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We went to see Uncut Gems on Christmas Day. It was the highest-rated movie available, and while we didn’t know much about it, we thought it would be a safe bet.

Uncut Gems kills your Christmas spirit with the speed and power of a baseball bat hit on the side of the head.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a New York City jeweler and compulsive gambler. His life is filled with frenetic activity in all areas. He is cheating on his wife, he is neglecting his three children, he is not paying his debts to mafia-types, he is abusing his employees, he is using his friends, and he swindles everyone he comes in contact with. That does not come without a cost.

He succeeds in buying a rare opal from a dubious source at an Ethiopian gem mine. He estimates the raw (uncut) gem is worth over a million dollars, and he tries to sell it to a superstitious basketball player who thinks it gives him power. But it’s never that simple, because he has to use the leverage of the gem to hold off the many wolves he owes money to. As you might expect, things don’t always work out like he has been planning.

Uncut Gems starts out with frantic activity, total chaos all around, cussing, beating, cheating and subterfuge. Every scene is accentuated by a powerful sound track of custom music to further disorient the viewer. Within about ten minutes of watching I realized I didn’t have a clue about what was going on. I was severely disturbed and wondering why I was there. The couple who sat next to us left after about 30 minutes. I assume they couldn’t take it anymore. I was close, but we stuck with it in hopes of it getting better.

The plot was impossible to follow. But I assume that was by the design of the music and the camera work, accompanied by the constant yelling of the people. Confusion abounded.

The movie also holds a dubious record of being in place seven of all time for movies with the word fuck or fuck-derivatives. There are 408 in the movie, or about three a minute.

Fucks notwithstanding, this was a very hard movie to watch, and when it was done, I was dazed.

I found no moral, no redeeming value and no lessons.

Just stay away from gambling, and from the jewelry business in New York.

I felt like I needed a shower when it was all done.

And yes, Sandler will probably win some awards for that performance.

Ivy is a 37-year-old divorced mother of twin girls of sixteen. She is on her way to visit them, driving down a freeway in rural Virginia when the road suddenly is buckled up and destroyed in front of her. She gets out, along with a few other people in other cars and tries to figure out what might have happened, when she is thrown into a time warp of sorts. Along with Harper, another stranger, a 33-year-old man, she wakes up and finds herself in a primeval forest.

Long story short, they were thrown back in time about 17,000 years to when North America was still full of large fauna, including giant bears and saber tooth tigers. The very first humans had just come from Asia and had made their way across the American continent.

Ivy happens to have a notebook with her and writes a journal of their story of survival in a Paleolithic wilderness. Her journal is the book. Ivy tells the story in the first person present tense.

There is nothing really happening in the story, other than the description of their day to day efforts to survive and possibly thrive. The plot is simple and way too simplistic to be credible. It’s almost like a fairy tale for an 8-year-old audience. The language is stilted and unreal, and the ease with which everything goes smoothly for them just does not ring true.

Reading about that time in history reminded me of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel which I read many decades ago and remember as a very good book. So reading Pushed Back prompted me to download that book so I could read it again, or at least give it a try.

The language in Pushed Back is juvenile and full of trite expressions. I’ll give you one example. The author likes to use the word “friggen” to create a feeling of astonishment that she apparently can’t impart otherwise.

When Harper kills a wild pig with his spear, Ivy says:

“Oh my gosh, you are a friggen master hunter!” I crowed in joy.
— Ison, S.A.. Pushed Back: A Time Traveler’s Journal (p. 158). Kindle Edition.
I guess it’s ok to use this word in this context when Ivy quotes herself directly. However, this word is used five more times throughout the book. Here are the other examples:
  • a friggen giant sloth
  • the Paleolithic friggen era
  • after seeing the big friggen sloth
  • that was friggen amazing
  • just as friggen fast
Ok, the author likes “friggen” but to my astonishment, she also likes “fricken” as in the other two examples:
  • I mean really fricken screwed.
  • What? Fricken dandelions.
Maybe you are thinking I am being petty, and maybe I am, but these are just a few examples of the repetitive use of trite expressions and made-up words that may be part of colloquial American life, but it sounds friggen stupid in a book.
Then, of course, there are the numerous punctuation, spelling, grammatical and even tense errors that should have been found by an editor or, if too expensive, a friend, who should have read the book at least once before it was published and sold. But alas, that’s apparently acceptable in modern publishing.

