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Back on July 18, 1963, as the AFS [see below] students who had spent their high school year in the United States, were preparing to go back to their countries, they got to visit the White House. JFK talked to them.

It would be another 11 years before I had the privilege to be chosen as an AFS student. I arrived in the United States two weeks after Nixon’s resignation on August 20, 1974. Our group did not get to visit the White House when we went home in July of 1975.

All my life I have been proud to have been an AFS student and to carry the mission forward of spreading peace in the world, one person at a time.

It’s gotten a little more difficult in recent years.

[AFS stands for American Field Service, today the largest and most famed high school student exchange program in the world]

Here is a nice chart that shows how the debt grew under the various presidents. Things started to get nasty with Reagan and just kept doing. Trump is outpacing all that came before him.

Credit: Howmuch.net – click for reference

We have all been the victims of impulse purchases. Sometimes it was at the checkout stand in the grocery store where we bought a nifty flashlight on a keychain. Or it was at Costco at the entry doors, and we now have a full and shiny new set of BBQ tools complete in a plastic case, even though we already have a totally adequate set at home that we use perhaps once a year.

Along comes Facebook where impulse buying it raised to an entirely new and much higher level.

On November 15, 2019, I saw a “survival tool product” on Facebook. The link went to www.captainswagger.com. I thought it would be a neat Christmas gift for my outdoor enthusiastic son, so I ordered it. I spent $69.00. I received an immediate email that my product was shipped and expected to get the product in the mail within a few days.

Weeks went by and nothing arrived. I contacted the company and got no response. After about a month, I gave up. I contacted PayPal and put in a claim for fraud. Over the next four weeks, the company sent emails to me and PayPal claiming first that the product was shipped with FedEx, but didn’t provide a tracking number. When that failed, a couple of weeks later, it provided a FedEx tracking number. When I checked on the status using that number, I learned that was bogus number that was never shipped and probably used for all claims. On the day the PayPal grace period expired in the middle of January 2020, I received a box via the United States Postal Service (note – not FedEx) with the product. It took them two months to get it to me, and during that time they send several emails with fraudulent claims of shipment that were obviously bogus.

Here are some reviews which echo my experience with Captainswagger.com. I am not the only customer who went through this. Captainswagger is definitely a fraud. I am not sure if I would have ever received the product had I not put in a formal claim with PayPal.

So now I have this “product” that I paid $69 for that never became a Christmas present.

Captainswagger Multifunctional Shovel – banana for scale

It came in a partially crushed box, and it’s not even close to the product being shown in the video above. Many of the pieces are not there, the versatility is not the same, the size seems different, and the carrying case is not included. Instead, it has these thin plastic camouflaged covers. To top it off, the version I bought was the upgraded one for $69.00, not the one for $39.95 on the website.

The real product is much smaller and way chintzier than it looks in the video, and I have absolutely no use for it. In 50 years of hiking and driving I have never come into a situation where I needed this tool, and I certainly won’t be putting it into my backpack when I go on hikes. I suspect my son would not have done so either. So why did I buy something from a company I knew nothing about, which turned out to be borderline fraudulent? Why did I buy “stuff” that is now in my house that I will never use?

It was easy, and it seemed like a neat thing I wanted. It reminds me of the exercise program I bought many years ago for $300 with a pull bar and a bunch of video disks. I had the good sense to send it back unopened when it arrived and I got my money back. That was before PayPal and Facebook.

With this “tool” I stand no chance. It was pulling teeth to get it in the first place. There is no way to get my money back without spending a lot more time and money without a guarantee of success.

