as likely to point out the “most extraordinary insanity” on the part of humanity that the nuclear arms race represented. In hindsight, it becomes very difficult to view the arms race as anything but a pissing contest: after all, what “piece of mind” did having some 31,000 nuclear weapons (as the US did at its peak in 1967) really provide – especially when, as they were attempting to convince the public that a nuclear attack was somehow survivable, the government was also striving to create ever-more powerful weapons?

Ultimately, a viewer is left with a deep understanding of how many if not all world events in the latter half of the twentieth century played out under the shadow of the atomic bomb. While many documentaries have covered topics related to nuclear weapons with varying degrees of success (among the better ones are this year’s aforementioned How We Built the Bomb and 1982’s The Atomic Cafe, which compiles educational and government-produced short programs into an alternately amusing and deadly serious collage), I’m not sure that any provide a better, more altogether comprehensive examination of the subject than this program does. As such, The Bomb is almost essential viewing that would be perfect for usage in an educational setting. This is the sort of program that makes PBS stand out among the so-called educational channels, and I’d give it nothing less than my highest recommendation.


The documentary can be viewed in its entirety at the PBS website.

Perhaps the last WWII participant memoir: James Lord’s

My Queer War


$11.13  at Amazon 


Pros: macabre experiences

Cons: author died before completing polishing of the manuscript

I thought that the first and last parts of James Lord’s My Queer War were overwritten. Lord (who was born in 1922 and dropped out of Wesleyan University to volunteer for the army (supposedly to the Army Air Corps) waited a long time to write about his experiences in the WWII US Army, but his book, published in 2010, a year after his death, is very timely for showing that US military intelligence engaged in torture back then.

Though Lord had his first homosexual adventures (in Boston and DC) after he had enlisted and been chosen for an ASTP program (in French at Boston College), he was chaste through most of the war, indeed seriously pissing off a superior officer who wanted to have sex with him. Considering his penchant for pissing off superiors in the military hierarchy, starting in basic training in California, he was lucky to survive.

He was puzzled why he and his whole military intelligence group were awarded bronze stars, but it seems to have saved him from more dangerous assignments. (It seems to have been awarded to them for finding and sending up to HQ a set of blueprints of a town that the Germans were fiercely holding.) He was under enemy fire once (a German tank when he was driving a jeep), but mostly was in danger of being charged for insubordination or transferred into a combat unit by those he annoyed who could transfer him.

After the US Army crossed the Rhine, Francophone MI personnel were superfluous. Lord managed to get into more trouble protesting the mistreatment of “displaced persons” in hellhole camps (not being in uniform, the prisoners were not afforded Geneva Convention protection that was available to Nazis in uniform). He wrote Thomas Mann: “There is now no basic difference between what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against, and it is a hard shock to know it.” The queerness of Lord’s wartime experience was not primarily sexual, but peculiar at pretty much every step, both in assignments and in the conduct of those under whose command he was generally restive.

In Paris, while the war machine was slow to figure out what to do with him next, Lord (“a tourist disguised as a soldier”) was able to meet Pablo Picasso, who drew two portraits of him, and through Picasso, Gertrude Stein, with whom he eventually broke acrimoniously.


Giacometti and the far lengthier process of sitting for The Giacometti Portrait came after Lord was demobilized and returned to New Jersey (and to Wesleyan). I haven’t read either of his 1950s novels, but had read three earlier volumes of recollections of relationships with remarkable men and women. He wrote a tome-length biography of Alberto Giacometti, “the one person encountered in my entire lifetime for whom I could feel unequivocal admiration.”

There is a lot of dialogue in the book, even for someone who wrote assiduously in his journals at the long-ago time. And way too many adjectives in the purple-prose opening pages. (I think they thinned out rather than that I got used to them!) Allowances must be made that Lord did not live to make a final edit before the book’s publication (the book includes no information on what editing of the manuscript was done after he died). It does not have the elegant concision of his other memoirs


Oliver Stone’s Most Personal Film.



$5.75 Blu-Ray at Amazon 


Pros: Intense as hell, fantastic acting.

Cons: Can be tough for some to sit through.

(This review originally appeared in different form on

Platoon was the very first R-rated movie that I ever saw. I first watched it in 1988 when I was 11 years old. At the time I wasn’t like most kids in that I was less interested in playing with GI Joe toys and more interested in history. One particular aspect of history that caught my attention was the Vietnam War.

