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Belfast plays in 1969. Yes, those years when those of us old enough remember there were nightly headlines in the news about Catholics and Protestants killing each other in Northern Ireland.

Some Catholics and Protestants have been hating and killing each other in England for almost 500 years. When Henry VIII wanted to have his marriage to his wife, Catherine of Aragon, annulled, pope Clement VII refused to consent. This angered Henry VIII sufficiently to decide to separate the entire country of England from the Catholic Church.

Religious unrest has plagued the country ever since. Just read some of Ken Follett’s books to get firsthand accounts. A Place Called Freedom is one of those books.

Belfast is a semi-autobiographical account from the childhood of the director, Kenneth Branaugh.

Buddy is a 10-year-old boy from whose viewpoint the story is told. In the photograph above he is next to his grandfather and father, both caring men who do their best to keep their families happy and safe, but can’t overcome the epic battles taking place right outside their front doors.

The entire film is in black and white, except for explosions and when the characters watch movies or stage shows. Those are in color. This creates an odd mood.

The story starts slowly, almost boring, but it builds in intensity. While the subject matter is about extreme violence, there is no actual blood and gore shown. We just see people ransacking property, setting cars on fire and throwing firebombs, nobody is ever actually shown hurt. As we get to know the characters in this family, we get drawn in, and we can’t help but walk out in the end and call it a solid movie, a superb performance by the young boy Jude Hill as Buddy, and a film that will likely attract some Oscars this year.

The Nightingale is one of the most difficult movies to watch that I can remember. There are several brutal and humiliating rape scenes, as graphic as they can get. Depiction of human depravity and lawlessness is so overwhelming, it took a lot out of me just watching this film.

The story plays in Tasmania, the large island south of Australia, in 1825, just before the infamous Australian Black War. Race tensions between the Aboriginals and the Whites are at the breaking point. They are outright killing each other. Prejudice is rampant. Many of the white Australians are convicts from England serving their sentences. The idea was that once the sentences are served, they are freed, albeit on the other side of the world in a nightmarish wilderness. In those years in England, you could get arrested for stealing an apple in a market, and convicted and shipped off to Australia for a sentence of many years.

The British class system, which separated the officers, the “highborn,” from the rest of humanity which had pretty much no rights at all, allowed abuse of power on an institutionalized scale. If you were a convict in Australia in those ages, you were at the very bottom of humanity.

Clare is a 21-year-old Irish convict woman. She has a loving husband and an infant child. She works as a servant at a military outpost in Southern Tasmania, and her assignment is under a British lieutenant named Hawkins. She has served her sentence, but he won’t let her go. Hawkins is a sadist and ruthlessly abuses everyone around him of lower rank. He rapes Clare in front of her husband. Then he has the husband and her baby killed as she lay bleeding. Hawkins and his cohorts leave for the north where he believes a Captaincy awaits him in the town of Launceston.

With nothing left to lose, Clare enlists the help of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy to follow Hawkins. Along the way, Clare and Billy slowly come to trust each other as they overcome their mutual prejudices and racial hate, and as they learn about each other’s traumatic past.

Claire seeks revenge without a plan. Billy wants to be left alone and live with his family and ancestors in his homeland. But their path is on a collision course with utter disaster.

Photocredit: Reddit – https://i.redd.it/hwzombczctx71.png

Colin Powell passed away from cancer and complications arising from Covid-19.

Al the former presidents were there, but Trump was missing.

Here is Trump’s official statement:

Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO [Republican in Name Only], if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!

Source

Colin Powell was a classy man.

He made a huge mistake under G.W. Bush when he propagated what he knew was a lie to the United Nations and the world. Yes, that was the mistake his legacy will, unfortunately, always be tarnished by.

But Trump’s statement shows what kind of man he is: One I would not want in my backyard BBQ party. He would not be worthy of sitting in the front row at this funeral.

 

Today I came across this reddit post

Smokers, pick up your damn butts!

The planet is not an ashtray, and I have been thinking about that recently.

I just bought a brand-new truck, and it does not have an ashtray. It also does not have any place where I can put a little garbage container.

I am not a smoker, and I have actually never smoked in my life. A grand-total of perhaps a dozen cigarettes or joints have touched my lips in all my life, and all of those were more than 40 years ago. So, yes, I have not been tossing any butts.

What if I were a smoker, though? People smoke in their houses and in their cars. Those are pretty much the only places they can still smoke. Once you’re done with a cigarette in your car, what do you do with it? You can’t very well extinguish it on your dashboard, seat or door. You don’t have an ashtray. You don’t have a garbage can.

Why are car makers not putting ashtrays into cars anymore? It makes no sense to me.

