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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

One of my friends asked me which of my own paintings was my favorite. It’s the Little Girl.

This request prompted me to put together this History of a Painting. Here it is:

Many people call this “Indian Boy” and I can see the androgynous nature of the painting, but for me, it’s always been the “Little Girl.” I finished it in early 1980. Until about 1998, it was with friends in upstate New York, where it spent many years in an attic before I got it back. It’s a large painting, so you have to have a large wall for it. Here is a photograph of it in my house today:

This gives you a feeling for its size. It’s three feet wide and four feet high.

Here is how it came about: In 1975, when I was an 18-year-old youth living with my parents, there was an insert magazine that came with the local newspaper, called the Mission Aktuell, a German magazine about foreign missionary aid in third world countries. The cover struck a chord in me, and I saved it at the time. This was before I had ever done a single oil painting, and I do not remember why I saved the cover, or where I saved it. It simply was with me in 1978, when I started painting in earnest.

I did a preliminary painting of the Little Girl. I have a yellowed photograph of it still, but I do not remember what happened to the painting itself and if it still exists somewhere. I lost a lot of my early paintings in my wild youth years of Sturm und Drang and associated moving around. Here is the photograph:

The coloring is off here, because the photograph is over 40 years old and those paper photos have a tendency to lose their color. But I was never happy enough with it in 1978, and that’s why I picked the subject up again in 1979. It took me about a year to finish the final form of the Little Girl, and it’s now celebrating its 40th birthday.

Of course, I’ll never know who the girl was that posed for the magazine in 1975. If she was perhaps five years old then, she would be 50 now.

I wish she could know.

In the summer of 1989, I was one of the first people in computing who bought a 486-33 computer. This is a picture of the machine I took a few years ago before I gave it away for recycling. At the time, it was the most advanced machine on the market. It cost over $4,000, and that does not include a monitor. It had a 5 1/4 inch floppy, two 3 1/2 inch floppies, and I added a tape drive and a CD drive. At the time I was working on a neural network engine for automated license plate reading. The training program that ran all night long on the old XT machine executed in 20 to 30 minutes on this monster, and I was in heaven.

Alas, as computers go, this was obsolete within a couple of years and I put it on a shelf. I never had the heart to throw it out and as Controltec grew from one person to more than 60 over the years, I would sometimes pull out the old machine and show it to young associates as the machine that started a company.

It is now long gone, and this old picture of it is the only thing that remains.

Sometimes I miss those days.

Occasionally, when I know I am going to be home alone in the evening, I like to go through the drive-through at KFC and pick up a light meal. It’s always the same. A two piece meal, original, with coleslaw and potato wedges.

That’s what I did today. When I got to the window, the clerk told me $8.39. I hesitated. I had eight dollars in my hand, prepared to pay the customary $7.76. Puzzled, I asked him to repeat the order. He did. “Did the prices go up?” I asked. “Yes, minimum wage went up at the beginning of the year.”

I have been a consistent opponent of the minimum wage craze in these pages, and here is a more recent post to that effect.

I don’t mind paying 63 cents more for my two piece meal, not at all. I don’t mind that the worker that serves me my order is making more money now on the minimum wage scale. But look what happened: The price went up. So did the prices of groceries, clothes, utilities, all to offset the additional minimum wages the companies now have to pay to their employees. Those employees now have to spend more on the things they buy, just like I need to spend more. This is called INFLATION.

Wages go up, prices go up, wages go up, prices go up. The fit companies innovate and replace humans with automation. Prices go up more.

The poor worker behind the counter is in the same position he was in before.

Bernie Sanders says that “everyone deserves a living wage!”

Nonsense!

Some people have no skills, no work ethic, no drive, and no education. They do not “deserve” the same wage as those people who work hard in school, get an education, and provide better services in the jobs they have, who do quality work, don’t call in sick every other day, and overall make themselves more useful.

Minimum wage increases are stupid, counterproductive, cause inflation, and do not help the workers at the minimum wage level.

Are you listening, Bernie?

After reading a few books that I did not enjoy very much for a variety of reasons, I picked up No Highway by Nevil Shute because I knew, having read the author before, that he is a good story teller and will present a solidly crafted novel. I read Trustee from the Toolroom in 2014 and A Town Like Alice in 2015. These books were all recommended by my Australian friend (and frequent commenter in this blog), Ray Cullen. Thanks Ray!