So I was watching quite a few war films as a result of this interest and my father asked if I had seen Platoon. I answered no. It was soon to be shown on HBO. He suggested we watch it together. He also cautioned that the violence in it was going to be very brutal and that the soldiers in the film would be using certain words he did not want to hear me using. So we sat side by side on the couch in the apartment we lived in at the time, munched on a bag of Lays potato chips and watched Oliver Stone’s recollection of his tour of duty in 1967-68. When the credits rolled I sat there dazed and pondering a question that had once been raised in a comic strip. The question: How do armies of men killing each other solve anything?

That’s the effect Platoon has on anyone who watches it. It takes a piece out of you. Big time. No matter how many times you see it, it still cuts right to the bone.

Platoon was not the first feature film to tackle the subject of Vietnam. In 1978/1979 we were treated to Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and (one of my top 5 all-time favorite films) Apocalypse Now. Platoon differed from those films in that it set out to be a straight-forward portrayal of ground-level combat in everyone’s not-so-favorite Asian land war. While Coming Home examined the effects of the war on returning vets, Apocalypse Now was an existentialist fever dream/nightmare set against the backdrop of Vietnam and Deer Hunter was your classic parable on man’s inhumanity to man, Platoon drops the audience right into the combat and doesn’t look back.

Stone originally wrote the script for Platoon in 1976. But could not get a studio interested. So he waited ten years and in the interim directed a low-budget horror film, wrote some screenplays (Scarface and Midnight Express most notably) and won a screenwriting Oscar for Midnight Express. Finally a decade later he acquired the independent funding needed to make Platoon. In retrospect it was better that he waited because he was able to secure a fantastic cast for his film.

Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, a young college dropout who enlists in the army in 1967 and is posted (per his request) to Vietnam. Specifically he ends up in part of Vietnam along the Cambodian border. Taylor finds himself in a platoon that’s divided between the dopers who smoke the titular stuff and listen to rock and soul and the juicers who drink beer and listen to country music. The platoon leadership is also divided: between the hard tough Sgt Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sgt Elias (Willem Dafoe) who’s a very good soldier yet still has a sense of humanity to him. Barnes has survived numerous wounds and has the facial scars to prove it. He’s survived so many that some of the men in the platoon think he’s invincible.

The divisions in the platoon erupt into full-fledged civil war when the soldiers happen across a village that they suspect may be hiding Viet Cong. When weapons and food are discovered, several of the men are crazed for revenge which almost leads to a Mai Lai style genocide. Elias steps in and stops Barnes and his followers from committing a massacre. But in the process he also elevates the tension in the platoon into full-blown conflict. By the end of the movie Taylor remarks in voice-over “We did not fight the enemy as much as we fought ourselves”.

Berenger and Dafoe were both deservedly nominated for Oscars for their roles as Barnes and Elias. Sheen gives a uniformly good performance as Chris Taylor. Also good in the acting category for Platoon are Kevin Dillon as the psychotic Bunny, John C McGinley as a frightened SSgt, Corey Glover (of Living Colour), Keith David, Johnny Depp (when he was still on 21 Jump Street) and Forrest Whittaker.

When he set out to shoot Platoon, Stone determined to make it look as close to his personal experience in the war as he could. His approach to this was effective. Instead of following the approach of most previous war pictures and shoot the combat scenes from an over-head perspective, he placed the camera right in the middle of the action. This resulted in Platoon being (at least as far as I can tell having never fought in a war myself) the closest Hollywood has came to offering a you are there portrayal of battle, at least until a certain Spielberg directed one nearly 12 years later. You share in the confusion and terror the men feel. Stone also chooses to keep the politics out of the equation and stays away from flashy editing techniques which would enhance (and sometimes mar) some of his later films. Here the focus is exclusively on the story. It’s a good choice and helps Platoon resonate even more with the viewer.

Watching this film today, I find it has not lost any of its edge or resonance. It represented a high-water mark for both Oliver Stone and his cast. If you want to see a war film that delivers a realistic portrayal of how war really is and offers some superb acting and cinematography as well or if you’re looking for what set the stage for films like the recent Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, then Platoon is the film to see.

Keeping this Woman Healthy — One-A-Day Petites Multivitamin

One-A-Day Women’s Petites Complete Multivitamin

One-A-Day Women's Petites Complete Multivitamin (800 Tablets)

See it at Amazon 


Pros: small size for easier swallowing, calcium and Vitamin D fortified

Cons: serving size is two tablets a day (if this matters to you)

For a long time I was using a multivitamin that I really liked.  However, the vitamin became difficult to find in local stores and even hard to locate online.  Since I needed a new vitamin, I decided to select a smaller, easier to swallow multivitamin.  I chose One-A-Day Women’s Petites Complete Multivitamin.


