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…or is it?

Recently I had a layover at Washington, DC’s Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA). Remember, this is the airport of our nation’s capital city. When you land at DCA, try to sit in a window seat on the left side of the plane. Almost all the time, the landing approach is to the south, and you get a wonderful glimpse of the Mall, the Capitol building at the end, the Washington Monument in the front, and the White House to the left, all in plain view, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch. Capital glory at its best.

…until you get off the plane and enter the DCA airport terminal. Quite often, if you land in a small commuter plane, you don’t even get a jet bridge. You walk on rickety metal stairs and ramps, outside, then enter a bus, wait until the entire plane is empty and all the people are in the bus, all the while breathing fumes of jet engines and bus exhaust all around.

The terminals are dilapidated, musty and crowded. The facilities are in want. It feels like you are in a third world county airport. It does not seem like you are in our proud nation’s capital. It is embarrassing.

Take, for example, a modern Asian airport, like Singapore Changi Airport, which has received the title of “World’s Best Airport” for seven years in a row.

This is an example of an airport of a thriving country which does not spend trillions of dollars on overseas wars in all corners of the world. It’s a country that invests in its infrastructure.

Jimmy Carter recently took a call from Donald Trump to talk about China. Carter’s main point reportedly was that China hasn’t spent a single dollar on war in many years. It has built an infrastructure of roads, it has more than half of the entire world’s high-speed train tracks, it has some of the world’s greatest and most modern airports, and it loans the United States money.

We need to rebuild our country’s roads – all of them. We need to fix our crumbling bridges. We need to improve our airport infrastructure.

When I watched the video above about Changi, I could not help but think of the book King Rat by James Clavell. The prison camp the entire story plays in is located near the premises of the Changi airport. Read King Rat, a 4-star book (in my rating) and marvel about the difference 75 years can make, from the bed-bug infested prison camp to the Jewel at Changi airport.

The rich people in the $100k camper vans will fight with the strength of a thousand suns for their poppy fields and their plastic straw bans, but do they care that a few hundred miles south of here is a militarized zone where thousands of refugees are forced into the desert to their deaths? Refugees fleeing violence in Central America that was facilitated by U.S. policies and intervention? That their bodies are not recovered, that humanitarian aid workers are arrested for leaving food and water for them? That Cabeza Prieta wildlife refuge, a wilderness area where there is much infrastructure to protect the endangered sonoran pronghorn and where the ground is littered with the bones of refugees, recently added a clause to its permit application specifically prohibiting hikers from leaving food and water?

No, they don’t care.

I would trample every poppy in every single poppy field if it meant that they would care.

— Carrot Quinn’s Blog

Wendy was forced to leave Honduras in 2018 after surviving many years of domestic violence. She also suffered a politically motivated attack just before escaping the country. Afraid that she would be killed, she fled to the U.S. in search of safety. Immigration officials detained her while she was pregnant at the Eloy Detention Center and she managed to be released on a bond last year.

In spite of Wendy’s fear of returning to Honduras, the immigration judge recently denied her asylum claim. The judge’s decision reflects the racism of our legal system, in which few Central American asylum seekers are able to win their cases in front of the judges. Wendy is now faced with a choice: appeal the decision or accept a deportation back to Honduras, where she could be killed.

Wendy has the chance to appeal the denial – and stay in the U.S. – but only if she can pay the attorney’s fees for the appeal. Will you help support Wendy in fighting her case? If Wendy can raise $2,000, she will be able to continue her appeal.

— Carrot Quinn’s Blog

I contributed $20. Maybe you can help, too! [click here]

We all know Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel as the kings of Hollywood comedy in the 1940s and 1950s. Everyone knows them as Stan and Ollie, or Laurel and Hardy, or, as I knew them as a young boy in Germany in the 1960s, “Dick und Doof.” Their comedy is timeless. It worked for me in this biographical movie today as it worked for me when I was a child.

Stan & Ollie plays in 1953, when the duo went on a tour in Britain. They were older, and carrying their own suitcases was starting to be a challenge. The tour was depressingly slow at first but gradually built into a success. However, Ollie’s health was failing, and their partnership began to show the cracks of age.

What I didn’t know until now was that Stan, who played the feeble-minded of the duo, was actually the creative genius behind their comedy, and the business man, driving them forward to comedy success and financial reward. I enjoyed seeing Stan transform himself from a thoughtful, caring, clever and hardworking showman to a doofus klutz the moment he walked onto the stage, time and again.

Stan & Ollie tells the story or Laurel and Hardy as they come to terms at the twilight of their long and successful career.