Lessons learned:

  1. Never buy impulse products no matter how well they are advertised. You don’t need them.
  2. Never respond to ads on social media, no matter how slick they look. If you really needed the product, you would have googled for it and you would not have been on Facebook to get it. Trust your needs.
  3. Never buy a product from on online vendor that you don’t know. I have vetted Amazon over years for its integrity and good service. If you return a product, their response is rock solid. I am sure there are other online retailers with that quality. However, this was just some website and I gave them my money. The money was gone.
  4. Never buy with PayPal. PayPal is good to send money to a friend in Chile or Australia, or to pay for a product from a company you do business with all the time. However, in this case, PayPal’s mitigation against a fraudulent or even questionable vendor was completely inadequate. If I had paid with a credit card, the company would have refunded the money and come after the vendor. This vendor didn’t accept credit cards – for obvious reasons. Don’t buy online from strangers with PayPal.
  5. Before making any impulse purchase, mark it and wait 24 hours. If the product still looks as good 24 hours later and you still want it, by all means, buy it. Chances are, you won’t bother, since you really didn’t need or want the product in the first place.

And with that advice I swagger away.

 

Movie Review: Parasite

Parasite made Oscar history:

Parasite is the film that took home the most awards at the Oscars 2020, winning four Academy Awards at tonight’s Oscars including Best Picture, Directing, International Feature Film and Writing (Original Screenplay). Not only that, but it also became the first non-English language film in Oscar history to win the award for Best Picture.

Oscar.go.com

Of course, with this much attention on a film, we had to go back and see it. I had never seen a Korean film and while I  was afraid that the subtitles would get in the way, I was immersed within minutes and forgot about the whole foreign language thing altogether. I was in the movie all the way through.

The story is about two families:

The Park family is in Korean’s upper class. The father is an young entrepreneur and the head of his company. He gets driven to work by a chauffeur in his Benz. They live in an upscale neighborhood in an opulent, modern house that has won awards for its architecture. His wife is beautiful, pampered, overprotective of her children, and has obviously never had to worry about anything serious in her life, other than being a socialite, planning elaborate parties, and worrying about what her friends would think about her and her family. The teenage daughter is smart, worldly, and is getting tutoring in English. The little boy is a spoiled terror and the entire family is under his playful thumb.

The Kim family is on the other side of the spectrum of society. They live in a basement apartment in the seedy part of town. Their main living room window faces out into the alley at eye level, where drunks regularly urinate right in front of them. The father (Song Kang Ho, who is generally understood to be the top Korean actor of his generation) is a loser. He has no job, no prospects of work and seemingly no ambition beyond somehow cheating the system wherever he can, including mooching off the WiFi of the neighbors in the building. His obedient wife does what she can to support the family. The two of them have taught their kids well in the way of gaming the system. The son and daughter are early college-age but neither are enrolled, even though both are resourceful, smart, energetic and ambitious. They have learned their father’s way well. The family ekes out a living by folding cardboard pizza boxes from the flat delivered shape to a usable form by the cooks. And they can’t even get a simple task like that right, and end up with 25% rejection rate.

Through a fortuitous connection, and by his sister helping him forge a diploma, with their father’s admiration and blessing, the Kim son gets a job tutoring the Park daughter in English. While on the job, he learns that the family is looking for a new art tutor for the little boy.  He manages to install an acquaintance, who is, unbeknownst to the Park family, his sister. Within a short time, the entire Kim family is employed by the Park household as tutors, driver and housekeeper. The Parks have no idea that all their employees are one family. Except the little boy, when he notices that the driver and the housekeeper smell the same.

Under wealthy Korean homes there are often bunkers for protection from war and disaster induced by the North Koreans. The Parks apparently don’t know they have such a bunker below their basement. However, in that bunker lives a man who has been there for years. A parasite. And here is where it starts getting complicated.

Parasite portrays the income diversity of society and how the rich can afford to be oblivious to the real problems and needs of the people. The poor are forced to fight for every scrap, and they end up being hardworking, resourceful and creative in making a living. We feel the constant humiliation of the poor and unfortunate, and how they deal with this continuous pressure and struggle to overcome it.

The movie is 132 minutes long. At every turn there is a surprise. I never knew what would happen next. This is DEFINITELY NOT HOLLYWOOD.  The storytelling is superb, and the twists seem to never end. Even the last 30 seconds left me wondering what might happen next. When the credits finally rolled I wondered what had just happened. This was different than any movie I had ever seen. This was a glimpse of a culture I knew little about. I had just heard more spoken Korean in the last two hours than in my entire life before combined. And I felt I had just watched a great movie. The Oscars were deserved.

