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I am in this transition period where I own two off-road vehicles at the same time.

I thought I’d arrange them in the driveway for a one-time picture together, before the old one leaves.

2021 on the left, 1992 on the right.

Earthbound is the third in Haldeman’s “bound” trilogy. The first two were Marsbound and Starbound, which I have recently reviewed. I gave them only two stars and one star respectively, and usually I would not read any more books of a series that I rated so poorly. But I made an exception with Earthbound, because I wanted to know what happened next.

In Marsbound, the protagonists traveled to Mars, found Martians, came back to earth orbit quarantine, discovered an alien race with seemingly godlike powers, and were attacked by these aliens.

In Starbound, a group of seven humans and two Martians were sent to the star of the aliens, 25 lightyears away, as ambassadors for the human race. They got there and came back, but not much happened otherwise.

In Earthbound, the group that came back from traveling to and from the alien star for more than 50 years, who had aged only a few years due the time distortion factor that applies at relativistic speeds, found itself stranded on a military base in California. The evil aliens had turned off everything electric in the world. It’s not explained how they did that, and it’s certainly not clear what alien reasoning has made them do that, other than they don’t like other races who can become dangerous by acquiring technology. So Earthbound is really not a science fiction story anymore, but an Armageddon tale of survival in a world that has been thrown back to the technology of the 1800s, however, with a supply of guns and ammunition available in the late 2100s.

Nothing much happened in Earthbound otherwise.

Marvels of Travel

Back on the road again.

I was at the Dallas / Ft.Worth (DWF) airport on the inter-terminal train and saw this sign above two of the seats:

It made me think of all the great needs I have and promptly sat down.

A little later I boarded my connecting flight, an Airbus 321, and I got a little discombobulated about this little guy staring at me.

Once you see a face, you cannot unsee it. He stared at me for two hours, and it became disconcerting.

Took the new Jeep out for a climb in the mountains today. It purred like a kitten.

A few weeks ago I hiked in to visit Devin in the California Conservation Corp camp in Yosemite. Here is my report for reference.

When Devin went out in April, he basically mothballed his truck, closed his apartment, and as part of that had all his mail forwarded to me.

I scanned his mail for urgent stuff, paid any bills that might need taking care of, and collected all the letters in one file. When I hiked out, I brought all his mail with me. It was a small bundle of maybe 20 letters or so. It probably weighed half a pound, and as a backpacker who counts every ounce, it was substantial.

We sat around the campfire when he opened the various letters, saved those that needed saving, crumpled up those that could be burned and threw them into the fire pit.

I noticed that he kept tearing off the windows of the envelopes, where the addresses show, and stacked them on the log next to him. Then he burned the rest of the envelopes.

After he’d accumulated about 10 of those, I became puzzled and asked why he was doing that.

He said that one of their rules was not to burn plastic, and these envelope windows were plastic. So rather than throwing them into the fire, he separated them from the envelopes, collected them and put them in with all the other plastic trash to be packed out by mule train every Tuesday.

Now mind you, we’re 8,500 feet up in the mountains of Yosemite. The next hiker may be several miles away. The next road is four miles down the mountain. But the conservationist didn’t burn the little envelope windows in order to keep our air clean.

That’s mail call with a conservationist!

A Lanyard with a Message

This week I embarked on my very first business trip since the March 2020 shutdown. I attended a conference at the Cincinnati Convention Center.

Conference attendees had to wear masks at all times in the facility, and there are always name badges, of course. They usually come with a lanyard, which are generally sponsored and paid for by one of the attending vendors and contain the company name for advertising purposes.

Here is mine:

When I picked up my badge, there were three colors of lanyards to choose from with a sign describing the meaning:

Green – I am comfortable with hugs and handshakes.

White – Keep distance and fist bumps only.

Red – Do not come close!

I picked green. There were a few friends I had not seen in two years that were huggers. I was fine with that.

Most people wore green, quite a substantial percentage wore white, and I do not remember seeing any red. I am sure there were some.

And that’s a lanyard with a message.

Oh Maui!

We just came home from a week in Maui. We stayed at Kamaole Beach Club, right across the street from the beach. At the street corner there is a crosswalk.

When we got there on Saturday, there was this “beach bum” who sat on a wooden bench overlooking the ocean just a few feet away. He had long matted hair, wore a bicycle helmet and had a dirty pink backpack. Next to him was a cart presumably holding his various possessions.

He sat there all day long that first day, staring at the ocean without moving, at times holding a papaya in one hand and staring at it. Sometimes we’d see him muttering to himself.

