Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Harsh Commentary

Prop. 1: Great men shape their world; ergo, their world does not shape them.

Cor. Prop. 1: The Greatest Men shape The World; ergo, The World does not shape Them.

Addend.: This is not a matter of degrees, but of completeness. Good men influence their world, and their world influences them. But great men completely shape their world; their world does not in any way shape them. And likewise with the Greatest Men and The World.

Comm.: Are you shaped by your world? By The World? Do you let your world shape you? Do you let The World shape you?

Concl. 1: If so, you are either blissfully content, incapably helpless, or inexplicably irrational. An oaf, a child, or an idiot. Harsh, eh?

Consider: Consider shaping your world first, then The World second, if you are permitted that grace at all.

Comm.: How does entertaining that thought feel?

Consider further: Shape the smallest things first, a potter glazing clay, then move on to those larger.

Addend.: If necessary, and if nothing else, determine the exact time you’ll get your lazy hide out of bed in the morning. Beat the sun! Determine what you will and what you won’t shove down your ravished, indiscriminating gullet every day. Be a man, not a pig! Determine that when you sit down to the task at hand, that is the only task you will work at. Seize the freedom contained in the will.

Addend. 2: Devote a few years to this, if necessary. It may very well be.

Addend. 3: Then, attempt this: Master what that 3.5 pound piece of meat inside your skull with entertain. If it is of little worth, discard it immediately. How? By inviting something fruitful inside. (What’s all this talk of meat and fruits? My ravenous indiscriminate gullet is getting hungry! – Grobes). Do this ceaselessly, mercilessly, savagely.

Concl. 2: And perhaps you will shape The World, even if in only some small secret way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Feeling Classical

If you wish to weep, listen to
Adagio for Strings by Barber, or
Cantus Arcticus by Rautavaara

If you wish to put your first through a wall (more in excitement than anger), listen to
Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner, or
Symphony No. 1 in Cm by Brahms

If you want to psych yourself up for something extraordinary, listen to
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey by Wagner, or
Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland

If you feel the need for speed, especially doing something unpleasant, listen to
Symphony No. 3 in C by Sibelius, or
Siegfried, Prelude to Act III by Wagner

If you need to march men into battle, through overwhelming odds, listen to
Mars, Bringer of War by Holst, or
Piano Concerto No. 2 in Cm by Rachmaninov

If you want to close your eyes and forget this world for a better one, listen to
La Mer by Debussy, or
Florida Suite by Delius

If you’re looking to revel in an banquet of orgiastic proportions, listen to
Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity by Holst

If you’re in love, listen to
Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner

If you feel like contemplating the final mysteries of Man and God, listen to
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughn Williams

Feeling Majestic?
Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, Ravel’s orchestration

Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens

Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov

... And that’s solely the beginning …

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gary Come Home

You wanna hear something sad? You know how you can get a song stuck in your head, repeating it over and over and over, humming it, singing it without even realizing it in front of other people? Usually it’s a tune you heard on a radio, or saw in a movie, or maybe you played an old CD you haven’t heard in a couple of months or years and now a tune is stuck in some scratched short-term-long-term memory loop?

Here’s the sad part. Two weeks ago I bought my daughter the Yellow Album. No, that’s not a typo that should refer to the Beatles. No, this is the Spongebob Squarepants CD. Twenty-three songs. Now, some are not bad. I will go on record as saying that Spongebob is one of the funniest and wittiest cartoons out there today, and though it’s probably aimed at a more mature audience than the market segment the Little One belongs to, I don’t find it objectionable.

So we’ve been listening to the Yellow Album off-and-on for, oh, twelve or thirteen days now. That means I’ve heard it maybe eight or nine times, maybe more since I’m usually suckered into playing it in the car when we get her little sister, once on the way to Yiayia’s and once on the way home. And now I have Gary’s Song stuck in my head.

Those of you in the know may remember the song by it’s sorrowful refrain: Gary come home … Spongebob inadvertently neglects his pet snail Gary, and the little fellow has no choice but to find someone else to care for him. It’s a story of misunderstandings, of loves lost and lives torn asunder, and of ultimate redemption.

From what I understand the episode is the number-one most-watched television event for children ages something like eight to ten. If I wasn’t unsure of copyright rules and regulations, I’d pop the .wav file in right here, so in lieu of that, here’s the lyrics that have been encircling my cerebellum incessantly this past fortnight:

Gary now I know
I was wrong
I messed up
And now you’re gone

Gary I’m sorry I neglected you
Oh I never expected you
to run away and leave me feeling this empty
Your “meow” right now would sound like music to me
Please come home ’cause I miss you Gary

Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home

Gary can’t you see I was blind?
I'll do anything to change your mind
More than a pet you’re my best friend
Too cool to forget
Come back ’cause we are family and
Forgive me for making you want to roam
But now my heart is beating like the saddest metronome
Somewhere I hope you’re reading
My latest three-word poem

Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home
Gary come home


Gary come home
Gary come home

Gary won’t you come home?

(PS – my daughter has the italicized falsetto echoes in the chorus down pat.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seven Last Words

Finished reading Death on a Friday Afternoon, a series of meditations on the last “words” of Christ spoken from the Cross. All I can say is that I am overwhelmed. It was a tough book to get through, requiring much concentration and a steady mind. Probably grasped a little over a third of what’s there. So it’s back on my bookshelf for another sparring session, perhaps after I get through the next two “spiritual” books on my reading list. If not, definitely for my Lent 2010 reading list, along with The Day Christ Died.

For the uninitiated, what are the last words of Christ?

