Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve!


Okay – what’s your resolution?

Me, I love New Years especially for the resolution. I’ve kept a couple, but mostly – nine outta ten, I’d say, or ninety-nine out of a hundred, to be more accurate – mostly they last but a couple of days. They’ve run the whole gamut from quitting smoking to exercising to writing that darn book to finding a job. I like setting goals. After all, setting them is the easy part.

Anyway ...

Last year I vowed for health and to continue my quest to get published. Well, I’m still here and haven’t been to the hospital all year. But the only publishing I’ve done is this amateur do-it-yerself stuff here on the Hopper. Still, I want to continue in this vein by tweaking these resolutions a bit.

So what do I resolve to do in 2014?

Three things ...

(ahem)

FIRST:

Instead of a vague promise for “health,” I decided to change this to “energy management.”

I recently read something that did a small seismic shift within me. There is no “time management,” only “energy management.” I realized the deep truth to this. No matter how I blueprinted my day, if I was lethargic nothing got done. Things only get done those rare times I’ve crackled with energy; energy from a good night’s sleep, from blood circulation, from flexibility and maybe slightly overtired muscles from a workout.

So I’ve created a small list (six items) of things to keep doing on a daily basis to up my energy levels.

SECOND:

Instead of the command to “get published!” I decided to change this to “finish my current book.”

Last spring I outlined a short novel in the vein of Philip Jose Farmer’s stories, kind of as a tribute to the type of works of his I enjoyed. Came up with a satisfactory twist ending and wrote most of the first chapter. All I need to do is discipline myself to write a thousand words a day. Did it twice before for my other two novels; now I just need to get back into the swing of writing again.

So I’ll bang out a thousand words every day for three months, take a week or two off, and then revise it. By my birthday in September I want my third novel completed. Then I’ll worry about getting it published (or anything else I’ve written).

THIRD:

This is my bestest, favoritest, most exciting resolution of all – and I think I am going to keep it secret for now. Perhaps it needs a most humble and modest name as I throw hints out about it here and there on this website ... something like the Great Quest of Six Thousand Years. Yes! That’ll do. Look for more cryptographic nods, winks, whispers and clues at the Hopper as 2014 unfolds.

That all being said ...

Have a Safe, Happy, and Healthy New Years Eve!!!

2013 Hopper Best-Ofs!


Best Novel

The Hawkline Monster (1974) by Richard Brautigan

The only book I read all year that I truly, truly could not put down. But it’s R-rated, and even still not recommended for everyone.

Reviewed here.


Best Non-Fiction (tie)

An Army at Dawn (2002) by Rick Atkinson
The Day of Battle (2007) by Rick Atkinson

First two parts of his “Liberation” trilogy detailing the evolution of the United States armed forces in the European theater of World War II. Will get to the concluding book later this summer.

Close second: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), by Richard Rhodes


Worst Novel

Time Enough for Love (1973), by Robert Heinlein

Blabby, meandering, purposeless. For some reason I never could get into any of Heinlein’s “adult” novels, despite being passionately in love with his “juvenile” books, and I fear I may be the lesser for it.


Best Short Story

“Roller Ball Murder” (1973), by William Harrison

Recently reviewed here.


Worst Short Story (tie)

“JC on the Dude Ranch” (1979) by Philip Jose Farmer
“The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol” (1977) by Philip Jose Farmer

The unfathomable nadir of my Farmer reading experience the first half of 2013. One blasphemously stupid, the other lecherously stupid.


Best Movie

Seen in the theaters – Gravity (2013)

Reviewed here; in a perfect world it’d win for Best Picture and Best Actress.

Seen at home – The Tingler (1959)

What an awesomely fun movie to watch with a horror-obsessed nine-year-old!


Worst Movie

Land of the Lost (2009)

Reviewed here; please don’t make me re-read it, please!

Runner-up: Sharknado (2013)


Best CD

Hendrix, People, Hell and Angels (2013)

Favorite song off the CD – “Somewhere” (“Earth Blues” and “Hear My Train a-Comin” close seconds)

As for Hendrix again winning Hopper’s Best CD/Song of the Year ... Believe me, I tried to listen to other music this year! I really did!


Best Hopper Phase

Let’s see ... we had the Philip Jose Farmer reading extravaganza (nearly twenty works, one after the other), watching baseball for the first time in 35 years, revisiting the nitty-gritties of the greatest generation and World War II, the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, and Charles Dickens (Pickwick Papers and Great Expectations).

And the winner is ...

Baseball!

(only because I can’t wait for Opening Day 2014 and to take my girls to another MLB game)

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Desolation of Jackson


My decision to boycott the remaining two Peter Jackson Hobbit movies has caused a predictable stir among some of my friends. Here are a half-dozen reasons for my decision –

(1) Peter Jackson is tone-deaf regarding the source material. No, make that completely deaf. He sees all the shiny trinkets, yet has no clue for the vast underlying ethos / telos / logos that is Middle-earth. (Note: look them words up; I couldn’t find anything better in English.)

(2) I think one reviewer nailed it best when he said that Jackson’s Hobbit is not Tolkien’s The Hobbit brought to the big screen, but some sort of fan-fiction version of The Hobbit brought to the big screen. I’d sandwich “fan-fiction” with the phrases “amateurish” and “backed by oodles of free-flowing cash” for greater accuracy.

(3) The Lord of the Rings is around 1,100 pages divided into three roughly equal length books. A movie was devoted appropriately enough to each (though the final film installment, The Return of the King, was insufferably too long). The Hobbit is a book basically equal in length to one of the Lord of the Rings books. So why is Jackson further subdividing The Hobbit into three movies???

(4) Every single character, save for Gandalf dispensing grave wisdom, speaks in breathy over-enunciated English-accented whisper-shouts.

(5) Radagast the Brown’s bunny wagon from the first Hobbit cinematic installment. My eyes – no, my brain – will not accept any further blasphemies.

(6) There are no Xena: Warrior Princesses in Tolkien.

Confession


... is good for the soul ...


... even when given as an IOU to God ...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: Great Expectations


I’ve written plenty in these here pages of my hate-love relationship with the works of Charles Dickens. To sum: I hated ’em years and years ago in Middle and High School; out of guilt I tried him again, and found I loved them, first on a train in 2002, then on CDs eleven years later.
I don’t intend to do a full-out review of Great Expectations here – or what I attempt to do in a full-out review – but I’d like to share a few personal observations about the experience.
I originally read Expectations, in abridged and abbreviated form, as group reading in eight-grade English. As a painfully shy youth, this entire class was nightmare enough for me. We’d go up and down the rows of desks, each of us reading a two or three pages over five or ten minutes, for a half-hour or forty minutes, with the teacher kinda giving an overview at class’s end. So right there and then I sweatily associated Dickens with the snickers and whispered taunts of other twelve and thirteen year olds at my public school.
Plus I remember being a bit traumatized by the trials and travails of Dicken’s young hero, Pip. Over the years, of course, I forgot the details. But it seemed to me the boy suffered greatly in the novel. Parents dead; forced to live with an evil sister; seized by an escaped convict; pawn in some weird game from the warped mind of an old spinster. It just seemed one thing after another for the poor little lad, who appeared to be about my age, and back in those days the only real reading I did – science fiction and fantasy – was to escape.
Anyway, decades flew by. After two pleasant experiences re-reading and listening to Dickens, I decided to tackle Great Expectations again, with an open mind, and revisit old wounds, so to speak.
I absolutely loved it.
Listening to the book on CD while reading along with it, I was able to conquer Great Expectations in a little over two weeks. Thing is, I looked forward to reading it. Wasn’t a chore, as “classic” literature sometimes is wont to be. The version of the book I read, published by Barnes and Noble, greatly helped, being type easy on the eyes, and including helpful endnotes, essays and timelines I perused at my own leisure.
The characters – their names most strongly – came back to me as a quite powerful testosterone-overdriven form of déjà vu. Joe Gargery, Abel Magwitch and Jaggers especially so. I relived the weird boyhood fight with Herbert, Miss Haversham’s bizarre immolation, Wemmick’s miniature castle home. A lot of what I must not have understood the first time around (like Victorian society, to cite the largest example) suddenly fell into place. The whole point of the novel, how Pip “became a gentleman” in an uncommon and uncharacteristic way, was now clear to me.
The humanity of the characters I experienced for the first time. Indeed, some of the interactions between Pip and his surrogate father, kindly Joe Gargery, brought a lump to my throat. Joe, one of the finest-hearted characters in all of English literature, a perfect example of that childlike simplicity Christ calls us all to. The humor of the Wemmick home, especially the Aged, was quite enjoyable. And a second reading brought home to me how Pip was not quite the noble, suffering lad I first took him to be, bringing a lot of needless suffering onto himself, sometimes due to an inflated sense of ego based on attaining wealth and standing but not through his own effort, and his needless infatuation with Estella.
All in all, a great little seventeen-day vacation for me. I’ve come to the conclusion (at least in my limited experience) that Dickens is the most melodic writer of prose in the English langauge. In a few years time I’ll investigate another one of the great man’s work, though at this point I’m not sure which one it will be.
But I think I will enjoy it.

