Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the Annals of Stupidity

[Don’t try this at home!]

The time: winter, late 1980s.

The place: an anonymous town in upstate New York.

The actors: me, my friend, my brother, and his friend.

Okay. This is actually pretty witty, I think, if you’re able to cut through all the stupidity.

The four of us were hanging at my parents’ weekend home sans parents. Not much to do at night except drink, so we hopped into two cars and drove a few miles down those winding, wood-lined two lane highways to the “local” bar for a few drinks. Maybe more, not sure, don’t remember, don’t want to. Anyway, I think we all had girlfriends at the time, so we weren’t looking for that. Just to get a might powerful buzz on.

After a little while we decided to head back to the house. And wouldn’t you know it, we decided to race back, of all things. In fact, it was my suggestion. Me, whose top speed was 80 on the I-95 in wide-open North Carolina (and I was still passed by other motorists).

But I had an idea. Me and my friend got to his car first and we were off sliding on the icy slushy roads before my brother and his pal. My brother is a bit of a speed demon (maybe was, I don’t know; haven’t driven with him in a while). Did I mention I had an idea?

We pulled up at an intersection which led to the two-lane highway. Roads in upstate New York are pretty much the most desolate places on earth. Maybe a car would pass by every ten or twenty minutes this neck of the woods. I told my friend to pull the car off the road, just past an outcropping of trees. “But leave your parking lights on,” I advised.

He knew exactly where I was going. My brother would race by and catch the sight – peripherally – of what would appear to him to be a police car monitoring the intersection for … speeders!

Two minutes later he zipped by. The trap was sprung. My buddy immediately pulled out behind him – just parking lights on – and accelerated. “Flash your hi-beams on and off,” I shouted.

Now, if you’ve ever been pulled over (and who hasn’t?) you notice in the rear-view mirror that police cars have alternating high and low beams for each headlight, out of sync. Obviously we couldn’t get the same effect, but I was curious to see if we could get my brother to pull over.

He didn’t.

In fact, he gunned it, his brake lights disappearing to pinpoints in front of us.

Back at the house we all had some laughs. No, he wasn’t fooled. He’s the type of guy that knows every model of car – even when he catches a glimpse of parking lights off the road – and knows every model of police vehicle. But he gave us an A for effort.

Then the drinking really began …

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Game 1

Enigmatically-named puzzle proposed to me by Little One ...

Monday, November 28, 2011


Colonel Butler lost his leg under unusual circumstances. He had stopped in the road to talk with Captain W. D. Farley, Stuart’s aide, and their horses’ heads were facing opposite directions. A shell struck the ground, bounced up and cut off Butler’s right leg above the ankle, passed through his horse and Farley’s horse, and carried away Farley’s leg at the knee. Farley died but Butler survived and later became a U. S. Senator.

- The Civil War: A History, pg. 362, ch. 22 “The Gettysburg Campaign,” by Harry Hansen

I never wish to glorify or romanticize war on these electronic pages. I often quote such passages as a sort of mental check, a sort of memorandum of thanksgiving. How grateful I am that I never have tasted firsthand the horrors of war, and how grateful I am that my loved ones have not, either. We can only hope and pray that my girls and other family members and friends will never experience such brutality in this lifetime. That being said, I am also deeply thankful for the men and women who serve and have served, keeping me and mine safe in our homes at night.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

War and Peace: Prologue

This is another item on my Unresolved Conundrums And/Or Things I Want to Do Before I Die List.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.

There’s some background, as there always is when dealing with any item on the UCAOTIWTDBID List.

Way back in high school, junior year, I think, my mother and my stepfather moved us out of a crappy apartment into the bottom floor of a pretty big two family house. My room was the most forward of all the rooms, almost right on the front sidewalk. It was a neat little room, great for a high school kid.

It was also the only room with built-in shelving. As I was not quite the book hound and voracious reader I am today, those shelves were populated with the collection of books my stepfather had accumulated in his travels. Mostly contemporary hardcover fiction, if I’m remembering correctly, but there were a couple of others that stood out to me. One was a thousand-page hardcover outline of history I found immensely interesting. There were also a couple of JFK conspiracy books – I remember distinctly thumbing through Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson. Plus, he had a worn-out hardcover edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

That interested me. I knew just a little bit about the novel’s reputation. One of the greatest works of literature ever penned, and one of the most difficult to get through. With only those two facts in my mind, I set out to read it during the school year in my spare time.

I was not successful.

I did get about a hundred pages in, up to the end of Part I or so. Then I just stopped reading it. I don’t recall why; perhaps I put it down in favor of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. Seems likely; I had just become friends with a kid who lent them to me, and I was into the whole Tolkien / fantasy / alternate worlds thing at that point.

So War and Peace went back on the shelf. Eventually we moved into a house of our own and the novel was stored, along with all the other books and an encyclopedia set, underneath the stairs leading down to the basement. A year or so later, termites made their home there, and countless larvae fed upon Tolstoy’s words. My stepfather and brother threw everything out and exterminators came in a fumigated the basement.

I’ve been on a bit of a Civil War kick of late, beginning with O’Reilly’s book Killing Lincoln and culminating in Hansen’s excellent history of the conflict. Enough’s enough with that, I think. Time to move on. But in my travels around the War Between the States, I googled something like “Civil War fiction.” Peripherally I stumbled upon a list of great works of fiction set in and around war, and lo and behold, there was Tolstoy’s novel.