In No Highway, the narrator is Dr. Scott, a young manager in the government agency responsible for aircraft safety in the U.K. in the 1950s. But the hero is Mr. Honey, an awkward, introverted, but brilliant engineer who does advanced work in fatigue studies in metallurgy.  He discovers an esoteric problem with the tail structure of the Reindeer, the U.K.’s most modern passenger airplane of the time that was just put into cross-Atlantic service. But being somewhat goofy and off-mainstream, many people don’t believe Honey. Only through drastic action that jeopardizes his career does he get the attention of the aerospace establishment. All hinges on the results of his experiments and the recovery of crash data from a remote site in the Canadian Labrador forests.

I can’t figure out why the book is called No Highway, as it does, at least to me, not relate to the story at all. It is, however, a well-crafted novel just like I would have expected from Nevil Shute. He did not let me down. While I enjoyed reading it, I can see it may be somewhat dry to a person not interested in engineering, and with the engineering subject matter being now 70 years outdated, the book is a bit awkward today. For instance, much of the plot depends on the fact that when you crossed the Atlantic in 1950 and went into the Canadian hinterland, you were completely out of reach. The only intercontinental communications in those days was a “cable” which is basically a telegram. It was expensive, difficult to send and receive, and it took a lot of time. We now live in a world with instant communications all over the globe, and we can’t even conceive of a situation where a major scientist is doing field work in the Canadian north in the woods where he would be completely, utterly out of reach. Today, we’d send texts and emails through satellite phones charged by solar panels – no problem at all.

This is not Nevil Shute’s problem, but Amazon’s. This book is the worst Kindle book with the classic automatic conversion errors I have ever read. Here is an example:

So had Mr Honey been, but I would not tell him that I ad raid, Tm very sorry about the Reindeer, Mr Prendergast I’m afraid this is bound to mean that all those aircraft will be grounded now at seven hundred and twenty hours.1 He said genially, ‘Oh well, worse things happen at sea. I expect we shall get over it, one way or another.’
— Nevil Shute. No Highway (Kindle Locations 5118-5121). Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the offending sections in red for you. The problem is that the entire book has these errors. There are THOUSANDS of them. Pretty much every page is messed up. I “only” paid $0.99 for this book, which is not a lot, but why doesn’t Amazon have a process in place where readers can provide edits back that a human could then use to fix the books? I am a stickler with that – Amazon should require that at least one editor reads every book and fixes it before it is going to be sold!

Terrible!

The editing issues are Amazon’s problem, so I won’t hold that against the book in my rating. Overall, I give it a solid two stars.

Here is an interesting video of a cat discovering its ears. Click on the video to watch.

View post on imgur.com

1981 – I worked construction putting up houses in Fountain Hills, Arizona. On the way home, tired, hot, sunburned, I would stop at a Dairy Queen in Scottsdale and buy a medium vanilla chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. I loved those things after a long day of work building houses in the desert.

2020 – After sushi at Sushiya in Escondido, on the way to see a movie at Angelika, we stopped at a Dairy Queen. I had my favorite vanilla chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. It’s a little more expensive now than it was when I was 23. But then, I am 63 now, and I still buy the same cone at the same retail chain store. Dairy Queen forever!

This made me think about how the retail landscape in America has changed over the course of my life.

1970ies – There were waterbed stores all over the place. As I drove down Glendale Avenue in Glendale, Arizona, heading east, I am sure there were 10 waterbed stores within a few blocks. I had a waterbed in those years. It lasted for a few years, then it became impractical as I started moving more often during college years, and I gave it away. All the waterbed stores are now gone.

1970ies – Also in those years, unfinished furniture stores were ubiquitous. I remember browsing through those. I never really bought “proper” unfinished furniture, but I did buy a few shelves of particle board which I painted bright green, blue, yellow and red. We made throw pillows of crazy colors which were our “couch.” Good enough for 21-year-olds. All the unfinished furniture stores are now gone.

1980ies – When the VHS revolution took over and the thrill of being able to “rent” a movie that you could watch in the privacy of your home, video rental stores sprung up all over every neighborhood. You got a membership, kind of like a library card, and you could rent movies for a few days. If you forgot to bring them back in time, you were charged a late fee. I remember thinking I wanted to rent some of those girly movies they had in the backroom – oh the bliss – but I actually have no recollection ever following through with that. Eventually, Blockbuster replaced all the mom-and-pop video rental stores, but then, Blockbuster forgot to disrupt itself and Netflix came along. All the video rental stores are now gone.

