Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Ah, my favorite holiday, and yes, it can be called a holiday. It’s holy, despite the endless capacity for stupidity in the form of drinking alcoholic beverages found in many of us. It’s holy because it offers us a chance to reform, to repent, to change for the better.

I’m just like you – I’ve never kept a New Years resolution longer than a couple of weeks. The closest I came was in 2005, when Little One was a really little one, and I felt the urge to overhaul the way I lived and experienced life. Most of my resolutions that year never made it past February, but a couple made it to the summer and one or two even beyond. My biggest takeaway was not that I was a failure, but: what if I really could put these changes into effect long-term? Imagine the possibilities …

So, from me and mine to you and yours,


2011 Hopper Best-Ofs!

Category: Best Fiction

Man Plus, © 1976 by Frederik Pohl

Well, The Lord of the Rings is technically disqualified, since it was a re-read. That being said, I didn’t read as much SF this past year as I normally do, primarily due to my Phases (see below). There were a handful that were all good, all worthy reads – the runner-ups: Cycle of Fire, Inherit the Stars, Casey Agonistes, The Star Diaries, Orbitsville, Big Planet, and Time for the Stars. But like a free-for-all cage match to the death, there can only be one winner. And in 2011, it was the unable-to-put-down, just-the-right-size, just-the-right-blend-of-SF-and-horror, Man Plus.

Category: Best Non-Fiction

Tertium Organum, © 1912, by Peter Ouspensky

Just wish I could finish the darn thing! A few years back I got about a hundred pages in. This summer I got about three hundred in. The book is half-a-thousand pages of philosophy – but one I find strangely compelling. Ouspensky begins with epistemology but quickly moves on to the geometry of higher dimensions, and uses that to explain everything from motion and change to love and purpose. I’ll get to it again in a couple of years.

Category: Worst Book

Nerves, © 1956 by Lester del Rey

Hated hated hated this book! If you really want to know why, see here.

Category: Best Movie

Limitless, © 2011, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro

This movie absolutely fired my imagine! Just put the title in the little search thingie to the left to see the posts I did on it. Indeed, it’s been a subliminal undertheme in my daily existence ever since high school. The movie was a well-executed, extremely entertaining (if a bit gory in one or two scenes) flick that’ll make you think, pun intended.

Runner-Up: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, © 2011, starring James Franco and the guy who did Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. A great, emotional surprise with one of the best after-the-credits ending I’ve seen.

Category: Best Documentary

Deep Water, © 2006

Based on the tragedy of Donald Crowhurst and the 1969 Golden Globe around-the-world sailboating race. Nine men enter, one man finishes, one man dies, one man attains nirvana. A documentary that will give you goose bumps and choke you up. An extremely emotional punch; a study of men being tested to the edge of their sanity.

Category: Best Hopper Phase

Shakespeare! May – September 2011

Read through eight of his thirty-seven to thirty-nine plays, and pretty much enjoyed them all. Favorite, though, was Henry IV part I, least favorite was Twelfth Night, which I just couldn’t get into, visualize-wise. As a corollary, I enjoyed just about every single BBC DVD of the plays I read; a great way to enjoy the Bard.


The Donald Crowhurst tragedy, February – March 2011
Zane Grey Westerns, June – July 2011
The Civil War history, October – November 2011

* * * * * * *

Wishing you great reading for 2012!

* * * * * * *


Oops! Almost forgot the Hopper Official Song of 2011!

In years past the honor’s gone to such tunes as Dio by Tenacious D and Grab a Chicken by Peter Frampton. But this year –

It’s a tie!

Between –

One Rainy Wish by Jimi Hendrix


Heart of the Sunrise by Yes

Google and enjoy!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Said I

Happy I am, said I, happy with the new job, happy with the events of this holiday season. Light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel, darkest-before-dawn happy. Finally, in the immortal words of Robert Plant:

I can breathe again

Happy I am, I said, with a wink, and happier I will be, in 2012.

Christmas 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011


As I always do every Christmas, I received a couple of gift cards from family for a large nameless retail bookseller. $50 worth, to be exact.

Needless to say, I am very excited.

Like a groom who abstains from relations with his espoused for an extended period before the wedding. That’s how excited I am, and yes, I realize how weird that makes me seem.

Way back before Thanksgiving I promised the wife no more books until the new year. As a matter of fact, I bought a pair right after I got the job I’ve been at for seven weeks now, and nothing since. Heck, I’ve only been in a library twice in that period. And to top it off, I’ve been kinda bogged down in War and Peace for over a month, though it’s not Tolstoy’s fault (it’s this damnable cough of mine that makes reading difficult).

So – what to buy, come January 2?

Oddly enough, I’m not leaning towards books.

