Saturday, July 31, 2010


Oh, those logical fallacies …

Friday, July 30, 2010

I Write Like ...

Just found a website called I Write Like. You paste in a sample of your writing, and the algorithm does its voodoo and determines which famous author your work most resembles. How accurate it is, I don’t know. But I gave it a whirl, and here are my results.

I cut-n-pasted the first six or seven paragraphs of my latest revised and re-edited short story. Bing! It came back:

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Not sure who Cory Doctorow is. A quick wikipedia search tells me he’s a science fiction writer specializing in cyberpunk. Okay, that’s good. Not a big fan of cyberpunk, but the sample I had them test had references to futuristic computer thingamabobs.

Next, I did a half-dozen paragraphs of the second-to-latest repackaged short story. Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere:

I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I assume it’s referencing Arthur C. Clarke. Personally, I have mixed feelings about him. I’ve written about them a bunch elsewhere on this blog. Quickly, I absolutely loved the Rama stuff, but not much else. However, anyone or anything comparing me to Mr. Clarke is something I have no qualms about.

Just to make certain, I submitted the first couple of paragraphs of the first chapter of my novel The Whale of Cortary. And sure enough:

I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Hmmm. That chapter was basically all action and no exposition. Finally, I tested chapter 4, which is all galaxy-far-far-away exposition. Hey – whaddya know?

I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Not sure how to seriously take all this. I suppose I could type in a few paragraphs from Arthur C. Clarke’s Reach for Tomorrow, on the bookshelf behind me, and see what results this website will spit out.

But that would ruin the illusion, if I may be so bold as to reference Arthur Clarke’s third law.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Mindwarpers

© 1965 by Eric Frank Russell

Oh, the early sixties! When men wore hats and ate at luncheonettes and took the train to the city to do great work against unnamed communist aggressors! I’m not being facetious or sarcastic. Russell’s short novel effectively and completely transports you a half-century back in time. When scientists duked it out if they needed to, and brought home the bacon to their wives and kids back in the ’burbs.

I swear, I visualized the entire novel, as I read it, in black-and-white.

Anyway, it’s a Cold War tale, more a noir-ish inverted whodunnit than a ray-gun-and-Martian space opera. In fact, the only real element of SF comes when the tell is revealed, in the last five pages, though I kinda guessed it a third of the way in. Still, it was entertaining, a fast read, with believable characters provided you’re acquainted with Turner Classic Movies.

Richard Bransome, mid-thirties, is a metallurgist working for the Department of Defense on various newfangled weaponry to defeat the reds. He’s happy with his home life, with wife Dorothy and his two children, he’s happy at his high-security work. Though there is the odd rash of fellow scientists deciding to cash in and disappear. Then, one day getting a coffee before the 8:05 rumbles into the station, Bransome overhears two mugs talking about the cops discovering some old bones under a tree. And his whole world turns upside down.

Now, Bransome is the one cashing in and disappearing – only he has to find a way to clear himself of a cold-blooded murder he committed twenty years ago.

Soon he’s dodging federal agents and shady foreign characters, jumping out of trains like Cary Grant and impersonating detectives like Jimmy Stewart. One by one pieces of the puzzle fall into place, only to lead to new questions and new dangers and our patriotic hero questioning his very sanity.

I kinda knew what was going on about fifty or sixty pages in, but it was one of those things where you know A was happening, but the reason A was happening could be anything from B to C to D or even E. That made it an enjoyable read, that plus the crazy nostalgia from a crazy period in our nation’s history.

Should you ever pick up and read the novel, I’m curious: who do you see as Richard Bransome, our intrepid scientist? Initially, thinking it would more of a hard SF novel, I envisioned Kenneth Tobey from The Thing or Hugh Marlowe from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. However, as the work took a darker tone than I expected, I was seeing Fred MacMurray from Double Indemnity and even those gray, behatted men in the Dallas Police Department basement the morning they transported Oswald out of his cell.

Anyway, I read it in my current fascination with The Mind Parasites, thinking it would be a different treatment of a similar theme. Not quite, but well worth a read if you like period SF. I’m not too familiar with Eric Frank Russell or his work, but I understand he did write some groundbreaking stories of alien civilizations and – wow! – conspiracy theory type fiction in the Golden Age of SF. That’s something to check out and put on my acquisitions list …

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Little Toe


Yesterday I was wearing flip-flops around the house and accidentally opened the front door over my left foot. The nail on my littlest toe was nearly torn off. It bled a bit and swelled up a bit, then numbed and gave me a major headache. For the past twenty-four hours I could do little other than hobble back and forth from chair to sofa to bed. I curse stairways, of which there are two in my house I traverse regularly. I can’t pick up the little ones, and I’m desperately afraid they’ll step on Little Toe unwittingly.

So, nothing witty and wise (or at least self-interesting and slightly dopey) today. Tomorrow I think I’ll write a bit about a little noir-ish SF paperback I just finished.

(to you guys) Later.

(to Little Toe) Please don’t get infected!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Harry Connick Jr Part II

So, after a delicious, unexpectedly-reasonably-priced meal at the densely patronized Becca, we braved the twenty-five degree increase in heat and hit the pavement. Unfortunately, we had to walk six or seven blocks to get to the Neil Simon theater. There was a breeze and the sidewalks weren’t too crowded, so it wasn’t that bad. That is, until we reached 52nd street, and realized that the humongous line of something like five hundred people were waiting to get in to see Harry Connick Jr in thirty minutes.

But my wife’s fear was ill-founded. (This was one of those rare, rare exceptions where I am the carefree one regarding promptness and timeliness. My wife is kinda the free-spirit in our relationship with that mechanical device called a clock that rules all our lives. I generally obsess over it and panic if it seems I’ll be even a few minutes late for an appointment. But this night, I was that Cream song I Feel Free personified …)

The line was moving. We were efficiently herded by big black men into the three double doorways to the theater and our paper tickets were scanned. Ten minutes later we were at our seats – Row S in the upper mezzanine. Three rows from the wall. We’d have a glorious view of the top of Harry’s head. In actuality, though, Harry and his band were not microscopic. I’ve been to some concerts at Giants Stadium in my heyday where I couldn’t even spot the dudes on stage. If I held out my left hand at arm’s length and stuck up my thumb, that’d be the relative size of Harry.

C decided on a last-minute bathroom run. I feel sorry for chicks in situations like this. There’s always a long and winding line up to the ladies room while us men just saunter in to our facilities, do our business, and saunter back out in two minutes. Plus, the stairs leading down to the exit were at a steep 45-degree angle and the wife … well, she had two glasses of wine in her. Last thing I’d want to see would be her tumbling down to and possibly over the balcony. However, if that did happen, I reasoned, she’d probably get to meet Harry before they drove her off to the emergency room.

But she got back with about 90 seconds to spare. The house lights went out, the curtain rose, the stage lit with fluorescent blue, and the concert began.

I like some jazz. I’m not as expert in the field, nor do I enjoy it as much, as classical music, or classic and grunge rock. But I do like to listen to it somes. John Coltrane in particular. I have a bunch of his CDs, as well as stuff by Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, Ron Carter, and Miles Davis, though I’m not that big a fan of his. So you can see, I like the saxophone and the piano in my jazz.

Harry Connick is firmly ensconced in the New Orleans scene, so there’s trumpets and trombones blasting accents a couple times every bar of music. Which is okay, if you like that sort of thing. Me, not so much; much like the reverberating din of tiled restaurants, trumpets and trombones tend to give me headaches. But Harry also had a whole string section, which was good and interesting, and two sax players, also good. Needless to say, his drummer was phenomenal.

So, I was not a big fan of the type of music. It was good, just not my thing. I have to say everyone on the stage was more than competent and was clearly having a great time, and it was infectious to the audience. He did two hour-long sets separated by a fifteen minute intermission. He opened with a long instrumental, then did some Sinatra and some show tunes, then a couple of his originals (so my wife told me). The second set was a little wilder, a lot looser, more jammy and humorous as Harry would goofily interact with his virtuosi. There was a lot of New Orleans sound mixed with South American rhythm-type stuff towards the end.

