Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Heard a newscast yesterday about the alleged phenomenon of “Funemployment.” That is, the newly unemployed millions of us are just having a grand old time being out of work and not able to find anything. We’re rediscovering ourselves, spending time with the family we never did before, and developing talents that would otherwise go unexplored. We’re supposed to be having the time of our lives.

This lady reporter, I think, put an “F” in front of the word “unemployment” to get her news story. I’d like to take an “F” and put it in front of the word “you” and deliver it to her, and, while I’m at it, to the President and to the Democrat party in power for the last 19 months.

There is nothing fun about being out of work.

There is nothing fun about constantly having to stay upbeat, positive, enthusiastic, and the never-ending “fake-it-until-you-make-it” mask that we unemployed have to wear.

There is nothing fun about the 24-7 care of a bruised and broken mental bundle of ego and self-esteem.

There is nothing fun about trying to find a job I’m passionless about in an industry that is not hiring solely to pay an inflated mortgage on a starter house that I don’t even like and has no resale value.

There is nothing fun about juggling the days you mail out checks to pay bills, hoping you won’t get that $35-per-check overdraft fee. (I’ve never bounced a check in my life, so there’s that extra blow to the self-esteem should that happen.)

There’s nothing fun about counting down the weeks before your unemployment insurance runs out and you don’t know what to do after that. Oh, and there’s nothing fun about being labeled a “99er” by multimillionaires such as Rush Limbaugh, et. al.

“Oh, but you get to spend time with the girls,” well-wishers tell me. “You’re doing a fantastic job raising them!”

I appreciate that. But Wells Fargo, PSEG, Verizon, AT&T, Chase Home Finance, Aetna, Cigna, A&P, Capital One Bank, my children’s doctors, Target, CVS – just to name a few – might not be so appreciative. It doesn’t help me sleep better at night (I average five hours of sleep daily). It doesn’t help when I tell the wife that we can’t afford this or we can’t afford that. Or forget about the wife – my children are starting to get very inquisitive.

So, let’s halt this meme that all of us unemployed are lounging in the backyard hammock with Piña Coladas in hand. Or that we’re wearing smocks and sitting at easels painting landscapes. Yes, during the rare hour a day of downtime I have, I’ve polished up my short stories and my two novels and sent them out. But you know what? Publishing companies just aren’t taking risks on first-time authors as they would have, say, five or ten years ago. In fact, a lot of publishing company employees are worried about keeping their jobs (according to the one contact I have in the business).

I can only hope and pray that things will change after the first Tuesday in November, and that the new leaders we send to Washington will do the right things necessary to get this economy up and running again.


All right, no more pity parties, I promise!

True fun stuff to be posted in September!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Best Reads

The Emmy’s were last night. I did not watch – I detest awards shows – but the wife did, alternating between them and Casino Royale. So I decided to appeal to the nerdish book worm inside me (never far from the surface) and list the Best Reads Awards for the past couple of years.

Here goes:

Best Read, 2009:

Kim, by Rudyard Kipling

Runner Up:

A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

Best Read, 2008:

Sandkings, by George R. R. Martin

Runner Up:

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

Best Read, 2007:

Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn

Runner Up:

Midworld, by Alan Dean Foster

Best Read, 2006:

Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkewicz

Runner Up:

(tie) Red Planet, by Robert Heinlein
(tie) Conquerors from the Darkness, by Robert Silverberg

Best Read, 2005:

Shardik, by Richard Adams

Runner Up:

Who Can Replace a Man? by Brian Aldiss

Best Read, 2004:

Way of a Pilgrim, by Anonymous

Runner Up:

Zen and the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

Best Read, 2003:

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Runner Up:

Burr, by Gore Vidal

Best Read, 2002:

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Runner Up:

The Warrior at World’s End, by Lin Carter

Best Read, 2001:

The Spinner, by Doris Piserchia

Runner Up:

A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller

Best Read, 2000:

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

Runner Up:

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny

Honorable Mentions of the 90s:

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut
The Puppet Masters, by Robert Heinlein
Mars, by Ben Bova
Rendezvous With Rama and Rama II, by Arthur C. Clarke
Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, by Michael Crichton
Debt of Honor, Without Remorse, Executive Orders, and Sum of All Fears, by Tom Clancy

Now this would be an awards show I could get behind …

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beach Retreat

No, I didn’t go to the beach.

But the family did.

I, as usual, stayed behind in the bungalow. And I got a lot done, also as usual, when I’m left alone.

We left Saturday morning after I balanced the checkbook, paid the bills, and ran a few errands. Arriving at the Jersey shore (not that one, the one we go to has a lot more self-respect) by 1, the girls and my father-in-law piled into the car and hit the dunes.

The weather was so, so beautiful – sunny, crisp, zero humidity, a nice breeze – that I just couldn’t spend the afternoon indoors. I laid out a towel beneath an old oak tree in the backyard, brought out a pillow, and spent the next six hours, basically, finishing The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the loose autobiography-of-sorts of Lawrence of Arabia.

Ah, pleasure!

As the chapters passed I chased the sun’s shadows on the cool lawn. At one point I nearly fell asleep, which would have marked the first time I fell asleep in nature’s arms since … well, since those crazy nights in Wildwood in the late 80s, but that sleep was artificially assisted.

Anyway, the troops returned at 7 for regimented showering, changing, and motoring over to a mom-and-pop I-talian restaurant. We shared antipasto salads and lasagna. Afterwards, we treated the little ones (and ourselves) to ice cream from a neighboring shop. Got ’em all home at 9:45, way past their bedtimes, and got ’em all down by 10.

Next morning, this morning, though it seems a week ago, we got up early, showered, dressed, and met my father-in-law and his lady friend for breakfast at a diner. Then we all drove to his church for noon mass.

Then a repeat of yesterday afternoon, though curtailed somewhat. This time Patch was nearing a meltdown – having no nap Saturday as well as a late night – so I kept her back at the bungalow with me. The others left, and, lo and behold, Patches wouldn’t sleep, though she held it together.

She allowed me to skim through a biography of Lawrence. One of those biographies where the biographer simply despises his subject. Everything Lawrence said or did was a lie or evil or wrong or stupid. Whatever.* But it did clear up a bunch of mainly logistical concerns about Seven Pillars.

Feeling spiritual, I also read a whole bunch of the ending chapters of Genesis.

The others got back with sandwiches, which we all devoured, and we hit the road by 6. Since fifty-percent of the population of New Jersey likes to drive the Garden State Parkway on Sunday evenings, we didn’t get home until 8.

Somewhat restless after helping put the girls down, I went for a restless walk. Got all sweaty and worked up into a foul mood, strolling past the darkened houses in my town, every other one lit up with the flickering hypnotic light of the flatscreen demigod, commanding loyalty and subservience. I noted the constellations, Cassiopeia and Ursa Major, and some of the stars, such as Arcturus. Made a mental note to bone back up on my astronomy.

Anyway, busy week I’m not looking forward to. Tomorrow we visit Yiayia’s in the morning. She’s the Greek sitter who sat Little One for the first four years of her life. I’ll be plied with all sorts of Greek food and uncomfortable questions about my crappy health and my ineffectual job search. Then it’s off to some boy’s birthday party, where Little One will run around ingesting pizza and sugar and I’ll be left holding Patch, napless for the third day in a row.

Tuesday and Wednesday we have to have a training-wheel-less bike ride at the park and a last go at the town swimming pool. Sarcastic yay on both counts. We need to get Little One’s summer projects all dotted and crossed and ready for the start of school on Thursday. Thursday and Friday will be half-days. Oh, and I still have to fit grocery shopping and laundry in somewhere, as well as working on my website, my short stories, my next novel, that and this and those and these.

But I do have some humorous posts in my head; they just need to be written. And a review of Seven Pillars is already mentally half-completed.

I need another body. Or thirty more hours a week alone time.

* I once made the mistake of reading a biography of composer Jean Sibelius by an author who viscerally hated the man. How can you hate a composer, fer cryin’ out loud? Well, this writer did. Ascribed every petty, low-down, unscrupulous and evil motive to Sibelius that Sibs almost became a moustache-twisting cardboard caricature. So, to paraphrase the words of Peter Kreeft, I only read books by authors who love their subject.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coyote Men

SCENE: Interior of the Rav4, motoring down the highway out in the Pennsylvania woodlands, sometime during the ninety-minute drive home from Grammy’s.

DADDY: (exasperated) Why don’t you tell a scary story ?