I mean, on the shelf behind me, I have a stack of about thirty or so in my on-deck circle. Twenty SF paperbacks, and a dozen nonfiction: physics, philosophy, religion, check, check, check. So I’m not really lacking in the written word department. I feel no special passion at the moment, so no need to go on a spending spree.

What I have been doing lately is listening to a lot of music. Music that I haven’t really listened to in years. Decades, even. Everything from Jimi Hendrix and Jethro Tull to the Screaming Trees and the Presidents of the United States of America. Additionally, I’ve been listening again to classical music. Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Bruckner, and Copland. Might be time to buy a coupla CDs to meditate to via headphone.

I don’t know. Decisions, decisions, and indecision.

The wife decided to make it a DVD Christmas for me. Got the Alien Quadrilogy (of which I watched a bit already with my pal – more on that later in the week) and a set of a half-dozen classic movies from the 40s and 50s. So considering my normal response to “What do you want for Christmas, Daddy,” being “a book, a CD, and a DVD,” the video angle of my simple pleasures is fulfilled.

This will require some thought, some quiet-time thought, driving to and from work or laying in the dark in bed at night. I never spend money frivolously, no matter how frivolous it seems to my wife and family. Everything I buy is carefully considered. The two $25 gift cards I have will be money wisely spent. There is a method to my madness.

I guess I want to say that I’m open to suggestions. I’ll be cultivating responses from the people who know me best. And even from those who think they do, or just plain don’t. I welcome feedback on topics such as these.

Worse comes to worse, I can always manage to pick up seventeen – yes, seventeen – SF paperbacks for the $50. And that’s about two solid work-weeks of escapist fun!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Don't Open It, Buzz!

THE SCROLL! said she, open The Scroll! But I remembered Father McMurphy said not to, to not unravel mysteries best left for other eyes, and I, alive, full fathom five, set square to strive to survive, I

grasped that shifty plaster o’ paris thing, crumbling into particulate dust like so many mummified mallows of marshes, I grasped it – yes, I – and grasping, glancing at she and the memory of well-coifed and well-quaffed Father McMurphy, I

opened the ggoddammedd thing – I mean, c’mon, it’s just a scroll – so yeah it happens to be a couple two-three thousand years old and

what’s the matter with my hand-head-heart growing cold as cold as stone?

Monday, December 26, 2011


So after Christmas Eve dinner at my brother’s house, my brother poses a mathematical conundrum. He’s worked out an answer and he wants to hear mine and compare notes.

Very well! I like mathematical conundrums!

In a nutshell, he wants to know how tire wear will specifically affect his mileage.

Brand new tires on his vehicle have circumferences of 92 inches.

Since there are 5,280 feet in a mile and 12 inches in a foot, there are 63,360 inches in a mile. Divide that figure by 92 and you get about 688.7. Every mile, my brother’s tires go through 688.7 revolutions. Some gear thingy inside the motor knows this, and that’s how the odometer knows how to calculate mileage, or distance traveled.

Now say the tires wear to the point where the circumference is now 90 inches.

Divide 63,360 by 90 and you get 704. The tire needs to spin 704 times to travel a mile.

But that gear thingy doesn’t know this. It doesn’t know wear and tear. All it knows is how to count revolutions and convert that into distance.

When the worn tire spins 688.7 times, it only goes 61,983 inches, or 5,165.25 feet, or 97.8 percent of a mile. Everything decreases in efficiency by 2.2 percent. The odometer will be off, the speedometer will be off, fuel economy will be off.

So when he’s going down to Florida to Disneyworld, and Mapquest says it’ll be 1,122 miles, his tripometer will read 1146. Where did those 24 extra miles come from?

Instead of spending $135 on gas filling up on the way down, he’ll spend $138. Thus is the terrible cost of worn tires.

Actually, though, doesn’t seem all that bad.

In fact, makes me question my math …

Or the last time I actually, er, slept …

Sunday, December 25, 2011


One of my most intriguing gifts received this Christmas. I foresee a series of four, maybe five posts in the near future ...

Christmas 2011 recap to follow, tomorrow maybe, as we're off to yet another Christmas party / gathering / celebration.  The fun never ends ...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Giants vs Jets

Okay, big, big game tomorrow night. Almost Superbowl big. Essentially, it’s a playoff game in regular season where the winner will move forward while the loser will face elimination.

The mediocre New York Giants face off against the mediocre New York Jets, battling for a crack at the sixth Wild Card position in their respective conferences.

At 7-7, the Giants are perhaps the most crazily schizophrenic team in football. They’ll beat the Patriots in the final seconds and hang in neck-and-neck with the Packers, but will lose easily to the Seahawks and the Redskins. I’ve always said they play at the level of their opponent. This season, they play just slightly below.

