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Archive for the ‘Three Stars’ Category

Long before Trump was a household name due to his reality TV show The Apprentice, I read at least part of his book The Art of the Deal, until I got tired of it. I always thought Trump was a phony. When he announced his run for the presidency a few years ago I thought it was a joke, a vanity project for a man full of himself. When he, against all odds, won the presidency, I was repulsed. I could not imagine that a boor like Trump could actually start acting like a dignified person, like a statesman, like a president. But he can’t be that stupid, I thought. Surely, he can keep his blabbering mouth shut, check his ego at the door, and start acting presidential.

Wrong.

Incompetence in leadership always eventually blows wide open, becomes obvious to everyone around, and destroys an organization from the inside out. Nobody wants to work for a dilettante, as the incompetence wears off, and makes for a very unsatisfying work experience of a daily basis. I expected that unless Trump cleaned up his act, the whole organization would start rotting from the inside out. A foul apple can look just fine on the outside for a long time, until it suddenly implodes, and the stench wafts out.

I expected that this would happen in the Trump White House, and judging from the number of firings and resignations, I think I was right.

If you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in the White House, just read Fire and Fury. Wolff takes you right there in the middle of the action. There is no hype, no exaggeration. He just tells a story, goes from character to character, and reading it after hearing various anecdotes in the news throughout the last few years it just all makes sense.

Here is an excerpt, an email written by Gary Cohn, who is serving as the Director of the National Economic Council and chief economic advisor to Trump. He was formerly the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs from 2006 to 2017:  

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family. I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

— Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 186). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Trump is an ego-maniac, not a leader. That leaves those around him to constantly quarrel for power and influence, and it feels like a game of Survivor, where we listen to the players talk about how they are going to vote people out of the White House. It’s a reality show that is now running our country. What did we expect when we elected a reality show TV personality for president?

I am not surprised that Trump didn’t want this book to come out. He called it full of lies. Reading it, I do not get that impression at all. Yes, there might be some passages that are questionable, but only because he basically listens to what people tell him and reports it. The book is as accurate and reliable as the Trump White House staffers who were interviewed for it.

It’s a riveting story.

I was not surprised about anything I read. It just made sense.

We elected an unfit president. Tough.

Every American should read Fire and Fury.

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Vincent van Gogh picked up a paintbrush for the first time when he was 28 years old. He died less than nine years later at the age of 37, and left us some 800 paintings. Van Gogh changed art, yet he sold only one painting ever, and that to his own brother.

He died under mysterious circumstances, and like many deaths of famous people (for example JFK) there are many theories that speculate about what really might have happened, versus what is common knowledge on the record.

Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, Loving Vincent is a film that explores the life of Vincent van Gogh and some of the speculations about his death.

What is unique about this film is that it is an animation based on painted images. Every frame of this movie is a painting, and thousands of them have been stitched together to make the film. Nothing like this has ever been done before, and it may well never be done again. Van Gogh’s painting style, using bold colors and rough, thick brush strokes, lends itself to this approach and I applaud the filmmakers for the unique, risky and ultimately very successful idea. Many scenes in the movie are based on actual van Gogh paintings.

One of them has special meaning to me: Harvest at La Crau with Montmajour in the Background. Sometimes it’s called “the blue cart.” The original is in the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam. Here is an image:

In the movie, Vincent is pulled past this scene in a cart on the road in the foreground.

When I was a child, some 11 or 12 years old, our German professor (now my friend Wolfgang referenced in this blog from time to time in the Latin Corner) assigned this painting as the subject for the essay form of “Bildbeschreibung” or image description. I remember struggling with this assignment, but doing a good job of it in the end. It stayed with me for life, and this painting represents the first exposure for me to van Gogh. I had tears welling up when this image went by in one of the scenes in Loving Vincent.

I am a painter. Van Gogh has always been my favorite artist. I have seen many original van Gogh paintings over the years. How could I possibly not love this movie?


 

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Marshall is based on an early trial in the career of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman).

