Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monkey on My Back

Gotta monkey on my back!

Gotta muh-muh-muh-muh-monkey on my back back back back!

Gonna change my ways tonight!

Nobody’s fault but mine.

- “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by Led Zeppelin

Love that song and love the little monkey on my back here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Super 8


Not much time for writing these past few days, as you can imagine.

My mother has the two little ones for the week, on vacation in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Monday night, the wife and I went out to dinner to celebrate my new job. Last night we followed it up with a trip to the movie theaters for the first time, together, by ourselves, sans children, in at least two, maybe three years. Though I’m working hard during the day, I’m enjoying the evenings.

Last night we saw the Spielberg / Abrams sci-fi offering Super 8. Decent summer flick. There’s something there for everyone: SF, horror, genuine comedy, romance, action, even late-70s nostalgia. Not a perfect movie, but pointing out flaws would be nit-picking. See it on the big screen if you’re into this sorta thing, it’s worth it.

Tonight I’ll be alone (wife has an event at one of her stores), so I plan on a quiet, home-cooked meal, mowing the lawn, doing a little bit of writing, going out for a three-mile walk, and reading about 50 pages of Riders of the Purple Sage, which I’ve been necessarily neglecting over the past three days.

Good stuff later in the week, I promise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm Working!

Yay! I am finally a productive member of society!

After a little over two years of searching I officially started my first day at my new job yesterday. (Unofficially there was a day of training last week at an outside vendor.) What a relief, what a heavy load off my shoulders. And not just from a financial point of view. It sounds old fashioned to say it, but a man’s got to work. I feel twice the man I was a week ago when I was jobless.

I sent out a little over 300 resumes resumés over the past 27 months. I did two mass mailers – one targeting the top 160 businesses (both in sales and employee size) and one aimed at the closest 60 businesses in my line of work (closest to my home). Each mail-out had a letter explaining what I could do for the company, tailored as personal as I could make them. Results: one in-person interview, two phone interviews. Zero job offers.

The other 100 or so resumés were online job applications. I had filter any job openings related to a couple of keywords pertaining to my skill set and past history. These I think of as the Black Hole of Unemployment. You apply and apply and apply, and you never ever even know if another human being ever eyeballs your resumé and cover letter. However, I did get one in-person interview after a phone interview via this route. Results: Zero job offers.

I made contact with an old coworker and a few weeks later got a call for an in-person interview. Drove the 43 miles (one-way) to the business feeling quite confident. Hey, I had an “in”, a connection. Unfortunately, there were 28 other applicants for the same job. Since I wouldn’t have been working directly for this guy, that connection didn’t amount to much. Results: I got called back saying I didn’t make the cut.

Over the past two years I met with four headhunters. Had to actually go in and interview with them – two companies, twice as they like to physically see you after a year goes by. I must admit not thinking very highly of the headhunter industry. Maybe it’s because my skill set is so niche. I don’t know, but I never got a call from any of them for any job openings. Big waste of time.

Then I made contact with another old coworker and a couple of weeks later got a call to come in and interview. It was a case of right-place-right-time – they were looking exactly for someone like me and I was looking for someone exactly like them. Did a second interview, got a proposal, said yes, did a day of training, then had first day yesterday. A whirlwind, and lazy ol’ me is somewhat winded and out of breath.

In keeping with the semi-anonymous nature of this public blog, that’s about as much detail as I’m gonna give. If you know me and want to know more, send me a message by clicking on the mugshot just under the About Me. I’ll get back to you.

Thanks to all who have supported me and my family throughout these long two-plus years. You know who you are! Finally things seem to be going Team Hopper’s way for a change. Let’s hope it continues – and gathers momentum!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Western

My next choice of read requires some explanation.

About a decade ago my parents bought a weekend home that would eventually lead to their retirement home out in the relative rugged mountains and woodlands of northern Pennsylvania. I’ve been up there two or three dozen times, as it is about a 90-minute drive from my home, and while I’m no outdoorsman – don’t fish, don’t hunt, don’t know what poison ivy looks like, am scared of bugs – I enjoy my time there. I love the quiet and the seclusion.

From the very first I noticed that you pass the Zane Grey museum as you drive up there. That intrigued me, right from the start. The only other “personal” museum I’ve been to was FDR’s in Hyde Park, and it was fascinating, enlightening, and put you in the shoes of a great man, regardless of what you think of his politics. I decided I wanted to check out the Zane Grey museum, but for one problem. I had never read a single book of his.

Zane Grey was a prolific writer of Westerns in the early 20th century, writing about 85 of them (the figures I’ve seen vary a bit as a lot of his stuff was published posthumously). I remember the name from one of the novels in my dad’s hidden treasure trove of paperbacks I stumbled across as a lad of ten. Though I read all the other books in that drawer – all SF and fantasy – I did not read that book, and to this day can’t recall the title.

My only real knowledge of the Western is from movies, primarily John Wayne and Clint Eastwood flicks, though I’ve watched a few with Henry Fonda, Robert Duvall, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, and others. Most of the ones I’ve watched were good and true and decent; though it’s not my normal choice of entertainment, I don’t mind a good Western.

Officially, I think I’ve only read three Westerns in my entire life: The Red Badge of Courage, required reading in high school, and a pair of books by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove and The Streets of Laredo in the early 90s. Don’t remember Red Badge, but I did like the McMurtry books immensely, though I thought the second one was somewhat dour and anticlimactic, as if the writer had suddenly began to dislike the characters he was writing about.

So each time I drove up to my parents’ house, I’d pass the Zane Grey museum and say, “One of these days I’m gonna go there, but first I have to read one or two Zane Grey books.”

Years went by until – you guessed it – I picked up a pair of Zane Grey books.

I finally finished the encyclopedic Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, and I’m still making my way through Shakespeare (got a little bogged down over finding time to view Henry IV). So yesterday I started reading Grey’s famous Riders of the Purple Sage, putting away 40 or so pages fairly quickly. So far it’s an enjoyable read, and reads very much like the screenplay of yer typical cowboy flick. After Riders I have another of his to read, one of his posthumous ones, so it may be of dubious quality, and a slim novel The Long Riders. I seem to recall the latter as the title of a movie; don’t know right now if the two are related or not.

N.B. – Very, very busy this week for reasons I will divulge tomorrow! Good news! But the posts this week may be a little on the short side. Bear with me, and keep coming back!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Not a cheerful post today. I wish to write a few words about the death toll from the Spanish Inquisition.

First off, there is a Talmudic dictum that states, “whosoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved the whole world.” I believe the inverse of that is true: the innocent death of one human being is an incomparable tragedy and truly makes God weep.

That being said, I do not wish to deny any wrongdoing on the part of the Church. I do not want to give the impression that I am minimizing in any way the tragedy that came out of the Inquisition. What I wish to do in this post is simply counteract a distortion that is willingly used by the enemies of the Church to harm her and the just cause of Christ.

How many people do you think were killed by the Inquisition? Tens or hundreds of thousands? More? Do you think it is comparable to that silly figure tossed about in the media, that 5 million witches were burned at the stake during a 300 year period? Do you think the Inquisition killed more or less?

As a guess, I’ll bet you’ll say 100,000 to 250,000, total, over a couple of centuries. That’s what I would have guessed up to a few days ago.

The famous and prolific historian Will Durant (1885-1981) has used the figure of 4,000 to number those who were killed as a result of the 350-year long Spanish Inquisition. If you check the wikipedia article on the Inquisition and consult the sourced references, you’ll come up with a similar figure – 3,000 to 5,000. For the sake of this post, let’s use the highest figure, 5,000.

If you total Union and Confederate battle deaths in the United States Civil War, you come up with a figure of 212,938 over a period of four years. The rate of death for that conflict comes out to about 4,400 per month.

World War II is without doubt the most devastating modern war in terms of death toll, with estimates ranging around 83 million combined Allied and Axis military and civilian deaths. This conflict raged for six years, yielding a terrible rate of death of 37,900 souls per day.

And of course America lost 2,977 victims to a single instance of Muslim terrorism on September 11, 2001.

Okay, you say, wars and acts of terror are not comparable to an inquisition. I see your point.

Would it be more plausible to compare the Inquisition to living under a totalitarian regime? After all, “they” could come for you at any time, throw you into a cell for months or years, interrogate you, and hold your life in their hands. Let me throw two additional statistics out at you.

According to the well-sourced website, 20 million people were killed during the 29-year reign of Joseph Stalin (the figure is a conservative compromise). That averages to about 57,000 victims a month, or 1,900 a day.

In a similar calculation from the same website, 40 million were murdered during the 26-year reign of Mao in China. That’s 128,000 a month, or 4,200 a day.

And just a reminder: the Soviet Union under Stalin and China under Mao were officially atheistic societies.

Evil is evil; the death of any innocent life is a terrible crime, blood crying out from the ground for vengeance. I only wish to illustrate some perspective and proportionality concerning the Spanish Inquisition, as a defense against those who would mischaracterize it as part of an agenda to harm the contemporary Church.