Harry does a lot of chit-chatting with the audience between songs, often for five or ten minutes a pop. A lot is interesting and hilarious. He brought his two daughters and their friend out on stage, they were funny. Sometimes he goes on a bit too long, but his fans in the audience were eating it up. He’s an entertainer, born and bred, no doubt about that. He knows how to put on a good show and deserves every penny he earns. I guestimated he earned three million pennies for this show alone.

Anyway, the show was over around 10:30. It took a while for the whole crowd to file out onto the street, and, being in Row S, we were pretty much the last ones out the door. That didn’t stop C from angling into the front row at the stage door where Harry came out a half-hour later. She had him sign her Playbill and got three pics of him with her iPhone.

We leisurely walked back to the parking garage, stopping off at a deli to get some water to hydrate our bad selves. However, two burly NYPD cops and a detective wouldn’t let us get there: “The street will be closed off for about ten minutes or so.” Neither one of us could figure out why, and they were mum. So we waited with a small group of people, and, ten minutes later we were paying for our car. Traffic was backed up at the Lincoln, so we drove up to the GWB and were home in thirty minutes.

My personal grade: in hindsight, now in the comfort of my air conditioned living room, I give the concert a solid B. If I was a fan, it’d probably be an A or an A plus. I wouldn’t see him again nor would I listen to any of my wife’s Harry CDs (though I’m forced to every Christmas-time), but I appreciate good musicianship when I see and hear it.

Plus, it was a good excuse to get away with my honey for a night out by ourselves.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Harry Connick Jr Part I

This past Saturday I got myself some massive get-outta-jail points from the wife. See, she’s a huge Harry Connick Jr fan, and me, being a normal red-blooded male, well, not so much. She’s seen Harry twice before, both times with girlfriends. These tickets were a gift from her parents, and, for some reason, none of her friends could go with her. So I volunteered.

All in all, it was an evening of good and bad.

First, as you may know, the New York area has been going through a hellish July temperature-wise. It’s ten degrees cooler down south in Hilton Head, where we spent the first week of the month. Anyway, Saturday was in the mid-90s all day, still so when we left for the city around 5 pm. Fortunately, the Impala has a phenomenally quick and highly efficient air conditioning system, but that doesn’t stop you from getting sopping wet with sweat walking from the front door to the car in the driveway.

Hit no traffic going in, which was good, as we were a tad late in leaving. We had reservations for Becca, a foodie mecca on west 46th. New York City was, as ever, jam-packed on a hot Saturday night. We drove around trying to find the best parking-till-midnight, and wound up at a garage near the theater for $35. Walked six blocks to Becca in the swelter, only to find I was entering my personal nightmare.

I enjoy eating out at fine restaurants. With reservations, no pun intended.

But there are things I don’t like. I don’t like being packed in like proverbial sardines, whether waiting or eating. Nothing’s worse than having a stranger dine immediately on your elbow. I don’t like restaurants with highly-reflective-acoustically walls, ceilings, and floors. I’ve been to eateries where the cacophony of a roomful of conversations leaves me with a headache. I don’t like menus written in a foreign language or sprinkled profusely with orgasmic foodie terms. I don’t like places that don’t print the specials. Some may lean forward in eager anticipation of the thickly-accented waiter reciting a twenty-piece special menu. I don’t. I like to slowly consider my choices, and understand said choices.

Whew. I’m really not that much of a pain going out to eat. In all fairness to Becca, the preceding paragraph does not entirely apply to it. Yes, we were packed in tightly, but thank God for good air conditioning and ventilation! And, yes, the menu had too much Italian verbiage for my taste. But though I had a nice woman twelve inches diagonally from me who wasn’t my wife, there were thick rugs on the floor and hanging on the walls that dampened the din.

Most importantly, though, the food was absolutely delicious! We had Caesar salads for starters, nothing special there, but our entrees! The wife had perfectly cooked scallops, shrimp and polenta. The sea scallops were some of the best I have ever tasted! We even formulated expressing love in terms of how many such scallops she was willing to give me. In this case, she loved me one scallop (out of six, but man, these were big, big scallops).

I had their three-dish pasta special (which was printed on the menu). A shrimp and bow-tie combo in garlic sauce, some mushroom stuffed ravioli, and some spaghetti in their “homemade” tomato sauce. I’d eat pasta three times a day if I could, seven days a week. Best of all the servers kept coming around asking if I wanted more. It was an all-you-can-eat special. “Yes, please!”

There was one strange choice of décor at the restaurant. After ordering, I had to relieve myself, so I went down a flight of stairs and hooked a right and another right. Since real estate in New York City is astronomical, Becca is built like the inside of a nuclear submarine. Seriously. The corridors connecting the three main dining areas are about thirty inches wide. I negotiated my way down to the bathrooms, right next to the kitchen where busboys squeezed and bobbed in and out. Then, the confusion.

One door had a red chicken, the other a white chicken. That’s it. No words or anything else indicating the gender of the bathroom beyond.

Hmmm. I guessed the red chicken was really a rooster, but on close examination I really couldn’t tell anything physiologically different between the two. So I rolled the dice and turned the handle of the red chicken door. It was locked.

Do I wait, or do I try the white chicken?

No matter – the door opens twenty seconds later, and an older woman forces her way out. In the narrow corridor I almost have relations with her. No, not really, but I almost take out a half-dozen servers backing up to let her through. I also catch a glimpse behind her in the dark bathroom of a urinal.

Now I’m really confused.

I ask a nearby busboy if the room I’m standing in front of like a dork is for men or women. He mumbles something in a Hispanic dialect. I no longer care about protocol, so I shout “What?” He no longer cares about customer service, so he mumbles whatever he just mumbled even more mumbly. “Screw it,” I think, and I go in to the red chicken room and take care of business.

Becca management, however, knows its stuff. One lady who my wife says is running the place that shift or that night, comes up to us and asks us how everything is. Fine, just great, wonderful, all those things my wife routinely replies in such situations. Ever and always my mouth is full when I’m asked “How’s everything” by a restaurant employee. The wife says we’ll skip dessert and need the check as we’re going off to a show soon. And wouldn’t you know it – not two minutes later the check arrives! Even better, we both had superb meals and two drinks apiece in a New York City restaurant – all for under a hundred bucks including tip!

Wow, my night is starting off exceptionally well! Now, off to see Harry Connick Jr. I’d rather clean out toilets at the Port Authority, but it’s a night out and the wife is happy.

Tomorrow: my review of Mr. Connick on Broadway!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


“What do you call a half-man half-triceratops?”

Playing Jeopardy! with my five-year-old daughter at the deli earlier today.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mental Parasites!


When you teach a man that he has been completely mistaken about his own nature all his life, it is as unsettling as suddenly giving him a million pounds. Or it is like taking a sexually frustrated man, and giving him the run of a harem. He suddenly discovers that he can turn on moods of poetry like a tap, that he can heat up his emotions to a kind of incandescence. He realizes, with a shock, that he has been handed the key to greatness: that all the world’s so-called ‘great men’ were men who had a mere glimmering of these powers which he now possesses in abundance. But he has spent all his life taking a relatively modest view of himself. His old personality has achieved a certain density through thirty or forty years of habit. It refuses to wither away overnight. But the new personality is also exceptionally powerful. He becomes a battle ground of two personalities. And he wastes an enormous amount of energy in all this confusion.

Colin Wilson’s book The Mind Parasites has a strange and powerful fascination over me. I’m in the process of re-reading the book, and right now I’m about three-quarters done with the second read.

It’s a strange book; I don’t think I’ve ever quite read anything like it. Wilson is a philosopher by trade, steeped in existentialism, and I’ve read some of his non-fiction works. But he’s dabbled in everything from that to this to true crime to fringe paranormal. His works are always on my list of books to seek out.

To give you the best idea of what The Mind Parasites is like, assuming you’re familiar with the following authors, it’s something like equal parts

H. P. Lovecraft
George Gurdjieff
Ayn Rand

and the philosophical methods and methodology of Edmund Husserl, of which I’m woefully ignorant but of whom seems extremely interesting. Why oh why didn’t I major in philosophy at college? Oh yeah, because I thought I would never be able to get a job. Wait a minute …

Anyway, a review of The Mind Parasites will be forthcoming, probably in a week or ten days, and will be of greater depth than I generally do for the books I read, simply because I find this one so intensely fascinating.

Friday, July 23, 2010



Why is there not one, but two, rubber chickens in my house?

I mean, I live in a house with three females.

