van Gogh

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art there are only a handful of van Gogh paintings. The most prominent one is one of his sunflowers. Mother Roulin and her Baby is another, less famous one.

Van Gogh painted a lot of pictures of Mother Roulin, either by herself, or with her baby. There are also several paintings of just the baby, as well as a few charcoal or pencil sketches.

I took this picture at the museum off the original with my iPhone. It brings out the colors well.

The colors are truly van Gogh, and so are the brushstrokes and the free style. Circling the outlines of figures with cobalt blue is a common van Gogh technique.

But really, look at the lack of finish work of the hands, the mother’s face and, most importantly, the face of the baby, which looks like a panda.

If one of my paintings ended up like that, I’d wipe that face and start over again, and over again, until it looked like a baby’s face. Madame Roulin was probably not very happy with this and probably didn’t hang the painting up, unless Vincent was in the house. “Wow, your baby is ugly,” visitors would have said.

But who am I? Just a guy who has done a hundred paintings in his life and painted over another 500 because they didn’t turn out, sort of like van Gogh’s Roulin painting.

But he died and then became Vincent van Gogh. And that makes Mother Roulin and her Baby special, world famous and very valuable.

Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk who has refused marriage licenses to gay couples, because she believes in literal interpretation of the bible, received a lot of media attention in the last few days. She was arrested and jailed today for contempt of court.

She appears to be very interested and concerned with what other people do in their own bedrooms and how they conduct their own lives. But then, I wonder how she reconciles her own activities. She’s been married four times. She also had two children out of wedlock by her third husband. I’d say it’s complicated:

According to the AP, Davis married a man named Dwain Wallace when she was 18 and divorced him in 1994. She married Joe Davis two years later and they divorced after 10 years. When she was 40 years old, she married Thomas McIntyre in a marriage that lasted less than a year. The twins were fathered by her third husband and later adopted by Joe, who she remarried in 2009.

Apparently she likes marriage, because she does it often.

I wonder what she would say if some other religious clerk denied her the license to marry after she has already been married once, since the scripture says:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

— Matthew 9:19

Maybe her first husband was sexually immoral, and her second one too, and then her third one. But no, that can’t be, because she married her second husband again after her third. Honest, I couldn’t find a bible verse for this situation, so it must be ok.

I decided I am going to start a religion. My religion will only have one rule, and that rule must always be stated on a napkin. If anyone in my religion breaks that rule, they are condemned to eternal damnation. Here is the rule, properly published on a napkin:

Rule on Napkin

Nobody can touch me. My religion forbids me to pay taxes. It says so right here on this napkin. Why should the government have the right to interfere with my religious convictions?

Oh, yes, in the past, I was a bad boy and I paid taxes. But then I didn’t know what was right from wrong. But now, I have seen the light.

And all of you are sinners!

Today I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of the most impressive paintings I saw was this huge painting (84″ x 118″), done by Thomas Eakins in 1889.

This is one of the most important paintings in the history of medicine. It used to hang in the John Morgan building at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. It is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Portrait of Dr. Hayes Agnew

Thomas Eakins – The Agnew Clinic, 84″ x 118″ [click to enlarge]


Lieutenant H. Hawes does not like his first name. His friends call him Hawser. He wants to be a pilot but does not make it in pilot school in the military, so he becomes the next best thing: a bombardier.

He is assigned to a crew on the B-17 in World War II. After extensive training they fly bombing missions into Germany.  The odds are that six out of ten will die doing this job. And when they die, there are no funerals. They just don’t come back. Their bunks are empty and the next day a new soldiers move in.

Long before he can complete his 25 missions, after which crew members are sent home, he is shot down over Germany and becomes a prisoner of war. When he thought he has seen the worst of the horror at the hands of the Nazi captors, he is crushed by the realization that even worse atrocities lie before him when he ends up behind enemy lines.

I have read a lot of books about World War II. Just recently I re-read King Rat, which plays in a prison camp in the Pacific. Emaciated prisoners live in the tropics, bitten by bugs, suffocated by intense heat, sick with dysentery, abused by the Japanese. At the same time American prisoners like Hawser are kept in camps in Poland, in snow and ice, with arctic winds blowing through the floor board of their huts, where they never get warm enough, where they have to stand at roll call in the snow for hours, some of them without shoes and feet wrapped in rags.