At 8-6, the Jets are slightly less erratic, but only slightly less so. Every game is a toss-up; there are no sure wins with these Jets. On paper, I guess, the talent’s all there. In execution, though, it ain’t. This is the team headed by the same coaching staff that went to the AFC championships two years running? I’ve always said (of late, at least) that the Jets are still a B-level team. A-level teams determine their own fates. The Jets still haven’t reached this level. In 2011, they dropped back a bit, half-a-grade or so.

Now, I’m no NFL whiz. I know both teams have their key injuries. I know both teams faced tougher-than-normal schedules. It’s just one of my dreams that I get to experience a completely dominant New York NFL team at least once in my mature lifetime. Yes, in 86 the Giants were pretty much killer, but back then I had other things on my mind. Just like I want to see another Reagan before I die, I want to see another New York football team utterly destroy its opponents week in and week out.

So my prediction for tomorrow?

In the words of Clubber Lang: Pain.

Not physical pain, mind you. Mental pain, in the form of humiliation. But not just one team. I predict both teams will be humiliated.

Tomorrow, Saturday, will be a first in the history of the National Football League. For the first time in a game in the 80-plus years the league has been in existence, neither team will win. Now, I’m not talking a tie here. I’m talking both teams losing. I’m not sure how the heck that’s possible, but in the 2011 Giants-Jets game, it will happen.

Both teams will lose somehow.

Mark my words.

Real Stimulus

Forgive Me

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Hopper family, I think we’ve just guaranteed the re-election of the Amateur President.


By really stimulating the economy this Christmas season.

How so?

Well, as I sit here at my desk I stare at a pile of receipts – so many I can’t guesstimate their number by a simple glance alone. Twenty? Twenty-five? Thirty? And the thing is, those are only the receipts that made it to my desk. I know for a fact there are a bunch still in my wallet, still in the key drawer, still in the center console of my bad*ss 2008 Chevy Impala. Lord knows how many receipts are still in that bottomless pit known as my wife’s handbag. And there’s more than one handbag, too.

There’s your immediate family. Then there’s your larger family, in our case, parents and a single, all-encompassing gift for my nephews. Then, friends. Friends’ children, too, somehow no longer limited solely to godchildren. Your children’s friends for your children’s Christmas parties. Your children’s teachers, all eight of them. Grab bags at work. Secret Santas among the extended family. And on, and on, and on.

So, thanks to the valiant spending of me and mine here at Chateau Hopper, the economy will have grown about 7.5 percent this month as opposed to a typical, Obamaesque 1.5 – 2 percent. And the media will trumpet it all the way to Election Day, 2012.

Please forgive me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Funny in a disturbing way ... and not too far off the mark, I think.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Solstice Bells

All right, I’m unleashing the inner nerd. Heard this song a few days ago and can’t get it out of my head. Pagan or not, who cares. I’m appropriating it for Christ, for Christmas, just like so much of the pagan Classical world was subsumed in the service of the true Lord. So there. (here’s where I put that smily emoticon if I could bother to learn how to do so.)

Incidentally, I was massively into Jethro Tull as a sophomore in high school; theirs was the first concert I ever attended. And the last one, sober. Anyhoo, still think Ian has one of the best sets of pipes on the planet, and love the baroque medievalesque flavor the band brings to their music. Actually own a couple of their CDs to this day, too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

3 for 3 and counting ...

Wow.  Who would have imagined a year ago what a banner year 2011 would be for the threshing of the weeds.  The chaff from the wheat.  Good riddance to a trio of truly abhorrent monsters.  Though as a Christian I cannot in good faith wish them the terrible justice their souls deserve, indeed, am called to love such vermin, I simply find I cannot be bothered to worry about where they will be spending eternity.  Instead, I will pray for their countless, unnumbered victims.

Now, what are the odds it'll be 4 for 4 by New Years Eve ...

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Went to a mandatory parent meeting for Little One’s CCD class this afternoon. Turns out she’s not just receiving Holy Communion for the first time in May. Every spring scores of little ones adorned in white dresses and veils or little navy blue suits march down the aisle at our parish to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time. So we were very excited and looking forward to it. But it turns out there’s an extra Sacrament involved.

Little One will also be partaking of the Sacrament of Penance for the first time. Known by several names, such as Reconciliation or Confession, it’s where one periodically enters a private room and speaks to a priest through a screen to have one’s sins forgiven after a valid listing in order and frequency. I go two, three, or four times a year. Generally when I walk out of the church on those Saturday afternoons I feel genuine elation.

So I was somewhat surprised that Little One will have her first confession in March. I could’ve sworn I didn’t do mine until I was in fifth or sixth grade. Don’t you have to be at a minimum age of consent, to know right from wrong, to accept responsibility for your actions? Sure, she does this … most of the time. At age seven, we’re still training her in these areas. More often than not we’re successful, and we’re happy with her moral development, but there are times were we are forced to send her to her room and I need to get (perhaps a little too) loud or physical with her.