According to the Gospels, there are seven phrases that Jesus spoke after he was nailed to the Cross and before he died. Each has meaning, much, much meaning. Neuhaus was able to write hefty chapters on each phrase, and theologians across the centuries added innumerable pages of commentary. One could spend a whole year, I suppose, studying commentary on those seven phrases and still only have a partial understanding of their power and purport. So my meager first reading, done in little snippets here and there over the course of four weeks, has only given me a rudimentary glimpse of Our Lord’s Last Words. Not nearly enough study to comment intelligently on them, so I won’t. But let’s state them at least, eh?

The First Word:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
- Luke 23:34

The Second Word:

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
- Luke 23:43

The Third Word:

Woman, behold, your son! … Behold, your mother!
- John 19:26-27

The Fourth Word:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
- Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

The Fifth Word:

I thirst.
- John 19:28

The Sixth Word:

It is finished.
- John 19:30

The Seventh Word:

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
- Luke 23:46

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Confederacy of Dunces

Ignatius J. Reilly. Yes, that’s him on the cover. Now - where to begin?

I think most people will either like or hate, fairly or unfairly, A Confederacy of Dunces simply based on how they feel about Ignatius. Disregard the brilliant flow of dialogue, the insanity of characters more realistic and fleshed-out than the neighbors on my block, the roller-coaster twists and turns of plot. Forget all that, though we should say more about that later. Ignatius, rightly so, is at the epicenter of this novel, and your gut reaction to him will taint your position for better or worse.

The problem is, simply, that he is not a likeable character. He does not do what you want him to do. He does not say what you think he should say. You’ll want him to change his ways, say this or do that, whatever, and raise his station in life. Make life work for him. Make it easier for him and his mother and the ragtag band of personalities that surround them. But like a stubborn preadolescent, he stoutly refuses logic and compassion, whatever it is that cries within each of us to simply strive to do the right thing.

You will never enter the mind of a character like Ignatius Reilly again, ever. Part genius, part toddler, a thirty-year-old professional student, absurdly self-parodying, weak-willed yet flushed with pride, witty yet petty, a clown secretly wishing to be a savior. I didn’t like him, per se, but I wanted to see what happened to him. Does he evolve and change? Does he affect the others he comes into contact with like some asteroid on a collision course with earth? The best answer, if you don’t wish to read the book, is, honestly, yes and no.

The story reaches out and seizes you by the lapels from the very first paragraphs, tossing you into the back of an old Plymouth, spiriting you away on a dizzying tour of the Old French Quarter. Victims and con men (and women), the innocent and the guilty, the strange and the stranger, are just a sampling of the universe of oddballs that our protagonist is forced to deal with, much to his distaste and displeasure. A Gordian knot of a bizarre topological plot spills out of the pages, slowly yet forcefully, drawing you in and along like a unwilling passenger in a boat in a Tunnel-of-Love-from-Hell amusement ride. Take a deep breath, stretch, and don’t read unless you’ve waited thirty minutes until after eating.

It’s that type of book.

Can I describe the plot? Well, yes, of course, but can I do it doing it justice? Probably not. But I’ll try, and I’ll be as brief as possible to avoid embarrassing myself. We meet Ignatius J. Reilly and his mother within the first couple hundred words, and are hooked. Ostensibly, Ignatius the perpetual graduate student is forced to get out and find a job to pay off the debt his widower mother incurs. And that starts off an odyssey of Homeric proportions – if Homer had a lifelong love of New Orleans and the keenest ear for capturing the most hilarious dialogue ever spoken. Oh, and a simple word of advice: don’t think you can guess how it’ll all end up, because you won’t. I was beyond a hundred-n-eighty degrees off-base, and I can’t decide whether I’m disappointed or glad.

As I’ve written before, this is the second funniest book I have ever read. It is also, in a sense, one of the most tragic. There is a backstory to the novel that in itself is it’s own tale worth telling: the author, John Kennedy Toole, wrote it in the early sixties while toiling in the army and at a string of Reillian jobs, and considered it his comic masterpiece. Initial publisher enthusiasm eventually soured, and Toole took a turn south into drink and depression, eventually killing himself, forty years ago to the day tomorrow. His mother, somewhat domineering but believing full-force in her son’s talents, pushed the book on whoever would read it over the next couple of years. Eventually it was published, in 1980, and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. It’s bounced around Hollywood ever since, with names such as John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, and, as of 2005, Will Ferrell, attached to the project. But keeping much to its character, and perhaps its main character, it deftly and stubbornly refuses to be shaped into a product for the masses.

Ignatius would be proud.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Klass II

Joe Bob and Elbert are two brothers who own a farm out in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas. Or maybe it’s Iowa. Or New Mexico. But they have a farm, they’re going broke, they got debts and maybe like to quaff too much down at the local saloon. They enjoy raising hell when they can, and may or may not have lead “colorful” lives.

One morning, both brothers, still sweaty, dirty and stinky from the previous day’s farming, high-tail it in their beat up Dodge pick-up to the office of the town constable. It appears late last night, as they’re finishing up their chores but before they can break out the beers, Joe Bob spots a weird light in the sky.

He runs inside the house a-hollerin’ for Elbert to come out and see this. They both rush out at the same time, nearly taking out the door frame, upend themselves in the mud that surrounds the house, truck, barns and silos, get up and stare agape at what they see. A hundred yards away, just at the nearby orchard tree-line, are three lights, all different colors and swirling and spinning, but they’re attached to something solid, and that something solid is hovering there, maybe checking out the boys’ cattle for some mutilating, maybe checking out the boys’ themselves.

