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Joseph Bridgeman and the Silver Hunter starts on the day the story of The Unexpected Gift of Joseph Bridgeman ends. It’s a sequel. After saving his sister Amy in the first book, Joe now has to change history by preventing the murder of a young woman in London in 1962 by one of the two notorious crime bosses of the era.

The story is entertaining and well-crafted. It kept me reading. Time travel was again the central plot mechanism in this story, but it was a different kind of time travel.

That was a bit disconcerting.

In the first book, Joe travels by self-hypnosis. He essentially wills himself into the past. With practice, he can pinpoint an exact date and even time and place and transport himself to that. To get back home, the timestream simply pulls him back, is if he were attached to the present by a rubber band. Furthermore, the further he travels back in time, the shorter the time is that he gets to stay in the past before he is pulled back, sort of like a rubber band that is stretched farther and has to snap him back sooner and harder. An unfortunate side-effect is that his clothes and any other objects get pulled back faster, so he ends up naked in the past if he does not watch out and prepare and quickly steal or buy some local clothes. As you can see, the rules of the type of time travel he practices are very precise and they limit his options.

In the second book, somewhat inexplicably, he has been “untethered” by the time travel powers that be. Now he can travel much further back, he can stay longer, he does not lose his clothes, and he is completely controlled by a magic “watch” which warns him with a count-down before he travels, and with another count-down before he returns. We don’t find out who builds the watch, who controls it, and how it works.

Oddly, while Joe was very proficient in the first book with his hypnotic time travel, he does not even attempt it at all in the second. It’s almost like the author decided that the rules of time travel he introduced in his first book didn’t work for him, so he just started over with new and seemingly inconsistent rules.

I found this distracting. When I read a time travel series, I expect the methodology, and the universal rules, to remain consistent. This was done very well by Nathan Van Coops in his series of four books, starting with In Times Like These. The rules are solid and remain solid.

In these books, the author just started over again, used the same characters, threw them into a different plot, and changed all the rules.

The last chapter in this book set him up for another sequel as Joe’s sister Amy writes him a letter from the future. Will I read the third book when it comes out? Probably not.

 

Today I got a great view of Niagara Falls from 30,000 feet.

Niagara Falls [click to enlarge]

To make it a bit more detailed, I used the digital zoom on my iPhone:

And for those of my readers, who have never been there and won’t know what they are looking at, here are a couple of labels:

 


Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut in the nearer future, a time when trips to the Moon and to Mars are routine and humanity has started venturing farther out, mining the asteroid belt, and reaching for the gas giants. When Earth is suddenly bombarded by massive and destructive power surges from a mystery energy source at the planet Neptune, McBride is recruited to help. As it turns out, the only person who ever traveled to Neptune was his own father, a decorated astronaut who was the first to reach Jupiter, then Saturn, and finally embarked on a mission to the edge of the solar system, to Neptune, presumably to seek out alien intelligence in the universe. But when he arrived, he and his crew perished and were never heard from again – or were they?

NASA suspects that the elder McBride near Neptune is still alive and has something to do with the power surges that threaten to destroy the earth. In order to communicate with him, NASA recruits his son, Roy McBride, because they think the father is likely to respond to the son. And thus he goes on a long journey.

Ad Astra is the Latin expression for “to the stars.” There nothing about stars in this movie, other than neat special effects of space travel. The entire movie and the ludicrous story that does not make any sense just seem to be an excuse to string together some interesting and effective special effects.

I watch pretty much every “large” science fiction movie because I am interested in space travel and humanity in the future. So I enjoyed the movie, even though it insulted my intelligence every few minutes along the way. There is so much wrong with this story, it’s hard to know where to start.

Warning: Significant Spoilers Below – even though I don’t think they’ll really interfere with your enjoyment of the movie, since it’s such a weak plot anyway.