I blogged about it a few weeks back that should I find it in a used book store for a few bucks I’d pick it up. Well, I did, for $4. (That works out to about three pages a penny – how’s that for a bargain?) Figuring the stars were aligning in order to tell me something, I decided to move it to the front of the Reading List and last night I started it.

It is a daunting book, but I am a much more mature and seasoned reader than I was nearly thirty years ago. I’m hoping to finish it by year’s end. Additionally, once I’m done with Hansen’s Civil War history in a week or so, I have a couple of slim, personally-anticipated SF paperbacks I want to zip through and review here too before 2012.

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time for the Stars

What great reads Robert Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels are – even when you’re reading them for the second time a couple of decades after adolescence!

Time for the Stars is one such novel (out of a dozen written between 1947 and 1958). I first read it a little over thirty years ago, during a snow-filled holiday vacation in Binghamton, New York. There were other gifts and other books that week, but this one absorbed most of my time. Indeed, I was glued to its pages for hours in my dad’s volare sedan, cruising the slushy interstate home.

(Time for the Stars Hopper read in 1979)

One of the great things about Heinlein’s juveniles is that they introduce the young reader to some cutting edge science. In Time for the Stars, I got my first practical exposition of the Theory of Relativity. In particular, the Twin Paradox. Take two identical twin teens, leave one on earth and put the other on a rocket ship accelerating to just under the speed of light. Go out forty light years and return. The twin on earth will now be in his nineties. The traveling twin will be the age the majority of us graduate college.

Such is the Twin Paradox, and it’s used to illustrate the fact that time slows appreciably the closer the speed of light one travels. That’s the weirdity pursued in the book, the twins being Tom and Pat Bartlett, who also happen to have the advantage of being telepathic. Tom is sent out on a long-range reconnaissance starship, and we’re treated to his point of view. Throughout this compact l’il adventure there are some very cool engineering ideas in the “torchship” spacecraft, the planets (and native life) the ship visits, and telepathy itself (assuming its reality) and how that might just revolutionize even Einstein’s theories.

And all through the mirror of 1950s Americana. Though it’s written for “juveniles”, there is a bit of violence and some death. There’s also trademarked Heinleinian norm-busting erotica, although very mildly hinted at and posed as a surprise at the ending. But overall it is eminently readable, a novel that refuses to be put down, and one capable of giving as much enjoyment – and education – to a middle-aged guy as well as a twelve-year-old boy esconced firmly in the golden age of science fiction.

Grade: A+

(Time for the Stars Hopper read in 2011)

See also my review of Rocket Ship Galileo, here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

About a Decade

Okay, so I didn’t have a great work experience over the summer, at the place I worked from June to September. Thinking back, there were lots of little signs that warned me of this, small little signs I brushed off.

Like this.

My first or second day there, the boss is bringing me around to all the other departments, meeting managers and other various assorted VIPs. She brings me into the General Sales Manager’s office. He’s in there, a couple other regular sales managers are there, and the owner is in there. They’re all pal’ing around, yukking it up, making mock and not-so-mock fun of each other, being good natured jerks with a thin veil of menace behind every remark. The testosterone level is approaching the room’s Schwarzschild radius.

Anyway, after I’m introduced, the owner says, “Say, I hear you worked with Mac up the street.” “Mac” is one of the sales managers at the affiliated store a few miles away.

“Yes,” I say.

“How long?”

“About a decade.”

Well, this set them off. “About a decade,” one says, doing a hoity-toity imitation of me. “Whoa,” says another, “big word!” More yuks and guffaws as I smile uncomfortably and edge out the door.

Now, this might not seem a big deal. These people are horse-traders, as my father-in-law says, and I’m basically a glorified librarian. Oil and water. But still, don’t you think their reaction was a bit … stupid? Kinda like someone dancing around loudly exclaiming, “Hey, ain’t I a doofus!”

This was only a little thing. But there were lots of little things. Like a 240 percent annual turnover rate. Like the fact that only 21 percent of employees were there over three years. Like the fact that my boss would tell me to remind her whenever X was going to happen. I’d tell her and she’d say “send me an email.” Next time I’d email her, and she’d chastise me, “you gotta tell me when this is going to happen!” And on, and on, and on.

Oh well. I’m in a much happier place now, two-and-a-half weeks into the new job. As I tell anyone who asks, that old summer job was like boot camp for this new one. If I could survive boot camp, I can survive anything.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mind Checked Out

Excuse me, been at the Bahamas all day today ...

... still there ...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Problem, Not Solution

It’s official. I am now a libertarian. One of the sort who goes around spouting, “Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.”

Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe not. Check this out.

Sunday me and Little One spend two-and-a-half hours raking leaves. We have guest coming this Thanksgiving so we want the place to look somewhat manicured and cultured. Instead of raking the excess out to the curb I buy those five-foot tall brown paper bag thingies that hold about three or four bushels of leaves apiece and we spend thirty or forty minutes filling them. I put them in the garage so they don’t get wet with the incoming rain, then this morning I wake up a few minutes early and put all five bags out to the curb. Tuesday mornings the town DPW truck drives around picking up bagged leaves this time of year.

Except, of course, for today. So for twelve hours the five giant paper bags o’ leaves have been sitting and soaking in the pouring rain.

Thank you, local government. Good I voted anti-incumbent three weeks ago.

So now my in-laws get to see the five giant leaf bags every time they peek out the window. Not a big deal, not a huge crisis, but it ticks me off that I spent time bagging them when I could’ve just swept them out to the street. But God forbid the town figures out a way to collect street leaves in a timely fashion and more than twice a year. They’d just blow back on my lawn by the time that leaf-sucking truck gets around.