(long pause)

LITTLE ONE: Once upon a time, a long time ago, there were these monsters that lived in the woods. They were half-gorilla, half-cavemen –

DADDY: What were they called?

LITTLE ONE: Uh, they were called the … Coyote Men!

DADDY: All right. Half-gorilla, half-cavemen, and they were called the Coyote Men. Got it.

LITTLE ONE: So, one night, during a fulllllll mooooooon, a man named Walter was walking through the woods –

DADDY: What’s the man’s name?

LITTLE ONE: Daddy, I told you! Walter! One night during a full moon he was walking through the woods, when suddenly – wham! – he was attacked by the Coyote Men!

DADDY: Those are the half-gorilla, half-cavemen men.

LITTLE ONE: Right. But Walter knew karate, so ka-POW! Kee-YA! Bam! BAM! (gesticulates wildly, as seen in the Rav4’s rear view mirror)

DADDY: So he was able to get away from the Coyote Men?

LITTLE ONE: Yes! (pause, then, in an evil whisper) But Big Minnie got him!

DADDY: Big Minnie? Who the heck’s Big Minnie?

LITTLE ONE: Big Minnie is a giant, pink dinosaur! And do you know what she eats?

DADDY: What?

LITTLE ONE: Grown-ups! (another sinister pause) Boy grownups!

DADDY: (panicking) I’m a boy grownup! I’m a boy grownup!

And thus, all the way home

Friday, August 27, 2010


Got back yesterday afternoon from a short mini-vacation, spending seventy-two hours at my parent’s house out in the sticks. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive, but the girls really love visiting. The wife had events all week long for work, so she basically ordered us to go. Truth be told, it was a fun weekend, albeit one of forced relaxation as it rained every single day we were there (with the exception of the day we left, of course).

I had a very productive time. How so? you ask. All right, I’ll elaborate:

Hit one of my used book stores (one I hadn’t visited since November of last year) and bought two books: The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg and Orbitsville by Bob Shaw. I think I’ll tackle the Silverberg book once I’m done with Lawrence’s. It looks genuinely creepy, more horror than SF, and that’s striking my fancy right now.

I was also able to put just under 12 hours into constructing my other website. I’ve got the home page built, a Tier 2 page built, and fourteen Tier 3 pages built. Still, that only brings my concept to about one-quarter completion. When I’m done, there’ll be lots of promotion for it here at The Hopper. This is just an enigmatic teaser.

Put away about 120 pages of Seven Pillars and I’m nearing the end. My favorite time was out on the covered deck, reading it sheltered while the rain poured down, listening to Maurice Jarre’s score on my headphones. I can almost hear the Harith and Howeitat, carbines raised in the air, firing at random, howling “Lolololololololololo!” in anticipation of their victories over Self and Turk.

Went to the arcades with the girls; they had a blast. Too rainy to play miniature golf or race around on the go-karts, so I made a promise to them (and myself) that we’ll be back first weekend in October to carry on where we left off. An ice cream fiesta made the lack of go-kartage easier to swallow. I had a hot fudge sundae.

Took the girls horseback riding Thursday morning. Well, actually they donned helmets and sat on “Buddy” and “Suds” and leisurely padded six laps around the perimeter of a stable, under control of the ranch hands. But the girls absolutely loved it! Little One drew a picture of the horses as soon as we got back home. And Patch was fascinated with all the farm life, especially the ponies and the llamas.

The ride home was uneventful, though once we did get back to the house I was rushed unloading the car, feeding the girls, getting Little One into her soccer gear and off to practice.

Back to the grind!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Presidential Humor

Liked this because it combines one of my most favorite movies with one of my least favorite presidents. Also, I’m glad the comedic moratorium on Obama is finally being lifted, at least in certain outlets. While Bush, too, was not one of my favorite presidents, and made me cringe on at least a weekly basis, those of us of a conservative bent had to endure eight years of relentless mockery of the Commander-in-Chief. So it’s nice to see the double-standard being relaxed.

(Pic courtesy of BigHollywood.com courtesy of Mad magazine)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I ran in to some of this in the mid to late 80s. This and the lure of hedonistic escapism turned me away from the faith for a good fifteen years or so. Credit the wife for bringing me back as well as the tidal pull from the Holy Spirit. Still, though, characters like this guy have permanently scarred me with an uneasy feeling of foolishness whenever I try to take public steps to deepen my relationship with God in my church. Just another cross to bear, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day of Infamy

Four years ago today, the International Astronomical Union redefined the term “planet” so as to exclude Pluto as a member of our solar system’s elite.

I am still wearing my black arm band.

Incidentally, over a thousand names were proposed in the weeks following the planet’s 1930 photographic discovery. These include all the usual Greek suspects:

Cronus, Persephone, Erebos/ Erebus, Atlas, Prometheus, Minerva, Zeus, Artemis, Perseus, Vulcan, Tantalus, Bacchus, Apollo

As well as deities from other religions:

Odin, Osiris

Some suggestions I can’t find definitions to:

Zymal, Idana (maybe goddess Diana typo’d?)

Proper names were also thrown in the mix:

Percival, Constance, or Lowell (all suggested by Constance Lowell, wife of astronomer Percival, who devoted much time and effort to finding Planet X)

Anyway, “Pluto” was suggested by an 11-year-old schoolgirl whose grandfather was friends with one of the leading British astronomers at Oxford. Due to the coincidence that traditional nomenclature, which abbreviated a planet’s name to its first two letters, referenced Mr. Lowell, the suggestion quickly snowballed into reality.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ray Bradbury

I don’t remember specifically the first “adult” science fiction I read, but I started reading some around third grade, age eight or so. There were the Asimov books, short stories and novels, Pebble in the Sky, The God’s Themselves, Nine Tomorrows, The Bicentennial Man, and The Caves of Steel. I got them one Christmas and burned through them nonstop, finishing up during our family’s Lake George summer vacation.

That spring there was also Logan’s Run, by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Nothing like the movie – which was absolutely fascinating to me. (Though when I re-read it in 2005 I found a lot of the 60s-isms cringeworthy.) I bought it in the bookmobile and that paperback was my constant companion walking to and from grammar school. I would read it waiting for the crossing guard to stop traffic for me.

And finally, that summer, I came across a copy of The Martian Chronicles at my grandparent’s house, and read it during those long, lazy days in between bouts of running bases and watching Get Smart and Family Feud on the tubovision.

Ah, Ray Bradbury! My literary master!

Yesterday was the master’s 90th birthday. Yes, he’s still alive, still writing, and recently said some things of a political nature which sound strikingly tea-partyish.

Anyway, a while back I wrote a pretty fine tribute to the author I find the most pleasurable to read. So, rather than trying to top it by restating the same stuff in different permutations, here’s the original post:


Ray Bradbury is my favorite all-time science fiction writer. I can vividly recall reading The Martian Chronicles for the first of several times during the hot late-70s summers. The well-worn paperback was my constant companion at my grandparents’ house, and I devoured those stories curled up under the shade of a tree or spread out among the cushions in the screened-in porch or chilling down in the cool cinderblock shelter of their semi-furnished basement. (I was not thumbing through novels perched atop houses, yet.) The anthology, as well as its cousin, The Illustrated Man, would help me survive numerous trips to the mall two decades later with my wedding-crazed wife, then just my fiancé. Stealthily leaning against a column, unobtrusive and inconspicuous among the racks of hanging dresses and gowns, I flipped page after page after page, attention firmly set in Mr. Bradbury’s world despite the half-eye kept out on watch for my better half.

But there’s no fooling her. One of my wedding gifts from Mrs. LE was a mint-condition hardcopy Martian Chronicles, autographed by Bradbury himself. I still have it, of course, sealed in its original package. (It survived the recent flood.)

Of course I read Fahrenheit 451 as a school assignment. But unlike the majority of my classmates, I enjoyed it. Ten years later, for two straight weeks, Something Wicked This Way Comes kept me company on the NJ Transit trains traveling into and out of New York. I still keep a couple of short-story anthologies on the bookshelf behind me, too: A Medicine for Melancholy, The Golden Apples of the Sun, and The Fog Horn and Other Stories.

He’s the writer, if I had my greatest wish fulfilled, I would like to be compared to.