Elbert slaps his head, suddenly remembering the conveniently loaded camera they left in the kitchen. He races in, taking another bath in the mud, and by the time he’s re-joins his brother the mysterious object is still there; in fact, it’s even closer. The brothers cower in fear, Elbert snapping a photo or two, and suddenly a beam of light shines down upon them. Screaming, they flee for the safety of the four walls of the house their great-great-great grand-pappy built after the War Between the States.

Joe Bob peers out the window, the one that’s not broken, and sees something shiny and up-to-no-good messing about out by the outhouse. He slaps his brother, who drops the camera but reaches up above the mantle and grabs the conveniently loaded twelve-gauge. Elbert leaps up and blasts out that good window, firing buckshot into the outhouse and the silvery invader who was fixing to come closer.

An hour passes, then two, three, and the boys, eyeballing cautiously the lonely moonlit pastures about them, see no further signs of the strange visitor. In fact, the lights in the sky are gone, too. Joe Bob assesses the situation and the two agree to commence the high-tailing.

The sheriff launches an investigation, hauling his great big belly out to the farm the next morning with his two young and inexperienced deputies. They see nothing – wait! Out in the orchard is a ring of burnt vegetation. It’s proof! The spaceship the boys saw the night previous was true! Within a day or two the local papers have the story, and in a day more, the national news. The case receives mucho street cred at all the annual UFO conventions, and several books are written about the bizarre case by years’ end. The boys go on some local talk shows, but after some discrepancies over polygraph tests – did they take them and pass, or not? – the media lose interest in the case and we lose interest in the brothers.

Then, the case comes across the desk of our friend, Philip J. Klass.

What does he do?

He does what just about everyone else involved in the “sighting” failed to do.

First, he takes all the books, articles, and taped TV interviews done by the boys and about the boys, and sets them aside. Then, he calls the sheriff, and gets a copy of the original police report. The one taken when the details of the sighting would be fresh in the boys’ minds. These are the raw data of his investigation. This he studies. He develops an accurate timeline of the events, as well as maps of the farm, the lands around the farm, and the route to town. These he studies for discrepancies, anything puzzling, any “holes” in the boys’ tale. Objectively, because he truly has not formed an opinion yet. If everything seems to make sense, he moves on.

Next, he calls and gets the weather report for the night in question. It was clear, cloudless. Okay, so he moves on. Full moon? No, first quarter. May be relevant, maybe not. He calls an astronomer buddy, who consults a chart, and says, “Why yes, Venus was present, as was Jupiter, in the constellation Taurus.” Phil thanks them and consults his map and timeline. Venus would have “set” long before the incident, but Jupiter would be prominent in the sky. In their line-of-sight, too, given Klass’ map of the area. And it was a cool night after a hot day, so thermal convection may have caused rippling effects in the atmosphere and effected the boys’ sighting of Jupiter, making it appear as if it was shimmering or changing color.

Consulting his map with a state atlas, Klass spots a nearby airport fifteen miles to the west. A quick call determines that helicopters are flown out of there to a couple of major cities in the east. Yup. Joe Bob and Elbert’s farm is flyover country.

The sheriff’s report tells him that the only thing found at the outhouse was one buckshot-demolished outhouse. Forensics – if you could label this part of the investigation as “forensics” – yields nothing otherworldly. Klass dismisses this part of the case.

How about that ring of burnt vegetation they found out there? Samples were sent a month after the initial report to a reputable chemical analysis company in a nearby city. Klass scans the report. Nothing unusual, except high levels of zinc. Nothing radioactive, a major concern of Joe Bob, who fears he’s now sterile. Now zinc, that’s telling. Especially on a farm. Pesticides, perhaps? A little further research into Nowhere town records yields a deed from the boy’s grandfather’s time. It appears there was a silo located at the edge of the woods thirty-some years ago. Did it hold some fertilizer or pesticide that contained zinc? Perhaps. The most logical explanation is the ring of dead vegetation is a result of the silo that used to stand there.

How about Elbert’s two photos? Funny, Elbert seems to have misplaced the negatives. Hmmm. He did send a copy of the photo to the local newspaper, and an early book on the incident had a grainy shot of a blurry white blob against an inky black vagueness, but now Elb is charging money for copies. Not too convincing.

It seems the boys initially took a polygraph test a week after reporting the incident (at the behest of the local newspaper), but now they won’t take another for Klass. This Klass learns from a correspondence with the boys’ lawyer.

Conclusion: The boys, possibly after a beer or two, saw Jupiter, decided to snap a few pics of it, spotted a low-flying helicopter, thought a little more, blasted their outhouse door apart, and, remembering the old silo ring, decided to fabricate a little white lie about a saucer landing on their farm. Maybe for the money, maybe for the fame, or perhaps just a little local publicity that’ll get them some beers bought for them at the town tavern.

Regardless, it was not a visit from Zeta Reticulans.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Okay, I’ve been cheating. Instead of starting Fabric of the Cosmos I’ve been slumming. But slumming in an entertaining way. On a whim last week, pacing around the library while my daughter was engaged in tower-building in the children’s playroom, I discovered a book on alien abductions written by Philip J. Klass. From my readings I know that Klass is a world-class debunker, so I’ve always avoided him as a wet blanket to my kreepy kooky delvings into the world of flying saucers. But this whole abduction business never sat well with me. Swallowing my pride (I’m always a tad bit embarrassed borrowing books on UFOs from the library – what’ll the press do to me when I’m running from President in 2024 and they get a hold of my library records!), I checked it out, and blazed through it in two days.

Then, last Monday, I borrowed a second Klass book, and was equally impressed. He fits my temperament. Let me explain.

