Monday, October 12, 2015

Photograph: "Faded Rose"

Aged Rose
"Faded Rose"
by Bruce H.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book: Blaine Harden's "Escape From Camp 14"

I seem to have a minor fixation on North Korea.  January of 2014 I read "Nothing to Envy" which looked at North Korea from the perspective of North Koreans who had lived in the oppressive society and had escaped to South Korea.  The second book, read in May of this year, was "Without You There Is No Us"  This book came from the perspective of an American teaching in North Korea.  My latest read takes a third perspective, a North Korean who never really experienced the North Korean society but was a product of said society.

The book is Blaine Harden's "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West".  The main 'character' of the book is Shin, a young man born in a multi-generational work camp known to the west as Camp 14.  In North Korea, when a crime against the state occurs, three generations of the family are imprisoned and sent to work camps.  If a father commits a political crime, his children, siblings, spouse, and parents  all go.  Shin is the child of two political prisoners who were allowed to have sex as a reward for hard work.

Shin grows up fixated on food.  He learns he will be rewarded if he snitches.  He receives a very basic education by strict teachers.  He is unaware of most of the outside world.  He witnesses a teacher beat a girl to death because she had a few kernels of corn in her pocket.  He snitches on his mother and brother and watches them being executed.  All this seems normal to him as it is all he has known all his life until he meets a new prisoner from the outside.

He and the prisoner hatch a plot to escape.  Shin only wants to escape so that he can get more food.  During the escape attempt the other prisoner dies on an electric fence ... and Shin crawls over him to freedom.  He eventually makes his way to China and freedom.

Shin's story is tragic and a bit strange.  He has trouble telling all the truth to the author as he is guilty about what he had to do to survive in Camp 14.  The changing story distracts from the narrative a bit making you wonder what is true and what is a fable created by Shin.

I enjoyed this read despite it's possible veering from the truth every now and then.  I gave it four out of five stars on Goodreads.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Dedication And Music (Elton John And His Band)

Our Queen of Victory Statue
(Cropped from Picture taken by GodSon.
Originally posted on Twitter).
The past few weeks have been busy, especially for the Wife.  It started a bit over a week ago with a wedding shower for the Wife's niece.  The Wife and a Sister-in-Law hosted the event at our house.  The Wife was busy decorating and preparing for the festivities.  My role was a supportive one, namely cleaning the house and keeping Iago calm in the den while the ladies had fun.

This last week was all geared towards the dedication of a statue at the Wife's school.  The Wife and I purchased the statue of May and child (Mary Queen of Victory) for the school and it sits outside the entrance of the gym.  There is a story behind the statue.

After my first Camino I suggested that the Wife do something for herself.  I was feeling a little guilty that I had such an extravagant and somewhat selfish adventure.  I hoped she would find a similar adventure for herself.  After my second Camino I suggested it again.  The Wife had been thinking about it and had not come up with anything she wanted to do ... then an opportunity appeared.  The Wife would buy a statue for the school.  It would cost about the same as what I paid for the two Caminos and she would dedicate the statue to her Aunt Dee who passed away in 2008.

Last Thursday the Wife's clan started showing up.  I picked up the Wife's Aunt C at the airport and entertained her until the Wife and others from her family arrived.  The In-Laws, Matron of Honor, Best Man, GodSon, Altar Boy, the Wife's brother, and others all show up at our house and enjoyed each other's company catching up with all the family news while imbibing their favorite beverages including homemade beer.

Elton John T-Shirt
Logo from Elton John Concert t-shirt.

On Friday we got up early, went to the Wife's school where we attended Mass with the students.  During the Mass the statue was blessed by the priest.  Tears were shed.  Afterwards we took pictures of the statue, took a tour of the school, and went out for lunch.

Friday night was a busy night of Chili, drink, party games (which I could not partake - can't do party games ... nope, can't do it), and had a merry ol' time.  We were joined by more nieces and family.  We had a full house.  Friday, as a whole, was a wonderful day for everyone.  Even Iago had fun when his cousin Cooper showed up to play.

Everyone went home Saturday.  Aunt C was the last to go.  We had breakfast at Lisa's Radial Cafe with Aunt C, the Wife's Brother , sister-in-Law, and niece before we took her to the airport.

By the late afternoon we were both pooped.  We had one more thing to do but it was not work.  It was a Concert.  Saturday night we went to see Elton John.  He was awesome.  We both really enjoyed it and it was sorely needed.  About three hours of good music and singing along with songs from our youth.  It's what we needed after the last couple of weeks.

Monday, September 28, 2015

SuperMoon Eclipses And Wet News From Mars

Super Blood Moon Collage
Collage of photos I took of the 27 September 2015 Super Blood Moon.
(click on image to see a larger version)
On Sunday night we were treated with a fairly rare combination of a SuperMoon (when the Moon is at its closest distance from Earth at the time of the full Moon) and a total lunar eclipse (when the Moon moves into Earth's shadow.  A supermoon is 'super' because it appears larger than most full moons.  A lunar eclipse is sometimes referred to as a Blood Moon  as it takes on an orangish-reddish color.  So, put these two things together and you get a SuperBloodMoon.  Above is a collage of pictures I took off our deck during the CSI Finale commercial breaks.  The pictures came out better than I expected.

