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Last Sunday Trisha and I got married. Our guests were close family and friends. The instructions for gifts were “the four As:”

  • Art
  • Alcohol
  • Adventure
  • Activity

Soon they turned into five As, when some friends asked us about our favorite charity they could donate to on our behalf. So officially, it was now the five As:

  • Art
  • Alcohol
  • Adventure
  • Activity
  • Africa

For Art: We both love art. Our house is full of original art I made, and people have given us, to the point where there are dozens of unframed paintings stacked in storage. Art, and anything related to art, is always an exciting gift for us.

For Alcohol: We are not drinkers at all. Trisha loves her wine, and she’ll go to a local winery for a tasting, but I suspect more for the social adventure with a friend than for the wine itself. As my daughter pointed out in her wedding speech, “Dad used to drink one beer a year…” and it made it sound like it’s a lot more now. But not really. I have a rule that I can have one drink a day. I do enjoy some exotic stuff, like Cognac, or Absinthe. One friend asked in advance if coffee fit under alcohol, and I said Yes!

For Adventure: We like to do things out of the ordinary. We recently took a ride around San Diego in a biplane. Your get the idea.

For Activity: Take us out to dinner, get us to eat something, do something, or learn something.

For Africa: Send money to Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia. Trisha recently was in Botswana and connected with many good people who work for the conservation of endangered wildlife.

I must say that the five As ( Art-Alcohol-Adventure-Activity-Africa ) was a resounding success. But one fried (JW) took it over the top and I could not help feature his gift here:

He said that since the gift had to start with A, it was a pretty easy choice:

  • Absinthe
  • Applejack
  • Aquavit
  • Arak Sannine
  • Armagnac
  • Amontillado

…where the latter came with the book by Edgar Allan Poe, the Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, where the inscription by JW pointed us to page 162, where the story The Cask of Amontillado started.

Try to even find a place where they sell all these exotic examples of fire water!

Now I have a lifetime to spend, one glass a day, working my way through the As.

Then come the Bs.

Oh, married life!

 

Revenger is a science fiction space opera that you can’t take too seriously.

There are swaggering captains on ships with sails, raucous crews of misfits who chase treasures. The world is full of islands with treasures, and if a captain has the right maps, or secret information, he can sail to those islands and get the loot. But there are others that will be on his tail and try to take the prize from him. And there are pirates, who board ships, kill everyone and steal the goods. And that is the story. It could have taken place in the Caribbean in the 1600s, but this story takes place millions, or possibly billions of years in the future.

The Congregation is a swarm of “worlds” circling the Old Sun. Worlds are little planetoids, just a few leagues across. It’s not clear what a league is, but I am guessing it’s around a mile. Inside of the planetoids are “swallowers” which I assume to be miniature black holes that generate just enough gravity for the surfaces to be around one gee. There are also spindle worlds, tube worlds and various other exotic ones. Out of 50 million objects in the Congregation, there are about 20,000 inhabited worlds.

And there are “baubles” which are uninhabited worlds with treasure hidden on them, by whom is not clear. And there are space ships driven by ion drives near objects and light sails in open space. The ion drives are like the outboard motors on our sail ships.

Adrana and Fura Ness are two young girls who run away from home and their overbearing father, sign on with a ship, and very soon realize they are in way over their heads. And so the swashbuckling adventure starts.

I realized pretty soon that this is not a science fiction novel, but a pirate novel, masquerading as a science fiction novel. But I did enjoy it sufficiently to keep reading.

A movie review by my reader and occasional guest blogger, Jean Claude Volgo:

The film Agora deals with the life and times of Hypatia of Alexandria, arguably the most illustrious woman in the history of Greek science.  The scant historical accounts of her life dwell on the gruesome death she is reported to have suffered in the hands of a Christian mob.  Yet this part of her story (tragic as it is) is less compelling than her reputation as a leading mathematician and astronomer at the twilight of ancient pagan culture.

A beacon of the Hellenistic Age, Alexandria in the late C4th was becoming the epicenter of escalating social tensions between various religious factions vying for political power. The authority of an impartial Roman governor was under constant challenge by Jews and Christians.  Yet in spite of the political turmoil, Greek science flourished in the Library of Alexandria under the mathematician, Theon.  Hypatia, his daughter, would have been well versed in Geometry and Astronomy under her father’s tutelage.  To understand how she became memorialized as a Martyr of Science, we need to step back to an earlier period.

