Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cold Doldrums

Try as I might, wracking my gray matter, I can’t think of a single thing worthy of blogging about. So –

Cold and rainy here in my part of the woods. Me and Little One did some errands while the wife took a sick Patch to the doctor. Dry cleaners, recycling center, library, B&N, pizza parlor. It was fun. Wound up discussing a joint research project she and I will develop: what happened to Amelia Earhardt? I love the Little One. She’s into history’s mysteries stuff, just like her dad. We always have stuff to talk about on these errand runs.

Felt like seeing a good western, so I borrowed Tom Horn (starring Steve McQueen) for tonight’s viewing. Dunno whether it’ll be good or not. Perhaps a blog post / review later in the week. Wife is taking the two girls to see The Lorax later. Part of her Lenten penance, I suppose.

Speaking of Lenten penance, well, I failed in mine. Was going to read through the Psalms, but, as usual, got distracted. Or – am I being called elsewhere? I think I am, but these things are so hard to discern that I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll extrapolate in a later post, maybe not. All’s I can say is that, strangely enough, this new “calling” seems to have a link in Paris. Hmmmm.

Spent two hours balancing the checkbook, paying bills, getting cra-pola organized and somewhat filed away. Only half-way done, though. Too tired and achey to finish. What I’m not too tired and achey to finish is The Searchers, the yellowed paperback I’ve been reading over the last couple of days, as well as Gods and Generals. Hope to put away thirty or forty pages of each in a leisurely sort of way later tonight when the house quietens.

Really, that’s about all that’s exciting going on right now. Though, with the way things have been lately, perhaps that’s the best blessing the Hopper family can have right now.

PS – Didn’t win the Mega Millions. Oh well. Always next week.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mega-Million Boy

Or, How I’ll Spend My $640 million dollar winnings

Lessee …

Yeah, I’d do all the boring stuff you all would do, too. Pay off the house, buy a new one, set up my children’s educations, set up me and the Mrs.’ retirement blah blah blah. Then do the annuity thing so I’d get … oh, I don’t know … $5,000 a week? Is that too much? Too little? Seems right. That’s $260,000 a year. Maybe I should double it.

Anyway, before I do that, here’s the fun stuff I’d do …

1. Forget about going to France for a week. I’d go there for a month. Then do a month in Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland. Then, every year, we’d hit another spot I’d never thought I would ever get to – Hawaii, Tahiti, the Caribbean, someplace cold, like Alaska, etc.

2. The Great United States Winnebago Tour! Except with a futuristic space-age Winnebago especially designed by NASA for Mark Zuckerberg.

3. I’d start a business. I dunno … maybe a publishing company. I think I have a nose for a good book, one that might be overlooked by the majority of the big players out there. And the wife would start up something too. Something fashion-y, trend-y, bling-y, that sort of thing. We’ve talking about it before, but I’m going to leave it at that.

4. As a corollary, I’d self-publish my two SF books and an anthology of my short stories. And if they only sell ten or twelve copies (how many people are in my family hm?), well, who cares! A business write-off!

5. On a serious note, just think about how much good one could do donating some of that money. Let’s say Uncle Sam takes half. Let’s say you only donate one percent of what remains. That means you’d be giving over 3 million dollars to a worthy cause! I’d donate to the Church (and perhaps cherry-pick where that money could be applied) and the American Heart Association. The wife has her own interests, too. Oh, and before I gave one cent I’d check out those websites that rate and rank charities based on bureaucratic overhead (or lack thereof) and make adjustments as necessary. Another thing we’d do is sponsor impoverished children from third-world countries.

6. Recording studio! I’d buy vintage Les Pauls and Strats, a 1969 Gibson SG, top-market six- and twelve-string acoustics, a bass guitar. I’d buy a $5,000 keyboard and hire someone to teach me how to play. Then the studio – soundproofing, booths, mixing boards, speakers, monitors, mics, drums, you name it. Remember that blues album I have between my ears! I’d be able to “self-publish” that, too.

7. Hire a bevy of twenty-something dudeslackers to finish off those thar web sites I never done did git finished.

8. I’d go back to school and get a real degree. In what, you ask? Hmmm. How about physics, astrophysics, higher math, theology, medicine, languages and literature, history, philosophy, philosophy of history, history of philosophy. One after the other, domino-style, but in no particular order.

9. How ’bout some culture? Season tickets to Lincoln Center in NYC is a definite. Plus, the wife and I would see a couple of plays a year on and off-Broadway. And, we’d love to get back to Napa Valley, where we honeymooned. Though this time for a whole month – how many vineyards and wineries could you hit in a month? Enough to kill a liver, so perhaps we better tone that one down. However, and come to think of it, I seem to recall a story about a pair of physicists who started their own winery and became very successful. That’d be something to think about. Yes indeed.

10. Cash Christmas for everyone in my extended family! Gotta love that!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Zen Cath

Bored last night, looking for something interesting aside from the War Between the States, the Old West, or lingua franca, I rummaged through a box of books at the foot of my desk. The hour was getting late and I was seeking to browse through something while I had my cookie and milk. Ah! This looks intriguing – Zen Catholicism, a slim volume I bought about a decade ago, made one unsuccessful go at, and thereafter exiled to The Box. Turns out I read most of the first chapter, about a dozen pages.

On the surface, Zen Buddhism and Catholicism are antithetical. Now, I’m not theologian enough to go into specifics, but I have done my share of reading in both to convince myself of this. Zen admits no God; Catholicism is all about relationship with God. That’s about as opposed as you can get, though I will say that the more ascetical strains of Catholic mysticism fall curiously in line with Zen practice.

Zen practice has always held interest for me. I’ve meditated about 200-250 times in my life. Before you think this makes me a Buddhist monk, let me just say that this is over the course of ten or fifteen years. So I’ve never been able to make it a daily habit. (I do, however, pray every night.) Reading koans has always been a source of whimsical curiosity for me, too, over the years, but I’ll be darned if I could ever figure out the Big Idea they try to illustrate. Even my own koan, which I’ve never been able to solve.

I’ve often wondered whether the best of both belief / practice systems could be incorporated. Indeed, that’s why I picked up this book all those years ago. I do think the man who walks with God is quite similar to the Zen monk who has attained Samadhi. The question I’ve always pondered was, regardless of the starting point, how do you get to that end?

Reading the first couple of pages last night, I was nearly overwhelmed by a very strong point the author quickly makes. The early Church Fathers took Greek thought and synthesized it with this developing thing called Christianity. Augustine did the same thing with neo-Platonism. And it is well known that Thomas Aquinas brought Aristotelian thought into the Catholic fold. The realization is – Christianity makes no bones about taking the thoughts and beliefs of the culture it finds itself in and “Christianizing” it. Baptizing it. Taking the good, leaving the bad, and re-shaping that good to fit the revealed plan of God.

See where he’s going with this?

Why could not the same be done for Eastern thought, now that we have been a global village for almost a century now?

Why not bring Zen into the Catholic tent? Would this make Catholicism unrecognizable, or would it further refine it, like Plato, the neo-Platonists, and Aristotle did?


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gulley

First they said it was a lie; a made-up story for publicity. Then they said it was monkeys – monkeys! – escaped from a local circus and dressed in silvery clown outfits. When that finally couldn’t be proven, they said it was mass hysteria, attributable to their being women. June wasn’t quite aware yet to take proper offense to such a desperate and belittling insinuation, but one thing she knew for sure: it sure as hell wasn’t no damn monkeys.

- first paragraph from my first real-true short story, writ large nine years ago and still unpublished.

Extra Credit if you know what extranormal event from American mythos, circa 1955, my story elaborates upon ...

A hint, perhaps?

Chewed 'Stache

“But it wasn’t a chewed mustache, because he didn’t chew it.”