I like reading about flying saucers for a coupla reasons. It’s nostalgic; I devoured these books as a kid as well as all those 1950s SF movies. It’s a little bit scary; sometimes I get even a little nervous about peering out the windows after reading such a book late at night. They give me ideas for short stories and bits and pieces of a hefty novel that’s been jelling like a bowl of forgotten molasses inside my hoppin’ skull. I’m also fond for some strange reason of America in the 50s, the craziness and the innocence all sealed up in some bizarre oil-water mixture, and I almost wished I lived back then. So these books bring me all these benefits which you’ll either nod in understanding or shake your head and mutter in your best Hank Hill voice, “Tha’ boy ain’t right.”

However … the far fringe of this UFO subculture really turns me off. I studied physics for two years in college with an aim to actually become a physicist; ever since a young boy I’ve been reading science books and encyclopedias and always did well in my -ology classes. Despite all my nutty mini-interests I do have a logical, rational basis to my personality (one reason I’ve stayed with my Catholicism and am fascinated with Aquinas, by the way). Some of the books I started to read in the field of Ufology I never finish because the authors come off as super kooks. And not in a fun way, but a dumb way.

This is why I think I’m currently hooked on Klass. He’s logical; he’s rational. He can destroy a famous UFO case in a couple of pages. The man applies – consider this! – the scientific method to the study of a flying saucer sighting. Even better, he’s a detective and wastes no time getting down to the bottom of things. And what makes his writing and his books even more enjoyable is that he cares little what the ufological establishment thinks of him and goes after its sacred cows – such as Stanton Friedman and Budd Hopkins – gleefully on the printed page as well as in person. With hard, concrete facts behind him, I feel he wins a lot more times than he loses. And he never really loses, because saucermen have not yet landed their crazy flying disks on the White House lawn.

The two books I’ve read in the past eight days are UFO Abductions – A Dangerous Game (1989) and UFOs Explained (1974). The first and chronologically later book thoroughly trashes the whole “abduction phenomenon” by destroying its cornerstone: hypnotic regression. I mean, helloooo! Hypnosis is not allowable in court. Inadmissible, simply because it has been proven to be unreliable. And abduction researchers such as Budd Hopkins, Dr. John Harder, and Dr. John Mack base all their research and all their conclusions on hypnotic regression of alleged abduction victims. Klass’ hypothesis, very much simplified here, is that the hypnotist leads the “victim” on, whether consciously or unconsciously.

UFOs Explained is a much longer, much more thorough book. Klass details through example how a potential UFO sighting should be investigated. He dissects more than two dozen cases, some famous and some not, and takes ’em apart piece by piece. Sightings, landings, radar contacts, alien encounters, multiple witness sightings, photographs, films, you name it, he can deconstruct it. And by “deconstruct it” I mean simply arrive at a logical, rational explanation for the UFO encounter that does not involved visitations from little green – or in UFO mythology, Grey – aliens.

Philip Klass spent his life as an engineer and journalist who wrote primarily for aeronautics magazines over the span of his career. In the mid-1960s he got drawn into the UFO game, and quickly developed into the ideal debunker – a researcher who focused on facts as opposed to wishful and lazy thinking. (More on his technique tomorrow.) He was a founding member of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. I used to relieve long boring overnight shifts as a computer support analyst reading the organization’s quite entertaining website archives. I just found out that he died at the age of 85 back in August 2005, and felt a bit sad, because I would have liked to have known of him back then to properly acknowledge his passing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Death on a Friday Afternoon

I have to say, unequivocally, that Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Father Richard John Neuhaus, is the most profound book on the death of Christ and the meaning of it All that I’ve ever read. Every page has something deeply interesting, deeply moving, or deeply inspiring. Often I put the book down and just stare out into space, a new way of looking at things dangling before my eyes. I feel I definitely need to re-read it, though I only just reached the halfway-point last night. But I’m almost afraid to do so. It’s a daunting task, because the book requires your full attention. I’ve had it for five years but have never gotten beyond the first couple of pages until now. It is a good book to read for Lent, so I figure I will read it again next year.

Just last night I read this passage, which sums up all the ideas that have been channeled to me through various media outlets (books, websites, television, radio) that in some synchronous or synergetic fashion seem to be centering me. This passage makes so much sense to me that I want to quote it, as well as the stanza of the poem Father Neuhaus quotes. Think about it.

“Dereliction" is an apt word for the times we call modern. The essence of modernity, we are told, is that we live in a disenchanted world. God and the gods have withdrawn, if ever they were there in the first place. More recently in the cycles of cultural fashion, we have witnessed to advent of “postmodernity,” in which we are given permission to speak again about the gods, and maybe even about God. But the children of postmodernity know that they are making it up. Whether it is the ironic liberalism of tenured professors cleverly “deconstructing” reality or whether it is the popular peddling of New Age “spiritualities,” it is a matter of telling fairy tales. And no matter how many fairy tales we tell, when we know that they are fairy tales, they cannot re-enchant the world.

Something has been lost, something has been withdrawn, and it cannot be called back. It’s been now well over a century since Matthew Arnold sensed it happening in “Dover Beach”:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Does this not strike a chord, deep down, within you? And is it not the saddest note you’ve ever heard?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why I Hate Politics

And the media, too.

Here’s what brought on this delightful post. Last night, soaking in a hot tub and nursing my throbbing flu-induced headache, I came across this historical factoid in a book. During the last year of World War II, the Japanese decided in a somewhat desperate fashion to attack the US mainland in a somewhat novel way. They launched hundreds of helium balloons loaded with as much explosives that they could carry, and let the Pacific trade winds blow them over the western coast of the US. Some actually traveled as far into the interior of the country as Michigan. The idea was to terrorize the American civilian population with these random balloon attacks and force a change in US war policy.

