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Today I traveled back from Columbus, Ohio to San Diego, California. In Columbus, the weather turned from rain to snow throughout the afternoon, and I was truly worried about making it out of there. My first leg was to Phoenix, Arizona, with 72 degree weather and clear skies. After wheels up in Columbus, I thought I’d be home safely. The connection flight from Phoenix to San Diego was where the problem kicked in. There was fog in San Diego, and first we started circling over the desert in a “holding pattern” as the pilot called it. Then we were diverted to Ontario, California. San Diego was hopelessly fogged in.

When we landed in Ontario just after 10:00pm, unfortunately, we were not the only plane. There were at least another five or six planes, all destined for San Diego, sitting on the tarmac in Ontario. The airport was already closed, and there was not enough staff there to guide all these planes into gates. There was no staff to operate the jet bridges. Since the terminal was closed, they had to call the police to open the doors. That took some time.

So, after landing, everyone got to sit on the planes for another half an hour. Of course, there was nobody to timely unload the luggage, and the poor airline agent couldn’t get any buses on short notice.

Imagine hundreds of people milling around the airport baggage claim area with no services and no place to go, and the hour was going on midnight.

Fortunately, I live “only” about 90 minutes from the Ontario airport. While I was still on the plane, to save time, I had called The Woman, who fortunately had just texted me that she missed me an hour before, to come and pick me up.

Oh, what a lucky man, I was!

 

 

Earth and Moon

Image Credit: NASA/OSIRIS-REx team and the University of Arizona – [click to enlarge]

We forget how empty space around us is. This picture taken from composites of the OSIRIS spacecraft shows how far the moon is away from the earth, and how little it is, yet, it is our nearest neighbor. There were nine manned missions that went to the moon in the history of humanity, of which six landed on the moon. The last such mission was in 1973, which is now 45 years ago! A number of the people involved in these missions are no longer alive now.

Humans haven’t left the little ball on the left since then, and missions to the space station, in comparison, are so close to earth that you could not even see them on this image.

Space is vast.

 

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) graduated from college in Boston and went on to have a successful and comfortable life in Sacramento, California. He has a beautiful and sweet wife who works for the government, and a son who is smart, laid back, and a musical prodigy. Brad, you would think, has it made.

When he accompanies his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to Boston to interview at Harvard, he goes through an existential crisis. He compares his life, which he considers boring and unsuccessful, with those of his college friends, a bestselling author, a Hollywood producer, a tech entrepreneur and a hedge fund creator. As he watches his son’s success, he doubts himself, and as he interacts with his friends he gradually finds out things are not exactly what they seem.

Just maybe he is successful after all?

Brad’s Status is a slow movie, mostly because there is very little action and a lot of narration. We are not watching what’s going on, we’re told about what’s going on, all through the movie. The characters, with the exception of Brad, are not very credible. We’re told that Troy is a gifted musician, yet we never even witness him playing a single key on the piano, his supposed instrument. Troy is a nice, laid-back kid, but he does not strike me as a prodigy and somebody with a mission. He ends up interviewing at Harvard somewhat by accident. Brad is boring, to watch, to be with, and to listen to.

After a very slow and somewhat boring start, the story picks up a bit of speed, and somehow, at the end, when the credits rolled, I was actually satisfied. The best thing about this entire movie is the second it ends.

You’ll just have to watch it and see for yourself.


 

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely spinster, a mute, who works as a janitor at a “black” government installation in the Cold War era circa 1962.

She discovers a “fishman” creature in a secret laboratory that is being abused by its keepers, headed by a sadistic government agent. She falls in love with the creature. When she finds out that they intend to kill it, she decides to launch a rescue effort.

Sally Hawkins plays an “odd” woman in the Elisa role, somewhat reminiscent of Maudie from last year, where she played a crippled artist.

The Shape of Water got very high reviews by the community. To me, it was a letdown. First, I don’t understand the title. I am not sure what the shape of water is supposed to mean, other than there is an amphibian man in the leading role.

Spoilers following:

The amphibian man is a human in a fish costume, who makes odd sounds, and supposedly can breathe air with lungs and water with gills. The movie makes no effort to explain if the creature is supposed to be an alien or an evolved human swamp creature. Through the course of the movie Elisa ends up in a sexual relationship with the amphibian man, so I assume he’s supposed to be human. But then, why are the government agents so stupid and act like they are not expecting the creature to be intelligent, or have feelings, like a human does. He sure looks like a human in a fish suit! The whole plot, and many of its components, just didn’t make sense to me, to a degree where I found it distracting.

But then, perhaps the whole story was meant to be a fairytale and I was not supposed to reason about it? Maybe I was supposed to just enjoy it?

I am not sure if The Shape of Water is a fairy tale, a science fiction thriller, or a mystery romance story. It has components of all of those.

In the end, I walked out of the movie somewhat unsatisfied.


Movie Review: Zodiac

Starting in the 1960s, and going forward through the decades, a serial killer, who picked seemingly random victims, raged in the San Francisco area. He wrote messages to the media in advance to “prove” he was the killer and took tokens of evidence at the crime scene.

This inspired an intense manhunt.