Another World War II book about prisoners, in this case women, was A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. Five Chimneys – by Olga Lengyel is a harrowing account of life in a Nazi death camp. Just recently I read All the Light we Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr.  It illustrates the lives of children growing up in the war in Germany. Then, of course, there is Unbroken – by Laura Hillenbrand, the riveting story of Louie Zamperini, the Olympian who flew in the Pacific and got shot down by the Japanese.

Hawser belongs with these books. The author takes us into the B-17 and we fly the missions with them. We feel the cold of the airplane at 30,000 feet and 50 degrees below zero. The lack of oxygen makes us dizzy. And the terror, the absolute terror of knowing that the next cannon bullet from a Nazi fighter could end it all, right there in the freezing sky high above the clouds, paralyzes us and the only thing we can do is become numb and shoot back with a vengeance. We endure eight hours over enemy land, hundreds of minutes of fear, tens of thousands of seconds of despair.

The story is reminiscent of the plot of the 1990 movie Memphis Belle. It’s the same plane. If I remember right, there was a scene where the ball (the bubble on the belly of the plane where a gunner was sitting) got jammed, and the landing gear was broken. The gunner could not get out because the ball was jammed, and the belly landing would surely crush him. What to do? There is an identical scene in Hawser, which prompted me to wonder how common this situation was in the war.

The title of the book does not do it justice. It tells the prospective buyer nothing about what a ride he is in for. But don’t let that deter you. The author has researched the subject meticulously. It feels like he was a B-17 bomber pilot himself, even though that’s unlikely. He knows what life was like in a German prison camp. He knows how the country came apart at the seams in the last few years of the war. He shows us Germany from the inside, and how the Nazi machine not only ruined the lives of all the people it conquered and tortured, but also those of the Germans themselves. Generations were devastated, and Hawser tells the story about it.

After I finished the book, I researched maps of England and Germany and checked out locations. I pulled up diagrams and photographs of the plane. Here are some good shots of the inside of a restored B-17.

Stories like this one, playing in Germany in WW II, bring home my ancestry. My father was nine years old in 1945. He hardly knew his father, who was a soldier stationed in Italy. He only came home for a few days of leave every year or so.

When the Russians overran Poland and eastern Germany in 1945, they raped women and girls indiscriminately before they killed everyone. To get away, my father, his mother and siblings left their home in Breslau, Silesia as refugees, heading for Bavaria.

Had that not happened, my own parents would never have met, and I would not be writing this book review. Hawser brings that time to life.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars


Oh, Philadelphia!

Philadelphia Bell

In the last several days I attended APHSA-ISM, a conference of human services administrators from all over the U.S. and the IT industry at the Philadelphia Convention Center. One of the beneficiaries we raised funds for was Philabundance, a local food bank.

A few hours  after we saw the heartbreaking marketing video of Philabundance, we attended the first conference luncheon. The ballroom had round tables for over 1,000 attendees, each table with nine chairs. Many tables were not full. There were only six people at ours.

The meal was family style. The waiters brought dishes of food and we served ourselves. Our table had large bowls of green salad and a pasta/ham salad, a basket of bread, a plate of chicken breasts, a plate of beef, and a large platter of some type of rice cake. Our table had food for at least 20 people. The beef dish wasn’t even touched. One of us took a single slice just for a taste. Then there was a plate of cupcakes for dessert of which we didn’t consume half.

I could not help but take a picture as I left:

banquet food waste

[click to enlarge]

None of the dishes were even half empty as we all walked out of the room. This was only our table.  There were over a hundred more in the room.

I do not know what the hotel did with the food that got removed from the tables. It was enough to feed an army.

I do not have the solution;  none of us in the room did, even though these were the people from around the country who have to administer food stamp programs, whose job it is to worry about the most vulnerable members of our society – hungry children.

This was a drastic reminder of the inequality in our country. Why do I get to eat in abundance in an air-conditioned ballroom, while 16 million kids in America aren’t getting the food they need?

And don’t, don’t, don’t read the comments in YouTube under the video. Don’t!

Seventy-one refugees were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Austria. More than eighty refugees, many of them children, washed up dead on a beach in Libya. And the Pope offers “a special prayer” according to the front page of the USA Today of 8/31/15.

A Special Prayer?

Thousands, no – millions, of people are driven from their own countries in the Middle East, mostly by sectarian violence and associated power grabs of the religious leaders and monarchs.  They flee from religious oppression of one type, and they die, only to be waved away by religious ridicule of another type:

We entrust each of them to the mercy of God.