Now this is the memorable part: In an effort to thwart this Japanese plan, American newspapers, at the request of the US government, voluntary held back reporting on any of these “balloon attacks.” Nothing was reported. So, not only had a possible panic been averted in our mainland, the Japanese were also unsuccessful in evaluating the effectiveness of their project. As a result, they gave up, and not much ever became of their nefarious scheme. And we in this day and age in general don’t even know this ever happened.

I thought the whole thing was interesting and enlightening, especially the collusion between the government and the media for the perceived greater good of the nation. For the success of the war effort. I reflect on the past eight years under Bush and the War on Terror and the visceral hatred for the president by the media, and how such a collusion could never ever happen today. Is this good or bad? Now, I have many problems with Bush and the ill-named War on Terror, but I also have many problems with the dishonest agenda of the media in this nation, too. Overall, though, in terms of pure safety of the populace (one of the few legitimate reasons for the existence of government) I think it’s bad, and shameful as well. Ideology triumphs over the safety and security of me and you, and of our families. Ideology from both the right and the left, because it isn’t about safety and security. It’s simply about power - getting it and maintaining it.

Anecdote I read (and, sorry, can’t remember where, otherwise I’d source it) so take it for what it’s worth: a man’s friend was a foreigner working in this country who eventually became a citizen. The man asked his friend what was the most striking thing about America, as compared to the country where the friend grew up, expecting something along the lines of pure wonderment about our material utopia. Instead, the friend said, “It is simply amazing how much propaganda you Americans are exposed to every day and don’t even realize it.”

I’m coming to believe more and more that’s true, and it’s one of the main reason I abhor politics and the media.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Under the Weather

Sick again.

Flu-like symptoms, possibly given to me from the Littlest One, possibly as revenge for letting everyone with an Internet connection know we call her Chucklepatch. Hard to think and stay awake, let alone focused, despite a two-hour nap this morning. Congested, sneezy, achy, blah.

Good news: Yesterday went to the pulmonologist and after a few tests found out I’m using 96% of my lungs. Yay. And today I went to a cardiologist who gave me more or less a clean bill of health. My pulse rate and blood pressure were both a little high, but he chalked it up to either my cold, or the healing process, or my new-found economic situation, or some combination. I go back to him at the end of May for more tests to make sure I don’t have a encore of this past February’s 2009 Hospital Tour.

I do have posts to write. But it’s cold in my writing office and the bugs inside me don’t like it cold. Got a lot of other things I need to do, too, and can’t seem to summon any energy or enthusiasm. But I promise something of interest tomorrow.

Until then,

Your Working Boy,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mark 8:36

Thought for the day:

For what shall if profit a man, if he gain the whole world yet suffer the loss of his soul?

- Mark 8:36

When I am angry at someone else, at others, who have done me harm – economic harm in the specific case I’m thinking about – this verse comes immediately to mind. You’d think I’d be consoled – those bastards are gonna get what’s coming to them! They’ll get what they deserve! – and, yes, those thoughts are true. Vengence is mine, saith the Lord, and all that.

But it also leaves me cold. After all, should we ever – and I mean, ever – ever willfully wish harm to others? Even others who have harmed us? Obviously, no. Cf. Matthew, chapter 5 verse 44. At the highest level, we are called to see Christ in all. At lower levels, we are called to love because anything less ultimately harms ourselves (bodies, minds, and souls) more than the other. So such gleeful gloating at the prospect of the guy(s) who screwed me spending eternity in ol’ Gehenna leaves me cold for, well, the same reason that the chance I (or – God forbid! – my wife or daughters) might take up occupancy there fills me with dread.

I am not a hero. But I would like to encourage you to simply pray for those who have done you wrong. For lofty reasons or lower ones (it’ll do wonders for you blood pressure). My list constantly changes, and those who’ve done me wrong years ago come off the list when I simply feel absolutely no ill will towards them. And it does take years, in some cases.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fight FOCA!

Just dropped off six postcards my wife and I filled out expressing our stand against FOCA, the "Freedom of Choice Act." Our representative, our senator, and our new president, all "pro-choice * ," will receive our little modest protest. Only a drop in the bucket, perhaps, but hopefully there will be many, many such drops, adding to a tidal surge.

Some of the provisions of FOCA call for relaxing regulations at abortion clinics, forcing American taxpayers to fund abortions, pressuring states to allow partial-birth abortions, stripping parents of rights and responsibilities for their minor daughter's decisions, and coercing Catholic hospitals to offer abortions.

Forget that I consider this disgusting and unethical. I consider it unconstitutional. What would the founding fathers think of such legislation? Even if you strip them of two centuries' worth of hagiography, what do you think they would honestly feel about FOCA? Is this why they risked life and limb to create this country?

Next week I'll send my distinguished servants in Washington an email follow-up.

If you, too, are against FOCA, I strongly urge you to contact your church. They should have plenty of information to help with your peaceful protest. If you support FOCA, I ask you simply to search your heart when you're alone and it's quiet.

* I used to label "pro-choice" politicians as "pro-abortion," for the simple fact that, to me, all they were advocating was abortion in varying degrees of unrestriction. You never saw a "pro-choice" politician actually promoting anything you might see on a "pro-life" politician's agenda. However, "pro-abortion" is a loaded term and quite demonizing. So, I'm based with a quandry. "Pro-choice" is too vague and euphemistic; "pro-abortion" is too condemning and suggestive. What's needed is a term that accurately describes the "pro-choice" "pro-abortion" position in a somewhat neutral manner. Oh well.

