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For 17 years I have participated in the Hilton Honors rewards program. Their top tier is Diamond. To qualify, you have to spend either 60 nights a year or 30 stays a year at a Hilton property. Every year you have to re-qualify. There are a lot of travel perks that come with the Diamond status, like extra bonus points for every stay. That’s the most valuable part, since the points get me free stays when I want them. But I get room upgrades all the time, free breakfasts, water, WiFi and any other amenities. I can get rooms in hotels that are completely booked (you figure how they do that…) and when I have a complaint, like I don’t like my room, they listen and work hard to accommodate any wishes. Needless to say, the Diamond status has paid off over the years. Since I started, I have qualified every year. Now you know how much I travel. And that does not include any Best Western, Hyatt, Marriott, Holiday Inn and boutique hotels overseas that I might have stayed in.

Now Hilton sent me a big box with presents, including a set of Bose earphones and other swag. They awarded me the Lifetime Diamond status. Now I don’t need to qualify anymore. I am not sure what you have to do to get this, but as you see above, in 17 years I have spent 1016 nights at 283 Hilton hotels.

That’s three YEARS!

Road warrior anyone?

First Man follows Neil Armstrong from 1961 to 1969 on his journey to be the first man to step on the moon.

We are in the space capsule with Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as they are launched, and we are in the homes and at backyard BBQs of the men and women in the early space program.

In the media, and in our nostalgic memories, we think of going into space as a romantic endeavor. Watching First Man changes this, as we witness the tremendous forces acting on the fragile human body as it is strapped into a couch on top of a gigantic rocket. We see the fear and the emotional and physical stress in the eyes of the astronauts as they embark on missions where a million moving parts have to hold together, and a million sequences of events have to work perfectly, over a period of many days, and where any failure of any type results in catastrophe – and death of the astronauts.

Armstrong was a cool dude who did not get rattled, either by a crash during a test flight of his experimental craft from which he bailed out literally a fraction of a second before it exploded, nor by the fury and agony of his wife who chastises him when he does not want to face his boys before leaving on his historic journey. History has shown that Armstrong’s steel nerves and calm under pressure made the mission successful.

I was a twelve-year-old boy who was allowed to stay up all night on July 20, 1969. Armstrong stepped onto the moon in the wee hours of the morning local time in Germany. And I remember being in awe, and being inspired, and looking forward to a life where I knew I would eventually be able to travel to the moon as tourist and visit the Apollo-11 landing site as a historic museum exhibit. It is now over 49 years later, and I realize that I had no idea that the Apollo landings would not just be the first landings on the moon, but  possibly also the last ones – in my lifetime.

I enjoyed First Man a lot. I have come criticisms. This is a movie review, after all:

I liked the flying and technical scenes, and I didn’t care too much about all the stuff at home and in the back yard. The acting was okay, but didn’t blow me away.

We saw a lot of footage of shake, rattle and roll, first in 1961 when Armstrong did a test flight in an F-104 where he literally skipped outside of the atmosphere by accident, then during the Gemini launch, then when the capsule went into an uncontrolled roll, and finally, when Apollo-11 launched. There was too much footage of launches from the point of view of the astronauts, but no re-entries, no landings, no recovery on the water, all the good stuff. The missions jumped forward days at a time skipping sequences that would have been interesting to me. There wasn’t a single shot of the large, looming moon during the journey there, nor any expression of awe by the journeyers. The real action that I was there to see went by too fast.

We caught glimpses of the life of Neil Armstrong and his family, but we didn’t get a good enough look at the space program, and that’s what I went to see when I bought the ticket for First Man. It was a long movie, at 138 minutes, and those minutes could have been used more effectively.

That being said, I am glad I went.

The Warp Clock is the fourth book in what I now call the Ben Travers Series of books. The others were:

In The Warp Clock, Ben Travers comes back with a vengeance.

After the so-so The Day After Never, which ventured into foo-foo time travel, Van Coops is back with a time travel thriller about time travel all the way.

A group of convicts and criminals has banded together in a set of remote timestreams using decommissioned time gates from the Chronothons. They are working on changing history mostly with the objective of enriching themselves, but under the pretense of making the world a better place. They are kidnapping historical figures, like Hitler and Genghis Khan, putting them into an arena a-la-Colosseum and making them fight each other for their lives, to the pleasure of the onlookers. It’s not a happy world. Ben and Mym, and their daughter Piper, are trapped in this nightmare of a world from which they can only escape through a tricky sequence of – you guessed it – time travel jumps that make your mind bend.

