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Over the weekend I finally went and saw Captain Marvel. Yeah, I'm a bit late to the party but I'm not a fan of massive crowds. As it happens, the 6 PM Saturday show on this the third weekend of release was basically full. Granted, my local eat-and-drink movie house only had one theater set up for the show but still that speaks well to the audience interest.

I am not particularly a comic book fan and I know exactly as much about the characters as I saw in the movie. Having said that, I found the movie highly entertaining. Much stuff was blown up real good and action abounded. There was also a lot of nice characterization of both the title character and Nick Fury, for whom this is somewhat of an origin story.

The lead-line of the plot was Carol Danvers coming to the realization that she'd been manipulated by her bosses the Kree. One of the best bits of the whole movie was almost at the end where Jude Law, playing her boss / head manipulator, tries one of his old mind-games. It doesn't work, resulting in him having a high-speed impact with a nearby mountain. Danvers then tells him "I have nothing to prove to you." Nice bit of work.

Overall, Captain Marvel is a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Metra

Mar. 22nd, 2019 01:10 pm
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This week, I spent four of five working days attending a training class in downtown Chicago AKA The Loop. Since it was a 9-to-5 kind of thing, I took the train in, specifically Metra's Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) line. It is the busiest Metra line in the system, and runs (in my case) from Westmont into Union Station.

Back in the late 1990s, I was a consultant and had a multi-month contract downtown. While on that contract, I rode the same route over the same tracks. Given that Metra hasn't bought a new railcar in 30 years, I probably rode in the same cars. A few thoughts on the difference between Then and Now.

Then: Metra's communication sucked. The loudspeakers at the stations didn't work and if you got a car in which the loudspeakers worked, the conductor was making the announcements and thus frequently incomprehensible.

Now: Loudspeakers work fine everywhere, some stations have electronic signage, and the announcements are recorded and thus professionally enunciated.

Then: Everybody riding in had a book or a newspaper.

Now: iPads and laptops. A lot of the iPad folks are watching video with a headset on.

Then: The BNSF never had bar-cars, but Union Station in the afternoon had several pop-up stands with people selling cans of beer for the train.

Now: You can still find a beer to go, but it's not nearly as prevalent.

Then: talking on the train tended to get some dirty looks.

Now: they have specific "quiet cars" so if you don't get one, talk away. Although most non-quiet cars are pretty quiet.

Then and now: at least nine times out of ten you get where you were going within five minutes or so of the scheduled time. The tenth time is usually a big hoopla.

It's fashionable to bash Metra. However, in my experience, they really do offer a good service at a fair price.
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I was the subject of an open letter yesterday in which I was told that "the leftists" were working day and night to stuff me in a concentration camp. I was also told that this fate awaited me no matter how supportive I was of the left. As "proof" the post had a picture of a somebody desperate enough for money to hold a sign saying "Paypal me."

While this was being written, a group of right-wing extremists were busily shooting up mosques in New Zealand. Vox Day, AKA Wily Coyote, International Super-genius At Large, delivered a rant on the attack in which we were told that it was both the inevitable outcome of "invasions" and a false flag operation. All this in only ~500 original words.

On a related topic, our resident International Super-genius had spent months assuring us that the new movie Captain Marvel would be a bust. When it turned in a $400 million weekend, he then ran an article which claimed that somebody was buying thousands of tickets online as a way to artificially boost sales numbers. It ran with pictures of late-night and mid-week theaters that were not packed with people.

There's a T-shirt frequently seen at geek events. On the front it says, "I reject your reality and substitute my own." The t-shirt is intended to be a joke. Sadly, it's not.

The reality is I have a much better chance of being shot by a right-wing nut then put in a camp by a leftist. The reality is most "leftists" want what I want - a good life for the middle class. The reality is Captain Marvel is a very successful movie being watched and enjoyed by a lot of people.

Reality - it's not just for TV.

Not Really

Mar. 13th, 2019 11:11 am
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Comes news today that US Senator Rand Paul is upset that the US military buys lobster dinners for its troops. I note that he has not actually served in the US military. Having served, albeit many years and many pounds ago, I have thoughts.

First, given that much of our military spends significant amounts of time away from home and hearth, an occasional nice meal is very appreciated. And to be clear, the $4.6 million quoted in the article is not buying anything more than a very occasional lobster dinner. Second, I find it odd and puzzling that a member of a political party that claims to support the troops is begrudging an occasional small token of support for said troops.

Actually, I'm not really puzzled by Senator Paul. His party doesn't actually support the troops. His party wants the troops as a prop to help them with their constituents back home. They don't want to actually spend money to help them - they want to pay lip service to the concept. This is among other things that lip service is paid to, but that's another discussion.

