Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Resolutions


Three, this year. I do believe if I can make at least 25 percent progress in each of them, my life will radically transform for the better twelve months from now. Without going into the details, here they are:

(1) Improve physical health. The goal is ENERGY! It’s been a long, long, long time since I’ve had a surplus of it.

(2) Improve mental outlook. I really, really want to THRIVE each and every day, not just SURVIVE each and every day.

(3) Resume that elusive writing career. This daily blog is mere TACTICAL writing. I need to resume the much more satisfying and potentially rewarding STRATEGIC writing.



Well, hope you have resolutions to, and I wish you the best of luck with them.


Have a happy, safe, healthy
New Year’s Eve!!!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Hopper Best-Ofs !


Category: Best Fiction

Venus (2000), by Ben Bova

I (almost) literally could not put it down, reading it at every opportunity possible, every free moment over the action-packed span of a few days. And over every objection I could think of ...

Detailed for the SF buff, here.


Honorable mention:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), by Victor Hugo

If you ever visit Paris, you must read this book while you are there. I can't decide which propelled the experience into a higher level, reading the book while being in the City of Lights, or being in that wonderful city while reading the book. A fine distinction, I'll grant, but one that can only make sense to you truly if you find yourself in similar circumstances.

My humble yet excited review, here.


Category: Best Non-Fiction

The Longest Day (1959), by Cornelius Ryan

Summer of 2012 for me will forever be linked to the Second World War. A half-dozen books, World War Two in Color, a bunch of documentary DVDs from the library. Verily the greatest generation fighting the greatest evil in modern times. Ryan is a great war writer; this book brought those lethal hours and days unexpectedly to life for me.

Coupled with a review of one of his other, not-as-successful works, here.


Honarable mention:

The historical fiction of Jeff Shaara (1996-2006)

Yeah, I've read about him on the Internet, and he seems to divide people into two groups: those who love him and those who hate him. Me, not being an exacting historian, I find myself in the first group. His novels helped me to flesh out history and bring it painfully, emotionally, excitingly to life.

Hard to rank them, but I read Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure, and The Rising Tide in the spring and summer.


Category: Best Short Story

"The Bicentenniel Man" (1976), by Isaac Asimov

A beautiful, tearful story from a master of Science Fiction. Absolutely wonderful, a forgotten gem from my youth.

Reviewed here.


Category: Worst Read

"Heart of Darkness" (1899) by Joseph Conrad

Just. Don't. Get. It. Read it back in 1989 or so, didn't get it then. Read some Harold Bloom commentary. Still didn't get it. Read the Cliff Notes. Ditto. Re-read it again back in April. What a waste of time. It must be me.

Review, for the curious, here.


Category: Best Movie

Hmmm. Hard to tell, nothing comes to mind, and I see quickly scanning my movie reviews at the Hopper that none really stood out like Limitless from last year. Scratching my head for ten minutes didn't call anything outstanding to mind, either. If I had to choose (and I feel I must), I'll say that I liked a bunch of westerns from TCM. Two in particular: Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, and The Big Country (1958), starring Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. Oh, and as far as modern film goes, I liked Resident Evil: Afterlife, watched with my buddy at his home theater in prelude to seeing Resident Evil: Retribution at the movies last fall. My cinematic tastes run the full gamet.


Category: Worst Movie

Bigfoot (2012), "starring" Danny Bonaduce and Barry Williams.

A colossal waste of time. In fact, the biggest waste of two hours I threw away all year. It'd be better if I spent those two hours dead stinkin' drunk. Or staring at a wall in a vegetative state. Or reading one of those Obama autobiographies. Or reading Entertainment Weekly on the crapper. Or playing freecell on the laptop. Or reading some a bunch of lit grad student dissertations on "Heart of Darkness." Or - you get the idea. It was a truly bad rotten flick.

Review, for masochists, here.


Category: Best Hopper Phase

The Audio CD / Book in Conjunction

On a whim I decided to re-read Tolkien, though this time listening to it on audio CD as I followed along in the book. An odd, intriguing experience. Took me three solid months. Followed up by reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand in the same fashion.

The Tolkien Audio experience detailed, here.


Runners-Up

The Civil War histories, part 2, February - April, October
The World War II histories - June - September
The Shroud of Turin exploration - January
The Jeff Shaara historical fictions - April - June, August


Category: Best Song

Oh! Can't forget this one! Though 2012 was not a musical year for me (don't think I even purchased any music CDs in the past twelve months), I'm going to have to say, based on stuff I've been listening to online and through the backlog of old CDs, the Song of 2012 would have to be ...


(drum roll)


En Bateau, by Claude Debussy

Betcha didn't see that coming!

Only cuz I find the melody a perfect combination of playfulness, freedom from care, and a certain degree of haunting nostalgia.

Can be heard here.


All right - 2013 - Bring it on!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snowbound, Sorta


Keeping with their frantic, frenetic compulsion to panic us easily-frightened sheep, the Weather Men have us all believing the entire northeast corner of the US will be snowed in this weekend. So I head out early to get some snowbound reading, in my never-ending hunt to recreate the perfect snowbound reading day (winter 2002, when it was just the wife and I, and I read an entire book on the Apollo space program).

Actually, allow me to back up a bit. I woke up at 3:15 that morning, tossed and turned, surrendered to some heartburn (gotta cut out the turkey lunch meat and bread ... and, uh, the beer). Went downstairs to the office for five hours and went through bills at a glacial pace whilst watching The Day of the Triffids on youtube. Good times.

Little One had another little one sleeping over with her, so they and Patch were watching some Disney movie in the morning. I did the errands myself, including a library run to the most forbidding biblioteca in the county: er, the County Library. Ya gotta pay for a parking space there, and it's as close to urban as we get out here. Yet went I did, and scored a handful of intriguing tomes.

Then we went to my nephew's birthday party out in the sticks just as the snow was starting to come down. In reality it was hail, and there was no accumulation until we got to my brother's house about 25 miles north-northwest of us. There was pizza. There was cake. There was a lot of snow on the ground when we left. Took us over an hour to get home, and, let me tell you, it was scary. The Impala nearly failed us, swish-tailing and struggling up and down the icy, steep, winding hills that "the sticks" are known for. A plow almost plowed us off the road. It was a stressful, nerve-wracking trip home, but once I got home, I was happy.

What'd I get? What'd I get?

Okay, I'll tell you:

The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved, by Colin Wilson. What a treasure for a crypto-para-ab-normal enthusiast as me! Plus, history's mysteries stuff. Leonard Nimoy would have an orgasm reading this book! (Ugh, sorry about that ...) And Wilson wrote one of my all-time favorite horror/SF novels, The Mind Parasites.

The Science of James Bond, by Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg. I'm a moderate Bond fan, but I love the way the authors take down some of the more, mm, fanciful aspects of the Bond movies / novels. Favorite chapter titled, "Some Thoughts About Secret Bases." As a potential Bond villain, this supplied a lot of practical information for me.

Strange Brains and Genius, by Clifford Pickover. Thumbed through it and it looked quite fanciful, chock-full of potential weirdity trivia that I need to pack into this blog more often. Read other books by Pickover, and he's always an interesting read.

Two books on religion, subject for another post early in the new year.

And a somewhat too-cerebral book entitled Many Futures, Many Worlds, a collection of essays on SF. And by "somewhat too-cerebral" I refer to hoity-toity literati who tend to drain the fun out of a subject (though one essay is written by Gary K. Wolf, author of my all-time favorite SF novel from my youth, Killerbowl). I'm really reading it to compile a list of short stories and novels I have not read yet but should. Halfway through, and that list includes -

"Nightfall", by Isaac Asimov (never read that classic)
"The New Reality" by Charles Harness
"First Contact" by Murray Leinster
Creatures of Light and Darkness, by Roger Zelazny
"Moxon's Master," by Ambrose Bierce
"The Lion of Comarre" by Arthur C. Clarke
"Scanners Live in Vain," by Cordwainer Smith (see comment for "Nightfall")
The Lost World, by Arthur Conan Doyle

So much to be read, so little time.

Anyway, while the girls were outside playing in the snow, my wife hands me the latest Entertainment Weekly to read. We've been getting this magazine for years; I think one of my wife's friends got a subscription for us one Christmas and it just keeps going. I always throw away renewal notices and bills, but the damn issues keep coming, week after week after week.