This is listed as Book 1 in the time travel series, but I could not find a Book 2 yet. Checking S. A. Ison’s work, I see she specializes in survival material and post-apocalyptic stories, with several series of books in that general subject matter.

Given the poor presentation, the sloppy editing, the vapid language, the flat plot and the superficial characters of Pushed Back, I think I am done reading S. A. Ison books.

Here is a comment from a reader of my post below titled Old Man Jealous of 16-Year-Old Girl below. The comment got my attention, so I thought I’d highlight it here since it probably would not surface enough just buried in the comments.

2 answers that have as much conjecture as your questions, you infer knowledge of a persons emotion state that you have never met. Simply put she has NO understanding of a complex concept as planetary ecosystems, 16 year olds are children for a reason (not developed). Anyone who go on international television scolding everyone deserves to have harshest treatment, don’t like it quit listening Grown Ups are present. I’m also reporting your post to the proper authorities due to the infatuation of minor children.

First it talks about a persons emotion state [sic] that I have never met. Which person? the Old Man or the Girl? How does the reader know I have never met the person?

Then it talks about the girl (she) and claims that she has NO understanding. How does the commenter know? Does he or she know the girl personally?

Then it talks about deserving the harshest treatment. Actually, I agree, if you talk with a huge megaphone, you need to expect loud opposition, but “harsh treatment” is probably not a good description of that.

However, none of those comments have anything to do with my marveling about (1) an old man being jealous, and (2) the president personally attacking a private citizen, a minor, of a foreign country.

I also wonder who are the proper authorities to report this post to? Concluding that I am infatuated with minor children (whatever that means) based on this post is strange.

Finally – I always get a kick out of people making claims, statements and even accusations under the name Anonymous. My words have my name attached to them. I stand for them. Now I tremble that the proper authorities might knock on my door to investigate my infatuation with minor children based on a report by Anonymous.

I wonder where my readers come from?

Sein Kampf

The German magazine Stern put Trump on the cover with the headline:

Sein Kampf – Neonazis, Ku-Klux-Klan, Rassismus: Wie Donald Trump den Hass in Amerika schürt.

His Struggle – Neonazis, Ku-Klux-Klan, Racism: How Donald Trump stokes hate in America.

Of course, the “Sein Kampf” is a pun on Hitler’s popular book “Mein Kampf.”

The word “Kampf” will mostly be translated into “struggle” in English. But that is not quite the right nuance. “My Struggle” as an English title to a book does not have the same implications as Mein Kampf has in German. Mein Kampf would better be translated as:

The relentless mission and quest of my life.

There you have the meaning. Now you can understand the implications of Stern Magazine’s “Sein Kampf.”

I was in disbelief. I googled and fact-checked. This really happened.

When Trump was passed over for Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year in favor of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student who has risen to international fame for her powerful climate activism, his campaign eventually edited Trump’s head on Greta’s body on a fake cover of Time Magazine, framed in a Trump campaign text message.

I have two questions:

  1. What adult can possibly be jealous of a 16-year-old girl reaching the pinnacle of the media world by promoting a powerful message of world-impact?
  2. What President of the United States would possibly feel good about actually attacking a 16-year-old activist on social media because he was jealous of her?

Why doesn’t Trump invite the girl to the White House, congratulate her on her success, get to know her, and ask her questions about how he could help her with her mission? That is what any president in the history of our country would have done.

Until Trump.

Nancy Pelosi at age 20.

The Missouri State Capitol building has been under renovation for more than a year. The dome has been wrapped up for construction that long.

Yesterday, during a visit to one of the state office buildings, I was lucky to be there during exactly the time when the statue was installed again after being gone since November 2018.

This is the historic bronze statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, perched 238 feet above  the entry of the building. It took a 550-ton crane to raise the 10′ 4″ statue, weighing 1,407 pounds, on this bitter-cold day in Missouri. 

I was there for a historic moment.

Today I found this ad in my Facebook feed:

There are several current presidential hopeful front runners who routinely vilify billionaires, most notably Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. While I am generally aligned with most initiatives of the Democratic platform, I vehemently oppose this notion that “the billionaire class” is the root of our problems in America, and therefore we need to stick it to billionaires to “get even.” I really believe their type of economic extremism makes them unelectable.

This trend is not just American. Britain’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell during a protest stated that ““No one needs or deserves to have that much money, it is obscene,” during a protest of McDonald’s workers demanding higher wages.

In August of 2015 I wrote a post titled Musings about Vilifying Billionaires. This post is as valid today as it was when I first wrote it four years ago.