As a young lawyer Marshall traveled around the country in pursuit of cases against African-Americans who were unjustly accused of crimes. In Connecticut, the defended a black chauffeur who was charged with sexual assault of his rich, white employer (Kate Hudson). The court was segregationist and didn’t allow him to argue the case. He had to join forces with Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad), a reluctant Jewish lawyer, who did not initially want to take on this responsibility. Eventually they prevailed in a very racist and anti-Semitic environment and the case contributed to Marshall’s fame and the eventual creation of the NAACP legal defense fund.

The movie introduces the character and legacy of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, appointed by President Johnson in 1967. While I roughly knew who Marshall was, I had never shown much interest in any of the details of his life, until I watched this movie. This is one of the most valuable and enriching facts about good movies: They introduce us to topics we sometimes know nothing about, only to get fired up and motivated to read up more about the subject.

Marshall did that for me.


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Ebbing, Missouri is a town in rural America where everybody knows everyone else and their business. The people revere their chief of police, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) loses her daughter in a tragic murder and rape case. When, after six months, there is no progress with the investigation, she decides to take matters in her own hands and puts up three billboards in a bold move to attract attention. And attention she gets, seemingly be everyone in town. Officer Dixon, who works for Chief Willoughby, takes matters in his own hands and starts a chain of violence, and a war between a lonely but very determined woman, and Ebbing’s entire law enforcement contingent.

This movie tells a story, and we like our stories. It is very well-acted, it makes us think about justice and about life – which often brings us much adversity – sometimes seemingly too much to bear. There are no bad guys in this movie, only bad circumstances. And the ending is surprisingly satisfying.


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I am an artist, a painter, and you would think I’d have known more about the artist who created the two most famous paintings in history. Sadly, I knew pretty much only his name: Leonardo da Vinci.

The second most famous painting in history is The Last Supper. It is featured every year as the “grand finale” of the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters. And every year it is a new, powerful image.

Of course, the most famous painting in the world is the Mona Lisa. It is also the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, and the most parodied work of art in the world [Wikipedia]. It is also widely believed to be the most valuable painting in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452. He was not just an artist, but an engineer, a scientist, an inventor, and a relentless researcher. He wrote thousands of pages of note books, filled with ideas, speculations, checklists, drawings, designs and drafts throughout his life. Through his writing, we know a lot about him, but on the other hand, a lot of mystery surrounds the man and his history.

Walter Isaacson, the author of the biographies of Steve Jobs and Einstein, guides us through the life of Leonardo da Vinci from birth to death. We see the artist grow from his humble beginnings as an illegitimate son of a Florence notary, to a true superstar of art who consorted with the most powerful people in the world at the beginning of the 16th century. Leonardo was at the peak of his game around the same time when Columbus first reached the New World. The world was very different then, and reading this biography, I learned a lot about the world in those years, and about the pursuit of art.

Now I feel like I know Leonardo da Vinci. I would like to visit him in his later years with a time machine and bring him back to my house. I’d have him ride in my Prius with some Mozart playing off my iPhone through the sound system. I’d show him how I could make a phone call from a moving car to the other side of the world. We’d go to the airport and I’d buy first class tickets to Washington, DC. I’d let him have the window seat and look out over the world from 36,000 feet. Once in DC, I’d take him to the National Gallery of Art and guide him to the Ginevra de’ Benci, the only original da Vinci located in the Americas and therefore the only da Vinci original I have ever seen with my own eyes. He would recognize his own greatness in the history of the western world.

And now I know I need to – as soon as I can manage it – go to the Louvre in Paris and see the Mona Lisa and all the other da Vinci originals there. I know there’ll be crowds of people. I know there’ll be lines. I know I won’t be able to get near the painting. But I know I’ll stand there and I’ll wonder who all has stood in front of that painting over the years, over the centuries and marveled about it. Did Vincent van Gogh ever go and see the Mona Lisa? Did Bob Dylan? Did Pablo Picasso? Did Frieda Kahlo? Did Henry Miller? Did Benjamin Franklin?

Maybe they all did, but someday not so far out, I will have gone – inspired by Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci.