Would you rather have lived in Spain in the 15th, 16th, or 17th century, or in Russia, China, or Germany during the 20th?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Shakespearean Monologue

One of the best classes I ever took – hands down – was a public speaking class. It was actually a required course at Seton Hall in the early 90s, and it was well worth it. I heartily recommend it to any undergraduate. It turned me from someone who was paralyzingly shy to someone who is still quiet but can talk in front of a group if need be. I wrote a small bit about that, here.

Anyway, as part of the desensitization, about midway through the course, we had to pick a monologue to read up at the podium in front of the class. Not being a Shakespearean buff back then, I went to my local bookstore and picked up Hamlet, because I had at least a passing fancy of the plot. Plus it had that “To be or not to be” speech. But since that was clichéd even to my ill-informed ears, I figured on skimming around the play looking for the requisite two dozen lines to read in front of my younger peers.

I didn’t look very far. Probably because I had a ton of physics and calculus homework. Or had to work that long, 13-hour Tuesday shift at the day job. Or had to get to the rehearsal studio. In any event, seven pages into Hamlet I came across a short passage of Horatio imploring the “ghost” at the castle walls to speak. Seemed interesting. Something I could handle without feeling foolish or phoning it in. Twenty-seven lines, no crazy words. We weren’t required to memorize it, but I did, though I printed it out on a small sheet of lined paper to carry with me just in case.

Here it is:

A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye:
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of feared events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.

But soft, behold, lo where it comes again!
I’ll cross it, though it blast me. – Stay, illusion.

If thou hast any sound or use of voice,
Speak to me.
If there be any good thing to be done
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me.
If thou art privy to thy country’s fate,
Which happily foreknowing may avoid,
O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it. Stay and speak. Stop it, Marcellus.

- Hamlet, I. i. 112-139

Though there were other exercises in the course I had extreme difficulty with (sharing personal information and stories up in front of the class, for example) I really enjoyed the minute or two of the monologue. If I remember correctly, I got an A for this assignment.

I wouldn’t mind trying to memorize other monologues if my memory wasn’t shot to pieces from insomnia, stress, and Diet Coke. And I’d perform it for the little ones, captive strapped into their car seats, as we drove from errand to errand on Saturday mornings.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Galileo, Church, Science

The popes supported astronomical research. Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572-1585), who straightened out the calendar, also built the Vatican’s observatory, and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) himself had Pope Urban VIII as a benefactor, friend, and even poetic champion – at least until the sharp-tongued Galileo made ridicule of the pope part of his elaboration on the Copernican system. There was nothing in Galileo’s science that was at odds with the Church – the issue was his manner, and his manner was an issue because the Church had finally realized that the Reformation would not peter out on its own, but intended to be a full-out assault on the faith.

As for the Church being opposed to science, it might be worth mentioning that the Jesuits – not to mention the Vatican – still operate their own observatory, and the Catholic Church remains by far the most prominent Christian spokesman regarding the ethical implications of modern science. The Church has also produced a fair number of clerical scientists throughout its modern history, including, perhaps most famously, the monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1894), a botanist, who made a major contribution to the science of genetics. More controversially there is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), Jesuit priest, philosopher, and paleontologist, who did indeed run afoul of the Vatican for his mystical attempt to conflate evolution and Christianity. Among devout laymen one finds such as Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), who is perhaps the most important scientist in the microbiological battle against disease.

- from Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, by H. W. Crocker III, ch. 17

Also, I might add, Father Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian Catholic priest and astronomer, who first proposed the theory of the Big Bang.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Breaths of Fresh Air

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength.

They will fly high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary.

They will walk and not faint.

- Isaiah 40:31

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven;

A woman clothed with the sun,

And the moon under her feet,

And upon her head a crown of twelve stars.

- Revelation 12:1

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Falling Skies

Finally watched the premiere of the teevee series "Falling Skies" we DVR'd over the weekend. Now, I'm not much for teevee series, since something close to 99.9994 percent of them stink, and the rare, rare gems you stumble across are usually canceled by dimwitted teevee execs way too early. The old adage is that SF movies are about two decades behind SF novels in terms of cutting-edge ideas, interest, and execution. Teevee is about two decades behind movies in this regard.

The wife read some good print about the series (no doubt paid for by the offending studio's publicity department). So we DVR'd it and decided to give it a shot. I sat through the whole two-hour opening and generally didn't like it. Kinda knew it would be lame after the first ten minutes or so, but we stuck with it.

Since I'm in a pissy and ornery mood today, here's a list of 20 Observations the Hopper Made During the Two-Hour Premier of the Television Series "Falling Skies":

(1) Troglodyte military commander who's brusk and doesn't consider others' feelings. Check.

(2) Versus enlightened, progressive, and humane civilian advocates. Check.

(3) Special effects approximately on the level of a Syfy channel flick.

(4) Two-legger "mech" walkers a cross between a Predator and a War of the Worlds Tripod without manifesting the menace or dread of either.

(5) Six-legged alien "skitters" puzzling ... but not scary or overly dangerous.

(6) Spring-loaded alien taking the place of a spring-loaded cat (in a dark warehouse; you've seen it a couple hundred times).

(7) Testosterone chicks - 95-pound young ladies who can flip 200-pound men with simple judo moves.

(8) They also won't hesitate to plug you with hot lead if you cross them - and they're always dead-accurate shots.

(9) Multi-cultural cast of good guys - wait - there's no Hispanics! There are blacks, asians, whites, but no Hispanics! Organize a protest! Oh, wait, I guess that 15-year-old girl who loves to pray to God is a stand in for the traditional Latina / Latino group. Grievance avoided.

(10) White supremacists holed up in Massachusettes, of all places.

(11) "Rednecks" are one of the last acceptable stereotypes / prejudices for Hollywood to indulge in.

(12) Bad guys out of Hollywood central casting - a cross between Michael Jackson's Bad video and Chris Angel's entourage.

(13) Scummy and amoral human badguy surnamed "Pope." Thank you again, Hollywood. You're so "edgy."

(14) Genius military historian holding prolonged, loud debate out in the middle of town square - get indoors before a alien ship or some random mechs spot you, dummies!

(15) Bringing 13-year-olds (who fall in love with bait dogs) on dangerous missions with you, even when you have several able-bodies twentysomethings present.

(16) Approximate breakdown: 2 hours of premiere; 15 minutes fighting aliens; 60 minutes fighting humans; 45 minutes wistful stares and meaningful glances.

(17) He picked the wrong book from the pile on the street! While I love Dickens (and read A Tale of Two Cities in 2002), ya gotta go with Jules Verne in an SF movie.

(18) Good that the professor half-smirkenly gives history lectures at every opportunity for us illitrit yokels out in teeveeland.

(19) It's obvious that to these screenwriters it is more honorable and noble to go with your feelings and attempt desperate missions with low odds of success rather than retreat and regroup to fight another better fight another day.

(20) Worse than being outright bad in an overall sense, it was ... just boring.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Listers

This was inspired while reading H. W. Crocker's Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, chapter 10.

May I present to you the A-listers of (Catholic) philosophic thought?

Anthony (two of 'em)

Just something odd I noticed, this prevalence of Catholic thinkers (and non-Catholic thinkers used by Catholic thinkers to further Catholic philosophy) beginning with the first letter of the alphabet.

I'm about half-way through Triumph. It's a readable and decent introduction to the history of the Catholic Church, though at times I find myself lost in a cavalcade of names and dates: popes and saints, Roman and Byzantine emperors, European kings and princes, Muslim sultans and caliphs.

Two small problems I have with it - and believe me, the effort writing this down is almost greater than the problems are worth.

First, I note smack-dab on the cover at the top a blurb by "Sean Hannity, FOX NEWS," which puzzles me. See here.

Second, this cements my hunch that this book is the Fox News of Catholic History. Whereas Fox News is "my country, right or wrong," Triumph is "my Church, right or wrong." Now don't mischaracterize me. I despise exponentially more the hand-wringing and veiled hatred NPR / CBS / NBC / ABC / CNN / PBS / MSNBC / New York Times / Washington Post has for our country and, even more so, the Catholic Church. But the Church is an institution of men, and all men are sinners. We all fall short of the mark, all of us, me and you and him and her. Everyone. But the Church is carrying on the most noble work of all given by the most noble Man of all, Jesus Christ. That's why I love it.

A fuller review of Triumph when I finish it, perhaps, in a week or so.

Monday, June 20, 2011

True Grits




Okay, that out of the way, let me state that I finally saw the True Grit remake over the weekend.

In all fairness, the remake was very, very good. With one major exception. The ending. More specifically, the final ten minutes of the movie. I hated it. Absolutely hated it. To me, it's illustrative of what's really wrong in Hollywood today. Or what's been wrong in Hollywood since, oh, 1969 or so.

Up until those last ten minutes I was with the remake. I liked Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn. Sure, his marble-mouthed stoned-hippie-slur takes about thirty minutes to get used to. But it won me over. I liked Matt Damon's characterization of the Texas Ranger much better than Glen Campbell's in the original. Damon took a well-deserved beating and did not mind portraying the character as a jackass. The girl, well, she did the best she could compared to the defining, iconic performance by the original Mattie.