(That’s something I take into the confessional with me.)

Yet I’m not sure she’s a hundred percent knowledgeable of right and wrong. She hasn’t metaphorically and metaphysically partaken of that Tree of Knowledge yet. Or has she? The older she gets, the less I am in contact with her, especially now that I’m working again. Whereas once I and my wife were the only moral figures in her life, now she has a half-dozen public school teachers, two CCD teachers, coaches, friends’ parents, even bus drivers to influence her on how to act and behave. Whereas once I dominated her day, now I see her, on average, two-and-a-half hours a weekday.

Regardless, it’s part of the surrendering that we as parents are called to do. Yesterday, lying motionless in bed from this chest infection I can’t seem to shake, Little One came up to me and gently ran her fingers through my hair. “Wake up, Daddy,” she said softly. “It’s time for dinner.” I cracked open a bloodshot eye and saw the concern in her eyes, the tender care for this stupid fool I am, and saw her for a more mature emotional being that perhaps the Church, in her wisdom, recognizes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


(From the Too-Sick-To-Blog files …)

Man, Steve Howe is on my short-list top-five guitarists who ever lived. There was a sporadic phase, from about 1989 to 1996 or so, where I’d listen to nothing but Yes. Primarily The Yes Album but also Close to the Edge. The song below – “And You and I” – and a few others such as “Starship Trooper” and “Perpetual Change” enticed me – perhaps sadistically so – to become a better guitarist. I never reached such heights back then. Even now I can only play bits and pieces of random Yes songs.

Bands don’t wear capes on stage anyone. That’s probably a good thing. But if any band deserved to wear capes, and wear them with pride, it was Yes. No one can touch ’em when it comes to early 70s fashion. That’s because the music stares you the f down. So, capes, platform shoes, bell-bottom jeans, skin tight sparkly shirts – you can’t mess with that, or Steve will get all sustained 11th chords and unconventional time signatures all over your 4/4 a$$.

And how awesome is that pedal steel guitar Howe plays, and that double-neck Gibson SG he’s slinging. When we’re financially independent, that’s my birthday present, wife! For years I never knew how he got those sounds he did on that track, so finally seeing how it was done is tres neat. (Though I acknowledge that what they did in the studio in 1971 might be different than how they performed the song two years later.)

For anyone who can stick with it to the very end (a respectable nine-and-a-half minutes) email me and I’ll send you a cassette of me playing the acoustic part of the song on a Washburn 12-string! That and $5’ll get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lumpy Spuds Redux


My youngest daughter, Patch, has that rarest and most valuable of genius: that of the ability to predict cultural zeitgeist. Or at least run parallel to it. To be a predictator of the IT-ness, a prognosticator of factors labeled “X” – she has it!

Case in point –

Her lumpy spud people.

I posted about it a few days ago, here.

Now the wife, on the prowl in one of the various malls of America, spots this item at one of those ubiqituous kiosks who muscle onto the mallways around Halloween and don’t leave until Saint Pat’s. She snaps a photo on her iPhone and shoots it to me at work.

Perceptive Papa that I am, I go apoplectic with paternal pride.

May my littlest one grow up to be a mover and shaker! This, to me, gives me warm fuzzies.

(Check out the t-shirt design two-thirds down the middle of the page)

Everybody’ll be wearing sumthin’ with a lumpy spud on it! Coming Summer 2012!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Russell Hoban

Those of us who grew up weaned on Cablevision in the late 70s have probably watched Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas a couple hundred times.  What I did not realize (or perhaps I did and merely forgot) was that the 1977 HBO special presentation (in conjunction with Jim Henson's muppets) was based on a 1971 children's book written by Russell Hoban.

Hoban died Tuesday at the ripe old age of 86.

Another interesting fact about this author is that he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for his 1980 effort, Riddley Walker.  Hmmm.  Something else to put on the Acquisitions List.  Something else ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Codeine Dreams

Last night I had a crazy dream. A crazy dream I daresay might be prophetic.

I dreamed I was a writer who dreamed he wrote a book called “The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did.” In his dream he remembered every one of its 87,435 words and each in its proper order. And better yet, he became a multimillionaire over the book, as talented Hollywood filmmakers quickly optioned it.

But the thing is, he forgot the contents of the book when he awoke. In effect, it was the dumbest thing he ever did. So he wrote a book instead about a man who forgot what his book was about – until that man remembered it was about a man who forgot what his bestselling book was about.

So I dreamed I was the man who had to write a book about a man who wrote a book about a man who forgot what his book was about.