First the basic premise: NASA recruits Roy for the top secret mission to travel to Mars, via the Moon, to send a message to Neptune to his father, with the option to eventually fly out to Neptune to stop the threat to the Earth. The journey to the moon is equivalent to an airline ride coast to coast for us. It’s all routine. But when they arrive on the moon, for some odd reason, they have to travel by rover overland to another base from where the rocket to Mars is launched. But there are now pirates on the moon, and they prey on travelers and attack them by rover. Everyone is in spacesuits and they are shooting each other up, like in a western, but rather than riding horses, they ride rovers in space suits. I wonder what the pirates are trying to gain. The whole chase is just a useless filler that takes up 5 or 10 minutes of movie time and adds nothing to the story.

Along the way to Mars, there is a mayday call from a research vessel, and the ship stops to try to help. I will spare you with what happens on that research vessel. It again has nothing to do with the movie other than adding some special effects footage and scary scenes. The problem is, how did the chemical rocket they were riding to Mars stop along the way, line up with the stranded vessel and match trajectories so they can board via space suit? And then start up again going on to Mars. The trip to Mars is supposed to take a few days, so the stopping and starting along the way would have taken massive amounts of acceleration that no human could possibly endure. But, it’s a movie, I guess.

Once Roy arrives on Mars, he is guided into a secret sound-proof room where he records a message to his father that is then sent to Neptune via a laser beam. After sending the second message, it appears there is a response. That is quite odd, since Neptune is about four light hours away from Mars, so the round trip of a message would take eight hours. You would not stand there waiting for it. But that’s what it looks like they are doing. Then they decide to send Roy back to Earth because they think he is not psychologically ready to continue with the mission. So explain to me why Roy bothered to travel to the Moon, get attacked and almost killed by pirates, then on to Mars, just to record a message? He could have recorded that message in his living room on Earth and they could have sent it to Neptune.But, it’s a movie, I guess.

He eventually forces his way onto the ship that travels on to Neptune. The trip will take 79 days. Again, massive accelerations and speeds are required to make that happen, and it’s not clear how the simple chemical rocket technology they have accomplishes that. As we observe him on his journey, there are some convenient shots of the ship right in front of Jupiter first, and then a bit later of Saturn, as if the outer planets were all lined up in a straight line and the ship would travel from one to the other. As it is, the planets are spread out all over the solar system, often on different sides of  the sun, and a rough alignment only happens every few centuries. It seems to have happened for Roy’s journey.

Neptune has a thin set of rings. Roy put his craft in an orbit right above the plane of the rings, so he has to conveniently dive through the rings to get to the craft of his father. I enjoy thinking about floating in the rings of Saturn, and I wrote this entire post about that. So I enjoyed that scene, even though it was way too contrived. I also got a kick out of how Roy decided to return to his craft through the rings after he loses his shuttle. He uses a sheet metal panel to protect himself against impact of ring particles as the dives through. Then he finally gets back and collides with his own craft due to their velocities not being matched very well. Good scene there.

Finally, when the movie is over, somehow Roy has to travel back to Earth. To do that, he invokes a Deus ex Machina technique: he uses a nuclear explosion to propel him. Somehow the three dimensional vector between the nuclear explosion and his ship is perfectly aligned so the ship travels through the 2 billion miles plus back to Earth and hits it exactly. Yeah, sure!

As you can see, this is a movie for people that do not understand science, know nothing about space travel, and just want to see neat special effects. They might enjoy this

For the geeks, like me, Ad Astra is just silly and a waste of a good opportunity. All that money and technology could have made a good movie and a good story instead.


Three questions come to mind:

  • Which of these children cried: “How dare you, you have stolen my dreams and my childhood!”
  • Which of these children was never given the opportunity to cry?
  • Which of these children had the slightest reason to lament and complain?

In the 26th century, Earth is a polluted wasteland. For hundreds of years, humanity’s situation has devolved, scientific progress has been retrograde, culture has stagnated, and government is utterly corrupt. A small number of giant “megacorporations” run things. Under their thumbs are governments, government agencies, and all of the people. The gap between the privileged and the destitute has grown immensely. The megacorporations do what is good for them and their shareholders, and they have no qualms about annihilating thousands or millions of people, if they are in their way. The people live in utmost poverty and need, eking out a living by planting, salvaging and living off the land.