And neither of the chickens is mine!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Make Work

For years I would always joke with my wife, “I want to live in a state that’s built.”

But now it’s getting ridiculous.

Every single town in my county has at least a half-dozen road construction projects underway. It’s at the point where it took me a half-hour to drive across town to get the Little One to tennis lessons. Every major street is either being repaved, widened, or having wheelchair-accessible sidewalks installed. It’s insane.

The most absurd project occurred right outside my front door. Six weeks ago the D. P. W. put a gigantic reflective MEN AT WORK sign right on the strip of grass between my sidewalk and the street. The dang thing weighs like eighty pounds, and I have to physically lift it, place it in the road, and put it back every time I mow my lawn. Yet there was no sign of men working. Finally, after a month, I called the town, and after much research on their part, they told me that the project would begin right after the Fourth of July holiday.

It didn’t. They waited an extra ten days. Then, at midnight a few days ago, they lit up my street like a Pink Floyd concert and set to work jackhammering the sidewalks apart. Patch started crying, and so did I, desperately seeking sleep. In fairness to them, the construction only took a night-and-a-half, though the MEN AT WORK sign’s still there.

Here’s the absurdity. I live four houses down from a major, three-lane highway. No one walks on it, no one bikes on it. It’s for cars only. There might even be a law against walking on the highway. So, my town (or county, or state) is installing wheelchair accessible sidewalks along the highway. Wheelchair accessible??? What? I have no problem about reasonably accommodating the handicapped, but tying up traffic and destroying my sleep to install wheelchair accessible sidewalks – on a highway?

I know what it is. At least, I think I do. If I’m wrong, let me know. But I think it’s the Stimulus. Towns, counties, and states have this bonanza jackpot o’ gold (to be paid by us next year in the form of all-around higher taxes) to “create jobs.” Well, the only jobs they’re creating are temporary construction jobs for their make-work projects. When the money dries up, so will the jobs.

I’m an out-of-work accountant. How does all this help me? “Well,” you might say, “the construction companies will need to hire more accountants to help process payroll and do the bookkeeping for all this make-work.” No. First of all, how much of this make-work is handled by private companies? My guess is none. And second, these companies (and the government departments who repair roads) will hire worker bees. Kinda like what I was told in September of 2008 by the owner of my company: “We’re not hiring a single new person in the office; in fact, I’m looking to cut people.” Yet the new-hires in the sales department continued unabated.

The other ridiculous aspect of all this is that to my untrained eye none of these roads needs to be repaved or widened. Certainly not the street I had to detour off of this morning driving Little One to her practice session. It’s insanity.

Please remember to vote all these ******es out of office this November.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Crazies

... spoilers of a minor nature ...

Watched The Crazies last week, the modern re-imaging of the George Romero movie from almost forty years ago. I never saw the original, but it is somewhat notable in horror movie circles and I’ve heard bits and pieces of fluff and buzz about it over the years. I’d like to see it, but I’m in no hurry to seek it out.

With that in mind, the remake struck me as competant enough. It held my attention and interest during it’s perfect running time of 85 minutes. The story, in a run-on sentence: We follow a married couple attempting to flee their small Americana town and a hostile military after the townsfolk turn into homicidal maniacs due to an accidentally spreading government-created disease. Whew, that’s a mouthful.

That being said, all the standard horror cliches are present. In other words, it’s all Freddy and Jason and Stephen King movies, and none of Paranormal Activity or even The Fourth Kind. Which means, essentially, all the scares hinge on soundtrack volume bursts and fake make-up and gore, and none of the nuanced background willies your subconscious picks up moments before your surface awareness does. There is one notable exception, towards the end of the movie, but that immediately devolves into the ho-hum unstoppable psycho-super-killer-chasing-screaming-victim motif. Of which there are far too many in the movie.

But I don’t want to come across as beating up on the flick too much. For what it is, it’s good. That is, if you like those psycho-killer-chases, this is the movie for you. There are other good things, too. I liked all the leads; I liked the basic set-up and background story; I liked the apocalyptic aspect from the second half on. And the last ten minutes were superb. We’re treated to some spectacularly surreal special effects as a nuclear blast takes out, well, most of Iowa, I think.

One curiosity, which I may explore in a future post. The disease that overtakes Smallville, USA, is basically zombi-itis, of a fast-moving variety. I know the source material is George Romero, who made his bones on the undead, but it seems like every year there are a half-dozen zombie movies out. And add to that, a half-dozen vampire movies. Zombies and vampires, zombies and vampires, more zombies and more vampires. What is our culture’s fascination with the undead? I have some non-politically correct thoughts on this, which I’ll save for another day.

Anyway, if you’re into this kinda thing, rent it. Right after I saw it I would have graded it a B, but a week later, I’d give it a C+. Not much shelf-life. So, let’s average it to a B – .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unreasonable Expectations

So it’s 93 degrees out and I’m at the park with the girls. They’re sweaty, going wild on the jungle gym, and can’t seem to operate a water bottle. I brought a book to read, an introduction of sorts to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. What a wonderful opportunity, I’m thinkin’, to get through a chapter before the oppressive heat drives us home.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

Never. Gonna. Happen.

Just. Stop. Trying.

I just have to accept the fact that

Philosophical reading =/= providing toddler childcare.

But I can keep trying, right?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Little Frankenstein

Can I boast a moment? I can’t believe it – no, wait, I can. The Little One has just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Well, an adaptation of her 1818 novel. But the adaptation is aimed at 3rd and 4th graders. Little One is reading three grade levels over where ‘they’ say she should be.

Thematically, as well as graphically, I suppose, Frankenstein may be a tad too much for her. But she’s shown no signs of distress – and the wife and I, who have been taking turns reading with her, have been monitoring her closely. There have been no nightmares, no moodiness, no probing questions about such weighty topics as death and murder and whatnot. As far as we know, she’s probably forgotten most of the details, though she still remembers the basic gist of the story.

When we started the book a few days ago I wondered whether we were making a mistake introducing such drama into her life. Then I realized that the novel is no different than anything she might see on television after 8 pm. No, let me correct myself on two points. First, most of the violence on teevee is meaningless and fetishized. At least Shelley is trying to probe the depths of man’s heart and the relationship between Creator and Creature. And second, it doesn’t have to be teevee after 8 pm. I firmly believe Twilight commercials on Nick Jr during the day gave my daughter her rash of werewolf nightmares last month.

So, what’s next? Dracula? War and Peace? Quo Vadis? Probably not. Though Little One picked out this particular Frankenstein adaptation at the library sale on Hilton Head, we’ll most likely move on to a few books in the Cam Jansen series she has at home. Cam is the modern-day, girl-equivalent to the Encyclopedia Brown stories I read as a kid in the seventies.

But I’m toying with the idea of reading The Hobbit with her ...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Parables of Christ

In a similar vein as yesterday’s post, here are the principal parables of Jesus. There are thirty-four by this count (source: St Joseph’s edition of the New American Bible, page 349). Shouldn’t be too difficult to memorize.

1. The Wayward Children (Matthew 11:16-19, Luke 7:31-35)

2. The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-42)

3. Fig Tree / A Sign of Summer (Matthew 24:32-25, Mark 13:28-31, Luke 21:29-31)

4. The Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)

5. The Corrupt Judge (Luke 18:1-8)

6. A Divided Kingdom (Matthew 12:25-27, Mark 3:23-26, Luke 11:17-26)

7. Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

8. The Merciless Official (Luke 18:21-35)

9. The Mustard Seed and the Leaven (Matthew 13:31-33)

10. The Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50)

11. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)

12. The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

13. The Foolish Rich Man (Luke 12:16-21)

14. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

15. The Lowest Seat (Luke 14:7-14)

16. The Seed (Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:3-20, Luke 8:4-15)

17. The Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)

18. The Faithful and the Worthless Servant (Matthew 24:45-51, Luke 12:42-48)

19. The Useless Servants (Luke 17:7-10)

20. The Straying Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:3-7)

21. The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21)

22. The Silver Pieces (Matthew 25:14-30)

23. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

24. The Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

25. The Parable of the Sums of Money (Luke 19:11-27)

26. The Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19)

27. The Treasure and the Pearl (Matthew 13:44-46)

28. The Exhortation to Vigilance (Matthew 24:43f, Luke 12:39f)

29. The Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-17)

30. The Need for Watchfulness (Mark 13:34-37, Luke 12:36-38)

31. The Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:16-24)

32. The Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)

33. The Wily Manager (Luke 16:1-13)

34. The Yeast (Matthew 13:33)


The Gospel of Luke contains the most parables, with 23. Following are Matthew with 17, Mark with 6, and John with 2.