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

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

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

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

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Movie Review: Lady Bird

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior in high school in Sacramento, California in 2002.  She does not like her name and gave herself the name Lady Bird. She signs as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is a strong-willed person but not very good at being a mother. She routinely and methodically puts down her daughter, denigrates her, and shows her with actions and words that she does not respect her. Yet, as mothers are wont to do, she loves her, and Lady Bird desperately needs her approval. Her father (Tracy Letts) is a computer programmer who lost his job. He is passive, beaten down but he loves his children and wants their best, yet, he knows he can’t help them. He suffers from depression. There is also her brother and his girlfriend who live with the family in the little three-bedroom house that the parents bought 25 years ago and never dreamed they would be stuck in all their lives.

Lady Bird copes with coming of age in a depressed family, during an economic downturn, desperately trying to have good friends, first love, and a future at a college in New York that will cost much more than her mother can afford working double shifts as a nurse. But life does not cooperate, at least most of the time.

The movie Lady Bird plays in Sacramento, California. I have, through my work, visited Sacramento often over the last two decades, and there are many scenes where I recognized the background down to the camera angle, particularly at the airport, and by the Tower Bride near Old Town. Sacramento looks romantically beautiful in this movie, much more so than it ever did to me in the real world. I enjoyed how the cinematographers pulled out the beauty and mood.

This film is the debut of director Greta Gerwig. It reminded me a bit of the 2008 movie Juno, another story of a young girl who asserts herself in an adversarial world.

With a score of 100% on the Tomatometer, you probably should not miss this film. It makes you think, it makes you remember your own youth and how hard it was to be accepted, to go your own way, and to overcome your own family and the yoke it can put on you.

Lady Bird is a really good movie.

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After I read Two Years Before the Mast I was inspired to learn more about sailing in the mid-nineteenth century.

John Whidden was born in 1832 and lost both of his parents by age five. He lived with his grandparents. When he was fourteen, he felt a calling to go to sea.

In those days, “boys” served on ships along with the crew, mostly performing menial tasks of all types, and “learning the ropes.” Usually families placed the boys with a captain they knew and trusted. Voyages by merchant ships, for instance from Boston to India and back, could easily take more than a year.

A ship had several classes of crew: The captain, the officers, usually a first officer or mate, a second mate, sometimes a third mate, depending on the size of the vessel, a cook, a carpenter, a steward, the sailors, and a few boys.

John Whidden tells his own story. He worked his way from ship’s boy to sailor to officer to captain in less than twelve years. By the time he was 26 years old he sailed the world’s oceans as a ship’s captain.

His stories are simple, easy to read, sometimes funny and entertaining, and, above all, very educational. I learned much about shipping on sailing vessels and the lifestyles of the crews.

Here is a sample:

I have, in a previous chapter, spoken of the large variety of cockroaches on board the ship “Brutus,” Calcutta trader. Across the docks, opposite the “Danube,” lay the ship “Guiding Star,” Captain Small, just out from Boston, where she had discharged a Calcutta cargo. This ship was literally alive with roaches, but at the time I did not know it.

In the evening I went on board to make Captain Small a social call, and when, after passing a very pleasant hour, he invited me to spend the night with him, I accepted, and he gave me his stateroom, taking a spare room for himself.

Retiring about eleven o’clock, and pulling off my boots, I disrobed and turned in, sleeping soundly until morning, when I arose, and proceeding to dress, found nothing left of my boots but the soles and straps. All outside of these resembled a piece of brown tissue paper perforated with tiny holes.

On asking Captain Small about it, he explained that he meant to have told me to put everything, including my boots, in the basket at the head of the bed, but he forgot it! The cockroaches had eaten them in the night, and the captain’s forgetfulness cost me a new pair of boots. However, he was good enough to loan me a pair to put on.

— Whidden, John D.. Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days (Kindle Locations 3247-3257). Roquelaure House. Kindle Edition.

Anyone interested in history, sailing, the merchant marines, and life at sea will greatly enjoy this delightful book.

 

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Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite

Suki Kim is a Korean-American writer from New York City. She went undercover as an English teacher in a college-level all-boys-institution in North Korea where the sons of the North Korean elite were educated. She tells the story of how she got into her position and how dangerous it was for her to be there.

Through her narrative we get an amazing glimpse into the society of North Korea and its people, its culture and its political system that we can’t get looking in from the outside simply from what the media tell us, or what the occasional tourist reports after visiting.