“Roller Ball Murder”




Care to join me for a quick walk down memory lane?

I was in third grade, I think, when Rollerball came out in theaters. Just about every boy in my class of eight-year-olds somehow saw that R-rated futuristic dystopic sports flick. Everybody but me. But that didn’t stop me from playing some crazy sort of low-violence version of it on the playground, analyzing the game with my friends, drawing pictures of it in art class.

A few years later I saw the paperback on one of the shelves in the off-limits den of the father of one of my chums. After securing his approval to temporarily borrow the book without his dad’s knowledge, I took it home and read the story – riveted – in about an hour. Then, to my disgust and incomprehension, I realized that none of the other stories in the book had anything to do with James Caan rolling around a rink smashing guys heads in and avoiding motorcyclists with spiky gloves and speeding metallic bowling balls.

You see, “Roller Ball Murder” is an approximate 5,500-word short story. (I counted the words on one page and multiplied it by all the pages in the story.) The other dozen stories are, well, other non-related stories author William Harrison published in other periodicals in the years between 1966 and 1973. “Roller Ball Murder” just happened to be made into a moderately-successful mid-70s movie two years later. None of the other stories made it to the big screen as far as I can tell, though Mr. Harrison, who died pretty recently after a lengthy career, later had another story cinematized.

After a gap of some thirty-five years, I finally re-read it. (In that time I must’ve seen the movie two or three times, though never in its entirety. And I didn’t see the remake a few years back on advice of a couple thousand movie reviewers.)

What did I think?

Well, it kinda held up over the years. Much more so than the 1975 movie does.

I am of two minds concerning the story. On the one hand (forgive the transition from brains to hands), the setting of the story is ingenious. Though its most likely not the first story to mutate the American obsession with sports into something dangerous, deadly, and all-consuming, I am at a loss to think of anything before that reached such a large audience. The mechanics of the game, going outward from the players, the rules, the teams and the league to the society it flourishes in, is pure perfection to my mind.

In fact, only two novels in my long experience with science fiction come close. For the dystopia elements, as well as the mindset of the players, the societal structure of teams, a league, a hooked society, 1975’s Killerbowl by Gary K. Wolf is right up there. Killerbowl is a perversion of the sport of football. For a completely unique and addicting game – rules and strategy and all that – I’d recommend Jack Vance’s Trullion: Alastor 2262, a futuristic novel that involves a game called hussade, a bizarre sport kinda like field hockey played atop a labyrinth obstacle course that has some primitive ritualistic behavior thrown in for good measure (i.e., stealing the ring of a virgin’s dress).

Anyway, the sport of “Roller Ball Murder” gripped me.

But on the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed with the way the story unfolded. Not so much how the hero, Jonathan E, how his disillusionment with the Game. It came from a weird place where I felt the writing should be a higher level. Not as “pulpy,” if I’m making any sense. Though this is not to disparage “pulp” writing – which I love – or Mr. Harrison’s. It was just the odd reverse déjà vu that intuited to me that when I last read this story, it packed a more powerful punch.

Or perhaps I need to face the fact I’m not an eleven-year-old boy anymore, and the golden age of Science Fiction has passed me by.

There are twelve more stories in the anthology, and I will get to the all, eventually. I scanned a couple of “first lines”, a quick test to gauge my interest, and quickly realized my interest is engaged.

Grade: A / B. (The whole setting/mechanics thing.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I am turning into my father


“Shut the door – you’re letting all the heat outside!”

“Turn off the light when you leave a room!”

“Please shut the refrigerator door when you’re done in there – and why are you in the refrigerator in the first place!”

“No, I’m not buying that, you have candy at home!”

“Because I said so, that’s why!”

“Hold my hand, we’re still on the street!”

“Hold my hand, we’re in a parking lot!”

“Hold my hand, we’re in a mall with a thousand people!”

“Stop picking on your sister!”


Dad, your revenge from beyond the grave is complete.

Redistributism


OK, this is probably an urban myth, but I think it explains the main pitfall of socialism – how it just doesn’t jive with natural human behavior.

A college professor is teaching a course on how redistribution works in society, so he decides to do a little experiment. Grades would take the place of “money” and “income,” and in an attempt to make the classroom society “fair,” all grades would be averaged together.

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone received a B. Those that sudied hard were a little upset, but those who didn’t were happy.

Guess what happened after the second test?

Well, those that studied hard didn’t study quite so hard. And those that hardly studied at all, well, barely put any effort in this time around. And this time around, the average grade was a D. No one was happy.

What happened after the third test?

Everyone failed. The average was an F. Students went up in arms, griping, complaining, blaming, and name-calling, when they realized that no one would study hard for the benefit of all. And as the professor flunked everyone in his class, he explained this is why socialist governments will never succeed to the degree free-market capitalist countries will.

Now translate grades to monetary income. To me it’s obvious why socialism of this redistributive sort won’t work. What’s not obvious to me is why it’s not obvious to everyone.

If this is not obvious to you, in other words, if you don’t agree with the moral of this little story, please, please drop me a line and let me know.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Nightmare!


Had a very vivid nightmare about a week ago, so vivid I can still recall the main details. (I like most of us forget most of my dreams by the time I hit the shower a few minutes after waking.) It made me wake up in the middle of the night, unsure of where I was, who I was, and if I was still in danger.

It started off inocuous enough ... indeed, it may have lead to a quite enjoyable dream. I was a kid again, in my late teens, and I was hanging out with a friend of mine from way way back. We were going on a double date with two ladies (their identities were vague; I don't think they were anybody from my past). Now he was in my band from those long ago days, but in this dream we were part of a theatrical group. Shakespeare, and all that. We were taking the girls to see a drive-in movie, and we decided to stop in to our theater to show them around.

The theater was on some mid-level floor of a large building - not quite a skyscraper, but at least a dozen stories high. The windows were very large, about twenty feet high, open, with long plain shades drawn down that billowed with the wind.

Then, it happened.

An image of a giant man appeared on the building across the street from the theater. The image flowed over the facade, like it was projected onto it. It had to be a hundred feet tall. He had long, flowing blond hair, was about fifty years old, and just oozed evil. He was shouting something incoherent in a tone that sounded like Dolby THX movie theater sound with the bass jacked up to eleven. I had the utter certainty he was looking for me and couldn't find me. The shades blew higher and higher and I had the dreaded horror that he could spot me in this building (I was eye-level from this hundred-foot tall image).

All fun or possibility of fun ended. The girls disappeared. My friend ran for a staircase to get down to street level. I wasn't sure that was a good idea, but found myself following him. Every turn of the stairs and we saw the image booming threats from across the street. We got to the first floor when the ground began shaking.

I ran up to a window and flung the shade aside. Incredibly, the image had taken on 3-D form and was stepping off of the building. Just then a giant hand reached down and smashed through the wall by the window I was peeking out of - and I knew that I had been spotted by the evil entity. I turned and ran, following my friend, and we raced through a maze of concrete rooms, stairways, dropping down a level, climbing up a level, always hearing the earthquake-like thuds of the thing moving, avoiding windows to the outside, but when we snuck past one we'd see the giant reaching down, trying to grab me.