Well, this issue was the Best Of / Worst Of of movies, teevee shows, music and books, of 2012. I agreed with perhaps 75% of their assessments, of the movies, shows, music and books I was familiar with. Which was about a quarter to a third of what they reviewed. I am in agreement with the oft-voiced about that the culture is a cesspool, and I try to spend as little precious time as possible in it. I am truly sorry for the "culture" my children will inherent and, ugh, swim in. After reading this issue, my main take away point was - to get on the Best Of list you'd better be either gay or a liberal or both. But at least a liberal. Sigh.

Well, off to share a burrito and watch some TCM with the wife once the children are in bed.

My Best Of / Worst Of lists for tomorrow's post ...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Multi-tasking


Why is the ability to “multi-task” considered a virtue?

In my twenty-plus years of experience, multi-tasking short-changes everyone involved. Nothing gets one’s full attention: certainly, almost by definition, none of the multiple tasks engaged in near simultaneity. Because each task is not given full and undivided attention. Or it’s given such attention for however brief the period of time attention is focused on it before the interruption begins. And once the interruption is over, or once the interruption that interrupts the prior interruption is over, once attention returns to the original task, some degree of energy and will is needed to re-engage that original task.

It is the expenditure of the sum mental total of all these joules of “some degree of energy and will” that I find completely exhausting.

My job is predicated on accuracy. That accuracy affects – intimately so – over a hundred and sixty employees as well as the three owners of my company. Three other entities touch the data before and after it reaches me: the employee, his manager, and a third party outside company. (And sometimes other entities, too, if state agencies or the courts get involved.) I must maintain focus on the task in front of me, in essence, the accurate processing of this data. Or, if too many mistakes are made, I will soon be out of a job.

I get that I have to answer the phone if it rings. I get that if a manager runs in needing a fire put out, I have to help. I get that. I do that. But I have a low-tolerance for distraction and interruption, a threshold that I usually tactfully and tactically avoid but for every now and then. And every now and then, it don’t rain; it pours.

Don’t give me work where “multi-tasking” is considered an essential inherent factor in the process. Give me something to concentrate on, and I will do it better than 99 percent of the people out there, who’ve never honed such a skill due to all the time wasted managing interruption and distraction.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts in Solitude



My thoughts arise and fade in solitude,

The verse that would invest them melts away

Like moonlight in the heaven of spreading day:

How beautiful they were, how firm they stood,

Flecking the starry sky like woven pearl!


- Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yule Tidings


The Hoppers had a great Christmas. That’s it. Bottom line.

Our presents were watching the delight on the girls’ faces as they opened up gifts they truly wanted. Really helps now that they are at the age where they can write wish lists to Santa. Princess laptop, makeup case, purse, yo-yo, silly putty, Bug Out (a jenga-like game), a trio of dolls, and plenty of clothes for Patch. A whole city of Lego Friends, Yahtzee, Sorry game cards, Battleship, two sets of earrings, a life-size doll, and plenty of clothes for Little One. Disney and Pixar DVDs for the both of them.

Got the wife some comfy form-fitting slippers, an iTunes card, a gift card to the local jewelry store, and a bracelet (which she pretty much bought and gave to me, saying, “Wrap this and put it under the tree”). She got me pants, a shirt and tie for work, much-needed socks and undies. Ah, married life.

My in-laws also got me a $25 gift card to B&N. That in itself is a post, for a later date.

I had to work until about 3 pm on Christmas Eve. Then I drove straight up north to my brother’s house, and had lobster and filet minon (our annual splurge) with my family, his, and my parents. Then, opening of gifts for the little ones. My parents also got the wife and I a huge tome / DVD on the Louvre, one of the centerpieces to our trip to Paris seven months ago. That, too, may be a post, once I get through the several-hundred-pages.

Next day, Christmas, was l-a-z-y and luxorious! Nothing like staying in your pjs until late afternoon in the middle of the week (as long as you’re employed, that is). The girls actually got up at 2:30 am, but I put an immediate stop to that. Then they rose around 6:30, and let us sleep until 7:30. Do I have two angels or saints-in-training, or what? An hour of present-opening followed, then I made us all eggs for breakfast. I went upstairs and listened to a bit of Atlas Shrugged on the CD player (I know, I know … a major blog post forthcoming on all that). Which segued nicely into a two-hour nap.

Got up and watched a televised Christmas mass with the family, in lieu of the logistical acrobatics involved with getting the troops to the parish next town over. Not sure whether I need to confess this or not. Anyway, soon after, we all showered and went over to our friends’ house, about two towns south. Had a couple of mixed drinks and reveled in some side-splitting hilarity while the kids all OD’d on sweets and another round of present-opening.

And it was all over too fast. Got up this morning at 6, showered, made myself a sandwich, and got to work by 8 while the girls were all a-stirring. Then an hour drive home (I’m only twelve miles away to get to work) due to the first snow storm of the season.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day



Wrap up to follow, after I have some time to digest ... (and sleep!)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!


From my family to yours …





Have a

happy

blessed

joyous

relaxing

fun-filled

meaningful

Christmas Eve

and

Christmas Day!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Punctuation Placing


How important is the placing of a simple, little, unobtrustive, inconspicuous symbol of punctuation?

Consider:


A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman, without her, man is nothing.


Which sentence is correct?

Well, perhaps I need restate that question. What is the author’s intent? Two very, very different meanings can arise, all dependent on where that comma is placed.

Just something the writer / editor / perfectionist in me found quite interesting.

[From the interesting book, Will Power: How to Act Shakespeare in 21 Days, by John Basil. This book also inspired me to re-take-on the Bard again, in the next couple of days.]

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where I Have Gone Before


All right, it’s a bad play on the catchphrase, “Where no man has gone before,” made famous by James T. Kirk. Not very witty, either, but it applies to this book I’ve been reading a few minutes here and a few minutes there: The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen Whitfield.

Way, way, back, when Star Trek was just beginning syndication and we had just wrapped up the moon landings, wee little Hopper stepped up into the Bookmobile visiting my school and bought Mr. Whitfield’s book. That (and a hot-off-the-presses Logan’s Run) was my first real book I bought, to the best of my knowledge, and I picked it up primarily for that picture of the Enterprise on the cover and the two sets of picture series within it. Over the course of a year or so it was a constant companion. I never read it through start to finish (it was probably a bit above my reading level at this point), but I studied those photos intensely and read just about every Gene Roddenberry memo reproduced within its pages.

Well, something like 35 years intervened and a gazillion people, events, experiences, interests, classes, jobs, books, movies, and a gazillion other miscellaneous came into and out of my life.

The Making of Star Trek was stored away in the deep part of one’s brain where long-term but never-retrieved memories are sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement.

Until a few months ago when, surfing through my online used book store’s archives, it found me again and asked to be freed.

I bought it. Now I’m reading it.

Yes, it’s light, it’s fluff, it’s a lot of stuff I’ve read or heard in other places now that Shatner and Nimoy are firmly in their 80s. But you know what? I’ve been reading Ayn Rand for six weeks. Before that it was a few books on the Civil War, and before that it was a few on World War II. I deserve something light and fluffy, don’t I?



Now, I’m not a Trekkie. True, I’ve seen every episode and every movie of the original series. Later series, not so much. Maybe a quarter of the Next Generation, a dozen of Deep Space Nine, one of Voyager and none of that retro Trek show, forgot its name. But the original series was part of my youth, and it influenced me in many ways growing up. Heck, my first novel, unfinished at 80 pages and written at age 11, Star Rats, is fifty percent Star Wars and fifty percent Star Trek, only with cats and mice. Some episodes scared the living C-R-A-P out of me (“Devil in the Dark”), some filled me with wonder (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), some made me want to be a writer (cf, all the first and second season episodes and half the third). Some, with all them scantily-clad 1960s babes, well, you can imagine what that did to my pre-adolescent mind.

I’m also a useless trivia buff. The book is filled with lots of behind-the-scenes back-story stuff that satisfies that buff in me.

What were some names considered for Kirk before they settled on Kirk?

[January, Flagg, Drake, Christopher, Thorpe, Richard, Patrick, Raintree (!), Boone, Hudson, Timber (!), Hamilton, Hannibal, Neville, and North]

How many starships are there in Star Fleet? What were their names?