1990ies – Those were the years when the cell phone stores arose. You chose expensive phones and expensive plans where you counted the minutes. I remember having 120 “minutes” was a large plan. We justified the expense that we’d use the cell phones “for emergencies only” but I remember it felt neat being able to make a call from a moving car on the I-15 for the first time. That was around 1993 or 1994. All the cell phone stores are now gone, and some have morphed to the smartphone outlets of Apple or Verizon.

1970ies through 2000 – Back in 1974, every mall in America had either a B. Dalton book store or a Waldenbooks. That’s when I still went to the mall. I cared little about any of the stores, except Dairy Queen and the bookstore. In the mid 1980ies I saw my first “super bookstore.” It was a “Bookstar” on Rosecrans in San Diego. The selection was immense. Shortly after that, Borders started appearing, along with Barnes & Noble. Now all we have left is Barnes & Noble, and the occasional bookstore in airports. There are a couple at Chicago O’Hare that I like. I don’t buy hard books to read anymore, so I have this policy that I buy “something” when I go to Barnes & Noble, like a coffee table book, an art book, or anything else that I don’t want just in digital format. You have to flip through art books in hardcopy. And my policy to buy something at Barnes & Noble is to help them stay in business. All the little bookstores in malls are now gone, but I can’t imagine a world without bookstores.

The retail changes over the decades are drastic, and with nostalgia I think about the days when I browsed around in unfinished furniture stores and breathed in that woodshop aroma.

I could use a chocolate-dipped cone right about now.

Larry David and Bernie Sanders appeared on the Steven Colbert show consecutively. Larry David joked about having a 4-year job appearing on Saturday Night Live impersonating Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders, in turn, told Colbert that Larry David had better get used to it.

Sal Paradise is an Italian American youth who lives with his aunt in Paterson, New Jersey in the mid 1940ies, after World War II. This was the time before there were interstate highways in America, and road trips took place on two-lane highways between cities, towns and villages. Sal’s best friend is Dean Moriarty, a thief, criminal and con-artist. The two, along with a sizable cast of losers and grifters, travel back and forth across the country for no particular reason, hanging out in San Francisco (which they call Frisco), New York and Denver for the most part, and touching many other cities, including Mexico, along the way.

On the Road is referenced as a classic in almost every list of best books in the English language. Schools assign it as required reading. I read it because I wanted to check off a classic between more recent science fiction material.

I don’t know what it is with me and classics, but On the Road was one of the most painful books to read, ever. I stuck with it, because I forced myself. Every. Damn. Hour.

There is no story worth telling. There is no plot. The ramblings of the losers on the road are repetitious and vapid. There is no central conflict, there is no suspense. After about a quarter into the book I realized it was not going to change. On the Road is the most mind-numbingly boring and uninteresting book I have ever touched. There is nothing to learn. There is no moral. There isn’t even an ending. Just a bunch of characters that I could not relate to and I can’t imagine anyone else can relate to.

Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, and Dean Moriarty is modeled after the beatnik Neal Cassady. I guess if you lived in the 1940s, perhaps this story was one you could relate to. But, alas, I was born ten years later.

There were some descriptions of the American West that elicited nostalgia in me. I have spent many a day in my twenties traveling the long, endless highways across Texas and the plains, up and down Arizona and California, and across Colorado, riding the road from coast to coast and back again. Those were beautiful days, weeks, months and years, and reading On the Road got me in the mood for a long road trip.

However, I am most certainly not going to read any more books by Kerouac.

 

 

Note about the Kindle Edition: This book of full of bad punctuation, spelling errors, fragmented sentences, I presume due to automated conversion from the printed page. I guess Amazon could not afford to make a single editor go through the pain it put us paying customers through and actually read the book and fix the multitude of errors. Shame on Amazon!