I woke in the dark and felt one-hundred-percent I was hiding from this beast in a dark closet. It took a while for me to realize I was laying down. Then my eyes caught the digital time on the DVR box across the room. I knew I was in my bedroom, but still I didn't - or couldn't - get up. Must've laid there ten minutes or so until I got the courage and strength to get up. Then I went to the bathroom to pee.

But man did this dream stay with me all day. Now I have some inkling what an ant feels like when a full-grown man turns over that rock ...

Christmas Recap


Well, in a blink of an eye, Christmas 2013 has come and gone, a whirlwind of buying, spending, overeating, worrying, bustling, and rushing. I can now breath a sigh of relief. I won’t be put to the test again until, oh, mid-February or so.

We did all right, the girls especially so. The big hit of the holiday was Little One’s Chinese dwarf hamster, who she named “Squeak.” Patch got the boots and piggy bank she kept asking Santa for. They also got clothes, clothes, and more clothes, squishy bath robes, stuffed animals, LEGO sets, Princess lip gloss, snow globes (Little One collects them), gift cards to Barnes and Noble. And lots more I’m not recalling at the moment.

Me, I got my trifecta: a book, a CD, and a DVD. The wife got me Professor Roger Penrose’s physics book Cycles of Time, which I immediately put next in the reading rotation. She also got me Wagner’s Das Rheingold on CD and season one of my favorite teevee show Impractical Jokers on DVD. My mom got me a two-disc DVD of Eric Clapton’s latest blues concert, featuring Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers, Jimmy Vaughan, and others. Watched a few songs on Christmas day – boy it makes me want to buy a Les Paul again!

Was visited with the “holiday flu” yesterday. Had to go to work but couldn’t stay – tired, nauseous, headachy. Left around 11:30 (I had a final half-day sick day to use or lose for the year), got home to my pajama-clad family, took a hot tub then crawled into bed for a two-hour nap. Spent the rest of the day bed-ridden watching a Dirty Harry marathon.

Now here I am, up and refreshed at 5:30 in the morning, getting ready to go back to work. Busy, busy, super-busy day ahead, lots of responsibilities to take care of there. Oh well. Also have lots of stuff to block about before year’s end, if I can but find the time and energy. Look for two-a-day posts until the new year.

See you later!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Kermis Part 2




Merry Kermis Everybody!




Updates to follow!

Note: “Kermis” is 15-month old Little One’s word for “Christmas”; took us a full year to decipher that one ...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Week from He**


What do you do when you have to face a week from hell?

Well, more accurately, two days from hell. And when I say “hell”, I really mean that they’re shaping up to be really, really rough. Because Christmas falls on a Wednesday this week and we all have off (praise God!), my deadlines are moved up a day and the normal major tasks I normally have 22 hours to complete now have to be finished within 15. Plus, since this is the last payroll week in the year, everything has to be perfect, and all adjustments for the year have to be submitted by tomorrow.

So how do you face this?

Normally, I’d complain, gripe, whine, eat lots of chocolate, drink soda, chill out with a Fosters at night, shun the children, rub my temples and eyebags nonstop, and be a general menace to anyone my social strata or lower who comes into contact with me.

I decided that would not be in my best interests during this two-days-from-hell. So, after a few moments thought, here’s what I did:

First, no booze on Sunday.

Also, no sugar after dinner (I’m a huge late-night cookie monster), and no caffeine after noon (turns out I didn’t have any caffeine at all the whole day).

Second, I had to tire myself out because I was getting up early on Monday.

Fortunately, Little One and I were scheduled to serve at mass Sunday morning; since she’s low-altar-server-on-the-totem-pole, she drew the 7:30 am mass (and me along with her). The whole family got up at 6 – unheard of for a Sunday morning – and were out the door an hour later.

I also did a half-hour workout in the afternoon. Weights and that sort of thing.

The result was a pretty tired Hopper. Almost dozed around 4 pm as the Jet game was wrapping up (Jet games have that effect on me), but I stayed awake.

Third, gear up the body for sleep.

Did this by taking an epsom bath salt at 9, reading one of my Westerns.

Fourth: sleep!

Passed out on the couch (after bringing all my work clothes and essentials downstairs) at 10 pm. Woke up to my phone alarm at 5, with a decent 7-hours of sleep under my belt.

Now, how to handle Day One of hell?

First, I chugged 16 ounces of water immediately on waking. After a hot shower I had a good cereal chased by an omega-3 pill and a multi-vitamin. Since everything I needed for my day was on the dining room table (premade lunch, snacks, etc), I just got dressed and left my house in the darkness.

It was also good for the mental well-being that, being 6 am two days before Christmas, there were pretty much a tenth of the cars on the road during a normal commute.

Got to work and I, er, well, worked. No chit-chat. No surfing the web. Started with a one-page to-do list and I just worked the list. By 11 am (three-and-a-half hours in to the workday), I had a full-day’s work completed.

Wow!

I also need to mention that I avoided a platter of cookies and chocolates thoughtfully left out for us all in the office by various vendors. And I passed those cookies about twenty times during the day.

So now I’m home, tired but a good tired because I got a lot accomplished. Everyone’s in bed and I’ll probably put a few pages away of the novel I’m reading before crashing again at 10 pm. Then tomorrow: repeat!

Hey – I think I just got an idea for a 2014 resolution!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Role Reversal


This’s been floating around the Internets and Facebook. Short, funny, and pretty darn accurate:



Saturday, December 21, 2013

King Kong vs. Godzilla




© 1963


All right, no need to review this classic. If you’re were boy between the ages of 8 and 10 and grew up in the 70s, this is your Citizen Kane. If you’re an adult male in his mid-forties with two daughters, ages 5 and 9, well, not so much. Much, but not as much, if you get my drift.

It’s part of the cinematic fantastical education I am imparting (some might say inflicting) on my little ones. Me and Little One, my oldest at age 9, have seen two dozen such movies, all classics, ranging from the Universal monsters to the Harryhausen mythological epics to giant bug movies to 50s sci fi. I started her off on the original 1951 Godzilla, dark in tone and black-and-white, when she was in kindergarten. With no seeming long-term mental damage, we moved on. Patches, at age 5, is showing extreme interest in our home theater matinees, so off I went to the library and picked up a couple of flicks featuring the giant gray-green scourge of Tokyo.

Couple of points.

First, I need to remember to bring the little ones with me to the library when I pick up movies like these. My “these are for my girls at home!” line when the librarian cocked an eyebrow at me when I checked the Godzilla flicks out sounding, if I may be brutally honest, like a little lame, hollow excuse. Thank God I wear a wedding ring! It makes me seem, uh, a little more normal at times like these.

Second, five-year-olds are very, very emotional. Especially my five-year-old. Even before the movie started Patch identified with Godzilla (as did Little One, but as the movie progressed she started cheering for King Kong, being the “good guy” of the flick). So, as the movie ends on a somewhat ambiguous note (both monsters fall grappling into the sea as an earthquake shakes Japan; only Kong is seen afterwards), I thought there might be tears that Godzilla seemingly dies. Fortunately, there wasn’t.

Third, there was a bit of boredom about the girls, but once the two monsters started duking it out around the 50 minute mark, they got completely into the movie. We had lots of chuckles watching the action on screen as I used their names in place of the monsters. “Oh no! Patch just knocked Little One off her feet with her tail. But wait! Little One rebounds by tossing Patch into the giant Japanese building!”

Fourth, the movie itself. How did it hold up after thirty-five-plus years? Okay, I guess. I thought it was much longer than the lean 90 minute run-time it had, though perhaps back in the day a different version was shown on public teevee and there were lots of commercials thrown in. A lot of vivid scenes from my youth – the sinking sub and the terrified screams of the scientists; Kong tossing boulders at the slimy giant octopus; the goofy Japanese boss; the brother dangling off the balcony on his steel-strong thread; Godzilla rearing his ugly head above the brim of the gasoline fire pit supposedly meant to kill him; Kong getting turbocharged from the electrical storm and high-speed tussling with Godzilla. All held up.