- The Seekers, by Alan LeMay, page 9

Quite possibly the greatest sentence in any Western I have read. *

I mean – think about it a moment. On the surface, it seems pretty simple, right? A tautology, I believe them ivory-tower types like to call ’em. But to me, and I say this without an ounce of sarcasm or superiority, I see a whole genre written in those eleven words. Brutal common sense and undivided practicality. Spartan, shrewd, and inescapable words spoken by men with names like Amos or Ethan Edwards. Words only men comfortable with heavy and greasy guns could utter as naturally as anything as a watering hole on a desert plain.

Now I need to fry me up some bacon over a fire, wash it down with a tin of coffee and chase it all with a fresh cheroot from my saddlebags …

* To date, I have read six Westerns.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Police Cruiser

When I pull out of my work parking lot, I’m on a busy commercial-district highway for about two miles. Then I connect onto a rural highway for ten more miles, which deposits me in the suburbs where I take sidestreets to get home. Both these highways are high-traffic, high-volume, three-lane affairs. The first, which has stop lights every mile or so, has a humongous police presence. The latter road, with no stop-and-go traffic, is a literal speedway, where vehicles routinely zoom by at 85 mph. I’ve yet to see a police cruiser on this road.

Anyway, there’s a bit of traffic as I pull onto the highway, and I see flashing bubble-gum lights up ahead. A common sight, someone pulled over getting ticketed. But the flow quickly resumes as we pass, and a few seconds later the cop is next to me in the slow lane (I’m in the middle lane doing under the speed limit, because congestion won’t let me go any faster).

It’s a crazy Mad Max muscle-car this officer is cruising in. Battle-ship grey, it looks like a cross between a classic Mustang and something from the year 2045. It’s a car Vin Diesel would drive (I guess; I only have a fraction of the testosterone that guy has.) There are so many antennae sticking out of the trunk it looks like it’s a mobile NSA. The tires are fat, black, and chrome piping curls out from the undercarriage like fossilized vapors of a sleeping dragon.

He passes me and I take the opportunity to slide right in behind him, figuring no one will try to cut me off as my exit is approaching on the right. But, no, we hit another stop light. Examining the vehicle in front of me further, I note that the license plate is inconspicuous. No “MG” prefix to tip off wary drivers.

Then an SUV whizzes by us on the right, right on the shoulder! Holy Cow! This guy is carelessly driving right in front of a cop and he doesn’t know it! Immediately the cop’s head jerks to the right, and a second after the hell-on-wheels pulls out behind the runaway SUV. The rear windshield lights up like a pinball machine as the tires squeal and the engine growls loud enough I can hear it over the music playing in my car. Though the SUV is moving fast and turning onto an off-ramp, the cruiser is moving faster, and is on him like glue.

The light turns green and our group of cars slowly advance, each driver craning his neck to the right as we pass the off-ramp, but no flashing lights are to be seen. Did the jerk in the SUV decide to outrun Johnny Law? Or is he too oblivious to think it’s him that the cop wants to pull over, so he keeps driving out of sight? Oh well. I’ll never know.

I never speed or do anything aggressive or even just plain assertive while driving on this strip of highway outside my work. The police, every day, morning and evening. Like shooting flies in a barrel, reckless drivers drop like fish.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shows I'd Never Be On

One prodigious angle of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas is the fact that we can only truly learn what God is by studying what God is not. So in a similar vein, allow me in my titanic humility to point out to you, guests, that the only way you can truly know the Hopper is by knowing what he is not.

For example, here is a brief list of five teevee shows you would never, ever, ever see me on, no matter how much money they threw my way:


If you airlifted me five miles from my home (and I live in the dense suburbs of Northern New Jersey), there’s a strong chance I’d starve to death in a day or two before I could make my way back to civilization. Civilization in this case meaning any highway, office building, street, road, boulevard, apartment complex, McMansion, colonial or Cape Cod house, etc, etc, etc, you could hit if you tossed a stone in the air in just about any direction.

Bob Vila’s This Old House

If you look at my hands, you’ll note I have ten thumbs. And I manage to hit every single one with a hammer on those once- or twice-yearly occasions where I break out a hammer. Yesterday I tried to install a radio-activated doorbell to the outside of my house with double-sided sticky tape. Guess who won – me or the doorbell? You guessed right.

The Apprentice

Man, that show’s a pressure cooker. Five minutes into it I’d tell Trump to go **f** himself, and that’d be ninety minutes before we even got to the boardroom. I’m just made of different cloth from that man, and I guess that’s why he’s worth a couple of billion and I’m worth a couple of thousand.

American Chopper

If I was born into this family, I have to honestly say I’d leave to join the French Foreign Legion. And when the Legion kicked me out, I’d throw myself at the mercy of the church and become a brother of some sort. And if that didn’t work out, well, I’d probably read a lot of books and start blogging.

Fashion Police

I own ten dress shirts; five are white, five are various shades of blue. I own a pair of khakis and two pairs of black dress pants. Out of work, I have a pair of jeans and two pair of khaki shorts, plus five golf shirts, all identical save for their color, which is always monochromatic. All my t-shirts are about ten years old. I own three pairs of shoes: brown ones, black ones, and a pair of sneakers. What is this thing called “fashion”?

There. Study these shows and realize the author of this blog is the antithesis of the amalgamation of the hosts and participants you will have viewed.

Hmmm. This post gives me an idea … the Five Ways or Proofs of Hopper’s Existence … stay tuned!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tug of Peace

From the Encounters with Education, this –

We get a weekly progress report on our youngest, little Patch, from her day care center. It tells us what she’s done learning-wise, activity-wise, and social-wise, while keeping it all safe, fun, and friendly. After all, she’s only three, and she’s still figuring out how to interact with other three-year-olds. And she’s two years away from counting and the alphabet, though they work on that with her.

Good. Fine and dandy. But I had to laugh when I read her latest report yesterday.

It seems, in addition to building styrofoam dinosaur models, in addition to listening to Dr. Suess, in addition to playing the drums and triangles in music class, my daughter enjoys playing “tug of peace.”

No! Gods, no!

What they’ve been telling us all those years is true! It’s true, I tell you! Those who’ve warned me about “no more dodge ball” and T-Ball games where no score is kept, they’ve been right! I must admit – I didn’t really believe those Paul Reveres, my predecessors, my forerunners navigating the waters of child education. But it’s true. My first true encounter, with this touchy-feely kumbaya blithering nonsensical nonsense, is with the incredibly sissified paradoxical oxymoronical game – game! – now re-labeled as “Tug of Peace.”

No! Gods, gods, no!


Got that off my chest.

Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

And, no, “tug of peace” will not be spoken of in my house, ’cept to make fun of it. Because my children, my girls, will be playing for keeps. Playing for keeps in life, because they will be successful. No matter what they choose, they will be successful in any endeavor they choose, because of the training and support my wife and I will give them, in spite of the misguided, idiotic, Ph.D’d cra-pola they’ll have to deal with during the next twelve to fifteen years of their “education.”


The Gist of the Argument

The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when the scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called ‘final causes’ … [belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century … They did this on the ground that inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the prediction and control of events … The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world … The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws … [But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, money, fame, art, science, and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center. Hence, the dissatisfied, disillusioned, restless, spirit of modern man … Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values … If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe – whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself – then they must be our own inventions. Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people, or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.”

- philosopher W. T. Stace in a 1948 Atlantic Monthly article, quoted by Edward Feser in The Last Superstition, pages 225-226.

Feser writes a powerful book, one that confirms my suspicion that somehow, someway the middle ages had it right when it came to metaphysical world views. How our age pales in comparison, when someone who actually knows his Aquinian and Aristotelian philosophy! Like a warning shot fired over the bow of “New Atheism,” this book is both a challenge and a dare to any devotee of Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker, et al. Read it, then refute it, if you can, instead of attacking straw men and what you believe the Catholic Church teaches.

The Last Superstition is a good book, if a little abstruse in places and a little juvenile in others. But I have to admit I liked the juvenile quips and put-downs of the political correctness we’re forced to march so lock-step with. A breath of fresh air, and I chuckled every now and then, and who can say that reading a philosophy book? (Unless it’s Feser reading one of Dawkins or Hitchens “philosophy” books.)