He sat at the same spot every day, from morning till night, not moving. He never took off his helmet, he never removed his backpack. We never saw him come or go, but I must admit I didn’t go out late at night or early in the morning and check.

We took the picture above on the morning of the 7th day as we were leaving. This time he was standing up, motionless, looking at the ocean. We had never seen him standing, or walking, or doing anything before. The overnight low is 72 degrees in Maui, the high is 88 degrees. The trade winds keep the beach cool. So there is no need to move from that spot.

I am now back home, thousands of miles away, but I know exactly where this man is: Sitting on that bench, helmet slightly tilted to the left, dirty pink backpack on his back.

And I am thinking to myself: I have so much to do and so little time to do it.

Starbound picks up where Marsbound stopped. Humanity has decided to send a starship to Wolf 25, the home world of The Others.

The starship uses the “free energy” concept provided by The Others through the Martians to create a matter – anti-matter reaction engine. However, for that it needs reaction mass, which it obtains from a large ice asteroid. The asteroid is large enough to provide mass to travel the 25 light years to Wolf 25 and back with mass to spare. The ship accelerates at 1g all the way to the half-way point, at which time it will have reached more than 90% of the speed of light, when it turns around and then decelerates for the second half of the trip. Due to the relativistic speed, the crew will only age 6 years during the more than 25-year journey.

They should be able to meet The Others, and come back, all over the course of a little more than 12 years in their own lives, while more than 50 years will have passed on Earth.

Along the way, unexpected events change their plans and the “meeting” with The Others is not quite what they expected.

While the premise is exciting, and the first journey of a crewed trip to another star could be exciting, the author does not take advantage of the opportunity. There are conceptual problems with the plot, and the story-telling is stilted.

There are some concepts that just don’t make sense. For instance, the ship accelerates at 1g for half the trip. However, anyone studying relativity and doing the pretty simple math will realize that, from Earth’s frame of reference, if you’re accelerating at a constant rate of 1g, then you would reach near the speed of light in about one year. Why keep accelerating after that, particularly when there is a significant plot point about the Martians really suffering in the 1g Earth-standard gravity. They could have turned the engine off after one year, and they would arrive only very marginally later, after turning the engine on for braking again one year out. The whole thing just didn’t add up.

Another massive plot hole is that the entire premise is that the limit of the speed of light affects all races, including The Others. They can’t travel any faster than anyone else. However, somehow they are able to cause terrible destruction to humanity seemingly instantaneously, as the plot of the story will tell.

Yes, you may say this is science fiction, and the author has to right to make up the technology. But this does not work if on one side the author goes to great lengths building a world around the limitations and effects of general relativity, but on the other hand seems to break those rules in deus ex machina fashion all throughout the plot.

Finally, let’s talk about the crew. Humanity sends seven humans and two Martians as the world’s ambassadors to another star to meet a known very hostile race. Leaving the two Martians alone, the human crew consists of two married couples. The first are Carmen Dula and Paul Collier of Marsbound. The other are Meryl and Moonboy, the two xenologists of Marsbound. Then apparently to make things interesting, they add a triad (marriage of three) with two male “spies” and their mutual wife, Elza, who is a medical doctor who also happens to be a nymphomaniac. This causes all sorts of friction as she sleeps her way through the crew within the first few weeks. Why in the world would humanity set up a team of star travelers who would be cooped up in a spaceship tin-can for 12 years and not make sure there will be sexual stability for the journey? I assume it’s for plot purposes, so there is plenty of sex sprinkled into the story. I might add that the sex really does not work in this story.

The author also applies a strange concept of using three different narrators, switching between chapters. One is Carmen, the other in Namir, one of the spies, and the third is Fly-in-Amber, one of the Martians. I don’t see why that was necessary, as it didn’t add anything to the story as far as I could tell. But it was confusing, since I had to figure out who was talking every time a new chapter started with the protagonist speaking in the first person. He could have put the name of the narrator into the chapter title and made it a little more straightforward.

Starbound is a tale with a lot of possibilities, but those are completely wasted. Haldeman is a good story teller, and I enjoy his novels, but this one is just too poorly crafted and constructed, with a far-fetched a plot that I simply was not able to buy into.

It’s late 21st century on Earth. There is now a space elevator in the Pacific off the Galapagos Islands that allows humans to reach space in a two-week elevator ride, rather than a 12-minute rocket blast. There is a Hilton hotel midway in the balance point of the elevator.

Carmen Dula is a 19-year-old girl traveling to Mars with her family as part of a group of scientist colonists, adding to the 100 or so people already living on Mars.

