A Dark Day for Freedom and Individual Rights in the U.S.

With the Supreme Court striking down Roe vs. Wade, things are changing in this country, for the worse, for the much worse.

But then again, we have observed this circus happening since 2016, where somehow we have let “conservative” values roll over our freedom. What did we expect? We have seeded the Supreme Court for years now just to make this happen, and it started with McConnell’s blocking the nomination of Merrick Garland. It’s ironic that these same “conservatives” are the ones who proclaim their freedom was taken away by an election that didn’t go their way.

The country is heading down a path of darkness forced by religious zealots. I have no problem with Christians being Christians, and Muslim’s being Muslims, as long as they stay out of interfering with my life and my freedom, all the rest of us who don’t buy into their delusions.

Here they have crossed this border. They are interfering, and that’s deeply disturbing.

What’s next?

How about we make all our women wear burkas because that makes us men feel better about the powers we have?

I hear their God hates genitals. Maybe we can bring in genital mutilation – of course for women only. And for witches.

Do you think I am angry?

You bet I am.

 

Concert Review: Bob Dylan, San Diego, June 18, 2022

Bob Dylan, being my preeminent favorite music artist, I have obviously seen him in concert many times over the years. He has a 60-year career already, getting close to Queen Elizabeth reign duration numbers, which by itself is amazing. How many artists today can say that? Yesterday, my wife gave me a Father’s Day present and took me to the Bob Dylan concert at the Civic Center in San Diego.

If you had told me when I was 15 as a schoolboy in Germany, when I bought my first harmonica and practiced playing Blowing in the Wind in the city park, that I’d be going to a concert to see that artist when he was 81 years old, I certainly would not have believed it.

The San Diego Civic Center is a beautiful venue for concerts, symphonic events, with great acoustics and a capacity of about 3,000 seats. When we first arrived, they scanned our tickets off our smartphones as it is done nowadays. But then they took our smartphones away and locked them into pouches we could not open. Before they did that, they had to write our seat numbers onto little slips of paper. Kind of beats the paperless ticket process and creates a bunch of jobs for the people who have to handle the crowds. Then as we entered the venue, we were without phones. I usually sit there and read my book while I wait for an event to start. With no phone, I didn’t know what time it was, I couldn’t read, and I could not take the customary snapshot of the stage that I would then post along with these words. But none of that has to do with Bob Dylan.

The crowd was mostly old. Lots of folks in their 60ies, 70ies and 80ies. Some young people, some children, but I am sure the average was in the 60ies. Lots of pony tails and tie die shirts. Dylan has a lot of dedicated fans, and he can pretty much do what he wants and get away with it.

My first Bob Dylan concert ever was in 1978,  when I was 22, in the stadium at Arizona State University with 60,000 of my best friends. The last one was at the San Diego Sports Arena maybe five years ago. It was bad. Dylan’s voice was completely shot. He only played the keyboard. The sound was terribly distorted in the arena and too loud. I remember walking out of the concert thinking that, well, that was Bob Dylan. I don’t have to go to his concerts anymore.

But then I went again yesterday at a much different venue. There were just six guys on the stage and played a bunch of songs I had never heard. Of course, that is because I had not bought or listened to his latest album Rough and Rowdy Ways. That’s what the concert was about, and if I did it again, I’d listen to this album a few times before going to the concert. My mistake.

Except for a single song, which Dylan sang out in the open, he was mostly hidden behind an upright piano for the entire concert, so we only saw his head. He hardly plays plays the guitar anymore. Between songs, he would step out for a few seconds to be seen by the audience. He never greeted us, never said a word, except at the very end when he introduced the band by their names. But that’s how Bob Dylan does concerts, and we’re used to it.

I recognized very few songs. Either it was obscure material, or new material. A few songs I recognized by the lyrics, like When I Paint my Masterpiece, but not the music. But Dylan sang, with his broken voice, and it was mostly melodic, with good projection, not too loud. He would whisper into the microphone and we understood the words, for the most part. It was a good concert with wonderful music, performed by a legend.