Luke is truly the parable king, here, with 13 parables that are unique to his Gospel alone.

Of the thirty-four parables, only four are found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

Surprised that John has only two; yet those two are really the cornerstones of Christianity: the Good Shepherd and the Vine and Branches.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Miracles of Christ

For the longest time I’ve wanted to memorize various facts and facets about the life of Christ. So, allow me a little bit of selfishness with this post. I’m typing all this out and posting it in the hope to better remember the miracles Christ performed during His public life. By the way, by this count, found in the St Joseph’s edition of the New American Bible (page 349), there were 36 of them.

1. Water Made Wine (John 2:1-11)

2. The Royal Official’s Son (John 4:46-54)

3. The Catch of Fishes (Luke 5:1-11)

4. The Cure of a Demoniac (Mark 1:23-28, Luke 4:33-37)

5. Peter’s Mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39)

6. The Leper (Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-19)

7. The Paralytic at Capernaum (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:18-26)

8. The Cure at Bethesda (John 5:1-15)

9. The Man with a Shriveled Hand (Matthew 12:9-13, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11)

10. The Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10)

11. The Widow’s Son (Luke 7:11-17)

12. The Blind and Dumb Demoniac (Matthew 12:22)

13. Calming of the Storm (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)

14. Expulsion of the Demons in Gadara (Matthew 8:29-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39)

15. Jairus’ Daughter (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56)

16. The Woman in the Crowd (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:43-48)

17. Two Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-31)

18. The Possessed Mute (Matthew 9:32-34)

19. Five Thousand Fed (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:34-44, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:1-15)

20. Jesus Walks on the Water (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21)

21. The Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)

22. Healing of a Deaf Mute (Mark 7:31-37)

23. Four Thousand Fed (Matthew 15:32-38, Mark 8:1-9)

24. The Blind Man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22)

25. A Possessed Boy (Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:13-28, Luke 9:37-43)

26. The Temple Tax Provided (Matthew 17:23-36)

27. The Man Born Blind (John 9:1-38)

28. The Crippled, Blind and Mute (Matthew 15:29)

29. A Woman Cured (Luke 13:10-17)

30. The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44)

31. The Man with the Dropsy (Luke 14:1-6)

32. Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)

33. The Blind Men at Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43)

34. The Fig Tree Cursed (Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14)

35. The Servant’s Ear Healed (Luke 22:49-51)

36. The Catch of Fishes (John 21:1-14)

Did you ever realize there was so many?


The only miracle found in all four Gospels is the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Matthew records the most miracles, 21, followed by Luke with 19, Mark with 18, and John with 8.

All Gospels record Jesus bringing a dead person back to life (Luke records two):

- Jairus’ daughter (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
- The widow’s son (Luke)
- Lazarus (John)

Ten of the thirty-six miracles are common to each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)

Friday, July 16, 2010


Hey, I liked it. Went into the theaters with my fingers crossed, and, whaddya know? It was a good flick. And by “good flick,” I’m not referencing The Brothers Karamazov or anything. It’s good in a sense that would make Jean-Paul Sartre wink and nod and light up another cig. What I mean is, it’s good because it stays true to itself. It’s not nauseating. Well, at least in the sense that Jean-Paul would hurl that word around.

I remember my old jerky old self as a twenty-something, at the movies with a buddy. In this case, with Ricardo, my lead guitarist in the pre-carnation of my band, Subtle Hint. The movie in question was Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I vividly recall the lava-lamp bubbles on the movie screen as we munched popcorn awaiting for the carnage to commence. And let me tell you, that movie absolutely floored me. Instant classic.

Every Predator movie since, though, is basically a waste of time.

Back in the late winter I first read of Predators, plural. It was not to be a reboot or a remake, but a sequel to the Schwarzeneggerian original. That indeed piqued my interest, news of Adrien Brody being cast in the Arnold lead notwithstanding. The plot was simple and sweet, just what was required by the philosophy of a movie like this. As a matter of fact, as I write this, I’m thinking of the bad screenwriter’s maxim: never use 5 words when 500 will do. In other words, don’t shove so much into your story that you lose the essence of your story.

So, what’s the essence of Predators?

[warning: minor spoilers to follow ...]

A bunch of seriously mean dudes – and one chick – wake up in the jungle. Just about every ethnicity is represented. There’s an American mercenary, a Russian Spetsnaz soldier, a Somali Muslim, a redneck, a Mexican cartel enforcer, a Japanese Yakuza assassin, an upper-class white doctor. The woman confused me. I think she was supposed to be an Israeli special forces superchick, but for half the movie I thought she spoke with a Spanish accent. Oh well. The point is, despite the obligatory celebration of diversity, these are all bad, bad, bad folks you don’t mess with.

In other words, perfect game for the Predators. Which is what they slowly come to realize, probably a half-hour or so into the flick.

Then we spend an hour triaging our human warriors. Despite warnings from various conservative movie critics with moustaches and talk radio shows, the film was not as gory as I expected. Yes, someone gets his spine ripped out. Yes, there are impalements on spears. Yes, someone gets laserblasted into a cloud of red jelly. But it was all so quick that it was acceptable to my standards of taste. The camera did not linger fetishly over entrails nor did it delight in dwelling overmuch on human suffering.

Laurence Fishburne has a superb cameo midway through the movie. For those of us who forever associate him with the wise and überpowerful Morpheus, this role comes as a shock – a worthy one, because it’s unexpected and when I go and pays my money to see a movie, I want to be genuinely surprised. That dude earns every cent he’s paid.

And yes, Adrian Brody won me over. He spends the movie uttering Arnold-ish one-liners in a throaty growl and comes across as hammishly believable as a jaded mercenary. Though I can still envision him with a team of trainers and chefs getting him prepped for the role, he’s properly bulked up and learned his martial artistry effectively. The chick made me roll my eyes at first (remember, Arnold had no chick in his team twenty years ago), but she won me over, too, for actually displaying a legitimately feminine side.

I could keep going on about all the characters. But I’ll suffice with a generalization. What I liked best, aesthetically speaking, is that though they all start out as cardboard characters, and though there ain’t no spiritual metamorphoses or personal growth, obviously, I kinda felt relatively early into the movie that these could be real men, real warriors. Give credit for the director and the individual actors, I guess.

Other stuff I liked: the vagueness of ‘seeing a bright light’ and whammo! our victims are freefalling into the jungle planet hunting ground. Oh, and that setting – that hunting preserve – was creepy, claustrophobic, alien without being too alien. When they first learn they are on another world, that was a great scene. And the introduction of the Predators’ hunting dogs. I liked it all.

Two minor bones of contention. First, the Predators. Apparently, there are two types. One character compares them to dogs and wolves. I don’t know how necessary that was. I didn’t really see much difference and I don’t know if it was even necessary for the storyline.

Second, I was disappointed that Arnold did not make a cameo. I read somewhere a while back that his character, “Dutch”, was going to have a brief scene near the end of the flick, possibly rescuing or meeting with the human survivor(s). That sounded so very, very cool. However, it was not to be. I couldn’t believe the end credits were rolling without an Arnold sighting. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the scene was shot and cut. Maybe they couldn’t get the beleaguered California governor time-wise or money-wise. Too bad, it would have upped the movie’s grade a notch.

Speaking of a grade, LE gives Predators a solid A-minus. Can’t wait to see it again when it comes out on DVD. Honestly, I think my testosterone levels doubled by the end of the movie. I felt like going out and joining the USMC, if they’d have my sorry broken-down body with its broken-down heart. Or at least take a class in martial arts. Or go up to my uncle’s weekend retreat and shoot some rifles and shotguns.

One never knows if one will wake up one morning on an Predator hunting world.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


This book couldnae been mair enjoyable to a troubled man o’ sorrows as meself. Why, I couldnae put it down! Took me but a few hours – spread out o’er three days – to relive the adventures Davey Balfour had amongst them that wanted him dead and them that wanted t’ help him. ’Twas the best of reads, boys: quick and bright, a read to take ye out of ye troubles and ye troubled mind.