Fifth, my rating. A+, what else?

Sixth, what’s on deck: Godzilla vs. Ghidorah, Godzilla vs. Mothra.

Should be an interesting Christmas vacation here at the Hopper household.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Grid? What Grid?


A few weeks ago I read (don’t remember where exactly, alas) that before World War I, one could expect to go through life hardly noticing or being noticed by one’s government. Aside from an occasional interaction with the police and perhaps a weekly trip to the post office, assuming times of peace, one could live an entire lifetime completely about one’s own business.

Things changed about a century ago.

The New Deal and the Great Society came (and went) and we have the mammoth leviathan known as Federal, State, County, and Local government to contend with. Whether we like it or not.

Nowadays, a few days after birth a child’s parents are mandated to apply for a social security number for the newborn. Up until the Eighties, I believe, you didn’t have to get a number until you were fourteen or fifteen, as it was only needed for employment purposes. Now, no more. You are effectively registered with the government within the first thirty days of your earthly sojourn.

There’s taxation – I’m taxed to within an inch of my economic life! Taxes on my pay stub, taxes on my mortgage bill, taxes on just about every single purchase I make. There’s regulation – millions and millions of pages of them, from what I’ve read, covering all facets of our lives. For me, I see it as the 401k administrator (and participant) at work as well as my company’s medical and dental benefits. I also see it every time I tear open an envelope containing a credit card bill, a way-too-frequent occurence at the Hopper household.

We have social security cards, birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, six points of ID, photo IDs, bank statements, debit cards, credit cards, medical cards, dental cards – there’s no room in my wallet for cash anymore! And each and every one flows all the way back to some government agency which are all connected, labyrinthinic, to a central government database. (At least, in theory).

Thank God for built-in organizational inefficiency, at least within democratic republic government institutions.

Makes me pine for days I’ve only vicariously experienced, days I enjoy reading about in the Westerns and Victorian adventure novels I’ve read, where the hero – untouched and unmolested by any nameless bureaucracy – opens up his front door, nods to the postman and maybe a passing officer of the peace, sets off and molds the world to his own and only his own will.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Queued Up


In no particular order:

The World at the End of Time by Fred Pohl
The Day the Martians Came by Fred Pohl
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and John J. Myers
The Humanoids by Jack Williamson
The Face of the Waters by Robert Silverberg

Yeah, you can see I’m feeling guilty about neglecting science fiction for most of 2013.

Then, back to World War II for my first summer vacation trip in three years, down to the in-laws in Hilton Head, South Carolina:

The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson
Crusade in Europe by Dwight Eisenhower

Regularly scheduled programming resumes tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pajama Boy




All right, this is the meme that’s currently taking over the internet. This is what Obama and his people apparently think is his target market for Obamacare. People like this … man … are going to convince the great unwashed that the “Affordable” Health Care Act is in our best interests.

There’s a lot of mockery out there on the conservative side of the web featuring this sparkling young(ish) lad. Just go to National Review Online, or google “pajama boy” and you’ll find a lot to chuckle about.

This is the best they can do? Where are all the “alpha” males on the Left? I mean, I may not overhaul transmissions and hunt game in my spare time, but compared to this dude I’m an unholy amalgamation of Ron Swanson, John Rambo, Survivorman and Henry Rollins.

(All right, perhaps an exaggeration: I always have my nose in a book and enjoy a daily bath. But, dammit! I’m going out later in 20-degree weather to put windshield washer fluid in my wife’s car! I challenge Pajama Boy to do the same! I know he doesn’t have a wife, or a girlfriend, but he must have a mother, right?)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Facebook is High School for Adults


Most insightful thing I read all week.

Maybe that’s why my heart races and my palms get all sweaty every time I log in. Kinda like I’m negotiating a crowded hallway awaiting that spring-loaded sucker punch from between two lockers or something ...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Duality


Finished Great Expectations yesterday, the third complete book I’ve read while simultaneously listening to on CD. The other two were The Lord of the Rings and The Killer Angels. While I find the duality a much more deep, vivid, and enjoyed experience, there were two books I was unable to complete via this process: Atlas Shrugged (75% through) and Time Enough for Love (only managed 20%).

Thoughts and details on Dickens’s thirteenth novel to follow ...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole


Died this past Friday, at age 81. I’m sad.

I wasn’t a big fan of his, per se, but I am a big fan of the movie that brought him superstardom: Lawrence of Arabia. It was the first epic movie I had watched as an adult, after hundreds of bad slasher flicks, Stallone-Schwarzenegger actioners, and Steve Martin SNL alumni comedies that chock-filled my seemingly endless post-adolescence. Immediately after breaking up with a girl I’d lived with for a year, my grandmother gave me the movie. On VHS.

I watched it over and over. Something about it enticed me to no end. I even bought the soundtrack to the film, scored by French composer Maurice Jarre. To this day hearing it reminds me of those hundred-degree air-conditioner-free days I watched the movie in the early-to-mid 90s. Then Lawrence of Arabia became the centerpiece of a history class I had to take over the summer to get my degree (a class called the “History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict”). We watched it again and talked about it and analyzed it. I aced that class.

O’Toole was in two-dozen or so flicks that spanned a nearly-fifty year career. Some good, like The Lion in Winter, some atrocious, like Dean R. Koontz’s Phantoms. He also holds the record for most nominations for an Academy Award without a win (eight).

Santa bought me Lawrence on DVD a couple of years ago, and I still think the cellophane wrap is on. Might have to dust it off, open it, and put it in the player for another watch. It’s been nearly ten years. Oh, and a post to follow, of course.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Just Because




$2,500


For years Obama would throw out this number in his speeches. The average family would save, he would intone, $2,500 a year once the “Affordable” Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was put into law.

Ever wonder how he arrived at this figure?

No, he didn’t just pluck it out of thin air. Nor did his speechwriters. No, there actually was a method used to come up with this round, memorable figure.

It seems that in 2007, a trio of Harvard economists wrote a paper stating that whatever the forerunner to O-Care was back then would save the US economy $200 billion a year. Not sure what the definition of “save” is here, me not being an economist, just one whose brain glazes over when hearing any term of the slightest possible economic orientation. Whatever the specifics, implementing this overhaul of the health care industry in the US would drop costs $200 billion.

Now take that figure and divide it by the number of people in the US, roughly, 320 million. That comes out to $645 per person. Since the “average” family has four members, multiply $645 by 4 and you come to – voila! – $2,500.

The scientific and logical precision of this utterly fascinates me.

Right now my health care insurance costs me $5,780 a year. That’s about $111 a week. Trust me, I am rubbing my hands in sweet anticipation of seeing that drop down $2,500 to a cool $63 a week, or $275 a month. Think that’ll happen?

Yeah. Me neither.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What a Difference a Day Makes!


Day One:

Wake at 5:30, heartburnt from pizza and beer the night before, head-achy, fatigued. Net sleep: five-point-five hours.

Get a short-term energy boost from sugary cereal, cookies, hot chocolate.

Lunch of an Italian hero, potato chips, chased by a Diet Coke.

Productivity: Nearly nil, barely get done what needs to be done, watch the clock to wait for the workday to end.


Day Two:

Wake at 6 am and doze for an hour. Net sleep: eight hours.

Drink 8 ounces of water, have oatmeal topped with apples and cinnamon, stretch.

Fruit, salad, cool, fresh filtered water at work.

Productivity: Got more done by 11 am than all week, tearing up the to-do list.


Health: It’s the new cool. I’m test driving it for New Years Day 2014.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Classical Countdown!


Driving to work today I heard that my classical music station, WQXR, is preparing for its “top-100” countdown of the greatest pieces of music ever, as voted by us, the listeners, to be aired on New Years Day.

I know, I know, it’s insanely crazy, but bear with me a moment.