But I missed Bob Dylan. There was not a single one of his hits. Blowing in the Wind would have fit perfectly into this playbook. I could have have used It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, or of course the iconic Like a Rolling Stone to top it all off. That didn’t happen. Worse – in what seemed like the middle of the concert, when the audience got fired up and gave him a standing ovation for the previous song, the stage suddenly went dark, they walked off, and didn’t come back. He houselights went on and that was the end. No encore whatsoever. I didn’t even realize I was listening to the very last song. And then he was gone. No final bow. No final howling hymn. No Bob Dylan anywhere to be seen.

I didn’t know how to feel. I liked the concert. I liked the music. I liked the new, melodic Dylan. But in the end, I was let down. The concert ended like a popped birthday balloon and next thing I knew I was in the parking lot.

 

American Airlines Sucks

I hate to say this, but American Airlines sucks.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles on American over a period of about 30 years. I was in the top elite tier (Executive Platinum) for many years and the Covid travel crash bumped me off and now I am a “mere” lifetime Platinum member. So I still get some perks.

It’s always been bad and challenging to claim travel credits with American Airlines. Here is a post I made 11 years ago about how their travel vouchers are almost impossible to use. It hasn’t gotten any better – maybe worse.

A couple of months ago my wife and I were in Croatia on vacation. We flew on American, but the connector from London to Zagreb was on their partner, British Airways. We had a layover in London Heathrow. While I am at it, do not get me started on Heathrow. I HATE HEATHROW, everything about it. When going to Europe, I always try to avoid it as a stopover, but that’s another rant for another time….

While in Croatia, my wife tested positive for Covid a few hours before we needed to board our flight home out of Zagreb. She was not allowed to get on the plane. Since business and other matters required that one of us get home, we separated, she stayed marooned in a Croatian hotel for what turned out to be another 9 days, while I went home while I could – while I tested negative. The agent for British Airways told me that in order to get a flight credit, I’d better call my airline before I boarded, so I would not lose her part of the ticket. I called the elite desk for Executive Platinum at American Airlines, and after a two minute tape on how I should go online it told me that they were closed. It was a Saturday afternoon in Croatia, so it was very early AM in the U.S. Then I made another call to the general reservation line, only to get the same message after listening for a few minutes to their drivel.

Now mind you, American’s main reservation line is advertised to be open 24 hours a day, which is what I’d expect from a major airline. People don’t just need help on the phone with the largest airline in the world while it’s business hours in Dallas, Texas.

Eventually, I just had to board my flight home alone, wait for the weekend to pass, until I could get an agent on the phone during normal business hours in Dallas. It then took about an hour with that agent to get about $450 of credit back for her portion of the abandoned ticket. That credit is now in an account in the American Airlines’ system.

I have since tried to use that credit three times for three other bookings, but have not been successful. While the website says I should be able to use a credit when I pay for a ticket, it does not work.

As you can see in the screenshot above, there are two buttons at the beginning of the payment process, where you think you might be able to use your credit. When you click on either of them, it gives you this message:

Not very helpful, right? Why is the button there in the first place if you are not able to use it? When you click on “Contact Reservations”, you get to this screen:

The phone number shown at the yellow arrow is the main reservation line. At the red arrow, you see it’s open 24 hours a day. This is the number I have been calling. When you call this number, you first have to listen to about 2 minutes of bullshit stuff, like how much easier it is to go to their website, and then it finally tells you they are closed! On a Saturday afternoon at 3:00pm!

I just bought my third ticket at full face value without being able to use the flight credit I have on the books. My crime: I am not calling during normal business hours Dallas time. So in order to use my credit, I need to wait to book my next flight at just the right time, on a weekday (while I am working) and be prepared to be on the phone for an hour, first waiting to get an agent who can help me — they are all so busy all the time — and then fumble my way through applying the credit I have on file.

Maybe I need to take my travel business to another airline after 30 years of loyalty to American?

 

John Eastman – a Trump True Believer

I found this sentence in an article in Salon discussing the January 6th Hearings:

…The main player in this scheme was Republican lawyer John Eastman, who appears to have been a Trump true believer (as well as a highly credentialed, conservative, constitutional scholar) who offered his services to serve Trump’s pre-fabricated conspiracy theory that the election had been stolen….