Bottom line is that I will pick it up again in a couple of months as both a refresher course and a more in-depth analysis. I’d like to be able to refute these mental midgets next time I read their firestorms on one of the blogs I regularly read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tant de Drames

Tant de drames de ce voyage à Paris!

D'abord, les compagnies aériennes ne peuvent pas nous garantir sièges de première classe comme on nous avait promis. Puis, les dates d'ouverture de l'hôtel ne correspondent pas avec la compagnie aérienne. Puis, nous ne pouvons pas deux jours de plus à l'hôtel au-delà de ce que la victoire du concours nous a donné. Ma femme veut aller avant l'été, quand il fait trop chaud, et je suis limité en fonction de mes fonctions comme à quelle partie du mois, nous pouvons aller.

Les Français Open est un bijou éblouissant faire saliver ma femme, mais je ne suis pas intéressé à ce que plus il sera simplement perdre quelques jour à l'intérieur alors que nous sommes à Paris et donner à nos portefeuilles des coups douloureux. Mais son nom est sur les talons de billets, de sorte que puis-je faire? Sauf continuer à apprendre le français et la confiance dans le Bon Dieu que tout va fonctionner.

Parlez-en à vous plus tard!

Votre ami,

[Note: For those in the area on the Venn diagram where Enterprising-Individuals meet with People-Who-Know-the-Hopper-and-Want-to-Learn-More-About-Him intersect, cut-n-paste the text and put it in Google Translate and voila!]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


OK. Don’t know much about Tebow other than the hype-storm that is Tebowmania – the rabid love-or-hatred many, many hold for the kid based on his outspoken Christianity. I missed the game this season past where the Broncos came from behind last-minute to defeat the Jets, and I did not see him play in the playoffs, with the exception of the highlight reels. Against beat-up Pittsburgh: good. Against an angry New England: not so good. That caveat stated, I understand Tebow’s at best a B-level quarterback. Maybe he’ll up his game to A-level, maybe not. Even money on that.

Now he’s in New York, a hop-skip-and-jump away from where Yours Truly lives and works and writes. Though I’m a Giants fan, I bear no ill-will towards our little green brothers. I like to see the Jets succeed. One day I’d even like to see a Subway Super Bowl. Odds are that will never happen, but I’m not one of those fans who hates the other team just because.

However, I think the trade for Tebow will be a disaster for the Jets. An absolute disaster. How Sanchez can improve in the media circus that will ensue, I have no idea. How other obvious holes in the Jets’ offense and defense and special teams can be repaired while spending money for this unnecessary addition, I have no idea. How Tebow’s outspoken Christianity will coexist with the toxic gangsta mentality of the Jets locker room, I have no idea. But I do know one thing. This will not be good for the Jets.

Funniest thing I read online amidst all this hoopla was the observation that after the Giants won their first Super Bowl with Eli, the Jets went out and got Favre. Now that the Giants have won a second with Eli, the Jets go and get Tebow. What’s up with that?

My prediction: a 3-13 season. Of Rex Ryan, Tannenbaum (the GM), and Sanchez, two of the three will be gone a year from now. Odds of Tebow overcoming and witnessing a second season as a Jet: 1 in 5. There, I’m now on record.

Note: This is obviously not a sports blog, and I am not exactly the world’s biggest football fan. I did predict late last season that both the Giants and the Jets, in their late-season meeting, would somehow both lose. But – and it’s a big BUT – I did ace the previous year’s Super Bowl prediction. So let’s add this to my list of predictions … odds of this post being correct: 2 in 3.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grey Havens

White was that ship and long was it a-building, and long it awaited the end of which Cirdan had spoken. But when all these things were done, and the Heir of Isildur had taken up the lordship of Men, and the dominion of the West had passed to him, then it was made plain that the power of the Three Rings also was ended, and to the Firstborn the world grew old and grey. In that time the last of the Noldor set sail from the Havens and left Middle-earth for ever. And latest of all the Keepers of the Three Rings rode to the sea, and Master Elrond took there the ship that Cirdan had made ready. In the twilight of autumn it sailed out of Mithlond, until the seas of the Bent World fell away beneath it, and the winds of the round sky troubled it no more, and borne upon the high airs above the mists of the world it passed into the Ancient West, and an end was come for the Eldar of story and of song.

- Ultimate paragraph of The Silmarillion (page 366 of my Del Rey paperback edition)

How bittersweet an ending! Triumph, hope, a new day – and yet, a residual lingering of despondency, mirthless, moody, and mournful. Melancholy and the infinite sadness!

It is a testament to the perceptive genius of Tolkien how such writing as this finds analogs in our daily existence. I’ve blogged at length (from material read standing on the shoulders of those giants who write it) on the inherent comprehensivenes of Catholicism in The Lord of the Rings. The above is but one of innumerable examples.

Analog? you ask. Analog? Yes. Analagous to many things, thing I’ve experienced and things I will experience. Rebirth with a loss of innocence. Particularly, the above conclusion speaks to me of late summer days, lengthening shadows, cooling winds, time for play being over and time for school – new schools – to begin in earnest. I also sense a foretaste of death, of the greatest journey we all will be called to take, one by one, something feared yet not-to-be-feared, and my only desire is to get through Tolkien at least one or two times more before I am called.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mandatory Mental Health Night

First not-butterflies-and-flowers day at work.

An employee traveling in North Carolina calls me 9 am in a panic – there is no money in her new bank account! A new manager, jerked around by management dithering over a pay plan, is unhappy with his month-end commission. An obese salesman, tilting on the verge of cardiac arrest (he actually took two days off earlier this month to see a cardiologist), is nickel-and-diming me over chargebacks. Two new employees are unexpectedly in the hole in terms of commission versus draw – unexpectedly because they are not expecting it to be so, thanks to last-minute advances last pay per their managers.

None of these problems have their origin in decisions made by me. Yet, I am held responsible by the admittedly innocent parties involved.

Calgon, take me away!

Or better yet, I’m gonna relive the battle of Second Manassas with Jeff Shaara tonight. Sometimes I think an infantryman in 1862 under General Lee may have had a better go of it than a payroll administrator in 2012 in my line of work. At least the infantryman has a rifle to defend himself …

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Eleven Things – Imaginary, Real, Serious, Not-So-Much-So, and Outright Stupid – Hopper Likes About France, the French, and its/their Accomplishments:

(1) Sartre’s The Wall

Wrote about it numerous times on this blog. Read it, I think, in the summer of 1989 alone at my parent’s weekend home in upstate New York. A strange, terrible read, unlike anything I had ever read before. Possibly the first time I accepted the concept of my own mortality.

(2) Sartre’s death-bed conversion to Catholicism

Urban legend or squashed by a paranoid secular media, the choice the old atheist existentialist made in the ultimate foxhole we all will find ourselves in, well, says more than thousands of pages of thick French prose.

(3) Godzilla spawned by French A-bomb testing

Most interesting thing of the late-90s Godzilla remake, and, oddly enough, the only real fact I recall from the flick. (Other than that the baby Godzillas ripped off Spielbergh’s velociraptors.)

(4) Jules Verne

Would love – absolutely love! – to read more of him, but fearful of translations and translators. One novel, From the Earth to the Moon, was laugh-out-loud delightful, while another, Journey to the Center of the Earth, was grim and heartless. From the same author? Yes. But different translators/translations. Maybe I’ll research it and read more; I really would enjoy getting lost in Verne’s steampunk world.

(5) Kirk Douglas as a French Colonel (!) marching through the trenches in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.

Gave me goose-bumps and a vision right up there with Harry Lime’s first reveal in The Third Man. Occasionally on TCM. Worth a watch if you’re a cinephile.

(6) Bizet, Ravel, Debussey, Jarre, Saint-Saens, Satie.

Individual pieces way too numerous to mention … perhaps another post I’ll attempt to.