So right up to the point where Cogburn carries the snake-bit girl to shelter to save her life, I was with the remake. If John Wayne's original was graded an A-plus, I'd give the new version a solid A.

Until those damnable final ten minutes.

In the original, Mattie is healed and whole after Rooster has to ride and carry her all through the freezing night to get her to a doctor. Some time passes, and it's time for the marshall to move on. In a tender, wistful and childlike way, Mattie asks whether Rooster would like to be buried in her family's burial plot. Touched but realizing the true nature behind the request, he turns her down, telling her it's for her and her future husband. Then, with a mischievous wink, he tells her he ain't dead yet, spurs his horse to leap over a fence, and disappears in a blur amidst credits.

A fine and fitting ending to a classic. Pulls at the heartstrings in a gentle, unassuming way.

Now, the remake.

Mattie does not see Cogburn when she comes out of her snake-bite-induced coma. Nor does she see him again as we flash forward 25 long years as a world-weary older Mattie begins voiceover narration. She's lost the arm to the snake poison; it had to be amputed. We're treated to the sight of one-armed Mattie in a black dress from several angles over the next several minutes. We get it. She's ugly. Every year Hollywood westerns get uglier and uglier. Ugly men, homely women. Sweaty, dirty, bad hair, bad clothes. We get it. Now this beautiful young girl is an ugly old spinster. Ugliness has prevailed. Ugliness has triumphed.

She's received a letter from Rooster; seems the marshall is now part of a traveling rodeo show; the year is 1903. Mattie gets on a train to meet with the man who saved her life and helped bring her father's killer to justice. Okay, so now I'm hoping for a meeting with the elderly Cogburn, hoping to see an Oscar-worthy crack in the mental armor in either the crusty old gunslinger or the now bitter Mattie. Perhaps they both give the other a reason to live, really live, again, in what years remain to either. But guess what? Rooster's dead. Died three days ago. Mattie missed him, after 25 years, by a lousy 72 hours. Life stinks. We get it.

So what does Mattie do? Lay a daffodil at the old man's grave? It was mentioned that Rooster was buried in a Confederate cemetary. Early in the film he expressed pride in defending some of the South's military traditions and the men he rode with. What does Mattie do? She unearths his coffin and hauls it back north to her family plot - exactly the opposite of the marshall's wishes per the first movie.

What a bitter, ugly, senseless, and ... postmodern ... ending to a classic flick. That's what I think is wrong with Hollywood. Too many movies reach a fork in the road and choose the uglier and senseless path. In postmodern America, it's no longer gutsy to choose this direction, just tiresome. Where has all the uplifting art from years past gone? Oh - can't even ask that: the culture mocks such a question with faux hipness.

I give the ending an F. Proportionally speaking, then, I guess, I'd have to grade the remake (which was mercifully short for a modern-day movie, clocking in at something like an hour and forty-five minutes) a solid B, though I feel that ending is so poisonous I can't recommend the film in its entirety.

Blech. Ruined in the closing moments for no good reason at all.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddy Look at Me!

One of the things I will never forget is a commercial I saw when Little One was just an infant. It has shaped me more on a day-to-day basis than any piece of “wisdom” I have ever read or was ever told to me.

I don’t remember the exact group behind the commercial. I’m thinking it was one of those anti-drug PSAs, but I’m not sure. The images are a bit cloudy but the message, however, is burned into my brain. As a new father at the time dealing with a lot of new feelings, it seared an incredibly powerful message into my very core.

We’re treated to a series of flashbacks of a little girl: as a wobbly ballerina, then riding her bicycle, playing with a ball, in a soccer uniform or as an innocent cheerleader doing kicks. Each time she does a little something and she says, “Hey Daddy! Look at me!” And the father is always distracted – talking to other men, making deals over the phone, watching teevee, stuff like that. The last scene is of the little girl now in her late teens, sweaty, hair stringey and makeup running, smoking pot. She looks at the camera and mumbles, “Hey Daddy, look at me.”

Get it? I certainly did.

Every day I get … oh … let’s say about eighty to a hundred and twenty “Hey Daddy”ies. These “Hey Daddy”ies are either inflected to precede a question or vocalized in an urgent manner to get my attention, usually as a prerequisite to a “Look at me!” request. Now, you may think that it’s either a) cute, or b) wonderful that I am so loved and adored, and, yes, I do agree with you. I really do. But after the fortieth or fiftieth “Hey Daddy,” knowing I’m probably only a third of the way towards my total daily allotment of “Hey Daddy”ies, I’m seriously contemplating becoming a Carthusian monk. Those are the monks that spend all day in a cave meditating on esoteric holy mysteries, after having taken a vow of silence.

I say this only half in jest.

As a stay-at-home-dad-by-economic-fiat-rather-than-by-choice, I’m going crazy. I watch Patch about seven hours a day. I watch Little One after school for four hours a day. That’s 35 hours a week, 20 of them with two children, 15 with one. Normally I get a 2-hour break around 12 to 2, but a lot of that time is spent online seeking jobs, which sooner rather than later turns into mindless web surfing. Now that we’re winding up school, Little One has four straight days of half-days, which eliminates that daily 2-hour break and adds 2 hours daily to my child-sitting sentence. Next week it will be summer vacation, and I’ll have two little ones to watch, ten hours a day, five days a week.

My “Hey Daddy” allotment will most likely rise by fifty percent in this period.

Okay, okay, so I’m griping here. I remember, just a few sentences ago I agreed that I’m lucky to be loved and they’re really cute. I am and they are. But, dammit, I need a break sometimes. Usually by four pm every day. Definitely by seven, when the wife gets home.

Then – that commercial. I remember that commercial pretty much every single day. While I’m typing this out Little One, sitting at her mother’s desk doing some sort of artsy-craftsy project, has already interrupted me three times. And because of that commercial, I pause, take a deep breath, feel my blood pressure rise but hope that I don’t consciously help it, and I attend to her needs. Because of that commercial.

But … today is my Official Day Off! Alleluia! I only get two days off, officially (Father’s Day and my birthday, sometimes), so I plan on enjoying it to the hilt! Yeah, I’m at my parent’s house with a zillion other people, so I will be disappearing with a couple of books and a couple of Clausthalers. I hope any fathers out there reading this can say the same thing (except with real beer) and have a great time. I wish a happy Father’s Day to all the dads in my life! Enjoy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Shakespeare, KJB, Henry IV

Yes, that’s KJB, as in King James Bible, not KGB, as in the defunct Soviet Union’s internal terrorist organization.

Anyway, had a very busy and draining week – two interviews, couple of Little One functions, wife working extremely late a few nights – so I did not spend much time with Mr. Shakespeare. I did finish Henry IV part I early on and watched two scenes from the BBC production, and, sadly, that’s it.

I did, however, go out to a big used book store and managed to find a complete collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets and an authentic King James Bible. I bought the sonnets because I don’t have them in their totality, just a handful reprinted in the Great Books and a compendium of poetry I have. I bought the KJB for two reasons: one, the very first Bible I had (as a boy) is a KJB New Testament and it’s falling to pieces; it’s what I read when I had my major conversion in 1992. Second, it’s always compared to Shakespeare’s plays as the summit of English literature, written about the same time as the plays were being wrapped up. Indeed, there’s a rumor Shakespeare may even have worked on it, which I briefly address, here.

One thing I immediately discovered. After reading through a half-dozen of the Bard’s plays (Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline, As You Like It, and Henry IV part I), I find that reading the KJB is a breeze. Whereas the punctuation, the sentence structure, the diction, the vocabulary, used to puzzle me and serve as a roadblock between me and the Word, I found out that the few selections I’ve read this week … flowed.

I remember reading a book three years ago about a guy who decided he was going to read through a broad selection of classics and contemporary works thought to be classics. Then he’d offer his opinions about the author in question and the work. When he got to Hegel, he had a similar experience as I did. He wrote how the work had it’s own internal rhythm, and only after a few hundred pages under his belt could he see how to grasp it, though grasp it he never did. Shakespeare and the KJB is like that, for me, only in this case, I wondrously grasped it, and came out the better for it.

My goal this week is to finish the BBC play and to finish part 2. B&N did not have part 2, so I’m gonna have to go online to see which local library does. Next Saturday I’ll try to post something of interest about Shakespeare or his works (perhaps something on the sonnets) rather than just a self-serving update on my progress through the canon.

One tidbit about Henry IV: I absolutely love the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff. The latter, as you may know, is an overweight, older knight devoted to gluttony in all its forms, prone to loud, self-serving boasting, and is thoroughly the life of any room he enters. Young Prince Hal (and many of their companions) enjoy keeping the old man in his place by peppering their speech with good-natured commentary about his corpulence. For example –

Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack …

You will, chops?

Peace, you fat-kidneyed rascal!

Peace, you fat guts!

Falstaff sweats to death, and lards the lean earth as he walks along.