It is pretty sad if the “spiritual head” of a billion or so Catholics had nothing better to say or do. Does he really think that these desperate millions, some of which wash up dead on the beaches of the Mediterranean, derive any good from his ridiculous excuses? The only thing he is doing it make the rest of us feel ok for what has happened. The mercy of God is upon the victims, so it’s ok.

It’s religion of one type, and then on another type, that killed them in the first place. And it’s religious excuses that have made us all think it’s ok for a few thousand years now.

When will we ever stop listening to the blathering nonsense that comes out of the mouths of il Papa and his illustrious predecessors?

When will we finally admit that it’s religion in the first place that’s the root of the problems we’re dealing with?

In Europe:

Porcelain saucer and cup. Pour in coffee. Pour in sugar and cream from container. Metal spoon. Pay 3 Euros. No litter or waste.

In America:

Cardboard cup. Cardboard sleeve. Pour in coffee. Plastic lid. Plastic spill guard. Paper sugar packet. Plastic cream packet. Wooden stir. Pay 2 Dollars.  Every item a piece of litter and waste.


This is on Colorado’s Capitol Peak, the Knife Edge, supposedly one of the more difficult 14-thousanders in Colorado. I don’t know about you, but if your hands were sweaty after you watched this, you are not the only one.

This is a video done by a friend of Twinkle, a thru-hiker whose blog I follow. Here is one of his posts with his own pictures on the Knife Edge just recently. I have a lot of respect for his skills.

I don’t think at 59, with bifocals distorting my vision and moving the location of footholds, I am willing to try a thing like that anymore.

My hands are still sweaty just watching.

About four years ago there was an incident where Trump was deposed and lost his temper when a woman on the team needed to take a break during lunch. She was a nursing mother and needed to use a breast pump. Trump lost it, went into a tirade, and abandoned the deposition.

What kind of world leader totally disintegrates and flees the room when confronted with a medical apparatus and a request to take a break at a mundane legal proceeding?

— from Beck’s Law

For very interesting and enlightening reading about Trump’s character – if you need more reading – follow the link above and read the entire post.

In response to the Democratic Party’s vote, Terrence Wise, a Kansas City, Mo. McDonald’s and Burger King Worker and member of the National Organizing Committee of the Fight for $15, issued the following statement.

The Democratic Party’s move shows a growing understanding that $15 an hour is what American workers everywhere need to survive and support their families. When fast-food workers first went on strike three years ago in New York City, most people gave them no shot to win. But the movement caught on in every corner of the country and big wage increases are now spreading from coast to coast. By joining together, speaking out and going on strike, we’re changing the politics of the country. And we’re going to keep on fighting until every underpaid worker in this country wins $15 and a union.

The eventual outcome will be:

  • Profitability of fast food restaurants will go down or become negative, making them go out of business.
  • Services will become worse, since restaurants will not be able to afford the help they need.
  • Mom and pop businesses, like local pizza shops and diners will no longer be feasible.
  • Top-tier restaurants will start installing more kiosks so customers purchase electronically and there will be fewer staff members.

All those outcomes will result in fewer minimum wage jobs in the country, and more unemployment. Those that are benefiting from the extra pay that the new minimum wage offers them are doing it on the backs of those that lose their jobs and the students that can no longer get jobs after school and on vacations.

Overall, our country will be less competitive and less prosperous. Sorry, everyone does not “deserve” some minimum wage. Those that have the education, skills, energy and willingness to contribute something to society that society is willing to pay them for will get paid. Imposing minimum wages just slows us all down more and undermines our long-term viability as a competitive nation in the world.

Previous thoughts of mine of this subject here.

Breaking Bad 1

I admit, I thought Breaking Bad was one of  the best TV series ever. I was a fan, and I am enjoying Better Call Saul now.

The other day I was browsing at Barnes & Noble, and as I walked through the games and toys section, I noticed this box of three Breaking Bad action figures, obviously Saul, Walt and Jesse. They are little plastic stylized figures about two inches tall. I wondered what would possess people to buy these – and then do what with them? Put them on a shelf or something?

Then I turned over the box and nearly dropped it in shock:

Breaking Bad 2

This is clearly a First World  issue – not only did I ask myself who would buy these and what would they do with them? Now I ask myself who would be insane enough to spend $29.95 on this.

I think our world is Breaking Bad.


Aurora is a powerful, well done, highly readable and very thought-provoking generation ship story.