Zodiac is an intense crime thriller and includes great, talented performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo.


Here is a worthwhile post from a conservative blogger I follow. There are some things I appreciate about Trump — did I really just say that? — but this is one of them. We need  to stop sending American money by the container-load overseas, where it provides fodder for corruption, and where it creates its own subculture of dependencies.

Read the Chiefio’s post and marvel for yourself!

$Billion to Palestine? For what? Dear Mr. Trump: Just stop sending our money to people who hate us. Please.

via $3/4 Billion for Palestine? WTF? — Musings from the Chiefio

I write so many critical posts about our country and government that it could seem that I don’t like the place. The contrary is true. This is my adoptive country, and I love it, and I love living here. I am often reminded about this, but it’s not as newsworthy as a corrupt administration or an inept government. Here is something I love about this country:

Its great size and climatic diversity.

Last week, on December 29, I was at the Seattle airport waiting for my flight home to San Diego, via Los Angeles. I had just spent two days in the Seattle area, and it had been raining solid. Not just a drizzle, real, steady, cold, wet rain in temperatures in the 35° F / 2° C range. The airline gate representative was managing two flights, mine to Los Angeles at gate 10, and another to Chicago at gate 11. He made the announcement that the two flights would be boarding at about the same time, and it was important that we passengers would get on the right plane. “One is going to a warm and sunny place, and the other is going to a very, very cold place.” At the time, the temperature in Los Angeles was 82° F / 28° C, and Chicago was around 10° F / -12° C. I was glad I was going to Los Angeles.

Tomorrow I was supposed to travel to Boston. But they are expecting a blizzard on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s 17° F there right now. It was over 80° F here in San Diego today and sunny. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to be in that cold right now, yet, I am only about five flight hours away. Needless to say, I canceled my trip, and I am staying in town. I’d rather be home and warm, than stranded in some forlorn airport in a snowed-in city with no way out.

What I love about this country: That you can go to any type of weather, from bitter winter, to balmy sunshine in just a few hours and never have to leave the country. There are very few places in the world where that is possible.

So the president is acting like he has something to do with airline safety?

The last time there was a death in the United States due to an airline accident was 2009.

There were zero deaths in:

  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • 2013
  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016

Oh, yes, Trump is making America safe again.

More than three years after finishing Morning Moon over Kensington, a painting done in oil on a plywood panel, I finally today hung it outdoors. David A. of Urban Reclaimed Woods built a farm table for our porch out of scaffolding boards, which is visible in the foreground. I asked him to make me a frame out of the same type of scaffolding wood.

Here is the painting, proudly hanging outside on the back porch, in 82° F weather, when the rest of the country is suffering brutal cold.

As I have done for pretty much all my life, when a new Star Wars movie comes out, I go see it within the first few days. It is a ritual, a rite, something I do, and I know it’s the same for many of my contemporaries.

As usual with Star Wars, I can’t really follow the plot. There are always people who are on far-away planets who are needed for help with some impossible task and emissaries go to find those people. Then there are the mysterious telepathic connections between the Jedi and his disciples, which transcend time and space. Luke, who is the protagonist of this movie, is not very satisfying as a character. He is the last Jedi, but a burned-out one, a reluctant one, and a lot of the movie’s energy is spent on making Luke just do the right thing. To me, that is not much of a plot.

My favorite and repeated complaint with Star Wars is about its disregard for physics. Spaceships don’t fly, they just wink in and out of ordinary space when they go into lightspeed seemingly without acceleration. Except when it’s the old Millennium Falcon, which seems to have superpowers and always flies like a fighter plane in the atmosphere, pulling tight curves, whether it’s in space or not. Fighters continue to fly like there is air, and orbital dynamics is completely ignored.

My most enjoyable experience with Star Wars is usually its depiction of aliens in ordinary settings. I can think of the classic bar scenes that seem to be customary in all episodes. This time, there is only a short sequence in a casino, where there are a few aliens, but they are all humanoids. It seems the entire Star Wars galaxy has devolved into humans with head masks. I am sure that’s to make production cheap, but it’s trite and uninspiring to me. Why isn’t there ever a real alien that is part of the mainline plot? No, I don’t mean another Jar Jar Binks, who himself was nothing but a human in an amphibious suit.

This episode does not tell much of a story and seems to exist only to set the stage for the sunsetting of the two characters most intimately associated with Star Wars: Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, of course) and Princess Lea (played for the last time by the late Carrie Fisher). We say our good byes to both of them, amid a story of fireballs of exploding ships, spaceships racing in tight spaces, comical droids, rubber-mask aliens, desert rust-bucket floater-ship races and a Wookie.

There is nothing new in this episode. The franchise has run out of original ideas and every movie is just a collection of old concepts and special effects, rendered on a new stage, in a slightly different story between good and evil.

True to Star Wars legacy, every conflict in the galaxy is eventually resolved by a swordfight between two humans. All the action stops, high-tech weaponry goes silent, armies of star troopers vanish, spaceships float inactively, the crescendo of the music rises, and the light sabers zap out of their handles. Plot resolved. Deus ex machina.

Will I go see the next episode in a year or so?

Probably.

