Painting: Kevin’s Neighbor’s Boat – Take Two

There are a few paintings I have done in my life that I did twice, and there was always a reason.

In 2014, when I visited my friend Kevin in upstate New York, I took a photograph from his dock in Oneida Lake, facing toward the setting sun, which put the neighbor’s boat into a silhouette.

Here is a post I wrote at that time. 

Then it occurred to me that rather than just putting the painting on a stack of unhung paintings in my garage, I should just send it to Kevin, who would then give it to his neighbor to do what he pleased. To this day, I don’t know the name of the neighbor, but Kevin told me later that they cherished the painting, had it framed, and it was displayed in a prominent place in their house. After all, who has an original painting of their own boat? That was in 2015, and I thought that was the end of the story.

When I happened to visit Kevin briefly last year he told me the terrible news: A year before, the neighbor’s house burned to the ground in the middle of the night. They were not home, and some faulty electrical wiring had caused the fire. They lost everything. Including the painting. He even showed me videos of the blaze. Apparently the neighbor has meanwhile built a new house on the same lot. After my shock wore off, when I got home, I thought I should just paint another one.

This idea came to me after I had pretty much done NO PAINTING at all during the Covid years, so I was pretty rusty. I thought this project might get me motivated and back in the groove. So I started again and here is the finished product:

It’s two feet square, the same size as the first one, and the style is quite different from the one I used in 2014. I decided to show more detail and add more realism. Two paintings of the same subject never turn out identical. Here is the previous one for comparison:

I guess it’s time to mail another package to Kevin’s neighbor to get their new art collection started.

And my painting mojo is back!

 

Most Hated Corporations

I just stumbled on this Reddit post:

Which company could go out of business tomorrow and it would be to the betterment of this world? : AskReddit

There are over 5,000 answers as we speak, and just scrolling through casually, here are the winners by a large margin:

  1. Nestle – this is by far the top of the list
  2. Ticketmaster
  3. News Corp (Murdoch, Fox News)
  4. BlackRock
  5. Meta (Facebook)
  6. Mega Churches
  7. Church of Scientology
  8. Monsanto

Of course, the list goes on for thousands, but as I scroll, there is a consensus:

Nestle. Ticketmaster. Fox News.

Movie Review: Lou (2022)

Lou (Allison Janney) is a recluse who lives alone with her dog in a rough cabin on an island off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. She owns the trailer next door on her property. The tenant is a young woman named Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) with her young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman). Hannah is struggling to make the rent and is haunted by fear of her abusive ex-husband.

During a night of heavy rain and thunderstorms, Lou is planning on ending her life. She writes a letter, locks the dog in the bathroom, and points her rifle to her head. Just as she is about to pull the trigger, Hannah bursts into the cabin. Her daughter has been abducted.

The two decide that calling the authorities in the middle of the night in a storm will waste too much time and give the abductor extra time. Lou gathers up some supplies and the two head into the woods.

It quickly becomes apparent from Lou’s survival and hand to hand combat skills that she is not at all what she seems to be.

Lou is a thriller that plays in the same surrounding and “feeling” of Rambo First Blood, the unforgiving woods of the Pacific Northwest. It turns out that Lou has more secrets than the average loner, and plot twists keep the viewer in suspense. We know things are about to get serious when the CIA gets involved. There are no heroes in this movie, only underdogs and victims.

Lou is an entertaining thriller that made me think about our country and what it does in the world.

 

Movie Review: White Noise (2022)

The IMDb description of this movie talks about the dramatization of a contemporary American family’s attempt to deal with everyday life. But the movie plays in the early 1970s, which I would hardly characterize as contemporary.

It has some hilarious moments, but for the most part, this is just a bizarre dark comedy without a consistent storyline or plot. There are three distinct phases in the film: The first one introduces us to the family and its various dysfunctions. He is a college professor who is not sure about his career and where he is going with it, and the rest of the family follows suit. The second section deals with a toxic chemical emergency in their immediate neighborhood. And finally, when that is dealt with, in the third phase we go on to a bizarre drug abuse story with an unlikely ending.