One of the best books about business I have read in a long time was Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. Here is my review from April 2018. Phil Knight is now number 16 on the Forbes 400 List with a net worth of $35.9 billion. Phil was a regular guy like you and I in the 1960s when he started selling shoes from the trunk of his car. The story of how he built Nike to what it is today is one of the most powerful stories ever told in business. If you have started and run your own business you will know how incredibly stressful and hard it is it make it work, succeed and survive.

Only somebody who has never had to make payroll, like a politician, will say something stupid like “nobody deserves to be a billionaire.” A statement like that exposes the speaker and is a testament to their ignorance and lack of understanding of basic economics.

Let’s go back to the meme above – Martha Kelly probably thinks it is the responsibility of the billionaires to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and cure the sick. And therefore, we should take the money away from the billionaires and let the government handle giving it to the poor. Yes – good luck with that! The same people that make asinine statements like “nobody deserves to be a billionaire” are the ones whom we’re going to entrust the money they are going to take away from the rich to properly distribute to the poor.

Bill Gates has given away more than $28 billion to charity, and he and his wife have managed how the money is being used. I trust Bill Gates 100 times more that the money is used in the right way and for the right causes than I’d ever trust Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren with the same money. Bill made the money, he knows its value, he understands how money works, and he has an intuitive knack for solving problems. Sanders and Warren do not have any of those skills, and neither do most bureaucrats in government.

When the self-appointed redistributors say they are going to take “a little away” from the rich, who decides who is rich and who is not? Where is the threshold? What’s to stop them from saying that if you make more than $80k in your family you are rich and you have to give your surplus to the poor? Who draws the lines?

I say we need to leave the capitalist system alone.

The workers at McDonald’s can ask about more wages all they want. If they are not contributing more for those more wages, they don’t “deserve” those wages.

If they are envious of the amount of money the CEO makes, why don’t they become the CEO? Problem solved. Oh, it’s hard? Ahh, there lies the rub.

If they want to be rich, why don’t they start a company, like a shoe company (Nike), or a software company (Google, Microsoft), or a rocket company (SpaceX), or a car company (Tesla) or an online retail company (Amazon), or a replacement of all taxis company (Uber), and they can be a billionaires. Hey, any of the people who built the companies I have listed here started from scratch.

Bill Gates was a college student who liked math.

Phil Knight was a jock who liked running and couldn’t find good shoes.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page were math students at Stanford.

Elon Musk came to Canada as a twenty-year-old with no money in his pocket. He shoveled out sewer tanks as one of this first jobs in America, before he started a car company and a rocket company in parallel.

Jeff Bezos started an online bookstore from scratch in 1994.

Read the biographies of these men and then come and tell me they don’t “deserve” to be rich!

The American system works. The tax system should be fair and even for all. But vilifying rich people because they were successful after defying all odds and worked their butts off all their lives does not work and will not get Sanders and Warren elected.

Now I have to get back to work. After all, it’s Sunday night and there is a lot yet to get done.

 

Steve Mason is a Federal Air Marshal on a flight down the eastern seaboard of the United States, to Charlotte, North Carolina.  After a mostly uneventful flight, the plane suddenly hits a dark cloud unexpectedly. Turbulence ensues, strange blue flashes are outside the windows, and just as abruptly as the cloud appeared it stops and the plane enters blue sky again.

However, all communications with the outside world have seized. The crew looks out the window and recognize the familiar landmarks of the North Carolina coast, but all the cities are gone. After a frantic but unsuccessful search for an airfield to land, the pilots know they will run out of fuel and decide to ditch the plane into the ocean off the coast of what used to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The landing is not as successful as that pulled off by Captain Sullenberger who landed a plane in the Hudson River in 2009.  The plane crashes hard, breaks up, and out of the 180 passenger and crew, only less than 30 people survive.

Eventually, the survivors realize they landed in colonial America in 1720. There are only four cities of any size in the colonies at that time, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charles Town, which would eventually become Charleston. The survivors have to fend for themselves by fighting off marauding bands of Indians, criminal colonists, pirates, not to mention diseases, hunger, and lack of shelter.

The storytelling is stilted and juvenile. There is even a sex scene that is surprisingly explicit and somewhat inappropriate. What bothered me most is the multitude of grammatical errors that should have been caught by an editor. Here are a couple of examples:

Mason caught sight of the man whom had to be the captain. He wore a bright blue coat and a matching three-point hat with a feather.
— Zugg, Victor. A Ripple In Time: A Historical Novel Of Survival (p. 273). Kindle Edition.
“Whom had to be the captain?” That does not even sound right. There are other places in the book where the author misuses the word “whom.”
Here is another one:
He was surprised to learn there were several built prior to 1720 that still exited.
— Zugg, Victor. A Ripple In Time: A Historical Novel Of Survival (p. 294). Kindle Edition.