— Source: Salon

My question is this: How does a highly credentialed lawyer, constitutional scholar and Ph.D. believe that Trump was even remotely a competent president and it would have been good for the country to have him serve another four years?

Anyone?

Movie Review: The Rose Maker (2021)

Eve Vernet is one of France’s pre-eminent horticulturalist. She creates and cultivates roses. It’s been the family business for generations.

Now, however, the business is on the verge on bankruptcy. While she knows how to create roses, she does not have much business sense. The only employee she has left is her secretary and helper Véra, who shows more loyalty to Eve and the business than is probably warranted. To help out, Véra contracts with a rehabilitation agency and signs up three ex-convicts as employees to get the business back on its feet. However, none of them have any gardening experience, let alone know about roses.

Through creativity, hard work, and a little bending of the rules, they come up with a plan to rescue the farm.

The Rose Maker is a French comedy with subtitles. Due to that, I am sure I missed a lot of subtleties in the culture and the language that probably diminished my experience of the film. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about roses, and I have looked at my own roses in front of my house with new appreciation. The Rose Maker is a fun movie, and so non-Hollywood it’s refreshing.

Movie Review: CODA (2021)

Alright, before I get into the movie itself, it’s important to note that CODA is a “highly decorated movie” with three Oscars.

First, it won Best Picture of the Year, and by doing so it became the first movie produced by a streaming service to win Best Picture. This is an Apple Original Film, which by itself boggles my mind. I still remember when Apple became a company in 1976. Who would have thought that the company would eventually become the most valuable company on the planet – and, as a computer company, it would produce Oscar-winning movies?

Second, it won Best Adapted Screenplay by Sian Heder.

And finally, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Troy Kotsur, who is also the first ever deaf actor to win an Oscar.

And boy did he win that Oscar, alone for the “my balls are on fire” scene at the doctor’s office.

I watched this movie on the airplane from London to New York, starting about two hours into the flight. The windows were all darkened, I sat in a window seat in the exit row, headphones on, and I was outright crying during the ending scene, when Ruby, the lead, sang Clouds From Both Sides Now in the ending scene. The man next to me was into his own movie and so I had my privacy. After wiping my eyes dry when it was over, I pulled up the window shades and looked down on the clouds of Greenland – from above.

I didn’t know what CODA was all about when I picked the movie, I just knew it had won awards. I also didn’t know what CODA even meant, until I actually did the research to write this review now. It means “Child of Deaf Adults.”

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing person in her family. Both her parents and her brother are completely deaf. They operate a fishing boat. Ruby goes out with them early in the morning, they bring in their catch, they take it to the market, where Ruby leads a key role as the family’s communicator and negotiator, all before she gets ready to go to high school.

While life as a fishing family is hard, not only brutally hard and dangerous work on a boat, but also hard to make ends meet in a fickle market, the Rossi family is happy. The parents are madly in love and can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. They have wild sex in their bedroom with no thought to the fact that Ruby can hear the ruckus all over the house.

But what could Ruby possibly be interested in for her own life that is about as far removed from the appreciation of her family as it can get? Ruby has a passion and great talent for singing. Her parents need her on the boat and for the family business, and Ruby wants to pursue a life, passion and career that they can’t even comprehend, let alone appreciate?

So here you have it all, a powerful story, an emotional subject, a clash of cultures, and world-class acting – yes, a deaf man acting as a deaf man. It does not get any better than that.

I have seen clouds from both sides now….

Movie Review: Top Gun – Maverick (2022)

Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is one of the Navy’s most decorated and skilled aviators after thirty years of flying fighter planes. Most of his companions from his years at the Top Gun school outrank him by two or three stars. He has purposely dodged being promoted to admiral so he could remain in flying status.

As one of the most skilled test pilots, he is called in to lead a mission in the Middle East that is nearly impossible. He trains a group of pilots half his age, but he uses his maverick instincts, much to the dismay and disapproval of his superiors.

Top Gun is a well-crafted sequel to the original 1986 movie. It’s full of tense flying scenes and I am sure any aspiring or actual pilot will very much enjoy it. I have to admit that the movie far exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the story, the cinematography, the sound track and the acting. Even the plot made sense and tied very well back to the 1986 edition, with some of the key characters woven into it now.