It’s all worth it. The book is written in the first person present tense, which gives it a rapid-fire feeling. The action drives forward from sentence to sentence, giving it a truly breathless pace.

Of course, there is also Dr. Quickly and a cameo appearance of Cowboy Bob in Montana and his housekeeper Connie. The old band is back together.

I would not recommend reading this book out of order. If you’re interested in the Ben Travers series, you really need to start with In Times Like These, where Time Travel 101 is the course and anchors are the lesson. Then work your way up. The Warp Clock, as the first book, would likely leave you confused or lost.

 

Trump, and now Nikki Haley, are telling us that “the world” respects the United States and Trump. America is “respected again.”

That’s baloney.

Here is a chart that shows confidence that the U.S. president will do the “right thing” regarding world affairs. The countries shown are Spain, France, Germany and the U.K.

Clearly, Obama was respected, and Trump is lower than Bush. It says nothing about how Americans feel, or what’s good for America. It says something about how other countries “respect” the American president. This must irk Trump, to whom it matters so much what others think. This is probably why he denigrates Obama so much. He is obsessed with Obama and does not understand why he cannot garner the same respect and admiration.

Respect must be earned. It can’t be gained by making outrageous – and false – claims.

Trump lives is a world of his own wishful thinking.

[click to enlarge – you must]

The picture above shows Alex Honnold, the world’s most awesome rock climber, with El Capitan in the background, the world’s most awesome big wall.

All my life I was an avid hiker and mountaineer, but rock climbing has always scared me. I could never understand what possessed people to climb vertical walls. I was paralyzed by fear just thinking about it.

Then, at the age of 36, I bought shoes, a harness, a few carabiners, a chalk bag, and signed up for a class in technical rock climbing. I learned how to build anchors, to rappel, to belay and to climb.

Once you get off the ground just six feet on a vertical wall, and you look down, it looks far, and it is potentially deadly. You don’t need to go very high to forget all petty thoughts, all worldly problems or issues. You leave the entire “gross national product world” behind, and you focus on what really matters – the next foot or handhold.

Before making that reach, letting go with one hand to reach up to the next handhold, switching from four-point contact with the wall to a temporary three-point contact, you think about your harness and whether you remembered to double-back the buckle properly, you can’t remember if you locked the carabiner that ties into the rope. Could it have a hairline crack? You look down and check your figure-eight knot and make sure it’s done right. How old is that rope anyway? How about the anchor? Is it really going to hold if I fall?

Panic sets in. Hands start slipping. Time to make the reach. Go! Reach!

Whew. It worked. Next step.

Your mind is singly focused on nothing but you, your equipment and the wall.

I probably haven’t been on a rock wall 20 years now, but I still have a passion for the sport, and I have followed the career of Alex Honnold over the years. I have written about him a few times. Here is an example: Look, Ma, no Rope!

In June of 2017, Honnold finally completed his lifelong dream of doing something nobody has ever done before in the history of climbing: free soloing El Capitan, the hardest, most bad-ass big wall in the world. This put Alex on the pinnacle of the climbing world. This feat is celebrated as one of the greatest athletic achievements of any kind, and it sets an impossible standard: Perform perfectly, without a single mistake, for a 3,000 foot climb, or die. It stretches our understanding and appreciation of the human spirit and the power of mental concentration.

The movie is masterfully done. It chronicles Honnold’s life, and it builds the tension, so when we finally watch the climb itself, we are prepared for the various tight spots and challenges, and we sit at the edge of our seat. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a cliffhanger.

My palms started to sweat at the beginning of the movie, and my hands did not dry up until the closing credits played.

Free solo is a documentary you really, really should watch!

[picture credit: Reddit – click for details]

Today the United States Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The way I see it is:

We have a president who has openly boasted about committing repeated and continuous sexual assault. That president has been accused by more than a dozen women, and those are only the ones that came forward, of sexual assault. That president has now appointed a justice to the Supreme Court how has also been accused by more than one woman for sexual assault, albeit over 30 years ago. The media and his supporters make it sound like sexual assault in high school and college are nothing to worry about, everyone does it. I disagree. But be that as is may, even if I could excuse the indiscretions (or possibly crimes) of his youth, I cannot forgive him lying about it now under oath and in front of the whole country. There is evidence that Kavanaugh lied, a lot, about many facts related to this mess he is in. And that I cannot forgive him for. After all, he is a Supreme Court justice now. How is he going to vote on perjury when it comes up? How are his fellow justices thinking about this?