[12 – Enterprise, Essex, Excalibur, Lexington, Yorktown, Endeavor, Eagle, Constellation, Hornet, Wasp, Lafayette, Saratoga]

What common kitchen item became McCoy’s medical instruments?

[salt shakers]

What critter kept Shatner from filming the first episode – but third aired – for three full days?

[A wasp stung him on the eyelid on set]

What is the most interesting Vulcan name ever considered?

[Spxyx, in my humble opinion. Also, Spork]

And on and on and on.

Bottom line: half-way through it and the perfect antidote to the Randian angst I’ve been wallowing in – due to a pre-election promise to myself – since November 12. Ergo, I cast off any guilt or shame from immersing myself in this book!

(Maybe in 2013 I convince the wife to watch the series in season episodic order if I borrow them from the library. Hey, you never know …)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pre-Holiday Madness


Yeah, blogging’s been quite light of late. Just like you, I’ve been inundated on all fronts this past week’s build-up to Christmas. Is it not weird to have Christmas on a Tuesday? Kinda throws everything off, schedule-wise, no?

Work’s been crazy, girls’ schedules been crazy, wife’s schedule crazier than usual. Family coming in, going out, more coming in. Gotta be here, there, now here, now there. Holiday parties, last-minute gifts. Insanity.

Doesn’t help that I’ve stopped the exercising and eating healthy that I did for about a week a few weeks ago. Doesn’t help even more so that my beer and wine consumption has increased. Probably because of all the garbage I put in my body to make it through the week, I’m now on a screwy schedule of sleep that alternates three and four hour nights with eight hour nights where I can’t get out of bed.

And my down time is usually spent either in bed or curled up in my reading nook, trying to finish up Atlas Shrugged before the end of the year (ain’t gonna happen). Oh, that and eating Christmas cookies.

Sick of politics and pop culture, I no longer listen to talk radio on the way to and from work. Instead, been listening to sports talk, especially since – even though I am not a Jets fan – the whole Sanchez-Tebow-Ryan debacle has taken New York by storm. Finally, a bunch of guys who seem to have it worse than I seem to. Yeah, they’re all millionaires to varying degrees, and that makes me wonder – how much coin does it take to make that much public humiliation go down easier? Maybe more than they’re paid, I think.

Anyway, please continue to stop by. I seem to have a regular cadre of visitors numbering anywhere from 15 to 30 on a daily basis, though I have no idea why. I’d like to post some fun stop this next week and the new year. Fun, like the stuff I wrote when I was outta work – weirdities of all stripes, science fiction-ish musings, funny little anecdotes, and, of course, all things Book.

Tomorrow: Trek!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Old Man Still Got It




Comments, but none necessary.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit




Okay, I saw Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit last night, and only one word echoed through my mind for all those 136 minutes:

Not AWESOME. Not COOL. Not even, WOW.

No. The reverberating word was, “why?”

Of course, I know. You do, too. The Lord of the Rings made gazillions of dollars. Ergo, The Hobbit.

Or, as I have seen in print elsewhere, The Lord of the Rings VI: The Prequel, Part I.

All the preliminary reports about the movie are true. Specifically, the one mentioning “killing the goose that laid the golden egg,”, but also “milking a dead cow” and “beating a dead horse,” or some amalgamation of the three. Believe me, I had a terribly difficult time keeping the image of pony-tailed, goatee’d, sockless “suits” (is that an 80s image, or do “suits” still look like that?) rubbing their hands in glee, dollar signs for pupils, salivating over further profits engendered from lowest-common-denominatoring Tolkien to the unwashed masses.

Yeah, there were a few things I liked. Three, actually: 1) As always in these movies, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. The colors, the lush details, the new 3-d effect that had me completely oblivious to obvious 3-d. Middle-earth truly comes to life. Parts I liked in particular: the Shire, the Mirkwood, Dol Guldor, Erebor in the distance. 2) Bilbo was well-cast; in fact, he’s probably the best non-computer generated thing about the flick. 3) The wargs and the Necromancer were neat.

That being said, that was it.

Everything else, in retrospect, I hated. In retrospect, because, during the movie, I inadvertently pushed these complaints aside to enjoy the show.

But let’s address that in the final paragraph, okay? Here’s what I, Tolkien fan extraordinaire, found utterly abhorrent about The Hobbit:

* Stretching the handful of chase scenes in the book into non-stop unceasing rollercoaster rides (and not in a good sense). I’m thinking the painfully endless chase in the goblin lair. All it adds up to is sacrificing story, theme, and plot – to allegedly purposeful but ultimately pointless motion.

* Adding whole sequences (were those rock/cliff monsters in the original work?)

* Shoving Lord of the Rings character into the movie, i.e., Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, even Radagast, who did not appear in The Hobbit, and have no business being there.

* As I’ve said in my Rings reviews, ORCS JUST ARE NOT [yawn] SCARY IN THESE MOVIES!

* A sleigh pulled by bunny rabbits? Really?? Bunnies?!?

* None of the dwarves – NONE! – appear as Tolkien envisioned them. Especially Thorin and Balin. No, they all have the be-braided faux-scuzzy authenticity of Hollywood central casting, complete with fake-looking prosthetic noses and bald domes.

And I do agree with the oft-opined sentiment that while Jackson can film a battle scene or a chase scene, can frame a confrontation or conversation in an utterly beautiful backdrop, he somehow misses the essence of Tolkien. Tone-deaf to the heart of the material. A missing of the mark, as “sin” is often referred as in its original meaning.

All this now out in the open, I must confess that I did enjoy The Hobbit, as long as I wasn’t consciously thinking about it. Isn’t that often the case with so many movies Hollywood makes nowadays? However, I was glancing at my watch every now and then, beginning around the 90-minute mark, and I began playing a game in my mind: is this the scene that the movie will end on? … no … is THIS the scene that the movie will end on? … no … etc, etc, etc, for the next 46 minutes.

Grade: B.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Answer in the Form of a Question, Please


* Laying awake in the dark, staring at the ceiling

* Balancing checkbook on Quicken

* Watching In Search of the Mary Celeste and In Search of Jimmy Hoffa on youtube

* Listening to 15 pages of Atlas Shrugged on audio CD

* Watching the classic "Dragon's Domain" episode of Space: 1999 for the first time in 35 years

* Chowing down on a bowl of Smart Start



.

.

.



What did Hopper do from 12:30 am to 5 am today?



.

.

.



Kerrrr-RECT!!!!!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Managers Meeting


Hopper’s three essential rules for the ideal Managers Meeting:


(1) Meetings should be held once a week on the same day and be 30-45 minutes in length (no longer! – this entails disciplined moderation by the owner or GM);

(2) The agenda should be (only!) how to improve business by solving department problems, from each manager’s point of view;

(3) There should never be any public reprimanding or belittling of any manager during the Manager Meeting.


Not sayin’ if my company follows these rules. Not sayin’ one way or the other. This splitting headache I have forbids me from writing any further. Now, for a hot compress and a glass of wine …

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cobra Attack!


Read about this online earlier today and I thought it pretty neat. Kinda like the law of unintended consequences marries human nature and has a baby.

Apparently, when the Brits ruled India, deaths due to cobra attacks were so frequent that the imperial power felt it necessary to do something. So Parliament – or whatever English body governed India; it may even have been some enterprising magistrate – passed a law creating a bounty to be paid out for every dead cobra brought to the authorities.

At first, death by cobra bite declined because, well, the cobra population declined.

However, industrious – being stricken with poverty tends to make some industrious – Indians began to breed cobras just to collect the bounties.

When the British government caught on, they stopped their pay-outs.

So what did the Indians then do to their worthless legless pets? They let them go into the wild.

And the snake bite mortality rate went right back up, and may have possibly surpassed the original figures.

Whether true or apocryphal (and the article I read it in assured me it was grounded in historical fact), I can’t shake the sense that something like this will metaphorically descend upon our country before the next four years is out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Ayn Rand Christmas Carol


Sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” –

(note: some lines will have to be sung incredibly fast to fit with the meter, but, hey, Atlas Shrugged is a gigantic book!)