Greek Astronomy was based on a geostatic and geocentric cosmology.  A complex system of interlocking circles had been proposed by Ptolemy (c. 150 AD) to explain what seemed to be erratic planetary orbits.  The system was designed to preserve the Greek geometric ideal of  uniform circular motion.  Although generally accepted, this astronomical model was weighed down by its unwieldy complexity.  Could Hypatia have raised doubts about the Ptolemaic system?  This is the intriguing question underlying a pivotal theme in Agora. The film speculates that Hypatia toyed with a simpler heliocentric model and may have even proposed elliptic orbits for the planets (a theory in keeping with her own publicized study on conic sections).  Furthermore, we know that she was schooled in Neoplatonism, which assigned a prominent role to the Sun in a universe guided by intelligent design.  In short,  could Hypatia — an avowed Neoplatonist — have been perplexed by the incongruity between Ptolemy’s inelegant theory and her own ideal image of a heliocentric system?

Agora is a courageous film: intellectually, for its bold imaginative leap; visually, for the meticulous depiction of ancient multicultural Alexandria with its famed Library.  Rachel Weisz is an intrepid Hypatia, unmoved by ardent suitors, and defying a superstitious mob. The film dramatizes the clash between pagans, Christians, and Jews.  Amenábar deserves credit for his unapologetic exposure of the savage horde that brought down the Library of Alexandria and extinguished the life of one of its most celebrated luminaries.

Agora broke box office records in Spain, but failed to get wide distribution in the USA.

 

Almost every person in the world has seen a picture of the Grand Canyon. Pictures do not do it justice. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, and you walk up to the rim, it takes your breath away. The Grand Canyon is much larger, much more awesome, than anyone could possibly imagine and expect.

So it is with a total solar eclipse. Yesterday I experienced my first one. I have seen countless photographs, by amateurs, and by NASA professionals. I had first-hand reports from my friend and eclipse chaser M.B., and I knew intellectually what to expect.

Being there and having it happen was like the Grand Canyon to the power of three. It was the most awe-inspiring natural event I have ever experienced (the births of my children excluded).

Trisha and I went to the small town of Idaho Falls, a community of 56,000 people in the southeastern plains of Idaho. We went down to the banks of the Snake River, where there are falls and the river rushes. The area is a manicured park, with lots of grass, trees, benches, pathways, all right downtown. There were probably a thousand people there in the area, but it was not crowded at all.

We arrived shortly after “first contact” when the moon’s disk had just started to obscure the edge of the sun. You can’t see it, unless you have special eclipse glasses, but we had those, so we could easily monitor the progress. People set up their cameras, frolicked in the park, and slowly the anticipation built.

It started getting interesting in the last 20 minutes. While it was hot under the sun at 11:00am, it rapidly started getting cooler. The sun became a sliver, but it was still way too bright to see without the glasses. Then the light changed to an eerie blue and silver tint, somewhat like dusk, but different altogether. Shadows didn’t look right. It got chilly.

In the last three minutes things started happening fast. It was cold. It was dusk. The stars overhead became visible. The city streetlights came on.

And then, from one moment to the next, it was dark. We could look up and the sun was gone. With bare eyes we saw a dark black disk were the sun was, and a bright corona all around it. The sky was dark. The stars were out. Only a light ring around the entire horizon lit up the world. And the temperature dropped significantly. I shivered. It was outright cold in the middle of summer at noon.

I took a picture or two of the moon/sun/corona with my iPhone, but what came out was insignificant. The eclipse looks huge in the sky with bare eyes, but pictures are disappointing.

I took a panoramic video. At the end you can see Trisha waving at me. You can see her face lit up from the dusky glow of the horizon only. That’s how dark it was.

All round us people were cheering and howling, and so was I. Unable to stop the emotional outbursts, I found that a big portion of the experience is sharing it with the crowds around me. Everyone there, young and old, was unable to contain their emotions. The rawness of the experience, the depth, came through.