Bradbury’s a science fiction writer, yes, surely, but those of us that read SF know he’s what’s called a “soft” SF writer. In other words, you won’t chance upon him writing about quantum fluctuations or time-space continuum shifts or even transistors or LEDs or supercomputers. Robots, perhaps, but you won’t get a detailed description of the positronic brain. Aliens, yes, but you won’t understand their anthropology or sociology or their breeding habits. Bradbury is an enthusiastic commentator of the human condition, of the mind of man, and, in a sense, his stories could be set anywhere. But to truly explore what happens when the weird assumes control, it’s best to set your tale in a world where you make all the rules. Bradbury’s science fiction is a mirror to show us the intriguing possibilities, good and bad, of man.

The single striking thing about his writing, to me, is something I strive for, too. Poetry. His sentences sing off the page, the images dance in your head, the dialogue has the power to tug at your heart or set your jaw granite-tight. It’s picture painting with the written word, and I can forget myself in his writing every time I read one of his stories.

A while back I borrowed a book of his on the craft, Zen in the Art of Writing, and took a couple of pages of notes. I recently found them. Care for a few tips from the book? Okay, how ’bout three. The first thing I noted was his simple observation that writers need to read poetry. Every day. The astute literary buff will note that many of his titles come straight out of the poetry world. (Two in this blog post alone – Something Wicked from Shakespeare, and Golden Apples from Yeats.)

Second, it was the first place where I learned of the writer/editor dichotomy. Those of us that write are aware of this well-known dilemma: How do you silence your inner editor as you’re rushing through the first draft of your magnum opus? To paraphrase my idol, you gotta write with excitement. Gusto. Zest. Passion. What wonderful words! So, if you aren’t, you are writing about the wrong things. Instead, you must: Write about what you hate. And I mean, hate. Similarly, write about what you love. What you really love. Be passionate, and repercussions be damned!

The last little tidbit I’ll tell you is the word game. Simply, be aware of words, cognizant of their personalities, their ethnicities and genealogies. Write down those of them that … stir a little something in you. Words that are comfortably unsettling. It’s impossible to define, precisely, but you’ll know it when you start doing it. For example, I did this around 2003 or so and soon I had a list of about fifty or sixty words. Words such as Armistice, Amplitude, all the way to Zephyr. Then, when you got you some writer’s block, pick a word and start typing. I wrote an 8,500 word short story called “Armistice” in a week or so back then. It’s okay, a little embarrassing and by far not my best, but it really taught me the power of a single word. I wrote a story based on a single word.

So … if you are a writer, read the book, especially if you’re a fan. It can’t hurt. Oh, and a bonus tip: Mr. Bradbury highly recommends purchasing and studying On Becoming A Writer, by Dorothea Brande (he did). The book is an arm’s-length away from me, purchased at an Unnamed Used Book Store for the simple sum of three dollars.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day of Rest

Permit me a day of rest, if you please. A day of recovery. Of restitution. Repose. Relaxation. Requiescence.

Isn’t that a beautiful word, requiescence?

It’s hot and humid by us. And we’ve been on the go, basically, all summer. So – just a day of recharging.

We’ll run the ACs until the house gets down to a comfortable, autumn-Adirondack clime. There’ll be no teevee, for the little ones are being punished, and, well, punishment of that type may just end up to be a reward, for all considered.

I plan to put serious dentations into The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (I’m just about at the half-way point; the taking of the port city of Akaba, for those in the know). There’s also another book I want to skim through, Hostage to the Devil, though I don’t know if I’ll blog about it.

God forgive us all, but we’re not going to go to church today. We normally never skip mass, maybe once or twice a year, and I’m a Eucharistic Minister once or twice a month, but today, we’re keeping a low profile.

Enjoy the day …

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Objective Objections

I’m moseying through a book and CD program on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, written by Boston College professor Peter Kreeft. Better mental sustenance than talk radio, or playing Freecell.

Anyway, something struck me quite powerfully in my reading.

When stating the objections to each of his hundreds of propositions, Aquinas always summarizes them “fairly, strongly, clearly, and succinctly.” At least, according to Kreeft and, based on my meanderings through the Summa Theologiae, I agree. I think it would be hard to find any reputable scholar to disagree with this statement.

That is mind-blowing to me.

We live in a tremendous debate-driven society. Television news, opinion shows, newspapers, blogs, talk radio. This is because we are in the midst of a megalithic, foundational culture war, a war which touches everything from words you can publicly say to textbooks your first graders will read to how much of your money and property is yours to whether or not we are a nation subscribing to Judeo-Christian principles.

All well and good. Such is our lot in life. But think about this.

How often do the debaters in our society summarize the arguments of their opponents fairly, strongly, clearly, and succinctly?

My guess is less than 5 percent. If that.

Analogically, Aquinas, too, lived in a debate-driven society. But how confident was he in his reasoning, his arguments, his logic, that he was able to always display the opposing view in the best light possible?

It’s a confidence, a discipline, and a dedication to Truth that is so rarely found and so sorely wanting in 21st-century America. It’s a shame. It’s shameful.

The whole fairly-strongly-clearly-succinctly thing is just one of many reasons I’m attracted to the thought of the great doctor, Saint Thomas.

More later, as it develops.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Big Bug

“Daddy! There’s a big bug in my toy room!”

Little One is shaking me awake. Through fat, bleary eyes I squint at the alarm clock. It’s 3:24 in the afternoon. Last night I lost a major battle in the Police Action Against Insomnia, waking a little after 2:15 a.m. Indistinguishable from a zombie or Frankenstein’s monster, I lumbered about all morning, getting Little One to VBS, taking Patch with me on a couple of errands, refueling with some Diet Coke-aine, then retrieving my oldest from school.

Then, a blessed nap at 2 p.m. “I’m going to set the alarm for 4,” I say to Little One. “Here. Watch Monsters, Inc and don’t wake me ’til then.” Patch is napping, and so will I.

Until the Big Bug episode.

So, realizing I’m not going to get that extra, desperately-desired 36 minutes of shut-eye, I haul my carcass outta bed. We go downstairs to her toy room. “It went under there!” she shouts, a little scared but more outraged, pointing at her vertical toy chest.

I slide the bottom drawer out and inspect. Most likely she saw an ant, but you never know. Occasionally we get spiders in the house, and on rare occasions we get a big hairy one. But I don’t see anything. I tell her so, then I make her get down on the floor and look with me, because seeing is believing.

“Whatever it was, it’s gone. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I’m up. Time for chores. Clean up lunch, install Skype on the PC, call Grammy, wake up Patch, change her, feed ’em both an early cheese mac dinner, get Little One ready for soccer practice, go to soccer practice, go to the playground, go home, bathe ’em both, read ’em stories, and put them down by 8. The wife meets me at soccer practice and helps with the bathing, but she leaves for movie night with her girlfriend (we alternate these nights – my turn was seeing Predators with my buddy).

Then, the house is blissfully quiet. I’m tired, but I want to put some mileage on Seven Pillars. I go downstairs to grab it, and while I’m sitting at the dining room table, I catch something big moving at my feet, from the dining room to under the sofa in the living room.

Something big, black, and fast.

I’ve seen this before. Yes, I’ve seen this before.

I got a mouse in the house.

I’ve seen this before; maybe not this particular fella, but I’ve seen his relations. Usually I hear them scurrying above the ceiling tiles over me when I’m in the basement writing office. Occasionally I find one stranded in the garbage under the sink, and I toss him out at the far corner of my backyard.

Sighing, I make a note to call the pest control people. We have an annual contract with them; every quarter they spray the house to keep ants out, and put those mouse deterrent mabobs in our basement and garage. I can’t remember when they were last here, so they’re probably overdue.

Poor Little One! Why did I ever doubt her? I also make a note to tell her, first thing in the morning, that she was right, but her Big Bug was really a House Mouse.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hopper at the Movies

Have some writer’s block going on, so … how about a couple of items of ephemera? A few movies I watched within the past five days.


Watched Jim Carrey’s “suspense” “thriller” The Number 23 late last night. It was a mess, and I wanted to like it. You know, numbers and stuff. It’s based kinda on that “23” hokum in numerology which states that all significant events can be linked back to our ninth prime number. The story had some promise, some potential. I’ve even toyed for a long time of writing something similar-but-different about a book-about-a-book. But – I’m sorry, every time I saw Jim Carrey trying to emote all sinister and psychotic, Lloyd Christmas pops into mind. It didn’t work for me.

I give it a charitable C.

The thing about this “number 23” goofiness is, well, with enough creativity you can link anything to any number. Want an example? My first name contains two vowels and three consonants. 2 vowels and 3 consonants … 2 and 3 … 23! Ahh! I’m cursed! Or, if you take the year I was born, and add each of the four digits you get … you guessed it! I can’t escape the Lovecraftian evil of the Thing Which Is The Number 23!