One Year Anniversary

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of this blog. Ideally, I'd like that counter at the left to show a total of 365 entries, as the main function of the Recovering Hopper is to get me to sit down every single day and write. But due to some bad patches of health, both (figuratively) mental and (quite literally) physical, I reached a grand total of 309. Still, not bad. Not bad at all.

Has my hopping been cured? Definitely not. I have something like seventeen or eighteen items out from about half a dozen local libraries. Books, CDs, DVDs. I'll never get to them all. Just don't have the time. Not to mention the hundred or so tomes - from philosophy to biography to paperback SF from the 50s, 60s, and 70s - I have on the bookcase right behind me as I write this. And I'm still juggling four writing projects, making glacial progress on perhaps one a week.
But ... I think I'm a little bit better. Heck, I even triage those books every Saturday before errands with the Little One with only a fraction of the guilt I used to have.

A lot has happened in the past twelve months. Wow. Off the top of my head, in no particular order:

* Two stays in the hospital, totalling 22 days and 7 surgical procedures

* One new baby, the Littlest One

* Recently laid off from my job of nearly twenty years (more, much much more, about that later)

* As mentioned, 309 blog posts

* We refinished our basement, enabling me to write in style, though it flooded last month and we're still cleaning up

* Read 16 books cover-to-cover (I'm nerdy enough to log this)

* Borrowed 79 books from the library; skimmed two-thirds of these before returning

* Bought 5 CDs of music I listened to in the 80s and 90s - is this some kinda midlife crisis?

* Refinanced my house just-in-time to take advantage of all them there deals them banks is offerin', giving us desperately-needed financial breathing room

* Finally, most importantly, a shifting or evolving or "cementing" of my faith (and more about that, later)

Now I'm at a crossroads of sorts. I think I want to branch out and do two specialty "niche" blogs. Haven't got all the details down, yet, but I'm working on it, slowly whenever I get some free time. I'd like the blogs to pay for themselves, if you know what I mean, and maybe pay for an upgrade in my connection or my equipment. I have a target launch date by May 1st. We'll see.

I have a core group of about a dozen or so people who check in every day, mostly family and friends from what I can tell. But I'm amazed that every now and then someone from, say, Australia or the Netherlands, or wherever, will pop in, spend a few minutes reading a post or two, and return every once and a while. I don't consciously attempt to make this blog a high-traffic site, but I think I may give it a whirl with the two new blogs.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Silent Running

Some minor spoilers ...

Watched an old SF movie yesterday called Silent Running (1972). Some would consider it a mild classic. You'll read about it in just about any book documenting the history of science fiction in film. I've read pages and pages about it over the years. But I've never seen it on television or cable for some reason or another. So, last weekend, at the library with my Little One, I found it on the DVD racks, emitted a thoughtful "Hmmmm," and decided to borrow it.

Actually, I'm kinda torn about it. But first, yes, it is a "classic" in the sense that it was the (warning: entering dangerous cliche zone) school of hard knocks, the trial by fire, of Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra, two dudes who would go on later and both dominate and revolutionize science fiction special effects for the rest of decade. The spaceship models, some up to twenty feet long and constructed from dozens of children's model kits, are the forerunners for Star Wars, Close Encounters, Battlestar Gallactica, and just about every SF movie up to the age of CGI. Making their first appearance are "drones," mobile robots actually helmed by amputee actors that are the direct predecessors of R2D2 and C3PO. There's a scene where the ship hurtles through the rings of Saturn that supposedly was intended to be the "in through the doorway" scene from Kubrik's 2001, but was scrapped due to budgetary and technological reasons.

So, yeah, from an effects point-of-view, Silent Running is a classic in the sense that it originated so many motifs that would become standard in SF movies throughout the 70s and years later.
It's the story and the acting that I'm torn over.

Silent Running is generally regarded as the first environmental movie. Red flags right there. Now, I'm all for nature and I love the mountains as much as my wife loves the beach. We don't litter, we reasonably recycle, we care for baby deer (just kidding on that last point). But I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the environmental movement has traditionally been, well, filled with perhaps more than it's bell-curve share of nuts. This movie kinda brought that observation home to me, to the point where I was a little embarrassed, and glad I didn't foist this mess on any innocent victims like my wife. Who'd never, ever let me live it down.

Bruce Dern plays Lowell, an unhinged ecologist aboard a space cruiser which holds the last remaining forests of a dying and polluted Earth. I don't know much about Mr. Dern, but I seem to recall he specialized in these loony roles. Not ordinary men of various makes and models who go batty, but dudes that are already psycho and are just barely holding it together. I remember he played a psychotic ex-Vietnam vet (does Hollywood recognize any other type?) who plots an act of terrorism at the Super Bowl in that movie Black Sunday. Anyway, the ship is ordered to eject their forest domes, blow 'em up, and return to Earth for commercial reasons (Oh no, damn heartless capitalism!). Lowell forgets entirely about his borderline sanity and decides to murder his three co-workers and embark on a desperate mission to save the forest.

Needless to say, the movie ends on a fairly expected down note, but the forest is saved.

A couple of songs by Joan Baez over a montage of Bruce tending plants and feeding bunnies were quite excruciating.

However, I thought his interaction with the three drones to be touching. Alone in the dark expanse of space, guilt gnawing at his conscience, fear building as it appears the plants and trees are inexplicably dying, Lowell humanizes the little robots, christening them Huey, Duey, and Louie. There were two unexpected emotional scenes. Louie "dies" outside the ship and the surviving two drones bring out Lowell and show him the poor 'droid's remains: a torn leg stuck in a nook in the hull. And later, Lowell, on his motorized wagon, accidentally rams into Huey, and cripples the little mechanical guy. Because of its injuries, Huey has to share Lowell's fate at the end of the film, and the two actually seem to be comforting each other.