Here’s the catch, though.

That third man, the last man in the chain, is actually the reader! Or in this case, he’s actually me!

All I need to do, is put the whole thing down on paper.

But not in a linear, traditional chronological order.

I’m going to write it in a seemingly random order. A Donnie Darko or some type of Christopher Nolan-type time frame. However, it will ultimately make sense.

If you start at the top left corner of a blank piece of paper and draw a the single image from each chapter and curl this images into a spiral adhering to a tight fibonacci curve, then hold it arms-length away from a full-length mirror, you’ll discover –

The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Or the Face of God.

It all depends on whether I decide to write the whole thing in e-Prime or not …

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

InFLUenza ...

Sorry. Still sick. And very busy at work, and at home, with the dozens of Christmas chores that need doing. So, I’m run down. That dizziness I had Friday night has now manifested itself in a very aggressive stronghold of mucus somewhere deep in my chest. My muscles ache from the constant coughing, my throat is raw, my nerves are on edge and I’m more overtired than usual.

Sat down here for 45 minutes, and while I have two topics floating in my noggin, had neither the discipline nor strength to hash them out as blog posts. Think I’ll go upstairs and watch some Big Bang Theory with the wife, then soak in a superhot tub for an hour reading Tolstoy, if I can concentrate that long.

Gooder stuff on the horizon …

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lumpy Spuds

Little One has long been an artist in our family, going on six years now. I knew she had talent when, the year before kindergarten, she started drawing “heart people.” These were hearts with faces on them, with arms and legs coming out of the appropriate areas. So very full of love.

Now Patch is following in the trail blazed by her big sister. Instead of heart people, we have … lumpy spuds. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love them. I mean, look at the expression on those faces! Sublime, indescribable! After much examination I’ve come to realize it’s all in the angle of the mouth. What Leonardo did to the Mona Lisa, Patch does to her lumpy spud people.

... shy smile ...

... pondering the universe ...


... what am I here for? ...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

$2 Million

I’d just like to say, publically, right now, that if I ever came across a drug deal gone south on the Texas-Mexico border, with dead bodies and pick-ups laden with white powder, I would never, ever, ever try to make off with any suitcases of $2 million I should happen across.

Yes, I did just watch No Country For Old Men. And yes, I was riveted to this strange flick in my own over-the-counter drug stupor last night. Extremely well-written and well-filmed movie about an extremely repulsive subject. The gore and mental anguish you’re forced to endure is perfectly balanced with a sleight-of-hand keep-em-guessing screenplay. I give it an A, but I’ll probably never watch it again.

And Javier Bardem should make a great Bond villain. If I can’t have my Seal, he’ll do. Just don’t make him a Euroweenie (or a South American-weenie) and give him a ballsy plot to bring the world to its knees before him!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

Why do over-the-counter medications say, take two pills every four hours? Why not just make the pills bigger and say, take one every four hours? The drugs I’m taking for this weird mental fog shouldn’t be ingested by children under 11, so there’s no option to take just one of them in their present size.

Guess it’s something like the garbage truck only coming up my street early when I forget to put out the trash. If I get the bags out by 7 am, they don’t stop by until noon …

Friday, December 9, 2011

Might Be Sick

Having trouble focusing. Just put the little ones abed. Wife on the way home with burritoes, but I don’t know how enjoyable that will be. Feeling very weak, slightly dizzy, extremely exhausted. I think I’m coming down with something.

Either that, or I’m still reeling from the fact that Lie Groups could be the mathematical framework for all of reality.

Thank you, Michio Kaku!

Man, I shoulda stuck with physics back in the early 90s …

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crash! Thud!

So I was sleeping nice and peaceful-like, snoring away like a baby in its crib, when – CRASH! An earth-shaking impossibly loud thud wakes me from my slumbers and sets my heart racing.

What was that? What the heck was that noise??

The first thing that races through my mind is home invasion. Where is that iron bar I keep handy for situations like these? Well, theoretically I keep it handy. Haven’t seen it since Patch was born three years’ back.

Maybe it’s not a home invasion. Maybe I can go back to sleep.

Yeah, right.

Perhaps a stack of children’s books or games or toy bins fell over. The noise did originate from that part of the house. But – what would cause it to tip over just then, at 4:30 am? A mouse? A larger critter? Something unspeakable?


I have to investigate. I get up and slowly move towards the source of the noise. Slowly. Don’t want to surprise any thievery. Nothing. Nothing amiss in the darkness. I venture to turn the light switch, and the suspicion of nothing-out-of-place-ness leaves me perplexed.

It is windy outside. Could …

Wait a minute. I ease up to the door to the outside deck, throw on the outside light, and guess what I found?

A gigantic, hundred-pound tree branch, about twenty spindly feet long, has crashed onto my freshly painted deck!