(7) The French Foreign Legion

I actually read two books on the Legion, one while I sweated it out on an exercise bike over the course of a month (I found solace in my mutual suffering with the legionnaires). Tough as nails, no mercy, no coddling, not a single nod toward political correctness. I couldn’t survive a day in the Legion, though there’s a surprisingly significant part of me that would like to have tried (in my youth, of course, when I actually could run and endure).

(8) The challenge of learning the French language (enough, at least, to survive a week in the tourist section of Paris)

Ouiun mille ouis.

(9) The French Revolution

There was a three-month morbid obsession for me with the French Revolution sometime around 1994. Had something to do with a unique history professor I had at the night school college I attended at this time. He would ramble disjointedly from this subject to that, from that topic to another, but somehow by the session’s end, he was able to bring it back full-circle and complete his thoughts from forty-five minutes prior. Looking like Norm from Cheers with a perm, he was disheveled and unkempt, but he had a way, for me at least, of making history come alive.

Over those three months I must’ve read four or five books on the Revolution, including one biography of the monster Robespierre. Forgot much, but the vibe I recall is that it was quite like the Stephen King books I was reading at the time. Imagine living in such a paranoid death trap of a time … shudder.

(10) “If you are to act, act now!” – the coup d’etat of Napoleon Bonaparte

Then I started reading about Napoleon. Perhaps it was the two thick biographies I read, but I don’t see him as the anti-christ others do. Yes, I think he went too far, but I also think he was a good thing for Europe. From sheer chutzpah alone, the hour that he assumed control of all France, at the tender age of 26, simply hypnotized and amazed me, reading all this at the same age he was.

(11) My evil spiritual brother lives there

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nous Allons a Paris

All right, I recognize the oddness of announcing this on St. Patrick’s Day, but …

Finally! Luck has knocked on the Hopper family’s door!

Last week at her annual sales conference on the other side of the country, my wife bought a $100 raffle ticket. Though the odds were about a thousand-to-one, some of the prizes appealed to my wife: a diamond bracelet and a high-falutin’ Chanel handbag were what she was eyeing. A one-a.m. phone call woke me Wednesday night. It was my honey, breathless, barely able to speak. She won. First prize. A trip to Paris.


This will be our first true vacation since 2007, and our first vacation sans children since our honeymoon eleven years ago. Last year, our tenth anniversary, with Lonesome Me outta work, we did nothing, having no money to do anything. So, consider this our postponed tenth wedding anniversary gift to ourselves.

We’ll probably be visiting the City of Lights at the end of May. My parents will watch the little ones somehow, arrangements have yet to be made. There’s a lot to do, but we’re starting early and trying to be proactive. I just got back from applying for my first passport ever. Aside from a brief afternoon trip into Canada, this will be my first visit outside the U.S.

I’m a little nervous about being in a foreign country. Especially one that I know absolutely nothing about, and one which you generally hear so much negatives from, from either the media or word of mouth. Not to malign the French people en masse, but there has been undeniable friction between our two countries over the past decade or so.

What really has me concerned is that I have absolutely no inherent ability for the French language. I took four years of Spanish in high school and college and have worked with Spanish-speaking people all my life. During our trip to Puerto Rico, I felt no need to bone up on my español, and during our trips into the city down there I was able to communicate with little problem.

Not so this time around, I think. I already printed out a two-page sheet of common French expressions and idioms, and though I can speak it somewhat okay when its in front of me, I seem to be unable to commit any of them to memory or recall them after a couple of minutes. Could that neurophysiological trunk in my brain stem be that atrophied? I dunno.

It’s a challenge I’m up for, though. Went to the library today and got the Berlitz French, the French for Dummies, and the Pimsleur CD set. I figure a half-hour a day over two months should make me comfortable with the language. Don’t you think so, too? I’m not a dumb man, just a lazy one, at times. But this is important to me; I don’t want to be deaf dumb and blind in a foreign land. Now, the wife is my rock here. She was an exchange student in high school over there, and she seems to think a once-through with the Pimsleur should reactivate a lot of those dormant French words and phrases. I hope so. No matter if I spend two hours a day with the textbooks and the CDs over the next two months, I think I’ll still be dependent on her.

What to do, where to go? Well, I want to do the corny, tourist stuff. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc. My mother-in-law has a contact who works at the Louvre, and we’re working on some sort of special tour, private or whatnot. The Louvre, from what little I understand, houses the Mona Lisa and a lot of Picasso. And see that flaming heart on the left? That’s the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That’s something I discussed with my priest during my hospitalization three years ago. The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur is in north-eastern Paris, and that’s a destination / pilgrimmage of mine once we’re there.

I anticipate lots and lots of walking, lots of map consultation, lots of sight-seeing over those five days. Of course, I’d like to drink a few glasses of red wine, and I’m sure we’ll be eating quite well. Yes, I know it’s expensive. The air fare and the hotel is free; but we gotta pay for the food and drink and whatnot. I know it will cost more than we’ll budget for it. But hey – when you only do these types of things once a decade, it’s worth it, right?

More to follow: progress reports, thoughts, plans, etc.

Woo-hoo! I mean, weaux-heaux!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Long Riders

© 1967 by Dan Cushman

[... to be read slooooooowly in a Sam Elliot drawl ...]

First, let me preface by stating that I am not a reader of Westerns by trade, occupation, or inclination. I have read some in the past. This past July, fer instance, I read a pair of Zane Greys. Sometime in the 90s I read a pair of Larry McMurtrys. If you can label The Red Badge of Courage a Western, since, or in spite of, it taking place in Tennessee during the War Between the States, then put that notch on my gun belt. That’s my background here.

Now, I enjoy a good Western as much as the next red-blooded American male. Maybe more so, since I fancy myself a cinephile and am particularly partial to a well-done Western flick, with or without John Wayne. Perhaps it’s the harkening back to a simpler time, even if simpler occasionally meant, “more violent.” Perhaps it’s the continual wondering how I’d fare had I been born a century earlier. Perhaps it’s the manly testing and manly rising to the occasion, whether its survival on the plains, survival fighting the Injuns, or survival facing that steely-eyed gunslinger in the middle of the muddy, abandoned street in front of the saloon in the one-horse town. Perhaps …

Anyway, when I did get snagged in that Zane Grey phase last summer, I bought me a bunch of comparable books of varying stripes. Some are classics, like The Ox-Bow Incident. Some are based on John Wayne movies I seen and enjoyed, such as Hondo. And some are pulpy, like this one, The Long Riders.

I had beefs – might powerful beefs, it must be established – with this last novel. But I can’t deny a gripping interest in the story right from page one. It’s a cattle drive, the medieval quest of the Old West, and two rugged hands – Leo Glass and Old Dad Haze – take on the share of cattle for a man left for dead. Leo and Old Dad are joined with the maniacal ex-Rebel officer Andy Broadbaker and his posse of “scouts” – hired killers hired to keep the other cattle drivers in line – in a journey from Nebraska, through Wyoming, and up to Montana, through all the hostile Indian territory that overlaps. But – ain’t there always a “but” in these things? But Broadbaker has different plans, and Applied Bullying and Intimidation 101 wants to take the herd elsewhere, elsewhere being someplace that ain’t Montana (I may have missed that precise part of the novel).

Sounds simplistic, and it is, I ’spose, but Cushman manages to breathe life into the 140-page horse opera. Every trope and every cliché is here in full bloom, yet it doesn’t come across as trope-ic or cliché-y. You know what I mean? Ever read something like that? If you did, well, you had a similar experience to me reading The Long Riders.

There’s Leo and Old Dad, drifting from one place to another, finding work whether it be with gun or lasso, always on the look for the Big Score. There’s the kid who idolizes Glass. Whether or not he’s the same kid who gets shot in the back by the young psychotic gunslinger Billy Grand I’ll leave for you to discover. You have the escalating threats, first veiled and quickly not so much so, between the heroes and the bad guys. You have the verbal jousting in the saloon, with twitchy hands hovering over holstered Colts. You got the showdown, the quick draw. There are the feckless homesteaders Who Shouldn’t Be There. You experience the dirt and the struggle driving a thousand head of cattle firsthand.