Why are car makers not building garbage receptacles into cars so we can discard our sticky candy wrappers or slimy banana peels without getting our clothes or seats dirty? It makes no sense to me.

I first read this book in 1993 during my first ever trip to Hawaii. It’s a long book and I didn’t finish it during the one-week trip, but brought it home with me and worked through it. I had good memories of the epic stories.

So this year, on another trip to Hawaii, I decided to read the book a second time.

I enjoyed the introductory chapter of the formation of the Hawaiian Islands millions of years ago. The book brings to life how the islands were formed and how its flora and fauna became established. That chapter of the book is priceless and I still think about it every time I visit the Islands.

The next section describes in detail the lives of the islanders in Bora Bora and the surrounding islands in the South Pacific thousands of years ago. We learn what their lives were like, driven by superstition, and brutal beyond belief, particularly in their paradise-like environment. We find out what might have motivated those early islanders to make a trip by canoe, thousands of miles to the north, to eventually find and settle Hawaii.

I also enjoyed the journey of the missionaries from England in the early part of the nineteenth century, by brig, round Cape Horn and eventually to Hawaii. The book describes in excruciating detail the difficulties seamen encountered trying to round Cape Horn. The only other book that comes close to that I have read is Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana – which I very highly recommend – particularly if you are a Southern Californian. You’ll never see the California coast the same way again after reading Dana.

When the missionaries finally arrived in Hawaii, at Lahaina in Maui, they immediately set to work destroying the culture and spiritual world of the natives, forcing the exploitative practices of the Christian religion upon the people. Descriptions of their methods and practices further foster my dislike of religions in general.

Abner Hale is the lead missionary on Maui, and he is a hapless, rigid puritan with a chip on his shoulder. Nobody likes him, but his relentless drive, and his industrious nature, get things done and moving forward. He hounds the natives and emotionally brutalizes them.

And then I got bored with the book. The religious lecturing goes on for dozens and dozens of pages, and at 25% I finally gave up. I remember it’s an epic work, I remember enjoying the book over 25 years ago, but those memories are not strong enough for me to endure another 75%. There are other things to read.

Not star-rated because I didn’t finish reading the book.

 

Twenty-one-year-old Mack McAsh and his twin sister are trapped working in the coal mines in Scotland in 1766. Coal miners work under the harshest possible conditions. The men go to work early in the morning and labor in the mines, picking the coal from assigned spots deep underground. The women and children then haul the coal on their backs up rickety staircases in the shafts. All day long. Every day except Sunday. Miners also have no way out. Often, through complex laws, they become lifelong slaves of the mine owners.

Lizzie Hallim is noble-born and therefore has a very different kind of life. However, while the miner’s oppression is simple, the fate of a noblewoman out of favor can be complex and just as brutal.

Mack escapes this fate and tries to make it on his own, first by escaping to London, then, through circuitous ways to the New World, a plantation in Virginia.

A Place Called Freedom follows these protagonists on their journey to escape injustice during a time of revolution. They are searching for a better life, a simple life, but above all, a life of freedom.

I am in this transition period where I own two off-road vehicles at the same time.

I thought I’d arrange them in the driveway for a one-time picture together, before the old one leaves.

2021 on the left, 1992 on the right.

Earthbound is the third in Haldeman’s “bound” trilogy. The first two were Marsbound and Starbound, which I have recently reviewed. I gave them only two stars and one star respectively, and usually I would not read any more books of a series that I rated so poorly. But I made an exception with Earthbound, because I wanted to know what happened next.

In Marsbound, the protagonists traveled to Mars, found Martians, came back to earth orbit quarantine, discovered an alien race with seemingly godlike powers, and were attacked by these aliens.

In Starbound, a group of seven humans and two Martians were sent to the star of the aliens, 25 lightyears away, as ambassadors for the human race. They got there and came back, but not much happened otherwise.

In Earthbound, the group that came back from traveling to and from the alien star for more than 50 years, who had aged only a few years due the time distortion factor that applies at relativistic speeds, found itself stranded on a military base in California. The evil aliens had turned off everything electric in the world. It’s not explained how they did that, and it’s certainly not clear what alien reasoning has made them do that, other than they don’t like other races who can become dangerous by acquiring technology. So Earthbound is really not a science fiction story anymore, but an Armageddon tale of survival in a world that has been thrown back to the technology of the 1800s, however, with a supply of guns and ammunition available in the late 2100s.

Nothing much happened in Earthbound otherwise.

Marvels of Travel

Back on the road again.

I was at the Dallas / Ft.Worth (DWF) airport on the inter-terminal train and saw this sign above two of the seats:

It made me think of all the great needs I have and promptly sat down.

A little later I boarded my connecting flight, an Airbus 321, and I got a little discombobulated about this little guy staring at me.