Also watched two flicks this past weekend while the wife was out with the little ones. The Sasquatch Gang was completely derivative of Napoleon Dynamite, which I like only marginally. Indeed, some actors from the latter movie had cameos in the former. But despite a storyline involving a possible bigfoot sighting, it was an effort to watch. Ultimately, I think, I couldn’t like it because everyone was quirky, Quirky, QUIRKY!!! Quirky on steroids does not equal witty. Nor does it equal interesting, riveting, or memorable. Just dumb and kind of embarrassing. Although I did sort of like the Apple guy (of those Apple vs. PC commercials), who played the main mulleted antagonist.

Also a C.

Then, to cleanse the palate, I spent seventy-five minutes watching the vastly superior, vastly enjoyable, and always mega-geeky Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. What better way to spend an afternoon? I used to watch these every Saturday morning in the mid-90s in my bachelor pad, usually hungover and eating last night’s pizza. This flick has Mike and the robots spoofing the classic This Island Earth. I must’ve laughed out loud at least a dozen times if not more. One day, when I get me some discretionary income, I need to buy one of the MST3K seasons on DVD.

Solid A.

It’s a good thing I can get these movies three-for-a-buck from the library. If I rented them from a video store I’d be out something like $15. That’d be sacrilege. Something of the order of wasting three hours of your life watching Jim Carrey stab twenty-three Sasquatches to death …

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Children of Hurin

A friend of mine bought me The Children of Hurin for my birthday last year and I finally got around to reading it. I’ve struggled to convey, in words, here on this blog, the impact Tolkien had on my life back in the early 80s, way before his mass-marketization. I don’t know if I have, properly. But I sense that you get the gist of where I’m going here.

My wife bought me a nice set of the trilogy a couple of years ago, but I’m kinda afraid to re-read it. The first time through was so overwhelming, how can any second voyage through Middle-earth possible compare? You know what I’m saying? There are some books I’m just fearful to revisit, for the potential let-down factor. It’s happened before, and I’ve written about that, too, on this blog.

However, right around when I started this blog, I re-read The Silmarillion. If you are interested, you can read my review here. It’s short and to-the-point, and conveys a lot of what I was too lazy to explain back in the first paragraph of this post.

The Children of Hurin is, basically, the fleshed-out tale of Turin Turambar, last seen in his own chapter midway through The Silmarillion. We’re back in the First Age of Middle-earth, before the destruction of Beleriand, before the fall of Morgoth and the rise of Sauron. The hero is an ill-fated loner warrior from the clan of Hurin, noble Men who aided the Elves in their wars against the Enemy. Hurin, Turin’s father, is captured by Morgoth and punished to watch helplessly the ironic twists of tragedy that will inexorably lead to his son’s undoing.

A correction: that chapter in The Silmarillion is really a summary of a much longer tale. And that longer tale is actually a 2,000-line poem of Turin’s tragic life written in the early 1920s. There is a winding appendix detailing the genesis and development of The Children of Hurin, from J. R. R.’s metrical stanzas to the editorial reconstruction by his son Christopher. (By the way, I am not rabidly anti-Christopher Tolkien, as some of his father’s super-devoted, pseudo-Elvish fans are.)

So what did I think of The Children of Hurin? I liked it. A fast, quick, easy read, hard to put down. What can be a better read than that? It was like an afternoon walk through the neighborhood of your youth. Lots of memories, lots of nostalgia, yet it’s new in a way, because you’re new: you’re older, wiser, and more “in control,” though that all may just be an illusion. But I can’t begrudge it because it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

Overall, Hurin’s not as encyclopedic as The Silmarillion. And it’s not as lyrical, wondrous, and awe-full as The Lord of the Rings. From a prose point of view, it falls somewhere in between, perhaps slightly closer to the trilogy. Thematically, it resembles best, I suppose, a Greek tragedy populated with Tolkienish nouns.

A knowledge – or at least a once-through – of The Silmarillion, while not absolutely necessary, would be helpful so as not to get lost in the historical and geographical details. It’s definitely beneficial to skim through the Genealogies and List of Names at the back of the book, as a mini-refresher. The List does not give away the fates of the characters in the tale, though I thought some of the chapter titles unnecessarily revealed plot points.

A grade? Hmmm. I think a solid B fits well here. It’s definitely for Tolkien fans, and not as an introduction to his world.* Nor does it work as a stand-alone novel. But I recommend it, for don’t we all like to take out the photo album every now and then, and revisit those people and places of our past …

* The best way to read Tolkien is in the order of chronologically published works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and, now, The Children of Hurin. Some may argue that The Silmarillion should be read first as a prologue to Tolkien’s world, but the dry writing would turn all but the hardiest adult fans off.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010



I saw a man pursuing the horizon

Round and round they sped.

I was disturbed at this;

I accosted the man.

“It is futile,” I said,

“You can never – ”

“You lie,” he cried,

And ran on.

- Stephen Crane

Is it a dream, a noble goal, an obsession, or a compulsion? Or all four?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Set the Desert Afire

“On our part, I was playing for effect, watching, criticizing him. The Sherif’s rebellion had been unsatisfactory for the last few months … and my suspicion was that its lack was leadership: not intellect, nor judgment, nor political wisdom, but the flame of enthusiasm, that would set the desert on fire. My visit was mainly to find the yet unknown master-spirit of the affair, and measure his capacity to carry the revolt to the goal I had conceived for it … During the physical struggle when singleness of eye and magnetism, devotion and self-sacrifice were needed, Abdulla would be a tool too complex for a simple purpose …”

- Seven Pillars of Wisdom, chapter VIII, by T. E. Lawrence

Like Lawrence in the desert, do you search and seek for that idea, those words, that book, that man or that God Who will fan the flames of enthusiasm in you heart?

A personal revelation: I have been actively seeking and desperately searching, for at least since that night twenty-five years ago, laying in a field and staring up at the celestion. A few times, I think, I have found what I am looking for, though the embers of passion quickly cool, a fault I lay squarely at my own feet, and not those of the Other.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Political Prediction

The older I get, the more politically pessimistic I find myself. Of course, in the past seven years, I’ve lived through a mishandled “pre-emptive” war of dire urgency, four years of the Reid-Pelosi drunken-sailor-spending machine, and two years of the ineptitude-at-best, socialism-lite-at-worse dishonest system of Obamanomics. Also, the fact that I’ve been unemployed for 18 months doesn’t sunny my disposition none.

Anyway, here’s a blunt mathematical-political prediction.

The odds that America submits itself to Sharia law or negotiates a peace treaty with Osama bin Laden, within nine years, is greater than 50 percent.

Why do I write this?

For this simple observation: Who would have thought in the immediate days and weeks after September 11, 2001, that nine years later 50 percent of Americans would elect a politician named Barack Hussein Obama and that this politician, arguably the most left-leaning leader we’ve had in seventy years, would publicly and fearlessly state that it is American to allow a mosque named after the Cordoba conquest to be built overlooking Ground Zero?

How can I be optimistic in this environment?

Oh, wait, mid-term elections are only two-and-a-half months away!

Hopefully, the stupid party will splash sound bites of Obama in favor of the mosque all over the airwaves so our notoriously short-termed memory doesn’t allow us to vote for our own self-destruction.

There. Rant over.

Wait – one more:

Our freedoms are not invitations – nor demands – to self-immolation. Neither do they necessarily lead to our self-destruction in order to remain true to them.

Let me state that last part again.

Our freedoms do not need to necessarily lead to our self-destruction in order for us to remain true to them.

We need a speech on that sentence from our Dear Leader(s).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Score Five

Had a rare, free weekday morning off from watching the girls. So what does LE do? Drive down to his extra-cool fantastic used book store to score some fab product. Yeah, it’s a borderline addiction.

No, it’s an addiction.

Anyway, I give the trip a B+. Brought my Acquisitions List with me, and I’m looking forward to digging in, after I’m done with the escapades of Colonel Lawrence and the extrapolations of St. Thomas. Here’s the probable order I’ll hit them, with, of course, cogent and jocose critiques to follow heelishly.

1. Escape on Venus, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Classic Burroughs! Not only did I read the Princess of Mars series (or at least two or three), but I also read his Venus stuff, too, way back in the golden days of my youth. Not sure if this is the Venusian story I read as a kid; perhaps if I’m assaulted with vujà dé as I’m motoring through it in a week or two I’ll know. Should be lots of fun, provided I can kick that suspension-of-belief into overdrive. Which shouldn’t be too hard.