Being in North Korea was profoundly depressing. There was no other way of putting it. The sealed border was not just at the 38th parallel, but everywhere, in each person’s heart, blocking the past and choking off the future. As much as I loved those boys, or because of it, I was becoming convinced that the wall between us was impossible to break down, and not only that, it was permanent. This so saddened me that some frozen dawns, when I woke up to the sound of the boys doing their group exercises, I had to fight not to shut my eyes and go back to sleep.

— Kim, Suki. Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite (p. 257). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Today North Korea is a vilified nation, a nuclear proliferator, and a world-aggressor. All we know about North Korea, for the most part, is the iconic image of the boy-dictator Kim Jong-un, and the lackeys in uniform who surround him. We think about parades of tanks, masses of soldiers in goose step, and missiles hauled on trucks through wide boulevards lined with trees. We think about nuclear missile tests. We don’t know much about this country that gets so much bad press around the world.

Reading Suki Kim’s book Without You, There is No Us opens up a wide window into this elusive and closed society. North Korea is an example of an entire nation of 25 million people completely and totally brainwashed for generations. The country’s elite does not get Internet access or modern computers. They cannot research because most topics are taboo. They have been told, for 75 years, that they are one of the most powerful and prosperous nations on earth. And they have no idea that they are actually one of the most isolated nations, resembling a concentration camp of 25 million occupants, who live under 19th century conditions, with shoddy power, terrible infrastructure, malnutrition even for the elite, complete suppression of the media, no access to modern music, art, literature or cinema.

Even family members are kept apart. The boys in the college are not allowed to communicate, even by letter, with their families or friends. When they are in the military, for years at a time, they don’t get to come home – in a country the size of Pennsylvania!

North Korea is a threat to world peace, particularly now, where the president of the United States is widely viewed as the most serious threat to world stability.

Every American should read Suki Kim’s book to better understand the tragic and failed experiment that is called North Korea. One man, with the aid of his father and grandfather, has managed to subjugate 25 million people, by keeping them underfed, uneducated and in constant fear – just so he can aggrandize himself – and eat well.

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Other Minds – The Octopus, the Sea,

and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

When we think of intelligent animals, we think of whales, specifically dolphins, apes, elephants, dogs, crows and parrots. I have written much about this subject, and you can find the posts by selecting Animal Intelligence from the categories dropdown on the right.

We generally do not think of octopuses as intelligent. However, octopuses, as well at cuttlefish and squid, commonly classified as cephalopods, are highly intelligent animals.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, the author of Other Minds, is a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, who started studying octopuses in the process of thinking about consciousness in humans and in animals.

Other Minds tells the story of how animal life first started on earth, and how the invertebrates started splitting off from the vertebrates some 500 to 600 million years ago. As it turns out, cephalopods are invertebrates, and all other intelligent animals are vertebrates, including humans. The common ancestor of both humans and octopuses are small flat wormlike creatures that lived over 500 million years ago. As a result, an octopus is about as different from a human as you can get, and still have two eyes – and a mind.

Godfrey-Smith illustrates many astonishing examples of octopus intelligence and it becomes quite clear that, yes, they are really bright, and yes, they are very alien, very different from us. He says that the closest we are likely ever to come to meeting an alien intelligent being is going to the aquarium and watching an octopus.

I searched and found a few astonishing videos. The first one is of an octopus escaping from a ship’s deck. Since an octopus has no hard parts, no bones, no shells, he can squeeze himself through a hole as small as his eyeball, his hardest part. The video below demonstrates that.

Octopuses can also learn to use tools and solve complex problems. Here is an example of an octopus opening a jar into which it has been placed.

There are other examples that show how an octopus can open a jar from the outside to get to the prey locked inside.

I am highly interested in animal intelligence and alien intelligence, so this book turned out to be a treasure trove of information and great anecdotes and stories. I learned much about the evolution of life on earth, and the development of intelligence and consciousness. If you have similar interests, this is a book you must read.

The author is trying to be factual, and the book is therefore more of a text book than an entertainment book, which makes it somewhat challenging to read.