Let’s all sing and dance in the grocery store!

Definitely, definitely don’t bother.

Hiking Palm Canyon – Jan 1, 2023

Even though it rained hard in Southern California today, I went to Borrego Springs for my annual New Year’s hike up Palm Canyon.

Here is this year’s photo of the little palm grove. Not much has changed since last year. See last year’s post here.

Of course, there has to be the obligatory selfie at the grove itself:

The steel post under my leg is holding up a sign that says “Area Closed, Do Not Enter” which I tried to cleverly cover up. But I forgot about the post. It would have made more sense to just show it. — I guess I’ll do it next year when I go back.

The seedlings after the fire on the bottom are now coming in strong and make for an impenetrable thicket.

This year, for the first time I can remember, it rained when I was there. I got cold and wet through. Here is a shot facing down from where I am standing at the grove – you can kind of see the rain.

Life Imitating Art

Last night we were out walking in downtown San Antonio and came across this scene in a dark corner next to the sidewalk, which requires explanation.

The bench is an iron bench. Most of its space is taken up by an iron “statue” of a person sleeping on the bench, wrapped in a blanket.

To the left of the bench is a homeless person sleeping wrapped in a blanket, almost mirroring the statue.

The man on the right is resting on the open space of the bench, his sleeping bag stashed under the bench.

Sometimes life imitates art.

Movie Review: The Fabelmans (2022)

The Fabelmans is a highly acclaimed film of 2022. I just saw it as number one on the list of best movies of 2022 in Time Magazine. Of course, it’s by Stephen Spielberg, so you can’t go wrong. After the trailers and teasers, I expected it to be a movie about a young boy who wants to become a filmmaker  and succeeds. Wild guess, right? That’s what happened to Spielberg. I expected it to be somewhat autobiographical, since many of Spielberg’s movies have such touches.

But it really isn’t about a boy so much as it iss about a young Jewish family in Arizona and then California, living in the sixties in the early tech world. Elements of ostracism of Jews in Anglo-American society permeate the story. But the most surprising plot twist is completely unexpected and has little to do with filmmaking. It has to do with family dynamics in a complex social environment. It’s a story about the trials of modern life in a competitive society, and how the career of one can challenge or even ruin the lives of others.

The most memorable scene is the closing one, where “the most famous filmmakers of all time” gives the boy advice:

“Horizon low, interesting. horizon high, interesting, horizon in the middle, boring as hell. Now get the fuck out of my office.”

Book Review: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver – by Shawn Inmon

In 1976, Thomas Weaver is a sophomore student at Middle Falls High School. He is a socially awkward kid with mediocre grades. His father abandoned the family several years before. His mother raises him and his brother Zack, a senior, as a single mom working as a nurse. Zack is a star of the high school athletic team and one of the most popular kids in school.

One day Zack invites his younger brother to a party. There is heavy drinking going on, and Zack passes out cold. Thomas drags him into the passenger seat of Zack’s Camaro. Even though he only has a learner’s permit, he decides to drive the two of them home. Due to Thomas’ inexperience as a driver, the car spins out of control, flips a few times and when it’s all over, Thomas walks away and his brother, who was flung out of the car during the flips, is dead.

Neither Thomas nor his mother ever get over the loss. He ends up an alcoholic without a job at age 54 and decides to end it all by a massive overdose of pain pills.

And then – he wakes up in his 15-year-old body in the spring of 1976 in his old bedroom. After the initial shock, he realizes that he has a chance to do it all over again, and his most important goal is not to kill Zack this time around. But the business of changing history is not that simple.

I enjoyed reading this story. When I was done, I realized that the author has made a series out of this concept of people reliving their lives, and there are 18 standalone books, all part of the Middle Falls series, apparently all based on this premise. I am sure many of them will be quite entertaining. But one is enough for me.