2. Inherit the Stars, by James P. Hogan

Hogan just died earlier this summer. Never read any of his stuff, but a lot of it’s highly acclaimed. If I’m not mistaken this is the one that Started It All for him. And It All Starts with the odd discovery of a 50,000 year old skeleton, clad in a bright red spacesuit, found on the moon …

3. Guardian, by Thomas F. Monteleone

Taking a bit of a chance with this one. Monteleone is another SF writer I’m pretty much unfamiliar with. However, back in high school a hundred years ago a buddy of mine lent me a book he wrote that sent chills up and down my spine. It was about the city of Chicago, specifically, how it attains sentience in the decades and centuries of the future. At least two blood-curdling tales that genuinely horrified me (the book was a compendium of ten or twelve short stories around this Windy City theme). Have never been able to find that book. So, in lieu of that one, this one.

4. Night of the Dragonstar, by Thomas F. Monteleone and David F. Bischoff

See preceding paragraph.

5. The Missionaries, by D. G. Compton

Must confess I’m really unfamiliar with this one. Don’t know the author (or even his or her gender). Seems to be about a spaceship landing on earth containing – alien missionaries bearing the fruits and gifts of a new religion. Hmmm. I like already. Must’ve read some good buzz about it somewhere, being it’s on the Acquisitions List and all.

Well, I’m engladdened. More escapist material for me, more fodder for you care of The Recovering Hopper.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ego reficiam vos

Ideo dico vobis, ne solliciti sitis animae vestrae quid manducetis, neque corpori vestro quid induamini. Nonne anima plus est quam esca, et corpus plus quam vestimentum? Respicite volatilia caeli, quoniam non serunt, neque metunt, neque congregant in horrea : et Pater vester caelestis pascit illa. Nonne vos magis pluris estis illis? Quis autem vestrum cogitans potest adjicere ad staturam suam cubitum unum? Et de vestimento quid solliciti estis? Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt : non laborant, neque nent. Dico autem vobis, quoniam nec Salomon in omni gloria sua coopertus est sicut unum ex istis. Si autem foenum agri, quod hodie est, et cras in clibanum mittitur, Deus sic vestit, quanto magis vos modicae fidei? Nolite ergo solliciti esse, dicentes : Quid manducabimus, aut quid bibemus, aut quo operiemur? haec enim omnia gentes inquirunt. Scit enim Pater vester, quia his omnibus indigetis. Quaerite ergo primum regnum Dei, et justitiam ejus : et haec omnia adjicientur vobis. Nolite ergo solliciti esse in crastinum. Crastinus enim dies sollicitus erit sibi ipsi : sufficit diei malitia sua.

(Matthew 6:25-34)


Omnis enim quicumque invocaverit nomen Domini, salvus erit.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Servants and Gifts

Without googling, who said …

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

a) Theodore Roosevelt

b) Mahatma Gandhi

c) Albert Einstein

d) C. S. Lewis

e) William Tecumseh Sherman

f) Nietzsche’s Zarathustra

g) Hugh of St. Victor

h) Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Simulator II

So what does it look like “inside the box,” inside the flight simulator?

You walk into a rectangular room, about ten feet wide and five feet deep. On the right is the instructor’s chair and console. The console consists of a simple desk where he puts his notes underneath one of those snake lights. Two flat-screen computer monitors, one atop the other, face him (and me). These are touch-operated. Tapping about the monitors he’s able to control everything from weather conditions to sounds and lighting to failure events.

My chair, the observer’s seat, is off to the immediate left, but it can slide forward so I can observe the action. I am slightly disturbed that it does not appear to have seat belts, what with all the discussion of kill switches.

Just forward of us is the cockpit, actual size. Steve and his co-pilot for the exercise squeeze into their chairs, don their headsets and mikes, and immediately start running through their pre-flight checklist. His particular aircraft has the yoke and foot pedals, but also a row of switches horizontally across chest-height. Below that are two notebook-sized computer screens. Around them are – no, not dials, but next-generation dials, electronic thingies yielding all sorts of telemetry about the plane. Between the two pilots is a panel of more switches and lighted thingies, about four-foot long and a foot wide. The throttle is here, as is the emergency brake.

The instructor, who they can’t see unless they physically turn their heads around, taps some weather conditions into the computer. The cockpit has three windows: a large, wide forward window about a foot in height, which wraps around both sides to form side windows. Now … I can’t believe my eyes, because it’s snowing outside, and it’s nighttime.

Whoa. I have the odd sensation of being inside an aircraft, looking out the window and seeing flakes of snow drift lazily by. Steve turns on the aircraft’s forward outside lights, so I can see those direction markers you see on runways. “What do you think?” the instructor asks me. “Amazing,” is the only reply I can make, awestruck by the realism.

Then Steve powers up the plane. You know when you’re buckled in your seat on your plane, waiting for something to happen, and you hear that low-pitch whine suddenly get louder, and the aircraft starts to move? Well, that’s exactly what I hear. The air starts circulating about like you’re in an actual plane. Steve releases the emergency brake and I feel a thud and then forward motion as the plane starts rolling. He taxis on to the runway.

“Challenger-300,” the instructor says in our headphones, “all clear for take-off.” Steve begins accelerating. I’m thrown back in my chair. The plane speeds up on the snowy runway. I can’t believe how lifelike this all feels; I must have a huge grin on my face because, yes, it feels just like it always feels when I’m in a plane taking off. We pick up speed; I know this because I see the yellow arrows on the runway ahead shooting by faster and faster, and I’m pushed back harder and harder in my seat.

Then, disaster.

Four quick bumps; it sounds as if the aircraft ran over speed bumps. A second later we’re spinning to the right, almost off the runway, then sharp back left, then right, then left. “Abort!” Steve shouts to his co-pilot, and he’s flicking switches all over the cockpit. We’re braking hard and while I’m not quite thrown forward, it’s probably because I’m white-knuckling the two handrails. My heart’s racing as Steve brings us sliding to a halt on the ice and slush.

It’s judged a success; he kept the plane on the runway.

The instructor laughs. He told Steve in the pre-briefing that he’d throw something at him early to “get his blood going.”

Then, everything’s reset. Steve lines up and takes off, ostensibly on a flight from JFK to Boston. The next series of exercises will test his airmanship. If what I gleaned from the pre-briefing is correct, he’s going to go up to 10,000 feet, make a series of turns maintaining certain angles and altitudes, and then follow a prescribed holding pattern and do a landing. We take off, which is still thrill-inducing, then it gets a little boring. We’re up in the clouds, and the window just shows a hazy blue-gray dispersion of light. It gives me a chance to observe things.

I’m very interested in this program the instructor is running. By tapping this and that he can program in little or big bugs for Steve to handle. One screen is a list of malfunctions: this is what I’m interested in. He can punch in anything from hydraulic problems (landing gear or rudder stuff, I guess) to foil malfunctions to engine failure to miscellaneous smoke and fire.

And don’t you know it, the instructor starts coughing. “It’s starting to get smoky back here,” he says to Steve. A light beeps somewhere. Steve asks his co-pilot to get more info. Apparently, there’s smoke coming in from the vents – oily smoke. Uh oh. We’ll have to do an emergency landing. I forget what the actually cause was, but there was much deductive reasoning going on. I’m thinking it was an engine fire, but maybe not. That strikes me as something more serious.

Steve receives clearance to land and executes a perfect landing. At least, I think it’s perfect. The plane isn’t destroyed or anything. Nobody dies of smoke inhalation.

The final exercise involves a twilight take-off at JFK. We see a beautiful sunset behind the Manhattan skyline. Steve is supposed to fly a particular pattern over the airport and land visually. There’s a power plant that gives him a visual cue on what to do and where to go. Everything goes swimmingly until he’s cleared for final approach.

Suddenly we hear – and, I swear, feel – a sharp, loud bang from somewhere underneath the plane. Steve and his co-pilot look at each other. “Maybe a big chunk of ice fell off the plane,” the co-pilot says with a laugh. I don’t know – maybe the landing gear fell off! But I know better, because I was watching the instructor. He tapped onto the malfunction menu and selected “FOIL.” Now, I’m not sure what it means, but it was damn well noisy and scary.

However, we’re able to land without further incident. It’s really amazing to watch a plane landing from the cockpit (or a few feet behind it). So smooth, yet a little unnerving. Probably because you’re going so fast and you just have to float this humongous mechanical machine gently down onto the runway. The brakes kick in, I go forward a little bit in my chair, and we’re stopped and the simulation is over.

