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Genesis is the first book of the author’s First Colony series. The story starts about the year 2200 on earth when humanity decides that it needs to send its first colony to the stars. Mankind pools its resources, builds a massive starship the call the ark, and recruits about 300,000 of its best and brightest for the one-way journey of 80 years. The travelers sleep in stasis, which means they are not conscious during the journey.

The protagonist is Conner Gates, a colonel in the special forces, who leads his squad on some of the most dangerous missions in the solar system. Through a series of unexpected events, he ends up as an unwitting stowaway on the ark. He is portrayed as a know-it-all expert of all trades and therefore wholly unrealistic and cartoon-like. Conner is just not acting like a real person would.

The story plays entirely on an alien planet hundreds of years in the future, but what is actually going on is pretty much military training nonsense that could be happening anywhere on earth.

The book is crafted in a way that the author is building a world for a series of books that can have stories take place in that world. He spends a lot of time on the minutiae of military training of special forces recruits, which fits the plot, but is overdone considering the larger epic he is trying to create. The last 10 percent of the book is very different from the main work and is presumably only there to set the stage for the next book in the series.

I don’t know why the book is called Genesis, and I can’t find anything on the cover that actually relates to the story.

In the end, while it was an interesting read, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to spend the time to read the next book in the series. There are eight, by the way. I am stopping at one.

 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the real-life story of the relationship of Tom Junod, a journalist who wrote for Esquire Magazine, and Mr. Rogers, the famous children’s television show host.

In the fictionalized story, the journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). He is burned out and trapped in an emotional mess of his own making. He can’t reconcile the broken relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), and he takes it out on his supportive wife and indirectly on his infant son. When he is assigned to profile Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), he first thinks it’s a joke.

When he meets Mr. Rogers, he goes through a learning process, when the famed star of the children’s show uses his techniques of dealing with emotions to elicit empathy and kindness. While Lloyd ends up writing the story of his life, ending up on the cover of Esquire Magazine, he also learns how to deal with his emotions and inner conflicts. He makes peace with the demons of his life and settles his scores with his estranged father.

Tom Hanks makes a wonderful Mr. Rogers. They could not have found a better actor for this role. While we see into the soul of the journalist, Tom Hanks shows us that the seemingly unflappable Mr. Rogers has his own pains and moments of sorrow and anger.

This comes to life in the last minute of the movie, when Mr. Rogers plays the piano in the studio, after a show, when the crew has left, the studio is all quiet and dark. Mr. Rogers plays a painful tune and then suddenly pounds all the lowest keys of the piano a few times hard, and we, the viewers, all know what that means.

You’ll just have to go and find out.

Please note that the image on the bottom is the “Before” and the top is “After.”

Here is an article about this project, and leads for several more.

In 1968, when I was a young boy of 12, I enjoyed learning about cars. I was impressed with the Ford Mustang, but my all-time favorite car was the Ford GT40. Of course, I never, ever saw one in real life. I had to be satisfied with pictures.

Ford built the GT40 as a race car, specifically designed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race that was dominated by Ferrari in the early 1960s. One of the requirements to compete in the Le Mans was that the company had to build at least 25 road-going versions of the car they were racing. Ford built 31 GT40 Mk I street cars. Nowadays they sell at auctions for over three million dollars each.

The first time I ever saw a GT40 in real life was at the Escondido Hot Summer Nights a few years ago. Escondido is my home town. On Friday nights in the summer, they close down Grand Ave for an all-town party. Car lovers bring in their babies by the dozens, maybe hundreds.  All the restaurants are open, and it makes for a great outing – and an occasional sighing of a classic, like the Ford GT40.

The movie Ford v Ferrari tells the story of the legendary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who worked with Ford on the GT40, and the daring driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), as they built a car from scratch, in record time, against all odds, to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans.

The movie is over two-and-a-half hours long, but worth every minute of it.

Christian Bale did an amazing job in this movie. He had to lose a large amount of weight to fit the role. Remember, this is the same actor that played Dick Cheney in the movie Vice in 2018. See this article for a picture of the same man for these two extreme roles. I find he is unrecognizable.

I didn’t know much about racing in the 1960s, and this movie taught me a lot. And I got to see the Ford GT40 in action. What more could this 12-year-old boy in the body of a 63-year-old man want on a movie night?

Here is a video that illustrates what privilege is all about:

Early this year my friend Sara Hartman went to Africa for a photo safari. I attended her presentation when she came back, and her photograph she had titled Sausage Tree stayed with me. It had a painting in it. I asked her for permission to use it as a motif. Here is her original photograph:

Photo Credit: Sara Lynn Hartman – Sausage Tree [click to enlarge]

Here is Sara’s website where you can see many other of her Africa photographs.