On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Twelve looters looting

Eleven miners mining

Ten moochers mooching

Nine metallurgists smelting

Eight central planners planning

Seven Galts a-galting

Six regulators regulating

Five Nietzschean Super-Men! (and Women!)

Four brand new metals

Three transcontinental trains

Two unfaithful spouses

And a stack of cash earned by the sale of a valued commodity created due to the ingenuity of a single-minded industrialist with absolutely no sanction given to moochers and looters!

Merry Christmas, you Immovable Movers!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Goo-Type Egg


Some of the most enjoyable times in my life are when Little One and I spend a quiet Saturday afternoon watching a science fiction flick. She’s only eight, so I have to go easy on her, and that means, more often than not, a kinder, gentler monster movie from the 50s or 40s. We began this little mini-tradition two years ago, and watch a DVD or a DVR’d movie together every couple of months. So far we’ve watched, in an order that escapes me, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Jason and the Argonauts, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Rodan, Godzilla, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Last Saturday I felt it proper to introduce her to another Harryhausen tour-de-force: Twenty Million Miles to Earth.

This is the black-and-white one where the American spaceship returns from Venus, crashing in the Mediterranean. Two astronauts are rescued, one of whom dies immediately after warning about the metal canister. Which is immediately found by “Pepe” on the shores of an island off Sicily. The canister contains a gelatinous semi-transparent mass about the size of a man’s arm, which Pepe immediately sells to a local zoologist for money to buy a cowboy hat. Immediately after (actually, later than night, but I like typing “immediately”), the mass cracks open and a baby Ymir emerges – a half-lizard, half-humanoid manimal that looks not unlike that old guy who has the motorcycle show on the Discovery channel show.

The zoologist’s beautiful daughter – an “almost” doctor – nurses one of the astronauts back to health. The astronaut – “Bob,” who’s the spitting image of Steve Martin – begins a hunt through the Italian countryside to find the ever-growing Ymir. Indeed, the stop-motion critter grows from the size of one of Little One’s Barbie dolls to the height of my two-story Cape Cod. The hunt concludes with the army blasting the poor, homesick creature – and half the Coliseum – to kingdom come. That’ll teach it to want to survive after being abducted off its home world before birth!




So – what did Little One think of this, one of the greatest films from my youth?

“Eh, it was okay.”

Incredulously, she was rooting againt the Ymir from almost the start. Well, actually, ever since the Ymir kills a dog about twenty minutes in (it was done in self-defense, mind you). Then, later on, the Ymir actually kills an elephant in battle – which nearly turned on her waterworks. But later on, getting dinner that night, we reminisced about the film, and the image that immediately came to her mind was that gelatinous, semi-transparent mass – the “goo-type egg,” as she called it.

I love it: Goo-Type Egg. If I was still in a band, that’d be the name of the instrumental off the latest CD.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Insomnia Diaries, Chapter 371


I thought I did a good thing last night. After watching a really neat TCM movie (to be blogged about in the near future), I ate a cookie and drank some milk, did my teeth hygiene stuff, and hit the sheets a little after eleven.

And woke up at 12:30.

Tossed and turned for a half-hour, and judging by my wife’s breathing, figured I’d wake her up if this continued. So I crept downstairs and spread out on the couch with a nice, comfy, warm comforter wrapped about me.

No luck.

Finally decided to thrown in the towel and heading down to the basement to the writing office. This was around 1:30. The writing desk also doubles as the financial desk, and currently it is in a state of absolute chaos. So I decided to make some use of the red-eye and organize my desk: bills, receipts, print-outs from the wife, stuff that should be tossed, et cetera.

While I did this, I hit some very entertaining spots on the internet.

Yeah, I check the gmail, facebook, some news websites, big hollywood, blah blah blah. I have a particular soft spot for a website called cryptomundo and I spent a good thirty minutes going back through its archives. All sorts of cryptid goodiness.

The I switched over to youtube and watched a whole bunch of In Search Of episodes. You know, the Leonard Nimoy series in the 70s that scared the living heck outta me as a kid. I began watching the Amityville Horror episode, but then got a bit too spooked as 3:15 am was approaching and I thought I could imagine glowing eyes looking in the basement windows at me.

I watched two episodes of misguided misfortunates, Michael Rockefeller and Bishop Pike. Michael was the son of the future VP and multigazillionaire Nelson Rockefeller, a kinda kid I envy: all the money in the world yet he pursues his own, individual calling. In this case, anthropology. He disappeared while studying a primitive tribe in New Guinea. The show explores several possibilities of his demise: drowning, shark or crocodile attack, or – headhunters. Bishop Pike was an uber-liberal mess of an Episcopalian priest who died in the Israeli deserts after following a bad map. His foolishness at several points (not staying with the car as his much fitter wife went for help, having only a bottle of soda to drink in 140-degree heat) made him a forerunner of the Darwin Awards. But I’m curious – legend has it that PKD wrote an SF book about the good bishop.

Then I turned to lighter Nimoyan fare: Jack the Ripper. I seem to remember this one from my youth. It’s nasty – the world’s first serial killer, a taunter of police and never caught. It held my interest to the point where I put aside the bills, receipts, and pointless ephemera from my financial life.

Nearing 4:30, I concluded this morning’s insomniac episodes with a visit to Patrick Madrid’s blog, and this priest’s sermon in particular. Please, don’t click on it, and don’t watch it. At least, not if you don’t want your world-view changed.

Okay. I’m reading some Atlas Shrugged in a few minutes, then off to bed to catch up on my sleep debt.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Countdown


An electrifying, thunderous, momentous Rush song very prominent in my late-80s renaissance as a guitar player. Deceptively simple – simply deceptive – inspirational and awe-inspiring, with some of Neil Peart’s most vivid lyrics “Countdown” has that extra quality all electrifying, thunderous, and momentous songs have – the ability to draw out powerful emotions from the listener.

At least it does in my case.

Me and my drummer, between bands c. 1989, must’ve played this song a minimum of a hundred-fifty times.

My only bone with the video is the footage of the Space Shuttle. Why not the mighty Apollo rockets? Yeah, I know the shuttle was big in 1982, when the video was made. But it doesn’t quite capture the excitement of the song, I think, if I must be extremely discerning. And I must. The shuttle, for instance, is only a little over 180 feet in height, while the Saturn rockets that launched men to the moon doubled that size. And those Saturn rockets did put men on the moon, 240,000 miles distant, while the shuttle rockets put … men and women into low earth orbit a couple hundred miles above.

[But this is only a small complaint. The song – and video – are awesome!]


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dad Abuse


How ’bout this little tidbit of dialogue between me and my eight-year-old daughter last night, off-loading her and her sister out of the Impala in front of the Shop N Save for some last minute “cookies for school.” I’m more than a little frustrated, having to constantly get their attention and keep them focused on whatever task is at hand. Oh, and more than a fair share of chop-busting, as you will see:



ME: Keep it up, girls – the jail is just across the street.

LITTLE ONE: Were you ever in jail?

ME: (in the spookiest, scariest, Snake Plissken voice I can conjure up) Yeahhhhhhh … I rotted away in a prison cell fer ten years … fer killin’ a man in cold blood …

LITTLE ONE: Uh, Dad, you might want to pull up your pants a little. I can see your underwear.



Okay, for the record, my pants were just fine. I do know how to keep myself presentable out in public. What she saw was my white button-up dress shirt when I bent over and my brown fall jacket rode up a bit.

Anyway, you see what I have to put up with, day in and day out?


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Skyfall


The wife and I ventured out to the movies last weekend, something we don’t normally do because, well, we have children … and babysitting’s expensive ... and so’s the movies …

Well, anyway, we wanted to see Lincoln. But as we were spending the holiday weekend with my parents out in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania, where it’s at least a half-hour drive to get to anything, Lincoln wasn’t playing at the nearest movie theater. So we saw the next best thing: Skyfall.





What did Hopper think?

(spoilers)

- Still not convinced of Daniel Craig as James Bond. Perhaps this is due to watching countless reruns with Sean Connery as 007 on teevee as a kid or watching Roger Moore as Bond in the movies in the 70s. Craig is of a more Bourne-ian mold, and we all acknowledge that Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne revolutionized the spy flick a decade ago.