Two hours in the box. Seemed like only twenty minutes.

Afterwards, I thank the instructor for letting me sit in. He and the co-pilot want to know my impressions. I tell them about white-knuckling it during the aborted take-off and how I think I now have jet lag.

A short debriefing follows. The instructor picked up on a few minor things for Steve to mull over. Nothing earth-shattering; he did well in the sim (this is his third day of training). Just some human-error human-judgment type-stuff that are every pilot’s weakness. Then they go over tomorrow’s exercise, broadly.

All-in-all, a fascinating experience. Quite different from fiddling around with Microsoft Flight Simulator, circa 2003. I’m kinda glad our pilots go through sessions like these, even if it’s only once a year. I think of the countless numbers of people whose lives will be saved because of them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Simulator I

Sunday, my friend Steve invited me to tag along with him during his flight simulator training. This is Pilot Steve, not to be confused with my other pals, Astronomy Steve and Musician Steve. I haven’t seen this Steve in fourteen months. He and his family, who we are very close to (we’re their children’s godparents), moved out to Pittsburgh three years ago. But there’s a bigger reason why I don’t see Steve that much. He flies for an unnamed Middle Eastern company primarily over the Arabian peninsula, parts of Africa, and small sections of Europe.

Once a year he’s required to take ten days off for training purposes. As it so happens, one of the most renowned training centers in the country is in a city about twenty-five miles southwest of where I live. Taking advantage of being stateside, he took his family on a mini-vacation, booking a hotel near the training facility and close to us. So, we all got to see each other and the children got to play together all weekend long. Steve got permission for me to attend one of his simulator sessions.

Wow. I was truly overwhelmed.

Wanna know what the pilot of your aircraft goes through once or twice a year to stay sharp?

All right. This is what happened, to the best of my memory. Remember, kids, I am not a professional pilot. In fact, flying makes me extremely nervous ...

A shuttle takes me and Steve from his hotel to this large, inconspicuous building in the midst of a gigantic office park. On the outside, it looks just like your typical, ordinary office building. When you walk through the doors (which require a pass card for entry), it still looks like a generic office building. There’s a cafeteria off to the left, flat screen teevees on the wall, a couple of rooms to the right with tables and ergonomic chairs and PC terminals. Steve is early so he prints out a few resumes he has stored online.

Then, we take an elevator up one flight and Steve uses his pass card to enter the room where the simulators are. This room is huge.

It’s essentially an open warehouse. I’d guess it’s about fifty yards by a hundred, two football fields side-by-side, but that’d just be a guess. It’s big. It’s also a couple stories tall. In the center is a rectangular-shaped cluster of a dozen briefing and de-briefing rooms, restrooms, and the largest room, the server room. Around the perimeter is a walkway about fifteen feet above the warehouse floor. And connected to the walkway are the simulators, eight of them, four on each side, though there appears to be four empty bays for future additions.

The simulators remind me, oddly enough, of the tops of the yachts I saw parked in Hilton Head harbor last month. They’re big, bigger than you’d think. Another guesstimate: maybe twenty feet long, wide, and high. They’re self-contained. You go down a few steps from a walkway, then over a plank, then you open a door, and everyone goes inside: pilot, co-pilot, simulator trainer, and any other observers, like me. The door is closed behind you, and you’re completely isolated inside the sim.

Which was quite unnerving. Especially when the instructor pointed out to me the kill switch: a big, fat, red button as big as a half-dollar on his control console. There are two other kill switches in the sim, one behind the pilot’s chair and one behind the co-pilot’s. “If everything starts going crazy, starts going out of control, and we’re all incapacitated,” the instructor says, pointing to himself, Steve, and the co-pilot, “you can shut it down by hitting this kill switch. Only problem is, everything inside goes black. You die with us.” Gallows humor, pilot-style.

You may be wondering, why would a simulator need a kill switch?

Each of these twenty by twenty by twenty foot self-contained boxes are held off the ground by six hydraulic lifters, each about ten or twelve feet long. It actually resembles a tripod, with two pistons each in the left rear, right rear, and front center, connecting diagonally across to each one’s neighbor at the base of the simulator. It doesn’t look sturdy because the box itself looks like it weighs a couple tons, but I have faith in the designers and the fact that no one else is concerned. Other than to install a trio of kill switches inside the simulator, that is.

Anyway, these hydraulic lifters (they’re actually electric, Steve informs me, but the principle’s the same) are responsible for moving the box up and down and side to side. They also simulate speeding and braking, accelerating and decelerating. At the rear, from the floor to the base of the box, is a black tube about two feet in circumference. This will pump in air and, I assume, the electronics that will trick us into seeing things that aren’t really there and hearing thing’s that really aren’t making any noise.

The first thing Steve has to do, though, is go through a briefing. It’s not brief, but takes about an hour. The simulator instructor goes over with Steve what they’ll be doing, what they’ll be expecting, and what Steve can expect. He explains that his job is not to trick Steve, to try to make him fail intentionally with all sorts of disaster scenarios, but to make him a better pilot. A lot of jargon is thrown around, a lot of abbreviations like VOR and ISL and CAT-2 and perhaps a dozen more. There’s talk of V-bars and foils and bev-keys. That last term I’m writing phonetically, and I have no idea what it is.

Overall, I guess I follow about 20-25% of what’s discussed. Steve is thumbing through his manual and making notes. The simulator is supposed to be identical to the plane he currently flies for a living, but they all note some discrepancies between simulator terminology and real-life terminology. I’d give an example, but honestly, I don’t remember the point in contention. I think it had something to do with categories of slush …

By 4:00, an hour-and-a-half after we arrived, we head out to the simulator. Steve hits the bathroom, and I tell the instructor that I better go, too. “Good idea,” the co-pilot laughs. “Not much place to go once you’re ‘in the box.’ ”

Tomorrow: the simulation itself …

Monday, August 9, 2010


Hi. Just got back from the zoo with two sweaty, overheated, and moody toddlers. I am also sweaty, overheated, and moody. Little One’s soccer starts on Wednesday, so we have to go out and buy her shin guards, cleats, and black shorts. We also need to check out a place to host her birthday party in six weeks or so. Gotta get groceries, ’cause we had such a busy weekend, and there’s little to eat in the house. Oh, and have I mentioned I gotta find a job in this stagnant, fearful, frozen-hiring business climate known as the Obama Economy?

Speaking of the weekend, though, I had a great time. We had friends come in from Pittsburgh for a visit, for the first time in over a year. Old times – Good times! Blasts from the Past! Much fun and levity. I’d forgotten what “fun” and “levity” truly meant. Barbecued, played my guitar, let all the children run round in the darkness with flashlights, pool time. Hung out with a dog all by myself one afternoon. Finished The Children of Hurin. Late nights and long days where I did not have to be ­de facto Director of Children’s Entertainment. Oh, my buddy invited me somewhere awesome that I’ll blog about tomorrow.

So … check back then. It’ll be worth it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010



“Mother,” asked a child, “since nothing is ever lost, where do all our thoughts go?”

“To GOD,” answered the mother gravely, “who remembers them forever.”

“Forever!” said the child. He bent his head, and, drawing closer to his mother, murmured, “I am frightened!”

Which of us have not felt the same?


(a neat little thought-provoking excerpt from “Paillettes d’Or”, a 19th-century Catholic devotional book)

Saturday, August 7, 2010


You have the vast history and moral under-moorings of our great Judeo-Christian heritage, which supremely influenced the founding of this nation and speaks of nothing less than the Creator bending down to touch Creation. You have the epical mythology and capital-R Reasoning of the Greeks, which led to capital-T Thought , the conciseness of thought, and the practical miracles that is Science, which will one day lead to our mastery of the universe.

And then you have the sweeping poetical prose of Tolkien, a heroic and mystical amalgamation of peoples, cultures, languages, and mostly forgotten virtues such as honor, duty, sacrifice, and the black-and-whiteness of good and evil. It should be required reading for everyone, and taught in the classrooms, would it not become corrupted.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Saving Bond

We get a subscription to Entertainment Weekly (it was a gift) and on this week’s cover is the Daniel Craig version of James Bond. And the tag line is something like, “The Inside Story on the Death of the James Bond Series.” Or something like it. I didn’t read the article. I didn’t have to.

First, the last Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, left a lot to be desired. As a long-time moderate fan going back to my childhood, I was kinda disappointed. Here’s my review, if you’re interested.