I decided I will vote this year on their website. Never did in the past, so I don’t know what to expect, i.e., whether you must vote for pre-selected entries or get to “write in” your vote. Nor do I know how many pieces you can select, or in what order, etc.

So, if I had to pick a Baker’s dozen right now, right off the top of my head, here’s what I’d select, in a very, very rough order of best to least-best:


Sibelius, Sym. No. 2 in D

Holst, Jupiter

Delius, Florida Suite

Mendelssohn, Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)

Liszt, Les Preludes

Wagner, Siegfried Act 3 Overture

Brahms, Sym. No. 1 in Cm

Tchaikovsky, Sym. No. 4 in Fm (esp. 2nd movement)

Smetana, The Moldau

Debussy, La Mer

Dvorak, Sym. No. 9 in Em, “From the New World”

Beethoven, Emperor Concerto

Prokofiev, Sym. No. 1 in D, “Classical”


Hmmm. No Mozart, no Haydn, no Ravel, no Copland ... I need a bigger Baker!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Basketball


Well, I survived four basketball games this weekend. No, I wasn’t playing. Little One was, or, more accurately, her team was. A whirlwind four games in forty hours. It wasn’t pretty, though they did get their first and only win of the season so far. The combined score of the four games was 85-44 against us. We are not the dominant team we were in soccer this past fall. No, it looks like basketball season will be a long, cold, dry one for Little One and her pals.

That being said, I have come to the realization that I really do not like basketball. Give me the martial metaphor that is football or the statistical skillset that is baseball. Basketball does nothing for me. Watching the girls play I realized how claustrophobic a game it is. And gross, too: keep your sweat to yourself, buddy!

Basketball also has the distinction of being the only team sport I tried out for.

And was cut. (This was before the era of “everybody gets on a team and plays!”)

I liked football and wanted to try out for it, but was too nervous and shy. The art of hitting a baseball never graced me, even as a kid. But for some reason (probably because all my friends were doing it), I went to the local CYO and tried out for the basketball leagues.

Unfortunately, that hoop seemed like it was about three inches in diameter and twenty-five feet up in the air. Nothing I threw up went into the net. I was lucky to hit the backboard with my spastic layup lunges.

So I didn’t make the team. To this day I have never even watched – no exaggeration – more than a minute of a pro basketball game. Did watch the final quarter of the March Madness finals one year about a decade ago with my father-in-law. But that’s it.

Now, with Little One so into the sport, I have tried to learn the rules, the penalties, the defenses, the plays. I’m making some progress. I’d also like to shoot some hoops with her. There was a month or so when I was a high school freshman me, my brother, and my uncle played a lot of “horse” – a game I enjoyed. But now I’d probably have to do some rigorous practicing by myself or with a buddy first – no dad wants to come across as spazzy in front of his child.

Ah well, we all have our strengths and our not-so-strengths. With today’s snowfall, basketball practice has been cancelled, so we’re off to score some science fiction books at the library! I must keep those creative juices flowing in Little One’s crazy imagination. The race is on to see who gets published first!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Funniest Moment of my Lunch Break


Was seeing this online:




It’s funny because I’ve actually said those words to my children.

(Hat tip: bored panda website)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Colin Wilson (1931-2013)


Wow. I found out that Colin Wilson died yesterday, after suffering a stroke the summer last year which made him lose the ability to speak. Man, I went through such a Wilson phase from 2008-2011. He was so perfectly suited for the Hopper’s reading: philosophy, horror, out-and-out weirdity. Though I moved on, I will have to return to his quite extensive body of work and revisit the madness.

Who was he, exactly? Well, his work – at least the handful of books of his I read – explored the human condition and its potential. Beginning from a somewhat existentialist view point (The Outsider, 1956), he took a Frankensteinian detour with a semi-pseudo-scientific exploration of how man’s latent mental powers could be developed (The Mind Parasites, 1967, and The Philosopher’s Stone, 1969). Then, he turned to the outright weird, paranormal, cryptozoological, history’s-mysteries, and goofy, such as The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved (2000). Plus about forty or fifty other books.

I enjoyed his writing, particularly his fiction, because he was so different from the average science fiction or horror writer. He wrote clinically, cleanly, as if preparing the novel for reading at the 121st convention of the Academy of Physical Studies in Norway. Yet that did not mask the dread or the fantastic that underlied the stuff of his I’ve read. His work so intrigued me that I don’t believe I reviewed it anywhere on this blog, the only author whose work I feel I was not up to the task of a full-fledged review and critique.

Well, I did come across this, published during a re-reading of The Mind Parasites, which I did in the summer of 2010 (I read it the first time in three days, was so overwhelmed at the sheer uniqueness of the work, then re-read it slowly over the course of ten days later in the month):


When you teach a man that he has been completely mistaken about his own nature all his life, it is as unsettling as suddenly giving him a million pounds. Or it is like taking a sexually frustrated man, and giving him the run of a harem. He suddenly discovers that he can turn on moods of poetry like a tap, that he can heat up his emotions to a kind of incandescence. He realizes, with a shock, that he has been handed the key to greatness: that all the world’s so-called ‘great men’ were men who had a mere glimmering of these powers which he now possesses in abundance. But he has spent all his life taking a relatively modest view of himself. His old personality has achieved a certain density through thirty or forty years of habit. It refuses to wither away overnight. But the new personality is also exceptionally powerful. He becomes a battle ground of two personalities. And he wastes an enormous amount of energy in all this confusion.

Colin Wilson’s book The Mind Parasites has a strange and powerful fascination over me. I’m in the process of re-reading the book, and right now I’m about three-quarters done with the second read.

It’s a strange book; I don’t think I’ve ever quite read anything like it. Wilson is a philosopher by trade, steeped in existentialism, and I’ve read some of his non-fiction works. But he’s dabbled in everything from that to this to true crime to fringe paranormal. His works are always on my list of books to seek out.

To give you the best idea of what The Mind Parasites is like, assuming you’re familiar with the following authors, it’s something like equal parts

H. P. Lovecraft
George Gurdjieff
Ayn Rand

and the philosophical methods and methodology of Edmund Husserl, of which I’m woefully ignorant but of whom seems extremely interesting. Why oh why didn’t I major in philosophy at college? Oh yeah, because I thought I would never be able to get a job. Wait a minute …

Anyway, a review of The Mind Parasites will be forthcoming, probably in a week or ten days, and will be of greater depth than I generally do for the books I read, simply because I find this one so intensely fascinating.

. . . . .

Which is as close to a review as your gonna get, since I never did write one.

One final note: I did purchase his one of his Spider World books, thinking it might be a kick to read since I have a healthy – perhaps unhealthy – fear of spiders. Mistake! These spiders are car-sized and rule the planet, mankind obviously included. Lots of nastiness happens that I couldn’t bring myself to read past page ten. Shudders and shivers and bad images in my brain I will never get out. Oh well.

Also, I see in an online biography he wrote a book on Jorge Luis Borges. Don’t know anything about it, but I do know that I have similar literary feelings toward the great Argentinian writer as well. Definitely going on my Acquisitions List.

Rest in peace, great writer.

Friday, December 6, 2013

And Now for an Ay Caramba!


Wife out of town for the next six days and me stuck with the two little ones! Four basketball games this weekened alone! That’s anywheres between five and six hours of nine-year old basketball and driving all over the county (almost spelled that with an “r” between the “t” and the “y” – perhaps I should’ve went with that). Plus I gotta do all that parenting stuff too, like feed ’em and get ’em bathed and clothed and to bed at a decent hour.

I do have a lot of interesting tidbits reverberating inside the skull that I want to put down on e-paper here. Things like attending my first Latin Mass, Charles Dickens, a Thanksgiving book score, Spendmas grumblings, blah blah blah. Just need to find the time and, more importantly, the energy, to get the writing done.

Favorite upcoming part of this weekend: introducing Little One to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Should be very, very interesting. A blog post there, too.