Lynne said she’d been on the phone one day last summer (also with her door open), “I heard the cat munching his catfood, and out of the corner of my eye saw a black and white shape at the dish… then thought, up-oh, the cat’s upstairs… I turned around to look and, of course, you guessed it, it was a skunk, the absolute nightmare scenario of living in the country. I slowly moved toward it, telling it to leave, please. It just looked me in the eye and, with its paw, scraped the cat’s dish closer to itself! I decided to do nothing and wait. Do you know how slowly skunks eat? Finally, when the skunk was finished, it calmly walked out the door.”

— The Pocket Lint Chronicles, Barbara Carlson, page 148

I just don’t get this part:

If the Mueller report completely exonerates Trump, if it proves there was no collusion, if it shows that we treated the president unfairly, if it allows the “country to move forward again,” then why isn’t Trump making sure that every one of us gets a copy of it as soon as possible?

Hand out the reports, so we can read it for ourselves!

Trump is free and clear, and we can all be sure that the country is safe and protected by our beloved leader.

But it seems like everyone, including the GOP enablers in congress, are fighting to keep it secret.

Why?

Mike Noonan is a successful novelist in his early forties in Maine. When his wife Jo suddenly and somewhat inexplicably dies in the prime of her life, Mike goes into crisis. Writer’s block keeps him from working. To get a break, he decides to move into their vacation home in the south of Maine.

Surrounded by small town life, the starts to see improvement right away. But then he meets Maddie, a woman in her early twenties, a widow, with a three-year-old daughter named Ki. Mike quickly falls in love with the little girl, and in lust with her mother.

He finds out that the tech billionaire named Max Devore, who has a house in town, is the grandfather of Ki, and he is trying to wrest custody from Maddie. As Mike starts helping the young mother fight back, he encounters that he does not live alone in his house.

There appear to be ghosts.

Stephen King is a master storyteller. Bag of Bones is a thick book of 529 pages. It drew me in and kept reading, despite the fact that large portions of the narrative are about Mike’s dreams. Stephen King writes a lot about dreams in many of his books. The Stand is full of dreams. Dreams of King books are always nightmares, and he describes them explicitly and in detail.

I can’t stand reading about dreams. They may move the story along or embellish it, but I always lose interest when I have to read about somebody’s dream, and I start turning the pages quickly to get through them. The violent ghosts, the killed children, the dark secrets of the town that everyone hides from the strange intruders like Mike, all get jumbled together into a plot line that probably works, is meticulously sketched out in Stephen King’s notes, but sorry – I got lost quickly and it went downhill from there.

King is a master storyteller, and I kept reading because I just enjoy his skills. But other than that, this book is just a Bag of Bones.

 

You can judge the character of a person by what the person spends his or her money on.

You can judge the character of a nation the same way.

Our military budget is larger than that of the next 10 nations COMBINED.

The U.S. military is planning on buying a total 2,443 F-35 jets. Since the pricing of each jet is not clear, because they are sold in “batches” where the costs of development are sometimes wrapped into the planes, I find it difficult to figure out how much individual planes actually cost. I have come up with up to $200 million each, but on the low end around $100 million each (source).

Let’s say we’re on the low end at $100 million for each plane.

Trump and DeVos just suggested we cut the entire budget of the Special Olympics – about $17 million a year. We know Trump caved after the public outrage that announcement created. Two billionaires, two kleptocrats, trying to take the Special Olympics out of the government’s budget – in our name!

Let me suggest the following:

I don’t think we need 2,443 F-35 jets. I think 2,442 will do just fine. And we’ll take the $100 million we saved and fund the Special Olympics for about six years straight.

We can live with one less F-35, right?

When you elect a clown, expect a circus.

The Ukraine is suffering from massive corruption at the top of the government. After Paul Manafort’s protector in the Ukraine was ousted, near-billionaire Petro Poroshenko took over. Most of the candidates for the upcoming election are oligarchs. The voters don’t like it.

41-year-old television comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy is the host of a show called Servant of the People. He makes fun of the political elite. Ukraine is a large country with a lot of resources, great agricultural potential and a highly educated population of 42 million. They are not happy, and the comedian is the front-runner in the election.

Sounds familiar?

Steven Colbert for President!

If Hillary got it, you’d be doing wind. Windmills. Weeeee. And if it doesn’t blow, you can forget about the television for that night. ‘Darling, I want to watch television.’ ‘I’m sorry! The wind isn’t blowing.’ I know a lot about wind.

— The President of the United States

I am a man who flies well over 100,000 miles a year in commercial airliners. I have taken many flights in 737 Max 8 planes. I am also a software engineer who spent a significant time of his early career working on servo motor controls and control systems. So I know a think or two about software controlling machinery, overrides, safety stops, redundant sensor input and the like.