I give the film a C. I probably would've liked it better on the nostalgia bump if I had seen it as a kid. If you're into SF, see it and try not to let the hippy angst get in the way of appreciating the technical effects. Otherwise, skip it.

NOTE: Tried to add a couple of illustrative pics of the movie but for some blogging glitch (and not a problem between the chair and keyboard) was unable to do so. Will try later this afternoon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Girl With A Hundred Names

She came into the world hungry, kicking, and, yes, screaming, great lungfuls of protests at the shock of the cold hard world. Smart, quite attitudinal, very opinionated yet physiologically incapable of getting a point across, she kept us up and brought us to the end of tears. But in the end, she's now decided to become an extremely cute and lovable little critter. And she's accumulated a whole great big bundle of names. Not nearly as much as the somewhat hyperbolic title to this little post, but enough to confuse even the slightly disinterested bystander.

Yes, there were the modifications of her true, baptismal name, Charlotte. There was Charlemagne when she demanded immediate and complete attention; there was Charles, pronounced phoentically French, when she assumed a regal mien. When she could not be quieted or consoled, there was Shar-shar, spoken in a most rueful tone. And her older sister, wanting to get in on the name game, christened her Sharples.

Then came, inevitably, Chuck. A snapshot photo of her, confused as if she had just woke up from the most comfy nap, and looking slightly guilty as if caught red-handed in the cookie jar (as if those chubby little mitts could manipulate a tupperware lid at five months), and my wife and I glanced at each other, "Chuck" falling simulataneously from our lips. And from Chuck, a whole cottage industry cropped up: Chuckles when she was particularly grumpy; Chucklepatch when her screams simply did not register any more with us. I recall remarking, once, to my wife to get "Chuckage" for a feeding.

And still, the classics. Perhaps echoing from four years ago, an election cycle ago, when her older sister held her position as queen of the house. Monkey, Bunny, Little One, Sweetie, all those little terms of endearment we shower upon our littlest ones, the ones who give us so much grief and sleepless nights but who we treasure and love and adore with all our being.

But the list goes on ... but perhaps a wee bit too embarrassing to eternalize in data bytes.

Do you think there will still be an internet in ten or twelve years? Maybe not recognizable to us today, but I think there remains the odd frightening possibility I might have a very irate tween coming after me for the above well-intentioned nicknames ...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Philosophy for a Dummy

I remembered that I did actually write something while I was in the hospital, February 8th to be exact. Now I recall being quite lucid, though I can't swear to that fact. I wasn't on morphine then, but they did have some type of codeine-cocktail via my IV to suppress my coughing. Does codeine play with one's perception of reality? Don't know, but the following post could be viewed as an example of distorted reality. Or a bored guy rambling on and on and on. Or a self-important blowhard just talking out his you-know-what. On reflection, it's probably close to the central intersection of all three possibilities.

Note: All the capitalized nouns kinda embarrass me, but I can't think of any alternatives at the moment other than making up strange long German-sounding words.

For what it's worth:

That's a pretty tall order, no? Let's see if we can simplify this philosophical inquest somewhat, by breaking it down into its parts. For starters:

* A powerful and persuassive guiding rule of life

* An explanation of existence and time from the Now Moment to the Destiny of the Omniverse

* An establishment of the connectivity between the Self and the Community of Mankind, linking the Self with the Now Moment to the Community of Mankind with the Destiny of the Omniverse

* A reconciliation with the axioms of mathematics and physics, particularly higher dimensionality and higher geometries

* A definition of internal as well as external language and communication

There. Much better, right? After all, a problem well-defined is a problem well-near solved.

Or maybe not. But let's analyze these bullet points a little deeper.

A powerful and persuassive guiding rule of life

This is just a code of ethics, of morality. For further research: what is the distinction between ethics and morality? The words "poweful" and "persuassive" need to be precisely defined. The word "guiding" suggests something (or someone) who can not only define for us how to behave, to act, but what goal to aim for as well as provide the motivation to strive for that goal.

An explanation of existence and time from the Now Moment to the Destiny of the Omniverse

Ah, this is classic metaphysics meat. But first, some terms to be rigorously defined. What does it mean to "exist"? And what is "time"? The "Now Moment" is obviously the "Now," that fleeting tenth-of-a-second of our awareness of ourselves, our thoughts, our environment. The "Destiny of the Omniverse" is the ultimate fate of all matter, whether one believes as contemporary physics does of an open, closed, or flat universe (and their respective fates), or something else such as a cataclysmic end-to-it-All. "Omniverse" allows for the possibility that what we see, experience, and are aware of may not necessarily be all that there is.

An establishment of the connectivity between the Self and the Community of Mankind, linking the Self with the Now Moment to the Community of Mankind with the Destiny of the Omniverse

Those cryptic Capitalized Philosophical Terms! Again, they must be defined to death (or do they? Hmmmm.) "Self." Sounds very much Eastern Philosophical. "Community of Mankind." Sounds very much Western Hippie. But more interesting, to me, is the intuitive feeling that this Self may be a reflection or aspect of the "Now Moment" in a way similar to the relation between the Community of Mankind and the Omniverse Destiny.