“Still exited?” Really?

There are many such errors throughout the book. They are minor, and they don’t destroy the meaning. But they irritate me immensely. It makes me angry that the author is willing to have people pay money for a book that obviously NOBODY even bothered to proofread even once. I should not be finding basic grammar errors in a professional book.

So I didn’t plan on giving the book much of a rating. Yes, it’s a time travel story, and I love time travel stories. That’s the only reason I stuck with the book and continued reading, even though most of the action is fairly monotonous and slow.

But then, the ending is surprisingly good. I enjoyed the last 10% of the book tremendously and found the conclusion satisfying. For a change, here is a book that actually has an ending and is not just a cheap setup for a sequel or a series.

It was going to be 1 star, but the ending brings it up and – at least for me – made it an enjoyable read.


.

SPOILER ALERT – do not read beyond this point if you are going to read this book!

Some of my readers expressed curiosity about the ending, so I decided to summarize it here.

When they first landed at the beach they ran into a band of Indians. Mason he wanted to start out friendly and searched for a gift. He wore a steel bracelet with an inscription which read “Steve Brown, USA, 82nd Airborne, Operation Iraqi Freedom.” He gave this bracelet to one of the Indians as a gift.

During their ordeal, Mason became friends with the lead flight attendant named Karen. Eventually they had a relationship and there was one sex scene in the night on the deck of their boat.

Toward the end of the story, when the 20 survivors realized that they were probably marooned in 1720 for the rest of their lives, the group decided to buy a plantation outside of Charles Town with money they had obtained by accident from a pirate’s loot. When they needed to decide whose name would be put on the title for the property, they agreed that Lisa and Jeremy Jackson, who had also become close, would quickly get married and take title of the plantation. Upon purchase, the couple stayed in the plantation, and Karen stayed with them, while Mason and a few of the other men went back to the camp by boat to pick up the rest of them and bring them to the plantation.

Karen and Mason were in love by then, and when Mason left, he promised Karen he’d be back in a few days.

During that trip, however, the original pirate attacked them and eventually decimated their boat and everyone perished. Mason eventually was severely wounded and fell into the ocean. As he passed out, he saw blue flashes. Note: blue flashes are associated with the original travel through time in the first place.

Mason woke up in a hospital in 2019. The Coast Guard had fished him out of the ocean four days after the plane had disappeared and he was the only known survivor. Being a Federal Air Marshal, his colleagues debriefed him and he told them the truth. Nobody believed him, of course, and eventually even he himself assumed he had hallucinated the entire experience during the trauma of the crash.

But he missed Karen. Depressed, he went on a road trip to Charleston to see if he could recognize anything in the city. There was nothing left of the old Charles Town of 1720, other than the names of the main streets. On a whim, he entered a history museum. In a display box of Indian artifacts he found a rusted out bracelet, the inscription no longer readable, but unmistakably his bracelet. Now he knew he had really been there. He drove out to the plantation and met an old man by the name of Michael Mason who lived there. The old house had burned down in the Civil War and another one had been built, but it was the same plantation. There was an old painting on the wall that was the only item of value surviving from the pre-Civil War period. On the painting Mason saw Lisa and Karen, along with a little boy. Michael Mason explained that family history has it that Jeremy died from an infection a few years after they got married and they never had kids. But Karen had a son from an unknown father. The little boy was named Steve Mason. Lisa willed the plantation to the boy and he became the patriarch for the long line of Masons who would run the plantation through the centuries that followed.

Mason went home, outfitted himself with survival gear, a stash of antibiotics, and rented a Cessna. Then he spent the next three months flying around North Carolina every day looking for dark clouds with blue flashes. Eventually, in a storm, he found one – and disappeared. That’s the last thing we know of Mason.

After Mason’s disappearance, his friend Ted Wilson at the Air Marshal Service started to investigate. At Mason’s house, he found a shopping list of survival gear, the contract for the airplane, and the address of the plantation. He drove to the plantation, and a young man let him in and they talked about “his missing friend” who had left this address for some reason that neither understood. As Ted walked around the house, he saw a painting with two couples and one young boy. The young man explained that one of the couples was Lisa and Jeremy Jackson. When they never had children, they willed the plantation to Steve Mason, who was the son of Karen and Steve Mason, both also in the painting.