Memo to Town Government: You s*ck. And by extension, so do you, State and Federal Governments. If it is philosophically impossible for you to solve a leaf collection problem, how can you possibly solve poverty, educate our children, manage our healthcare, and spend our money wisely. You are the problem.

I said to my wife, “If I had a pick-up truck and had a personality like Darryl of The Walking Dead, I’d drop off those five bags of leaves on the lawn of the borough hall.” My wife replied, “I don’t blame you.”

Now, if a truck comes by and picks up them bags tomorrow, I’ll sure feel silly about this post, and I’d even man-up and apologize. But I’d bet turkey dinner that our town offices will be closed tomorrow, and Thursday of course, and Friday of course, and Saturday, of course.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bold as Love

Just some tune that’s been flooring me the past few days …

I boldly love the flanging / phase shifting that comes in at 2:50 and continues to the end of the song.

Anger he smiles towering in shiny metallic purple armor queen jealousy envy waits behind him her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground blue are the life giving waters taken for granted they quietly understand once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready but wonder why the fight is on.

But they’re all, bold as love yeah, they’re all bold as love yeah, they’re all bold as love.

Just ask the Axis.

My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria orange is young full of daring but very unsteady for the first go round my yellow in this case is not so mellow in fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me and all of these emotions of mine keep holding me from giving my life to a rainbow like you.

But I’m a yeah, I’m bold as love, yeah yeah well, I’m bold, bold as love hear me talking I’m bold as love.

Just ask the Axis. He knows everything.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings

On a whim I borrowed Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings from the library last week and watched it over two nights. I can’t say that it brought back memories, because I only watched it once, about twenty-five years ago. The predominant memory that did come back, though, was one of extreme disappointment.

Disappointed then, disappointed now.

However – and it’s a big however – the second time around, older, wiser, I appreciated more of what Bakshi was trying to do. Indeed, I found more than a couple things I liked about the flick, things that were buried by Young Me’s desire to see a faithful and most excellent adaptation of the original source material.

Released in 1978, the film is an experimental combination of animation with live action, the live action treated in such a way as to be rendered visually comparable to the animated sequences. The pure, traditional animation is of the quality and timbre of those old 1970s Justice League of America cartoons I watched as a youngling. The live action treatments are reminiscent of all those psychedelic SF book covers I read in grammar school. Both together don’t quite work. That’s primarily why, I think, the film fails.

But the major gripe I had the first time I watched it is the shock at the realization that the film only covers half of Tolkien’s trilogy, or three of the six books of The Lord of the Rings. That really ticked me off back then, though this time around I was grateful: the movie clocks in at two hours and fifteen minutes. And that seemed rushed.

(While the movie should have been advertised as The Lord of the Rings, part I, and I think Bakshi wanted it to be so, the studios balked, insisting that no one would pay money to see part one of anything. Gotta love that Hollywood wisdom.)

I actually think the “Justice League” animation is the weakest part. First off, the style doesn’t fit with the background matte paintings – which are, more often than not, excellent and evocative. Not as good as what Peter Jackson later did, or what I’ve seen in other Tolkien literature (such as the early 80s calendars), but alien and familiar enough to convey Middle-earth. The problem is the characters don’t mix well, stylistically and as they’re drawn. I could nit-pick, such as why is Aragorn drawn like Sitting Bull, or why do the hobbits resemble little old grannies. Boromir is quite amateurish, as are the bearded Gandalf and Saruman. The ringwraiths as animated villains are too cartoonish to be scary. Ditto especially with Smeagol.

The treated live-action figures, though, work. I think they’re the best part of the flick, and reason any Tolkien fan should see it. Particularly the scene where Frodo puts on the ring on Weathertop and enters this shadow world. “We come to take you to Mordor,” they hiss hypnotically, “take you to Mordor …” as we experience some sort of demonic acid flashback. The orcs, too, are portrayed in this evil trippy way, real men disguised as cartoon monsters, and they work in that the scenes they’re in are more interesting than the scenes dominated by straight animation, such as the Council of Elrond.

The fights scenes were well-executed, if a tad too lengthy. I enjoyed certain specific effects, such as the smoke that would appear to drift between the viewer and the scene on the screen, the desolation and destruction of war symbolized and not-so-symbolized. The weird Van Gogh-ish Starry Night kaleidoscope effects in the background as Gandalf is imprisoned atop Isengard is equally effective, though at first I resisted it. But, darn it, Ralph Bakshi, your 70s motifs won me over!

The plot and dialogue are very faithful to the books, although some scenes are edited out or severely cut short. That surprised me, but I appreciated the efforts toward fidelity. I recognized English actor John Hurt’s voice as Aragorn (Hurt was also Hazel, I believe, in the animated Watership Down). I did not recognize Anthony Daniels’, though, catching his name in the credits and only later realizing he was body and voice behind C-3PO of Star Wars. As a not-too-unimportant aside, I felt the musical score and soundtrack somewhat lacking, as if it was trying all-too-hard to get me up on my feet marching, inspired. On that note I think Peter Jackson’s movies succeeded much, much better.

So, some good, some bad. The time spent over those two nights watching it were not altogether poorly spent. I enjoyed it. The stuff I liked, I thought really cool. The stuff that I felt didn’t work, somewhat embarrassed me.