In the year 2545, a star ship leaves Earth with about 2000 people on board on a one-way trip to the star system Tau Ceti (which is interestingly a common destination in science fiction stories for interstellar travels). Tau Ceti is about 12 light years from Earth. The ship travels at about 10% of the speed of light. Figuring acceleration and deceleration, the trip takes about 170 years one way.

This of course means that the original crew lives their entire lives on board the ship. They know they never will arrive themselves. Actually, it will be their great-great-great-grandchildren who will be alive when the ship arrives at Tau Ceti. Generations are born, live their entire lives on the ship, and die, never knowing another world.

Putting this into perspective today, if we were on a ship arriving at the new star now, it would have left Earth sometime around twenty years before the American Civil War. The implications are mind-boggling, and Kim Stanley Robinson does an excellent job describing the society and the culture of the people onboard. He also describes the ship very explicitly and in far more detail than I have seen in many other generation ship stories.

The main story line actually begins about twenty years before scheduled arrival at Tau Ceti. It is mankind’s first excursion to another star system. The inhabitants of the ship do not know what to expect, but they know there is no possible return. The ship is a century and a half old, and things are breaking down. There are constant emergencies related to the ship and its life support systems. When they finally arrive, things don’t go exactly how it was planned, and how could they?

The author meticulously explores the social and moral implications of interstellar travel, and what it would do to the psyche of the travelers.

*** Spoilers Below This Point ***

When the ship arrives, and things don’t go well, some of the crew wants to stay in the Tau Ceti system, and others want to return to Earth. This divides the book into almost two completely different halves. The story abandons those that stay at Tau Ceti. We never hear about them, and the story follows the returning crew. By using advanced cryogenics, they sleep through the trip, and the generation that left Tau Ceti arrives back at Earth about 200 years later, or around the year 2900. They have significant challenges decelerating at the solar system. The speculations about the speed of the ship as it enters the solar system at 3% of light speed are fascinating all by themselves.

After enormous challenges are overcome to decelerate, the travelers actually arrive on Earth. The last ten percent of the book then waxes philosophically about their readjustment, which I actually found quite boring and in retrospect completely unnecessary. The book could have been ten percent shorter and thus probably better. The Earth episodes could have been shortened to a few pages. So the last 10% of the book brought it down by about a star in my rating.

*** End of Spoilers ***

Regardless, Aurora is an education about generation ships, and therefore a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars


I am obviously interested. Other generation ship stories I have read and reviewed in this blog are listed here:

Ship of Fools – by Richard Paul Russo

Non-Stop – by Brian W. Aldiss

Orphans of the Sky – by Robert A. Heinlein

The Dark Beyond the Stars – by Frank M. Robinson

Lungfish – by John Brunner

Seed of Light – by Edmund Cooper

Tau Ceti – by Kevin J. Anderson

Ark – by Stephen Baxter

I am sure there were more in earlier years, which I have forgotten about. If any reader remembers another generation ship novel, let me know, and I’ll read and review it here.


I just found out through this article that mammoth tusks are being dug out of the thawing permafrost in the arctic by the thousands. They are sold to the ivory carving industry in China at $1,900 per kilogram. The growing Chinese middle class has a voracious appetite for ivory jewelry. Paleontologists are suggesting that this perfectly legal practice should become illegal to protect the not yet extinct elephant.

There are several statements of fact in this article that I found alarming:

  1. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an “ivory carving industry.” Of course, now that I think about it, it makes sense, but it had never crossed my mind before.
  2. The elephant is doomed. The Chinese are just starting to get wealthy, and there are many of them. The ivory carving industry isn’t going to back off as long as a single tusk remains. The country where reportedly 4,000 people die every day because of air pollution isn’t going to care about regulating its consumption of a commodity that is harvested in another continent on the other side of the globe. As long as there are Chinese with money, elephants will be hunted – more than ever, as they become more rare and therefore more expensive.
  3. Global warming is thawing the permafrost. A few decades ago it was difficult to find any mammoths. Now, it seems, you can go out there with a shovel and dig for tusks and sell them for a fortune. There is a significant movement still in the United States and the rest of the world that is “denying” global warming. They say that just because glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, and permafrost is melting in the arctic, it does not mean that the warming is man-made. It’s just a natural occurrence, like it has happened many times in history. The fact that it’s been 800,000 years since we had 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, as we do now, is not enough evidence. Since it’s not man-made, why worry about it. Keep burning that oil!

I am at a loss for suggestions on how to save the elephant, other than save some DNA so we can clone them later, along with the mammoth.


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