Each plastic bottle contains 160 tablets.  The package states these vitamins are formulated to support bone and heart health and immunity.  The manufacturer (Bayer) designed One-A-Day Women’s Petites Complete Multivitamin purposely as a smaller size pill for easier swallowing.  They do not add any gluten to their vitamin products; however, they cannot guarantee the raw materials are gluten-free.  It is recommended to take One-A-Day vitamins with food.

My Experiences

I started taking One-A-Day Petites Multivitamins last year, and they are working well enough that I keep purchasing them.

A great selling feature of the vitamin (for me) is its small size, which makes them easier to swallow than other multivitamins I’ve taken.  Each vitamin is an oval shape; a smidgeon larger than my pinkie fingernail.  The pale orange color is distinctive, so I don’t easily confuse it with another vitamin or pill.

My doctor emphasizes the value of calcium and Vitamin D to his patients. So I appreciate that these multivitamins are strong with calcium and Vitamin D.  The combination is important since Vitamin D helps the body better absorb calcium.

One thing people may not care for is that the package says to take two of these One-A-Day vitamins for a complete serving.  Rather ironic for a brand name “one a day” to require “two a day” of this vitamin.  Still, the smaller tablet size is easier to swallow, so I don’t mind taking two of these vitamins.  Also, I don’t notice any taste or aftertaste when I take these pills.

The vitamins do not have a hard-shell coating.  So once moistened, the tablets become a bit sticky.  I swallow the tablets just like I would aspirin, with a drink to wash each tablet down.  Once a tablet fell out of my mouth before I could swallow it (clumsy me!), and the tablet landed on my clothing.  Since the tablet was moist, it left a bit of residue on my clothes … but the residue washed out fine.

I’m assuming these vitamins are working well.  The doctor is pleased with my health, and I feel terrific.


These ingredients are from the manufacturer’s website:
Calcium Carbonate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Ascorbic Acid, Ferrous Fumarate; Less than 2% of: Beta-Carotene, Biotin, Cholecalciferol, Chromium Chloride, Croscarmellose Sodium, Cupric Oxide, Cyanocobalamin, DCalcium Pantothenate, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, FD&C Blue #2 Lake, FD&C Yellow #5 (tartrazine) Lake, FD&C Yellow #6 Lake, Folic Acid, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Magnesium Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Niacinamide, Phytonadione, Polyethylene Glycol, Potassium Iodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Selenite, Stearic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate, Titanium Dioxide (color), Vitamin A Acetate, Zinc Oxide.

One-A-Day Women’s Petites Complete Multivitamins contain: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6, B12, Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin, Folic Acid, Biotin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium (elemental), Iron, Iodine, Zinc, Selenium, Copper, Manganese, Chromium.


I will definitely buy more One-A-Day Women’s Petites Complete Multivitamin.  The size is easy to swallow, and the vitamins are working great for me.  If you have any questions about this product, please visit the manufacturer’s website for complete information.  They also have an application that helps pinpoint which One-A-Day vitamin best matches your needs.

Note that this review is to share my experiences; it is not meant as medical advice.  Please consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your health.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy your day,

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

Click image to view on Amazon.

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Ill-met by moonlight

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud



$7.15  at Amazon 


Pros: first chapter and implicit critique of post-independence Algeria

Cons: rambling and disingenuous

In the Meursault Investigation, Algerian Muslim Kamel Daoud provides something of a counter-narrative the Albert Camus’s 1942 novel L’étranger (The Stranger, The Outsider), elaborating on a peripheral character, the Arab never given a name in the account of a pied noir (Algerian-born man of French descent) clerk Meursault, as Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea did on the madwoman locked upstairs in Jane Eyre. At least the first chapter (excerpted and easily standing alone as a story published in the New Yorker) somewhat fills in the character of the heretofore-nameless Arab who was shot on the beach. The first chapter of The Meursault Investigation is a memoir by Harun (the Arabic form of Aaron), who was seven in 1942 when Meursault shot his brother Musa (the Arabic form of Moses) on an Algiers beach.

The murder of Musa haunts the rest of the aged Harun’s rambling memoir (which is more like Camus’s La Chute/The Fall than it is like L’étranger). Harun exacted a delayed and displaced revenge on the Algerian French by shooting one, Joseph Larquais, just after the independence of Algeria in 1962. Although the Algerian police were annoyed that this murder occurred after independence, Harun was not tried (whereas Meursault was tried and executed). Harun is affectless, like Meursault.