CITY LIGHTS

United Artists, 1931, 87 minutes

Starring Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

Produced and Directed by Charlie Chaplin

Film Score by Charlie Chaplin

A blind flower girl captures the Little Tramp’s heart. Smitten by her charm and beauty, the homeless hobo is resolved to rescue the girl from her hapless condition. This is the premise which drives the plot of City Lights, Chaplin’s unforgettable romantic comedy. The encounters between the Tramp and the blind girl project a gentle pathos that echoes the recurrent theme of unrequited love. By contrast, the meandering episodes, featuring the Tramp’s arduous ventures to earn money, provide broad comic relief. Enter on the scene a drunkard, distraught over his marital woes. In the course of his clumsy attempts at suicide, he is rescued by none other than the Tramp. The brooding tippler turns out to be a bourgeois millionaire! In gratitude to his rescuer, he promises to assist the blind girl. But can such serendipity be real? Or is it too good to be true? The millionaire’s behavior turns out to be erratic, his shifting moods alternating between bouts of intoxication and sobriety. Will he keep his promise to Chaplin to aid in the rescue of the poor flower girl?

City Lights was greeted enthusiastically by audiences weary of the hardships inflicted by the Great Depression. Considered one of Chaplin’s greatest films, it is preserved in the Library of Congress as a cultural treasure. City Lights ranks 11th on the list — created by the American Film Institute — of the 100 best American films. At the time the film was released, the silent era of cinema had been eclipsed by the advent of sound. Yet Chaplin would continue to work without spoken dialogue. Modern Times, his last silent feature, was released in 1936. The Great Dictator (1940), his lampoon of Hitler and Mussolini, ushered the introduction of spoken dialogue in the next wave of Chaplin films.

Although Chaplin composed mostly his own music for his films, the romantic theme in City Lights was a melodic arrangement based on the popular Spanish song, La Violetera. The composer, José Padilla, sued Chaplin for not acknowledging authorship and won.

The restored print of the film in black-and-white is available in DVD format through the Criterion Collection (which has acquired exclusive rights to the entire Chaplin Library).

The picture above shows a piece of the demolished Death Star crashed into an ocean on some planet. I always like pictures of crashed space ships (or in this case huge space stations) on some planet, hidden by clouds and mist and off in the distance. Star Trek had a few shots of spaceships sitting on the ground from time to time, and Star Wars does the same. And that shot, and a few of the scenes that come along with it, were the most interesting and enjoyable part of the movie.

This movie is rated only 53% on the Tomatometer. We went to see it because we had seen the other eight Star Wars movies over the last 42 years, and “we just can’t stop now” even though everyone said there isn’t much to go and see. The Star Wars series is an epic, and in such, it shaped my entire life of enjoying science fiction.

So what about The Rise of Skywalker?

  • I don’t know what the title means. I didn’t see any Skywalker rising.
  • There aren’t any decent aliens. All the aliens have only cameo roles in the background, mostly lasting a fraction of a second, not enough to enjoy them. The few aliens that speak are the trite humanoids, as usual. Whatever happened to the classic bar scenes?
  • Sword fights. What’s with the light sabers in every Star Wars movie? I get it. Wars waged by huge fleets of thousands of advanced battle ships miles long in size with weapons that can destroy planets are ultimately solved by two young people and their swords. The sword fights are always boring. Nobody ever gets hurt, they just go on and on, and I simply find myself waiting for them to be over. This is the case in every Star Wars movie. Half of this movie seems to be sword fights.
  • Stealing from the classic theme of Independence Day, where the alien mothership is attacked and defeated by pilot jockeys in fighter jets, the same thing happens in this movie: A thousand ships suddenly materialize in the sky over this planet where the entire battle cruiser fleet is for some reason suspended, and they, by their sheer numbers, eliminate the battle cruisers.
  • Then there is the invincible emperor, who has magical telekinetic powers, that are eventually matched by one Jedi with two swords. Deus ex machina.

There was no story that I cared about. There was no plot that I could follow. There were no characters that I could empathize with. There was no technology or space travel gear that was interesting. The movie makers just packed as much Star Wars legacy and as many characters into two hours and twenty minutes that they could to make a bang ending to the series.

But I think it fizzled.

After all, where was Jar Jar Binks? (backstory here)

 

 

Threatening Iran

Many Americans don’t realize how big Iran is. Iran is about four times as large as California or just about the size of Alaska. Geographically, it is the 17th largest country in the world. With 82 million people, it’s the 18th largest country by population and about the size of Germany, the largest country by population in Europe.

Here is a map showing Iran. It’s almost as large as Saudi Arabia, and it dominates the Middle East. It is a neighbor to almost all Middle Eastern countries.

It’s funny to see the country as it is surrounded by United States military bases. When you look at that map, it makes you wonder who is threatening whom?

What would we Americans think if there were Iranian military bases by the dozens all along the border in Canada and Mexico, as well as in Cuba, all over the Pacific, and in Greenland and Iceland? Would we feel threatened?