If I may be allowed to, I grade Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings a B-minus. But only watch if you’re a Tolkien fan(atic).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Under the Sun

In Ecclesiastes it is written, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

I say, O Muse, teach me of ways and modes long forgotten. Unveil the thoughts of men to mine eyes and ears, thoughts of the men who walked in the days when the earth was young.

’Tis a dangerous path you walk, O Seeker. Are you dedicated to the Path?

I am, O Muse, I am.

* * *

Then dust off your library card and power up your Internet-connected device!


After this pagan-prayer I went online to my various sites –, project gutenberg, online books page, etc – for an hour in search of sumthin’ weird n funky, metaphysically speaking, of course. Found nothing as outside events intervened.

Right now I’m in a cross between a strong conviction that the Reality as described by St. Thomas Aquinas is True (a conviction utterly alien and distasteful to the postmodern ear) and the philosophy described by Immanuel Kant (a philosophy which hints at alignment with what modern physics hints at when modern physics hints philosophic).

However, I have not the time, energy, and even will to delve in depth into either axes of belief, and thus retain only a shallow superficial of the teachings of both. Someday, perhaps, someday.

So instead I surf the web every now and again, hoping to come across something that causes my mind to reboot. Perhaps once a year I encounter such a something. And when I do, I post about it, here at the Hopper.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lincoln's Words

“We all declare for liberty, but using the same word we do not mean the same thing. With some the word ‘liberty’ may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names – liberty and tyranny.”

(quoted on page 19 of the New American Library edition of Harry Halleck’s The Civil War: A History)

“Nor should this be a war upon property – property is desirable – is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich and hence is a just encouragement to enterprise and industry. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”

(quoted on page 365 of John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History)

How relevant are the words of Abraham Lincoln to the struggles of today! I would love some media personality with courage and conviction recite these to our current President asking him simply if he agrees or not. Obama would never give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to such a question because the answer for him would be ‘no’, though it would be a firm ‘yes’ from about 75 percent of the American public – even the ones who think of themselves as liberals. The pleasure would be watching him squirm and hem and haw and filibuster in his valiant attempts to give a non-answer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Love Cats

This is the exact kind of thing I’d be doing with my friends Ricardo and Mikey had we all been born twenty-five years later …

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Working 101

Some random thoughts from my employment odyssey over the five months at two different establishments …

* Work for a boss who has children.

Especially if you have children. When emergencies or other normal family events come up where you may be forced to take some time off – even a few minutes one day – you’ll be met with understanding. Who needs stoney steely glances and glares when you’re ten minutes late ’cuz the daycare you dropped your child off to was slightly backed up?

* Work for a business that drug tests its employees.

It’s one of the best ways, I’ve discovered, not to work with jackasses.

* Work for a place that formally trains its employees (managers at the very least).

It’s another great way not to work with jackasses.

* Work for a company with reasonable rules and regulations.

Example: pay plans. One place I worked for had every manager pay plan three or four pages long in triplicate. Employee, Manager, and Owner signature required on the bottom of each page. Another place had pay plans scrawled on the back of memo notes. Like so many things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the ’tween.

* Work for a business that is NOT owned by a Screamer or hires Screamers.

Screamers are those type-A jerks that have to have it their way yesterday or else they’ll start hollering like the immature imbeciles they’re really showing themselves to be. If the company owner is a Screamer, don’t even bother with the place. If managers are Screamers, well, all right if you can maneuver around them. But I still say, avoid them. These idiots automatically double the stress level just by being in the same room with you.

* If you’re not happy where you are, by all means, start looking elsewhere!

Look online, mail out letters and resumes. Don’t feel guilty. If it was in the company’s interest, they’d let you go with little or no warning. If you work for a Bad Place, fire them, but do it smartly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Hush’d be the camps to-day,
And soldiers let us drape our war-worn weapons,
And each with musing soul retire to celebrate,
Our dear commander’s death.

No more for him life’s stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeat – no more time’s dark evenets,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.

But sing poet in our name,
Sing of the love we bore him – because you – dweller in camps, know it truly.

As they invault the coffin there,
Sing – as they close the doors of earth upon him – one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.

- Walt Whitman, 1865


Finished Keegan’s military analysis of the Civil War today. That, plus the books by O’Reilly and Swanson, the fiction of Crane, and Burns’s documentary … read this and it brought a lump to my throat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Poppy Bust

Oh great.

For breakfast today I stopped at the deli and got a delicious poppy seed bagel with some cream cheese on it. Later, at lunch, the whole office ordered from a local restaurant. Scanning the menu, I began salivating over a pita with poppy seed paste. Mmm-mmm. Then, around three, some salesman came up to us with a humongous poppy seed cake. Boy, that sure was mouth-watering. I had two slices and, when no one was looking, I scarfed down a third piece.

Wouldn’t you know it, as I was walking out the door, briefcase in hand and light brown fall jacket all zippered up, my new boss catches me. “LE,” she says, “one thing I forgot to tell you.” She hands me this medical form that looks like one of those tests you need a number 2 pencil for. “Company policy is that all new hires need to take a drug test. I should’ve given you this on your first day last week. Do you think you can drop off a sample at this lab tomorrow morning?”

I was so shocked my mouth fell open and a poppy seed muffin dropped out.

* * *

Don’t know what the heck I’m writing about? See here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Poor Little One! A few days ago there was some rough-housin' on the playground and someone bumped into her while her back was turned. She went sprawling forward and her forehead connected brutally with a basketball post. Ouch!

The bruise went down within a day but has turned a greenish-purple and is migrating down to her right eye.  And on top of all that, she's had a cold all weekend. 