Obviously, Mason had made it back to Karen, his stash of antibiotics had saved Jeremy’s life, and they all grew old together at the plantation.

Ted walked away knowing the truth.

 

It occurred to me that on March 30, 2019, I wrote a post titled Bring in the Clowns where I talked about the election in Ukraine and speculated that the front-runner in the Ukrainian election for president was a comedian – a comedian who is now world-famous as the president of Ukraine: Volodymyr Zelensky.

Made world-famous by the Trump impeachment scandal.

You might get a kick out of reading that post again. Link above.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome who lives in a residential nursing home because he has no relatives and is under the supervision of the Department of Social Services with the state. He feels imprisoned, and realizes that he does not belong there. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is tasked to keep watch over him and take care of him. She does it with kindness and dedication.

But Zak needs to get out. His dream is to become a professional wrestler, and he wants to start by enrolling in the wrestling school run by his idol, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), in Florida. With a little help from his elderly roommate and friend (Bruce Dern) he breaks out one night and does not come back. He runs into an outlaw on the run named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and the unlikely pair team up against all odds and start heading south. First stop: Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school.

Reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, a group of unlikely underdogs make their journey and come out better on the other side.

This is a feel-good movie for all of us and it makes us think about our place in society, and those who are not as fortunate as we are.

Kauai, oil on canvas, 12/19, 20 x 20

If you want to know why the title of this painting is Kaua’i, here is the story.

We spent Christmas 2018 on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. One of the things we noticed immediately was how many feral chickens and roosters there were everywhere on that island. Where do they all come from and why aren’t there any on the other islands? Here is a post with a picture of chickens in it.

The hurricanes Iwa in 1982, and then Iniki in 1992, destroyed many domestic chicken coops. This released the chickens into the jungles. The domesticated birds then mated with the wild red junglefowl that was brought to the islands by the Polynesians hundreds of years ago.

The current feral chickens have no natural predator, so they are procreating at a prodigious rate.

There is no way that you can travel to Kaua’i and not notice the ubiquitous chickens and roosters. There is no way you can spend a night on Kaua’i and not be woken up at 4:30am by a rooster outside your window. They are everywhere.

Kaua’i is roosters, and roosters are Kaua’i.

The traditional meal in Japan for Christmas is KFC – Kentucky Fried Chicken. And not just fried chicken, but the brand, KFC? How did that happen?

メリークリスマス

The above says me-rii-ku-ri-su-ma-su written in katakana, the Japanese alphabet used to spell foreign words.

me-rii-ku-ri-su-ma-su, when you say it out loud, means Merry Christmas.

Japan is a nation where only about 1% of the population is Christian. So Christmas, historically, was fairly meaningless. In the post-war years in Japan, everything western became fashionable, and the country imitated the west wherever it could.

The first Kentucky Fried Chicken store opened in Japan in 1970. Shortly after it opened, the manager, Takeshi Okawara, overheard a couple of foreigners in his store talk about how they missed having turkey for Christmas. KFC didn’t have turkey, but it had chicken. What’s the difference, right? So Okawara thought fried chicken would work just fine and began marketing his Party Barrel as a way to celebrate Christmas.

Within a few years, the Japanese corporate office for KFC started advertising クリスマス に わ ケンタキイ (Kentucky for Christmas) and a tradition was born. Japanese now think that everyone in the west eats KFC for Christmas. It is huge in Japan. One third of the annual sales of any KFC store is done during the Christmas season. 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to a KFC meal during the Christmas season. To get a Christmas dinner at KFC, you have to reserve it weeks in advance.

Okawara went on to become the CEO of KFC Japan in 1984 and ran the company through 2002. 

So, as this example proves, if you want to get rich and famous, start a tradition based on a religion.

I wonder what the two customers who mentioned they missed turkey for Christmas in that store in 1970 would think if they knew what they started by that innocuous remark? What if they had been Jewish instead and asked for Gefilte Fish?

Minnesota Farms [click to enlarge]

This week, after leaving Minneapolis, I looked out the window from 35,000 feet. There where white squares, each of them one mile wide, dotted with dark spots. Each spot is a farm, or possibly a former farm. People live incredibly far away from each other. It’s a very different type of neighborhood compared to the Southern California suburban housing developments. The farms stretch out as far as the eye can see, in all directions and the land is almost completely flat.

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