Possibly the only truly unique part of the novel was the ending. Yes, it ends with a confrontation between Glass and Broadbaker, but you knew that was gonna happen in the first chapter, when Kid Maybee first describes the “man-eater” to Glass (and us). What is unique is how they fight it out. It’s not a three-second flash of hot lead like the dénouement of Once Upon a Time in the West. It ain’t a long, drawn-out gun battle like Gunfight at O.K. Corral. No, our heavies battle it out John Norman style (he of the Gor fantasy novels) – left hands clasped, right hands wielding leather gun belts. You can figger out what happens next. It was a fast-paced, well-written scene, and the comeuppance which comes up is fully satisfying. Bastardo truly gets what he deserves. ’Specially for ordering that young, idealistic kid to get shot in the back.

Absolutely loved the classic Western nomenclature, be it names – Old Dad, “Frogs” Braskin (the cook), Billy Grand, Polly Arbogast, her dad Judge Arbogast; or places – Dry Crick, Alkali Crick, Bone Crick, Spider Crick, Poison Spider Crick (sensing a theme here, hm?)

My main complaint is that the book I read wasn’t the book I bought. This based upon the paragraph synopsis on the back cover. True, this isn’t the author’s fault, and I don’t reckon I blame him particularly. That back page painted the novel more like an Unforgiven Clint Eastwood mean drunk than what the contents spelled out, an Unforgiven Clint Eastwood just trying to make a buck or two clean-living (forget that the “clean-living” in that movie involving assassinating two ruffians). Still, it ticked me off, for I was itchin’ to read the back-page novel, especially after the pair of Zane Grey-meets-Danielle Steel books I read last summer. But the complaint wasn’t a deal-breaker. Still isn’t, as I’d willingly read any more Dan Cushman works I come across.

Grade: B+

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Yesterday was technically the anniversary of the Hopper. Four years ago I started it up as a way of getting into the habit of daily writing. Now, if I miss a day (a rare occurrence) I feel oogy. So I guess that experiment worked.

I also started it to help me kinda get my brain wrapped around this Hegel guy I was reading. That experiment didn’t really work. Or rather, it did, pointing out to me that Hegel is a cataclysmic waste of time. For me, that is. Your German Idealist Philosopher mileage may vary.

So … I’m almost at the million word mark. If I estimate 600 words per blog post, times an average of 350 blog posts a year, times four years, that yields (… click click click-click clack …) – wow! 840,000 words. 84 percent of the way there.

For reference, yer average science fiction golden age paperback runs about 90,000 words. So over the course of four years I’ve written, comparably, a little over nine average science fiction golden age paperbacks. Yay me!

Aside from the blog, however, I have not produced much writing. I did pen a 20,000 word novella two summers back and did re-edit both my 120,000-word novels. The latter entailed scrapping the needlessly verbose epilogue and rewriting a tight, 5,000-word closing. Yes, that’s a big closing, but I had a handful of storylines and a gotcha! ending to tie altogether. I think I did a good job. Literary agents, not so much.

The biggest accomplishment of the Hopper, and the most funnest, I think, are the book reviews. 118 at the time of this writing, with one more on the way this weekend. I’ve now reached the point where, if I finish a book and do not write a 750-1,000-word review, something feels terribly amiss in my world. It’s crazy, that little thing called habit – now make it work for you! I actually have visions of reaching my 500th review. Hopefully someone somewhere can find some use and amusement from them, in some small way.

840,000 words and counting … at this rate I’ll hit a million sometime around Christmas-time 2012. Maybe I’ll take the day off from writing when I do.

Probably not.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day Redux

Almost went the whole day without realizing its awesome significance – Pi Day, 3/14. I celebrated it by writing Euler’s Most Beautiful Equation

e ^ i pi + 1 = 0

on the paper tablecloths at Macaroni Grill with my two little girls. Fortunately, neither one required a proof from me, as I forgot it years ago.

Anyway, for the masochistic, here are my earlier (and mercifully brief) reflections on my favorite transcendental number …

Happy Pi Day

Slice of Pi

Mathematical Proof of God

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Earlier today, around 3 o’clock, a sudden strong, almost overpowering urge to sleep came upon me. My eyelids grew heavy and my breathing slowed and shallowed of its own accord, while I struggled to complete the (admittedly boring) Excel project I was working on. The sounds of chatter and officework about me slowly faded and my vision tunneled forward, aimed at the screen but not at the screen. A disembodied hand seemed to clamp down on my brain, massaging the delta waves out of it, and I seriously thought I’d fall asleep in my office. To top it all off, my left pectoral muscle began violently twitching, not unlike what my lower eyelid does when my body deeply craves sleep.

This called for some drastic measure. Unable to get me some cola (for the caffeine, natch) and not being a coffee drinker, my only alternative lay in the jar of dry roasted almonds I keep in a desk drawer. Only a dozen or so left, and I wolfed them all down, one by one, slowly chewing each one to a pulp to absorb all the protein possible. It did help, a bit, but I only really came alive once I got outside into the fresh air and into my rental car for the ride home.


I did get 7.5 hours sleep both last night and the night before. Both mornings the alarm clock (set to go off with the strings and strains of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”) had to pull me out of a deep slumber. Seemingly I’m not sleep deprived.

I think I’m partner-deprived. Since Friday I’ve been handling the two little ones by myself. First the wife was sick (flu), then she left to go to her four-day sales conference. Me, I’m not built to raise children. Yes, I like to play with them, and I enjoy teaching them and being around them . . . but I find the whole disciplining thing so very tiresome. Patch is not on board with the whole thing, true; we’re approaching category-5 terrible-threes-storms, which now happen on a frequency of one an hour. Little One is an issue too once or twice a day; petty and petulant as a seven-year-old girl can be at times.

I often say (and may have written here) that as an introvert I need an hour solo time for every hour I’m forced to be in the company of others. With a pair of often unruly little ones, I may have to up that ratio to 2:1. That’s what my gut tells me is responsible for this sudden avalanche of fatigue. Honey – I miss you and need you! Come home quick!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The War With Mexico

The wife had to get up at 3 am Sunday morning to catch a 6 am flight out to Phoenix for her four-day sales conference. So after an afternoon and evening of helping her pack (mainly by doing her laundry and watching the two little ones), I settled in to a quiet house and began reading Jeff Shaara’s Gods and Generals.

When – wouldn’t ya know it? – the Hopper in me kicked in severe style with a new mission.

The first paragraph of the introduction to G&G dishes this beautiful gem of information in my lap: two unique things happened in the 1840s that transformed the Civil War into the unholy conflagration we know it today. History buffs – any idea what they were? According to Shaara, and I see no reason to disagree, several extremely talented classes of cadets at West Point graduated, one class after the other. Then, the Mexican War, giving those cadets and newly-commissioned officers their first taste and experience of warfare well on its way evolving from the Napoleonic to the continent-destroying World Wars of the next century. Of course, Shaara states it much more elegantly and impressively in that paragraph. But it took a hold of me and got me thinking.

I’ve read about a half-dozen books on the Civil War over the last five months or so, and I’ve come to realize how frequently the Mexican War is mentioned. Usually it’s brought up to illustrate the experience of generals, and sometimes to show how they fought arm-in-arm in that conflict only to fight head-to-head a dozen years later. The Mexican War always surfaces as a way of fattening Winfield Scott’s credentials, for example. But an uncomfortable thought immediately lodged in my skull –

I don’t know anything about the Mexican War!

How can I possibly understand all these Civil War books if I don’t know a thing about one of the peripheral  and tangential possible root causes! (See, this is how the mind of a hopper works …)

Well, I knew some basics. Uh, two things, really. First, it was a war between the United States and Mexico. Second, it was a really short war. Vaguely and interestingly enough, I remembered these deep facts from a high school history class I took shortly after the Mexican-American War. But they would not suffice. So many Civil War luminaries cut their teeth on those foreign sands (is Mexico sandy?) that I felt I could not continue with G&G until I fleshed out this gap in my knowledge.