 

 

The Disaster Artist is a pretty good movie about the making of the worst movie in the history of  the world, The Room, which I reviewed here.

I found it hilariously funny, and I must admit that I laughed more out loud than I remember laughing in a movie in a long time. Maybe it was because of the infectious laughs of my son, daughter and son-in-law who took me, maybe it’s because the rest of the theater was laughing, or, just maybe it’s because The Disaster Artist is just a great comedy by itself.

To understand The Disaster Artist, and to really enjoy it, I think you have to have watched The Room. I am not sure if the movie would be funny without knowing the background, the true story of the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, a crackpot goof-ball who spent over six million dollars of his own money to make a vanity movie of epic badness.

Be that as it may, The Room is forever a cult classic, and The Disaster Artist may well generate some Oscars.

Trump the Hippo

Have you ever seen a video of a hippopotamus twirling its tail like a propeller spreading shit all around behind itself?

 

I have never liked the ubiquitous supermarket reward programs we have in this country.

When I go to the supermarket, I want to pick my groceries at the posted prices, go to the cash register, pay and leave.

Instead, many of our local stores, like Vons and Ralphs (and many others) ask whether I have my rewards card with me. When I say I don’t, they ask for my phone number, because my number is associated with my account, and presumably me, and they can use that to look me up. Of course, since I don’t have an account, my phone number won’t work either.

So I do not get the best price. I pay more, sometimes significantly more, for my articles.

Why?

I do not pretend to know all that is behind this strategy, but obviously the stores want to know my identity to they can track my buying habits. I don’t cooperate because I am not a card-carrier and I object to being tracked. (Yes, I know, it’s  ridiculous, since I conform in many other areas…)

But here is my point: Whatever the stores are intending with this is not working. That I know for sure.

When I was at Ralphs the other day buying Christmas wrapping goods, my bill came out to be $10.58. The cashier asked me for my rewards card. I didn’t have one. He was nice to me, so he pulled out his own key chain and scanned his card for me. That reduced my bill by a total of $2.00. Not an insignificant percentage, just for carrying a card!

I was happy. I “saved” $2.00.

When I left the store I looked at the receipt:

My friendly checkout clerk has a rewards number ending in 8826 (blue box). By giving me my discount of $2.00 (green box) he added 8 points to his own rewards account (red box). I don’t know what that means, but I am sure it eventually results in some discount or other benefit.

This cannot be the intent of the Ralphs rewards program. They have no idea who I was and what I bought, but they gave me the discount, and they gave their employee the rewards points.

I prefer grocery stores that give everyone a good price without these crazy games.

Semper avarus eget.

— Horace, Epistulae Book I, Poem 2, Line 56

 

Wolfgang in German: Der Habsüchtige leidet immer Mangel > er hat immer das Gefühl, daß ihm etwas fehlt, daß er zu wenig hat, daß er mehr braucht … Er ist ein armer, getriebener Teufel.

Norbert in English: The greedy always suffers from lack.

Congress has passed the Trump Tax Cuts. The current administration and cabinet are the wealthiest in history. Our middleclass and poor have elected a government of billionaires and a president who has not published his own tax returns.

Now they have passed a tax reform that is a dramatic shift of wealth from the poor and the middleclass to the very rich and to corporations. And the Trump voters are somehow happy with this. They are told that this is good for the country, and they appear to believe it. The cuts for the wealthy and for corporations are permanent. The cuts for the middle class are temporary and small.

Congress makes it out to be adding “only” $0.448 trillion to the debt. Analysts claim numbers between half a trillion and $1.5 trillion, depending on whose numbers you want to trust.  That assumes that the current bubble of the stock market will continue to remain intact for a decade, which, of course, it won’t. Long after Trump is gone, and long after the current GOP Congress has been voted out, the middle class will still suffer, and the rich will still get richer, including the Trump clan. What a genius con, and Trump voters seem to be okay with that.

After slamming Obama for adding to the debt for many years, all of a sudden the debt does not seem to matter so much. Wait, however, for the next action of Congress, after the tax cuts are signed into law. Then, suddenly, they will be worried about the debt, and they’ll be all too eager to slash those pesky “entitlements.” They mean the Social Security I have paid into for 40 years, our money they have borrowed in previous years to keep up military spending. Suddenly, they will need to cut Social Security, and subsidies for medial insurance, to make up for the money they just gave to the rich and to corporations.

I might add here that I myself am the CEO of a corporation and the cuts to the corporate tax rates will result in significant benefits over the upcoming years. My company will benefit by putting the burden of more debt on my children and grandchildren, decades down the tunnel of time. Long after I am gone, my descendants will be paying for the debt created by Trump and his ilk.

I cannot speak for all companies. However, I can assure you that less tax payments are not affecting our expansion plans or hiring strategies. These factors are driven by market conditions, not by how much cash we have in the bank.

Even though we’re all getting a small tax relief in the next few years, I consider it immoral that our current kleptocracy has the audacity to suck up our current resources, without fixing the core problem of massive overspending on the military, and putting the burden on future generations of Americans.

We are no longer a democracy.

And to top it all off, the current populace seems happy with all that.

Thievery, it is!

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