It could've been worse I suppose.  Thankfully, we haven't been to the Emergency Room with her in over six years ... (knocks on wood)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Could Write About ...

It’s all quiet in the house. I sit alone in the writing office, wondering what to write.

I could write about how uninspired I am to write, considering the writing office is now a disheveled finance office. Imagine the accounting office of a Wall Street firm – or a Mom and Pop store – after a flock of OWS and other frustrated Obama supporters looking for Change have trashed and squatted here for six weeks or so. That’s what my writing office looks like.

Or I could write about my wife – fleeing me on a Saturday night for movie night with her girlfriend. Movie in question: Eclipse, one of those moody vampires versus werewolf flicks all the middle schoolers are texting about.

I could write about the movie I have on deck for later tonight: the animated Lord of the Rings, last seen in childhood. Yes, Leonard and Sheldon from Big Bang Theory are coming over later. In full Middle-earth costume.

I could write about the coolest three words in the English language, words seen in the first chapter of Heinlein’s Time for the Stars, also last seen in childhood. Words in question: pseudo-spatial calculus.

I could write about a video I almost posted here, now, instead. Yes, playing one of the greatest songs of all time, And You and I, live. And – they’re all wearing capes!

I could write about the greatest rock band in the world, on the CD player behind me: King’s X. Are they even still together? They never found mainstream audience, and they really should have.

I could write about the seven-year-old boy in hot pursuit of my seven-year-old daughter, Little One. Bright red hair, eye glasses with the elastic band wrapped around his head, and he’s completely utterly fearless. I mean, I’m walking Little One to school a few weeks ago and he comes bustling up, moves past me, and maneuvers himself between me and her. The scowl on my face does nothing to discourage his interest in my daughter.

I could write about the latest desire of my other daughter, three-year-old Patch: to be married to E. T. What’ll be the best thing about the wedding? “He’ll say my dress is beautiful,” she says shyly.

I could write about the Civil War odyssey I’m on, and all the synchronous symmetries popping up. For instance, this afternoon I read of the trial of Henry Wirz, the commandant of the notorious Andersonville prison. The Confederate officer, the only man executed for war crimes in the aftermath of the Civil War, had his military tribunal officiated by General Lew Wallace – the man who would later write my favorite religious novel, Ben Hur.

I could write about how I foiled the chipmunks (“chunks” as Patch calls them) excavating their catacombs beneath the walkway to my porch. I mean, the bricks were about to collapse a foot downward the next time a mailman with any degree of girth trod upon them. Father-in-law went to Home Depot and bought a gallon of cement, which I properly mixed and poured into the tunnels with vengeance. I am now an apprentice mason. Don’t tell Father Jim at church.

I could write about a lot of things, but I just can’t decide which one …

Friday, November 11, 2011

Job, Civil War, Robots

Finished my first half-week at the new job. It seems very promising. The people there, from the owners right on down to the greeters, are extremely friendly, outgoing, and fun. The atmosphere is an odd combination of low-stress and high productivity. Weird. Something I’m definitely not used to these past five or six years.

Anyway, since my store is on a highway, I don’t really go anywhere for lunch. So I’ve been slogging through Keegan’s military history of the Civil War, much like Grant through the swamps of the upper Mississippi. Two thoughts occurred to me this afternoon.

First, being a Civil War general is not unlike a really, really, really awful and downright bad movie I saw many, many years ago: Robot Jox, I think the title was, complete with the “hip” spelling of jocks. The gist of that movie was that wars in the future were fought by gargantuan mechanical robots, tall as skyscrapers, in a gladiator-type battle that determined the winning nation. The robot was controlled by a teeny-tiny human a thousand feet up in the “brain” or control center.

When I read of Grant and Lee and Sherman and the rest controlling armies of 50,000 men and more spread out over dozen of miles, this stupid analogy comes to mind. I mean, Grant has to stand there, on the ground, in his tent, and visualize the geography and travel conditions of the terrain, the locations of his men, the location of the rebels, his logistical problems (food, clothing, ammunition), his strategy and tactics. And then, like that peon in the robot’s brain, he has to swing this arm of his forces into battle, then the other one, then both at the same time, then advance, then retreat, then go this way and that.

See what I mean?

The other thought was a brief snippet about Sherman. Seems the General was up all night planning out strategery in his tent. Next morning he decides to catch some Zzzz’s against a tree stump. Soldiers walk by, and one says, “Gee, ain’t it somethin’, us bein’ led by him,” or something to that effect. Sherman, only half-dozing, immediately wakes. Instead of tearing the young lad’s head off, he simply says, “Sir, while you were sleeping, I was awake all night planning for your welfare and a quick end to this conflict.” Then he goes back to sleep.

This nagged me, because I was certain – certain! – that something similar had happened to me. No, I never led troops. But somehow I was knocked for appearing not to be industrious and … oh yeah. The last five years of my working life. See first paragraph, above. The owner would never quite catch me doing the financial statement, or paying the mortgages and loans for the business, or helping advise employees on benefit plans, or transmitting payroll. No, he’d only walk up behind me when I was checking my email or chatting with the wife on the phone.

General Sherman, I sympathize!

Thursday, November 10, 2011



It seems extremely vraisemblable that when Monsieur Hopper uses a word like vraisemblable in a post such as this, he is at a loss for the written word.

Either that or he’s too damn tired to lift that big ol’ writer’s block off his numbed skull.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Job Brain Fry

Home from first day at new job. No real posting today. Brain fried. First-day-at-a-new-job fried, that is.