Now I wasn’t looking to ace the Mexican War category on Jeopardy with Alex Trebeck. I just wanted to know a bit of what happened, the major themes and movements, the roots and the results. Also a list of notables who fought in the war. So, something more in depth than a three-page encyclopedia article. But I definitely did not want to read a three-hundred-page book on the subject.

Then a unique answer came to me while tending to a toddler tantrum Sunday afternoon. Why not go to the library (where said toddler could get a soothing book) and get a juvenile book on the subject of the War?

By “juvenile,” I don’t mean a See Spot Run type of book. Now that my oldest is an avid reader at age 7, I’m learning that there are certain books that really treat children respectfully as adults-in-training. They don’t talk – or write – down to them. Yet at the same time they keep the information fresh, to the point, and interesting. So I browsed in the children’s history section, and I found a really good book on the Mexican War. Go figure.

It was 85 pages and filled with lots of sidebars, maps, charts, and photographs (“daguerreotypes”). Probably aimed at a Middle School audience, maybe 12- or 13-year olds. Since I wasn’t looking for a scholarly study of the 16-month conflict, I thought it might work. While Patch played a Dora computer game in the library, I read the first couple of pages and decided it would do. I’d get the gist of the war and I’d be able to put it away in a day and move on the Shaara’s much anticipated novel.

I did. After 90 minutes of reading, I got the major themes and movements, the roots and the results.

Curiously, I did note first-hand the creeping PC-ness that infects our children’s academic lives. A couple of instances, actually. My eagle-eye noted a phrase “God-given” where “God” was not capitalized.  What other dieties would we be talking about?  Zeus?  Then there was the multiple-paragraph insistence of the author that the coiner of the phrase “Manifest Destiny” was actually a woman. And there were full-page sidebars illustrating the role of Women in the war, African-Americans in the war, and Minorities in the war. How about the role of white Catholic Czechoslovakian-Italian males, dammit!

But overall the book was good and my little experiment worked. It did what I wanted it to do. Make fun of me if you will; I fear nothing when it comes to the pursuit of Knowledge and/or a Good Read.

Oh, and I remembered a third fact from high school – the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo! It ended the war!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Prayer for Healing

[This worked for me in the days during and just after my hospitalization three years ago. Somehow it found its way back to me in a card I got in the mail. Hmmm.]


You invite all who are burdened to come to You.

Allow Your healing hand to heal me.

Touch my soul with Your compassion for others.

Touch my heart with Your courage and infinite love for all.

Touch my mind with Your wisdom, that my mouth may always proclaim Your praise.

Teach me to reach out to You in my need, and help me to lead others to You by my example.

Most loving Heart of Jesus, bring me health in body and spirit that I may serve You with all my strength.

Touch gently this life which You have created, now and forever.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Secret

So I went to B&N last night after the children had gone to bed and browsed for 45 peaceful minutes. The best part? I bought two books – Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, both by Jeff Shaara, both over 500 pages, for a buck-forty-three. Isn’t that amazing? That’s nearly eight pages a penny. I honestly don’t know how they stay in business, ’cept for all the pretty shiny overpriced new books stacked all about the first three-quarters of the store.

So that’s my secret. Last year I bought about fifty books and spent about a hundred bucks doing so. Not bad, right?

[There are only two ways I’ll buy a hot-off-the-presses new book – 1. If I’m using a gift card, or 2. If I just got a bonus or a raise or something from work. Call me cheap if you wish; I call it frugal. Plus, the majority of the stuff I’m into is outta print anyway.]

Now go and buy a book!


Something’s been nagging at me for the past couple of hours since writing this post. I think it has to do with this: what would I say to a reader who argues that I am denying a writer his fair share of earnings for his work, a work that I’m enjoying second-hand for pennies on the dollar? Especially since my goal is to make it as a published writer, too. Isn’t that hypocritical?

Well …

In the main I don’t feel that way. Meaning, I don’t feel hypocritical or that I’m ripping anybody off. Why?

A couple of reasons, I guess. First off, thirty to forty percent of the stuff I read has been written by men that are long dead. So whatever royalties I’d be contributing to had I purchased a brand-spankin’-new book would not go to the author but rather his estate. I don’t feel any pangs of guilt about that. Now, in the original post I’m bragging about snagging a pair of Shaara’s books, and he’s alive and well. But the two writers previous I’ve read, Dan Cushman and Isaac Asimov, have been deceased over ten and twenty years, respective.

Do you feel guilty reading library books? It’s the same principal at work there. True, the writer was originally compensated when the library bought the book. But in the used book market, the same is true, only the author is compensated originally by the first person to buy that book, months or years previously.

But the biggest reason why I don’t feel guilty about any short-changing a writer’s work that I’ve read without paying full publisher-marketing-production-royalty cost is this blog. By far and away most of the books I review here I give positive reviews to. (I can only think of two or three that I extremely disliked.) There have been over a hundred and maybe close to two hundred posts that explicitly promote these awesome books and these awesome writers. It’s free advertising. Now, I’m no internet juggernaut, but the Hopper gets 30 visitors a day, and that translates to 10,000 visitors a year, almost 40,000 since I’ve been blogging. I have to believe that someone somewhere has bought one of these author’s books based on my recommendation. Maybe more than one.

So, no, I don’t feel guilty. Whew! Thanks for bearing with me as I worked this out on the electronic page. I feel better already!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out

Very busy past coupla days. Too busy almost to write (I wrote the Asimov book review at 11:45 one night). Too busy almost to breathe, if you know what I'm getting at. Frantic, frantic, rush-do-this, rush-do-that, live, breathe, consume, die.


Wife's sick again, on the eve of her three-day sales meeting. So instead of having my two little hurricanes alone for three days, I have them alone for five. We're wiping everything down, washing hands as much as we can, so this doesn't turn into the Hopper Flu Epidemic of 2012. Part Two.

Car's in the shop and I'm now driving a Nissan Altima rental car. Other guy's insurance is paying for it, except they suckered me into the $20/day insurance waiver for any damage to the rental car or any passenger within in. So this truck-hit-pole-hit-my-parked-car accident will probably cost me about $300 or so. They call the waiver the "peace-of-mind" fee. Anyway, the rental car is cool though smaller and less ballsier than my beloved Impala. The girls love it as a change of pace, and I'm getting used to it.

The house is a mess, there's about a dozen piles of laundry to be done, the pantry is stocked with food no one wants to eat, there's two dozen items on my honeydo list. Blah redux.

I'm also exhausted because I started working out again. Started this past Tuesday. Have done a couple of sessions on the stationary bike and a couple of weightlifting workouts. Still feel fat, though, but its a slightly more muscular fat.

On a more pleasurable note, I'm halfway through a Dan Cushman western, a slim aged paperback I bought last summer during my Zane Grey phase. I like it. Spare and spartan, the writing is. Classic names, classic themes. Not as bad@ss as the back cover spelled it out, though, but that's okay. I'm enjoying the ride. Ride in this case being a cattle drive from Wyoming to Montana during the Grant administration.

The Feser book on philosophy is so right-on that I'm also enjoying that read immensely. My only concern - and its a minor one, though - is that it seems to veer into Fox News territory, the same way H. W. Crocker's Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church did way too often. Just because most of my official education has been from aggressive entrenched leftie professors doesn't mean I now want to read stuff from an extreme right point of view. I just want the Truth, you know? Capital-T Truth, and it is out there.

Just fed the little ones as I wrote this. Now I have to herd them upstairs, into jammies, teeth brushed, stories read, etc. Then I rented a movie to watch with the wife (said movie will not be named on account of it could be embarrassingly awful). But after that - I'm going to Barnes and Noble, to cruise the bookshelves as the store approaches closing time, alone and at peace, and itching to score a treasured piece of literature for a few bucks.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Prelude to Foundation

I grew up on Asimov’s robot stories and his short stories. Primarily in the late seventies, when I could still claim to be a “kid.” Those short stories – plus a handful of novels, such as The Caves of Steel, Pebble in the Sky, The Gods Themselves – set the standard for science fiction within my young mind. Asimov’s writings knit the neurophysiological branches which thickened into a massive trunk somewhere in the universe of my brain which has a gigantic neon sign that flashes two letters continuously, night and day: S and F.