And here is the resulting painting:

The Sausage Tree, oil on canvas, 24 x 36, Nov 2019

I changed the composition somewhat. I moved the mountain (because I can do that). I also stretched the tree and made it taller. I actually didn’t intend that, but it worked out that way. I think I got the feeling of the open savannah. The painting looks better when you don’t see the original photograph right next to it. But that is always that way when you take photographs as motifs. The painting becomes something different altogether.

This is the first painting I actually started and finished in 2019. Hopefully it breaks my creative logjam. Nothing much has been coming out of the Haupt studio lately.

Well here is something: Behold the Sausage Tree.

The Yellow Deli

Many years ago, friends invited us to join them for lunch at the Yellow Deli in Vista, California. The menu is what you expect from a deli with food for all preferences and tastes and the atmosphere is in line with a hippie deli in California.

The waiters and waitresses wear groovy garb, many have long hair, some have dreadlocks, and it all fits. But their demeanor was slightly off, somewhat creepy almost, like something was not right. I remember thinking that maybe this was run by some commune. Still, being part of a commune does not make you act – well – creepy.

Then I came across this news article about the Twelve Tribes religious sect, and it all fell in place. The Twelve Tribes sect recruits its members, makes them give away all their worldly possessions and incorporates them into the community. Now they are indentured servants. As I searched further, articles abounded about the Twelve Tribes and the Yellow Deli. It turns out there are many of them around the country.

Here are some more links:

Article in the San Diego Reader in 2013

The signs are classic for the behavior of religious cults. I experienced this first hand myself in the 1970ies in the Moonies. Members give everything they have away, including real estate, cars, cash, when they join the group. Once all is gone, it’s virtually impossible to break away – how would you even get taxi fare or buy a plane ticket to get away if you wanted to? Members are made to work for no pay in highly stressful environments, like cooking and serving in restaurants, or hard labor working on a farm. Members work 16 – 18 hour days, usually two shifts, so they are too exhausted to think for themselves, think critically, and possibly rebel. An exhausted member is a pliant and conforming member.

All About Love on the Appalachian Trail

To get members to give everything they have away, the cult must have something to give in return. On the Appalachian Trail, obviously, having a free hostel and serving free food for hikers is one way to draw them in. Then, making sure life is all about love, will cement the relationship. Voilà, a free labor source.

A Creepy Cult – on the UTC Campus

I get a kick out of these small town websites. Go check out the website of the University Echo and tell me where this university actually is located. I gave up after checking all the pages on the site. Would you not think they have a hint about their address, even their city or state? UTC could stand for all kinds of places. You got me. Obviously, it a very local rag and they don’t expect anyone from the outside to stumble there. Well, they got me. And they got a Yellow Deli!

But do check out the comments about the Yellow Deli on the bottom of the linked page.

Here is the corporate site link for the Vista restaurant 

And that’s what I did notice at the Yellow Deli so many years ago, when something just seemed off and creepy.

 

In the current field of Democratic candidates for president, there are two Rhodes Scholars, which is somewhat unusual.

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. It was established in 1902, making it the first large-scale programme of international scholarship. The Rhodes Scholarship was founded by English businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes, to promote unity between English-speaking nations and instill a sense of civic-minded leadership and moral fortitude in future leaders irrespective of their chosen career paths

Wikipedia

The Rhodes Scholarship requires a very high academic record and successful extracurricular life.

In addition to:

  • Corey Booker (1994)
  • Pete Buttigieg (2004)

there are many other famous Rhodes Scholars, some of which I am listing here:

  • Edwin Hubble – astronomer, and one of the first Rhodes Scholars
  • J. William Fulbright (1928) – U.S. Senator
  • Kris Kristofferson (1959) – singer, actor
  • Wesley Clarke (1966) – U.S. Army general
  • Bill Clinton (1968) – U.S. President
  • Bill Bradley (1968) – professional basketball player, U.S. Senator
  • Naomi Wolf (1985) – author
  • Susan Rice (1990) – National security advisor
  • Bobby Jindal (1994) – Governor of Louisiana
  • Rachel Maddow (2001) – talk show host
  • Myron Rolle (2009) – NBA football player, medical doctor in neurosurgery

 

I download the Amazon “free samples” of books before I buy. If I can’t make it through 5%, then I put the book aside, no damage done. I don’t even track it. Most of those are quickly forgotten. But when I make the buying decision, I commit myself to reading the book. I still have a way out though: I can abandon it and put it under the category “Books (not finished reading).” I still review those books, but I don’t give them a rating as I don’t think it would be fair. However, I still have thoughts about the book that I want to share with readers, and possibly reasons why I abandoned the book. So I write reviews.