Cautiously optimistic about this one. After the schizophrenic work encounter over the summer, I guess I’m a little bit scarred. But we’ll see. On paper, this place looks like it could make the playoffs easy. I hope so, but we’ll see.

Wife’s taking me out to dinner tonight; children are at my parents for the rest of the week. Poor Little One was thrown into a basketball pole on the playground today and has a tremendous egg on her forehead. Blacked out and had to be taken to the nurse’s. And today was school picture re-take day, too, to top it all off. (But her pic was re-taken before the playground incident.)

Two-thirds through with Keegan’s biography of the Civil War. Interesting, if a tad too in-depth for me. But that’s what I wanted. Should finish it in a week or so. Then, I’d like to zip through an SF quickie, and then start an epic. We’ll see about all that, too.

Hopefully something of substance tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Last night I'm half-watching the news. The feeding frenzy over Herman Cain's past infidelities continues unabated. Some college assistant coach abused kids (oh, if only college assistant coaches could marry!). Now the Italian economy is teetering on the brink. The US economy trails along, heedless of any and all warnings to tighten its belt. We're fascinated with some no-talent ditz named Kardashian who is divorcing her true love seventy-some-odd days after swearing before God her undying fealty to him.

I vividly remember my PKD - that's Philip K. Dick - phase seven years ago this time of year. I read three or four paperbacks of his, a biography, a collection of short stories. There was also an essay of his I read online, whose basic idea was that we are living in the year 70 AD, and the Roman Empire still exists.

Why did this PKD flashback hit me last night?

Everything mentioned in the first paragraph above is meaningless. Yeah, each item will affect us to varying amounts for varying amounts of time, mostly short-term, I'd think. Each item we are also, when it really comes down to it, powerless to affect. Yes, we can vote, but really my vote and yours is meaningless, because in 21st century America, if an election comes down to anything close to a couple thousand vote difference, the election is settled by the courts. We are essentially powerless to affect our candidates, the economy, pop culture. Even the morality of the culture.

Or are we?

This is where PKD comes in.

Assume his essay thesis is true. For the record, obviously, I don't, at least not in the somewhat arbitrary historical form Dick believed. But if the essay's true, then we are being deceived. On what level is up for debate. But we are being decieved in some way shape form.

Decieved, in this post, means that the True Reality is masked to us.

This also implies that there is a True Reality. Part of the postmodern modus operandi is to deny any Objective Truth. For those of us belonging to the Catholic Church, at least, we believe in True, Objective Reality, that being God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the morality and eschatology that flows through and from Biblical revelation.

But that's not what you see and hear when you turn on the tube, is it? Do you even hear a variation of that? No. So I think PKD's facts can be twisted a bit to fit the "reality" that I was exposed to last night lazily watching teevee. Reality is what is presented to us by the makers of reality, the ones who control the media. The media controllers, and those they answer to, are the "Roman Empire" PKD writes about.

So where does our power lie?

How do you fight the Roman Empire?

Me, I turn off the teevee. Shut out the propaganda. I try to adhere to the Objective Truth that's been revealed to me. For now, that will suffice. But there will come a time, I am more and more convinced, when the Empire will not be denied. There will come loyalty oaths and persecutions. It's happened before and it will happen again and, yes, it can happen here. There are signs already in the culture: see "hate speech" legislation; see taxpayer money going to Planned Parenthood; see nurses pressured into participating in abortion procedures; see pharmacists pressured to dispense birth control. The Empire will not be denied. Watch your teevee or else.

There may be other ways to fight back against the Empire. I think humor is a great weapon; look how the late night teevee hosts savage the Republican candidates and thus subtly mold public opinion. But the Empire has a notoriously fickle sense of humor. Mockery not state-sanctioned and approved will quickly be made illegal through legislative fiat.

This message brought to you from the Frog in the Pot.

(and only partially tongue-in-cheek!)

Monday, November 7, 2011


Interesting, FWIW ...

Concerning overall Civil War strategy -

There were objective observers. Two were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, then in exile in England, where in March 1862 they composed an analysis of the progress of the Civil War of quite remarkable prescience. Marx and Engel's interest in the Civil War was not political. As revolutionaries they hoped for nothing from the United States. It was simply that as men with a professional interest in warfare and the management of armies they could not prevent themselves from studying military events, and prognosticating based on their lessons.

Marx concluded that, following the capture of Fort Donelson, Grant, for whom he had formed an admiration, had achieved a major success against Secessia, as he called the Confederacy. His reason for so thinking was that he identified Tennessee and Kentucky as vital ground for the Confederacy. If they were lost, the cohesion of the rebel states would be destroyed. To demonstrate his point, he asked, "Does there exist a military centre of gravity whose capture would break the backbone of the Confederacy resistance?"

His answer was that Georgia was the centre of gravity. "Georgia," he wrote, "is the key to Secessia." "With the loss of Georgia, the Confederacy would be cut into two sections which would have lost all connection with each other." It would not be necessary to conquer the whole of Georgia to achieve that result, but only the railroads through the state.

Marx had foreseen, with uncanny insight, exactly how the decisive stage of the Civil War would be fought.

- The American Civil War, by John Keegan, pgs. 161-162

Sunday, November 6, 2011

After the Fact

© 1988 by Fred Saberhagen

I picked this up a week ago from one of my favorite used book stores for two reasons. First, it has a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the cover, and I’m currently very heavily immersed in the whole Civil War epic. Second, it’s written by Fred Saberhagen, a minor deity in the pantheon of SF Writers but a god nonetheless, and one I have never read before.