Perhaps ye never heard of the tale of Mr. Balfour. Perhaps this story never crossed yer bow as a bonny youngling. Now, I cannae do it justice; I’m a fair cry from the calibre of a Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson. But I’ll give it the old honorary Scottish try.

Poor young David Balfour! Motherless and fatherless at the tender age of fifteen, the wee laddie leaves his guardian’s home to venture to the estate of his estranged uncle, with nae possessions upon his personage save a letter from his dear deceased dad. Turns out Uncle Ebenezer doesnae have our young hero’s best interests at heart. Uncle Ebenezer has an eye to keep the family fortunes in his own crooked and aged hands. Under pretense of visiting a lawyer in town to draw up papers with his uncle, Davey receives a painful blow to the noggin and wakes up in the belly of a ship, bound for enslavement in the New World.

For mair than a hunnerd and fifty fast-paced pages we trail young David as he survives mutiny and shipwreck. He befriends a wily brigand but nae wiles can prevent pursuit throughout the countryside, falsely accused it must be said, of murder. We suffer with our protagonist as he shivers sleepless under the cold moon and drizzle, and sizzles in the highland heat o’ the day. There’s swordplay, gunplay, cardplay and pipeplay as Davey struggles to return back to his homeland and his proper destiny, a perilous journey that takes nae less than three months nigh of Ebenezer’s treachery.

And, my friends, the best parts of Kidnapped are found to be the closing chapters, in which Mr. Balfour resecures his proper inheritance and brings wicked Uncle Ebenezer to justice – but, by using his wits and nae his fists. A very satisfying ending it was, lads! Indeed, ’twas the push the book needed to jump a grade from a high B to a solid A. Kidnapped, friends, is a great vacation read that hearkens me back to the time when I was a boy meself, and pirates and adventure called out to me at every corner and every turn of me neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tattoo You

Am I the only one in the United States who does not have a tattoo?

I swear, everywhere I look I see one. Everywhere.

It seems that having a tat is mandatory to be on certain teevee stations. Bravo, Spike, BET, and certainly those bastions of high culture, MTV and VH1.

What’s going on here? How soon before my kids’ favorite actors and actresses on Nick Jr are sporting ink? When do I get to DVR the iGoToATattooParlor episode on iCarly for the Little One?

I mean, I think my librarian even has a tattoo. I’m sure all the priests at my local parish do. Heck, I think I even spotted that barbed wire tat on my cardiologist’s bicep once.

Why am I against tattoos? I don’t know. I remember being a dopey kid sometime in the late 80s and chatting with my friends about getting one. One dude hung out with us had ’em all up and down his arms. He was the guy that bought us the beer, and after we consumed about a six pack each talk of tattoo acquisition would commence. But I never got one. Probably due to equal measures sobriety, chickening out and common sense. I could never imagine myself with a four-inch rose or a skull on my arm, though I did express interest in a flowery EXISTENTIALISM SUCKS design.

I wonder if I’ll get any hate mail for this. If you have a tattoo, great. If you want a tattoo, great. I just don’t want my girls to get any. And I don’t want ’em dating any guys with tats. To me, the permanent self-mutilation represents … how to say this delicately … a conscious decision to honor the short-term over the long-term, the adolescent rebel phase over the mature achievement mindset, the tribal and primitive over the cultured and sophisticated. It undeniably limits one’s future opportunities. And for you rebels, it’s a perfect example of herd mentality.

There, that was delicate, right?

If you think I’m wrong, explain to me why.

Or maybe I’m just watching too much reality teevee.

[Editor’s Note: Members of the military, past and present, are exempt from the gripings and criticisms of this post. We love the military here at the Hopper. For the sacrifices they made and continue to make to keep all of us safe, they can do whatever they damn well please with their skin.]

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Yarn Store

Way down south where my in-laws live, there’s a little store stacked among a dozen others like a slew of old paperbacks on a shelf. And speaking of old paperbacks, that’s what this store specializes in. That, and selling yarn by the furlong.

Seriously. The store has two floors; the second looks down upon the ground floor like a courtyard. Upstairs there are about a dozen or so shelves of books which spill down the stairway and one wall of the first floor. The rest of the space is occupied with all things yarnish and knitty. I didn’t inventory this section of the store, but I seem to recall peripherally glimpsing balls or cylinders of yarn of every color, books and bags of patterns, needles for knitting, and frames to display finished products. And chairs for the local knitting club to socialize.

I’ve been to the store at least four times. Every annual trip down to the wife’s folks I find an excuse to visit. The paperback prices are literally dirt cheap. Whatever that phrase means, the prices of the used books in this store embodies it. It has to cost more to heat and light the 18 cubic inches yer average paperback takes up than the price they want you to pay for it. It’s amazing. I had no idea that yarn was such a cash cow.

So the first day we’re down there, I disappear with the car while C, Nana, and the Little One are at the pool and motor down to my yarn emporium. I park and saunter up to the door, excitement tingling throughout my body. Yeah, I’m a book nerd, big time. I open the door, and then –

Six matronly ladies stop mid-sentence and glare at me.

“Hello,” I stammer. “I’m going to look for a book.”

It appears I interrupted their jawboning session, and I can feel the stares into my back as I walk to the rear of the store and walk up the flight of stairs to the cool books sections. Once I’m up there, and only once I’m up there, does their conversation resume, this time in soft distrustful tones. Seems Clara’s talking about how it took her all spring to knit a Chinese relaxation symbol. Well, it wasn’t that relaxing while she was knitting it. In a few minutes they’re chatting and chuckling away, but I still have that odd sensation I’m being watched. I try to scan the shelves as nonchalantly as possible.

I picked up three books for – get this – $2.10. Seventy cents a book – how can you beat that? Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, which I’m going to review for tomorrow, was a great, fast, poolside read. Always wanted to read RLS prose, having read some of his poetry and enjoyed it. A guilty read in that it’s aimed at a more youthful reader than myself and it in no way will improve me as a person or as a writer. But sometimes those guilty pleasures are the best reads, especially on vacation. And after reading She and Kim last summer, I’ve discovered I like reading these classics. They’re called classics for a reason, I’ve found out.

Also picked up two SFs that have been on my master acquisition list for a few years: This Immortal, the Hugo Award-winning novel by Roger Zelazny, and Altered States, the novelization of the infamous 1979 movie, by Paddy Chayefsky. Both will go on the stack of To-Dos on the shelf behind me as I type this.

The girls got me a gift card from Barnes and Noble for Father’s Day. Now, coincidence of coincidences, there’s a B&N just across the street from our hotel on HHI! So, Sunday we drove over and I picked up the Gribbin book on superstring theory. Gribbin is a guy I love to hate, or hate to love. His writing, to me, simultaneously frustrates and satisfies. It’s hard to explain. Way back when I decided to go to Seton Hall to study physics, his In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat was very influential to me in a similar way. But I’m currently highly interested in SUSY, and as of this writing I’m halfway through the book. Perhaps a post later down the line.

Finally, Nana’s library was having a book sale, so I just had to stop by. This time on the last day of our stay. Here, too, the books were all a-cheap, so I brung the Little One with me, and we picked up a total of seven books for $4.50. Among my finds was Before the Golden Age, an anthology of a half-dozen pre-1940 classic SF novellas edited by Isaac Asimov.

I also picked up A History of Philosophy vol 2: Medieval Philosophy, by the mighty Frederick Coppleston, SJ. It mostly focuses on Tommy Aquinas (boy, I’m channeling Dennis Miller this post), but it also highlights his immediate predecessors and successors.

The last purchase was a hardcover entitled Chess: The Way to Win. Periodically I get interested in chess; I have a buddy who plays, and we usually play eight or ten matches a year, with me winning only a third of the time. I bought this to rekindle that interest, and because I liked the title. It’s better than Chess: The Way to Kill Time and Chess: The Way to Maddenly Almost Not-Lose.

Yeah, my vacation was great. Thanks, yarn store! (and thanks, girls, and HHI Public Library!)

Monday, July 12, 2010


Lot on my plate today – lung scan, Little One’s first day at town tennis camp, grocery shopping, hunting for lost car keys – just a few of the highlights. Plus my schedule’s all outta whack. A three-hour nap yesterday and a Coke Plus / milk duds combo at the movie theaters last night means I didn’t get to bed until 3:30 in the morning. It’s gonna be a long, rough day.