You should go and see it.

 

The movie Casablanca is 78 years old and is renowned to be one of the best movies of all time. It seems to show up in all lists within the top five, and everyone knows it as a classic. So it may come as a surprise when I tell you that I had never before watched Casablanca, and other than having a picture in my mind of an airplane in a fog and people in white suits surrounding it, I really knew nothing about it.

Yesterday I watched Casablanca with a group of about 15 other movie buffs, a number of whom had watched it many times before. I feel odd actually describing such a classic here, but I must at least make a cursory effort:

It’s early in World War II. The Germans have invaded France and occupied Paris, and they are making their first incursions into North Africa. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a jaded former freedom fighter. He had had a love affair with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful woman in Paris, just before the German invasion. When they were going to escape together, she unexpectedly abandoned him at the train station. Rick never got over losing the love of his life. A year later, in 1942, he runs a nightclub in Casablanca and his life is turned upside down when Ilsa suddenly walks in with a famed rebel leader, seeking to escape the Nazis and travel to America.

While I have a lot of respect for all the people who admire Casablanca and praise it one of the greatest movies of all time, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. Yes, it is a very well-crafted story, yes, the casting and acting are superb, and yes, it tells a story of what it was like in World War II in North Africa, where corruption and money made things happen and ordinary people were crushed. I could not quite connect or get into the story, and I found myself observing myself watching a classic. I certainly can’t imagine wanting to watch it again.

“So here’s looking at you, kid.”

Movie Review: 1917

World War I was one of the deadliest conflict in human history. Almost 40 million people died in that war. We generally think of WW I as the war of trench warfare. Soldiers lived in trenches on both sides of the front.

In April of 1917, two young British soldiers, Shofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are sent on an impossible mission: cross into German-held territory in northern France and warn the commander of a British unit of about 1,600 soldiers about a deadly trap they don’t know about. Without any means of communications, the two soldiers are hand-carrying a letter. Blake was picked because his brother is a lieutenant in the endangered unit and the commanding general assumes that will give Blake the necessary motivation.

They only have one day and one night for the mission, since the unit is scheduled to attack in the morning and run into the ambush.

The movie follows the two hapless soldiers on their journey. The entire picture is filmed in one continuous shot, not in individual scenes. This gives the action some urgency and fluency. As they progress through the war-torn wasteland, they come across an endless stream of corpses in trenches, ditches, bunkers, on fields and in streams. The brutality and horror of war comes to life in 1917, and the senselessness of it all is ever present.

Some people just want to fight.

And therefore, many others have to die.

As I watched 1917, I realized that Adolph Hitler was a common German soldier in that war, and the experience of the conflict, and the aftermath and subsequent humiliation of the German people, was one of the driving forces that shaped his world-view and fueled his eventual rise to power – just to repeat the whole atrocity again.

Everyone should watch 1917 for the political and humanitarian message it sends, not just because it’s going to win many awards.

Nicholas Hook was a common 19-year-old man in England in 1413. He had one gift: He was a superb archer and as a result he ended up in the army of King Henry V invading France. Henry V thought he was the rightful heir to the French throne, in addition to the English, and he thought God was on this side in his quest to claim what was rightfully his.

This story is about the legendary battle of Agincourt, about which many scholars of history have written numerous books. It tells the story of that invasion in vivid detail from the point of view of the common man. We get drawn into the lives of the people, the thinking of the nobility and the clergy at the end of  medieval Europe during the Hundred Years’ War.

Life was rough. Lords had the power of gods and could do anything they wanted. Clergy was revered and utterly corrupt. All evil deeds were somehow done on behest of God and great suffering was inflicted on the people, through taxation, backbreaking labor, and relentless abuse. During war, the boys and men of the losers were killed, and the women raped and enslaved. This was just how life was.