Any historical figure on the cover of an SF book means one of two things. Either it’s an alternate history story or it’s a time travel tale. In the case of After the Fact, it’s the latter. Upon retrospection I realize I am woefully ignorant in both genres, and that’s quite disconcerting for someone who prides himself on being overall well-read in the field of science fiction literature.

So during the Great Power Outage of ’11 I cracked it open and finished it in three hours over the course of four days. Not knowing what to expect, I went into it clean, pure and virginal and wound up liking it. It’s not a classic, but it won’t keep me from exploring more Saberhagen (as a matter of fact, I bought another paperback of his yesterday).

The biggest challenge an author faces when tackling time travel is negotiating paradoxes. A Daedalian labyrinth of immovable and inpenetrable paradoxes. After the Fact, the back-cover blurbage informs us, will be about preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Oh, dear; that’s a whole Moebius strip of paradoxes.

The first and most obvious one is, well, if Lincoln is saved, then the past one hundred and forty-six years of history becomes null and void. Plus, history has recorded only one individual assassin in the theater box. So our young protagonist, shanghai’d to the 19th century to foil the murder plot or else, obviously is unsuccessful in diverting Booth’s pistol shot.

I had to read it just to see what happens.

Now, reviewing the novel, I have to see if I can come up with some alternative explanations to the one proffered by Saberhagen. Think of a half-dozen or so separate branches of multiverses that opened up when Fred was at his keyboard fleshing out his outline sometime in 1986 or 87.

1. Maybe Young Protagonist does succeed, and we’re living in a temporal cul-de-sac.

2. Maybe Young Protagonist is tricked into becoming Booth in a terrible twist of fate.

3. Maybe Lincoln has to die because had he lived 2011 would be Hell-on-Earth or some such apocalytpic holocaustic disaster.

4. Maybe Young Protagonist is prevented from succeeding by some Other intelligence from the Distant Future.

5. Maybe Young Protagonist sees or is convinced or has a mental breakthrough (or breakdown) that, however unfortunate and however unjust, the Great Man has to die.

6. Maybe Young Protagonist can’t prevent the assassination because then he will cease to exist (uh-oh, there’s the Grandfather Paradox!)

7. Maybe Lincoln is saved by a temporal bubble being created in Ford’s Theater and ... ow, my head’s starting to ache.

All right, so they’re not really “explanations,” merely thoughts that need to be developed. Or not. Though one comes close to Saberhagen’s resolution which, ultimately, I felt to be satisfactorily revealed in the novel’s final pages. There was life-and-death suspense, a MacGuffin-ish watch that warps time, some psychic stuff, a bit of Deus-ex-Machina that doesn’t draw a penalty flag, and the fabric of time is not destroyed while something truly weird does happen.

That’s the good. The bad is that the novel has a “teevee-movie-of-the-week” feel to it rather than a big-screen element. That’s important to me as I’m such a visual reader. There were also a couple of nagging loose threads that were never really resolved. Life in Washington DC during the final days of the Civil War is realistically portrayed in all its stinky griminess, though I think the female characters are (natch) a little more feministically portrayed and PC-sanitized than a true reading of history would show. But Saberhagen had to do it for the story, and I think it works, so I don’t deduct too many points from the scorecard for it.

Grade: solid B. I’ll be reading at least two more of his novels in the near future.

Best idea: “ ... You see, Jerry, there are usually great, and often prohibitive, paradoxes involved in any attempt to manipulate the past. Sometimes the difficulty can be overcome by making an abstract of the past, and manipulating that ... ” (page 158, Baen paperback edition, emphasis mine).

Is that cool or what?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Success Spaghetti Style

I’ve been out of work since September 14, and yesterday I interviewed for a job (my third interview in the past seven weeks) and found out I got it two hours later.

Here’s what I learned over the past 51 days:

The best way to succeed is spaghetti-style.

Without giving away too many details and at the risk of sounding undeservedly glamorous, the job I’m most qualified for usually has only one opening per business. Sales forces, for example, could have as many as twenty or twenty-five slots per company in my industry. But only one of me. So, right of the bat, I’m kinda at a disadvantage.

To get a job in my industry – the job I look for in particular – you either have to know someone or somehow be in the right place at the right time. More often the latter, but it doesn’t hurt to have both angles going. So when I found myself out of work (again) in September, I decided the best way to find work would be to utilize a spaghetti strategy.

First I needed to sell myself. I created a one-page letter that I felt balanced a formal, business-like “here’s how I can help your business” with an informal and intelligent easygoing style. Then, with the help of a recruiter I know, I rearranged my resume and redid it to sell me thoroughly for the job I was aiming at as well as make it aesthetically pleasing (at least to me, trying to be as objective as possible). I went to Staples and make about a hundred copies of the letter, the resume, and a Letter of Recommendation I had from my last long-term employer. I saved all the receipts, because they can be written off at tax-time.

Then I created my target list. Online, I was able to come up with about 65 businesses within a 25-miles radius of my home. I visited the website of each and every one and made sure I had the most current, up-to-date address. Then I bought me a big package of envelopes and stamps (keeping all receipts).

You know what I did next. Spaghetti.

There’s an expression that if you throw enough spaghetti at a wall, some will stick. That’s the essence of the Spaghetti Style of Success.

Twice a week I mailed out a handful of Me Packages to the various businesses surrounding my house. Averaged about fifteen a week, or three a day.