Zounds, you fat paunch …

Why, thou claybrained guts, though knotty-pated fool, thou obscene, greasy tallow-catch –

… this horse-back-breaker, this huge hill of flesh …

And Falstaff, you carried your guts away nimbly …

And that’s just in the first two Acts. The key is that Falstaff takes it all in stride, almost as a point of pride, and attempts to dish it out as bad as he gets it. I don’t know about you, but I laugh out loud when I read those pseudo-slurs and completely enjoyed the interplay and verbal jousting (which is quite common in the plays).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Video Entertainment

Found this video on Mark Shea's blog. Mark has been my online mentor for all things Catholic and has shaped my political views more than any other factor over the past decade. (In a nutshell: Catholic first, conservative second.) He also has my sense of humor. Case in point: Cat videos, like this one:

And no video offering from the Hopper would be complete without something from the Weirdity Files. From 1992's tv-movie/miniseries "Intruders," here's a neat little scene that's only one of three scary bits of suspense to ever make my wife jump three feet off the living room couch.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Job Hunt

Had a very productive week on the job hunt. I can tell you from direct experience that the employment market is picking up. For the first six months of 2011, I’m probably applying to an average of two jobs a week that are perfect fits for me. The previous eighteen months I probably averaged two or three a month. I’m getting a lot more call backs and have gone on four in-person interviews since March. The sum total of interviews in the two years prior is one.

The problem I now face is, even though I’ve applied to fifty-plus jobs this year so far, there are so many applicants seeking work. When I was first laid off and met with headhunters I was told that there are an average of six people applying for every job opening. When I went on that interview back in March, I was one of twenty-eight.

A first this week: two big interviews, back to back. One went extremely well, right-place-at-the-right-time stuff, the other was straight outta the twilight zone. Truthfully, I’m kind of exhausted. Thank God my mother was available to watch the girls, and thank God the weather was beautiful. Hate to go to interviews in 99 degree humidity or in thunderstorms.

Yesterday I wrote a 2,000-word piece on the zanier of the two interviews and emailed it to some family and friends. It may make an appearance on this blog down the road; I really would like it to as I like it a lot. Though I highly doubt I’ll be offered the job and I even more highly doubt I’d take it, I can’t burn any bridges at this point in the economic and financial life of LE. We’ll see.

I decided to take the day off today from writing. Made the mistake last night of eating sushi with the wife way too late; woke up at 4 am headachy and dehydrated and was unable to get back to sleep. Feeling very zombilike. Little One has a half-day at school, so I’ll probably loaf around the house with Patch until she gets home. Try to sneak a long nap in this afternoon.

Finished Henry IV part I and watched a bit of the BBC DVD yesterday evening. I’m also a good chunk in to H. W. Crocker’s Triumph, concerning the history of the Catholic Church. Made it a third way in when I bought the thing in the spring of ’10, but never finished it. Have another history of the church on deck. I’m also facing a decision of what SF paperback to read next. Likely candidates: Mote in God’s Eye, Icerigger, Alien Way. Or maybe I’ll read Alan Quartermain and finish my H. Rider Haggard three-in-one compendium. For those on the edge of their seats, I’ll decide by the end of the day.

I will know by Friday or, latest, Monday, whether I’ll be working come July 1. Hopefully I will; it’s been way, way too long outta work and I’m not really cut from the stay-at-home-dad cloth. Even though I’d be working for peanuts and we’d still be in tight economic straits, there’s something about a paycheck that makes a man feel … like a man. And all this writing I’m doing would feel even more worthwhile if I was churning it out late at night after a solid and honest day’s work. Know what I mean?

Something lighter tomorrow …

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Leading Ladies

So my wife drops an earring and it rolls under the bed. We can’t find it, not even with the help of a flashlight, so we have to roll the bed away from the wall. Let me tell you – what a treasure trove! There’s my pull-up bar! (Protection against home invasion.) There’s my favorite t-shirt, missing for two or three years! Hey, I remember that copy of Astronomy! And that Scientific American! There’s our wedding proofs!

Now, I don’t want to give the impression we’re messy people. We’re tired people. Cleaning under the bed just doesn’t rank very high on the list of the eighty or ninety different household tasks that have to be done on a monthly basis.

But – hey! – that’s my handwriting on that Fit Pregnancy subscription card. Must’ve been when the wife had li’l Patch in her belly, three years or more ago. I reach down and snatch it up. There are a list of names on it. Leading ladies’ names.

It all comes back to me. We’re huuuuuuge TCM fans. Not so much lately, though there’s always something black-and-white on the DVR. But back in the day – when Patch was belly-bound and going way back to our dating days – we were big connoiseurs of classic films. Anything, oh, pre-1965 or so. Over the years, together, we must have watched a hundred or more together, each and every one sandwiched between Robert Osborne commentary.

So it was inevitable that we’d ask each other who our favorite actors and actresses were. Apparently, I got so into this little exercise I felt it necessary to write down my list on a Fit Pregnancy Special Savings card just laying around.

I’m a little embarrassed speaking about this, so, naturally, I’m writing about it. Those who know me may scratch their heads over my selections. All I can say, blushingly, is that it is not all about physical attraction. Sex appeal and all that. There’s an indefinable quality that’s part intelligence, part confidence, part lightness, part self-respect, that makes a woman – in person or on the big screen – attractive to me. There’s also an idealized component to this list, too, which I’m having trouble putting into words. If Plato’s ideas of Forms are true, then for “Woman,” the Form may look like any of the following leading ladies:

In no particular order, other than the order I wrote them down –

- Sophia Loren

- Janet Leigh

- Olivia de Havilland

- Rita Hayworth

- Jean Simmons

- Audrey Hepburn

- Ingrid Bergman

Looking over the list three years later, I can’t think of a single classic actress to add, and wouldn’t remove a single name.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Best Simile Ever

[... our heroine, backstage after a performance of the play, The Courier's Tragedy, seeing the director / actor up close for the first time ...]

She couldn't stop watching his eyes. They were bright black, surrounded by an incredible network of lines, like a laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears. They seemed to know what she wanted, even if she didn't.

- The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, pg 77 of the 1986 First Perennial Fiction Library Edition.

Maybe it's not the best simile ever, but if I kept mental track of my top thirteen, it'd be up there. A laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears is not something thought out, worked out on pen and paper like a solving an integral. It's simply tossed out by the Muse to be caught by the lucky few on their toes.

Finished Lot 49 yesterday; not sure what to think. Do I reread it (it's relatively short)? Do I read the companion booklet explaining much of the Pynchonian esoterica? Not sure; may just move on and let it percolate a bit in my mind over the next few days. Uncertain how to tackle a review of the book. A review by someone like myself may be an exercise in self-immolating futility. There's no way I could come out with dignity and self-respect intact.

We'll see. It's truly a strange, intriguing, laugh-out-loud book. But what the heck it means I haven't the slightest clue.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Big Planet

© 1957 by Jack Vance

I’ve had a recent love-hate relationship with Jack Vance. I remember reading him perhaps twenty years ago (Trullion: Alastor 2262) and finding the world he created absolutely fascinating. I mean, sports! Of all things, alien sports! About five years ago I read another of his classics (The Languages of Pao). Again with the intense, colorful detail. This time, linguistics! Of all things, alien linguistics! Then, I read one of his works picked at random off a used book store shelf (The Brave Free Men) and completely, utterly hated it, and vowed not to waste my time with another Vancian work.

Then, remembering the joy I had wandering through the worlds of the first two novels, I repented. Big Planet is arguably regarded as Vance’s best work, so when I had the opportunity to pick it up, I did not hesistate.

I’m going to pay Vance the best compliment I can give a writer: I really, really, really wished his book was twice as long as it was. At least.

As it is, Big Planet admittedly is perfect. The story begins – literally – with a bang. A crash landing on Big Planet, a vast repository for any group seeking voluntary exile from an Earth six centuries hence. Big Planet lives up to its moniker: the safe zone for these stranded Earthmen is 40,000 miles away. The gritty band of survivors, whose goal it was to actually reform the planet’s government before things went awry, must now physically and mentally fight their way, with no technology greater than a stun gun, through jungles and deserts and over mountains and rivers. Gypsies, bands of guerilla warriors, stone age regressives, malicious monks, swamp serpents, and countless other dangers await them.

I was kinda surprised with the frequency of good guy deaths. I actually worried the hero might not even make it to the end of the novel. But that’s good, because it keeps the reader on his toes. No character gets a free pass. Alive one at the top of a page, brutally killed at the bottom. And to up the ante, Vance throws in a few betrayals and false identities here and there, lest you get comfortable in your big comfy arm chair and your big comfy non-Big Planet life.

The best word to describe the book is “travelogue.” Life-and-death travelogue, of course. Travelogue with a vengeance. Like his previous novels I enjoyed, there’s that diversity of rich cultural heritages that are only hinted at here due to the brisk pace of the story. I wished for a more leisurely stroll through this dangerous world. Perhaps a compromise: slow down the Earthmen’s 40,000 mile trek a bit but ratchet up the stakes or the dangers. If possible. There are some dangers within these pages not for the squeamish. Not to spoil anything, but they involved, for me, a suggestion of cannibalization and a pretty nasty hypodermic needle.