Agincourt is full of terrible, endless violence. Here is an example of a battle scene:

“Stay tight, stay tight!” Sir John bellowed, making sure there was a man to his left and Sir William to his right. You fought shoulder to shoulder to give the enemy no room to pierce the line, and Sir John’s men-at-arms were fighting as he had trained them to fight. They had stepped over the first fallen Frenchmen and the second line of English were lifting enemy visors and sliding knives into the eyes or mouths of the wounded to stop them from striking up from the ground. Frenchmen screamed when they saw the blade coming, they twisted in the mud to escape the quick stabs, they died in spasms, and still more came to be hammered or chopped or crushed. Some Frenchmen, reckoning themselves safe from arrows, had lifted their visors and Sir John slammed the poleax’s spike into a man’s face, twisting it as it pierced the eye socket, dragging it back jellied and bloodied, watching as the man, in frantic dying pain, flailed and impeded more Frenchmen. Sir William Porter was stabbing his lance at men’s faces. One blow was usually enough to unbalance an enemy and Sir William’s other neighbor would finish the job with a hammer blow. Sir William, usually a quiet and studious man, was growling and snarling as he picked his victims. “God’s blood, William,” Sir John shouted, “but this is joy!”

— Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt (p. 402). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

A good third of the book describes such atrocities. Skulls crushed by hammers and axes, a thousand eyes poked out by knives, swords rammed into bowels and twisted up to the lungs and hearts.

It is graphic and realistic, but it was too much for me. At times I’d start skimming over the battle scenes, as I simply didn’t need to know about every stabbed eye socket anymore, and I wanted to move on.

This was my first Cornwell book. It was recommended to me by colleagues as great historical fiction, and I found that it is. There are countless other Cornwell books, probably just as vivid and graphic. It was well written and very educational, but unlike other fans of Cornwell that end up binge-reading all his books, I think I am done and ready for other subjects.

Junk in Space

Here is an informative chart that shows how much garbage floats around in space. I found this chart in Bloomberg Businessweek of December 16, 2019 on page 35:

[click to enlarge]

1mm is about the size of a pinhead and 1cm is about the size of a large blueberry.

According to the European Space Agency, as of January 2018, there are about 29,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters, around 750,000 objects that range between 1 cm to 10 cm and about 166 million objects between 1 millimeter to 1 cm in size (those are the little dots in the chart above, where each dot represents 3,000 objects). Each one of those is big enough to easily puncture a space capsule.

New Painting: Aspens

Here is my latest painting with a story of how it came about: Aspens

Aspens, 2/20, 24 x 36 [click to enlarge]

A first draft of this painting was laying around my studio for more than a year. It was going nowhere. Then a friend (VP) asked me to sell her a painting, and I said I don’t sell, but I’d be glad to paint one custom for her. What would she like? After a few back and forth exchanges of motifs and her pointing out which of my portfolio she likes (this was her favorite), it suddenly hit me: Aspens might work. I showed her the draft, and off the project was. I kept a progress journal which you can see here.

Dead or lingering paintings have a way of coming back to life when there is a bit of motivation resulting from commitment.

Now it’s done. It’ll have to dry for a couple of months, and after varnishing and framing, it’ll be my first ever painting to travel to Australia for its new home.

Salsa World Traveler has nominated me for this award. I am honored. This is the first time I have ever responded to a blogger award. I am not continuing with 11 more nominations, but I am going to answer his questions here.

His Questions for the Nominees:

1. Why do you blog

To figure out how I feel about the world. It makes me think about something of significance once a day – since I try to post once a day, but usually don’t succeed with that frequency.

2. In your view, what makes a truly great post?

Creative content or new information. A poem you wrote, a photograph you took that tells a story, a piece of information that I didn’t know but am interested in hearing about.

3. What is hardest about blogging for you?

Keeping the boundary of privacy and publicity. My blog is not about me, or my life, or my family, or my friends. It’s about the things I want to share. I try to keep the “me” out of it. It’s not about me, but about the subjects I write about. Much of the time, I do not succeed. It’s a constant battle. Because our lives are so consuming, and they come into it.

4. What airline, if any, is your favorite?

American Airlines is the only airline where I have the top tier elite status, so I travel with a lot of perks. However, I just read that American is on the bottom of the “best American airlines” scale. Delta is on the top, but I have traveled on Delta maybe five times in my life, versus probably 2,000 times on American.