It laid the foundation, if I may intend a pun.

Flash forward thirty years and about three hundred science fiction books later. The shape of that limbic neurological structure has changed, warped, morphed, expanded, restructured, and whatnot, but it still bears the unmistakeable image of Isaac Asimov.

Okay, enough heapments of praise. The dirty little secret: Over those three decades I read next to nothing of Asimov. What I did read I hastily discarded a hundred pages with the dreadful lament I Could Not Get Into It. That Asimovian novel was Foundation.  That dreary period was about a week sometime in the summer of 1990.

Two years ago on vacation, watching my little daughter take her first tennis lessons, I noticed some dude in the bleachers reading Foundation. I thought: I should revisit that. People change over the years. I’ve changed. Maybe the book’s changed to me. I filed it away in my reticular activating system and left it at that.

Then, I found Prelude to Foundation in the hospital gift store when Patch was in a few weeks ago with pneumonia. Used, for $1.25. Signs, signs, everywhere signs, I thought, and I plunked down a dollar and a quarter and bought it.

I have not been able to put it down. That’s a good sign, right? I mean, I read it during my lunch break and late at night when the house was quiet and settling. I read it at traffic lights, I read it using the facilities. Over the past seventeen days I chugged along through it, a pleasant enough read, enjoying the ride but wondering whether I’d remember the particulars a year from now.

Asimov’s Foundation series basically involves the invention of psychohistory by mathematician Hari Seldon. No, it’s not the biographies of galactic serial killers. Psychohistory is a mathematical (read: predictable) formulation of future human behavior. Something like what economics tries to do and gloriously fails at doing. But with politics and sociology and religion and science and warfare and, and, and, all thrown in. The ghost of Seldon manifested in psychohistory arrives at critical junctures in Asimov’s future histories and tells the contemporary heroes and heroines what needs to be done.

Or something like that. Like I said, I never got through Foundation.

But Prelude aims to show the roots of this process, young Hari banging out his new science based on the intrigue and (mis)adventures he has on Trantor, seat of the Galactic Empire. What I like best, aside from the easygoing masterful prose of the, er, master, is the diversity of characters and cultures Seldon encounters on the run for his life. At least four wide societies, by my reckoning, and a dozen or so actors, though one, whose culture seemed to be straight out of central casting 1945 Brooklyn street urchin, I found highly annoying.

So up to last night I was enjoying the ride, doing about thirty or forty pages a day, a pleasant diversion, B+ type literary experience. Then, the final twenty pages …

How to say it best? I was mentally storm-tossed. Sturm und Drang, SF-style. A literary orgasm, I told my wife, who found the analogy somewhat unappealing, though I insisted it was the most accurate of the bunch.

What happened?

A reveal! The wonderful reveal, when the author raises the curtain and you see things anew, characters and situations who are not what they seem, excuse me, Not What They Seem. The scales fall off the eyes, you slap your head with the palm of your hand as goose bumps raise up and down the arms, and exclaim aloud: Aha! Why didn’t I see that coming! It’s brilliant!

But wait! Not just one reveal, but two! A second, a mere five or six pages later. Whoa. The first reveal was of the internal kind. That designation I leave for the story and plot within the book. The second reveal was even greater, for it was . . . let’s say it all together . . . it was an external reveal! Doctor Asimov links this book with one of his earlier works – a work that really influenced me as a youngling (see paragraph one). Man, was I in seventh heaven last night as I read those final pages. Prelude to Foundation had gone from a B+ to an A to an A+ in about two thousand words.

Incredible. That’s why he’s the master, I suppose.

So, I will be picking up more Asimov where I can find it, or where it can find me. And I’ll be sure to give Foundation a second go round. Plus all six or seven other novels in the series . . .

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Last Superstition, I

[Okay, I know it’s a tough slog through a scarily-sized paragraph for us superior modern readers, but try to make it all the way through. If you’re like-minded with me, you’ll find yourself enjoying it.]

G. K. Chesterton probably never actually said (as he is reputed to have said) that “he who does not believe in God will believe in anything.” But he surely would have said it had he been acquainted with the lunacies one finds peddled by contemporary secularists. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, we find “eliminative materialist” philosophers who deny the very existence of the human mind – a minority view, to be sure, but one which is the logical outcome of the “naturalistic” trend of modern philosophical thinking. We have already mentioned [Peter] Singer’s obscene defense of infanticide, necrophilia, and bestiality. Or to take what is now, alas, a far less exotic example, there is the current push for “same-sex marriage,” a metaphysical absurdity on all fours with round squares that even the ancient pagans would have regarded as a contemptible mark of extreme societal decadence. And then there are the various moralistic causes – environmentalism, “animal rights,” vegetarianism, veganism, and the like – not all inherently mad and not endorsed by all secularists, but often given a ridiculously exaggerated importance and fanatically pursued by them, each associated with its own obsessive-compulsive quasi-sacramental rituals (sorting one’s garbage into various piles for recycling, driving only “hybrid vehicles,” buying only “dolphin safe” tuna, etc). Though he would scarcely have thought it possible, Chesterton would find the New Secularist Man circa 2008 is an even more absurd creature than the incarnation with which he had to deal: A copy of Skeptic magazine ostentatiously tucked under his arm, the Darwin fish on the bumper of his car proudly signals his group identification with other members of the herd of “independent thinkers.” He “knows” that there is no God, and he isn’t sure whether even the thoughts he thinks he’s having are real or not. But he is pretty sure that his “selfish genes” and / or his “memes” in some way manipulate his every action, and quite certain that there’s nothing questionable per se about “marrying” another man, strangling an unwanted disabled infant, or sodomizing a goat or a corpse (if that’s “what you’re into”). Despite his hatred of religion, he thinks global warming is a greater danger than Islamic terrorism, and whether “meat is murder” is a proposition eminently wothy of consideration. Evidently, they don’t make skeptics like they used to.

From The Last Superstition, pages 16-17, by Professor Edward Feser


And there’s 280 more pages that follow.

By the way, Chesterton is the ultimate Christian apologist against “modern” types (Chesterton flourished in the first third of the 20th century). About a dozen years back I went through a brief GKC phase, reading a book of essays, The Man Who Was Thursday, and either Orthodoxy or The Everlasting Man, forget which. I’ll revisit him again one of these days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Little Flower

Want to read Little One’s latest story?


This is light years away from her first story, reprinted here, only two years ago. How exponential is a child’s develoment in these early years. Anyway, check this out –

The Little Flower

Once there was a little flower. Her name was Grace. Grace has a friend. She is a bee. Her friend the bee was named Olivia. Olivia told Grace that there was a man who was feeling sad. So Grace picked herself out of the ground and rang the doorbell. Then the man answered the door and saw that Grace the flower was there. He was happy and he smiled at Grace. The End.

Beautiful, no?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Real Steel

If you took every single cinematic cliché, i.e.

Every boxing movie cliché

Every sports movie cliché

Every robot movie cliché

Every father-son troubled relationship cliché

Every Spielberghian wide-eyed kid cliché

If you took all those clichés, every single one of them, and put them all into one movie …

Would you come up with something paradoxically original?


Er, no. You’d get Real Steel.

Side note / Disclaimer: I had bad feelings going into this, but as a nod to my wife I rented it. While she ogled with delight a shirtless Hugh Jackman, all I saw was some dude threatening to burst out in song-and-tap in a top hat and tux at any given moment.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The River Called Suffering

This chord has a particularly poignant ring to it ...

And I saw the river over which every soul must pass

to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
and the name of that boat was love.