The Orville

Mar. 4th, 2019 11:17 am
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I've been following the new TV series The Orville. This weekend, I watched two episodes in a row, courtesy of DVRs. The first episode was the second part of a two-part episode in which Earth Must Be Saved and ends in a epic space battle. It was epic and a lot of people died.

I would have hoped that the following episode would handle some of the fallout from that event. It largely didn't, deciding to go back to an alien plant where the race is entirely men. This has been a recurrent theme for the show, and the writers tend to bang pretty hard on the aliens.

I was a bit disappointed that this episode didn't deal directly with the war. However, given that the writers seem to like to circle back on themes, I have some hope that they'll revisit what they started.
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There are a lot of trainwrecks to watch in the news of late. One of the ones I'm watching is Brexit. It has become apparent to any rational observer that if Britain leaves the EU, they will do so without a deal. Such a departure will be an economic disaster which could easily turn into a humanitarian one.

As a result, even some of the dimmer politicians in Britain (and they prove that the US does not have a monopoly on dimwits) are thinking that maybe they ought to not leave. The apparent way to prevent a departure would be to have a second referendum now that it's clear what leave means.

Various alt-right commentors, including Wily Coyote, International Super-Genius at Large, are arguing that any re-vote is treason (his words) and that Britain should just leave Immediately, Right Now and Forthwith. Deal be damned - full speed ahead.

This illustrates the problem with dealing with nihilists. If "burn it all down" is an acceptable alternative, negotiations become impossible.
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Found on this site and quoted as truth:

"[The US conservative movement] is made up of anecdotal arguments, so of course they’re going to make a big deal out of Smollett. Most right wing policies cannot be justified using empirical evidence. Thus, they justify their policies based on anecdotes. The evidence is clear that human activity is warming the planet, so they cite cold spells as evidence to the contrary. There is no evidence that we have a border crisis (illegal crossings are down, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, etc.), so they use the Angel Moms as a way to drive their preferred policies. There is no evidence that guns make you safer (quite the opposite), so they hype the anecdotal stories where a gun owner prevented a crime. There is no evidence that voter fraud is a big issue, so they hype any anecdote they can find to justify disenfranchising thousands of voters. So naturally, in a society where there is all manner of statistical evidence to show that there are pervasive racial biases throughout (starting with policing), they’ll latch onto this one story to say “see, complaints of racism are made up!”
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Two quick thoughts:

1) I've always been confused about why, when you point out that various Trump supporters have strong ties to Russia, that people don't immediately back away. Then somebody pointed me to this quote by Noam Chomsky. "I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting."

2) While we wait for Trump's great infrastructure bill (remember that?) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come up with her own. Money quote from the article: "The economic thinker who most influenced the Green New Deal isn’t Marx or Lenin. No, if you want to understand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bid to remake the economy to fight climate change, you need to read Hamilton."
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Tamara Keel has a post up entitled Damnit Jussie. This is in reference to the actor Jussie Smollett, who claimed to be the victim of a racist attack. Although nothing has yet been proven, it is looking strongly like the incident was a hoax staged by Jussie to get attention. As Tamara keenly points out, the next ten black guys who get curb-stomped by white bigots will now have to overcome the doubt about false allegations planted by Jussie. So, like she said.

Emergency!

Feb. 14th, 2019 03:08 pm
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So apparently Trump is going to declare a national emergency to build the wall. Does that mean a Democratic president gets to declare a national emergency over gun violence or global warming? Asking for a friend.
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Various short political thoughts on events in the news:

1) It appears that Trump will take 1/5 of his requested money for the border wall. Despite getting largely stiffed and not building one additional foot of permanent barrier in two years, he is claiming victory. I find it very irritating that he can never lose, especially since his failure to lose is simply due to refusing to admit the obvious. This is becoming the Pee-wee Herman Presidency ("I meant to do that.")

2) A freshman Congressman criticized the Israeli government's foreign policy, especially the part where they attempt to influence US policy. Her words were insulting and stereotypical, but to be clear, one can criticize the Israeli government without being anti-semitic.

3) Various sources are reporting that, because the Trump administration manipulated tax withholdings, many Americans are due to get much smaller tax refunds this year. Every time the GOP does something stupid, I thin they can't get any dumber. Then they go and prove me wrong.
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As discussed previously, I have been less-than-enthusiastic about attending this year's Worldcon in Dublin. Well, my lack of enthusiasm has led to a decision. I will not be attending Worldcon. I will, in fact, be donating my attending membership to the Fantastic Dublin Fund, which is attempting to get a more diverse group of attendees to Worldcon. Since cons in general need less fat white middle-aged guys, it's a fair trade.

Having freed that time and money commitment up, I will be attending two cons in the US. First, I'll be going back to ConQuest 50 in Kansas City over Memorial Day. I took the last two years off from that con. There were a variety of reasons, including budget and a bit of over-exposure as a result of the 2016 Worldcon in KC. In any event, it's time to go back.