Can they ever respect him?

Can I ever respect him?

And this president and this Supreme Court justice are now going to decide on women’s rights!

We sure need help now.

Here is a strange fallout:

Senator Susan Collins was the deciding vote. She had to power to stop this.

Now the ire of the nation is upon her. Fundraising against her reelection has escalated, and it’s quite possible that her career as a senator may be ending.

However, why are we targeting her?

Every other Republican senator, save Murkowski, also voted for Kavanaugh.

What is different about Collins and everyone else? Why are we coming after her now, and not all the others that voted the party line.

We truly need help now. Trump has tarnished the image of his office, and Kavanaugh has tarnished that of the Supreme Court. I guess the Senate is next.

Cannas

About 15 years ago I visited a client agency in Santa Barbara, California, and provided some training to the staff there. They had an open office area, and one of the women had a plastic bag spread on the floor next to her desk with a few flower bulbs and green leaves. They looked like onions. I asked what they were. She said they were cannas bulbs. I didn’t even know what that was. She asked me if I wanted to take some home with me.

Of course I did. When I got home, I planted them in a pot and after a few weeks green shoots sprouted from the pot. They multiplied and eventually, over the course of a year, the pot was full of green plants.

As the years went by, at various places I lived, I would plant the cannas plants in the yards just to get them out of the pot. They always grew well and multiplied fast with new shoots, but never had any flowers.

Every time I did that I would keep one bulb back and put it into the pot, where it spread again. The pot stayed with me as I moved. I went through this cycle of keeping one in the pot at least five or six times over those 15 years. You can see the pot with the current stand of cannas in the background of the picture.

In the foreground, however, you see the cannas bush that came from the last time I emptied the pot. This time, and for the first time ever, I got blossoms. Yellow flowers. I know they will all be yellow, since they all came from one single bulb.

What joy I get from cherishing a single plant that long and finally see it bloom!

Did you know that the United States has 883 military bases in 183 counties?

Check this out:

The US military has a staggering 883 military bases in 183 countries. In contrast, Russia has 10 such bases – eight of them in the former USSR. China has one overseas military base. There is no country with a military footprint that replicates that of the United States. The bases in Japan are only a small part of the massive infrastructure that allows the US military to be hours away from armed action against any part of the planet.

There is no proposal to downsize the US military footprint. In fact, there are only plans to increase it. The United States has long sought to build a base in Poland, whose government now courts the White House with the proposal that it be named “Fort Trump.”

Currently, there are US-NATO military bases in Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria, with US-NATO troops deployments in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The United States has increased its military presence in the Black Sea and in the Baltic Sea.

Attempts to deny Russia access to its only two warm-water ports in Sevastopol, Crimea, and Latakia, Syria, pushed Moscow to defend them with military interventions. A US base in Poland, on the doorstep of Belarus, would rattle the Russians as much as they were rattled by Ukraine’s pledge to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and by the war in Syria.

These US-NATO bases provide instability and insecurity rather than peace. Tensions abound around them. Threats emanate from their presence.

— AsiaTimes

No wonder we spend more on the military than the next 10 countries combined! No wonder Trump complains that other countries are using us “for their protection” without paying us back for that.

I hate to do this, but I actually agree with Trump. Our country is insane with its military. Do we really need 883 military bases all over the world?

Could we maybe make do with 100 or so?

Or 101 – I think Trump will want his “Fort Trump,” won’t he?

Oh, my tax dollars at work!

If I was a guest at your house for a backyard BBQ party and

  • I mocked your father or grandfather who was a prisoner of war?
  • I mocked your disabled child by making spastic movements?
  • I mocked your neighbor’s family who lost a son in Afghanistan?
  • I mocked your daughter who had been sexually assaulted?

You would throw me out and I would likely no longer be your friend – at best.

And yet, here is our president doing exactly those things on national TV, and the people standing behind him laugh and applaud and act like this is funny.

It would be horrendous if I did it as a private citizen. You would throw me out and beat me up.