A reconciliation with the axioms of mathematics and physics, particularly higher dimensionality and higher geometries

This is a tough one. Perhaps "reconciliation" is the wrong word. Can any philosophical system be expressed mathematically, no matter how esoteric? After all, metaphysics by its very defintion means beyond physics. Or, the "physics" of physics. But another little intuitive ember implies that somehow higher math and physics, such as the concepts of higher dimensionality and higher geometries, might be involved, as they might be involved in the so-named "Theory of Everything," the cliched grail in modern physics. Now, a philsophy can't be expressed as a mathematical relationship, obviously (note: why "obviously"? Does this have something to do with the fact that the Self or the Now or any other building block of this philosophy can not be "contained"?), but such concepts can be useful in a metaphorical sense.

A definition of internal as well as external language and communication

Language. Me have way with language. Seriously, is anything more necessary, more essential, to our existence? Would you rather be able to see and/or hear, or communicate clearly with another person? It's obvious the power of langauge in our lives: internal influences external and vice versa; of this, there is no doubt. But what I'm interested in is, how is language related to all the above points, spread out over them? In other words, how is language related to the Self, the Community of Mankind, Existence, Time, the Now Moment, the Destiny of the Omniverse, even higher geometries? As well as the relationships between all those philosophic terms. Is language prior to existence? And I mean here the concept of communication, not a specific language like English or Japanese or sign.

Now, all I need to do is get about $100,000, hole up for about a year or so away from humanity (somewhere along the French Riviera would be suitable), and untangle all this mess and see if it makes any sense.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lost In Time

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Last week, out on disability, I'm putting about, going from room to room, waiting for the water to boil so I can make my lunch. I turn on the tube, scan up and down the dial, then settle on EWTN. There's a mass on, and the priest is beginning his homily. Okay. Perhaps a good spiritual message is what I need to return to the proper frame of mind. I sit down and begin watching and listening.

And I'm mesmerized. About the priest. He's the leader of an order called Fathers of Mercy. He's atypical for a Catholic priest, or at least it seems so to me. He's ... hmm ... rugged? Is labeling him "manly" to demeaning to the remaining brave and worthy men of the cloth? It must be the priest's beard, I decide. You don't see too many beards on priests. At least, not in my experience. Perhaps I'm not making any sense (note: I never claim to). Perhaps I'm being less than charitable. But nevertheless, I'm riveted with what this guy is saying.

In fact, I watch the whole thing. His sermon goes on past the five minutes I assumed it would last. Then, it's the bottom of the hour, and I fix my pasta dish, bring it back into the living room, and continue watching. For another thirty minutes.

That night, as my wife is making dinner, I tell her about the priest. The best way I can describe him, I decide, is to compare him to that icon of nerd pop culture machismo, Commander William Riker, of Star Trek, The Next Generation. Picard's Number One. After this vivid description, which fails to convey any sense of belief to my wife, I conclude with, "He was a rake!"

Her eyes open wide in confusion. "A rake?" She must be thinking about gardening tools.

"Yeah. You know, a wag."

"A wag?"

"Yeah, a wag. Short for scallywag."

"Scallywag???" She takes a step back in mock distress, and asks, incredulously:

"What century are you from?"

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm Back ...

Well, I'm back.

Had quite an eventful five weeks or so. Not anything I'd like to relive, mind you, nothing pleasant, but both eye-opening and, yes, life-changing. What happened?

I'm not prepared to write about it. Yet. But I spent twenty days in three different hospitals for a very, very serious illness, one that was initially misdiagnosed (as lung cancer, of all things). I suffered through some mighty lows, but with the support of family, friends, and clergy, I was able to make it through and get home. Battered and bruised, still taking pain medication, living each day one day at a time, and monitoring my health to the best of my ability, because the doctors have absolutely no clue whether or not I'll have a relapse.

So much work to do, and so little energy to do it with. The pain meds make me tired, and the days home from the hospital (going on two weeks now) just whirl by. Tomorrow I'm scheduled to go in to my place of business to meet with my bosses. I have no idea how that's going to go, so I'm trying not even to think about it. I have doctors to call, lawyers to contact, taxes to get filed, paperwork to wade through (almost literally - the basement office flooded while I was hospitalized), writings to finish, emails to compose, and, yes, of course, plenty of books to read.

Over the course of the past five weeks I've had many thoughts and many ideas to blog on, and I'll get to them, as I have in the past, one post per day. There's a short-story-possibly-something-more-lucrative project that I've pretty much written in my head, so now I need to spend a dozen or so hours getting it all out on the laptop. A lot of topics to brainstorm, from practical ditties such as how to make more money in this day and age to other writing projects such as completing the outline to the next novel to long-range life stuff like what I want to do when I grow up. Fun stuff, if I can get my drugged-up behind off the couch.

I didn't do any reading in the hospital other than a concise catechism of the Catholic Church. That means that my previous work-in-progress, Shogun, has been put indefinitely on hold, for the simple fact that I jes' plum forgot everything that I read before my hospitalization. When I got out, I finished reading The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop. Perhaps a post on that in the days to come. And my aunt generously bought me a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces, a book long on my radar screens but never purchased nor read, and I'm about two-thirds done with that. A post definitely on that one as it is, without a doubt, the second funniest book I have ever read. My current set-up, reading two books at once, seems to work for me and keep me from too much hopping, and I'll continue it, having two more fresh books on deck.

Much heartfelt thanks go out to so many people, so many good people, who visited me and cheered me up over the past couple of weeks. It's unfortunate that a tragic event often has to happen before one realizes how much one is loved. But it doesn't have to happen that way. Sadly, it did for me. I probably experienced more "growth" in the past dreadful month-and-a-half than the previous fifteen years. For that, I am grateful. And I am grateful for those who, unnamed here but you know who you are, who cared for me in so many ways during this trial.

More, much more, later.