But I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I am sure I’ll refer to it in the future.

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Movie Review: Lion

lion

In the mid-1980s in a small town somewhere in India, the five-year old boy Saroo is on a night outing with this older brother he adores. When Saroo gets tired, his brother leaves him to sleep on a bench in the train station and tells him to wait for him. Saroo, groggy, wakes up in the night, tries to find his brother, wanders onto an empty passenger train, and eventually falls asleep on one of  the seats. When he wakes up the next day, he is a thousand miles from home. He has no idea where he is, what town he is from, even the full name of his mother.

He is completely lost and left to his own devices alone in Kolkata. After being brought to an orphanage, he eventually gets adopted by an Australian couple.

Twenty-five years later he goes on a quest using Google Earth to find his home.

This is a true story, told in vivid details. We know, going into the movie, how it ends. Against all odds, he finds his home, and that’s not a spoiler.

According to the credits, there are many thousands of children that get lost in India every year, and most of them, I am sure, do not have a happy ending. The movie examines the human journey. As I walked out, wiping the tears off my cheeks, I knew I had just experienced a very simple human story, one of culture clashes, and one of emotional triumph. Good food for the soul.

Why is the title Lion you might ask?

You just have to go and watch the movie to find out.

Rating - Three Stars

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hidden-figures

In the early 1960s, the Russians had a little head start in the race to space. NASA was still young, and its engineers used slide rules, pencils and vellum to do its designs. And humans were the “computers” who had to figure out the math.

Hidden Figures tells the story of three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA. Each one of them with her own special skill, each with her own drive and motivation. But in those days, blacks were not allowed to use the same toilets or coffee pots as whites. The odds were against them.

This movie tells the story of what it was like behind the scenes at NASA. We all know that it was John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the earth. What we didn’t know was that up to a few days before his launch they didn’t really know how to calculate the trajectory to get him back safely to earth.

In a time when racism seems to be back on the rise and gender equality is questioned again, Hidden Figures shows us what it was like to live under such conditions. But the human spirit rises, like the rockets of old rose.

As I walked out of the theater I could not think of a single thing wrong with this film. It just felt really good.

Rating - Three Stars

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crisis-of-character

A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill and How They Operate.

Gary Byrne was a uniformed Secret Service agent who started his White House duty during the first Bush administration. He was there when the Clintons moved in, and through most of their tenure in the White House. He was there outside the door when Monica Lewinski was in the Oval Office with the president. Whether he wanted to know what was going on or not, he knew, and he had no choice.

Later, when the scandal blew open that would eventually get Clinton impeached, it was Gary Byrne who was catapulted into the national spotlight by being forced to testify against the president, his protectee. He was in an extremely tenuous and dangerous position. On the one hand, the Secret Service has incredibly tight protocols about revealing information about their processes and their protectees. On the other hand, the FBI was investigating the scandal and Ken Starr with his Grand Juries was pressing forward for information. The Secret Service was threatening him to stonewall, and the FBI was threatening to arrest him. Either way, he could lose his job, his career and his credibility. He was alone in the middle.

And he believed it was the recklessness of the Clintons, and their disregard for everyone in their way that put him, and many others, into impossible situations.

Reading Crisis of Character reveals a fascinating look behind the scenes in the nation’s most elevated offices, the West Wing of the White House.
This is not a tell-all book by a disgruntled Clinton hater. This is a book by a man of character who has spent his entire life trying to do the right thing, every step of the way. He tells his story beginning with Papa Bush, as he calls the elder President Bush, and Barbara Bush, whom he describes as graceful, honest and hard-working, through the Clinton administration, and his career with the Federal Air Marshal Service after 9/11. We learn about the lives of the men and women who have pledged to throw themselves into the paths of bullets to protect their clients, whether they agree with their lifestyles and choices or not.

For that reason alone, regardless of the fact that the Clintons are exposed, you should read this book. Yet, I must admit that I am glad I read it after the election, not before.

Byrne describes Bill Clinton as the friendly, jovial and charming man that we all know, even though he made some terrible moral choices and caused irreparable harm to the dignity of the office, his own career and pretty much everybody who got in his way or crossed his path.