Once you see a face, you cannot unsee it. He stared at me for two hours, and it became disconcerting.

Took the new Jeep out for a climb in the mountains today. It purred like a kitten.

A few weeks ago I hiked in to visit Devin in the California Conservation Corp camp in Yosemite. Here is my report for reference.

When Devin went out in April, he basically mothballed his truck, closed his apartment, and as part of that had all his mail forwarded to me.

I scanned his mail for urgent stuff, paid any bills that might need taking care of, and collected all the letters in one file. When I hiked out, I brought all his mail with me. It was a small bundle of maybe 20 letters or so. It probably weighed half a pound, and as a backpacker who counts every ounce, it was substantial.

We sat around the campfire when he opened the various letters, saved those that needed saving, crumpled up those that could be burned and threw them into the fire pit.

I noticed that he kept tearing off the windows of the envelopes, where the addresses show, and stacked them on the log next to him. Then he burned the rest of the envelopes.

After he’d accumulated about 10 of those, I became puzzled and asked why he was doing that.

He said that one of their rules was not to burn plastic, and these envelope windows were plastic. So rather than throwing them into the fire, he separated them from the envelopes, collected them and put them in with all the other plastic trash to be packed out by mule train every Tuesday.

Now mind you, we’re 8,500 feet up in the mountains of Yosemite. The next hiker may be several miles away. The next road is four miles down the mountain. But the conservationist didn’t burn the little envelope windows in order to keep our air clean.

That’s mail call with a conservationist!

A Lanyard with a Message

This week I embarked on my very first business trip since the March 2020 shutdown. I attended a conference at the Cincinnati Convention Center.

Conference attendees had to wear masks at all times in the facility, and there are always name badges, of course. They usually come with a lanyard, which are generally sponsored and paid for by one of the attending vendors and contain the company name for advertising purposes.

Here is mine:

When I picked up my badge, there were three colors of lanyards to choose from with a sign describing the meaning:

Green – I am comfortable with hugs and handshakes.

White – Keep distance and fist bumps only.

Red – Do not come close!

I picked green. There were a few friends I had not seen in two years that were huggers. I was fine with that.

Most people wore green, quite a substantial percentage wore white, and I do not remember seeing any red. I am sure there were some.

And that’s a lanyard with a message.

Oh Maui!

We just came home from a week in Maui. We stayed at Kamaole Beach Club, right across the street from the beach. At the street corner there is a crosswalk.

When we got there on Saturday, there was this “beach bum” who sat on a wooden bench overlooking the ocean just a few feet away. He had long matted hair, wore a bicycle helmet and had a dirty pink backpack. Next to him was a cart presumably holding his various possessions.

He sat there all day long that first day, staring at the ocean without moving, at times holding a papaya in one hand and staring at it. Sometimes we’d see him muttering to himself.

He sat at the same spot every day, from morning till night, not moving. He never took off his helmet, he never removed his backpack. We never saw him come or go, but I must admit I didn’t go out late at night or early in the morning and check.

We took the picture above on the morning of the 7th day as we were leaving. This time he was standing up, motionless, looking at the ocean. We had never seen him standing, or walking, or doing anything before. The overnight low is 72 degrees in Maui, the high is 88 degrees. The trade winds keep the beach cool. So there is no need to move from that spot.

I am now back home, thousands of miles away, but I know exactly where this man is: Sitting on that bench, helmet slightly tilted to the left, dirty pink backpack on his back.

And I am thinking to myself: I have so much to do and so little time to do it.

Starbound picks up where Marsbound stopped. Humanity has decided to send a starship to Wolf 25, the home world of The Others.

The starship uses the “free energy” concept provided by The Others through the Martians to create a matter – anti-matter reaction engine. However, for that it needs reaction mass, which it obtains from a large ice asteroid. The asteroid is large enough to provide mass to travel the 25 light years to Wolf 25 and back with mass to spare. The ship accelerates at 1g all the way to the half-way point, at which time it will have reached more than 90% of the speed of light, when it turns around and then decelerates for the second half of the trip. Due to the relativistic speed, the crew will only age 6 years during the more than 25-year journey.

They should be able to meet The Others, and come back, all over the course of a little more than 12 years in their own lives, while more than 50 years will have passed on Earth.

Along the way, unexpected events change their plans and the “meeting” with The Others is not quite what they expected.

While the premise is exciting, and the first journey of a crewed trip to another star could be exciting, the author does not take advantage of the opportunity. There are conceptual problems with the plot, and the story-telling is stilted.