The City in the Middle of the Night almost became a Book (not finished reading). It was truly hard work for me to stay with it. It’s a fairly large book (5907 locations), so it was a slog.

In the far future (approximately the year 2500 plus on Earth) a number of earth city states build a space ship to leave for another planet. They call it the Mothership, and it’s a generation ship. The journey takes long enough so only the great-grandchildren of the people leaving will actually be alive when they arrive. The City in the Middle of the Night plays on the target planet many centuries after they arrived. The Mothership, while still in orbit, has lost contact with the colonists, all the space shuttles are defunct, most technology is lost, and the people have devolved to a feudalist society similar to what we had in Europe during the dark ages around the years 500 to 1000. There are just two main cities where most of the population live. Xiosphanti hosts a highly regulated society where everything people do is structured by the government. Argelo is a bustling trader city where everything goes but resources are scarce and crime is out of control.

But that’s not the major point of the book. The planet is a tidally locked planet, similar to how earth’s moon is tidally locked, and the same side always faces the earth. Their sun is a bright, hot sun, so bright, that any exposure to direct sunlight is instantly deadly to humans. The day side of the planet is constantly baked by the sun, and any water on that side is always boiling. The night side is completely dark and always frozen. Humanity has to live entirely on a narrow ring along the terminator, just below the horizon of the day, so there never is any direct sunlight. Within just a few kilometers they can go from bright daylight and  warmth near the day side to arctic condition on the border of the night side. Notwithstanding what weather conditions on such a planet on the border between day and night would consist of, and whether it could allow for sufficient stability for humans to live, such a narrow band where life can exist is pretty challenging, and it would shape everything about the lives of the people there. As is turns out, there are “monsters” that live in the night, and any human that ventures too far in that direction has perished – which has been going on for centuries.

I now have told you everything that I found interesting about the book. As it turns out, with so much potential, the story is pretty much about four young women, Bianca, Mouth, Alyssa and Sophie, the protagonist, and their relationships with each other, and their adventures. Take away the deadly sun on a tidally locked planet, take away that they live in a devolved society many centuries after landing from an interstellar generational journey, the story is about four girls making their way in a tribal, brutal society where everyone has to fend for herself. The characters are not well developed, the psychobabble made my eyes roll, and nothing about their feelings and responses is credible. And it goes on for an entire book. Here is just one page:

Seeing Bianca depressed makes me feel soft inside, like my bones are chalk. I sit down next to her, careful not to mess up her dress. Her curved neck looks so slender.

Neither of us talks. I’m not good at breaking silences.

“I don’t even know why you would want to be friends with me,” she says.

I get up and fetch the teapot from down the hall, and a few moments later I’m pouring hot tea into a mug, which I press into Bianca’s hands. “Warm yourself up,” I say in a soft voice. Bianca nods and takes a big swallow of the acrid brew, then lets out a long sigh, as though she realizes she’s back where she belongs. We keep stealing the teapot for our own dorm room, because hardly anyone else uses it, but some busybody always sneaks into our room when we’re out and reclaims the flowery globe for the common room, where it technically belongs.

“Warm yourself up,” I say a second time. By the time the tea is gone, Bianca’s bouncing up and down and cracking jokes again, and I’ve almost forgotten that I never answered her question about why I want to be her friend.

— Anders, Charlie Jane. The City in the Middle of the Night . Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

Just. Very. Boring.

Humanity has created an empire that spans many stars and planets in the nearer galactic neighborhood. Jeff is the executive officer on a warship with a crew of ten. The ships have faster-than-light travel capability. They emerge near their targets at speeds close to the speed of light, unleash their planet-destroying bombs and then, hopefully, speed up again into hyperspace to escape. But the defenses are just as lethal, and Jeff’s ship is the only one of a squadron of five that survives the attack, albeit seriously damaged.

They manage to find a nearby object they think is an asteroid and perform an emergency landing on it. As they approach, they realize it’s not an asteroid, but a giant alien ship with a diameter of 600 miles. Having no choice, they land on it and are admitted inside.

The ship’s artificial intelligence speaks flawless English. It claims it has been intercepting human media transmissions for centuries and has had the opportunity to learn the languages and the cultures. The ship promises to take them home, but the journey would take six months, due to the limitation of the hyperspace travel capabilities of the vessel. The crew takes this opportunity to explore the ship.