The offending intruder. (Note the Christmas elf at the door.)

Another view. Imagine if that hit a window!

Most likely point of origination of the Death from the Skies! My neighbor’s back yard.

The view from my kitchen window.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Big Shoes

Little One has turned out to be a huuuuuuge NFL fan. At only age 7, she knows who’s in both the Giants and Jets divisions. You know, the bad teams we root against. She’s always asking me who this team is and who that team is when highlights come on the teevee at half-time on Sunday. She’s starting to become familiar with the famous players on other teams, too.

Last Sunday the Giants were hosting the Packers. Little One couldn’t watch because she had a play date over at one of her soccer friend’s house. When I picked her up, though, she questioned me a lot, especially about Aaron Rodgers. I discovered she and her girl friend were watching the game over there.

So I talked about how good Rodgers is, probably the best quarterback in the NFL right now. I mentioned his predecessor, Brett Favre, and how he led the Packers for fifteen years, helped make them a winning team, and won a Superbowl. “Brett Favre sure left some big shoes for Rodgers to fill,” I said.

I’m asked more questions. Does Mommy like Green Bay? Most of my wife’s extended family is in Ohio. Does Mommy like the Packers? Does Mommy like Aaron Rodgers? She must’ve heard my wife during her frequent exclamations of respect for the man. Finally, the conversation returns to Brett Favre.

“Daddy,” she says to me, “why did he leave his shoes there?”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

War and Peace I

Last night I finished the first part of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That puts me at about eight percent of the way to completion. Hmmm. I did start it last week, but I spent a lot of my free time finishing Hansen’s Civil War history, so I only spent about four hours reading these 96 pages. Four hours … eight percent … that means I’ll finish the big book after 46 more hours of reading. At 45 minutes a night, that’s … sometime in late January!

That’s okay, though. War and Peace is of a length comparable to The Lord of the Rings trilogy or one of George R. R. Martin’s lengthier Song of Fire and Ice epics. I’m there. I’m with it. I’m in for the long haul. And after I’m done, I have two other epic books / series I’m thinking of delving into.

Anyway, my take so far? It’s like a 19th century Russian soap opera. Sure, all the characters are interesting, multi-dimensional, breathlessly alive, and all have ulterior motives, so much so that I feel I may be in danger should that fifth wall between writer and reader be broken. But my verdict is: more war, less peace. And I think part two is going to take me straight to the Russian front to fight Napoleon.

And I caught a most Russian of expressions in my reading last night (at least, to the extent my narrow and limited reading has been in translated Russian literature) –

“ … To understand everything is to forgive everything …”

Not sure exactly all the implications that lay in that direction, but I think it’s a sentiment that was very well frequently said in various Christian communities in the first century Anno Domini.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Born of the Sun

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love;
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass,
And by the streamers of white cloud,
And whispers of wind in the listening sky;
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

- “I think continually of those who were truly great,” 1932, by Stephen Spender

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Fifth Gospel

I read the other night that the Book of Isaiah could be looked at as the “Fifth Gospel.”

Not sure why, but this really struck a chord with me. I have a passing familiarity with it, having read completely through the Bible back in ’92 and sectionally many times since. Also, Isaiah serves as the first reading for the liturgy during the season of Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas.

Why can Isaiah be viewed as the Fifth Gospel? Two reasons. First, because so many prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament gospels, particularly Matthew. Many verses from Isaiah are quoted and referenced in that book. Second, because Christ is so personally prefigured in Isaiah, especially in chapters 40 and on.

This has made me interested in a full reading of Isaiah, especially as December 24th and 25th near.

Now, there are 66 chapters in the book of Isaiah. I could probably read the whole thing in three or four hours. So could you. The problem is … how to find the time.

I’m almost a hundred pages into War and Peace, and have a thousand more in front of me. That reading battle represents a teenage challenge to me, so I will continue putting in a half-hour or forty-five minutes a night with it. This weekend I started a pop physics book, satisfying a growing urge over the past couple of weeks, so I want to stick with that, too. (I plan on reading it during my lunch break.)

So why not a chapter or two of Isaiah every morning? I usually get to work 20 minutes early; I can sit in my car and read for 15 minutes. That should do it nicely.

I’ll keep you posted on this one. It may take a little more effort than Tolstoy or quantum mechanics …

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hansen's Civil War

Just finished reading historian Harry Hansen’s 1961 opus, The Civil War: A History. At 654 pages, it goes just deep enough to give the armchair historian a well-grounded, thorough knowledge of the four-year conflict. I found it to be quite insightful and quite readable, putting away 30 to 40 pages a sitting. The author’s passion toward his subject often comes through, whether it’s praise of courage and ingenuity or sorrow at the always-grim realities of war.