And then, just a couple of minutes later, a pearl of light shot out and the brightness of the sun was back. We had to use the glasses again. Within a minute, it started getting warmer, the eerie shadows came back for a while – and then, quickly, my normal world returned.

But I was a different person. I had seen an eclipse. It was too short. I wanted another one. How dare they be so rare!

The next eclipse in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024, and I will be there. There is no way I will miss that. It will arch up from Texas to Maine, and Chautauqua, one of my favorite places in New York, will be right in the path. And I will be there.

Then, the next coast to coast eclipse will be in 2045. I will be 89 years old. I will be there too.

I have seen a total eclipse, and things are different now.

 

I thought Montana was Trump country. Maybe not Bozeman. The

Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus

got my attention. But I didn’t realize that there was a photobomb of two young kids in need of a room in the front until after I took the photo.

Great times in Bozeman, Montana.

I have never seen a total solar eclipse. As we are preparing for our trip to Montana and Idaho to be there in the path of totality on August 21 in Idaho Falls, I came across this video that describes the experience. Now I am getting excited.

…that my sneakers are getting very ratty?

The fortune cookie is right. Better go shopping soon.

The name Al Gore is synonymous with Climate Change (capitalized on purpose). Gore started a popular uprising more than ten years ago with the movie An Inconvenient Truth and with this sequel he continues his fight.

He has been vilified by deniers and the far right lobby in the United States, and he has suffered setback after setback in his mission to get the message out.

Living in the United States in the age of Trump and the dumbing down of America, we tend to forget that we are pretty unique in the world. Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, and the far right is a small, albeit powerful slice of that 5%, but they seem to be the loudest criers. Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord. This makes no sense. 95% percent of the people of the world are scratching their heads.

I know people all over the world, Europeans, South Africans, Japanese, Brazilians, Indians, to name just a few. And I could not name a single one of them who would be what we call in the United States a climate denier. Denying climate change seems to be a uniquely American malaise.

Al Gore has the work cut out for himself in this country, and I am grateful for his leadership and tenacity.

You don’t have to “believe” in climate change to watch An Inconvenient Sequel and learn from it. The movie is full of facts and astonishing imagery about how our world has been changing and is continuing to change.

The most important experience for me, however, was as I walked out of the movie, stunned, but inspired. We have got this. There is no stopping that movement. People have turned their backs on coal and oil, no matter what the coal and oil lobby, and our own government, that is supposed to protect us, tells us. People are installing solar energy systems at an ever escalating pace. Solar will be cheaper and easier to use. Coal and oil will be inconvenient, and the planet will heal.

This didn’t happen by accident. This happened because of the tireless leadership of thousands of people, one of which is Al Gore.

Oh, no, we’re not done yet with the fight, far from it. But oh, yes, we will choose to take the baton so we can march toward a better world.

Some very interesting musings about free speech, a topic dear to me, too, and a segment about Trump and transgender people in the military. Nice post!

athicketofmusings

If you haven’t yet read about the Google employee who was fired for questioning the company’s diversity policy, then you need to do so immediately.  I couldn’t care less what your opinion is on this man’s statements (they’re actually pretty mild in my opinion), but it’s obvious to me that the company’s reaction to this was way out of proportion to the “crime” committed.  It’s already been proven that Google has far Left political leanings & isn’t afraid to exploit its power to try to sway public opinion.  This was evidenced when analyses found that Google’s suggested searches on Hillary Clinton were largely positive while its suggested searches on Donald Trump were largely negative.  But that’s a story for another day.  voltaire quote

The heart of the matter here is that free speech is under attack in this country like never before in our history.  The Left has so brainwashed…

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Thank you, Stalin. Thank you because I am joyful. Thank you because I am well. No matter how old I become, I shall never forget how we received Stalin two days ago. Centuries will pass, and the generations still to come will regard us as the happiest of mortals, as the most fortunate of men, because we lived in the century of centuries, because we were privileged to see Stalin, our inspired leader … Everything belongs to thee, chief of our great country. And when the woman I love presents me with a child the first word it shall utter will be : Stalin …

—  A. V. Avidenko’s “Hymn to Stalin”

 

On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.