The story tells about the ride on the space elevator in great detail and much more elaborately than I have read in any other science fiction story. The reader will understand space elevators after this. Then it tells of the months long journey on a spaceship to Mars, the landing there, and the integration of the new colonists with the existing people there.

Carmen is not necessarily an obedient young woman. One night she defies all colony rules, as well as all common sense, and leaves the station in a spacesuit all alone, telling nobody where she went. Sure enough, she has an accident many kilometers away from the base, and believes she is about to die – when she gets rescued – by Martians.

At this point, the story took a completely different turn from what I expected, having read The Martian by Andy Weir recently. Weir stays with current technology in his book and does not venture into a speculative technological future. Haldeman stretches things here.

Moderate Spoiler Below

As it turns out, the Martians in this book are a race artificially created by “The Others” to keep an eye on humanity. Some 30,000 years ago, The Others visited the solar system, found early human hunter gatherers and decided that they could easily evolve into a space-traveling race. They put an outpost on Mars to monitor Earth, which took no effort at all for 30,000 years, until the humans started broadcasting in the early 20th century. Then they got busy and started learning human culture and languages simply from humanity’s broadcasts.

The Others are a highly advanced race which lives in a silicon-based environment embedded in liquid nitrogen. Their metabolism is more than a 100 times slower than that of humans, so there is no way for them to communicate with humans directly. However, they have created artificial sentinels that can translate between the thoughts of the others and humans.

The humans aren’t doing too well – being a bellicose race and never trusting others, and within just a few years of learning of The Others humanity does one stupid thing after another to stoke the ire of The Others.

Then they strike.

End of Spoiler

Haldeman likes to tell near-future stories with space travel and relativistic concepts interwoven, and that makes for an interesting read, albeit a far-fetched one. With the story being told by an immature girl at least for the first half of the book, it feels a bit  juvenile at times, and there is a little bit more sex in the story than is necessary to make it succeed. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and the concepts described, particularly the experience of the space elevator.

Last weekend I went to the California Conservation Corps (CCC) backcountry program camp where Devin has been the supervisor since late April. In the first few months, the corps goes out and does “front country” work, where they are within access to a vehicle for supplies and connection. But in the latter months they hike out into the backcountry, where they sleep in their individual tents, work a full-time job doing trail maintenance, then hike back to camp for the night. Once a week, on Tuesday, a supply mule train comes up with provisions for the week and other needs, and takes back the trash. On weekends, the crew goes  — backpacking.

I visited the camp at Sunrise Lakes in Yosemite.

On the way there I stopped at Olmsted point (see map below) and got a good view of the famous Half Dome. You can see how smoky the air is. It is actually due to a management fire in Yosemite (induced by the forest service) and they have signs up telling people not to “call in” the fire. Unfortunately, Half Dome was in a smoky haze.

Here is an overview map [as always, click to enlarge pictures]. Olmsted point from where I took the photograph above is indicated (blue arrow).  You can see the location of Half Dome (green arrow), the peak of Clouds Rest (orange arrow) and the location of the CCC camp where I went (red arrow).  In the lower left of the picture is Yosemite Valley, which is what most people think of as Yosemite. In reality, it’s a huge area of wilderness.

My hike started at the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead off Highway 120 right by Tenaya Lake. The colors indicate my speed. Red is fastest, blue is slowest. You can see where the switchbacks were and of course where I rested by the blue.

Here is a typical section of the trail. Huge boulders as one expects in Yosemite are everywhere.

Another section of trail.

Here I arrived at the “First Lake” and you can see the spot on the map above. The lakes are pristine, and as you can see, there is nobody there.

It took me about three hours to get to the CCC camp. Here is Devin at the hand washing station.

The crew does trail maintenance work, which would be felling trees, building rock steps, filling in washed out gaps, building retaining walls. All in all backbreakingly hard labor. That’s why it says on the back of Devin’s CCC business card: “Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions and More.” Here you can see their “tool shed” with sledge hammers, chain saws, and various gear. A tarp above keeps out the rain.

Here are more tools, clippers, rakes, shovels, all nicely organized.

Here is a picture of the “living room” which consists of a fire pit in the middle, log benches all around, and a large tarp over the top to keep out the rain, but mostly the sun. To the left is the kitchen. All the food needs to be stored in bear boxes, which are those big brown cases.

The crew members pitch their tents in the surrounding area, usually away from others for privacy and quiet. So they are actually quite spread out. Here is Devin’s tent, where he has lived and spent pretty much every night in the last two months, except for when he went off backpacking on some weekends. This is his home. Right now, the temperature goes down to the low forties over night, so it’s quite nippy already, and it will get much colder over the next few weeks. The sun goes down at about 7:30pm and it’s dark very quickly, and stays dark until about 6:00am. That makes for a long night in the tent.