From the writings of St. John of the Cross, which one day I will assimilate ...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Thing (2011)

[minor spoilers]

Watched The Thing – the remake of the remake – no! the prequel to the remake – a few days ago and have been wondering how to word this review. Yes, word it. I know what I want to say, sort of, but I’m a might bit puzzled over how to put it.

Why don’t we try to work this out together, okay?

I guess the first thing to consider is: why? Some movies don’t need a why; this one does. Why do this movie? What does it bring to the table? Anything new? Improved? A different take, a different angle, a different viewpoint, a different character, a different plot line? Does it explore unfamiliar cinematic paths? Do we travel new roads, that proverbial road-less-traveled? Does it make up for the mistakes of its predecessor(s) or pick up where forerunners feared to tread?

In a word, no.

Minutes into the flick the Alien / Aliens phenomenon burst into my mind and would not let go, mentally facehugging me like that critter on Kane’s face. When you bring the aforementioned questions to the James Cameron sequel, you receive unabashed, proud, explicit yeses to each and every one, each yes in bold print, capitalized, and trailed by scores of groupie exclamation points. It’s a no-brainer. It set the standed for sequel-prequel-remakes, an almost impossibly high one, but we as moviegoers and SF aficiondoes generally are better off with such cinematic high-water marks.

What disappointed me was that not only did The Thing 2011 fail to approach the Cameron Limit, it didn’t even try. Didn’t even attempt to show any interest of attempt.

CGI. There, I said it. I suppose the only reason this film was greenlit was because some suits somewhere said, “Hey, what would it be like to remake Kurt Russell’s Thing now that we have CGI?”

A couple of points.

There are degrees of CGI. For instance, there is bad CGI, and then there is blatantly fake CGI, and then there is terribly awfully phoney CGI, and then there’s Syfy channel CGI. While the CGI – that’s Computer Generated Imagery, for the uninitiated, a.k.a., those who haven’t seen a science fiction movie in the last three decades – while the CGI in The Thing 2011 isn’t really blatantly fake, it ain’t Jurassic Park quality-circa-1993 either. CGI alone isn’t a reason to remake the classic remake of the classic.

What would be a good reason?

How about what happens a month – or a year – after the Kurt Russell flick? I’m talking The Thing among us. Would it assimilate the whole planet in 27,000 hours (a little over three years) or whatever Commodore Vic 20 simulation Blake ran in the 1982 remake?

How about another ship crashes with another Thing in … oh, I don’t know … how about New York? Or Los Angeles? Or even Mayberry, R.F.D.?

Or how about – at the very least – a rip-off of James Cameron: send in the marines! Right down to Antarctica, to investigate what happened at the US National Institute of Science Station 4. Clone Hicks, Hudson, Bishop, throw in a token-testosterone chick, and send ’em all in to clean-up the spiralling-outta-control mess. And save MacReady for a cameo at the end, maybe to save all their butts (more likely to show us he went Thingish, as nihilistic Hollywood has a tendency to do).

Any of those, even the third, would be better than The Thing 2011.

The plot of the prequel is exactly the same as the John Carpenter 1982 version. Exactly. There’s nothing new, except the action occurs in the “Norweigian” camp days before the action moves to the American camp in the better remake. Thing discovered, Thing escapes, Thing attacks, Thing assimilates, paranoia ensues, everything goes to hell-in-a-hand-basket with remarkable speed. The movie ends with end credits pointing to the beginning of Carpenter’s magnum opus.

Other than this whole meta-complaint, there were other, smaller items that bugged me during the film, stuff I might have forgiven in the hands of a better script or better director.

Small stuff, like no puffs of air visible when characters are tromping outside in zero-degree weather. This is Antarctica, right, and not some film stage somewhere nice n warm and beachie?

Bigger stuff, like how a creature frozen solid for 100,000 years in a block of ice can, after sitting in a warm room for a couple of hours, can smash said block of ice, leap fifteen feet straight up in the air, and smash its way through the no-doubt well-insulated roof? I mean, I’ve been warm and functioning for over forty years, and I can’t even crush an ice cube in my hand.

Generic stuff, stuff that’s been plaguing audiences since the dawn of time, like why does everybody keep splitting up! When the Thing attacks, why do we all run in separate directions!! Why is the arrogant lead scientist so arrogant and so blinded by Science he bullies everyone past simple safety procedures!!! Must everything be dumbed-down black-and-white? Where is the nuance of real, intelligent people confronting life-and-death problems?

But, in all fairness, there were a few nice touches here and there. I liked best the fact brought out that the Thing can’t replicate metal. So if you go in a room and there’s a pile of bloody fillings on the floor, it’s a good bet that the dude that was there immediately before you is no longer human.

Still, though, the movie stinks. If you’re a die-hard fan of The Thing and even SF in general, yes, you must see it, but see it once and try not to spend any money seeing it. This sort of thing (pun intended) needs not to be subsidized or monetarily encouraged.

And the testosterone chick, once edgy a la James Cameron’s Ripley, is no longer unique or barrier-breaking. It’s a trope. It’s boring. And this Thing’s chick simply can’t compare to Russell’s MacReady in all-out coolery and badassery.

Grade: D.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Benny the Psychotic Stuffed and Undead Bear

Exciting news here at the homestead - Little One has been chosen as the Star Student of the (Up)Coming Week. This is a yearly tradition in our town's school system, and every child in the class has a turn as Star Student. Kinda like Everyone Gets a Trophy Day!, but not nearly as pointless, as the Star Student has some obligations and responsibilities in addition to its perks.

One such perk is Benny the Bear. A cute little brown bear decked out in a black and red striped shirt and blue jeans. He gets to come home and visit with the Little One and our family this weekend. One such obligation is that Little One is tasked with writing a story about Benny.

Perhaps it was my side-of-the-road-car-wreck fascination with the series The Walking Dead, but I immediately envisioned our house besieged by an army of undead stuffed animals. I'm boarding up all the first storey windows, banging nails, and there's bandaids on most of my fingers. My wife has a chainsaw in one hand and a blow torch in the other. Patch is on the second floor, somehow armed with a Winchester rifle which she somehow knows how to fire. Little One and Bennie are busy stuffing socks into glass bottles filled with gasoline and stockpiling them on the dining room table.

Suddenly there's a crash near the door to the deck on the other side of the house. Leaping over us and rolling across the kitchen floor, my wife brrrrrrs the chainsaw to life and cuts down the zombie bears climbing through a massive hole in the house. Then a smashing noise from behind me - the last window to be boarded up! - and a horde of brainthirsty calico critters come crashing in. They tackle me as I kick them off one by one, until one lands on my chest, ready to sink its stinking fangs into my neck -


Patch, from the top of the stairs, blasts a bullet through the stuffed animal's head.

A scream - my wife! More are coming in from the back of the house, and more are coming in from the broken window. Ahh! We have to abandon the first floor, there's just too many! Covered by sparse but efficient gun play by Patch, we make our way up the stairs ... the wife, followed by me, followed by Little One, followed by -


Where's Benny!

"Where's Benny!" Little One shouts.

There he is - somehow his leg is trapped under an overturned sofa ... and the zombie stuffed animals are ready to pounce upon him.

"Benny, no!" Little One cries, as she shakes off my hand and rushes back down the stairs into the overrun living room.

Like a pre-adolescent juiced up on sugar cookies and, er, juice, Little One's a blur of karate kicks and judo chops. Stuffed limbs and torsoes go flying in every direction. In seconds she's cleared out the living room of any undead thing, and she reaches down to rescue Benny, beloved Benny -

Who snarls the snarl of the psychotic zombie stuffed animal, and lunges at Little One's neck.


The End.

I think she should write that in Benny's notebook and return it to school Monday morning. Whaddya think?

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Little One had her first Penance this evening … and she did her parents proud. Fearless, and fearlessly rooting out sin in her young little life. (Though we still had to discourage some bickering between her and Patch immediately afterward.)

Anyway, just got back from Boston Market, a treat for my oldest daughter. Doing laundry while the wife is putting the girls to bed, hopefully without incident. Tired. Possibly something or two of interest mañana.