One surprise to me was the portrayal of Monica Lewinski. She was a very young intern in the White House, and from the time the scandal actually occurred more than twenty years ago until now I had always thought of her as the victim of a sexual predator, namely Bill Clinton. However, I now know that it was not so. There is no way an intern in the White House would ever even get near the president. To be in the position she ended up in, she was actively stalking him relentlessly for months, making up daily schemes just to get access to the West Wing and somehow cross paths with the president. Byrne knew that, because much of the time it was he who had to turn her back. I now know that Monica Lewinski was not a victim. She got exactly what she aimed for. She was just too young and naive to know how it would end, and what it would do to her life. And of course, Clinton was a ruthless sexual predator.

At one place in the story Lewinski was held back by the Secret Service in the guard house outside the White House at night because the guards knew the president was with another young woman. When she eventually blew up and threatened them, one of the agents lost his cool and blurted out that “he was with another piece of ass and she had to wait her turn….”

And finally, there is the portrait of Hillary. He describes her as cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. There was one time when a young agent wished her a “good morning, ma’am” and she just shot back “fuck off!” What does it say about the character of a woman who talks like this to Secret Service agents who are paid $50,000 a year and pledge to stop a bullet to protect her and her life?

So here it is: Gary Byrne’s story, to me, is so convincing that I do not think that I could vote for Clinton now that I read this book. I could not vote for Trump either, because I believe that 20 years from now some agent that had to protect Trump will come out with even more incredibly sordid information about our 45th president.

No, I could not vote for Clinton again, and I could never vote for Trump. I am glad Clinton is not president, and I am at the same time utterly dismayed that Trump is. What to do when a nation of over 320 million people comes up with those two choices to pick from?

I am truly, truly troubled about the terrible lack of character at the highest level of American politics.

You should read Crisis of Character.

Rating - Three Stars

Here ae some excerpts you might enjoy:

About using government resources:

Controversy followed the Clintons even when they were leaving office and purchased a $ 1.7 million mansion in Chappaqua, New York (so Hillary could carpetbag to the U.S. Senate from New York). Per its normal procedure, the Secret Service maintained a detail at their residence to continue to protect the former First Family as Hillary prepared and ran for Senate. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Perfectly proper.

To protect the Clintons, Secret Service personnel were stationed at a former garage on the property, and I had the chance to spend some time there on protection details myself. Rumors have since swirled that the Clintons receive $ 1,100 per month rent from the Secret Service.

That doesn’t appear to be the case. But what I heard from other Secret Service personnel on the scene was this: The Service paid $ 7,000 per month rent on an adjacent house to serve as their unit headquarters from a rental company. Again, nothing wrong there. But what was also well known and what I also heard was that— at least for a while— the Clintons were charging the identical amount for that small garage of theirs to the Secret Service to basically have the Service cover the cost of their mortgage as Hillary ran for office.

I can’t verify that (I’m former Secret Service— not Ken Starr), but it’s interesting to once again contrast the Clintons with Papa Bush. The USSS did, in fact, cover the costs of renovating former president Clinton’s garage, which was mostly space heaters and meager basic utilities.

When Papa Bush was still president, the Secret Service needed to construct a facility on his Kennebunkport, Maine, property. President Bush said fine— but on two conditions. One, make it bigger, so you guys aren’t cramped. He cared about the little guys. Two, you’ll be protecting me after I leave office— so I’m paying for it.

— Byrne, Gary J., Crisis of Character – (Kindle Locations 3451-3464).

About the emails:

Just last year, Mrs. Clinton claimed that as secretary of state she didn’t carry a work phone. It was too cumbersome and inconvenient for her to carry two phones. She didn’t have room for them.

Then we learned she carried an iPhone and BlackBerry, neither government issued nor encrypted. Then we learned she carried an iPad and an iPad mini. But she claimed she didn’t do email.

Then we learned she had email— on a private server. But then she claimed her email was for personal correspondence, yoga, and wedding planning.

Then we learned her email contained government business as well— lots of it.