My only bone of contention is his ever-present but necessary tendency to detail general after general after general in each and every skirmish and the number and types of men under his command (i.e. infantry, cavalry, artillery, even numbers of engineers and cooks and whatnot on occasion). My eyes glazed over through these parts, but I’d only place them at 1-5 % of the entire work. Usually Hansen will describe in vivid imagery the main gist and movements of a battle and conclude with these lists.

Far more numerous are the little tales the generously sprinkle the book. I’ve listed my main takeaways from this category below. * Towards the end there are whole chapters (of only a half-dozen or so pages each compared to the more lengthier ones detailing major battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam) that I felt to be so interesting as to kindle a desire in me to attempt a screenplay, of all things!

I decided to list a dozen items I took away from the book. Now, I’m not a historian and I don’t have a photographic memory, so if I err on any detail, please don’t crucify me. I encourage you to read more of this monumental struggle. As an aside, I am somewhat disappointed at the lack of American literature on the subject. You have Walt Whitman’s poetry, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. While all three truly are literary masterpieces, I’m sort of sad that there isn’t a greater volume of works about the Civil War. Maybe there is that I haven’t noted yet; I intend to revisit the subject maybe this time next year.

Anyway, here are some things that stuck with me –

1. Grant’s Astronomic Rise.

After a mediocre mid-level military career, Grant is working for his younger brother in a tannery owned by his dad at the start of the Civil War. A little over two years later he is the chief commanding officer of the military, bringing Lee to surrender a littler over a year after that. And five years after that, he’s President-Elect of the United States. I’d previously thought he was always a general or something, colonel maybe, and always had the president’s ear during the war. Not so.

2. The Union named battles after the nearest body of water; the Confederacy named them after the nearest population center.

I used to wonder why some sources called Bull Run Manassas and Second Bull Run Second Manassas. Now I know. Bull Run is a meandering stream in Virginia. Manassas is the town where Southern forces were encamped. Thus, Northern historians refer to the battles as First and Second Bull Run, while Southerners call it First and Second Manassas. Ahhhh.

3. The Union named its armies after the nearest body of water; the Confederacy named them after the largest population center.

A variation of #2. Quiz – which sides did the Army of Tennessee and the Army of the Tennessee fight for? How about the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, armies that pretty much locked horns continuously throughout the four-years of fighting?

4. The naval aspect of the Civil War.

You all heard of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. The Monitor was one of the first functioning submarines (if you define “submarine” very loosely). The Merrimac was one of the first “ironclad” ships – wooden ships with iron plating making it all but impervious to traditional artillery. The battle raged on for a day at the Battle of Hampton Roads, a port in Virginia.

But what I didn’t realize was that, by war’s end, there were over 75 ironclads and a half-dozen monitor-class ships in the Union navy. In fact, the last “monitor” was decommissioned sometime in the 1930s.

Some of the best writing in the book occurs during these naval scenes. Of particular interest was Admiral David Farragut’s victories in the ports of New Orleans in 1862 and Mobile Bay in 1864; Cushing stealthily destroying the CSS Albemarle like a WW2 espionage mission; and the battle before the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama, a fearsome Confederate privateering vessel, off the coast of France.

5. Only one man was executed after the war for war crimes.

Henry Wirz, commandant of Andersonville Prison, sight of thousands and thousands of deaths of Union prisoners-of-war. Deaths due to malnutrition, exposure, disease, and neglect. Now, I don’t know enough about the case to assess the man’s guilt, but I do know that at his military trial his lawyers enacted the Nuremburg Defense: “I was only following orders.”

6. The sheer brutality of the war.

Over 210,000 men died in the conflict (two-thirds of that figure Union forces; the rest Confederates). It was not uncommon for skirmishes to have hundreds killed and major battles thousands. Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the war, had over 2,100 Union soldiers killed and over 1,500 Confederate killed. (By the way, Antietam is a creek in Maryland. Sharpsburg is the nearest hamlet to the battlefield. In the south the battle of Antietam is known as the battle of Sharpsburg.)

Some of Hansen’s descriptions of the carnage are particularly nightmarish and infinitely sorrowful. The Battle of the Wilderness, where fallen soldiers, too wounded to move, were consumed by raging flames begun by artillery shells igniting the brush. Other wounded, such as those at Spotsylvania, lying in the hot sun during the day and the cold chill of night, unable to be rescued to due sharpshooters from either side. And those who were brought off the battlefield to reach the hospital often suffered much, much more. The most common “remedy” to a bullet wound was amputation. Sterilization was not practiced, and infection killed more than actual lead.