— Reince Priebus at Cabinet Meeting

The Administration and the GOP are now heading for tax reform. They want to cut taxes. I read that to mean:

  1. Lower taxes for the rich and Trump’s cronies
  2. Burden the country with more debt to account for those tax cuts
  3. Give the middle-class a one-time check of a few hundred dollars that is enough to pay for one trip to Costco – just to make them feel good.

Trump supporters want lower taxes, and they believe their hero that those couple of hundred dollars (IF THAT) is their fair share.

To support this initiative, Trump tells his supporters that the United States has one of the highest tax burdens in the world. That is simply not true whatsoever.

Trump lies.

It takes about 5 seconds to google and see the reality:

[click to enlarge]

Source: Taxfoundation.org. Check this site for a wealth of more information.

This shows that the United States is actually below average.

I am not saying that paying taxes like they do in Belgium or Germany is good. I am just saying that Trump lied to his followers, whom he obviously considers too lazy or stupid to look up the facts for themselves.

Trump wants to cut taxes for billionaires. And the middle-class, the unemployed coal miners, “the milk people,” the Carrier workers that just lost their jobs in Indiana, they are still supporting Trump.

Trump is raiding this country for himself, his clan, and his cronies in the fossil fuel business, and the Russian mob, and the American people are blind to it and somehow think this is good for them.

One day, after 2018, or after 2020, we will all wake up with massively more national debt, less jobs for the lower and middle class, less education for all, and we’ll realize we have been duped. That is if we’re not in some new massive war with a new adversary like Iran or North Korea that he starts just to crank up the military industrial complex.

Trump is Making America Stupid Again.

Stephen King is a master of what-if books.

For instance, his novel Under the Dome is based on this premise: What if a bubble-like, transparent, but completely impenetrable dome a few miles across suddenly was placed over a New England town? Nobody gets in, nobody gets out. What would happen? Then King builds an entire novel around this unlikely, impossible and ridiculous assumption.

In King’s novel The Stand, he speculates that a human-made deadly virus accidentally gets out and kills 99.9999 percent of the population. Only a handful individuals survive. That’s the what-if scenario. Then a novel of well over a thousand pages follows, building an entire world based on that premise.

Stephenson also likes to write what-if novels. Seveneves starts: THE MOON BLEW UP WITHOUT WARNING AND FOR NO APPARENT reason. What would happen if that actually occurred?

DODO is such a what-if book. What if magic existed? Yes, magic like witches that can cast spells, like turning a man into a frog, or changing the order of playing cards in a deck, Harry Potter kind of magic. It’s a preposterous assumption, and it was enough to turn me off before I even picked up the book. But then, a friend and frequent commenter on this blog (MB) told me to get over the magic part and read DODO anyway. So I did. I did not regret it.

Besides being a book that speculates about magic, DODO is also a time travel book. Time travel is one of my favorite science fiction genres, and it even has its own category in the selector on this blog. If you are ever interested in finding books about time travel, I have a wealth of them reviewed right here.

To expand: What if magic existed and what if witches could send people back and forward in time by casting spells? What would happen in a world of 2017, with iPhones, Google, the Internet, and black-budget arms of the United States government, like D.O.D.O, the Department of Diachronic Operations? Imagine the United States military, with its ridiculous bureaucracy, its totally confusing acronyms and endless procedures manuals getting mixed up in magic!

Tristan Lyons is a major in the United States military. Melisande Stokes is a post-doctoral linguistics expert and renowned polyglot, primarily of ancient languages, like Greek, Latin, Hebrew and many others. Lyons recruits Stokes to help him translate ancient texts that reference magic. Magic seems to have been prevalent in early human history, but has abruptly stopped in the mid 19th century. As the two research, they eventually find that a single event in July of 1851 finally stopped magic worldwide. With the help of a renowned physicist and research of the concept of Schrödinger’s cat, they build a machine inside which magic is possible in the 21st century. Now they just have to find a witch, and they can travel in time.

And travel they do, and problems they create.

DODO is a delightful book in so many aspects. For instance, one of the main protagonist organizations is the Fugger family, one of the wealthiest medieval European banking families. This was fun for me, because I had just read The Richest Man Who Ever Lived a couple of years ago, which chronicles the life of Jakob Fugger, a Bavarian banker from Augsburg who was, in his day, the richest and one of the most powerful men in the world. He told kings what to do, because he had the money to fund the kings. The Fugger family is central in the plot of DODO.