In the 51 days of my unemployment, I’ve sent out 90 letters, so I’ve looped and started a second lap of mail-outs. The first letters I addressed “Attn: Office Manager” and the second batch I addressed “Attn: Controller.” If there was going to be a third batch, I was planning on addressing them “Attn: General Manager.” Then back to “Office Manager” for a fourth.

Three weeks in I got a call to come in for an interview. The place was actually too small for the size company that could use me, but they liked the resume, the intro letter, and, especially, that glowing Letter of Recommendation.

Ten days ago I got a letter from someone outside my targeted radius, who got the Me Package from someone else. I’ve been trying to schedule an interview with him, but phone tag (and the power outages we recently experienced) made that difficult.

Then, Thursday, I got a call from a place who I called back and set up an interview for yesterday. An hour after the interview, they called me back with an offer I accepted.

Me Package 1, Unemployment 0.

Kudos to the Spaghetti Style of Success. Something stuck to the wall.

(Of course, I pursued other avenues during the past 51 days. I met with three recruiters and interviewed with a company in – of all places – the clothing retail industry. I checked on a daily basis an applied to a dozen suitable jobs. I sensed dead end from both these strategies. But I kept them up – or the wife prodded me to keep them up – because when you’re outta work, you need to pursue every angle.)

What’s exciting to me is that the Spaghetti Style of Success can be very effective to my writing career. (Perhaps “career” is too strong a word. Substitute “interests” for “career” and you’ll have a better approximation.)

With some help, I sent out a few short stories a year ago and collected around 15 rejection letters. Then, I stopped.

A year-and-a-half ago, I sent out a copy of one of my novels to a contact in the publishing business who knew a literary agent. Based on the comment, “publishers are not taking chances on new SF writers,” I left that path cold.

How might the Spaghetti Style of Success attack the problem of being an unpublished writer?

Easy. Never quit! Keep sending the stories out! Keep sending the novels out! If someone doesn’t like it, no big deal. Move on. Keep moving on. Somebody, somewhere, will like what I send them and will publish it. Something will stick.

Now I’m inspired. I have a job so I don’t have to worry about keeping that roof over my head and my family fed. Now that I have a job, I can work on succeeding at something I love.


Friday, November 4, 2011

What Paradise May Be

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

- Jorge Luis Borges

What a beautiful sentiment, no? No matter what your tastes may be or where they may run. Paradise as a library. I have always imagined that, too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Okay, I’m busy, busy, busy. Wife has events, I’m watching both kids as Little One is home sick with an infection of some sorts. Have a job interview lined up for tomorrow. I’m finally relaxing, throwing a CD on I haven’t listened to in a while, and inspiration hits.

Not much of a Verdi fan, but I like Rigoletto, in particular the “Sparafucile” aria (if you call the bass’s solo an aria). Found this on youtube, to give you an idea. Listen to it; the best way I can describe it is if Verdi custom-wrote this to be performed by John Entwistle of The Who.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Galahad and the Grail

I, Galahad, saw the Grail,
The Holy Grail, descend upon the shrine:
I saw the fiery face as of a child
That smote itself into the bread, and went;
And hither am I come; and never yet
Hath what thy sister taught me first to see,
This Holy Thing, fail'd from my side, nor come
Cover'd, but moving with me night and day,
Fainter by day, but always in the night
Blood-red, and sliding down the blacken'd marsh
Blood-red, and on the naked mountain top
Blood-red, andin the sleeping mere below

And in the strength of this I rode,
Shattering all evil customs everywhere,
And past thro' Pagan realms, and made them mine,
And clash'd with Pagan hordes, and bore them down,
And broke thro' all, and in the strength of this
Come victor. But my time is hard at hand,
And hence I go; and one will crown me king
Far in the spiritual city; and come thou, too,
For thou shalt see the vision when I go.

- The Holy Grail, from Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


[Read by candlelight nine hours into our seventy-five hour ordeal of power outtage at the homestead. Thanks to my parents for hosting the Hopper clan for nearly fifty of those hours, supplying light, heat, hot water, hot food, Sunday football games and zombie teevee.]

[By the way, the only casualties suffered by at Casa Hopper was a fish, two mice, and a row of forsythias in the backyard. Rest in peace, Aqua the Betta, and field mice - stay outta our house!]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eight Years

I’m reading all this stuff about the Civil War lately, based in part on a string of really decent books that have come into my possession on the subject. So I’m really kind of a novice about all this. Sure, I studied it all in high school. But that was, like, ages ago. And we never went into such depth as these books are going, hand in hand with, uh, me.

The first thing that really, really struck me was the meteoric rise of Ulysses S. Grant (and I know his actual name is Hiram Ulysses Grant). Consider this:

At the start of the Civil War, April of 1861, Grant, having failed at a first go in the military, farming, and bill collecting, was working as a clerk in his father’s tannery shop run by his younger brother.

Just about three years later, in March of 1864, Lincoln had made Grant the commanding General of the entire Union army.

Five years after that, on March 4, 1869, Grant was sworn in as the 18th president of the United States.

Eight years from a guy not trusted to run his old man’s store to a man running the United States of America, after having decisively exercised the military muscle to keep the union whole.

The accomplishment curve doesn’t get much steeper than that. I could never, ever imagine myself as President in 2020, but the rise would be no less meteoric than Grant’s. Plus, I’d have just as troubled a presidency as he did, what with all the fish-outta-water similarities.

Anyway, this rags-to-riches angle to General Grant quite impressed me.