There are some concepts that just don’t make sense. For instance, the ship accelerates at 1g for half the trip. However, anyone studying relativity and doing the pretty simple math will realize that, from Earth’s frame of reference, if you’re accelerating at a constant rate of 1g, then you would reach near the speed of light in about one year. Why keep accelerating after that, particularly when there is a significant plot point about the Martians really suffering in the 1g Earth-standard gravity. They could have turned the engine off after one year, and they would arrive only very marginally later, after turning the engine on for braking again one year out. The whole thing just didn’t add up.

Another massive plot hole is that the entire premise is that the limit of the speed of light affects all races, including The Others. They can’t travel any faster than anyone else. However, somehow they are able to cause terrible destruction to humanity seemingly instantaneously, as the plot of the story will tell.

Yes, you may say this is science fiction, and the author has to right to make up the technology. But this does not work if on one side the author goes to great lengths building a world around the limitations and effects of general relativity, but on the other hand seems to break those rules in deus ex machina fashion all throughout the plot.

Finally, let’s talk about the crew. Humanity sends seven humans and two Martians as the world’s ambassadors to another star to meet a known very hostile race. Leaving the two Martians alone, the human crew consists of two married couples. The first are Carmen Dula and Paul Collier of Marsbound. The other are Meryl and Moonboy, the two xenologists of Marsbound. Then apparently to make things interesting, they add a triad (marriage of three) with two male “spies” and their mutual wife, Elza, who is a medical doctor who also happens to be a nymphomaniac. This causes all sorts of friction as she sleeps her way through the crew within the first few weeks. Why in the world would humanity set up a team of star travelers who would be cooped up in a spaceship tin-can for 12 years and not make sure there will be sexual stability for the journey? I assume it’s for plot purposes, so there is plenty of sex sprinkled into the story. I might add that the sex really does not work in this story.

The author also applies a strange concept of using three different narrators, switching between chapters. One is Carmen, the other in Namir, one of the spies, and the third is Fly-in-Amber, one of the Martians. I don’t see why that was necessary, as it didn’t add anything to the story as far as I could tell. But it was confusing, since I had to figure out who was talking every time a new chapter started with the protagonist speaking in the first person. He could have put the name of the narrator into the chapter title and made it a little more straightforward.

Starbound is a tale with a lot of possibilities, but those are completely wasted. Haldeman is a good story teller, and I enjoy his novels, but this one is just too poorly crafted and constructed, with a far-fetched a plot that I simply was not able to buy into.

It’s late 21st century on Earth. There is now a space elevator in the Pacific off the Galapagos Islands that allows humans to reach space in a two-week elevator ride, rather than a 12-minute rocket blast. There is a Hilton hotel midway in the balance point of the elevator.

Carmen Dula is a 19-year-old girl traveling to Mars with her family as part of a group of scientist colonists, adding to the 100 or so people already living on Mars.

The story tells about the ride on the space elevator in great detail and much more elaborately than I have read in any other science fiction story. The reader will understand space elevators after this. Then it tells of the months long journey on a spaceship to Mars, the landing there, and the integration of the new colonists with the existing people there.

Carmen is not necessarily an obedient young woman. One night she defies all colony rules, as well as all common sense, and leaves the station in a spacesuit all alone, telling nobody where she went. Sure enough, she has an accident many kilometers away from the base, and believes she is about to die – when she gets rescued – by Martians.

At this point, the story took a completely different turn from what I expected, having read The Martian by Andy Weir recently. Weir stays with current technology in his book and does not venture into a speculative technological future. Haldeman stretches things here.

Moderate Spoiler Below

As it turns out, the Martians in this book are a race artificially created by “The Others” to keep an eye on humanity. Some 30,000 years ago, The Others visited the solar system, found early human hunter gatherers and decided that they could easily evolve into a space-traveling race. They put an outpost on Mars to monitor Earth, which took no effort at all for 30,000 years, until the humans started broadcasting in the early 20th century. Then they got busy and started learning human culture and languages simply from humanity’s broadcasts.

The Others are a highly advanced race which lives in a silicon-based environment embedded in liquid nitrogen. Their metabolism is more than a 100 times slower than that of humans, so there is no way for them to communicate with humans directly. However, they have created artificial sentinels that can translate between the thoughts of the others and humans.

The humans aren’t doing too well – being a bellicose race and never trusting others, and within just a few years of learning of The Others humanity does one stupid thing after another to stoke the ire of The Others.

Then they strike.

End of Spoiler

Haldeman likes to tell near-future stories with space travel and relativistic concepts interwoven, and that makes for an interesting read, albeit a far-fetched one. With the story being told by an immature girl at least for the first half of the book, it feels a bit  juvenile at times, and there is a little bit more sex in the story than is necessary to make it succeed. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and the concepts described, particularly the experience of the space elevator.

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