- Javier Bardem as the bad guy, Silva, is way underused, undervalued, and underappreciated, by the screenplay. Surely here’s a man capable of playing a megalomaniacal villain! But all he wants is simple revenge. Revenge through an intricate plot of split-second timed events and Rube Goldberg logistics. All to put a bullet in someone’s brain.

- Liked Bond’s backstory, as revealed in the final third of the movie, when he, M, and a figure from his past await the villain’s henchmen in a home for wayward youth Bond spent his, er, youth in. An old, abandoned mansion in the dreary, rain-soaked fields called Skyfall.

- Absolutely loved Bardem’s reason for revenge: being given up by M, and forced to endure the aftereffects of an ineffective cyanide pill and years of Chinese torture. Lots of channeling of Hannibal Lecter here, as well as Heath Ledger’s Joker in a later scene (where he’s in disguise as a policeman).

- Needs more gadgets! Needs more science fiction!

- Liked the youthful Q. At first didn’t, but his verbal sparring with Bond eventually won me over, as well as the scenes where he’s dueling in cyberspace with Silva.

- But didn’t like how Silva suddenly became a member of the top 5 terrorist hackers on the planet. I thought he was a field agent? A field agent who lost his mind? A field agent bent on cold-blooded revenge?

- Liked the komodo dragon kill. Komodo dragons are nasty, dangerous creatures, but for some reason, Hollywood never uses them. Kudos for the komodo! I anxiously await the komodo dragon / slasher / genetic mutation movie franchise!

- Heard on another website that there’s a preponderance of Catholic symbolism in the flick. Not sure about that, or how deliberate it was, but you can note the following: a Judas-like betrayal, a resurrection, Bond emerging from the waters (twice) a la baptism, “priest holes” in Skyfall mansion, the conclusion set in the small Catholic church. Interesting …

- My favorite poem is quoted by M during the (British equivalent of) Senate hearings – “Ulysses”, by Tennyson. Those final few lines are among the greatest, most transcendent, lines in the English language, a tribute to all that’s great in Man’s soul.

- Only once have I ever drank a glass of whisky with a scorpion on the back of my hand. The movie makes it appear as if this is a common thing to do in beach bars.

- At the very end, in new M’s office, as Bond thumbs the dossier on the desk – I would have had him open it to the picture of a bald nasty and the word “Blofeld” typed somewhere on the data sheet. Blofeld! Bring him back, badder than ever! Of course, the next movie doesn’t have to have Ernst as a bad guy, but since everything else in the final scenes are “retro” or “throw back,” why not update on old villain?

Verdict: The movie moved, never dragged, though I wished it was meatier, grander, greater. Badder, in a good way.

Grade: B.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Tomorrow's Dream


Sick, achy, tired. No energy to dive into a meatier topic. So –

A great tune from my younger years. High school. Listening to it driving a Ford Bronco en route to Wisconsin while the rest of my family slept in the early morning hours in Ohio. My friend turned me on to Ozzy and Black Sabbath in the mid-eighties, and the Gibson SG and Marshall cabinet soon followed …

[By the way, I just figured out the easiest way to play this song: modulate it up a full step. The C chord slow triplet returning motif (followed by G-Bb-A G-Bb-A G-Bb-A-G) should be done on the D chord and open A string. Since I tune my guitar down a full step, this works out perfectly.]


Sunday, December 2, 2012

BusinessSpeak


My wife spent all day yesterday working on her review. Her self-review. It’s a couple of pages long, it addresses all her accomplishments over the past twelve months, it details her areas for improvement in the coming year. She forwards it to her bosses, who meet with her and arbitrate on the size of her bonus she’ll get the first week of March.

Anyway, I’m downstairs throwing a pile of laundry into the machine when she calls out, “What’s another word for opportunity?”

“I don’t know. Challenge.”

“Used it. Used opportunity and challenge too many times. I need a word to use in place of problem, and I can’t use that.”

I think for a minute. “How about this:

An item of bullsh*t that I have to somehow overcome to earn enough money to pay my bills.”

She shoots that down immediately, but I’m intensely satisfied with the real-world translation of the BusinessSpeak word opportunity.

Ah, BusinessSpeak! Where every reaches out to touch base and would love to discuss that further and there are no problems, only challenges and opportunities.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What being a Hopper is like


Ye hasten to the grave! What seek ye there,
Ye restless thoughts and busy purposes
Of the idle brain, which the world’s livery wear?
Oh thou quick heart which pantest to possess
All that pale Expectation feigneth fair!
Thou vainly curious mind which wouldest guess
When thou didst come, and whither thou must go,
And allt hatnever yet was known would know –
Oh, whither hasten ye, that thus ye press,
With such swift feet life’s green and pleasant path,
Seeking, alike from happiness and woe,
A refuge in the cavern of gray death?
O heart, and mind, and thoughts! what thing do you
Hope to inherit in the grave below?

[Sonnet, by Shelley, c. 1820]

Friday, November 30, 2012

Au revoir, Novembrevoir!


It was the best of months
It was the worst of months
There was frivolity, jollity, friends and fun
Overdrawn accounts and sleepless nights
String theory and a Titan flexing his back
A Florentine’s descent to the underworld
Gas lines and power outtages and two-hour commutes
Soccer games and girl scouts and play dates
A little girl suffering painful mouth sores (Ah, parenthood!)
A kraken, Ulysses, and double-oh-seven
Dispensing the Eucharist right next to the priest
And the year-long anticipated Thanksgiving feast!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why???


How many things do you see wrong in the picture below?




I can see about 500,000 things wrong: every single pixel in the damn thing!

Seriously, this is in a “gender-neutral” Swedish children’s toy catalogue. There are many pictures of little girls playing with soldiers and guns and little boys playing with dolls and other cuddly things. You know, because that’s what we want to foist upon our little innocents.

Why???

See here for more, uh, animated discussion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thought-less


“You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue – a highly intellectual virtue – out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness and their guilt.”

“And you propose to pander to that?”

“That is the road to popularity.”


- Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, page 324 of the 35th anniversary paperback edition.



Forget about the rise of the anti-capitalist, socialist state. Forget about the war on success. This sad observation of current society’s antipathy toward critical thinking is perhaps Ayn Rand’s greatest prediction-come-true.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kraken


Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His antient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.


[The official poem of this past Thanksgiving. Why? No reason – ’cept that the first night at my parents’ home I cracked open Tennyson to this random page, and it stuck in some secret, antient, dreamless, uninvaded corner of my mind.]




[Love those pearly whites, baby!]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Megalomaniac Required Reading


OMG!!!

I just learned, that every Bond supervillain –

from Dr. No, Auric Goldfinger and Blofeld to Scaramanga to Stromberg and Drax to Zorin and Le Chiffre, every single one of them, including Harlem’s Mr. Big and Latin America’s Franz Sanchez –

every Bond supervillain has read

Atlas Shrugged

!!!

Make of that what you will.

 
[Note: full review, including my subjective (gasp!) and emotional-intuitive (gasp!) thoughts on Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, coming some time round New Years Day!]

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Carpet Crawlers


Just a little tune I heard yesterday that I have not been able to get from my mind.  My mind works that way.


 
There is lambswool under my naked feet.
The wool is soft and warm, gives off some kind of heat.
A salamander scurries into flame to be destroyed.
Imaginary creatures are trapped in birth on celluloid.
The fleas cling to the golden fleece,
Hoping they’ll find peace.
Each thought and gesture are caught in celluloid.
There’s no hiding in my memory.
There’s no room to avoid.

The crawlers cover the floor in the red ochre corridor.
For my second sight of people, they’ve more lifeblood than before.
They’re moving in time to a heavy wooden door,
Where the needle’s eye is winking, closing in on the poor.
The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
“We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out.”

There’s only one direction in the faces that I see;
It’s upward to the ceiling, where the chamber’s said to be.
Like the forest fight for sunlight, that takes root in every tree.
They are pulled up by the magnet, believing they’re free.
The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
“We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out.”

Mild mannered supermen are held in kryptonite,
And the wise and foolish virgins giggle with their bodies glowing bright.
Through the door a harvest feast is lit by candlelight;
It’s the bottom of a staircase that spirals out of sight.
The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
“We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out.”

The porcelain mannikin with shattered skin fears attack.
The eager pack lift up their pitchers – they carry all they lack.
The liquid has congealed, which has seeped out through the crack,
And the tickler takes his stickleback.
The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
“We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out.”