Big Planet is a brisk, compact race-for-survival over a patchwork landscape. The end ties well with the beginning, the conclusion is satisfactory come-uppance, and all questions are answered. If it was written today, I could foresee literary agents and publishers salivating over the potential for a ten or twelve book series. Which I would have no complaint with.

I give it a borderline B-plus / A-minus.

N.B. I don’t remeber exactly why I hated The Brave Free Men so. There are vague memories of lazy characterization and a plot devoid of suspense. I got the sense Vance was phoning it in. Plus, it would have to be a very powerful novel to handle the great expectations I had after reading Alastor and Pao. For the record, I will continue to read Jack Vance.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


*** Photographic Evidence Now Exists ***

As Mulder says, “The truth is out there … I want to believe!” Now I can. For seven years I battled him – or, rather, his shadow. Many is the heavy stone I set to seal off the entrances to the labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that riddle by backyard , only to be mysteriously knocked aside the next day. Many is the time I would open my door and step on to the deck, only to be startled half-near a heart attack by something fat and monstrous scurrying away in the bordering foliage. Many are the quick peripheral glances of something big and unholy skulking about the shrub-framed basement windows overlooking his kingdom-by-guerrila warfare.

His name is Floyd, and he is the Woodchuck King-in-Exile.

I cede an inch, he takes a foot. I flood the massive hole he’s dug in the center of my backyard with a hoseful of water, and he digs three more mockingly in plain sight. I’ve heard his growls exit-stage-right in the hot summer sun; I’ve heard his plaintive cries by the pale light of the hunter’s moon under brisk October darkness.

Now, Little One has obtained photographic evidence – the first physical, tangible, non-negotiable proof of that corpulent beast, that “stuffed cloakbag of guts,” to quote Shakespeare’s Prince Hal. No more unrecorded sounds. No more blobulous pseudo-footprints in melting snow. No, now Little One has captured King Floyd for all posterity, thanks to quick thinking and free memory on our Sony’s removable disk.

So I present to you my nemesis, that dam Woodchuck (or Badger, or Hedgehog, whatever) with whom I am engaged in total and complete War!

Bring it, sorcerer!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

82 Folios

Whoa, I cried out. If someone robbed that joint, they could make $246 million dollars!

Now, I’m not an advocate of crime. I think I had to stay after school one time in grammar school, and I got high school detention – “jugged,” we called it – once. Over twenty-five years of driving, I’ve only had to pay a couple of traffic tickets. So I’m not Dillinger. Nor a Dillinger wannabe.

No, what I was thinking of more was, this would make a great novel. Or a great movie.

Last week I wrote about the First Folio, the 1623 posthumous compilation of most of Shakespeare’s plays by two of his dear friends. Costing about $400 dollars by today’s standards, each could earn up to $3 million on the auction block. Among the 300 or so surviving editions, there is one place on the planet where there are more First Folios sitting together in one spot than anywhere else. 82 of them, to be precise. (Well, as precise as this literary archaeology gets; not all folios are complete.)

Hit that place, and you could make a fortune on the black market.

Sure, like a Van Gogh heist, you won’t see the money right away, and you won’t realize full market value of your stolen art. If you were able to pull a Steve McQueen and make off with all them folios, you’d have to wait a good long while and maybe only sell one at a time, maybe for a million a piece. Possibly less.

Sometime during the Depression, one of the heirs to a coffee fortune and head-honcho of Standard Oil, a Mr. Folger, began looking about for a neat place to house his vast collection of Shakespeareana. In 1934, two years after he died, the Folger Shakespeare Library was established in Washington, DC, in sight of the Capital Building. Folger’s folios were stored there, and the library acquired a few more over the years. It’s also the largest repository for literary documents pre-1750 in the United States. Today it serves as a clearinghouse for all intellectual things Shakespeare, a combined museum and training facility for bardologists.

(Note: the above paragraph is culled from an admittedly sieve-y memory. If you want hard, solid facts, consult wikipedia. I just give the romanticized version.)

Now, I have no clue as to the security of the Folger Shakespeare Library, but I’m sure it’s bad*ss. Maybe not as high-tech as those places Tom Cruise robs in those Mission Impossible flicks, maybe not all lasered-up for Catherine Zeta-Jones to writhe through. But it must be realistically impressive. Because, other artifacts notwithstanding, there’s $246 million dollars worth of First Folios stashed in that establishment.

So Mr. McQueen assembles his team: the safe-cracker, the electronics jammer, the muscle who’s good with a gun, the pretty dame to stir up a distraction. Steve will drive the getaway car. There’s an old, semi-effeminate aristocrat who’ll fence the folios, one at a time, three or four a year, to similar semi-effeminate artistocrats who want them for their private libraries. Only question is, will McQueen and the dame get to Mexico, or does he get popped yards from the border.

Me, I have a sister-in-law who lives in D.C. Next time we’re down there (which, regrettably, isn’t that often, though the wife and I used to live in the area), I have a mission: to scope out the Folger’s Shakespeare Library. I’ll only enter during business hours, and the only tools I’ll carry are the tools of my trade – a notebook and a pair of pens.

I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. My wife and kids can, so I’ll be all alone with my thoughts and my desire to get to know the greatest English poet and playwright to ever have lived.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Kant and Vance, Pt IV

Okay, over the past few days I’ve rambled on dry-drunkenly about how we perceive reality. Yesterday it was how the “out-there” might influence us, our thinking. The day before I talked a bit about my superficial understanding of Kantian philosophy, the mind molding the “out-there” to make it comprehensible. I began it all with a Pascal’s Wager-esque four-by-four square. Today I want to consider the remaining two possibilities:

– Both the mind and the out-there work in tandem to create reality

– Neither mind nor the out-there are responsible (if so, what does?)

I think if you put the Wager to the average joe on the street, he’d probably select the “both” category. I see two versions of this dual-agent theory: a strong and a weak. The strong version would incorporate a vigorous interpretation of Kant with a dynamic understanding of Vance’s meddlesome timestream. Like two wrestlers grappling immediately after the ref gives the signal, the mind reaches out and grabs hold of those river currents, while the flow envelopes, overwhelms and erodes the mind to bring it to where the Something Else wants it to go. The image that comes to my mind here is the Yin-Yang symbol. I could be cool with it, and would be interested in pursuing where it may lead.

The “weak” version of this theory probably falls closest to how most of us view the way we view reality. The “hands-off” version in other words. Personally, going back to that image of the two of us gazing out my window a few days ago, I would tend to think it is the mind that holds the lens to reality. Chances are we’d both see the same scenic view, but some physiological difference between the two of us (say, the ability to discern certain wavelengths of light) may account for slight descrepancies. More serious physiological differences in the mind (such as schizophrenia) would reveal far greater descrepancies. Only extremely rare events such as miracles or visions or other transcendental experiences would I relegate to the environment, the “out-there”, reaching out to influence us. Or those wonderful synchronicities I talked about a few days back.

The most interesting question to me during this series of posts, however, is what might be responsible for the experience of reality if neither the mind or the “out-there” is capable of doing so.

On first brush, the concept of dream immediately comes to mind. Two versions of dream, both I’ve read about and neither I understand to any great depth. The first is the idea that we may be a dream that God is dreaming. What that means exactly, I don’t know, but it has a poetic beauty about it that I think is an essential quality to reality. Reality must have a poetic component, and the fact that we might be part of the dream God dreams is as close to magic as I can think of.

The second is the idea of dreamtime, especially as manifested by the aborignes of Australia. Specifically, the concept of songlines among the people of that culture comes to mind:

Any location on earth can now be labeled to absurd precision by a pair of coordinates.

Naturally, all this is a matter of convention. Australian aborigines map their land by songlines. Australia, for them, is not a one-to-one correspondence between points in the land and pairs of numbers, the coordinates of those points. Rather, their land is a set of highly twisted, multiply intersecting lines, along each of which runs a specific song. Each song relates a story that happened along that path, usually a myth involving humanized animals, contorted fables full of emotional meaning.

At once, the songlines create a complex tangle, so that a point cannot be just a unique pair of numbers; rather, it matters not only where you are (according to our conception) but also where you came from, and ultimately the whole of your previous an future path. What for us is a single point may for aborigines spawn an infinite variety of identities, because that point may be part of many different intersecting songlines. Unavoidably, this creates a sense of property and ownership that does not fit into our culture. Individuals inherit songlines, not areas of land. One cannot build a GPS that operates in songline space.

- Joao Magueijo, Faster than the Speed of Light, pg. 22

But instead of songlines as an alternate form to the traditional measurement of distance, why not “song” as an alternate interpretation of reality? Hearkening back to Tolkien’s Iluvatar from The Silmarillion, perhaps we participate in a great song – indeed we are melodies intertwining against a background of symphonic movements of which we may never even be fully aware.