Book Review: The Sheep Queen – by Thomas Savage

I recently watched the movie The Power of the Dog, which was based on the novel by Thomas Savage, an author I had never heard about before. A friend saw that post and commented that Thomas Savage was one of her favorite authors and that The Sheep Queen was one of the greatest novels she had read. Enough reasons for me to read The Sheep Queen.

The Sheep Queen is the matriarch of a family of ranchers and the story spans the time from the late 1800s into about the mid 1960s. We learn about mining, ranching, the economics of sheep ranching and life in the American West through the points of view of some of the ancestors of the family and, of course, her children and grandchildren.

Savage’s style of storytelling is discontinuous. Sometimes the story plays in the present, sometimes long ago, and it’s up to the reader to figure out what’s going on and who is talking. This is one of those novels where you realize, about 30 percent in, that you might have to read it again to figure out all that is really going on. Some critics call that part of a literary style, and that may well be true. For me, who has little extra time, I don’t usually have the patience to read books twice, so I resign myself to not fully understanding all the connections and details, and I miss some of the plot.

I am not sure whether I like Savage’s style, or if it’s too pretentious for me. I can definitely say it’s different from anything else I have read.

The fact that the book is titled The Sheep Queen is a bit misleading. She is not really actually the main character in the book, if there is a main character at all. She does connect all the characters, but the story is less about her than it is about her children and grandchildren. And that is the whole plot. This is a family saga about life in Idaho and Montana, and the pleasures and pains that make up the essence of human existence.

It’s a book about people.

 

Handling of Classified Documents

For the last year we have been bombarded in the news with updates about how glaringly irresponsible Trump behaved with respect to classified documents, both during his presidency, and particularly afterwards.

Trump is the same person who, now six years ago, pushed hard on Clinton for, get this: using a private email server for classified correspondence. I believe that was a massively stupid move by Clinton in the first place. I am sure she has regretted that decision every day of her life since then, and it may well have been the catalyst for her to lose the race for the presidency in 2016. But all investigations have not resulted in any finding of wrongdoing with regard to classified documents.

That entire episode seems ridiculously miniscule compared to what Trump did with classified documents. And then Trump has the gall to refer to Clinton’s emails and her digressions in his own defense.

Then again, what I am really interested in is Hunter Biden’s laptop. Oh, yeah, naked pictures. Those will surely exonerate Trump.

Moon Setting over Manhattan

The weather was pretty dismal during my stay in New York the last couple of days. It was rainy, and misty, and most the time you could not see beyond the next few buildings. Of course, it does not help that it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.

This morning, as I was getting ready to depart, I looked out the window of my hotel room on the 7th floor of the Hilton at JFK. It was clear, and the sun had just risen high enough to light up a few tall buildings in distant Manhattan. With the moon setting over the city, partly behind clouds, it was a magical moment. Here is the best photograph I could get through a fairly dirty hotel window.

That was my parting view.

Best View in New York City and Nostalgia

Yesterday I visited New York City and spent a day working at the offices of our company’s financial partners. On my way there, as I stepped out of the Uber right in the middle of Rockefeller Center, I had this view of the famous Christmas tree:

When I stood there and looked down at the skating rink, I realized that I had stood at this very spot some 47 years ago with a group of my fellow exchange students, leaning on the very railing in the bottom of this picture:

I searched the archives in my home computer and found this photo. It was taken in July 1975. I am the guy with the blue shirt and bushy hair. Yes, I had hair when I was 18. The girl in front of me is holding on to the railing you see in the first picture with the Christmas tree.

After this short trip down memory lane, I went upstairs and they put me in a vacant corner office. I looked out the window, and this was my view:

You can look down on the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. The stairs where I had just taken the above picture are on the right.

Then I turned to the other window in the corner office, and here is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the rainy mist of New York in December.

Once I was done with my business in the afternoon and left, I surely wanted to go back down there and look up at the building from where I had just looked down:

Of course, the place was now chock full of tourists, all taking pictures and selfies with the tree. I am sure Facebook has another 10,000 such photographs posted today, right?