Of course, I had to disregard a number of impossibilities, one of which I’ll describe here without it being a spoiler. At the beginning of the movie, Maverick makes a record-breaking flight on a new concept aircraft similar to the famed SR-71, only with today’s technology. To advance in the contract, the plane has to meet a milestone of flying Mach 10 – which is ten times the speed of sound. For comparison, the SR-71 holds the aircraft speed record of Mach 3.3 at an altitude of 85,000 feet. At that speed, the aircraft heats up the 450 degrees F near the back of the aircraft. When fired upon, it can simply outrun the missiles shot at it. Well, Maverick reaches Mach 10.3 when the aircraft breaks up. In the next scene, he is walking into a restaurant in the desert, a little battered up, helmet in hand, asking for a glass of water.

Needless to say, the human body would be torn apart by the g-forces and then burned to a crisp flying near space at Mach 10 without the protection of an aircraft around it. There is no way Maverick could have survived the fall from that altitude and speed to see another day. But it’s Top Gun, right, and we like our heroes.

Once I discounted all the crazy impossible stuff, what’s left was a very enjoyable movie that kept me at the edge of my seat.

You gotta go!

Movie Review: The Adam Project (2022)

In 2050, time travel exists, and fighter jets can travel in time. Adam Reed is a pilot, trying to get to 2018, to save the future, but he crash-lands in 2022, conveniently in the backyard of his childhood home, where he meets his 12-year-old self. The two set out to fix a complicated future.

None of this makes much sense. The movie is an excuse for lots of Matrix-like action and video game scenes. There are even storm troopers who are wearing silver suits instead of white ones, but who are also just expendable ray gun fodder.

I was tempted to turn it off and leave it, but when I was half-way through, since it was, after all, a time travel flick, I stayed and watched it to the end.

Guess what, Adam fixed the future by fixing the past.

Book Review: The Vanished Birds – by Simon Jimenez

The Vanished Birds is the debut novel of Simon Jimenez. It is a big novel, dealing with humanity and its place in a world where star travel is commonplace, where there are many worlds populated by humans, and where large corporations are the de-facto governments that set all the rules and have ultimate power over the people.

The central character is Nia, a young female captain of a trader star ship with a crew of just a handful of people, a pilot, an engineer, a maintenance tech, a doctor, and someone in charge of cargo. Star ships travel through “folds” which are a sort of hyperspace where time is distorted like it would be at relativistic speeds.

Kaeda, a young boy on an agricultural planet meets Nia for the first time when he is 7 years old. She gives him a flute, which he treasures. The ship only stays for a day to take on cargo, and then leaves, to come back 15 years later, on the next “shipment day.” That’s how long it takes for the round trip. However, on board the ship, only 8 months pass. When Nia returns 8 months later, Kaeda is now 22 and they start a love-affair – at least so Kaeda thinks. Within a few years of Nia’s time, she sees him a few more times as he ages, and Kaeda’s entire live passes. He is an old man the last time she visits.

There is also an Asian engineer named Fumiko, who designs space stations. And there is a mute boy who apparently has  extraordinary powers.

As you might guess, this book is definitely a space opera that speculates on humanity’s distant future and extraordinary technology. It’s a large book with big ideas. Interestingly, there are no intelligent aliens in this world, which seems strange, given the scope of humanity’s reach.

I liked the concepts, I enjoyed reading it, but I would not classify it as a great novel, even through it was nominated for a number of awards.

AFS Reunion in Croatia

About 30 former AFS exchange students in 1974 from over 14 different countries, many with their spouses, had a reunion in Croatia this week.

We came to this reunion from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, England, Luxembourg, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Thailand and the US. I maybe forgetting a country or two.

We’re all 64 or 65 years old, and share one life-changing experience, a year abroad in the US with the AFS program. Here is a group picture.

Here are some of us on our first day in the country getting some much needed refreshments.

Here is a shot of us at the initial welcome dinner in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

For about 10 days, all these 65-year-olds were 18 again.