[Note: Still new to the song, so hopefully there’s nothing metaphorically suggestive, brutal, or ugly about the lyrics that’s sailed completely over my head.  Superficially it just seems to be about some bugs trying to escape a room.  Maybe to go to “Bug City,” as the Presidents of the United States of America have speculated.]

Life Capital-L


For the second half of the nineties, I lived by myself in my own apartment.  I had the same job for twelve years.  I was winding up the whole music / band thing and had finished night school.  With the exception of dating two women for a month or two each, I was single.  My existence was predictable, stable, and uneventful.

How I yearn for those days again!

But, without valleys you can have no peaks.  Those five or six years I wanted Change, Change with a capital-C, I wanted a significant other, wanted to start a family, move somewhere else, do something else.

And lo, I did.

With a vengeance.

I met my future wife, and everything changed.  Quit the job, relocated 250 miles south, got a new job, met new friends, got married, moved back north, bought a house, had a child, went through four more jobs, had a second child.  All in the span of maybe eight years.

I am exhausted.

This past Thanksgiving was spent at my parent’s home in PA.  Despite hectic activity and a crazy day of children-gone-wild, it was a lovely interlude from Life, Life with a capital-L, but unfortunately Life intervened.  Had to go to work Friday, so that entailed a two-hour commute from their house both ways.  Because Patch is sick, and my mom watched her and her big sister that day.  Work is busy, and that’s good, because it’s security.  Spent Friday afternoon moving into a bigger desk there.

So that’s my excuse for not posting over the past two days.  I’m still slogging through Atlas Shrugged.  Paused from my workouts, though, due to, er, not being at home to work out.  But Sunday evening I’ll resume; I’m itching to do it.  Because of those workouts I feel more fit post-Thanksgiving, and I’m noticing I’m noticeably eating less.  Good. 

Later this afternoon the wife and I will venture out to the movies, either to see Lincoln or Skyfall, depending on what’s playing where.  Out here in the sticks movie theaters are far and few between.  Regardless of which we see, I’ll post a review of it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sore


and tired.

After tipping the scales at an utterly unacceptable poundage, after being reduced to one pair of work pants that fit, after weeks and months and years of chronic fatigue and insomnia and being sick and tired of being sick and tired, I initiated a Plan of Attack.

Now, I don’t want to be all proud of myself just yet. I’m only five days into it. (But I swear I see results already! I swear!) And being somewhat superstitious, I don’t want to jinx myself. But I just gotta say –

It works! If you JUST DO IT!

What am I doing?

Getting up at 6:15 before the herd of women in this house wake up. Tip-toeing downstairs to the little work-out area I cleared away last weekend.

On odd days, I do ten minutes on the exercise bike, then stretch out my hams, quads, lats, and calves. That’s it.

On even days, I only do five minutes on the exercise bike followed by the stretches. Then I do two sets of curls, push-ups, leg dips, calf raises, and crunches.

I record all this on the PC, and creep back upstairs to make myself some steel-cut oatmeal – a half-cup with three-quarters cup of boiled water, half a cut-up apple, and a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon. And I chase it with a one-gram Omega-3 and a vitamin-D supplement.

About this time I’m attacked by hungry pre-tween girl zombies.

At lunch I’ve been eating an apple and a banana, with some roasted almond and carrot snacks throughout the day. And I cut out soda, drinking only from the filtered water thingie we have in the work breakroom.

My goal is to lose twenty pounds over the year and to increase my overall energy and mental well-being from a holistic, body-health angle.

Half-a-week in, it’s working.

So far.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Causes


“I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” – E. M. Forster


An odd quote, don’t you think? One you’d never, ever imagine yourself ever having to weigh and consider. It’s at the at the fronts-piece of one of my on-deck books, a pretty famous, famously regarded novel, and I just came across it earlier and am not sure what to make of it.

Am I being histrionic to think I will have to come to terms with it at some point in my life?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hector Spake


So Hector spake; the Trojans roar’d applause;
Then loosed their sweating horses from the yoke,
And each beside his chariot bound his own;
And oxen from the city, and goodly sheep
In haste they drove, and honey-hearted wine
And bread from out the houses brought, and heap’d
Their firewood, and the winds from off the plain
Roll’d the rich vapour far into the heaven.
And these all night upon the bridge of war
Sat glorying; many a fire before them blazed:
As when in heaven the stars about the moon
Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
And every height comes out, and jutting peak
And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
Break open to their highest, and all the stars
Shine, and the Shepherd gladdens in his heart:
So many a fire between the ships and stream
Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy,
A thousand on the plain; and close by each
Sat fifty in the blaze of burning fire;
And eating hoary grain and pulse the steeds,
Fixt by their cars, waiting the golden dawn.


* * * * *


I think I could survive an apocalypse given only a Bible and a Tennyson anthology.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mistaken for Gary


As I’m leaving church this morning with Little One in tow, a woman accosts me from out of nowhere in the middle of the parking lot. She’s probably around 50, short gray hair, dressed in that weekend / business casual dress that the preponderance of Catholics wear to worship their Creator.

“Excuse me,” she says before I can react, “but you look exactly like my brother!”

What do you say to this?

An awkward smile and, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a sister.”

She doesn’t seem to buy it, strangely enough. “His name is Gary. He lives just outside of El Paso.” She scrutinizes me a bit, as if waiting for a response.

Honestly, I don’t know what to say.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

I tell her.

“Well, okay, nice meeting you. I have to get her – ” I point to my daughter – “over to CCD,” and I nod in the direction of the church school.

And I high-tail it out of there.

What disturbed me most about this little 30-second interaction was that I could not remove my eyes from her chest.

No, it has nothing to do with the first thought that came into your mind.

She was proudly wearing one of those big obnoxious “Yes We Did!” buttons she must have recycled from the 2008 election.

To this day it amazes me, utterly, completely, astonishes me, how anyone professing to be a Catholic could vote for Obama. Had this woman never heard of the HHS mandate that forces religious institutions to provide medical coverage for abortion to their employees? Was she completely ignorant on his pro-abortion stance, such his voting against giving newborns basic Constitutional rights as an Illinois senator? Did she never hear of his “evolving” views on that oxymoron known as homosexual “marriage’?

Truth is, I just had to get out of her presence.

And that’s not something I’m proud of, coming right out of mass.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

That's the Ticket!


Since I enjoyed my audio-visual tour of The Lord of the Rings, and since I’m finding similar results with Atlas Shrugged, an idea popped into my head. Early this morning, chugging some Kashi cereal-and-milk at the downstairs writing desk, I glanced about the seventy-plus books – paperbacks and hardcovers stacked in a half-dozen precarious towers on and about the book case. My eyes fell upon The Killer Angels, the Pulitzer-winning epic of the Battle of Gettysburg that’s always in the top ten (maybe even the top three) of any true Civil War aficionado’s list of essentials. A quick jaunt to the county library website revealed that a library just one town over has the audio CD of this book.

Woo-hoo! That’s what I’m hitting January 1st.

PJF, step aside, at least for a month or so. Hopper’s on a role.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Desert of Classic Rock


When I drive home from work on the way to picking up the little ones from daycare, most of the time I drive in silence, detoxing from ten hours of ceaseless crosstalk and random yelling all about me. Sometimes I listen to Talk Radio, but I’m on a post-election news fast. Occasionally I listen to an audio CD in the car. Once in a blue moon I pop in a Sibelius or Dvorak or Tchaikovksy or Beethoven disk.

It’s almost as rare as a solar eclipse that I’ll listen to the local classic rock radio station.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, driving home amidst the fallen trees, wires, and cordoned-off side streets, I listened to four or five classic rock songs. All well and good.

Tonight on a whim I dialed in the same station for the first time since. And wouldn’t you know it – the very first song I hear is one of those four or five I heard fifteen days ago!

I mean, c’mon! What are the odds? Do classic rock station programmers think there are only a dozen classic rock tunes?

A big pet peeve I had in the Eighties that drove me to listen to more obscure metal, certain punk, and more than a handful of grunge bands. When a DJ said that Black Sabbath was coming up, you knew they’d be playing “Paranoid.” When they said AC/DC was on deck, you knew it’d be “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Rush? “Tom Sawyer.” How many times can you listen to the same two or three dozen songs over and over and over again, should you be a loyal listener to the local classic rock radio station.