Second, back in October, I got into a discussion with a friend on one of the biggest weaknesses of Q of S. The Bond villain. Lately, Bond villains have been somewhat lacking in vision. Yeah, I liked LeChiffre from Casino Royale (partly because I like saying “LeChiffre”), but he didn’t have any vision. His big claim to badness? Money laundering. Yawn. His super-power or psychotic trait? He cried blood. Huh?

So, I brain-stormed a lateral list of somewhat unexpected but potentially perfect Bond bad guys. You want a summary? Okay. I thought these dudes might be interesting: Vince Vaughn, Seal, Tom Sizemore, Henry Rollins, David Caruso, Ben Kingsley, Michael Chiklis, Dennis Quaid, Willem Dafoe, and Geoffrey Rush. Before you laugh too hard, click here for the method behind my madness.

I guessed the Entertainment Weekly article would have some wisdom on how to save the 20-plus movie franchise. Now, I figure I don’t have to read it; I know exactly what the producers need to do to get 007 back on track.

1. Casting the bad guy is the most critical factor of the next movie (if there is one). No Euro-weenies. Consider my list or any similar list.

2. The badguy has to have a baaaaad plan. Global domination, or if not global domination, then something damn well close. Something that’ll effect each and every one of us. Lethal viruses. AI. Teleportation or time travel. It’s gotta be SF, pure SF, like Blofeld or Drax dreamed of in all their megalomaniacal glory.

3. Location. Yeah, I guess it’s okay that the producers target a glamorous city on each of the five main continents to give cast and crew luxurious filming locales. But back to the bad guy – Blofeld and Drax had outer space. Stromberg and Largo had undersea cities. Again, it’s a question of vision! Think, writers, think!

4. Give Bond back his Bondness. Daniel Craig has made him a Jason Bourne. In Casino Royale, there was a residual Bondness that was all but jettisoned for Q of S. Keep the fast-paced action chase-fights, just cut the number of them in the movie in half. Then spend the rest of the time re-imbueing character back into James.

5. No shakey-cam. No, no, no, no, no, no, NO! ’Nuff said.

6. Give Bond back some cool gadgets. Maybe my memory is failing me, but was Q even in the last two flicks? And by “cool” I mean science fiction-ish. Not overgrown toy stuff, like remote-control cars. Something cool, like bullets that track certain DNA, or can go around corners. Something weird, that will come into play at a crucial but unexpected turning point three-quarters of the way through the movie.

7. No MTV-style editing. I don’t need a headache from ten-thousand half-second shots every time Bond swings his dukes.

8. Bad guy has to get his comeuppance in a spectacularly violent or destructive way. LeChiffre was shot off screen, I believe, and Q of S Euroweenie was left out in the desert to die. Blah. The next Bond villain has to die in a self-collapsing contained dirty bomb nuke detonation. Or something similar.

9. Next movie needs to be 100 minutes. No more. Anything more – even one minute more – indicates a lack of concise thought actualized in the screenplay. Keep it short and sweet, and leave ’em wanting more.

10. Have Daniel Craig tell a joke, fer cryin’ out loud! All those double entendres that slide off the tongues (see? It’s easy!) of Connery and Moore are missing from this new incarnation of 007. It’s what made James Bond James Bond. Craig looks likes he’s relieved and pleased to have just figured out a sixth-grade division problem whenever he spits one out. Other times he looks like he’d rather be planning his next triathlon. If need be, get the man a real, live martini – or two, or three – before filming any scenes with Bondian humor. Trust me, it’ll be an improvement.

There. My 10-Point Plan to Make the Next Bond Movie A Hit. I have no confidence, though, that anyone involved will come close to doing any of the above, which is a shame. Because, no matter how lame they are, there’s always an expectation, an interest, something that draws many of us to the next James Bond flick, be it an escape back to boyhood memories or a brief interlude in an exciting, over-the-top world of adventure.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Alzheimer Buster

Here’s my personal preventive program to avoid acquiring Alzheimer's.

Sometime in my middle-later stages of life, say, around fifty-five or sixty, I’ll start the program. I’ll begin slow but I don’t think it will require that great an effort in terms of time devotion. Like physical health, you don’t need to build up to a five-hour daily workout. No, twenty-minutes a day getting the heart beatin’ is good enough for the body.

For the mind, I’m guessing a half-hour to forty-five minutes a day. I’d do it while the wife watches her evening shows.

I’d study trigonometric identities.


Way back as a junior in high school I first became enamored with trig identities. Now, I hated the practical applications of right triangles, sines, cosines, tangents, etc. Have no surveyor blood in my veins or ancestral lineage, I guess. But I was fascinated with the functions as mathematical concepts. As Platonic forms of pure ideas. Identities are basically how sines, cosines, tangents, and their reciprocals relate to each other. To my surprise, they related in ways as if they behaved like numbers.

Much like Euclid erecting his Geometry, the Jesuit teaching our class led us to proving some fundamental identities, and then we used a half-dozen or so to extrapolate and prove scores of others.

But what I recall enjoying best was the puzzle-solving factor. He’d give us a big massive conglomeration of trig functions divided multiplied raised to such and such powers etc etc, and expect us to factor it down to its simplest terms. I would get lost in solving the problems. It was like Word Search puzzles for math nerds. I remember doing well on these questions of our mid-terms and finals.

So I would refresh my memory re-learning all the identities, how to derive them and how to deconstruct the monstrosities. And that will keep the neurons and axions firing in the noggin, and will hopefully stay the onset of any memory loss. I’m being serious here. Research indicates that older folks who use their brains regularly (like playing chess or doing crossword puzzles) are better equipped to hold such mental declines at bay.

Immediately after mastering all things trigonometrically identic, I’d start working on integrating trigonometric functions of all colors and stripes.

I won’t be suffering from Alzheimer's, if all goes according to plan. Though I’ll probably drive the wife crazy calling her theta all the time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Altered States


Hippies with PhDs in the sciences.

Hippies enthralled with Carlos Castaneda, psychedelic drugs, brain chemistry, isolation tanks, meditation, quantum physics, genetic regression and altered states of being.

I normally hate hippies, but these hippies rock!

Back in the late-Seventies Altered States caused a mild sensation in the SF community. I guess, that is; I wasn’t even a teenager back then. But I do remember the buzz about it, somehow, and I do remember either seeing it on cable teevee or renting it way back in the early days of either technology. My final datum of remembrance is that, gee, this movie is highly disappointing to me.

So let’s not talk about the movie. I don’t remember it, and from what I hear it’s not that faithful to the book. The book was published in 1978 and was written by famed screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. He won two Academy Awards writing for the big screen, Marty and Network. Plus, the book got an honorable mention in this great big SF compendium I thumb through on occasion. It went on the Acquisitions List a few years ago and was forgotten. Until I found it in the yarn store last month.

It was a quick read – one that sucked me in and had me turning the pages. I even read it at the town pool, fer cryin’ out loud, when I’m supposed to be constantly eyeballing the little ones. Four hours over three days, and you know what? I wished it was longer. I kinda like spending time with these hippies.

Well, they weren’t true hippies, even though they expounded and espoused a lot of weird-slash-fringe scientific study of the late 60s to mid 70s. The novel follows the research of Edward Jessup, an oddball genius whose interest lies in brain research. On an assignment in Mexico, he comes across a group of elderly Indians having a hallucinogenic session during some sort of tribal celebration. He joins in and has a remarkable – indeed, life-changing – experience. I won’t give away details, but it was visually well-written and had not one but two little nuggets of horror buried within the episode. Creepy.

Jessup brings a truckload of the drug back with him to upper-crusty Harvard and Beacon Hill and continues sampling the funky powder, only this time in one of those coffin-like isolation tanks. Each time he goes deeper and deeper, and, it turns out, physically regresses millions of years to protohuman form. Something to do with the odd molecular structure of the drug, or something. After a particularly harrowing episode where Jessup wakes up in a zoo with blood on his face, he decides to call in a couple of buddies for better control of these “experiments.”

The problem is, well, hubris. When isn’t it, especially with these mad scientists? Heck, it even goes back to Mary Shelly and her Victor Frankenstein, to reference a work I’ve been talking about lately. Though, to be fair, the book resembles more Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, another entry on my Acquisitions List. Anyway, Doctor Jessup believes he can control himself at the center of these physical genetic regressions, which, of course, we learn he can’t.

Chayefsky has done his research thoroughly for this, his only novel. To that end, it was extremely realistic, interesting, and drew you in. It had an almost documentary feel to it. The character of Jessup, while impossible to relate to due to his alienness as a human being, does gain your sympathy because you simply know he’s steaming full speed ahead into disaster.