That being said … there’ll be a lot of neat stuff here at the Hopper over the next few days. A post on my book scores down in Hilton Head. Two book reviews: Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Wilson’s The Mind Parasites. Two movie reviews: The Crazies and Predators. A cheerful meditation on Death (of the Be Not Proud sort). A hopefully funny and definitely sarcastic dialogue featuring modern-day pharmaceutical execs.

Stuff like that.

Today, however, I just want to note a poem that hit me with some extraordinary weight. Something like ten or twelve gees, where I’m used to only one-point-five or two, max. This is wisdom of a sort I’d like to memorize, and strive to understand, though I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who patiently wades through it and has at least a little spiritual questing inside him. To me its reminiscent of the “dark night of the soul” of St. John of the Cross, though the poetry is much better. I challenge you to a slow read. It’s by John Donne (1572-1631).

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vacation 2010

Back home! Yay, sort of.

Our adventure down to south South Carolina was eight days long. That includes 29-and-a-half hours of driving … which wasn’t that bad. The driving sandwiched six days at Hilton Head, where we had a great time. The Little One especially.

We left a bit late Friday, July 2, around 8:15 or so in the morning. Originally we made decent time with C behind the wheel until hitting massive traffic around DC. Traffic like thirty miles in two hours. Then it cleared and we made better time. Stopped twice for the healthiest fast food we could find (Subway and Wendy’s). Pulled in to our hotel by 11:30 and, of course, they didn’t have the promised fold-up crib we needed for Patch. Little One slept in her sleeping bag on the floor, and Patch slept between me and C.

(My in-laws only have one spare bedroom, which we decided would be for the Little One for nightly sleepovers. They generously pay for a hotel about a mile down the road for the rest of us during our annual visit.)

The vacation really was for the grandparents to enjoy the grandchildren. Particularly the Little One. On the agenda for her was four days of morning tennis lessons, a visit (turned out to be two) to Harbortown to see Gregg Russell perform and watch the fireworks, tooling around the island with grandpa in his convertible, and making pizza for the family. Oh, and daily visits to the pool, in which Little One spent a grand total of just under fifteen hours.

And we were very proud of her, too. She really stepped out of her comfort zone, trying new things, often by herself, and performing admirably without complaint. The tennis lessons went very well; she even won the contest on the last day (first prize was two lollipops instead of one and skipping ball retrieval duties). She made two friends on the tennis courts and two at the pool. She volunteered to sit up on stage with Gregg Russell and raised her hand to sing a song in front of a crowd of at least 300. She wasn’t picked, but if she was she said she’d sing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

Sunday was Grandpa’s birthday, so they had two couples over in addition to LE’s wrecking crew. Monday we went in to Harbortown via bus shuttles to see the fireworks. Never again, though, as we had to wait nearly 90 minutes in 90 degree heat, packed in a long line with a couple hundred other “tourists,” to get back to our car. Tuesday my in-laws treated us all to a sunset dinner at a restaurant right on the bay. Wednesday was the Gregg Russell concert, and Thursday was the homemade pizza extravaganza. Friday we left early, around 7:15, and made it home by 9:30 that night.

I had a productive time, too. Not much writing, per se, but a lot of thinking and planning. Also managed to read two books, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson. Installed my mother-in-law’s wireless printer-scanner in exchange for a haircut. And I lost just shy of 5 pounds after all was said and done!

When we got back we discovered our little spot of northern New Jersey is under a water emergency. No watering lawns, etc, due to drought conditions. My lawn is yellow; it resembles a field of hay. The weather was overcast and humid, as was the house, and everyone is all the more snippy for it, especially combined with the post-vacation fatigue.

Yesterday me and Little One ran some short errands. One tragedy that occurred was that Goldie the Fourth, her goldfish, did not survive the trip back up. So we went to the fish store (I keep their business card in my wallet; they say “Hi, LE!” when I walk though the doors). This time, instead of a goldfish, we stepped out and bought a purplish betta. Little One named him “Indigo.” We’ll see how long he lasts; I’m just hoping it’ll get us to Little One’s birthday this September.

Want some pics from Vacation 2010? Okay!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Time Dweller

© 1979 by Michael Moorcock

I remember reading some of Michael Moorcock as a kid and coming away with the sense that this was something dangerous, something above my ability to fully comprehend, something that I should not be reading. Though I can’t quite put my finger on the exact memory, it had something to do with making due and surviving in a futuristic wasteland.

I know; there’s only been about a quarter million stories written within that setting.

That story is lost to the shadowed and fragmentary depths of my subconscious. All right, I can live with that.

As an adult I’m well aware of Moorcock’s fame and high regard in the SF community. A few years back I decided I would make attempts to experience this for myself, much more older and much more wiser than that previous visit to one of his worlds. I bought the first thing I came across, one of his Elric books, and came away quite disappointed and disillusioned.

A few years slip by …

Back in January I did my semi-annual trip down to a certain used book store in central New Jersey and found The Time Dweller, by Michael Moorcock. A quick perusal and I decided to pick it up. I then read it around the time I was hospitalized two or three weeks ago.

What do I think? Hmm. Let’s see.

First, a trend I’ve noticed.

A lot of the old school SF writers put out books like The Time Dweller. Probably they’re pressured by their publishers to do so. Maybe the author has a bad case of the block or wants to take a year off; maybe the publisher is itching to cash in on a hot writer. Who knows. But what happens is someone bundles up a bunch of the author’s previously published short stories, all grouped around a theme, a pass it off as a self-contained novel.

This was most famously and successfully done with Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. But I’ve also read a few others that just don’t work. They don’t click as stand alone novels. It would be better if the publisher didn’t even try; as a reader I feel somewhat cheated. But maybe I’m just being overly picky. It’s late afternoon, I’m watching two toddlers, it’s eighty-five degrees out and I still have to mow the lawn.

The first two stories in this attempt at a fractured novel of sorts, “The Time Dweller” and “Escape from Evening,” are kinda related. They both take place in the same, er, place, Earth in the distant future. The moon and sun shine with dimmed power through brown clouds. Slugs (“oozers”) are replacing man as the dominant species. Each involves a city founded as an experiment and populated by those who don’t believe man is limited temporarily. A good idea, but not much developed in the stories. Not bad reads, but they left too many promises unfulfilled for me, I think.

Then the stories cease to have any connection. The final six are highly erratic in quality – some are really good and some head-scratchingly so-so. There are tales about a pyrokinetic madman, a werewolf, a man driven mad by ancient ruins. Two men track a woman – all sole survivors of nuclear holocaust – up a soaring mountaintop. There’s a murder mystery involving Hitler, Bismarck, Einstein, Stalin – and a killer Venus flytrap plant.

But the best read was a 54-page novella nesting in the middle of the collection: “The Deep Fix.” What a great read! How I wish it was a full novel. All the elements of a weirdly good SF piece are there. We have an end-times scenario involving psychotic disease. We have a frantic, drug-addled scientist trying to save humanity. We have strange side-trips into Alice in Wonderland worlds featuring blue men, vampires, sultry seductresses and hard-boiled detectives driving Ferraris. Which world is really real, and what the heck is going on, anyway? It’s like Dark City meets The Matrix meets 28 Days Later, if it was pitched in a Hollywood exec’s office today. And the ending is just perfect – it wraps everything up tidily and with a bit of humor, to boot.

Nerd that I am, I graded the stories after I read them, and came up with: B, B+, A, C, C-, B+, D, A-, and C+. That averages, I think, somewhere around a B-. Which sounds about right, as a grade for the entire collection.

Would I pick up another Moorcock novel? I think so. It’s a minor personal mission to find my way back to that futuristic wasteland I first tracked through so many years ago …

Friday, July 9, 2010

Apocalypse When?

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about two hundred years.

During those two hundred years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back to bondage.”

- Commonly (but most likely erroneously) attributed to English lawyer and historian Alexander Fraser Tytler

Two questions:

Do you agree?

If so, where is the United States on the continuum?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Squaring Fives

Want to know how to square any number that ends in 5?


Two things to do this.

First, the answer will always end in 25.

Next, you need to take number before the 5 in the number being squared, and multiply it by the next higher integer.