(Kamel Daoud in 2015, Wikimedia Commons photo by Claude Truong-Ngoc)


Harun treats L’étranger as testimony not as fiction (while Daoud has faulted his Islamist critics for failing to distinguish his fiction from factual narration). Harun/Daoud occlude a rather important fact from Camus’s (Meursault’s) book: Harun’s knife. Earlier in his last day of life, Harun (according to Meursault) was one of three Arabs who attacked and knifed Meursault’s friend, Raymond. According to Meursault’s account, later, on the beach, Meursault saw the Arab alone on the beach. After the man took out his knife, Meursault shot him. That is, it was not just the disorientation of near-sunstroke, but a semblance of “self-defense” that resulted in the death of the unnamed Arab now named Musa. It may have been unjustified, but it was not entirely gratuitous, as Harun/Daoud claim.


(Camus in 1957, when he won the Nobel Prize, photo from the Library of Congress New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection)

Leaving aside the implausibility of Camus’s plot in which a pied noir is sentenced to death for killing an armed Arab who had already knifed another pied noir (Raymond) in the colonial court system, there is a significant asymmetry between Meursalt’s murder and Harun’s. In my reading of the two novels, neither killing was premeditated, nor philosophical, though Harun’s was more cold-blooded—and illuminated by the moon in Oran rather than the mid-day sun on an Algiers beach.

Both killers are haunted by their mothers for whom they cannot muster proper filial piety: Meursalt’s died shortly before he killed the Arab; Musa’s not only egged him on but (very implausibly) is still alive seventy years after her elder son’s death. Musa himself recognizes that he “was practically the murderer’s [Meursault’s] double.”

An imam of the Islamist Awakening Front proclaimed a fatwa against Daoud for his fictional character (Harun’s) apostasy. Harun does not question that there is one god, or even that Muhammad was his prophet (the two essential beliefs in determining whether someone is a Muslim), though Harun finds it implausible that God would speak to only one person (though he also suggests, “Friday? It’s not a day when God rested, it’s a day when he decided to run away and never come back.” Daoud was not even born in 1962, and no more committed murder in 1962 than Camus did in 1942. (I suspect the characters’ disdain for religion reflects that of both authors, however).

That Daoud is in danger from a fatwa does not make his novel a good novel, nor does the awards the novel won in France (the Prix François Mauriac,   the Prix des cinq continents de la Franophonie,  , and the Prix Goncourt for first novel). I think that the opening chapter about Musa is a bracing protest against the denial of a name to the man killed in Camus’s novel, but that the rest is ill-structured and sometimes tedious, as Harun increasingly becomes like a garrulous Camus character (and Musa remains a shadowy figure even if he now has a name).


“The Question is, What’s Going On…” MISSING IN ALASKA


on History Channel


See it at the History Channel


Pros: Interesting basis for the episodes…

Cons: …but the conclusions drawn seem like a stretch

“This dramatized program is inspired by eyewitness reports and legends and may contain certain sensationalized and/or controversial content. The personal opinions and theories expressed are not endorsed by the network.

Viewer discretion is advised.

There are currently 738,000 people living in Alaska. In the past 20 years…more than 60,000 have been reported missing. Some believe a number of these cases…stem from mysterious phenomena.”


So reads the intro of History Channel’s latest supposed documentary Missing in Alaska, which premiered in July 2015 and follows the exploits of a three man team – former police officer and apparent skeptic Jeremy “Jax” Atwell, folklorist Tommy Joseph, and “specialist in strange phenomena” Ken Gerhard, who’s been featured in many vaguely similar programs and doesn’t go anywhere without his trusty curved cowboy hat – whose goal it is to explain some of those many disappearances. Appropriately enough, this show airs just after the now-almost-parodical Ancient Aliens and on the one hand, I’ve got to give the producers credit for at least acknowledging that what’s covered in their “dramatized” show might be “sensationalized and/or controversial” – right there, they’ve already been more honest with their viewers than any number of the typical “monster hunt” programs, of which Destination America’s Alaska Monsters may be the most flat-out absurd. Of course the disclaimer does leave the door open for everything discussed in Missing in Alaska to be utter hogwash, so the question then becomes why anyone would want to watch such malarkey…

BRAND_H2_MSGA_162202_TVE_000_2398_60_20150722_000_HD_still_624x352The MiA team on the hunt…