Or else we’re all just part of ... oh ... I don’t know ... a computer-generated matrix?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kant and Vance, Pt III

On page 120 of the Ace Paperback edition of his novel Big Planet, Jack Vance has a human native of the eponymous world mention the “Temofluxion Dogma.” To quote –

... the advouters claim that as the river of time flows past and through us, our brains are disturbed – jostled, if you will – by irregularities, eddies, in the flow of the moments. They believe that if it were possible to control the turbulence in the river, it would be possible to manipulate creative ability in human minds.

This interests me. I’d read a five-hundred page tome expounding on this. Know of any?

What fascinates me is this “river of time” concept. What could it possibly be? I can understand a deity influencing us, whether through dreams or synchronistic coincidences or moving us about like chessmen on a chessboard. Perhaps He (or “It” or “they”, I’ll grant for the speculative nature of this post) uses this timestream to influence us the way Hercules diverted the rivers to clean out the Augean stables.

I’ve always imagined God and reality this way: Picture the universe as a big, long, self-contained box. Oh, let’s say three feet high by three feet wide and thirty feet long. A clear, transparent box. Sliding down the length of the box is a thin pane of glass. The pane represents the Present Moment and slowly moves from one side of the box to the other. God stands in the “space” outside the box, looking in. He can see everything that happened in the past, where the pane has passed through, and everything in the future, where the pane is heading towards.

Simplistic and unimaginative, perhaps, but I think that my way is generally how most people view reality. (Remember, here in America polls have consistently shown that around 90-95 percent of us believe in a Deity.)

Let’s zero in on that box. Or more specifically, that clear pane – the “Now” – that’s moving steadily from Past to Future. That’s the River.

One might initially think, for the purpose of Vance’s idea, of this pane as more of a finely-meshed net. Not a fixed, static net, but one which constantly shifts, one whose openings shrink and enlarge and connect and divide and move about. All depending on the desires of the controller, the He / It / they who stand outside the box. Maybe those percolating multiverses or branes you here contemporary physicists talking about.

But wait a minute. Time doesn’t flow past us. We flow with time. We’re bobbing about this river. In “reality” we’re attached to the pane. Therefore, something that stands independent inside this box must form the eddies and irregularities in the flow of the river. He / It / they toss(es) a quadrillionplex of stones out into the box, all according to His / Its / their will, and that pane push-pulling us forward in time brings us into contact. Then the ripples the “stones” cause within the pane affect us – our “creative ability”, according to Vance.

Move this all up into a higher dimension or two or eleven or twelve (or a million), and I think we might possibly have an accurate model for this type of reality theory.

Homework: Figure out the kinematic equations of the stone tossing and the force relationships of stone-pane contact, and then reconcile with the quantum wave function (or matrix mechanics, whichever’s easier).

Now let’s move in still closer. What does it mean to say that turbulence in the river manipulate human creativity?

Obviously we’re not talking about physical manipulation. We may not know what “time” is, and we may not know what “human creativity” (a.k.a. thought) is, but we know neither of them initially manifest as physical objects.

So we’re dealing with the immaterial.

Now, I am far from an expert; really just an interested sideline observer. Some dude who’s read a few books. Not much more. And these are just random, spare-time musings. But – does this hold any water? Yesterday I mentioned quantum mechanics, specifically how it syncs up a lot with the Kantian conception of reality.

A major part of quantum mechanics deals with equations that describe the properties of atoms. I remember spending close to a month studying Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom, the simplest of all atoms. I think I understood that, but the subsequent chapters of the textbook for that course left me dazed and confused.

A major proposition of quantum mechanics is that the atom is neither a wave nor a particle, but something that is in some inexplicable way, both without being either. In its very basic building blocks, matter is not matter as we know it on a macro scale, but something shady and ethereal that is undefined until we observe it (much like Kant’s noumena). Matter – in the most commonly referenced case, the electron – is best described by a probability wave.

Might the concepts of “time” and “thought” be more akin property-wise to this noumena than to anything physical? I know that’s like asking, is an apple more like a color or a number, so I acknowledge the statement may be meaningless. But might it at least be possible that it would be best to describe them in some sort of comparable way, like the way quantum mechanics describes matter? Like a probability wave, only we’d be talking about –

Time waves


Thought waves

In some sort of higher-higher-mathematical sense. To figure out how the two waves influence each other, you’d need some phenomenal genius

first, to derive them in their self-contained forms,

second, to set them equal to each other (or to zero) and then solve.

I have no idea what the physical implications of any of this is, nor if I’m just babbling about like some village idiot championing something like [1,001x^2e * the arctangent of the Earth-Sun < on 4,004 BC / pi * 42] ! * the MEEP function = Life. Nor if I come off sounding like the rantings of the Time Cube guy (google it).

But I enjoyed typing it all out yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kant and Vance, Pt II

How to we “know” what’s “out there”?

Simple question, difficult answer.

Yes, superficially it’s an easy question. But with a little thought, a little digging, it’s not as basic as one might think. What is reality? – is one of the basic problems very, very deep thinkers have been wrestling with for millennia. No kidding.

Just a few points to consider. When you and I look out a window, do we see the same thing? How can we know this? If there’s a difference of opinion as to what’s outside, who is correct? How might my color blindness affect this question? How might my schizophrenia? Do we each now see an objective reality, or a subjective one?

Is “reality” me communing naked out in nature with a copy of Walden in my backpack? Or is it when I commute with a million other rats negotiating New York City streets to get to work before the hands of a certain mechanical device relocate to a certain spatial spot? Or is it the “news” I listen to on the radio as I commute? Or is “reality” the “reality” teevee show I watch later that night? Is a political rally “reality”? How ’bout the club scene, and all the alcohol induced deceptions we’re forced to dance when we participate? How about a history book purporting to be an objective and accurate eyewitness to a recent (or even a distant) historical event? How about the Bible? Is that “reality”? How about the Mass?

See, how we “know” what’s “out there”, “reality” is not a simple deduction, when you consider it from various angles.

Plus, there was this guy named Hume who lived around the time of the American Revolutionary War. I had to read one of his (thankfully slim) treatises way back in college. Hume’s fame rests more or less on the fact that he destroyed certitude. Though I no longer know the arguments and reasonings, Hume was so devastatingly destructive that even something as commonsensical as cause-and-effect could no longer be assumed to be true. Nor could I, after reading Hume, really believe you exist, let alone something more transcendent as God.

Anyway, there’s a famous line in Philosophy 101 classes that reading Hume awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumbers.” The strange little German set about refuting Hume’s skepticism and developed a new way of viewing Reality.

The world “out there,” according to Kant, is basically unknowable. We cannot experience it as it truly is. What we can do, and do do, or rather, what our minds do do (okay, enough of the childish do do references) is “mold” reality into some experience we can understand. The mind impresses upon this out-there-stuff these vast Newtonian-Aristotelian concepts such as time, space, quantity, plurality, etc, to reform it into something it can interpret and make sense of. I’m sure legions of Kant scholars are giggling like wee schoolchildren over my simplified simplification, which probably only approximates a percentage point of what Kant was getting at.

I like this theory a lot. It appeals to the philosopher in me, though it’s about 180-degrees opposite from what Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church might say. It also appeals to the scientist in me. This concept of Kant’s explains a lot of quantum mechanics, the science of the really, really small. During my tenure at Seton Hall studying physics, “philosophy” in my physics classes was verboten; but I read a lot of pop sci books as well as some stuff by Bohr and Heisenberg about what quantum physics really implies. There’s that shadowy out-there-ness, a probability wave responsible for all matter (still don’t know how to conceptualize it), that collapses when our mind observes it. Sounds Kantian, right?

Even better, it appeals to the science fiction buff in me. Think about ...

This faculty we are endowed with that clamps on time, space, quantity, etc, on the noumena, the unknowable out-there-ness – is this something controlled subconsciously by us? If yes, does this explain dreams? How might a brain damaged person see the world if the facility is somehow broken?

Does this faculty or molding feature make us who we are? If one lacked it, what would happen?

Would an alien entity have this Kantian molding feature? If not, how would it interact with us? What would its, say, religious beliefs be?

Can this molding feature influence time and space? Or just the noumena? Surely if one can mold reality via time and space, one could also manipulate time and space? Is it even possible? Attainable with practice, instruction? Enlightenment?

What if I could consciously control this faculty? What would be the point? Perhaps we do, already, to a minor extent ...

What exactly is the noumena? Could a scientific experiment or some type of scientific probe be designed to explore the noumena as it is, not as it appears to us as phenomena?

Is the noumena what a Zen adept sees when he attains samadhi?

Or would someone go batsh*t insane if this facility broke down and he glimpsed the noumena?

Intriguing food for thought, no? One of my novels-in-progress (well, rather novel-idea-half-fleshed-out-awaiting-to-be-outlined) takes some of these very questions for its starting point. It’s not very thought out, really just a germ of an idea that appeals to me. Hopefully within a few years I can actually get a hundred thousand well-written words on the subject off to a literary agent and then to publication.

Or I could just manipulate time and space ...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kant and Vance, Pt I

I recently read two independent and unrelated theories of how we experience reality, i.e., how the mind influences the environment and vice versa. I love it when these things occur synchronistically out of the blue. It’s like a signal from the Great Beyond or a higher dimension or a universal consciousness or God or the noumena or – you get the idea.