Listen, nobody transmits classified material on the Internet! Nobody! You transmit classified material via a closed-circuit, in-house intranet or even physically via courier. You can’t even photocopy classified data except on a machine specially designed for hush-hush material, and even then you still require permission from whatever agency and issuer the document originated.

So the only way for that material to be transmitted over an email is for her or someone in her office to dictate, Photoshop, or white-out the classified material in question, to remove any letterhead, or to duplicate the material by rewriting it in an email.

Government email accounts are never allowed to accept emails from nongovernment email accounts. We’re supposed to delete them right away. Exceptions exist for communications with private contractors, but those exceptions are built into the system.

I repeat: To duplicate classified material without permission or to send it over an unsecured channel is completely illegal. That’s why every government agency employs burn bags, safes, and special folders for anything marked Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. People have lost their careers and gone to jail for far less.

Yet Hillary Clinton transmitted classified material by the figurative ton. No one else can operate like that in government. But she takes her normal shortcuts and continues to lie about it.

There is no greater example of double standards in leadership than First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Is it too inconvenient or cumbersome for her to follow the same rules that agents in the field have to follow? Maybe it would make morale too high? Clinton’s behavior harkens to the old motto: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

— Byrne, Gary J., Crisis of Character – (pages 274-276).

 

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rogue-one-1

The first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, came out in May 1977, almost 40 years ago now. Star Wars permeates our entire popular culture. Rogue One plays just before Episode IV starts. The rebels steal the plans for the Death Star with the help of the daughter of the chief designer. Epic space battles, laser gun battles in the jungle, and, of course, at least one light saber fight with the one and only Darth Vader. None of the original actors participated here, of course. Their story starts about five minutes after Rogue One’s credits begin to roll. Except for two: Grand Moff Tarkin, the Commander of the Death Star, and Princess Leia, both of which had to be digitally recreated, since both are now no longer alive.

A short scene featuring Princess Leia, receiving the disk with the plans for the Death Star at the very end, was digitally recreated. It was eerie, since Carrie Fisher had died just a few days before we saw this movie, yet, here she was in a very short scene, looking the 19 years old she was when she appeared in Episode IV.

One of my friends (JCV) commented that he can’t stand to watch silly science fiction movies with the stilted and inane dialog. I laughed at him. Nobody watches Star Wars for the dialog. Star Wars does not need dialog. You don’t have to listen to a word being said, and you can still enjoy Star Wars.

I love the bar or bazaar scenes where the crowd is full of grungy humans and exotic aliens, all enjoying themselves. I love the views of planets with rings, as they are seen realistically from the ground through the mist and the clouds as they seem to disintegrate in the distance. I love how small spaceships drift close to giant space ships. I love how all the ships seem to be made out of massive battle ship steel hulls, unlike the flimsy aluminum we actually use for space ships, like the shuttle or the Soyuz. And I always laugh that the fighters fly in space just like they fly in the atmosphere, banking into curves, accelerating and decelerating and completely defying all laws of orbital dynamics. Of course, after being conditioned for 40 years that space fighters behave a certain way, whether it makes any sense or not, we can’t change now, and Star Wars remains – well – Star Wars.

Rating - Three Stars

 

 

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fences

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a garbage man in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. He has life figured out and he rules as the king over his family, including his wife Rose (Viola Davis), his two sons Lyons and Cory, and his brother Gabriel. He is a bitter man who believes he was shortchanged as a baseball player with aspirations to the major leagues before blacks were able to play. But times are changing, and his 16-year-old son wants to play football in high school. Troy does not agree. His son won’t succeed where he could not succeed.

But there are secrets that are about to blow Troy’s little world wide open, possibly destroy his family and knock him off his pedestal.

We went to see this movie not knowing much about it, and within a minute or two realized: It’s a play. The majority of the movie is comprised of dialog that takes place in the grungy backyard of Troy’s house. It’s all language. There is no music. There is no score. There is very little action. It’s all dialog, and, not surprisingly, it’s based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson. It all made sense afterwards.

Fences is not easy to watch. It’s a story about the lousy cards some people are dealt in life, some lousier than others, and it’s a story about the human spirit in the working man and woman of this country.

Denzel and Viola do an amazing job in Fences. It will get recognition.

Rating - Three Stars

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