[For the record, the song I heard twice in the span of six songs was “American Girl” by Tom Petty.]

Okay. Cranky Old Guy signing off.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Atlas, Shrugging


All right. I made this boastful vow sometime after the first presidential debate that if Romney won I would read the Book of Mormon, and if Obama won, I would re-read Atlas Shrugged. Feeling all cocky and defiant, I spotted the Mormon good book in a store the week before the election and picked it up in somewhat interested anticipation. I’ve read just about all the “good books” out there, save this one and the Koran.

Then, Tuesday, November 6th, happened.

Now – how do I get out of reading Atlas Shrugged?

I kinda remembered the plot of the 1,100-page book. I did go through a pseudo-Randian phase in 2000 when, living down south in Maryland for 18 months, I read a couple other of her books.

Then, I became Christianized, so-to-speak, and every major life event since has only served to cement that certainty I had found in Christianity.

What has this to do with the economic themes of Ayn Rand? Well, a lot. I was surprised to find such vehemence towards her work on Catholic blogs and forums. Now, I know one of her central themes is the “prime mover,” the industrial giant who moves society forward despite the antagonizing efforts of the “looters” and “moochers,” i.e., socialists and those who make a living off the teat of the government.

But what was so immoral about all this? Do not these prime movers make goods and services that elevate us? Do they not provide jobs for the lesser-capable and opportunities for the greater-capable to join them? (For the record, I’m still a “lesser-capable.”) Isn’t it immoral to be socialistic and willingly dependent?

I don’t know. Well, I have an inkling, but I’ll save that for a future investigative report.

Last weekend I went up into the attic to put some of the girls’ summer clothes into storage and saw three boxes of books. These are books I read back in the bachelor days and could not see throwing out over the years. Maybe there are twenty books in each box, and I fished through the nearest one and pulled out a yellowed and slightly warped Atlas Shrugged.

“I really, really, really don’t want to read this,” I whined to my wife, thumbing through the hefty tome.

“Go get a night job,” she said, not too concerned with my plight.

So I put it on the shelf for a couple of days. I thought: I must get out of my anonymously public proclamation to read this damn thing. Somehow. Might make a good blog post.

Well, I was driving home from work late Monday night when, on a whim, I stopped at a local library I haven’t frequented since my Lord of the Rings third reading.

Hey … that gives me an idea!

I went to the audio CD section, found the fiction, found the Rs, and – there it was! – the audio CD book of Atlas Shrugged!

What a co-inky-dink!

Atlas Shrugged is, interestingly enough, almost the same number of pages (1,100 and change) as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at least the published versions I have. It took me three months to listen to Tolkien through and through – can I listen to Rand’s book in, say, half the time? Have it finished by the end of the year? A challenge, but one that would make reading this again fun. Fun in a book-wormish, book-nerdish way.

I’ll be eighty pages in by the end of tonight, averaging 20 pages a day. Mathematically that puts me at finishing the book/audio book in 55 to 60 days, just a little too long for my goal. That means I’ll have to read/listen to a little more on the weekends. We’ll see how life, the wife, and the little ones cooperate with that.

So – damn Obama! Now he’s got me re-reading Ayn Rand, despite all my protestations! Is there no end to his nefarious schemes?!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Secession!


Interesting, in a pseudo-(reverse gauge symmetric synchronicitous)-way, all this talk of “secession” from red states (and even from red populations in blue states, like mine) since the One was re-anointed last week. Of course, I think the whole notion is utter bunk and hogswab, but, hey, it’s a free country (so far), and one can think and say what one wants, as far as one is allowed. Which still pretty much rules as the greatest latitude in any country on the globe.

For the past year I’ve been reading a lot about the Civil War. Mostly the battles ’n stuff, but also the root causes. Which I believe to be South Carolina seceding from the Union because it felt threatened slavery would be abolished in the near future, as portended in the election of Lincoln. So after dousing myself in this in the form of ten or twelve books over the past year or so, I find it quite amusing to see mutterings of “Secession!” from here and there on the Internet.

By the way, after some days of depression and thought, I urge perspective. Think of how liberals must’ve felt when W won re-election in 2004. The pendulum swings back and forth so violently and frequently in politics it’s impossible to say at this juncture who will be running for president in 16, let alone who will be president. The best advice I’ve read is that my side needs to win back the culture. The Left has the media, Hollywood, the news establishment, academia, and the education system beginning at Kindergarten. That’s a lot of culture to win back, but I think it can be done to a not insignificant extent.

Just don’t be firing on any 21st-century Sumters, m’kay?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Whoa From String Theory


Read a little book on string theory last weekend called, uh, The Little Book of String Theory. Written by a young man named Steven Gubser. It was my ideal read: tight, compact, action-packed. Well, not so much action-packed, though the author does through a couple of rock climbing analogies into the mix.

It was tight and compact. One idea thrown atop the next, building up to the current trends in string theory research. No unnecessary detours in the history of physics you read in every . single . book . on . pop . sci. You know, where you start out with the Big Bad Church persecuting Galileo to Einstein as a cut-up kid visualizing sitting atop a ray of light.

But I digress. Gubser kept it interesting because he wasn’t talking down to stupid ol’ me. I felt like a kid in his graduate class. Minus all the calc and differential equations, of course. And though I prefer fast-paced and current-trends in my pop sci books, I did find myself lost in quite a few places. Sometimes I went back and re-read, sometimes I just forged ahead.  Branes upon branes upon branes started to make my brain ache.

All-in-all, though, it was a good return to my youth and took my mind off all the craziness of the past two weeks.

And there were some koans, too! My favorite is found on page 44:

Time running at different rates in different places is gravity.

Meditate on that in a rice paddy. Want a little elaboration? Okay:

Time running at different rates in different places is gravity. In fact, that’s all gravity is, provided gravitational fields are not too strong. Things fall from places where time runs faster to where it runs slower. That downward pull you feel, and which we call gravity, is just the differential rate of time between high places and low places.

Whoa!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Wrath of Sandy





Pre-storm, the day before.  My front lawn.  Note the big tree trunk against my cross-the-street neighbor's house.



My well-manicured back yard, pre-storm.  Note the girl's clubhouse.




Post-Sandy.  What happened to that hundred foot tree across the street?




The Wrath of Sandy.  Good thing I didn't send the girls out to their clubhouse with a flashlight to spend the night, like I threatened ...

Now, fortunately, our house sustained no damage.  Not even a shingle lifted off our ancient roof.  Lots of branches and debris, as you can see.  That tree across the street luckily fell into the backyard of the adjacent house (and not on top of it), but it did smash a six-foot wooden perimeter fence. 

Most of the damage we took was in the form of 170 hours of no power.  No electricity, no heat.  Did have gas, so in the beginning we could cook hot food.  Did have hot water, which is such a blessing.  We lost a refrigerator and freezer full of food, perhaps $100 worth.  We both probably spent an extra $50 in gas driving all over the New Jersey-Pennsylvania corridor.  And due to my work being closed, I lost about $240 in gross pay. 

I learned my lesson.  Don't cuss out Notus the Anemoi, by Odin's Beard!  (to mix mythologies ...)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'mmmmm Back!


Two weeks I’m glad are over: Hurricane, week of no power and no heat at home and limited power and internet access at work. Four days at my parents’ house 75 miles away. Additional six hours of commuting due to that. As well as an extra $75 in gas. Tossing out a refrigerator and freezer of spoiled food. An election in which America voted to give the Amateur President another four years. A nor’ easter which fortunately only dumped an inch-and-a-half of snow on us. And to top it all off, a conundrum on What to Read Next.

But that’s all in the past! I’m back to a post-a-day. Because it’s good for the soul.

What can you expect to read about in the upcoming days and weeks?

Hmmm. Good question.

How about –


Some string theory nuttiness

The greatest 270 words ever spoken in the English langauge

Hopper’s questions for Siri

Thoughts on a 700-year-old Italian metaphysical poem

Thoughts on a 25-year-old novel of Egyptian time travel

An ode to an ever-en-fattening belly

How I’m gonna get out of my vow to re-read Atlas Shrugged

Chicken Boy versus the Roach Coach guy at work

What I’d do in the Zombie Apocalypse

Why .99999 ad infinitum is actually equal to 1


And other exciting, pulse-driving, white-knuckling thrills ’n chills!