It does not take long before they discover the first of them killed in a most gruesome manner. As they search further, they find ancient secrets of horror that threaten not only them, but all mankind.

The Dark Ship is the second book by Phillip Peterson I have read. The other was Flight 39. Peterson writes originally in German and his books are translated. The translations are good and I see no reason why I’d want to read his books in the original German. Peterson knows how to tell a story.

In the case of The Dark Ship, which is much more of a hard science fiction book than Flight 39 was, I was distracted by the fairly lax application of building a reality. Most of the technology applied seemed magic, and I am not talking about the alien technology.

The human space ships seem to travel at relativistic speeds on their missions between hyperspacial jumps, yet there seems to be no effect of time dilation on human society. The fact that a crew would return home decades after it left for a mission is completely ignored. It’s not necessary for the plot in this case, but it just made the story unreal. When the ships travel near planets and stars at speeds approaching the speed of light, there is no mention of how the ships protect themselves from the space dust and other debris that would be intensely thick near a planetary system, making such speeds impractical or impossible.

On a smaller scale, they use seemingly magical military space suits with apparently endless energy supplies. Since the inside of the dark ship is dark everywhere, they rely on their flashlights or headlamps for light, and those, too, seem to be powered with endless power supplies. I could go on and on with examples like this. None of those examples take away from the story line, but for me they made the experience unreal and there is too much deus ex machina going on for it to seem realistic.

The story itself revolves around the crew finding the truth about the alien ship and its ancient mission. To do that, they go on a journey to the interior of the ship. Remember, at a diameter of 600 miles, it’s a 300 mile journey – on foot. That means there are lengthy passages of corridors and more corridors that the crew has to travel down with not much going on to move to plot forward. That makes the book somewhat of a tedious read.

In summary, The Dark Ship is a reasonably entertaining science fiction story, but not one I would want to read again or one that would entice me to read more books by this author.

I am an independent voter. I do not vote for a party, or a platform, or an ideology. I vote for the person. When I look at the three front-runners in the Democratic Party, I have serious concerns. Then I saw this Huffington Post article, and it looks like Obama has the same concerns:

Though Obama did not mention anyone by name, the message delivered before a room of Democratic donors in Washington was a clear word of caution about the candidacies of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The two have called for massive structural changes — and in Sanders’ case “revolution” — that would dramatically alter the role of government in people’s lives.

Huffington Post Article on 11/16/2019

The bottom line of the message by Obama is that we need candidates who are in the “middle of the road” ideologically to be electable, otherwise the incumbent wins. Here are my concerns about the three front-runners:

Biden: He is too bumbling. He makes too many gaffes. He is not a very good speaker. (Of course, Trump can’t put a sentence together if his life depends on it, so that may not be a big problem). He would be, by far, the oldest president ever, which raises all kinds of health and senility concerns, so his vice presidential pick will be more important than ever.

Sanders: I love the man’s enthusiasm, energy and spunk. I wanted him to win in 2016 and voted for him in the primaries. But he has to stop talking about revolutions. Nobody wants revolutions. People want stability. He has to get better economic advisers, because a $15/hour minimum wage across the country is a ludicrous idea. It will not work, and it will destroy many of the service sectors which are so vital to our economy that is depending on an ever larger service sector. You have probably figured it out by now, but I am not in favor of the minimum wage craze the Democrats promote. But that’s fodder for another blog post entirely – to come soon.

Warren: She is somewhat younger than the other Democrats, but not by much. I like her stature, her energy, and her candor. But her healthcare platform is ridiculous. I have had employer-sponsored healthcare plans all my life, and I like the one I have right now, along with another some 160 million people around the country. So creating a universal health plan for all the people that are not covered for whatever reason is good, but making me abandon my plan so I can sign up for some government-cooked-up-plan is a non-starter. I will not vote for that. Period. And then I have a serious problem with Warren’s (and Sanders’) vilification of rich people and billionaires. It makes no sense to me at all, and yes, that too is fodder for another blog post – to come soon.

Those were the front runners. In a nation of 330 million people, those are the three we come up with to stand against Trump? Those are my choices? There are a few other worthy candidates in the field, but none of them are getting any traction.

Re-elect Trump, this will.

 

*

via The Least and Most Trusted News Sources — Know-It-All

JoJo Rabbit is a satire. It is cartoonish and grotesque, and for the first half of the movie I really didn’t know what to do with it. It plays with an intense subject matter, the Jewish prosecution in Nazi Germany and how it was possible for an entire nation of people to be led to play along with such an obscene objective.