Then, put that number in front of “25” and you have your answer.


What is 35 squared?

Well, the answer will end in 25, and it will begin with 3 (the number before 5 of the number being squared) x 4 (one integer higher than our 3).

The answer is 1,225.

55 squared?

(5 x 6) 25 , or 3,025.

115 squared?

(11 x 12) 25, or 13,225.

3,535 squared?

(353 x 354) 25, or 12,496,225, though at this stage it’s probably easier just to reach for a calculator.

Awesome nonetheless!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Einstein's Other Equation

We all know E = mc^2. That’s the famous equation. That’s the equation that’s been in the limelight for nearly a century. It adorns t-shirts. From the highest towers of academia to the lowest alleyways in broken-down ghettos, it’s on everyone’s lips. We all know it. We’ve all made its acquaintance, whether in school or at cocktail parties. It’s made more television appearances than any other equation in history.

But how many of us know it’s bitter, reclusive, misunderstood cousin?

Or just GT to the dwindling few not embarrased to call it an acquaintance.

Yes; it’s just as important; it’s just as groundbreaking; and it’s been around just as long. Yet the hate that festers in its mind made it go insane a long, long time ago. For a while, alcohol numbed the pain. Alcohol was a salve for the wounds of an uncaring world that cared little for spacetime curvature.

But then alcohol wasn’t enough. A string of shabby, cheap relationships through all the physics equations followed. It blew through the kinematic equations in a series of slutty one night stands. Every year at the Solvay Physics Convention it would show with a new and different set of symbols on its arm, each more skanky than its predecessor. Then, there was that highly publicized fistfight with Schrodinger’s Equation, and then Snell’s Law was found dead in GT’s bed, victim of a highly suspicious overdose.

And all the while the fame and popularity of E = mc^2 grew and grew and grew.

Einstein’s Second-Greatest Equation – God how it hated to be referred to that way! – only wanted to disappear. To crawl into some hole somewhere, someplace anonymous, to disappear. To give the world a great big middle finger for giving it one of its own. So it did disappear. When’s the last time you read about GT in the papers? Chatted about its latest doings at a bar? Saw it chased paparazzi-like on PBS Nova or Discovery Science?

Ah. Now you’re starting to see what I mean.

So, let’s be charitable, eh? Why not do a good deed today, a selfless one. Memorize that little three-term equation, and at the next incident some hipster-trying-to-be-in-the-know mentions E=you-know-what, drop GT’s name, and tell him it simply states that the curvature of spacetime is determined by the total of all matter, energy, and pressure present.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Factory Closes

Times are tough. A town raises its property taxes to gin up much needed revenue. Within its borders, a factory closes, stating that the taxes it will owe will be more than it can afford to pay given the expenses it already incurs in normal operation.

No one wins. The town is out its property tax income. The business has lost a center of production. And a hundred employees are now out of work.

Sound familiar?

Democrats will lay the blame on the business that ran the factory. You’ll hear lots about the “evils of capitalism” and “greed.”

Republicans will lay the blame on the town. You’ll hear lots about “big government” and “out of control taxation and spending.”

You know what? Both sides are right, and both sides are wrong.*

Never forget: nine out of ten Democrats and nine out of ten Republicans don’t care about you. They just don’t. In the two or three months prior to their re-election election they make a charade of caring. But what they really care for is power. That’s a given, okay? It’s inarguable – it’s the nature of the beast, and the beast is politics.

But just because it’s that way doesn’t mean we can’t influence things a bit.

Getting back to the big picture, it seems to me that neither fettered socialism nor unfettered laissez-faire capitalism is the optimal solution to the problem. What could be? How about this? If I was conspiracy-minded, I might believe that efforts were made to keep it under wraps, since the idea of it has been around for a century or so. I myself have never heard about it until two years ago.

A reminder for those of us who follow Christ: We are to be Christians first and foremost, then conservatives or liberals, and only then Republicans or Democrats.

* For the record, I happen to think one side is a little bit righter than the other.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blob vs. Thing

They say this debate’s been raging throughout geekdom for close to thirty years. Being a card-carrying member of geekdom (I confess I maintain dual citizenship status), I have to say I’ve never heard about it before until very recently.

It’s time to weigh in.

To be clear, we’re talking about John Carpenter’s Thing, not the vegetable-man of the 1951 classic motion picture. This newer Thing is actually truer to the source material of John W. Campbell’s monster from his immensely influential 1938 novella “Who Goes There?” The alien visitor has the ability to assimilate its victim’s DNA and thus is able to morph into any creature it has ingested.

The blob, that nasty single-celled nightmare that battled 26-year old teenager Steve McQueen in 1957, has the double qualities of shapelessness and a voracious appetite. You can run from it, for a while, but you can’t hide from it. It can squeeze under the door to get you. It can squeeze through a keyhole to get you. It’s silent and relentless.

I saw The Blob as a young kid and it permanently scarred me. I saw John Carpenter’s The Thing as a teen and it freaked the living daylights outta me, but I was able to sleep at night.

Enough about me. Who would win in a fight? Say, both land on planet Earth in the year 1957 in Antarctica, and are discovered in the year 2010 by, oh, I don’t know, how about a boatload of Greenpeace activists? What would happen?

First of all, all the Greenpeace activists would be alien chow quicker than you can say Saturday Afternoon Matinee. The Thing would assume human form and pilot the boat back to the mainland, and begin assimilating humanity. If we assume it can take over one victim a day at a simple exponential rate, than all of mankind will be Thingkind in 34 days *.

That’s why it was so important for MacReady to blow up the entire base in John Carpenter’s movie.

Now, while this is happening, the Blob needs a way out. Stuck in Antarctica, it’s frozen solid and a threat to no one. For it to wreak havoc, it would have to get to warmer climes. We have two scenarios here. First, the Greenpeace dudes leave it on their ship in its frozen form, and wisely keep it in a freezer. Second, they thaw it out on the ship.

Second option is more localized. Blob eats crew while Thing is assimilating crew, and we have a showdown at the bottom of the world. But think about it. Say sole Thing thing pilots boats back to NYC, the likely version of the first option. Someone eventually may thaw out the blob from the ship’s hold. Blob could then either slide off ship into the water and feed off marine life, or it could slide down the docks and take Manhattan much more viciously than any Muppet ever did.

Either way, we have a Thing-Blob showdown. Mankind is just the warm up act. An appetizer to the main dish.

The gist of the problem is pitting a single-celled creature against a creature that can metamorphosize into any other creature at will. Who would win in a fight?

If you ingest the thing, the thing ingests you. Likewise, if you ingest the blob, it ingests you. Both points are made in the various source movies. But saying T ingests B is the same as saying B ingests T.

Honestly, I have no idea what would happen when T tissue comes into contact with B tissue. But …….. I have to give the edge to the Blob, because it secretes a very deadly, very fast-acting super-acidic dissolvant. The Thing, I believe, takes a little longer to assimilate its victim, and this delay would make all the difference.

However ……… the Thing has intelligence, whereas Blob doesn’t. This could give the Thing an edge. Conceiveably, it could become aware of the Other’s presence and take steps to isolate it, freeze it, and ship it back down to the pole. The only thing that could prevent this would be a very fast-moving Blob, and Blob ain’t fast-moving. At least the McQueenian blob wasn’t (it moved pretty darned fast in the 1988 remake).

I lay the odds about 1.923 to 1 in favor of the Thing. **

(I can’t believe I spent 45 minutes thinking and writing about this … Well, yes I can.)

* 1 day for Thing to replicate, then 2^33 is roughly 8.6 billion, more than enough people in the world, plus some leeway for unsuccessful Thingian assimilation attemps.

** That’s about a 52% chance the Blob won’t make it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

... A repost but I really like this entry ...

Happy 4th of July!

How ’bout some trivia? Okay!

How ’bout of the presidents, kinda fits with the holiday? Okay, again!

All right!

Oh, by the way, par is 50% correct. Any score greater, well, you’re a scholar!

1. Which president had the lowest approval rating of any president in the twentieth century?

2. Which president is the only one to have a classical symphony written in his honor?

3. Which president delivered his own collection of books to establish the Library of Congress?

4. Who was the only president to publish a book of his poetry?

5. Which president conversed with his wife in Mandarin Chinese?

6. Which president authored fourteen books before entering the White House?

7. Since Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955, only two presidents have refused to make their medical records public. Who were they?