There is a spot on a giant granite incline not far from the camp where they get phone reception. The picture below shows me on that spot. You can see the peak of Clouds Rest (red arrow), a sliver of Half Dome (green arrow) and the approximate spot of the cell phone tower (blue arrow) over Yosemite Valley, about 13 miles away, which brings in the signal. I got 3 bars on my iPhone from that spot, but when I hiked back the couple of hundred yards to the camp – nothing.

Below is a close-up of Clouds Rest and Half Dome from that same spot.

And while I was there, I checked my messages and my email. Here is yours truly, the Software CEO doing a bit of work while out hiking, answering a few urgent emails, making a few appointments, before walking back “off the grid” to get some dinner at the camp.

The next day we hiked down to the trailhead. Here is a picture of Devin in front of Tenaya Lake. The peak behind him is Tenaya Peak. That’s a 10,301 foot peak with no trail going to it. The next day, Devin was going to do a solo hike off-trail to that peak from the CCC camp, which is located to the right behind the peak. I wasn’t comfortable enough for cross country hiking at that altitude for that distance (at my age) so I didn’t volunteer to participate. Devin, as a crew supervisor, carries an emergency satellite phone with GPS, so he feels safe enough to go alone.

As I am writing this a couple of days after, I know Devin made it and has already sent me a picture from the top, looking down on the lake, But that’s for another post.

Another picture of Tenaya Lake, facing due east.

While we there, as we’re crossing the highway, I found an iPhone in the middle of the road, obviously run over by cars already. But as I picked it up it still worked and showed a photograph of the owner and his wife on the cover. So we hiked around a bit trying to find them and give them back their phone, but no luck. I decided to take it with me, and wait for the first incoming call. Sure enough, about 3 hours later, as I had already left Yosemite, that call came in and I was able to connect with the owner and arrange to return the phone to him, albeit run over and scratched.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. I saw Devin for the first time in 6 months, and were were able to catch up on life. I got in some good hiking and fresh air. I tested a new backpack and sleeping bag, and I am already looking forward to going back. To me, Yosemite is one of the best places on earth.

Here is a picture of U.S. Marine Nicole Gee In Kabul just days before she was killed in the suicide attack.

Image and Article at Redditt [click image for article original article]

Her good friend and a fellow Marine wrote this for her:

Her car is parked in our lot.

It’s so mundane. Simple. But it’s there.

My very best friend, my person, my sister forever. My other half. We were boots together, Corporals together, & then Sergeants together. Roommates for over 3 years now, from the barracks at MOS school to our house here. We’ve been attached at the hip from the beginning. I can’t quite describe the feeling I get when I force myself to come back to reality & think about how I’m never going to see her again. How her last breath was taken doing what she loved—helping people—at HKIA in Afghanistan. Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she’s gone.

Our generation of Marines has been listening to the Iraq/Afghan vets tell their war stories for years. It’s easy to feel distant when you’re listening to those conversations, it’s easy for that war & those stories to sound like something so distant—something that you feel like you’re never going to experience since you joined the Marine Corps during peacetime. The stories are powerful and moving. Motivating. You know it can happen. And you train to be ready if/when it does. You’re ready. Gung-Ho. You raise your hand for all of the deployments, you put in the work. But it’s hard to truly relate to those stories when most of the deployments nowadays involve a trip to Oki or a boring 6 months on ship.

Then bad people do bad things, and all of a sudden, the peaceful float you were on turns into you going to Afghanistan & for some, never coming back. It turns into your friends never coming home.

Her car is parked in our lot.

For a month now, it’s been parked in our little lot on Camp Lejeune at the Comm Shop where I work. I used it while my car was getting fixed & I just haven’t gotten around to bringing it back to our house. I drove it around the parking lot every once in a while to make sure it would be good for when she came home. So many Marines have walked past it, most of them the newer generations of Marines, our generation of Marines. The same Marines who often feel so distant from the war stories their bosses tell them about. I’m sure they thought nothing of it—just a car parked in a parking spot. Some of them knew her. Some of them didn’t. But they all saw her car. They all walked past it. The war stories, the losses, the flag-draped coffins, the KIA bracelets & the heartbreak. It’s not so distant anymore.

Her car is still there, & she’s gone forever.