The desperate live on the depleted Earth, which by then is the least attractive place to live. The lucky and fortunate ones live on the moons of the gas giants or in space in general.

James Griffin-Mars is a Chronman, a highly trained specialist, one of an elite few, who have the technology to travel in time. ChronoCom is a government agency that regulates time travel. Strict time laws are in force, intended to prevent accidents, time paradoxes and intended or accidental changes of history.

Chronmen are usually deployed by the agency to salvage. Since technology development has devolved, the most interesting and valuable technologies are hundreds of years in the past. The Chronmen are dispatched to jump to a time and place just before some known disaster, and take away valuables, either machinery, artwork, documents, books, anything of value to salvage before the disaster wipes it out anyway. The majority of progress in the 26th century does not come from invention and innovation, but from salvaged loot from the past.

Chronmen lead very dangerous lives, and most do not last very long. James is on the brink of burnout when he takes on one last mission, where the payoff is so high, he can retire when he completes it. During the mission he gets to know Elise, a young female scientist on an oceanic platform in 2097 where his mission is to save some technology hours before the platform explodes and sinks into the ocean, killing all people aboard. When the disaster strikes, and he has captured the loot, without actually planning for it, he takes Elise home with him, more than 400 years into the future. Of course, bringing anyone back from the past violates the first time law. This forces James and Elise to become fugitives on the wasted Earth, trying to survive in the wilderness, undetected by the government trying to hunt them down. In the process of saving themselves, the opportunity to save the planet arises and gives hope not only to the two of them, but to all humanity.

Time Salvager is a story about a dystopian future, think Orwell’s 1984 on steroids. Graphic descriptions of the squalor most of humanity lives in are contrasted by the high-tech excesses of the elite. Transformer-like technology abounds and gives soldiers and agents superhuman capabilities. Reading Time Salvager is like watching a superhero movie, where the heroes are indestructible due to the magical technology and the power it gives them.

At a time when the income gap between poor and rich is widening, climate change is daily sensational news, corruption of government is rampant and abuse of power is becoming acceptable and normal, reading Time Salvager is a strong reminder of how bad it can get. It’s not a pleasant read, but entertaining nonetheless, and definitely thought-provoking.

A few years ago when I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I saw Matisse’s Tea in the Garden, which I consider a really bad painting, and I called it such in my review.

On Wednesday at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, I had a similar experience.

Here is Milton Avery’s Two Figures (1963). There are a number of Avery paintings in that museum, but this one struck me as the worst. It’s a large painting and I consider it spectacularly bad.

Look at the drawing. The pencil outlines are clearly visible. They are crude and the artist made no attempt to make them realistic or abstract. They are just sloppy and sketchy. Then he quickly colored in the main fields. He used six colors, no mixing, and no effort to cover evenly even to make it at least look clean.

I swear, I could do this painting in 20 minutes and it would look more pleasing than this does.

I have a lot of paintings that are much better than this that are stacked in my garage, never to be seen – sometimes to be painted over to at least reuse the canvas. But Milton Avery’s Two Figures in prominently displayed in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Somebody explain that to me!

Yesterday I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is an impressive building on the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee. Its collection contains nearly 25,000 works of art, which makes it one of the largest museums in the United States.

The walk up to it is impressive:

Once inside, the main lobby is reminiscent of the Oculus at the World Trade Center in New York:

Through the windows in the background, Lake Michigan expands to the horizon.

One of the main hallways to the old museum building is large and dramatic.


Here is one of my favorites: Woman in White, 1959, by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo.

And finally, the “best of show” for me was Picasso’s Le Coq de la Liberation, 1944.

 


The Diaries of Adam and Eve is a classic by a classic writer. I would never have thought of picking it up had it not been for Wolfgang’s recommendation:

Kennst Du das “Tagebuch von Adam und Eva” von Mark Twain (Diary of Adam and Eve)? Herrlich! Weltklasse! Diesmal keine Übertreibung!

[Do you know the “Diaries of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain? Glorious! Worldclass! This time no hyperbole!]

So I picked up the book. It’s a very short book and a quick read.