8. Which president said "I only know two tunes: ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and I don’t know the name of the other"?

9. Which president was once shot down by enemy antiaircraft guns?

10a. Which two presidents died on the Fourth of July in the same year?

10b. Which president was born on the Fourth of July?

(Scroll down for the answers.)

Got these questions and a couple of hundred more from a really neat little book I bought in the bargain racks at Barnes and Noble: Which President Killed a Man? For the answer to that question, you’ll have to do a little bit of research.


1. Harry Truman, at 22 percent. Nixon’s at Watergate was at 23 percent. Makes George Bush Jr seem like Mr. Popularity. It’s not commonly remembered, but a bill of impeachment was introduced against Truman, and though he was untouched, several of his higher officials resigned, convicted of corruption.

2. Abraham Lincoln. Aaron Copland wrote a symphony entitled "Lincoln Portrait" in 1942. I’ve heard it, and recommend it; it’s very moving.

3. Thomas Jefferson. Heavily in debt, Jefferson sold his 6,500 volume collection to the US government for just under $24,000. The previous US library had been destroyed by the British in the War of 1812.

4. John Quincy Adams. His verse, inspired by nature scenes, was published after he left the White House.

5. Herbert Hoover. He and his wife learned the language in China in the early 1900s while Herbert worked as a mining engineer.

6. Theodore Roosevelt. He wrote biographies, histories, nature studies, books on patriotism. He also allegedly read over ten thousand books, sometimes a couple a week and some in other languages. It's also stated by biographers that he had a photographic memory. Puts a different spin on the rugged cowboy image with which he’s often portrayed.

7. John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Their failure to release these records have spawned many rumors, but the conclusive reasons for withholding them are unknown. [ed: Not sure if Obama released his records or not ...]

8. Ulysses Grant. Despite the best efforts of his wife to get him to attend theater and musicals, General Grant was no lover of culture.

9. George H. Bush, in WW II. In his 39 months of service he logged over 1,200 hours of flight time and was one of only four pilots in his fourteen pilot squadron to survive the war. After being shot down he was rescued by a submarine. He commemorated the incident by parachuting from a plane again, fifty years later.

10a. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both signers of the Declaration of Independence. Both died in 1826, 50 years after the signing. Adams outlasted his foe and later friend by a few hours.

10b. Calvin Coolidge was born July 4, 1872.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Okay, get this. If you have a King James Bible in your house, remember to do this. If not, you can find it online here.

Go to Psalm 46. Count 46 words into the psalm. Note the word. Then go to the end (disregarding selah, which is kinda like “amen”), and count 46 words back. What pair of words do you now have?





Did William Shakespeare translate the King James Bible?

Another tantalizing clue: In 1610, when the KJV was completed, Shakespeare would have been 46 years old. That’s a lot of 46es being thrown around here.

As it turns out, conventional wisdom says that, no, the Bard was not one of the translators commissioned by King James to revise and reform the various English translations of the bible floating around at the time. There were 42 highly accomplished and remarkable men publically acknowledged to have worked on the KJV. Truly amazing specimens of humanity. Men who’ve memorized the Bible forward and backward and could converse at length in ancient languages. At best – at the very, very best – Shakespeare may have contributed in some small, anonymous way.

Could this be his “easter egg”, his hidden message saying “Will was here”? Did this 46-year old man work on Psalm 46, split his name in half and insert the first half 46 words in and the second half 46 words from the end? Or is it just a random coincidence, as a work of literature the size and scope of the KJV is bound to contain?

I don’t know, but it’s one of the many, many odd and fascinating things I’m finding out about Shakespeare. Man, I need a year off to study him fully …

Friday, July 2, 2010


Ah! Vacation! Rest, relaxation, and recreation!

Me and the girls are packing everything up and driving down to beautiful Hilton Head Island, SC, for the next week. My in-laws live down there, and each year they generously pay for a hotel for us just down the road. Us meaning the wife and me. The little ones will be doing sleepovers with Nana and Grandpa D in various permutations over the next five or six nights.

The drive is crazy, something like fifteen or sixteen hours, but we’ve done it before. This’ll probably be our fifth or sixth cruise down. I don’t mind it. Me and C alternate 3-hour shifts behind the wheel. We pack lots of books, CDs, and DVDs for the girls to watch in the back seat. Plus a big coolerful of drinks and snacks. It’s an admitted adventure.

There’s the weirdest place I always hit when I go down to HHI. It’s a combination used book store and yarn center. So, basically, it’s me, scoping out the shelves for hidden treasures, mingling with half-a-dozen grandmas. Last time there I scored John Hersey’s Hiroshima and the Hegel compendium I read during my feat of self-flagellation at the start of this blog. I aims to find a few good blogable reads at the yarn emporium.

I’m not sure how much access I’ll have to a PC while away. I cued up a week’s worth of posts, all of some interest, I hope. Please, by all means, comment, and if I don’t get back in a timely fashion, know that I’m not dispensing the cold shoulder. I will comment on your comments eventually.

If tradition holds, the girls will be spending a lot of time with Nana and my wife, doing the pool and beach thing. We’ll be eating a lot of high-quality gourmet meals, courtesy of chef extraordinaire, Grandpa D. I’m hoping to carve out lots of quiet time to think and write and figure out just what my next steps are. Lots on my plate: the next novel, the next page in my website, the next blog, the next daytime career, the next steps to self-marketing. A lot upstairs that I have to filter through various logical processing centers, to then translate via fingertips into coherent electronic or/and handwritten action plans.

Wish me luck!

And – keep coming back! New stuff everyday. I promise.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Guitar Work V

What’s LE playing on his guitar of late? Inquiring minds want to know.

Honestly, I haven’t been playing much – except for this odd tendency to pick it up at something like 11:45 at night and start strumming as loud as possible. The whole family’s asleep, nodding off in their rooms with air conditioning units about as noisy as 747 engines, so I’m not worried about waking anyone up. I think I play at this hour to keep my mind off more serious, weighty topics that tend to flare up like neon signs on the ceiling above my bed.

So, here goes …

1. “25 or 6 to 4,” by Chicago

Is it about drugs??? Is it about gambling??? Is it about being on the lam from the mob??? Who knows! Actually I do, and it’s about none of the aforementioned. The verse riff is so simple every beginner can figure it out in a minute or two. I don’t think I played it in twenty-five years. But I figgered out that little bluesy lick in the chorus and now I find myself playing it all the time. That handful of slide and picked notes just gives me bliss.

2. “Bargain,” by The Who

I always liked The Who, Pete Townsend in particular, though I don’t play much of their stuff. In the early 80s I listened to Tommy and Quadrophenia endlessly on my Uncle’s 8-track player. Since I functioned primarily as a rhythm guitarist in the couple of bands I was later in, you’d think Pete’s playing would resonate with me. I don’t know; maybe it does. Anyway, I dropped the low-E down a full step and “Bargain” just fell in to place with a couple fortuitously-strummed chords.

3. “In the Mood,” by Robert Plant

All right, this one I went online to get the tab. I heard this song about two thousand times when I was in high school. I think the radio stations were legally obligated to play this twice an hour in order to also play Led Zeppelin songs. Anyway, I always dug the guitar solo, modulating as it does from G to Bb, so I learned it off the tab. Now I imagine myself with a big mullet jamming out on this with a similarly-coifed Robert snapping his fingers next to me.

4. “What the Hell Have I?” by Alice In Chains

In the early 90s I lived and breathed this band. Now, I can’t believe I listened to them as much as I did, given the dreary self-loathing that oozes from their lyrics. But that guy, Jerry Cantrell, is a phenomenal guitarist. I’d go so far that he created his own style of playing, what with all those droning dropped tunings and off-kilter rhythms. This song is off one of the Arnold movie soundtracks, but I only started playing it of late. Doesn’t sound as good on my acoustic, but good enough for me.

5. “Minuet,” by Luigi Boccherini

You heard this little classical ditty a hundred times as background music to cocktail parties in movies or fine wine or dining commercials. I had a music book out from the library a few weeks ago and I noodled through it. This was my big takeaway. It won’t blow you away, it won’t overpower you, but it’s a nice little thing to play on the twanger.