We all know it happened. JoJo Rabbit tells the story of a lonely and awkward 10-year-old German boy named JoJo who, as all children of his time, joined the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), an organization that brainwashed children from an early age by subjecting them to Nazi doctrine and the personality cult Hitler fostered. Peer pressure did the rest. Create a “family” of like-minded people, in this case children, who are told that their mission is a noble one of creating a pure and good empire and eradicate all bad, ugly, evil and low, and you have an entire generation of followers who never knew otherwise and think nothing of ratting out their own parents for the good of the country.

When JoJo finds a Jewish girl hidden in the attic in their house, it creates a conflict for him that he does not know how to work through.

JoJo Rabbit exposes what went on during the Nazi regime, and it makes us think about what is happening today. We vilify foreigners, especially a certain type of foreigner, we build walls to keep us protected from them by supposedly keeping them out. We know the walls don’t work, they never did, they never will, but we tell our children and our people who do not think for themselves that walls are good, and the illusion feeds on itself. We hold up an emperor, and it does not matter if he wears any clothes. We follow him, because we don’t know what else to do to solve our problems.

When the emperor starts killing and putting uniforms on 10-year-old boys so they can go out and die, the people still follow because they don’t know any better.

JoJo Rabbit shows how this works.

It disturbed and unsettled me.

 

 

Evelyn Slater is a young British astronaut on the International Space Station in the near future in 2036. She is a mission specialist with a psychology degree who is assigned to command the first spacecraft specifically designed to capture and destroy low earth orbit debris. During the first mission out with her Russian pilot Yuri, they encounter an artifact they immediately recognize as alien. When she eventually returns to earth, Evelyn leads a team of scientists who study the alien device.

The Visitor is a first contact science fiction story that plays largely in today’s world. It speculates about the response of our international community when it discovers that there truly are aliens. Xenophobia, religious hate and bigotry get the masses riled up.

The author writes in a stilted style. He does not show the story, he tells the story. It’s not clear why he picked a woman as the protagonist. It would have worked just as well with a man, and he would likely have been able to portray the male thinking a little bit better. The Visitor is described as a “hard science fiction” story, but it did not strike me as very hard. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of life on the space station. He must have had access to first hand information. Otherwise, the story is weak and, frankly, not very interesting. All the characters are flat and colorless. Nothing seems real or realistic. Reading The Visitor, I was constantly aware of the fact that it was just the author’s way to communicate his political and philosophical views, thinly wrapped into a shallow plot.

At the end, he sets it up for a sequel, and I don’t think I am interested enough to read it.

Movie Review: Joker

The Joker is a comic book character, a supervillain, psychopath and criminal mastermind who reigned over his empire in Gotham, the arch nemesis of Batman. The movie Joker is a prequel to the numerous Batman movies, but completely unrelated to them. It explains how the Joker came to be in the form of a stand-alone fictional story.

There is nothing funny about the Joker. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown for hire during the day. He puts on gaudy makeup and twirls signs in the city streets. When he goes home and his makeup is off, he dreams of being a stand-up comic. He writes joke material into his journal and performs in comic joints at night when he can get a gig. Maybe one day he’ll make it big.

But things are not easy for him. He supports his ailing mother, who has a secret or two of her own. He battles severe depression and desperately tries to cope with his illness by taking a multitude of medications and going to counseling. As a clown in a degenerate society where the social gaps between the desperate masses and the super powerful is huge, he is a perpetual victim of his purported friends, and of the bullies on the street.

When he gets beat up in the subway by a group of young Wall Street thugs he snaps and kills all three of them. That was his first blood. It wasn’t his last.

Joker is a story about mental illness in our society. It’s a dark, depressing, heavy depiction of a man with a will, a yearning for a decent life, a successful and rewarding career, who gets beaten. He get beaten by kids on the street, beaten down by his upbringing, beaten by his workmates, beaten into submission by his superiors, beaten by the mental illness support system of his city: “Where am I supposed to get my medication now?”

Joker is a story about the immense differences between the classes of society. There is the corrupt political layer, where the powerful enrich themselves by the labor of the masses and where those same elites convince the people that they have their welfare in mind. Does that have any parallels in our society this very day?

Joker is a movie with one main actor – Joaquin Phoenix – who portrays a comic book character with fierce intensity and relentless passion. I predict he’ll get an Oscar for this role.

When we left the movie Joker, we needed to distract our minds. Be prepared. It takes a lot out of you.

But you have to go!

 

 

 

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