The most remarkable thing about DODO is the completely unconventional and, shall I call it experimental, structure of the book. If a lesser author had tried to pull this off, it would have been a dismal failure. But Stephenson made it work: The format and framework of the book is nothing like I have ever read before. It’s not narrated in the first person or the third person. It is a largely chronological assortment of diaries, emails, internal blog posts, government memos – sometimes heavily redacted, handwritten notes, narratives, translations, Wikipedia entries, and historic references. No one person tells the story. The author does not tell the story, and there is no major protagonist who tells the story. The various documents and excerpts, just posted one after the other, eventually tell the story.

It’s a brilliant, new format that I have never seen done before, and it won’t be applied again.

I would normally have given this book three stars, but the completely refreshing and innovative format, and the fact that Stephenson pulled it off successfully, made me bump this book to four stars. It’s a must-read, not because you like time travel (or magic), but because it’s something that has never been done before and therefore is unique.

Is there an award for unique?

Well, you know, we’re going for 15 [percent]. We’re going to see, and we’ll see. But, you know, I don’t want to say anything about negotiation. I mean, we are asking for 15 percent, and we think we’re going to grow tremendously. So I deal with foreign countries, and despite what you may read, I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders. They like me. I like them. You know, it’s amazing.

So I’ll call, like, major — major countries, and I’ll be dealing with the prime minister or the president. And I’ll say, how are you doing? Oh, don’t know, don’t know, not well, Mr. President, not well. I said, well, what’s the problem? Oh, GDP 9 percent, not well. And I’m saying to myself, here we are at like 1 percent, dying, and they’re at 9 percent and they’re unhappy. So, you know, and these are like countries, you know, fairly large, like 300 million people. You know, a lot of people say — they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have. So China’s going to be at 7 [percent] or 8 percent, and they have a billion-five, right? So we should do really well.

But in order to do that — you know, it’s tax reform, but it’s a big tax cut. But it’s simplification, it’s reform, and it’s a big tax cut, 15 –

— Donald Trump, Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2017 in the Oval Office – Read the full transcript here.

This shows how well Trump understands how economies work. How that man got rich is beyond me. Was it all money laundering, stiffing contractors, and walking away from failing projects?

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a successful lawyer in New York City who commutes to the suburbs by subway. One night in spring, when there is a power outage on the train, he is delayed and by the time he gets home it’s dark. As he approaches his house, he sees a raccoon in the yard and as he scares it away, it runs into the door to the attic above his separate garage. He follows it upstairs and chases it out of the attic.

As he looks out of the attic window he sees his wife (Jennifer Garner) and twin teenage daughters in the lit up kitchen in the house. Covered by darkness, he sits down in an old dusty chair and looks out the window. He does not want to go inside. Eventually, he falls asleep.

When he awakes the next morning, he decides not to go to work, or go home. He just watches his family go about their day as they report him as missing. Now that he has been gone for a full 24 hours, he can’t bring himself to return. He stays in the attic another day, and another.

Wakefield is almost a one man show, with Bryan Cranston doing an excellent job as the actor. He narrates the story in a subdued voice, almost just thinking to himself. Some flashbacks illustrate his lackluster marriage and his burned out life.

The movie is very slow and at times I found it hard to remain engaged. As the story progressed, I found myself interested in how it would eventually end. Adapted from a short story by E.L. Doctorow, this is not really a movie, but a long monologue. It would work great as a one man play.

This would be a dud, were it not for Bryan Cranston’s excellent acting. As it is, it’s a study on life, marriage and identity.

Ludicrous, Mr. President. The world is not watching. The world is scratching its head.

If you want a health plan, please stop tweeting, stop playing golf, stop wasting time and taxpayer travel money on silly campaign rallies. You are the president.

Get to work and come up with a plan, a good plan, such a good plan and so cheap, one where everybody will win, and all the Republicans and most of the Democrats will vote for it. It’s actually quite simple.

If you want to have a plan that allows people to buy across state lines, work on such a plan, and present it, and we’ll all support it. You don’t need to kick 26 million people off their health insurance to create a market that allows people to buy across state lines.

To use your own words: It’ll be great, and it’ll be so easy.

Do something, Mr. President!

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