But here is the man who holds the office that we teach our schoolchildren they should look up to as a role model, and we accept it.

It destroys the dignity of the presidency, and it may take generations before the image and decorum recovers.

I don’t know exactly what the people standing behind Trump laughing and applauding really think deep inside. But I know that I think that Trump is a despicable human being, one that I will try to forget about quickly once he is voted out of office.

I also don’t know exactly what the Republican leadership, all those men and women that ran against Trump in the campaign, are thinking. I remember Rubio and Cruz saying that it was our duty to make sure that Trump never got anywhere near the Oval Office.

Really – damn their careers – one or more of these cowards need to stand up, man up, and do what they know is right, and do what they are really thinking inside, and end this national disgrace of a reality show of a country.

We need to take our country back.

Rich old white men, and apparently corrupt men, are in the process of destroying our country, and we’re letting it happen, like the proverbial frogs in the boiling water.

Thousands of years ago Socrates stated that democracy cannot be maintained without a well-educated citizenry. Today, we’re not a well-educated citizenry. Just watch the people cheering Trump at rallies and tell me what you think. Somebody cheering Trump when he is making the alleged rapist and his family the victim, and the victim coming forward the perpetrator, I equate that to Orwellianism in the highest degree. Make America great again, long live the stupid.

We have a president who is obviously and blatantly corrupt, who is systematically consolidating his power as a dictator.

We have a president who is obviously working on inserting corrupt justices into the judiciary. The way I see it, Kavanaugh lies under oath like Trump lies in press conferences.

We have a Congress that is supposed to oversee our government and provide checks and balances. Congress is not doing that job.

The way I see it, rich old white men are working on destroying our country, and we’re sitting there watching.

It’s one big con job, conducted like a reality show on TV, just like Trump has run his private and business life all along.

The well-educated citizenry must stand up on November 6th and vote the thugs out of office, all of them, before it’s too late.

Vis consilii expers mole ruit sua.

— Horace, Book III, Poem 4, Line 65

Wolfgang in German: Kraft ohne (= expers /nicht teilhabend an etwas) Einsicht (Überlegung, besonnene Klugheit) stürzt durch ihre eigene Schwere (Masse, Größe …).

Norbert in English: Power without introspection is crushed by its own weight.

Today, more than ever before in my lifetime, are we faced with immense power controlled by complete dilettantes and narcissists. Watch and learn: vis consilii expers mole ruit sua!

When the Soviet Union collapsed almost 30 years ago, the assets of the country, its industrial base that had been neglected so long, was grabbed up by a few young, enterprising, creative and possibly criminal individuals. Some say there were less than twenty of them. They, and their successors, are now called the Russian oligarchs. The majority of the economic power of the Russian nation is consolidated by very few people, all under control of the central government, which is headed by an apparently corrupt and possibly murderous leader: Putin. Russia, in my opinion, is a nation state run by organized crime.

In the United States we were better than that. However, in the recent couple of years I see very similar developments. Radical deregulation is fueling the stock market, which is not a surprise. The Obama regulatory environment had throttled the economy. One can argue one way or the other. I personally believe that while we’re riding high on the economy right now, and while the super rich are getting richer, the middle class is doing “just ok.” A tax saving of a few hundred dollars funds one more trip to Costco, which is not a huge improvement for the middle class. But eventually our children and their children will regard the Trump era as a time when their fathers enriched themselves forcing them to pay the bills. The reckoning for today’s boom time will come.

We’re also massively adding to the national debt now. The debt payments are about to exceed our military expenses. While the conservative world was furious when Obama added to the debt, now it does not even get mention. All of a sudden, the debt is not important. After all, the economy is so great, it’s going to pay for it all. I do not believe this is going to work, but only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the buffoon in the White House is overloading us with so many scandals, we can’t even focus on them anymore. When Obama wore a tan suit, the media went crazy for a few days. When Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless dress, she was castigated. There are nude pictures of our current First Lady on the Internet and nobody seems to take note. We were not numb to scandals, and the media needed something to write about.

Trump does outrageous things every day that my moral compass that does accept. However, there is so much, the list is so long, it’s drowned out. While we’re not able to pay attention, the billionaire class, some of them in the White House and Cabinet, are openly lining their own pockets with corrupt activities, every day. The country is being looted and polluted. The American tax payer is being raped. And we are numb.