I saw an article in the current Time Magazine titled Second-Hand Safety and chose to show you this excerpt:

Enter the 737 Max. Featuring new engines and aerodynamic changes, the grownup Baby Boeing promised carriers up to 20% better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. There were challenges in the new design. The model’s new LEAP-1B engines, for instance, are 20 in. larger than the original engines. So Boeing redesigned the 737’s pylons, which hold the engines to the wing, and moved them farther forward. But the more powerful engines in a different location could pitch the jet’s nose upward, creating conditions for a midair stall.

To prevent the stall, Boeing created an automated-flight-control feature called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). When MCAS sensors detected the nose of the plane pitching up, the software controlling the tail’s horizontal stabilizer would automatically push the nose back down. It was a novel fix to a nagging design problem.

But Boeing took a number of steps that blunted the scrutiny the feature could draw from safety regulators at the FAA. In an early report to the FAA that certified the plane as safe to fly, Boeing understated how much the system could move the horizontal tail, according to the Seattle Times. “When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document,” the Times reported. Also, Boeing failed to account for how “the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.” And Boeing said MCAS should not be activated if it received data gathered from just one of two sensors – “and that’s how it was designed” the Times reported.

Just as it understated the extent to which MCAS might take automated control of the plane, Boeing, with the support of regulators, decided against extensive training for pilots on the 737 Max, including in how to disable the software.

— Time Magazine, April 1, 2019, page 44 – Second-Hand Safety

This is scary. When you work on machines that can kill people when they malfunction, it brings the tension and stress to a whole other level. I have a lot of respect for the engineers who are writing the software for the SpaceX Dragon system for manned space flight. I have respect for Elon Musk who will have to watch that first launch with two astronauts on board, whose lives will be at risk. Any one software mistake can result in catastrophic failure.

I do not know the details of the Boeing 737 Max 8 problems, other than what I have read in the popular literature, like all of us. It sounds like the engineers did their jobs. Software will forever control the lives of humans, and the MCAS system is just one of those systems. But not allowing pilots to be trained properly to accelerate sales was negligent. A pilot needs to know that the horizontal stabilizers can act against the flight controls and push the nose down, and pilots need to know how they can disable this if needed. Something went wrong with the software and the pilots apparently weren’t trained to see the failure and certainly they didn’t know how to override the system before catastrophe hit.

This is not good for Boeing.

In this time when “regulations” are being rolled back everywhere, we need to remember that these regulations are there to protect us, from long-term effects of pollution, from longer-term effects of climate change, to very short-term effects of a robot failing and sending an airliner into a nosedive. It is the government’s responsibility to protect us from corporations that have a profit motive above all.

We’re now dealing with the fallout of this lack of enforcement.

I’ll be flying again soon.

Friday night we went to our first political rally. Yes, I made it through 62 years without ever attending one.

We went to see Bernie Sanders in San Diego.We found a spot very close to the podium.

Bernie Sanders at Podium in San Diego, March 22, 2019 [photocredit: Trisha]

The crowd was large, but being in the middle of it, it was impossible to count or estimate. Here is a happy selfie.

Selfie [photocredit: Trisha]

Sanders has a huge momentum built up this early in the campaign. Obviously, in 2016, he was just short of the nomination, mostly due to coming in a bit late after Clinton and of course Clinton’s notoriety. This time around, there is no Clinton, and Sanders appears to be the front runner. He already has a million volunteers signed up all around the country for his campaign. It will be difficult for anyone else to catch up to that. Having done this last time around, unlike the wide field of other candidates, he has a huge (huuge) advantage.

Old Guys Rule

I enjoyed listening to a stump speech that is not about a personality cult. Trump’s self-admiration and egotistical world view was far, far away. Here is a humble man, from very modest beginnings, who has been a public servant for most of his life. He has also been a maverick, agitator and activist. Most of all, he has the welfare of the people, the country, and the world as his objective.

I predict that Sanders will win this election.

If he is elected in November 2020, he will be 79 years old and by far the oldest president ever. So far the oldest is Trump, who was 70 when he was elected. Remember when the country thought that Reagan was too old when he took office at age 69?

Be that as it may, I can see the possibility of a very young electorate voting a very old man into the presidency. This means that his selection of a running mate (presumably younger than himself and probably a woman) will be crucial, and the likelihood of that vice president ascending to the presidency is high, especially if he succeeded for two terms.

So far, the outcome of this rally for me is that Sanders has my vote. He had it in 2016 in the primary, and he will have it this time around (as long as he does not pull a McCain and find a Palin – but that was another story I wrote about here in 2008).

Old Guys Rule!