And maybe I’ll do a basketball recap. For those keeping score at home, Little One had her first game last Tuesday – at 8 pm! I left to take Patch home at halftime and they were down 16-2. Finished the game 26-14, so there was a bit of a comeback. Fourth-grade basketball season will be more of a knuckle-biter than soccer was. Her soccer team this year was the Boston Red Sox of the county league; her basketball team is looking more to be the New York Mets ...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Paradigm Shift


It’s a cliché, but nonetheless, it has happened several times to me, and it usually involved reading ...


1981: The Lord of the Rings

1992: The Bible

1997: An unnamed popular self-help book (hint: wasn’t the Stephen Covey book)


Another shift occurred over the course of a month during the spring of 1993. I began listening to Rush Limbaugh, and after thirty days (or not even) my natural conservatism had reasserted itself after being psycho-surgically removed at college in the mid-80s. Though I’m not a devotee of Limbaugh and haven’t been for quite some time, I still listen to talk radio on occasion and probably agree with 75 percent of what the talk radio host is spouting. (For the record, my favorite host and the only one I miss not being able to listen to is Michael Medved, though he does hold a few positions I don’t particularly agree with.)

Other shifts: I guess you could throw in my first love nearly thirty years ago. Also the two weeks in August of 1999 I wrestled with the “m” word – “marriage” – as I contemplated the how, when, where, and what of proposing to my future wife. Moving down to Maryland – uprooting 30+ years of life in a cluster of towns in Northern New Jersey – was also an eye-opening experience, falling perhaps a bit short of “paradigm shift” but still a shift in perspective nevertheless.

But it’s the reading that changed my life so hard. Especially in 1992. The blinders came off, the invisible lead vest on my chest was removed, and a whole new way of looking at the world spoke to me. That’s perhaps the main reason why I read as much as I do (even recognizing that half of what I read is junk).

16 years have spanned my first travels through Middle-earth to that nameless self-help book. That’s about 5 or 6 years a paradigm shift, so I’m a decade overdue for one. Two, actually. I want my paradigm shift! And make it a double! On the rocks!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Website Stats


Well, there’s some comfort in the fact that this website, recoveringhopper.blogspot.com, with absolutely 0.0 percent marketing, attracts more readers every day than have signed up for Obamacare on a daily basis in the two months the heavily-promoted Hawaiian exchange has been in existence.

Government. Movin’ at public-sector velocity.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Waitress


What an upside down world we live in, and it will only get more so, from a metaphysical point of view. Or should I say, meta-ethical. Meta-something-ical. Because words now are routinely redefined. Words begin to mean their opposite. Good is bad and bad is good. Orwell’s turf.

Anyway, there was quite a commotion last week when some waitress claimed she received a hateful message in lieu of a tip from a dining family. O the media buzz at that! For the waitress, in case you were in a coma or do not plug in to any type of media whatsoever, is gay and the “hateful” message was along the lines of “I cannot tip you because I do not approve of your lifestyle.”

Now I put the word hateful in quotes because that’s the exact word the newslady on teevee put it. “Hateful.” Hateful? Really? This is hateful? I wonder how she’d react to something truly fueled by raging, murderous hate, such as the genocides that have stained and continue to rend apart our world even to this day.

How is a written statement of disapproval – sans any overt threats or vulgar condemnations – hateful? For hundreds and hundreds of years society has generally frowned upon homosexual behavior, from arguably and (I believe) legitimately solid moral and logical reasoning. Now even the mildest disapproval is labeled “hateful.” You know, to shut down such disapproval by emotionally attacking the disapprover. It’s called an ad hominem argument, and it has absolutely no intellectual footing at all.

Well, a day or two later the family provides its copy of the credit card bill which shows that indeed a tip was included and no such message was handwritten on the bill. Kudos for the media for confronting the waitress, whose sole retort was that the handwriting was not hers. Whose was it then? She don’t know, the restaurant don’t know, we don’t know.

Me, I’d guess it was hers. Not because I am hateful, but because I read that she posted a picture of the “hateful” message on her facebook page and was soliciting donations over the whole affair.

You want to know what strikes me as hateful?

Fraud. Attempted monetary gain for some nonexistant injustice. The destruction of innocent reputations to move along an agenda.

Bizarre-o stuff. I actually fear for my children the longer we travel down this road.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Christmas!




To all our family and friends this year!

(A preview of the Hopper 2013 Christmas Card coming soon to a mailbox near you ...)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Life in a Small-Town Bookstore


How sad!  The invisible hand of the marketplace has written, and it did not bode well for Hopper: my beloved Thanksgiving weekend Pennsylvania used book store ... is out of business.

Fortunately, there is another one a few miles away.  It’s not as good because, er, it’s better.  Better meaning it carries higher-end used books, used books that serious collectors might want.  Used books in cellophane packages.

But there are two shelves of new “junky”-condition paperbacks.  I’ve hard-to-find and out-of-print stuff from those shelves before.  Bought the recently-read The Hawkline Monster there last year.  So I stalked those shelves for forty-five minutes while the rest of the gang drove away to take care of some more errands.

I did have Little One with me.  We found an old but well-constructed book on gems and minerals for my budding amateur gemologist.  Me, I had a harder time.  Finally I settled on Fred Pohl’s The Day the Martians Came and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.  Pohl because, well, he died a few months ago and I made a decision to read some of his stuff in 2014 – and his stuff is strangely hard to come by.  Strobel because, well, I had read about his book and had heard him in interviews and decided a good pro-Christian book in our increasingly anti-Christian culture would be a positive thing to experience.

My daughter and I, browsing the shelves, had the weird fortune to witness an odd interaction during those forty-five minutes.  A somewhat grizzled man came in and stalked about the back of the store, where the owner had some expensive antique-y things.  Finally, he seemed interested in what appeared to be some old model railroad fencing and stuff.  Not sure, because I’m not into model railroads, though I had a childhood friend whose father built a whole model railroad city on a pool table in their basement. 

Anyway, after much banter with the owner’s assistant, the grizzled man sighed.  “I’m really interested in this,” he said, “but $110.00 is a little too much.”

The assistant paused.  I don’t know how the scene was playing out, visually; my back was turned while I was scanning some philosophy and religion titles.  But after thirty seconds I heard the assistant ask, “What would be your offer?”

“Seventy-five.”

Immediately the store’s owner, a sixtiesh gray-haired hippy type who has sported Obama 2012 buttons on her sweatshirt in the past, cackled out from another corner of the store, “Forget it!”

The atmosphere immediately got a little oogy.  I looked over to Little One; she looked over to me. 

The grizzled man said, “Well, you could have just said ‘No.’  You didn’t have to say, ‘Forget it.’”  Another moment passed and the man spat out a sickly laugh; I wondered if they all knew each other and were now going to start making jokes or something.  But then grizzly adams cried out:  But now I will forget it!” and stormed out, the front door bells jangling angrily.

Ah, these small-town back-woods bookstores.  The drama!  The drama!
 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013


Also known as the sesquicentennial of Mr. Lincoln’s official proclamation of a heretofore annually celebrated Day of Thanks.  It is few years shy of my quinquagenary regarding T-Day.
Had a fairly good day yesterday.  First and foremost, I got 9 hours sleep!  Hoo-raw, that’s a rarity, and was desperately needed.  We had driven over to my folks’ in Pennsylvania the night before, so the little ones left me and the missus to sleep whilst in stalking pursuit of their grandparents.  Then, a two-hour hot bath in which I completed Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, of which I will go into later this weekend.
Ate like a king all day: cheese and salami, veggies and artichoke dip, jumbo shrimp with hot sauce, and, of course, turkey, stuffing, mashed potaters, cranberry sauce (the wife’s contribution), culminating in a pumpkin pie bonanza (also from the hands of my wife).  Washed it all down with Sam Adam’s, of which perhaps I had a tad too much.  Must be why I felt all the conversation, especially emanating from my end, to be sparkling, dynamic, and enlightening.
Listened to a bit of Great Expectations on the portable CD player.  More on that, too, later in the week.  Me and my teenaged nephew tried to stump each other with science and mathematical paradoxes (him: “why do flames  rise when gravity should pull them down?”).  Didn’t watch the football games as closely as I would have liked, though my teams all lost, so perhaps that’s not too bad a thing.
Had to work today, unfortunately.  Ninety minute commute in and two-hour commute out.  But, hey, someone has to bring home the bacon (and unfortunately I’m on the clock).  Slow day in the office but an incredibly busy one on the sales floor. 
The rest of the week I plan to sleep, read, sleep, write, swing past one of my awesome used book stores, sleep, attend a Latin mass, sleep, watch the Sunday football games, and, yes, sleep.
Now: leftovers for dinner!
 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

World of Ptavvs




© 1966 by Larry Niven


Okay! Don’t beat me up!