The other con I've decided to attend is NASFIC AKA Westercon AKA Spikecon, to be held in Layton Utah July 4-7. I suspect I'll get to both of these events for about the same money as I would spend on Worldcon in Dublin.

I'll also be able to accumulate miles and money for New Zealand 2020. That's going to be a long trip, and if I'm going Down Under I'll be spending more time down there than a long weekend in a convention.
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I've been a fan of Fox's new SF series The Orville since it came out. Having said that, "a fan" does not mean "thinks show is perfect." And it's not. The case in point is whenever our heroes have a first contact situation. As discussed with spoilers by Camestros Felapton, the most recent episode had a very flawed first contact.

The story started out promising enough. A humanoid-because-of-budget-reasons society sends out a radio message asking "is anybody out there?" The crew of the Orville receive that message and determine it's a first contact. They are very pleased with that fact, and happy to answer the question.

Things go reasonably well until after the first commercial break. Then they don't, which is what has to happen in a first contact story. That's when the story goes off the rails.

Camestros blames the writers and I agree. Simply put, the writers aren't really science fiction writers. They haven't thought through their world, both in general and in this particular case. It shows. For Camestros, this whole show is a "tribute" (AKA "cover") band for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm not sure if I agree or disagree.
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As you may have heard or may be experiencing, Chicago is having a record cold snap. Right now my cell phone's WeatherBug says it's -22 Fahrenheit or -30 Celsius. As a result, for the second day this week I am working from home. (I stayed home Monday because of snow.) Today's work-from-home day is by order - all of the people at my employer's place of business are staying home.

Fortunately, being productive at home is much easier than it used to be. Thanks to laptops and the Internet, I can be productive and have meetings. When, of course, the Internet works.

I got up this morning and my Comcast Internet was down and a reboot of the router did not bring it back up. When I called into Comcast, once I got to the Internet option, I got a recording that said "we're having issues - it will be fixed at 3:30 PM."

This was not good at all. Fortunately, AT & T was able to set up my cell phone to be a wireless hotspot. The bandwidth is okay - I even held a video meeting! Right now, the plan is for everybody to go into work on Thursday as per normal. We're expecting temperatures to get above zero! Actually, the forecast for Sunday is mid-40s Fahrenheit. A regular heatwave!
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One can't have the courage of one's convictions if one has no convictions. This fact is one of Trump's many problems.

It was clear from early in his campaign that he had no convictions. As you may recall, there was a kerfuffle about who used which public restroom. Then-candidate Trump was asked. As a real-estate person, he had some familiarity with the issue. His first statement was the entirely reasonable "people use the restroom they are most comfortable in and there's rarely a problem." This did not sit well with his base so he quickly changed his tune.

We see that again with the recently-passed budget snafu. In December, Trump was perfectly willing to sign the same general deal he just approved. He had also not made much of an issue with the Republican congress on wall funding. Then Trump was criticized by various TV talkers and he decided to create a crisis.

Again, lacking the courage of his convictions, he eventually caved in with the current deal. His incompetence in failing to plan for a shutdown didn't help, but that's a separate post. This episode was as surprising as snow in Chicago in January.

Since Trump has no convictions and thus no courage, it's extremely difficult to predict what he will do next. I'm not looking forward to it.
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I've been watching the latest budget snafu in Washington with growing irritation. It seems to me that, for many people, the process is being driven by fear and illusions.

The fear is from various sources. Ardent Trump supporters are fearful of the other, in this case illegal immigrants. It's an irrational fear. Having just came from Honduras, source of the many convoys that the bed-wetter crowd led by Trump are fearful of, I have a personal understanding of the matter.

Simply put, the people who come to the US from Honduras are the ambitious people. They're the hard workers, the strivers, the risk-takers. It's way easier to just sit in your hovel in Honduras and say "tomorrow" than to hike down to town and thence to America. We have nothing to fear from these immigrants.

The Republicans who refuse to vote and potentially override a veto are fearful. They are fearful of the same people who are fearful of the other. They are fearful of getting voted out.

The other problem is illusions. The ardent Trump supporters have convinced themselves that Trump is not a second-rate crook and idiot who has surrounded himself with third-rate crooks. They think that he is a brave and wise man and that he will somehow by force of will accomplish his stated goals. Some of them are hoping that he will use military force to rule the country.

To those suffering from the illusion of a competent Trump, he can do no wrong. Every time one of his fellow crooks is arrested, it is seen not as a hit on Trump but as "the swamp" fighting back. His State of the Union loss is thus seen as a win. I have to hope that at some point this illusion will break, but I am not optimistic.

Honduras!