Adam comes back from a tracking trip near Niagara Falls and is baffled by the presence of another creature that suddenly appeared in his life and won’t stop chattering – Eve. Then eventually, we get to read Eve’s point of view, which is entirely different than that from Adam’s. When they get expelled from paradise, they end up in Tonawanda – or something like that. Then the first baby comes along, and Adam thinks it’s a fish at first, then a bear, and it takes him a very long time to figure out Cain is a little human.

This book is a classic, written by a master. I love Mark Twain’s writing. But I could not make sense of The Diaries. I absolutely do not know what to do with it. The story is puerile. Perhaps he wrote it for youth and their amusement. I can’t tell if the whole thing is supposed to be a fable, or sarcasm, a parody, or just pure fun. To me, it’s none of the above. To me, it was just silly.

I have a hard time rating a book by one of America’s great writers poorly, but honestly, I don’t know what to do with The Diaries of Adam and Eve. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that anyone bother to read it.

A new restaurant opened up in our neighborhood. It’s open for breakfast, louch and dinner.

I can’t wait to go and try it out.

Germany’s president is Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The president of Germany is a largely ceremonial position, with the chancellor serving as the chief executive. In the U.S., our president serves as both. In Germany, these duties are spread over the two positions. At the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, when the U.S. president made a serious faux pas by “congratulating” Poland and stating it was “a great country,” Steinmeier asserted at a ceremony:

I Affirm our Lasting Responsibility

— Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Germany did a lot of damage in the world during the last century and it still as an inferiority complex as a result to this day. Contrary to what the U.S. president currently often does when world affairs do not go right, namely blaming his predecessors, blaming his staffers and appointees, or blaming other nations and their leaders, the president of Germany took responsibility for the brutal and unprovoked attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 that started World War II.

Steinmeier and I have a few things in common. His mother was born in Breslau, which is in now a part of Poland and called Wrocław. She was a refugee after the war. My father was also born in Breslau, and he was a refugee. Steinmeier was born in 1956. I was born in 1956. When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, World War II was ancient history to me. I only know the Germany of the economic miracle of the 1960s. Due to his age, the same would be true for Steinmeier. I am certainly not personally responsible for the atrocities committed by the people of Germany in World War II, even though my grandfather was a German soldier of low rank serving in the Wehrmacht during the war, and several of my uncles from the maternal side were reportedly members of the SS, even though I never had a chance to actually talk about this with them. It was not talked about then.

There are very few Germans alive today that were alive during World War II. Those who are still with us were children then. Nobody of any position of responsibility or authority is still alive. Nobody who has personally committed atrocities is still alive. And yet, the German president affirms the country’s lasting responsibility for damaging the Polish nation, resulting in the deaths of about six million Polish citizens, about a fifth of the country’s pre-war population, both by the occupation by Germany and then the Russians when they attacked from the eastern front. Six million Polish civilians were killed by war crimes, crimes against humanity and by starvation.

The U.S. president congratulates Poland for this.

The German president affirms his country’s lasting responsibility, even though he himself was born 17 years after the event.

Nations carry responsibility for their actions. The United States is currently responsible for millions of civilian deaths due to wars it started in Afghanistan and Iraq, which triggered conflicts all over the Middle East. That responsibility will remain with our nation. I wonder, in the year 2099, when a U.S. president, who is today not even alive yet, gives a memorial speech for the victims of these wars, whether he will exhibit the same sense of responsibility and grace for those victims?

Countries are bigger than people. They can do more good, and they can do more damage. Where does our country rate today? Will we be proud of our actions today come 2099?

 

Here is an interesting post from a blogger friend who reviews airlines, hotels and other travel services. Further on down in the article he describes a hotel room that includes a fully functioning Boeing 737 flight simulator. Just what I have always wanted to do on a stopover at Narita in Tokyo!