Movie Review: Death on the Nile

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is a Belgian veteran of World War I. He is on vacation in Egypt in the company of an elite group of travelers. When a murder takes place on their boat, he makes it his mission to investigate the case and hopefully solve it. It was not clear to me why a fellow traveler can just appoint himself to law enforcement, but that’s just a fine point. It’s a movie, right?

Of course, the cinematography is amazing. Who is not impressed with the backdrop of the pyramids of Giza? There are even some pictures of people climbing the pyramids. Everyone is always impeccably dressed in white suits and colorful, elaborate dresses and hats. If I traveled in Egypt, I’d be wearing a T-shirt, khakis and sandals or hiking boots. The movie makes a strong impression of the period which is sometime after WW I.

While the story is sometimes cheesy and stilted, the glamor makes up for it, and the plot is very carefully constructed, as is almost always the case with a murder mystery. We have seen hundreds of whodunnit movies, and this is just another one. It follows all the tricks and the playbook.

Still, it’s a great movie and an adventure to watch.

 

 

 

 

3.5 stars

Book Review: Timeline – by Michael Crichton

Timeline was first published in 1999 and, having read most of Crichton’s books, I head read it right away. I remembered it vaguely as a time travel thriller. So I picked it back up again a couple of weeks ago.

In France, a group of archeologists are studying a medieval village, complete with two castles and a monastery. All the buildings are ruins, of course, but they have a rich history dating back to the 14th century, while the Hundred Years’ War was raging, and England was routinely attacking and invading France.

Their research is being funded by a multinational corporation. The company is led by a self-obsessed science tycoon in his mid thirties. It has developed a technology based on quantum science that allows them to travel in time. When one of the archeologists goes back to 1357 and does not come back, the company coerces some of the young scientists to follow him and bring him back.

To avoid anachronisms, they are not allowed to bring any technology, modern weapons or any objects from the future. When they arrive, practically in the middle of a battle, trouble starts quickly and the race to get back home begins.

Timeline is less of a time travel novel, and more a historical novel. The majority of the story takes place during a mere 39 hours starting on April 7, 1357. The protagonists have to battle knights, solve riddles, and play the opposing parties of the war. The whole thing is reminiscent of an episode of the modern television series The Amazing Race: “And now the contestants have to invent gunpowder to impress Lord Oliver. They only have two hours to do it or they’ll be thrown in the dungeon and miss their chance to make it to the next stop.”

Timeline is a historical thriller with a neat plot twist, where scientists get to visit the heyday of the castles, the ruins of which they study in the 21st century.

Movie Review: Mystic River (2003)

Mystic River is an old masterpiece. I had watched it when it first came out, and while I remembered it “was a good movie,” I had forgotten what it was about.

Sean Penn won an Oscar for best actor in a leading role, and Tim Robbins for best actor in a supporting role.

The story is about three friends from a rough neighborhood in Boston who were best friends as boys. Jimmy Marcus (Sean Penn) was an ex-convict when his daughter Katie was murdered. His friend Dave (Tim Robbins), a blue-collar worker, saw Katie last, making a fool of herself late at night, dancing on the bar in a local watering hole. His other friend was Sean (Kevin Bacon), who happened to be a homicide detective, and he was put on the case. As the three childhood friends deal with this tragedy each in their own way, events unfold that pit them against each other.

There is a backstory, which is woven into the main plot. It turns out that Dave was abducted by child molesters one afternoon in the summer of 1975, when the three boys played in the streets. After days of sexual abuse he escaped and returned, but things were never quite the same for the three friends. The demons of the summer of 1975 come to haunt all three of them when Jimmy’s daughter was killed.

About the Peaceful Transfer of Power

All my adult life I have observed the quadrennial presidential elections. My chosen candidates did not always win. But I always enjoyed watching the festivities of the inaugurations. Invariably, some news anchor would comment that in this country, for over two hundred years, we have been able to witness the peaceful transfer of power. I remember bring proud of that, being proud of being a citizen of a nation that was founded on the principles of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power since the 18th century. There was no other nation like this on the planet, and there had never before been one.

We can’t say that anymore.

We can’t feel that way anymore.

That notion has been destroyed. And a little bit of our nation has died with it.