An oligarchy is quickly forming, where a very small number of very rich people control the entire economy and the political system.

Is that making America great?

Here is a tweet by Donald Trump in 2014:

Then, against all odds, our next president would be Donald Trump. When he spoke to the United Nations for the second year, he claimed in the opening paragraphs of his address:

In less than two years my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.

The room erupted in giggles and laughter. Trump later claimed that they were not laughing at him, but with him:

What Trump does not seem to understand is that the way people respond in a Trump rally is not representative of what the country thinks of him, and certainly not the world.

A Trump rally is filled with ardent supporters. We recently found out that the people standing behind him are actually carefully selected and if anyone ever does not react the way Trump would expect they actually remove and replace him.

The United States encompasses only about 5% of the world’s population. Trump’s base that voted for him was 62 million people. Today, his base is generally measured at about 30% of the U.S. electorate. The average IQ of the U.S. electorate is, by definition, average or about 100. I am not suggesting that the average IQ of Trump supporters is any lower, but I am saying it is not likely any higher than 100, either.

At his rallies, Trump is used to people cheering to his every utterance, no matter how false, stupid, purposely misleading, or incendiary. It’s the people that want to hear that stuff that go to his rallies, so of course, his worldview of what people think about him is distorted.

I have traveled out of the country since Trump took office, and I can say with certainty that I have not yet met a SINGLE foreign person who supports Trump or is impressed with him. Most laugh at him and ask me whether I am embarrassed by the buffoon. The vast majority of 95% of the world’s population think he is an embarrassment to our nation.

And make no mistake about this: it was the opposite with Obama, no matter what Trump thinks or thought. The world loved and respected Obama.

Now enter the hall of the United Nations. The people in the audience are highly trained diplomats or even heads of state, and their aides and assistants. They are the best and brightest who rose to the pinnacle of power and influence in their own countries to eventually be ambassadors at the United Nations. I would carefully guess that the average IQ in a United Nations assembly is well over 150, or genius level, which is far beyond Trump, no matter how big he says his brain is.

Unfortunately for Trump, at the United Nations he is definitely not the smartest person in the room, as he thinks he is when he is surrounded by his followers. Whether some of these people he is talking to are from shithole countries (his words) or not, they will far outclass him, both in intellect, in morality, and definitely in education.

So when they hear ‘In less than two years my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,’ they will crack up.

I would.

 

Michael J. Fox negotiated the deal for “Family Ties” (1982) from a phone booth outside a now defunct Pioneer Chicken restaurant in Hollywood because he had no phone at home. He was told the network would need to call, and he said he was only home between the hours of four and five. He waited for the call, and fortunately he was there to answer it and secure the “Family Ties” (1982) role.

 

Fear tells the story of the Trump White House. The book is exactly what I expected it to be. Narrated without any hyperbole, Woodward tells the story of what was going on behind the scenes of the Trump campaign and his first year in the White House. It’s like we are flies on the wall, listening to what everyone is saying.

There are no accusations, there is no name-calling, there are no interpretations. The reaction of Trump and his people when the book first came out was way over the top of what the book actually deserves.

I read nothing that I didn’t already know, but having it laid out in front of me helped corroborate my opinions.

Woodward never interprets for the reader what’s going on. He simply reports. Of course, I wondered how in the world he was able to pull all this detail together, but I know he has hundreds of hours of interviews recorded and the meticulously cross-references and double-checks quotes before he uses them. As the reader, I get to draw my own conclusions.

I already knew that Trump is terribly concerned about what people think about him, the way he looks, and how he appears. He is obsessed about looking weak, and it drives his actions. He is a dilettante, a real estate salesman who is in way over his head, and he knows it, and that’s why he is so insecure.

Cohn wrote a joke for Trump to use at the Gridiron Dinner: “We’ve made enormous progress on the wall. All the drawings are done. All the excavating’s done. All the engineering is done. The only thing we’ve been stumbling with is we haven’t been able to figure out how to stretch the word ‘Trump’ over 1,200 miles.” Trump wouldn’t use it.

Woodward, Bob. Fear: Trump in the White House (pp. 175-176). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Fear is a must-read book by one of the most preeminent journalists of our time. It reads like a novel, and as I turned the pages I kept telling myself that this is real, that what is going on is affecting all of us, now, every day, and in some areas for generations to come.

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