Are you watching me now? Watch closely now!

It’s impossible for me to review A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in 2019 without going on a side track about A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in 1976. Shockingly, while the Cooper/Gaga movie got 89% on the Tomatometer, the Kristofferson/Streisand version got 38%.

What?

Then I read some of the reviews by the critics, and most of them were written in 2019, about a movie older than some of the critics themselves. Whether the 1976 version is a good or great movie in itself is not relevant to me. When I watched it first in 1976, it was phenomenal. It was one of my coming of age films. I remember clearly who I was with at the time. I had just turned 20 and I was figuring out what makes blood boil. The songs in A Star is Born will forever transport me back into those passionate years of my life. Candles on the rims of bathtubs took on meaning for me that never left me since. For me, A Star is Born was one of my favorite movies of all time. 38% my ass!

So I was reluctant to even go see the 2018 version, lest my memories get confused and polluted. But after all the press and hoopla with the Oscars, and after The Woman went to see it and came home and said it was a great movie and I’d better go see it, we went – I for my first  time – she for the second viewing.

The story is the same one. Jackson “Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a rock superstar with an established career and an alcohol problem. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a struggling artist. They meet by pure chance in a drag bar when Jack stops in for a drink after a performance. He is smitten. She is skeptical. But Jack sees the talent and brings her up on stage at his next concert in a stadium, and when she lets loose with one of her songs, the audience goes wild and the critics swarm all over her. Within just a few months, while he burns in the ashes of drugs and alcohol, she rises like a phoenix. It’s a love story for which we all know the ending, it’s a musical without the corniness of real musicals. The soundtrack is exceptional. The music is all new. And yes, I think the Cooper/Gaga version is as good as the Kristofferson/Streisand version was 42 years ago.

Young lovers will go on and remember this movie for an entire generation. They will own the soundtracks just like I owned the vinyl record of the old A Star is Born for all these years. And my “Are You Watching me Now?” will be their “Shallow” and a new Star is Born.


In 2003, L.T. (Tommy Lee Jones) is cozy in his retirement in his cabin in the woods in Oregon. He used to be in the special forces, where his assignment was to train soldiers to kill in hand-to-hand combat. When someone brutally slaughters four deer hunters, the FBI calls on L.T. to help them find and apprehend a murderer. They suspect a rogue special forces soldier.

Sure enough, Aaron (Benicio Del Toro) is one of L.T.’s trainees, one of the best there is, and mentally damaged beyond hope by terrible trauma he was exposed to during the conflict in Kosovo.

When L.T. comes after Aaron, he is unarmed, and it is not clear what he was thinking. Two trained killers are at each other’s throats for the duration of the movie.

This is Rambo, First Blood, part two, only much less refined. Two men, trainee and mentor, fight to the death with — it had to be that way — knives they made from scratch in the woods. L.T. fashions a knife from rock splinters. Aaron forges a knife from scrap steel he finds at a ruined embankment. As the two go at each other, we are subjected to completely unrealistic blood scenes. The human body only has about six quarts of blood. It seems like both fighters spill more than that in each of their fights, and they somehow keep walking away without bandages each time.

The Hunted has been around. It was released in 2003, and you have probably seen it flipping through the channels more than once over the years.

If you want to watch a movie about a damaged special forces soldier going berserk, watch Rambo, First Blood instead. It’s a much better movie.

It is 1962 in New York City. Tony is an Italian-American in the Bronx. He is a bouncer at a local club and hangs around with questionable mob types. At a party at his house he observes his wife giving two glasses of water to two black workmen when they are thirsty. Later, when nobody is watching, he drops these two glasses in the trash. Blacks in 1962 were treated as sub humans.

When Tony loses his job because the club is remodeling, he looks for a job and hears that Dr. Don Shirley is looking for a driver. Tony shows up at the interview and discovers that Dr. Shirley is black. He is a world-class pianist and he is going on tour in the Deep South. Tony reluctantly signs on. The manager gives him “The Green Book,” a guide for establishments in the South were blacks are welcome. Many times, Tony has to stay at one hotel, while Shirley stays at another.

As one would expect, there is severe resistance to a black man of status in the South, let alone one that has a white driver. The two run into a number of difficult situations, and with every one of them, their mutual respect for each other seems to rise, and they slowly build a friendship. Tony gets lessons in grammar, speech, etiquette and general humanity from Dr. Shirley, and when he comes home after a months-long tour, he is not quite the rough neck that he was when he left.

Green Book is very rewarding movie. It gives us a glimpse of America before Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the mid-sixties. Discrimination and racism were rampant and brutal. But the human spirit transcends the differences, and two very different men become friends.

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