5. Hotel, B & B, or AirB&B?

Hilton baby, always Hilton. I am a lifetime Diamond member. I don’t need flowered bed spreads, cute wash basins and creaky wood floors of a B & B. I don’t want to talk to the matron and I don’t want to meet other travelers. Hilton, baby!

6. Have you ever deleted a comment, and if so, why?

I can’t remember doing that ever. Even the harassers get their voice. 

7. How do you like to spend time when not blogging?

I have a very consuming job which takes all my time and energy. What little is left goes to my wife and sparing social activities, painting and art (much too little time) and I read at least an hour a day.

8. What type(s) of music do you like?

Traditional Hawaiian, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Cat Stevens, Elton John – I was coming of age in the 1970s obviously.

9. If you could pick three people to have lunch with, who would you choose?

Barack Obama

Bob Dylan

Salsa World Traveler

10. What sports team is your favorite, if any?

None. I have zero interest in organized sports – any sports. I hike, climb mountains, have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but I do those things on my own. I don’t need to see others doing them.

11. Have you previously been nominated for a blogging award?  If so, which ones?

Many times, and I have ignored them all. I can’t remember which.

When a painting comes back from framing, it’s always exciting, because it looks so much more finished and it stands out. This one worked out particularly well with a bamboo motif for the frame. It graces the stairway, for the time being. And that’s the Elephant in the Room for today.

I just read in the San Diego Union of January 26, 2020, that some juvenile pyromaniac set the palm grove in the Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert on fire last week. That spot was one of my favorite day hike destinations in Southern California, and I have been there dozens of times over the years and have taken many a visitor there. Since the offender was a juvenile, law enforcement does not give any details about what happened.

Over the decades, I have hiked the Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert many times, and I have often documented those trips here. Just a few links, oldest to newest:

The Oasis – A hike a did with my friend Mike (coincidentally the same Mike from the post right below….) in 2008. In that post you can see a few nice pictures of the famous Palm Canyon palm grove, which is visited by about 20,000 hikers a year.

Exploring Climbing of Indianhead – A hike I did with my son Devin in 2010, on our way up the canyon. We did a stop at the palm grove and you see a few pictures of it in this post.

Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Two – Another hike with Devin in 2012, making our way farther up the canyon. There are a few more palm groves along the way that the casual 20,000 hikers that reach the first one never see. The hiking after the first grove is treacherous and not for weekend hikers.

Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Three – An exploratory hike I did myself in 2013.

And while I am droning on about Indian Head, even though it’s not fully related to the palm canyon, here is my account: Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Four – This was my last attempt in 2014, and I think probably my last one altogether for Indianhead. Indianhead shall remain unclimbed by me.

New Palm Grove 2010 – 2017 – An account of 7 years of monitoring the new palm grove. In this post you can see a selfie of myself with the grove in the background.

New Year’s Day a Winter Wonderland in the Desert – the last time I was there with Devin was New Year’s Day of 2019. There are a few good pictures of the oasis.

Here are two clips from the San Diego Union of today:

Above with the blaze underway.

Here is what the great trees looked like a few days later, still smoldering.

The grove had last burned in 1970, when a boyscout had played with matches. I remember seeing charred tree trunks there over the years presumably still from that blaze. The rangers expect that the large trees, even though they are all thoroughly burned, will actually recover and sprout new branches at the top.

Also, with all the thick underbrush and shadow eliminated, and boosted by the nutrients of the ash, new undergrowth and seedlings will sprout quickly. I’ll have to go out in a few weeks since I haven’t been there yet in 2020, and see for myself.

I am afraid it’ll never quite be the same again in my lifetime like it was here with me on January 1, 2019:

[click to enlarge]

Many years ago my friend Mike from Albany gave me a picture of himself with the Beethoven painting I gave him as a gift in the summer of 1978. I actually forgot that I had done that painting and it was like meeting an old friend again when he gave me this photograph. Then I forgot about the photograph, until yesterday, when I looked for the old photo of the Little Girl – see in post below.

So here it is:

Mike and the Forgotten Beethoven

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