I love the first photo. We climbed to the top of sugar cookie in 29 one Saturday morning a few years ago to pay our respects. I snapped the picture on my camera. I never would’ve thought her name would be on a cross like those one day. There’s no way to adequately prepare for that feeling. No PowerPoint training, no class from the chaps, nothing. Nothing can prepare you.

My best friend. 23 years old. Gone. I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved. She was a Marine’s Marine. She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person.

Til Valhalla, Sergeant Nicole Gee. I can’t wait to see you & your Momma up there. I love you forever & ever.

Here is a section of Trump’s $15 billion “beautiful” border wall after a monsoon flood. Damn those liberal floods!

It’s a good thing that Mexico paid for all this.

Of course, most of the $15 billion didn’t actually go into the wall itself but ended up in the pockets of a band of grifters.

This makes me really proud of my country.

 

The Bounty

Orion Pictures Corp. 1984, 2 hours

Starring Anthony Hopkins & Mel Gibson

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis

The year 1787 marks a milestone in American history: the Constitutional Convention.  In December of that same year, the HMS Bounty, a frigate of the British Navy, left England for Tahiti.  Its mission was to collect breadfruit seedlings for transport to the West Indies. A milestone in British history unfolded when the Bounty set sail for the West Indies with its cargo from Tahiti.  Led by Fletcher Christian, the midshipman, a group of disgruntled sailors mutinied against the harsh commander: Captain Bligh was forced into a boat with a few loyal seamen, and set adrift on the open sea with no land in sight.

Yet more newsworthy than the mutiny itself  was its aftermath.  Captain Bligh, a seasoned navigator, was able to steer the longboat and its crew through the treacherous waters of the South Pacific.  Relying on his compass, the intrepid Bligh managed to keep the boat on course for 3,600 miles, until the starving survivors reached the island of Timor in the Dutch Indies.  Bligh’s detailed account of the month-long ordeal is preserved in his diary.

Meanwhile, the Bounty had returned to Tahiti. Soon after the mutineers were reunited with the women with whom they had bonded during their earlier visit, the ship departed from Tahiti sailing into uncharted waters.  To avoid future contact with the British navy, Fletcher Christian steered the Bounty towards a remote uninhabited island (unmarked on contemporary maps) about 1,000 miles from Tahiti.  Pitcairn Island, the final destination of the Bounty, is still inhabited by descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian wives.

The story of the Bounty has been told and retold usually from a perspective that is critical of  Captain Bligh. Four out of the five adaptations for the screen reflect this popular bias. However, the fifth version adopts a historically more balanced account of the notorious mutiny.  The plot of  The Bounty unfolds as a series of flashbacks in the course of a court-martial of William Bligh for the loss of a frigate of the British Navy.  We first meet Bligh, played by Anthony Hopkins, as an affable officer, before we learn about his darker side: an arrogant commander prone to bouts of irrepressible anger.  No less surprising is Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Fletcher Christian as a long-time friend of the irascible Bligh.  But the arduous voyage to Tahiti would test their bonds of friendship to the breaking point.

A digitally re-mastered copy of the original film was released as a Blu-ray disc in 2019.

Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) is a young man in a poor village in India. With poverty and corruption all around him, he decides to make a better life for himself. I manages to become the chauffeur of the son of a rich man, who just returned to India after living in the United States, with his American girlfriend by his side.

As the servant class is trained to do, he makes himself indispensable to his master. When trouble arises, however, the rich family betrays him and sets him up to be the fall guy to save themselves. He realizes that the class system is rigged against him, and corruption is keeping him low. Eventually he rebels and becomes his own kind of master.

The irony is that in order to escape poverty, overt oppression, and a corrupt system, he has to become corrupt himself.

And so he does.

Are Kids, Are Choice

Here is an enlightening picture of protestors in Science Hill, Kentucky.

Let them breate. We will pool are kids out of school so they don’t learn readn and writn and ritmatic.

Are Kids, Are Choice.

I wonder how the feel about Are Bodies, Are Choice when talking about abortion and contraception?

This is a little bit of evidence of the progressive dumbing down of America.

People want a choice about a cloth in front of a child’s mouth. But by exercising that choice, they are willing to expose their children, their teachers, and themselves to unfettered spread of a deadly virus, and to prolong the pandemic, and to help the virus mutate further.

But of course, the same person that can’t spell Are Choice is probably challenging Dr. Fauci and his recommendations, based on something they read on Facebook.

The virus does not care. It kills a substantial percentage of those that get infected, it leaves massive long-term effects for many of those who survive, and it creates massive hospital bills that most people can’t afford.

Good luck with Are Kids, Are Choice in Science Hill, Kentucky – oh the irony.

 

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