I am not a friend of the Iranian regime. It’s a terrible, oppressive, murderous country. But I know Iranian people, and I have a lot of respect for them.

Looking at this map makes me think:

What the hell are we doing messing with a country of this size, so far away, with no chance of making any difference, other than spending a lot of money and risking a lot of American lives (again)?

Can we please leave Iran alone?

Landing in Los Angeles this afternoon, I had a great view of the new SoFi Stadium under construction in Inglewood.

This is the future home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams. It will open in the summer of 2020.

Already, it is scheduled to host the Super Bowl LVI in 2022, and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2028 Olympics.

I am wondering what is happening to the real estate values of the housing developments to the right of it?

You can check with Wikipedia page for more information.

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear many decades ago and I remembered liking it, being impressed by it, and that the main character’s name was Ayla. But that was all.

When I recently read Pushed Back it reminded me of this book, so I read it again now.

The story plays about 30,000 years ago, the end of the age of the Neanderthals, on the peninsula of Crimea, the same Crimea that was taken over by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. The glaciation of the northern hemisphere was at its maximum, reaching down all the way to southern England, covering Scandinavia, and getting to within a few hundred miles of Crimea in what is now Russia.

Ayla is a 5-year-old girl born to Cro-Magnon humans who had just started arriving in Europe at that time. Ayla was away from her tribe playing when a strong earthquake demolished their encampment and everyone perished. The little girl was left alone, naked, in the wilderness. After days of wandering about, just before her imminent death, a migrating troupe of Neanderthals comes along and their medicine woman, Iza, convinces the leader to take the little girl in so she could save her life. And so it comes about that a little girl “born to the Others” is raised in a Neanderthal clan.

The Others look like modern humans, and the Clan people find her ugly. Eventually she is accepted into the Clan and those around come to love and respect her. But it does not come without a price. The Clan’s rules are highly patriarchic and restrictive. The successor to the current leader, Broud, is an ambitious youth, very insecure, and sees Ayla with all her differences as a threat. He develops a deep hatred for her that festers and escalates until the day he takes over.

The book is 468 pages long and delves deeply into the Clan’s society, culture and individual thinking. As a reader, I found myself thinking like many of the main characters, like Brun, the Neanderthal leader, Broud, his eventual successor, Creb, the clan’s magician and spiritual leader, and the many women and children. The author goes into great detail into the lifestyle of the clan, how they live, hunt, eat, celebrate and socialize. Reading this book is an immersion into stone-age life.

Much of the detail, of course, is the author’s conjecture. For instance, she describes the Clan people as speaking mostly using sign language and not voices. She also makes many assumptions about the social structure, and while we are not sure what is fact and fiction, I was fine with it. I didn’t come to read the book to get a historically accurate and factual representation of Neanderthal life, I came to experience what it might have been like, and how it would have felt. In that, the author was very successful.

For a while, as I was reading the book, I became a Neanderthal.

It struck me how much of their life and their culture was guided by “spirits.” Most important decisions, most laws or rules, were based on what the spirits wanted or dictated. Many decisions were made not based on the visible reality of the world, but what they thought the spirits wanted. This caused misery, sometimes death, unspeakable pain and sorrow, and much overall suffering.

One of the conjectures I found hardest to believe was that the Clan people thought that pregnancies were started by totem spirits fighting over the woman’s body. If the outside male spirit won, the woman became pregnant. Sexuality was a casual activity. Any male could beckon any woman or young girl, any time he wanted, and she would simply have to assume the position, so he could “relieve his need.” This was done in open sight all the time. You would think that Neanderthal society, which was active for over 100,000 years without any real progress or change, but was very smart with herbs, medicinal uses of plants, tool making, and the like, would have figured out that it was the relieving of a man’s need into a woman’s womb that might be the cause of the baby getting started in there? Surely they knew!

While I wondered how it was possible that societies could be that much influenced by imaginary powers, imaginary threats, and imaginary disasters, I realized that we have many parallels today.

Millions of people today are still guided by religions and their laws, ceremonies, customs and limitations. In addition, we allow ourselves to suffer from imaginary foes, like mortgages coming due, debts having to be repaid, bad grades in college, titles attained or not attained. All those things are imaginary powers, not unlike the spirits of the Neanderthals, and I found suddenly that my life was not that different and in its own way was driven by the Spirit of the Cave Bear.

 

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