Switching gears from recent posts about Qatar Qsuites and the Al Safwa First Lounge, the next posts finish my report on a very memorable trip to Japan this Spring for sakura season. This post covers a one-night stay at the Royal Park Hotel at Haneda Airport. The next ones cover ANA’s Haneda first class lounge […]

via Advantages and Disadvantages Of Airport Hotels – The Royal Park Hotel Haneda International Airport Terminal 2, Tokyo, Japan — Salsaworldtraveler’sblog

I love the classic Russian writers, Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace), Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov) and  Turgenev (Fathers and Sons).  I have read Anna Karenina and Fathers and Sons twice. When a friend recommended I read A Gentleman in Moscow, I immediately picked it up and started reading. I didn’t check any reviews. I didn’t read up on the author. I didn’t check the date of initial publication. Reading A Gentleman in Moscow put me into the world of Tolstoy, and I found myself in Russian drawing rooms and in sleighs in the winter in the Russian countryside.

The story starts in June of 1922 in a Russian court. Count Alexander Ilych Rostov is 33 years old. He had had a life of privilege and education as a Russian nobleman. When the Russian Revolution happened in 1917, he was abroad – and therefore safe. The Soviets didn’t treat nobility with kindness and many of them were executed on the spot. When the Count came back he was promptly tried by a court for some of his liberal writings that were against “the people.” His sentence: Live under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel where he was living at the time. He was not allowed to ever leave the hotel.

The entire book takes place inside the Metropol, the best hotel in Moscow at the time. We follow the Count’s life from his time as a young man through the decades into the mid 1950s. The story brings to life the changes that Russia underwent during the early Soviet years, and then the rule of Stalin and finally Khrushchev.

Towles tells the story in the style of the classic Russian writers and he fooled me. Towles is an American writer with an M.A. in English from Stanford. He has been to Russia a few times, but does not speak the language. He lives in Manhattan and worked most of his life as an investment professional. Starting writing later in life, he published A Gentleman in Moscow in 2016. I knew none of this while I was reading the book.

I enjoyed it very much and it made me want to travel to Moscow and stay at the Metropol in Suite 217. Why? You’re just going to have to read up on that.

Pink Lake in Melbourne

I stumbled upon this article about the “pink lake” in the Westgate Park outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Pink Lake in Melbourne – Picture Credit: Parks Victoria

Just looking at it, it looks like it would be toxic. But that’s actually not the case. It’s a natural phenomenon. Read this article for more details.

There are only a hundred thousand giraffes left in the wild and their numbers are going down rapidly. There are now less giraffes left in the world than elephants. Most people are not aware of this catastrophic decline. Check out this video interview of Dr. Malu Celli with the Calgary Zoo, an expert in giraffe conservation, for more information.

 

 

This Sunday morning in the San Diego Union (of Sep 8, 2019) I found this article:

[click to enlarge]

Our government just issued another permit to allow a Michigan trophy hunter to import skin, horn and skull of a rare black rhinoceros he shot in Africa. The guy paid $400,000 to anti-poaching programs for the privilege.

Our government needs to stop issuing these permits. So do those of other nations, including China. To be fair to Trump, he has issued “only” two such permits during his tenure. Obama issued three since 2013. My question is, what do those trophy hunters have that makes our government bow to their pressure?

There are only 5,500 black rhinoceroses living in the wild, half of them in Namibia. And they are allowing some of them to be killed by trophy hunters. In what universe do you have to live for this to make sense?

The argument is that the money from trophy hunting funds the anti-poaching efforts. Scary as it seems, it’s probably correct, but I believe it’s still misguided.

I call bullshit.

If there were a properly conducted crowd-funding campaign to collect $400,000 to offset this one Michigan man’s permit, I believe it would be successful. If only 400,000 people around the world put in just one dollar, it would be accomplished. I’d put in a lot more than one dollar.

I really think we need zero tolerance for all big-game hunting, both trophy hunting and poaching. We need to make it so big game hunting is socially viewed as disgusting, so nobody can get away with it anymore. Those hunters with heads of big game in their lodges in Michigan, Montana and Shanghai need to be embarrassed about the trophies, not admired. Only once the practice is socially unacceptable in all rich countries will this stop.

I know that this is not likely to happen, and we will kill those last 5,500 rhinos.

Then where will the Chinese get their placebo rhino horn powder?

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