By the way, all the city’s hotels were sold out. The cheapest rooms to be found in not so exciting hotels cost over $1,200 / night. I asked the Hilton why this was and they basically said that there is so much pent-up demand to visit New York during the holidays after the emptiness of the Covid years.

New York City is definitely back!

Obama’s Bow to Akihito – reposted

I came across this 2009 post where I commented on Obama’s bow. Here it is again:

Obama’s Bow to Akihito – Norbert Haupt

I still stand by my comments.

Movie Review: The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Burbank brothers jointly own a ranch in Montana of 1925. Both are bachelors.

Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the rough cowboy who manages the physical work on the ranch. He is rough, uncouth, obnoxious, brutal actually, and as a result of those qualities he happens to be successful running the cattle ranch and the bunch of cowboys who do the work.

George (Jesse Plemons) takes care of the business side of the ranch. He is quiet, gentle, calm, sensitive and somewhat overweight. On a cattle drive on horses, while Phil wears chaps, George wears a suit and tie, sometimes even a bow tie. They are wealthy enough to be part of Montana society, and when the governor is in town, George invites him to the ranch for dinner.

The brothers have deep respect for one another, almost to the point of co-dependency. Phil calls George “Fatso” in front of the men, and George grudgingly accepts it. When Phil is expected to make a showing at the table with the governor, George tells him awkwardly that he should wash up before joining. Phil stinks.

One day, on a cattle drive, George meets Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), the widow inn-keeper with an awkward but smart young son who is studying to become a doctor. George and Rose get married, and the dynamics on the ranch change drastically.

The Power of the Dog is a highly acclaimed film with great reviews, and yet, I could do very little with it. From the very beginning, I found it very slow-moving. For the most part I didn’t know what was going on, I still don’t know what the power of the dog means. I had to look it up. There is a bible verse:

Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

If you can figure this out, please comment here and let me know.

There are many mysteries about the plot and the story, and what is actually going on. One scene has to do with anthrax, which caused me to look up the origin of the substance:

Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions of Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, central and southwestern Asia, southern and Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. Anthrax is rare in the United States, but sporadic outbreaks do occur in wild and domestic grazing animals such as cattle or deer.

There is a lot of mystery around this film, and perhaps it is one of those that requires you to read the novel first. It is based on Thomas Savage’s  1967 novel of the same name. Here is the description in Amazon:

Set in the wide-open spaces of the American West, The Power of the Dog is a stunning story of domestic tyranny, brutal masculinity, and thrilling defiance from one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in American literature. The novel tells the story of two brothers — one magnetic but cruel, the other gentle and quiet — and of the mother and son whose arrival on the brothers’ ranch shatters an already tenuous peace. From the novel’s startling first paragraph to its very last word, Thomas Savage’s voice — and the intense passion of his characters — holds readers in thrall.

Maybe I need to read the book to understand it.

Everything else would be speculation.

Movie Review: The Menu (2022)

The Menu has a rating of 89% on the Tomatometer, that’s why we chose it for tonight’s movie night out. Here is the only description I found:

“A couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travels to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.”

After just reading about Michelin star restaurants recently in Shucked, I looked up all the three Michelin star restaurants in the country (there are only some 20 or so). Two of them are by chef Thomas Keller: The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and Per Se in New York City. This movie is about such an exclusive restaurant and an iconic chef.

It’s a comedy, a satire, and a parody about expensive restaurants, the kind where after spending a few hundred dollars on a meal, you leave hungry. Except this restaurant has some non-culinary surprises, which makes the movie somewhat of a thriller. It least it tries to be a thriller.

It didn’t work for me – at all. First, I can’t relate to restaurants of that class, never having actually been to one. And I don’t drink wine, so you can skip the pairing.  I could not relate to any of the patrons. Their vapid dialog left me uninterested, the food descriptions seemed comical, and the entire movie was flat out boring to me. I found myself tapping my foot, waiting for it to be finally over.

Here is an example of a highly rated movie that I would definitely not recommend at all. Do yourself that favor, don’t bother, and you won’t miss anything.

To give away the plot: It all comes down to a cheeseburger in the end.