Anyway, I tortured myself by sadistically reading a little bit of Kant over the Memorial Day weekened. Just the introductions, supplemented by a 20-page chapter in a Walter Kaufmann book. Interesting, would love to devote more time and study to it, but ... life’s too short. But I dig Kant’s central thesis, even if I only have the shallowest of interpretations of it.

I am also two-thirds done with a neat little SF paperback called Big Planet by Jack Vance. Figured I could get a quickie space opera in before I tackle Thomas Pynchon. It’s working; I was up past midnight last night reading it. Then, I came across a theory of the mind (I guess), and remembered Kant immediately.

From my understanding, Kant central thesis is that it is our mind that creates our reality. Time and space, among various other categories, do not exist “objectively,” “out there,” but are tools the mind uses to make sense of a reality which is essentially unknowable.

Vance has an alien discuss, way too briefly, the “Tempofluxion Dogma.” To quote from page 120 of my Ace Paperback edition, “ ... the advouters claim that as the river of time flows past and through us, our brains are disturbed – jostled, if you will – by irregularities, eddies, in the flow of the moments. They believe that if it were possible to control the turbulence in the river, it would be possible to manipulate creative ability in human minds.”

So we have Kant saying that our minds mold reality like a potter’s hand a piece of clay, and we have Vance’s aliens thinking eddies in the river of time affect the creative visions in our minds. Almost mirror opposites. I’m not sure which version – if any – is correct, but one thing fascinates me in both cases.

That’s the molding or influencing that occures when the two interact.

But let’s back track a moment. Using a Pascal’s Wager type thing, we can have four outcomes when we compare Kant with Vance.

#1 – Kant’s view is correct; Vance’s view isn’t.

#2 – Vance’s view is correct; Kant’s isn’t.

#3 – Both views are correct.

#4 – Neither view is correct.

Or more simply, when it comes to making sense of reality

#1 – Our mind is the agent

#2 – The “out there” is the agent

#3 – Minds influence the environment and vice versa

#4 – Neither our minds nor the environment accounts for our experience of reality.

There. That clears everything up. (smiley.)

What I want to do this week is examine each of the four possibilies. But not from a philosophical angle; me, I’m just an amateur’s amateur when it comes to that most esoteric, turgid, and verbose of disciplines. I’d like to approach it from a science fiction buff-slash-writer’s point of view. After all, that’s so much more exciting and engaging, wouldn’t you agree? When it’s not examining our current culture and our current selves, SF is best at extrapolating our potential destinies through the use of that little yet most useful of questions, What If?

So please stop back during the week. It should be interesting and you may help keep me in check.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wee Wishes

Book I wish I finished

- Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

Started it in the late 80s, got a hundred pages in. Restarted a few years later, only got twenty or thirty pages in. On vacation last year spotted this other dad reading it, but felt too self-conscious to go up and say, “Hey, that book you’re engrossed in defeated me twice!” One day I’ll conquer it.

Science I wish I could get into

- Egyptology

Because at any given time on any given day, there’s a cable teevee channel showing a special on some particular aspect of ancient Egypt. Go ahead – check your cable listings later and see that I’m right.

Instrument I wish I could play

- Keyboards (piano)

Can play chords and melodies, but only with one hand. Can’t get the two hands to play simultaneously independently. Frustrating …

Lifestyle I wish I could adopt

- Veganism

Why? Because I’d drop 30 pounds, lower my blood pressure, lower my triglycerides, balance my cholesterol, reduce risk for heart attacks and strokes and cancer, sleep better, breathe better, think better … need I go on?

Composer I wish I could groove to

- Mahler

Every book I read on classical music when I first got into it a decade ago told me how he’s da bomb. Listened to a couple of symphonies. Bought No. 2 and Songs of the Earth. Tried to appreciate it, but … now I listen to those CDs ’bout once every two or three years.

Useless talent I wish I developed

- Juggling

C’mon – don’t you wish you knew how to juggle?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Happy Moment

Me and the Little One watched Godzilla vs. Monster Zero yesterday afternoon while Patch was napping. On deck for the upcoming week of half-days as school winds down: Rodan, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, Dinosaurus!, The Valley of Gwangi, and 1941’s The Wolf Man. Gotta love that DVR!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

First Folio

Why weren’t the works of William Shakespeare lost to the ages? How did they manage to survive the transmission of over four centuries time? How is it that the greatest body of work in the English language transcended plague, war, impoverishment, vast illiteracy and make it to the shelf behind me as I type?

The answer lies with the devoted work of a handful of men.

The First Folio is a compilation of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in the fall of 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Of those 36, half had never been published before. Only 18 of the 36 plays included existed in quarto editions of varying reliability; the other half had not been published. The work was instigated as a labor of love by John Heminges and Henry Condell, friends and fellow actors with the Bard. If it weren’t for the efforts of these two men, we’d never know The Tempest, Macbeth, or Julius Caesar, just to name a few plays that might have passed from this world. The First Folio could have been influenced by Ben Jonson’s folio of his own work, entitled Workes, done in 1616 while Jonson was still alive.

Why didn’t Shakespeare strive to publish the remaining half of his output during his lifetime? In the Elizabethan age, the theater owners generally owned rights to any and all plays performed; therefore Shakespeare would not necessarily have earned any money off them. Indeed, the only works he did make an effort to publish were his two long-form epic poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

Also to be found in the First Folio is a list of the actors from Shakespeare’s performing company, the Chamberlain’s Men, 26 names in all, including Shakespeare, Heminges, and Condell. Heminges was the company’s business manager and part-time actor. Legend has it he was the first Falstaff. Condell was an actor noted for his comedic roles.

The First Folio (a “folio” is a large format book) numbers 907 pages; thereby each play averages about 25 pages in length. The First is generally acknowledged as the most authentic version of Shakespeare’s plays, though from a typesetting point of view, the Folios are atrocious. Words are frequently misprinted, stray words appear out of nowhere, page numbering skips about, character names are occasionally substituted with the names of the actors portraying them. Some plays are divided into scenes and acts, others not. Some plays have character lists, some do not; those that do might list characters at the beginning or at the end of the play.

Through research akin to forensic literary detection, nine men have been determined to have worked on the typesetting of the Folios, each hand labeled “A” through “I.” “B” did half the text. “E” was an apprentice and was the worst of the bunch, responsible for many errors and misprints.

There are other descrepancies. Troilus and Cressida, though in the First Folio, is not listed in the Table of Contents because that page was printed before permission to include the play was obtained. Shakespeare’s Pericles was not included in the original Folio. Nor were The Two Noble Kinsmen and Edward III, which only recently were acknowledged to be part of the Shakespearean canon (all three plays were known collaborative efforts).

Copies cost a hefty Elizabethan pound a piece, something like $400 in today’s US currency. Now an original First Folio is worth at least $3 million. That’s quite an investment! 750 to 1200 editions were printed over the course of 18 months, with changes being made throughout the process, so there are different versions of the Folio. A second edition only nine years later suggests a low-volume initial run.

Considering that only 230 plays survive from the time of Will Shakespeare, the First Folio represents 15 percent of that total. Again, without the First Folio, half and maybe more of Shakespeare’s plays may have been lost forever.

A Second Folio was published in 1632 and a Third Folio in 1664. The Third added seven new plays to the canon, though only one, Pericles, would be accepted as authentically Shakespearean. A fourth came out in 1685. A 1709 edition, edited by Nicholas Rowe, “modernized” Shakespeare’s Elizabethen and Jacobean spellings and punctuations. He also systematically divided the plays into Acts and Scenes, and included the first formal biography of the playwright.

About three hundred First Folios survive to this day in various stages of quality and completion. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC has the most of any single entity, 82. More about this in next week’s Shakespeare Saturday.


The Tempest
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Measure for Measure
The Comedy of Errors
Much Ado About Nothing
Love’s Labour’s Lost
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Merchant of Venice
As You Like It
The Taming of the Shrew
All’s Well That Ends Well
Twelfth Night
The Winter’s Tale

King John
Richard II
Henry IV part I
Henry IV part II
Henry V
Henry VI part I
Henry VI part II
Henry VI part III
Richard III
Henry VIII

Troilus and Cressida
Titus Andronicus
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Anthony and Cleopatra

Sources: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson; Shakespeare: The Writer and his Work, by Stanley Wells, and the wikipedia article on the “First Folio”

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Black Hole

© 1979

Movie novelization by Alan Dean Foster

With the possible exceptions of Isaac Asimov or Robert Silverberg, the most-read author of my youth was Alan Dean Foster. Though he has a fairly large body of original work, he made his bones doing science fiction movie novelizations in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. Reading his novel of the classic Alien both fascinated and repulsed me, and probably did more than anything else to cement my desire to write SF novels as a kid. I read it before I was allowed to see the movie, and to this day I somewhat heretically think of that book rather than the Ridley Scott flick when I hear the title (though the movie is on my short list of Greatest Science Fiction Movie of All Time).