If the book has any faults, I could only speak of two. Chayefsky has a tendency to wordiness, long-windedness, page-long speeches from his characters. If you remember the movie Network you may recall this. Jessup and his wife, as the main protagonists, weren’t as guilty of this as Faye Dunaway or William Holden were, but still there was a lot of gabbing goin’ on.

I also felt the ending didn’t justify the build-up. Well, that’s not true; the ending was hideous, or rather, had a hideous potentiality to it. Whether or not it leads to a bloodbath or a happily-ever-after for our married scientists, I won’t say, but something about it doesn’t sit right with me. Or maybe it does. Not sure.

I give it a solid B.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


So, me and the Little One made our weekly trip to the library over the weekend and borrowed a whole slew of DVDs. We sat down together and watched two special, heartwarming movies, and now I’m catching all sorts of flack for it.

Before I tell you what the movies were, let me tell you of my vision. My vision, enumerated even before I met my wife, was to spend Saturday mornings with my children watching monster movies. Just like I did when I was a kid. We’d go through the Universal classics, the Hammer horrors, the Toho rubber-suited reptiles, the stop-motion wizardry of Ray Harryhausen, the completely awesome 1950s invasion-of-the-saucers SF. Then, I’d chase them around the house like a zombie or an alien or a radioactive dinosaur or – whatever. I’d even let the wife have a half-day off. In my vision, she’d be out getting a coffee and having her nails done by herself.

Now. Two girls later, I have to adjust my approach slightly. But not by that much. The Little One is absolutely, astoundingly, amazed at all my monster tales. I can regale her for the whole two or three hour weekend errand run with spooky stories from my youth. Or plot lines from the classics movies from Universal, Hammer, Toho, et al. I even test-run story ideas on her during these weekly trips.

This past weekend, I launched a tentative Monster Movie Saturdaython. We started off with 1931’s Frankenstein. Clocking in at 71 minutes of black-and-white creepiness, the Little One, age five and ten months, handled it no problem. In fact, she was somewhat bored during long sections of the classic. I thought the scenes with brains would get to her, or the infamous scene where the monster tosses the little girl into the lake to drown, but that was not to be the case. I think her reading of Mary Shelley’s abridged version two weeks ago adequately prepared her.

Oddly enough, this was the first time I saw Frankenstein beginning to end uninterrupted, and the first time I watched it since I was a kid. Colin Clive as Henry (not Victor) Frankenstein was truly unnerving as a literally mad scientist straddling the boundary of genius and insanity. The monster was more sympathetic than I remembered. The little girl scene is still dark for something filmed nearly eighty years ago.

We followed this up with Godzilla, King of the Monsters. This, too, was in black-and-white, the only Godzilla movie to be so. Originally filmed, I believe, in Japanese in 1954, the movie we watched was the Americanized version, from 1957. This is the one with Raymond Burr, starring as reporter “Steve Martin,” covering the giant lizard on its first rampage of Tokyo. My daughter liked this one more, even laughing at certain scenes, usually of frantic Japanese fisherman pointing at the sky and screaming, “Gojira!”

However, the scene were Doctor Serizawa uses his “oxygen destroyer” in his lab and turns his fishes into skeletons unsettled her. At the end of the movie, when Godzilla turns to a skeleton and then dissolves, there were one or two tears down her cheek. “Cheer up, honey,” I said. “Godzilla survives and comes back for twenty more movies!” She sniffled and wiped away tears. “Those poor fish!”

A lot came back watching King of the Monsters. It is the darkest of the Godzilla movies, the one where he’s most representative of the A-bomb and the horrors Japan suffered sixty-five years ago. It was never my favorite as a kid, but I saw it at least a half-dozen times. The moody musical score has always stuck with me. So have the imagery of Dr. Serizawa’s fish tank and Godzilla on the bottom of Tokyo bay.

So, the wife is shocked I let the Little One watch Frankenzilla with me. I don’t see the problem. There have been no nightmares, no difficult questions. To me, that means no permanent damage, no sessions on the psychiatric couch two or three decades down the road. Ergo, all engines: full speed ahead! Perhaps The Wolf Man (1941) and Gamera (1965) next? I’ve already primed her for fiery giant flying fanged turtles.

What do you think? Agree with me or the wife?

Monday, August 2, 2010


“Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!”

Thus speaks pessimistic Qoheleth, from yesterday’s readings at mass.

This intrigued me. I had not recalled anyone named Qoheleth in the Old Testament. And believe me, I’d remember a name like Qoheleth. That startling, conspicuous juxtapositioning of terrible Q with little o, poor little o, in the wrong place at the wrong time. And tell me – what horrible fate befell sycophantic u? Fawning, groveling, mindless u, always there when Q needs you, always ready, willing and able to do Q’s bidding? What went wrong? What did you do to make Q want to make you disappear?

Admit it: that “Qo” – so utterly foreign and alien to the English tongue – would not be something you or I would forget! No! How could we? How could anyone? A phoneme like that I’d remember, sure. Like I’d remember the first time I, in love, was betrayed. You don’t forget something like that, and you don’t forget the first time you make heart-stopping acquaintance with the Qo morpheme.

How maleficiently, malevolently Lovecraftian!

So – who is this Qoheleth?

I checked my Catholic Bible, RSV – and, yes, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 1, verse 1, I read:

“The words of David’s son, Qoheleth, king in Jerusalem”

Wait a minute. Did David have a son named Qoheleth? I know he had a son named Solomon, who, after much Romanesque machinations on the part of his mother, inherited the still-united kingdom of Israel. David had a bunch of other sons, most (maybe, some) of whom rebelled against him: Absalom and Adonijah are the two that come to mind. But who’s this Qoheleth?

Wait! There’s one of those miniature a’s right after the name! I scan down the page to the footer, where it helpfully suggests to me: see Introduction.

I skim through the five-paragraph Introduction to Ecclesiastes on the previous page. Aha! “Qoheleth is a Hebrew word meaning, perhaps, ‘one who convokes an assembly.’ ” (As an aside, how loaded is that word perhaps?) Ecclesiastes is the Greek translation of the word Qoheleth. Hmmm.

Further on, it informs me: “The author of the book was a teacher of popular wisdom. Qoheleth was obviously only his literary name. Because he is called ‘David’s son, king of Jerusalem,’ it was commonly thought that he was King Solomon. Such personation, however, was but a literary device to lend greater dignity and authority to the book – a circumstance which does not in any way impugn its inspired character.”

Ah. So “Qoheleth”, which means, perhaps, Assembly-Convoker, or more modernly, Preacher or Teacher according to my two other (Protestant) Bibles, is a pseudonym. Rather like the “Publius” used by the trio of authors of the Federalist Papers. On reflection, I kinda like that. Gives the most depressing book in the Bible a dangerous magnetic quality.

Regardless, that’s just an awesome word, no matter what language it appears.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Patriarchal Numerology

One of the things I’d do if I was somehow, someway miraculously financially independent is study number theory. I was a physics major way back in college for two years, and I had my share of higher math. But it was all taken ’cause it had to be learned, and not studied for the pure joy of it. Yes, I do get joy from studying numbers.

All aspects of numbers. Including numerology, which, yes, I acknowledge borders uncomfortably close to pseudoscience. But so what? Like many of my nutty interests, it’s, well, interesting. It’s one of the reasons I find the Bible so fascinating. (Way down on the list, I must assure you, if the list of reasons I find the Bible so fascinating is prioritized.) When you read the Bible, you have to realize that every number you come across is deliberately chosen. No number in the Bible is put there accidentally; there’s a symbolism behind each and every one.

I just came across this little factoid in a Catholic Bible commentary. Remember the Patriarchs of the Faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Well, in Genesis, their lifespans are recorded thusly:

Abraham, 175 years (Gen 25:7)
Isaac, 180 years (Gen 35:28)
Jacob, 147 years (Gen 47:28)

What’s special about these numbers, 175, 180, 147?

Check this out.

175 = 7 x (5 x 5) and 7 + 5 + 5 = 17

180 = 5 x (6 x 6) and 5 + 6 + 6 = 17

147 = 3 x (7 x 7) and 3 + 7 + 7 = 17

What is so significant about the number 17 is up for interpretation. It appears in similar ways throughout many of the lifespans recorded in Genesis, such as those in chapters 5 and 11. The most commonly-held opinion is that 17 is the sum of the ‘sacred’ number 7 and the number of ‘completeness’, 10, so thought from earliest Biblical exegesis.

Neat, huh?