So why not stop back tomorrow, eh?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pounds of Books


Well, what does the Hopper do when he's displaced and has a weekend to kill?

Buy some books, of course.

Thanksgiving, and one other time in the winter or spring. They have three used book stores within a half-hour's drive of their house, and you all know my feelings regarding used book stores within a half-hour's drive of one's house. So yesterday when the wife and I escaped - I mean, left the little ones with the grandparents - I hit one of those used book stores.

The one in question was having a "Books by the Pound" sale. I wound up buying three-and-a-half pounds of books. Nine books, actually, for $18. Not bad, not bad at all.

What did I get? What did I get, you ask! OK! Here ya go ...

(1) The Book of Mormon. Not predicting a Romney win. Nah, that would be presumptuous, wouldn't it? (sssshhhh - Romney by four points ....) Anyway, it'll sit on the shelf until the spirit - or should I say, Spirit - moves me to read it. But I promised I would read it if the Amateur President loses re-election.

(2) Men of Mathematics, by E. T. Bell. This one's been on my list to find for a while, something that'll take me a full month to traverse. I especially dig that this classic book could never be published today - with that title. Persons of Mathematics would be a more likely title (doesn't that just roll of the tongue?).

(3) The Hawkline Monster, by Richard Brautigan. A gothic Western. Wow. I've read Westerns, and I've read gothic horror, but I've never read a blending of the two. Should be interesting. Hopefully it's better than that unnameable movie that blended Western and Sci-fi that was out in the theaters last Spring.

(4) Treasure, by Clive Cussler. I've read a pair of Cusslers. In fact, Raise the Titanic was one of the great highlights of my childhood reading career. They're all pretty generic, though, in an interchangeable sense. This one involves the lost treasures from the Library of Alexandria, and that's a subject that I've always been interested in.

(5) To the Stars, by Harry Harrison. A trio of novels under one hardcover. Always wanted to delve into Harrison. Read just one of his books, about three years back, and thought it was moderately okay. Need to read more of his to form a better appreciation of the man's talent.  This one seems, at least by the cover, to be quite Heinleinesque.

(6) The Hollow Earth, by Rudy Rucker. Like Rucker and his mathematical weirdness. His Fourth Dimension is an absolutely essential beginning book concerning mathematical weirdness. This one takes place in the past, involves Edgar Allen Poe, and takes place inside the Earth. What's not to like?

(7) and (8) A pair of Larry Nivens: A Gift from Earth and World of Ptavvs. I like Niven. I loved Ringworld, which I read a dozen years ago and deserves a re-read. I liked his short story anthology A Hole in Space, reviewed somewhere on this blog. I should enjoy these books. In fact, I might read one of them next.

(9) My absolute favorite score: The Atlas of Middle-earth, by Karen Wynn Fonstad. Holy Cow! Where was this when I was re-reading Tolkien for the second time this past summer?! How come I never heard of this book before?! How did it fly low under the radar?! Over 200 pages detailing the geography, climate, people, events, travels, wars from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings! Maps, maps, maps, and more maps. And the detail! Awesome. A book I could spend hours thumbing through, and one to keep handy for my next voyage through that wondrous land from Professor Tolkien's mind.

Let the page turning begin!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Humbled


OK, I may have shaken my fists at the sky a la Lieutenant Dan, cursing the storm clouds and, perhaps, He Who may have been blowing them, and that may have not been the wisest of things to do.  But I only did it based on past experience.  And isn’t past experience an indicator of future performance?  (That was facetiouos.)

So here I am, day three at my parents house in Pennsylvania.  They have power.  They have electricity.  They have internet and phones.  They have heat.  They have refrigerated food. 

Back at my house, we don’t.

We lost power at 6:25 last Monday, just as Hurricane Sandy was coming ashore at the New Jersey shore.  We were prepared, mind you.  We lit candles.  Had a half-dozen flashlights at the ready.  Battery-powered radio.  The wind was mighty fierce, so we had the children camp out in sleeping bags in the first floor living room, instead of their tree-menaced second-floor bedrooms.  I read some of Dante’s Inferno in bed while the wife read a book on Lincoln.  By 10 we were asleep amidst the groanings of the wind-tossed house.

The next few days were of me tentavely striking out to work.  For me, no clock in, no pay.  Our trip to France erased all my PTO, so I had to clock in.  I worked 2.5, 5, and 6.5 hours each of the next three workdays.  Conditions at my place of business were less than optimal.  A sputtering generator kept the lights on but the computers down.  No fresh water, no refrigerated drinks.  They brought klieg lights into the office where my desk was, increasing the ambient temperature as the days wore on.  A slight odor of stinkiness as people were coming to work without showering due to circumstances.

One of my duties is payroll, and Friday was the pay date.  I needed Internet, and the phone companies were telling us we’d be lucky to have internet capability early next week.  My wife packed up the children – who had no school due to power outages – and drove them up to my parents in PA.  They had power.

And internet.  I made the decision to telecommute on Friday to get payroll in.  My bosses concurred.  Gas shortages were just beginning and many were worried they wouldn’t even make it to work.  Gassing up before the storm, I had 3/8s of a tank left.  I remembered a can of gas used for the lawnmower in my garage.  I threw that in the tank.  I drove up to Pennsylvania Thursday night, alarmed at the lines for gas stations even over the border.  Finally, though, nearing my parents rustic home, I found a gas station open with no lines whatsoever.  I filled the tank plus that spare, 2-gallon can I brought with me.

Ah!  Warmth!  For the first time in four or five days I got an uninterrupted, pleasant night’s sleep.

Friday the wife and my mother took the children to the movies in town.  I did the telecommuting thing on my mom’s laptop and got 165 employees paid … albeit late, a Tuesday paycheck at the behest of my general manager.  Took a hot bath afterwards and finished reading Inferno.

Yesterday I took the girls to the local playground off the local lake, but an icy 39-degree wind swept us soon back inside.  The wife paid some due credit card bills over the phone.  Then the wife and I motored in to town for a beer and burger and some window-shopping.  Today we’re off to church and then to watch the football games.  Still undecided as to when we’re heading back home.  Power is still out, but I have to be at work tomorrow.  No clock in, no pay and all.

Strange to be in a house unaffected by all the strife in the tri-state area.  That’s all we see on the news: the long lines, the foot shortages, the persisting power outtages. 

It’s scary. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Giant Surprise


We’re watching the Giants spank Dallas yesterday and enjoying ourselves immensely. The little ones are hootin’ it up. So I give them their daily bath, towel them off, brush their hair and get them into their jammies while the wife cooks. Then we go back to the game and, to our distress, the Cowboys are spanking the Giants.

And it went back and forth for a tense fourth quarter. Eli does his thing, the final minute drive to score, and they do. But then Tony Romo decides to do Eli’s thing, and with seconds remaining, fires one to his wide receiver at the back of the end zone.

The crowd goes wild.

The announcers go wild.

We’re shocked and dismayed. In disgust, I turn off the teevee.

We send the girls upstairs, supervise teeth hygiene, read them books. The wife makes a phone call and I go down to the basement office to do a blog post. We watch Walking Dead. I get myself ready for tomorrow’s early-morning trip in to work. By eleven, I’m sound asleep.

I wake up the next day at five. Make my sandwich, have a bowl of cereal, shower, get dressed, get my umbrella, my cell phone, wallet, and book (Inferno), kiss my walking dead wife goodbye. It’s still pitch-black out there. No rain, but some eerie powerful wind blowing the treetops. I get to work in twenty-five minutes. (My bosses would later send us all home by noon.)

The wife calls me around nine. “You’ll never guess what happened!”

“What?”

“The Giants won!”

What?

“The Giants won!” She explains to me how the receiver had a finger or something go out of bounds before his feet touched, or something to that effect. I haven’t yet seen the video.

But now I learned one thing. Well, two. First, the New York Giants are the most hands-down frustrating football team in the NFL right now. In the sense that they make winning as insanely difficult for themselves and their fans nearly every single week. Everything goes down to the last second in a typical Giant game.

And, two: never shut off a Giant game until Terry, Howie, Jimmy, Michael, and JB are yuckin’ it up.