The second astronomical news in the last two days was the NASA discovery of evidence of flowing water on the surface of Mars.  Life as we know it requires liquid water to survive so the existence of liquid water on Mars is a promising step towards the future discovery of alien life.  The discovery of life, when it comes, will potentially be the most important discovery in history and life, as we know it, will change forever.

I love astronomy and these are exciting times we live in.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book: Iain M. Banks' "The Hydrogen Sonata"

It's been a while since I read a book.  I finished my last book on the 15th of July and I really didn't pick up another book (eBook that is) until I went on my Rocky Mountain camp.  That's not a big gap, two weeks or so, but then it took me a month and a half to finish it.  It took so long not because it was over five hundred pages long.  It was not because it was bad since it wasn't.  I just would pick it up at the end of the day and read maybe five or ten pages before I went to bed.  I just strung out the reading of this rather good book.  Despite the slow progress, Goodreads says that I am two books ahead of schedule.  Good.

This book, by the way, is Iain M. Banks' "The Hydrogen Sonata".  This is a Culture book set up in the far future world Banks created for his Culture Series.  The book revolves around the 'subliming' of a civilization, the time when an advanced civilization transcends the material world.  The story follows the political wrangling, deceit, and manipulation that surrounds this event.

The book was interesting and I think it was one of Banks' better Culture books.  While I have given other Culture books mixed reviews, this one is quite good. The characters, both biological and artificial, are interesting.  There really isn't a huge climax.  This is hardly an action adventure but it held my interest and I was sucked into the world and I wanted to see where it would lead.

This is sadly the last book in the Culture series.  Iain M. Banks was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 2013 and passed away in June of that year.  Before he died he asked the woman he'd been living with for the last seven years if she would do him the honor of becoming his widow.  They married soon afterward.  His imagination and creativity will be missed.

I rated this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  I will now have to look for another series to follow.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Interesting Weekend With A Friend

Mandala 2015-09-11_002This weekend LA, the Wife's friend, who we met with in New York, dropped by for a couple days.  These days were filled with walking around Omaha seeing the sights through new eyes.

LA arrived early Friday evening and we jumped in the car and headed to the Old Market area of downtown Omaha.  The first thing on our itinerary was a visit to the OM Center to participate in the Chenrezig Empowerment on Compassion.  This Buddhist ritual is a cleansing and blessing of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.  It was a little long for my taste but it was interesting and unique.  After the ceremony we admired the beginnings of the sand mandala the Buddhist monks (who performed the ceremony) were creating.

I added a couple photos to my Tibetan Mandala Flickr Album.

After the ceremony we had a late dinner at the Jackson Street Tavern which turned out to be very yummy.  I'll have to take Mom there sometime.

Omaha Nite & Day 2015-09-11_005
After dinner we walked it off, making our way to the riverfront.  The Wife and I rarely go out at night and this walk reminded me of what we missed.  The skyline lit up with the Woodman of the World tower lit in 911 red, white, and blue.  Bracketing the First National Bank building, apparently coincidentally, were two vertical spotlights that reminded me of the beams of light in New York that represent the Twin Towers.

We reached the Heartland of America park and admired the changing color of the fountain in the center of the pond.  I'd seen it during the day but at night it is even more impactful.

We passed the drunk guy muttering to himself and walked along the Union walk to Lewis and Clark Landing.  The Pedestrian Bridge was all lit up as well, reflecting in the Muddy Mo below.

We naturally walked on the bridge.  In the lights you could see spider webbing attached to the support cables, blowing in the breeze.  The fencing along the railing had teeny tiny spider webs in each square with even tinier spiders at their centers.

Omaha Nite & Day 2015-09-11_011

After the pedestrian bridge we walked over to the Centurylink Center and admired the statues performing in front.  The statues were all lit up.

Omaha Nite & Day 2015-09-11_021

That was enough for the first night. We'd been downtown for almost five hours and all the walking wore the Wife and I out. LA seemed to have unending energy.  We drove home and made it to bed just after midnight.

Omaha Nite & Day 2015-09-12_027On Saturday we had breakfast at the Leavenworth Cafe before heading back downtown.  I parked near the slides and LA and the Wife took a few turns down the slide.

From there we went over to the start of the frontier sculpture.  The sculpture starts with a wagon train representing the settlers of the west.  The sculpture then extends a couple blocks with scared bison who in turn, scare a flock of geese.

We wound our way back and forth around downtown passing examples of Omaha architecture, memorials, and public art.

Not sure how far we walked but it was quite a bit.  By one o'clock I was tired.  I hadn't slept very long the night before and my fall allergies were kicking in with a vengeance.  We got back home so the Wife could watch her football and so LA could do some work that he needed to catch up on.  I took a nap.

Later that afternoon The Wife and LA went to the inter-tribal Powwow at Fort Omaha.  I would have liked to go but my allergies were just sapping my energy and I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much as I would have wanted.

Saturday evening was steak and chicken of the grill, a fire in the chiminea (burning the remains of our fallen crab apple tree), and chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.

LA got up early to take pictures of the sunrise off our deck.  The weather this weekend had been perfect - almost Fall like.  It had been fun seeing Omaha through a fresh set of eyes.  LA left this morning heading back east.  It took most of the day for the Wife and I to recover from the wonderful time we had.