Anyway, to give you some idea, I also read his novelizations of the movies The Thing (the John Carpenter remake), Krull, Outland, and Star Wars (Foster writing as “George Lucas”). The Black Hole I began, discovering it in the handful of SF books in my dad’s cache. I remember reading the first chapter or two, but after that, it’s all blank. I also remember hounding my parents to see the 1980 Disney movie of the same name, but somehow we never got around to it. To this day, I still haven’t seen it. Perhaps my father had read some reviews in the paper and deep-sixed the idea unbeknownst to me.

A couple of decades roll by, and I see The Black Hole by Alan Dean Foster on a used book store shelf. I shell out a couple of bucks for the potential opportunity to relive a piece of my youth. These things are always risky and more often than not backfire. At the very best I can read it and have huge chunks of long-forgotten nostalgia flood my brainstream once again, raising lines of goosebumps on my arms and good-time feelings in my brainstem. At the very worst I could be out $3 and four or five hours of my life.

Verdict: Somewhere between the two extremes, as I expected.

The movie was released Christmastime of 1979, Disney’s most expensive movie to date, trying to cash in on the special effects SF epics dominating the big screens at that time. An all-star cast was hired to flesh out the rather simple and somewhat compelling story centering around that powerful and massive natural phenomenon beginning to filter down to the public consciousness: the black hole.

I said “somewhat compelling story”, and I’ll go to the mat for that statement. The problem is, the movie fails to deliver, as movies often do, especially ones where everything looks right on paper, everything looks right from the special effects dailies, everything looks right to the guys in the suits upstairs. But the final product inexplicably stinks. Now, I have not seen the movie, so I am basing it on hearsay and Foster’s novelization. Let’s talk about that novelization.

First off, every Alan Dean Foster novel I’ve read is an easy pageturner. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the science, at least in this layman’s experience. From what I understand, he works off the final screenplay, often while the movie is still being filmed. In writing Alien, he did not have any clue as to what the H. R. Giger-inspired creature would even look like (which explained to me when I learned this some descrepancies between the book and movie, especially during the mid-book air lock scene). So he does have some leeway in writing his novel; this is often manifested in characterizations and interior thoughts and backstories you don’t experience during the movie. All well and good, and I have no complaint.

The problem with The Black Hole is that the story that unfolds is just ... boring, I guess. Here’s the set-up: a deep space science vessel on her way home stumbles across the long-lost starship Cygnus, commanded by the reclusive, egomaniacal genius Dr. Reinhardt. It’s orbiting a massive black hole, seemingly unaffected by the immense gravitational tidal forces. In fact, the ship looks dead to the eye, both human and electronic. As the newcomers close in to investigate, the Cygnus suddenly comes to life –

I still think that’s as good premise as any. It takes up the first ten pages of the book and probably the first ten minutes of the movie. Everything after that is downhill, though. Reinhardt becomes a clichéd, moustache-twirling baddie. His great secret (what happened to the crew of the Cygnus?) is no great secret; you’ll guess it fairly early. The robotic culture that’s posited, such as rec rooms and pool playing for mechanicals, seems uncomfortably dumb. The supposedly hyperintelligent scientist is a blind ignoramus; the stereotypical big news reporter says one thing and does another, neither of which makes sense, both of which are supremely foolish. The only good thing, I think, is Reinhardt’s robot enforcer, Maximillian, but that kinda fizzles out towards the books denouement.

And the denouement! Blah. You know they’re going to go through the black hole. You know it. They know it. They talk about it for a hundred pages, they fight it for fifty pages. But you know it’s going to happen. So ... what happens when you go through a black hole? Ah, that’s a worthy subject for a novel. I’ve read them. My favorite happens to be Gateway by Frederik Pohl. But anyway, apparently, Foster diverges from the screenplay at this climactic point.

Neither the novelization nor what I understand is shown in the film are satisfactory in my opinion. But I don’t fault Foster for this. I read that he sent off a note to the producers detailing 75 ways that the movie could be improved, and though Disney execs did have a meeting over this note, not a single suggestion was implemented or adopted. So I actually see a bit of rebellious pluck in the writer for trying something a little different for the story’s conclusion.

In my late 20s I read Foster’s original Cachalot and liked it; I may try to hunt down another copy for a re-read. Recently I read Midworld, liked it, and reviewed it, here. There are two more of his original works on deck on the shelf behind me, Icerigger and Phylogenesis, which I’ll probably get around to over the summer to this fall. So I like my Alan Dean and will continue to seek out and read his stuff.

You should too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


“Hey LE,” my father-in-law says to me this past weekend, “I have something for you.”

My FIL is never predictable. This something could be anything, or it could be nothing. But I’m game. I’m in a good mood because the girls are all having fun, and there aren’t any cares floating around my world.

“What is it?”

“Come here.” He wanders over to his car and I follow. Fishing out his keys he pops open the trunk and withdraws a massive book among the folded beach chairs, coolers, and tents inside. “Careful,” he advises as he hands it over.

He gives me a 1966 Random House Dictionary of the English Language. It measures 9.5 x 12 x 3.5 inches – 399 cubic inches of etymological goodness. A 32-page assortium of prefaces followed by 2,059 pages of definitions. A primer on languages, weights and measures, and foreign alphabets spread upon the inside covers. The whole thing weighs about 11 pounds.

I, am touched. Truly touched.

Once upon a time I had a similar weighty tome. Grandma asks me, way back when, what I needed going off to school. By this I mean college. I tell her I could use a good dictionary. Desiring only the best for her eldest grandson, she buys me a similar behemoth. Too heavy and too unweildy for practical use, it never makes the trip to my dorm room, spending a few years in a darkened storage room. Later, on my own, I found it and spent many an hour perusing it.

It’s the writer in me, I guess. The word nerd. The crossword puzzler. The linguist who can’t be bothered to memorize a foreign language.

Anyway, I have the 1966 Random House at my side as I type this. The inside of the dust jacket looks something like the Shroud of Turin and appears as fragile as tissue paper. I remove this and note a sturdy, denim-texture pattern on the cover.

I flip through it and towards the back are about a hundred pages of miscellanea. There’s a list of Presidents of the United States up to LBJ. There’s the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Even the Charter of the United Nations. Geographical data on countries and states and a full-fledged global atlas taking up 64 pages. There’s even a map of the Moon!

Okay, I realize that of the 17 people who will read this, 15 have already grew bored and clicked away. But you remaining 2 must share my love of the printed word. We delight as elite autodidactory adepts of the ancient art of wordsmithery.

And, of course, should I come across anything odd, enlightening, chin-scratching, eerie, delightful, or plain ol’ riveting – yes, I can associate the word “riveting” with the word “dictionary” – I’ll be sure to let you know.

Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Weirdity note: of the 209 “consultants” listed on pages ix to xiii, my eyes zeroed in on Dr. Edward U. Condon. Dr. Condon, those of you in the know with note, is the man responsible for the “whitewash” of Project Blue Book, the Air Force investigation and study of the UFO phenomenon from 1947 or so until 1969. This is the sort of synchronicity only a Mulder or an LE could possibly note ...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blues Wait for No Man

During each Taco Tuesday dinner, we try to listen to something Tex-Mexey or bluesy or country rockish. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve exposed the girls to the Eagles, the acoustic stylings of Peter Frampton, and, of course, Stevie Ray Vaughan, with and without his brother Jimmy.

Listening to “Tightrope” last night I suddenly recalled the valuable life lesson Stevie Ray imparted to me. One, alas, that I often do not take to heart. I did not bring it up at dinner, but in my mind, I relived events of over two decades in the past.

Bob: Hey LE, Stevie Ray Vaughan tickets are going on sale.

LE: Just Stevie Ray?

Bob: No – it’s some festival thing. Eric Clapton is playing –

LE: (eyebrows raise as he considers ...)

Bob: but so is Bon Jovi –

LE: (makes a sour face ...)

Bob: But hey, we both love us some Stevie Ray Vaughan.

LE: That we do, Bob. That we do.

(five minutes pass ...)

Bob: So, wanna get tickets?

LE: Nah. I’ll see him when he comes around again.

If you’re in the know, you may have guessed that this conversation took place sometime in the spring of 1990. A few weeks later Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash, flying through fog coming back from a gig. Though I had three CDs of his at the time, though I often jammed with my Les Paul to his music, I never saw the man play live.

Because I made a decision to put it off.

Flash forward twenty or so years to a more erudite, more bookwormish family guy embracing his inner nerd. I’m 11.5 percent done with my goal of reading through Shakespeare’s plays, something I’ve put off for years. I’ve made a decision, with the wife as my partner, to overhaul our diets and begin an exercise regimen. And I have three novels in various stages from nebulous idea to free-form outline. Just gotta pick one and start writing, an hour a day. If I started this today, I’d have a third completed novel by spring of 2012. Oh yeah, and I need to get back on the horse trying to sell the other two novels. I’ve had an idea how to do that for a few months now that I have not acted on.

These things all flashed through my mind during that awesome, extended and yet oh-so-brief, guitar solo that closes out that masterpiece of fast blues, “Tightrope.”