Jan. 23rd, 2019 08:44 am
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As mentioned, I flew to Honduras for the long weekend. The purpose of my visit was to meet fellow Rotarians in support of a project to build a school in a rural area of Quimistan, a municipality in the Santa Barbara Department. (Here's a link to my Facebook photo album of the trip.)

First off, in Honduras, a municipality is more like a US county than a city. It covers both what we would consider a town as well as the surrounding rural areas. Quimistan (link to Spanish-language edition of Wikipedia - the English entry is a stub) is the second-largest municipality and reportedly has a population of just under 30,000. There's a lot of empty land, most of it mountainous and only suitable for goats. It's a mere 50 miles or so from San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in Honduras, but those miles are over a two-lane road shared with every barely-mobile beat-up jalopy imaginable. It's a slow drive.

Still, we left San Pedro Sula early on a Sunday morning, and so had no traffic to speak of. The school we're replacing is up in a rural part of Quimistan. Due to rains, the road was impassible. Based on an experience I had later that day, when a Honduran says a road is impassible, they are not kidding. In any event, a group of people from the local community walked to where vehicles could be gotten and were carpooled into town.

Everybody met at a fairly nice roofed-over sports facility. No walls, but not needed in that climate. We chatted for a bit, then had a ceremony where we signed an agreement to build the school. It was a big deal for all involved.

After a nice home-cooked lunch (we ate in air conditioning, even!) then, at the mayor's request, we went to visit another school which we were promised was accessible. The mayor wants that school to be the next on the list.

We drove on the main road in the direction of San Pedro Sula for a while, then turned off the paved road onto a crappy dirt track. After a few miles of that, we stopped and transferred into the personal four-wheel-drive vehicles of the Honduran Rotarians. Then we pressed on, hitting roads that I would haven't attempted to drive on under any circumstance.

After another few miles of that, the road ended at a town called Urraco Camalote. Literally at the end of the road was a school. Well, a shack with faded delusions of grandeur that they called a school. It was dark, damp, falling apart and had a pile of junk about 4 feet high in one corner. Oh, and it had one teacher and only went to 6th grade.

We chatted with the locals (I noted no men of working age were present), took some pictures and piled back into the trucks.

I've seen poverty before. This was real poverty. It was a stark reminder of how lucky I have been, and how much of that luck was due to an accident of birth.
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Over the long weekend, I flew to Honduras and back. Boy are my arms tired! [Yes, I plan on keeping the day job.) The purpose of the visit was to investigate sites for charity work, specifically building schools. I'll have more details on that portion of the trip later, but since I got back home at 9:30 PM, not today. Today I'll have some thoughts on travel.

Drink Carts

I normally fly Southwest. They serve snacks, pop and simple alcoholic beverages in-flight. For a variety of reasons, on this trip I flew Delta. Both flights, including the international leg, had a very similar menu.

On Southwest, the process of getting a drink is that the flight attendant comes, takes your order, and comes back with a tray of drinks. Snacks are distributed via them walking down the aisle with a wicker basket. There is no drink cart. On Delta, they push the damn drink cart down the aisle. Why? Southwest's system is much quicker and if you're not actually feeding people just as effective.

Getting There

For purposes of the flight, my final destination was San Pedro Sula, Honduras's second-largest city and the economic capital thereof. However, given that Honduras is the second-poorest country in this hemisphere, that's not saying a lot. They have an airport, but for commercial aviation the city is the end of the line and for most airlines can only support a single flight a day. So to get there, one flies out of a US city in the late morning.

The plane arrives in the early afternoon and is fairly quickly turned around and sent back to home base. It means that the tiny airport (eight "gates" all within 200 feet of each other and sharing a single waiting room) is busy as hell from around 11 AM to 3 PM and then goes to sleep. It also means one spends an entire day in the air getting to or from.

Tomorrow (hopefully) pictures and more details.
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Various news, provided for your amusement:

Books

Over the weekend, I reduced the price of the ebook edition of The Mars Run to 99 cents. That will be it's new permanent price. I also set it up so that if you buy the paper version you can get the ebook for free. We'll see if this spurs any sales.

Weekend Update

I did very little this weekend. It snowed all day Saturday in Chicago, so I felt no good reason to go out. I usually go out for dinner and cook a steak on Sunday, but I flipped the script on that. As a result, Sunday dinner was Cajun Pot Roast at Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe, a local restaurant. It was very tasty.

Dreams

I have a recurring dream where I'm trying to get office work done. The problem is my workplace isn't an office, rather it's some kind of house poorly remodeled into an office. Either that or it's an old open space where the battered desks are partitioned off by old furniture. In any event, to make matters worse, there's a shortage of desk space and I keep getting moved out. I wonder what my dreams are trying to tell me.

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