7. Lincoln as General-in-Chief.

The first two-and-a-half years of the war Lincoln desperately searched for a general who would lead Union forces to victory. A fruitless search, as he went through over a half-dozen generals – Scott, McDowell, McClellan, Halleck, Burnside, Hooker, Meade – before Grant stepped up with western victories. And throughout those two-and-a-half years Lincoln himself often had to suggest and even order various strategic and tactical objectives upon his indecisive and overly-cautious generals.

8. Novel aspects of the war –

Balloons used for reconnaissance, one of the first instances of such an application. “Torpedoes” – actually mines, which lined many Southern harbors and ports. The famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes!” is attributed to Admiral David Farragut during the naval battle of Mobile Bay, an 1864 clash that took the South’s last major open port.

I learned about “mining warfare” from the book. Apparently, in at least two battles, Vicksburg and Petersburg, Union soldiers from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, expert in mining, tunneled out 500-foot shafts underneath Southern battle lines. Hansen addresses how you do this, how you get fresh air down a hole that long, how the rebels could hear sounds of tunneling but couldn’t determine where. Then they’d send in a ton of explosives and set it off. Though the aftermath never really justified widespread use, it’s an example of war-time ingenuity that never occurred to me.

9. The sheer numbers of generals –

Wikipedia notes 1,600 (!) Union and 88 Confederate generals; Hansen’s mentions 153 generals of various stripes (determined by a quick count of names in the Index). Before I’d assume there was Grant and Sherman and a few others in the North, Lee and Stonewall Jackson plus a few others in the South. Hardly! And I was shocked to note the number of generals killed in action. You may know Stonewall Jackson shot by mistake by his own troops, but snipers, normal combat wounds, cannonballs – all claimed the lives of these high commanders.

10. The West Point fraternity of Civil War generals.

I found it strange and almost unbelievable that so many of the generals on each side knew each other – many roomed together – at the West Point Military Academy. A brief list of notable graduates: Generals Grant, Sherman, Meade, Sheridan, McClellan, Custer, Doubleday, Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Hood, Stuart, Johnston, Johnston, Polk, Bragg, Kirby Smith. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a graduate of the class of 1826. General Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of West Point for three years; his son was also a graduate, class of 1854, and became a Southern general himself.

I remember Hansen noting that Confederate General James Longstreet attended General U. S. Grant’s wedding before the war, and afterwards, after the surrender at Appomattox, the Confederate leader paid a visit to his long-time friend who’d been his opponent for four years. I wonder – would Longstreet put a bullet in Grant’s brain, given the opportunity, in the months before April 1865?

11. The war in the “west.”

Before, when I read about the western theater in the Civil War, I thought about California. It was a state back then, right? Right. But the war in the “west” refers to action along the Mississippi River. West of the Mississippi was mostly semi-settled territories controlled by both the North and South, plus Texas in the Confederacy and the new states of Kansas and Nebraska in the Union.

Part of the North’s strategy early on (devised by General Winfield Scott, aged hero of the War of 1812) was the “Anaconda Plan,” a plan to strangle the South. This entailed a naval blockade in the Atlantic and Gulf, and the capture and control of the Mississippi with the intention to bisect the Confederacy. Some of the most effective generals the Union produced – Grant, Sherman, Sheridan – rose to prominence in the battles of the west to wrest control of the Mississippi River from the South.

12. The whole slavery question.

Was the Civil War fought to abolish slavery? Did the South secede over the issue of States Rights? For a long time I did not know for certain. Then I read in an online forum someone smack-down the States Rights issue. The person wrote, “Yeah, the States Rights issue in question was whether one human could own another.”

It is true that Lincoln fought the war to retain the Union in its pre-1861 configuration. It is true that he said he would free all the slaves, free some of the slaves, or free none of the slaves if it would keep the Union whole. However, a majority of the North was trending toward abolition at the start of the conflict. Though it was not a majority’s majority by any stretch of the imagination. Some Union enlistees would be shocked to be asked to give their lives to “free the slaves.”

The callousness of Southern leaders, such as Jefferson Davis and John C. Breckinridge, toward the enslavement of other human beings, appalls Modern Me. Black soldiers fought on the Union side, and their lives were often forfeit to Southern hatred and atrocity were they to be captured. The Fort Pillow Massacre is one such example, though I concede that there are varying versions of the degree of “atrocity” in regards to the killing of captured black troops. Regardless, the whole issue brought to my eyes really for the first time, was quite disturbing.

* - Most of these “takeaways” are from Hansen’s Civil War, though a factoid or two or three may have been gleaned from another of the various books and sources I read and / or skimmed over the past two months.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Bumble

Terrorizing generations of toddlers ...

c. 1970 - The Hopper

c. 1974 - The Hopper's wife

2007 - Little One

and now

2011 - Patch,

the Bumble's latest late-night nightmare victim.