Initially, Missing in Alaska seems fairly straight-faced. Each episode tackles one possible cause that would explain people vanishing in the so-called “Alaska Triangle.” The program’s first episode deals with the sudden disappearance of a C-54 military transport carrying some 44 persons in January 1950. Numerous planes go missing in Alaska but the majority of these cases can probably be blamed on unpredictable and dangerous weather patterns. The particular incident covered in the show is noteworthy not only for the amount of people who were lost, but also because a massive military search operation didn’t yield a single clue as to what actually happened. Gerhard, being of sound mind, believes that the so-called “vile vortices” may be to blame, thus making a connection to the blatantly phony Devil’s Graveyards mockumentary. Episode two likewise travels through familiar territory, covering the team’s search for the so-called “Hairy Man,” a Sasquatch-like creature prowling the Alaskan wilderness that is rumored to be both larger and more aggressive than the typical “Bigfoot.”

Missing_In_Alaska_Tommy_Joseph_Bio-E“Expert on Alaskan legends” Tommy Joseph posing with supposed Hairy Man nest.  Yeah, I’m not buying it either.

After a narration provides some backstory for each episode (and to be fair, there’s legitimate historical basis for at least some of the subjects tackled here), the MiA team sets out on a quest not only to find experts and witnesses who may shine some light on the case they’re investigating, but also to have some first-hand experiences for themselves. Invariably (and in some cases most inexplicably), the team’s research leads them to conduct some sort of nighttime investigation, which may be about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard – is it really a good idea to go lurking around after dark in remote areas where five out of every thousand people disappears, knowing full well that bears may be lurking just out of camera range? Even if I can accept that the investigation of the “Hairy Man” might turn up something in the nocturnal hours, what could possibly be learned by prowling around at night in search of vile vortices? Regardless, these segments do wind up providing the almost mandatory infrared and night vision sequences along with a multitude of declarations like “did you hear that?” or “there’s definitely something out there!”

29EA0EB600000578-0-image-a-11_1435136401617Landscape photograph in the show is, as might be expected, outstanding.

Like many other modern “speculative documentaries,” Missing in Alaska does a reasonable job of appearing to represent authentic events and situations. Similar to a program like America Unearthed, Missing in Alaska incorporates some subtle reality TV moments: to an extent, the show is more about what happens during the team’s investigation rather than the underlying topic being examined. The documentary-like approach is also pretty solid, boasting some stunning photography of the breathtaking Alaskan landscape, but the illusion of verisimilitude collapses or is at least severely strained at times. Episode one features a moment where the team utilizes an aerial drone to try and get a wide-range view of a snow-covered valley. The drone is quickly lost during a sudden change in weather, but “miraculously” appears – with its tracking beacon and scientific gear still functioning – later on during the episode’s climax. Much as I like to keep an open mind, I don’t at all believe the nudge-nudge-wink-wink assertions that this drone actually went through one of the vortices the team was searching for and then apparently jumped ahead in time and space – that notion just pushes my suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. Similarly, episode two’s conclusion of a shadowy figure knocking a trail cam around seems highly suspect – it’s simply too convenient and frankly unbelievable that this team would randomly stumble upon an unknown hominid during the course of a few day film shoot.

ken_gerhard.1322040_stdKen Gerhard – specialist in strange phenomena.  And owl wrangler.

Given the sketchiness of the show, I was somewhat shocked that Gerhard, a somewhat respected (?) figure in the world of cryptozoology and the paranormal, would appear in something like this. Maybe the guy’s looking for acting gigs nowadays, for that surely is more what Missing in Alaska seems: I would hope that most viewers would take any of the “factual” information here – at least that which the research team stumbles across – with a grain of salt. There are strange things occurring in the Alaskan wilderness and the number of missing persons in the state is undeniably alarming, making the real life aspects and historical incidents depicted in Missing in Alaska quite fascinating. To instantly jump to the “mysteries and monsters” conclusion with regard to explaining these disappearances however seems not only illogical but irresponsible. As a “documentary” then, though Missing in Alaska is not quite as utterly reprehensible as what I’ve come to expect from the genre of ghost/monster/unknown-related programming, it’s still highly questionable. As entertainment however, it does exactly what it’s supposed to, raising numerous questions and getting a viewer thinking about the infinite possibilities that are/may be out there. This isn’t must-see TV by any stretch, but those who enjoy shows dealing with the paranormal will probably get a kick out of it.