I bought Larry Niven’s first novel, The World of Ptavvs, this time last year and finally got to open it last week.

I didn’t like it.

Now, I’m a moderate fan of Mr. Niven’s. I am, really. Read Ringworld ’round the turn of the century and loved it, read a whole bunch of his short stories three years ago and loved most of ’em. Have his second novel, A Gift from Earth, and his award-winner, The Mote in God’s Eye on the shelf behind me and plan to read them at some point.

But Ptavvs just kicked my butt. It was a gargantuan effort of will to finish it.

Why?

The story set-up’s good. Frozen, two-billion-year-old space alien found at the bottom of the ocean, thawed out and introduced to a human telepath. Turns out alien has superior mind-control powers and is used to dominating whole societies and planetary systems. Soon the race is on between this creature, the human telepath who thinks he’s the creature he mind-melded with, and a scattering of humans to get to Neptune to find the alien’s “amplifier” which will for all intents and purposes destroy mankind’s free will forever.

Normally I enjoy this kinda thing. But for some reason I couldn’t settle into it. The human characters seemed a bit uni-dimensional. Then I had a hard time differentiating the alien, “Kzanol,” from the human telepath who thought he was the alien, “Kzanol / Greenberg,” a vagueness I think Niven intentionally cultivates. The alien jargon – thrints, tnuctips, ptavvs, kpitlithtulm oaths, whitefoods (aka bandersnatchi) – didn’t quite assimilate as easy as other jargon from other stories had. Nor did the geopolitics of the 22nd century (or should I say exo-geo-politics, as the solar system has been populated, and there is historical friction between Earth and the Asteroid Belt).

Now, I understand Niven expands and expounds upon these terms and relationships and whatnot in subsequent novels. But as a stand-alone, I found World of Ptavvs a little unfocused and forced. It’s one of those rare books I felt should have been longer, more fleshed out, at least double its too-compact size. More character development, more exposition, more history.

Or it could just be the circumstances of my life at this point in time. Had I read it thirty years ago, it may have been a shining nova of my adolescence. Who knows?

So, regretfully, I give World of Ptavvs a C. There are good ideas in the book (I liked the under-developed – at least in this novel – plot point of intelligent dolphins trying to come up with ways to muscle mankind for a ride into space). And I’ll still get to those other two Niven novels on the shelf behind me, eventually.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Littlefoot


Sunday morning me and the little ones are up and about early. It’s very cold, so we’re huddled on the floor in blankets and pillows, watching the tube. So what do we decide to watch? The first episode of this season’s Finding Bigfoot, which I DVR’d a few weeks ago.

A qualifier, please. When I was growing up, two spooky things absolutely overwhelmingly fascinated me: UFOs and bigfoot. I’ve written about both extensively here. I get a huge nostalgic kick revisiting both topics, especially with my girls, even though the analytical scientist in me has long accepted the nonexistence of these critters. Unfortunately, Little One is enraptured with ghosts and vampires, much to my chagrin. But I think now that a viewing of the unabashedly low-budget but decidedly creepy early-70s flick The Legend of Boggy Creek might make her at least consider Sasquatch.

Now – Finding Bigfoot. I find the show entertaining, I guess, for what it is, and the participants are true believers. I don’t want to be too cruel here, but that’s about the highest praise I can give it. Long-term, I think it does damage to any scientific theory positing extremely large ape-like hominids roaming about the United States. Short-term, I think it does damage to brain cells.

Anyway, for the season opener they’re trudging around the swamps of Arkansas, revisiting Boggy Creek. That’s why I taped it and that’s why I’m watching it. Our investigators spend a couple of evenings hunting the bayous with their night-vision goggles and whatnot. Nothing really happens, which, of course, leads them to conclude that bigfoot is active and on the move in these here woodlands.

What surprised me is Patch. My little five year old walks into the room (she never sits in one place longer than a minute or two), sees a really bad CGI sasquatch on the screen and exclaims, “Look! There’s bigfoot!”

I had no idea she knew who or what bigfoot was. I guess there’s some truth to that thing about children being sponges and all.

“And there’s Littlefoot!” I exclaim, grabbing her and giving her footpads are thorough tickling, much to her and her big sister’s delight.

Littlefoot.

Maybe she’ll be my cryptid hunter.

The Death of Star Wars


Read an article about the death of Star Wars the other day. In the author’s opinion, it was brought about by Disney’s purchase of the story rights from George Lucas, with an aim to franchise three more films. I agree wholeheartedly that Star Wars is dead, but not for the reasons cited in the piece or the comments that followed, which included:


– Ewoks

– CGI

– Lucas’s re-editing and subsequent tinkering of the films of the original trilogy

– the sequels, especially eight-year-old Anakin

– the first appearance, and every subsequent appearance, of Jar Jar Binks

– Wookies doing the Tarzan yell in Sith

– the cringe-worthy “romantic” dialogue in Clones between adolescent Padme and adolescent Anakin


For me, the exact moment Star Wars died was in the movie theater in the summer of 1999, watching The Phantom Menace, and hearing Qui-Gon Jinn speak of the Force as nothing but “midi-chlorians” in the bloodstream. What. A. Downer! In a few dozen words the entire Zen mystique, ethos, and mythos of the Jedi was chewed up and unceremoniously spat at my feet.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giants Post-Mortem


(... from a non-football guy)

Sadly, the Giants season is over for all practical and realistic purposes. Focus is now on ending this season with dignity and looking towards 2014 to patch and repair this leaking ship with an aim of winning the division next year (or at least making the playoffs with a wininng record, fer crying out loud).

Now, I’ve been watching football off and on all my life but I’m admittedly no expert. Still, you can’t expect to be in the playoff hunt when you

– win your first game the day your fan base is putting up Halloween decorations in the yard

– don’t really turn anything on until the 4th quarter of every game

– give the ball to your opponents by dropping it on the ground or throwing it into their hands once every five or six times you have the ball

– send your smallest guys up the middle with the pigskin almost every single first down you get

– regularly and routinely settle for three points when seven should be within reach

The Eli Manning / Tom Coughlin New York Giants: they can beat or lose to any given team on any given weekend.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Life on Mars!


Forget about that meteorite with the wormy-thing fossil in it. Now we have irrefutable proof of life on Mars, care of the reliable and completely objective lens from the Curiosity lander camera:



Face on Mars, lookout! We now know who built you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Excerpts


A small selection from each of the two books I’m currently reading that made me pause and appreciate the fine-honed craft of the authors … for very different reasons:


The short peace ended. Dusk rolled over the bottoms. The mists reconvened. A final clutch of medics emerged carrying a long pole with a white truce flag that caught the dying light. More than a hundred bodies had been retrieved. But hundreds more remained, and would remain for months, carrion for the ravenous dogs that roamed these fens. Here the dreamless dead would lie, leached to bone by the passing seasons, and waiting, as all the dead would wait, for doomsday’s horn.

- The Day of Battle, page 350, by Rick Atkinson


“Mrs. Greenberg, what I really came for is to find out everything you can tell me about your husband.”

“Then you’d better talk to Dale Snyder. He got here this morning. Want his number?”

“Thanks, I’ve got it. He called me too. You know him well?”

“Very.”

“I’ll also want a chance to talk to Charley, the dolphin anthropologist. But let’s start with you.”

Judy looked unhappy. “I don’t know where to start.”

“Anywhere.”

“Okay. He’s got three testicles.”

“I’ll be damned. That’s fairly rare, isn’t it?”

“And sometimes troublesome, medically, but Larry never had any problems. We used to call it ‘that little extra something about him.’ Is this the kind of thing you’re after?”

- The World of Ptavvs, page 102 of the Del Rey paperback, by Larry Niven


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Beth


Both my girls are readers. Little One has well-established herself within the myriad of fourth-grade series novels, and Patch is aggressively growing her reading skills with Froggy, Henry and Mudge, and her own myriad of Disney Princess books. Which is fine. Exemplary, actually.

But I want them to cultivate curiosity. I want them to borrow non-fiction books, every weekend visit to the library. Don’t have to read them all cover-to-cover (I borrow maybe 150-200 non-fiction books annually and only completely read about ten percent of that). But I want them to skim through and read what interests them. Look at all the pictures, graphs, charts. Read a chapter or two here and there. Learn to utilize the table of contents and the index.

To fire this spark in them, I entice them with the concept of being an expert. Someone others in their class will go to for all the answers. To mediate the disputes. To be the go-to kid whenever the subject comes up at the lunch table.

Which brings me to Beth.

(Note: when I say Beth, I say it like Joe Pesci over-enunciating the word “youththththththththts” to get back at Judge Fred Gwynn in My Cousin Vinnie. Not “youts,” but “youththththththththths.”)

Anway, in second grade, I was the undisputed expert on ... DINOSAURS.

Yep. No one knew DINOSAURS better than me. I read every book on them in our tiny, one-room grammar school library. I memorized entries on them from our home collection of Colliers and Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopediae. When I was out sick with tonsillitis half-the-year, my uncle bought me two dinosaur books I analyzed, studied, and practically slept with to no end. Yes. I was the go-to kid in my class when it came to dinosaurs. I mediated the lunch table disputes. I was the undisputed expert on all things terrible lizard.

Until, one day, Beth showed up in our class.

Whether she was a new student or merely one from the other second grade class, I don’t know. What I do know is that I first met her one library period at the 567s, her hand slightly quicker than mine snatching away the dinosaur book I had my eager eye on.

How dare her!

I was willing to forgive the transgression provided she acknowledge, at least tacitly, my dinosaurian superiority.

She did no such thing.

In fact, she soon began blabbing nonstop at the lunch tables: dinosaur this and dinosaur that. This was the coolest dinosaur, that was the most dangerous, this would beat that in a fight. And on and on and on, while I turned first red with rage, then green with envy, and, finally pale with despair as I realized my authority had been blithely, quietly challenged and overthrown, and almost as an afterthought. You see, not only did she fail to acknowledge my former repository of dinosaur knowledge, she failed to acknowledge me.

Beth.

Beththththththththththth!

I had no choice but to become an expert in another field. So, shortly thereafter, I began reading every and any science fiction paperback I could get my hands on.

. . . . .

My girls laugh at the story. And it’s not exaggerated too too much. But it’s true. And if I can inspire them to be an expert in any one thing (or a whole bunch of ’em) at my expense, than I consider it water under the bridge.

But I bet, thirty-eight years later, I remember more about dinosaurs than Beth does!

Hopper Standing Athwart History




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address


One hundred and fifty years ago today the greatest speech since Shakespearian times was given at the dedication of the national cemetary at Gettysburg. Should be required reading for all grammar school children; should be required memorization for all high schoolers. A slow, thoughtful reading through the text cannot fail to raise goosebumps on the arms and cause a realization in the reader of a participation in something transcendent. The last sentence alone … the United States is something special, something different, unique, a “shining city on a hill”, and does not need any “fundamental transformation.”


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863


Monday, November 18, 2013

Little One at St. Ives


Are you familiar with this riddle:

As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?


The answers are many depending on how you read the problem. We calculated the answer as 2,802.

7 wives + (7 x 7) 49 sacks + (7 x 49) 343 cats + (7 x 343) 2,401 kits
= 2,800

+ the husband and + the narrator.
= 2,802

Well, a couple of days ago I posed this riddle to Little One. Now, being only 9 and in a fourth grade saddled by “Common Core,” she didn’t get the multiplication part until I explained it to her. But, to her immense credit, she got what so many often fail to include: the husband of the seven wives and the narrator himself.

Needless to say, as I always am with her, I was highly impressed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Temporal Anomaly


I decided I’m going to buy a half-dozen of these and hang them in every room of my house and on the wall behind my cubicle at work.

Just to keep everyone on their toes and all.




Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Swords


I’m a mild fan of the Arthurian legend. Read The Once and Future King twice in college. Was enraptured with Tennysonian verse in The Idylls of the King. Saw Excalibur as a lad and own it on DVD. Have Steinbeck’s Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights on the shelf behind me. So I thought I was comfortably knowledgeable about the mythos.

Until now –

You know the name of Arthur’s sword, right? (It’s mentioned in the paragraph above.) I always thought it was the sword that he, and he alone, was able to pull out of the stone to become King of England.

Not true.

Turns out that sword is called Caliburn. Arthur’s more famous weapon of choice, Excalibur, was given to him later on care of the Lady of the Lake. At least, depending on your source. I note the similarity of the names of both swords. Indeed, some claim that the two swords are the same (given to Arthur by the Lady) and that the Sword in the Stone is nameless.

A mystery for the ages. Or at least, something for me to google about on the iPad while watching the football games tomorrow.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What the Postman Brung


It’s been like a year or so since I placed an online used book order. Though I can get really, really hard-to-find, out-of-print used books relatively inexpensively, the price generally doubles when you throw in shipping. So I treat myself once or twice a year to an alibris.com order. Just did last week, and all my books came in.

Suffice it to say, I am excited!

The first book to arrive was The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. Arguably the most famous and influential book co-written by the most famous and influential Pohl, it is astonishingly impossible to find out on the shelves. I even tried the new SF shelves at B&N (is it out-of-print?). Anyway, I picked this up because Pohl is always a good read and as an author I respect tremendously who recently died, I want to read this come the new year.

Next came one from the nostalgia files – Mathematics, from the Time Life Science Library of the late-60s. I had the whole set as a kid a decade later, and this one plus The Universe were read so often the binding wore away and pages fell out. Termites got ’em both sometime in the late 80s after a house move. I did re-read a library version of this in the early 90s when I went to Seton Hall for physics. But, man, did the memories come back as I thumbed through this mid-60s memory lane goodness.

Then an unabridged paperback of Dicken’s Great Expectations. Not out of print, but I have been unsuccessful as locating a used copy for nearly a year. I want to read this while listening to the book on tape. In part, too, because of nostalgia: my seventh-grade middle school English class read though it in 1979, and I hated it. But the intervening decades have turned me into a literary bibliophile, and I want to revisit the story again. Also, a nice experience with A Tale of Two Cities a few years back helped.

Finally, William Harrison’s Roller Ball Murder, complete with a bloodied James Caan on the cover, arrived. A collection of a dozen or so short stories, this will probably be my next read. Appeals to the boy in me and, hey, I did read this as a boy. I expect a fast, can’t-put-it-down read. Maybe this weekend, maybe the long Thanksgiving weekend after. We’ll see.

Happy reading, y’all!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Law of Mind


Then another idea came to him: the whole thing was in accordance with law. He had discovered a law of mind just as he, at another time, discovered a law of electricity. If it were law, then he could always use it and it would always respond. From this he gradually built up a definite technique for the practice of right thinking.

He found that if he always thought of himself as being perfect he would always feel better. But what should he do with his body when it appeared sick? How was he to think of himself when he was sick? Could he deny that he was sick when he was suffering? Yes; for his sickness was the result of thought, and by changing the thought he could change the effect. He learned to turn away from the body when it was sick and go back into mind and think of the body as being perfect; for his thought worked independently of the body. He turned from the image of sickness to the idea of health and said, “I am perfect, no matter what the appearance may be.”

- The Science of Mind, by Ernest Holmes, 1926 and 1938


This kinda stuff fascinates me to no end. This combination of 19th-century New Thought and Christian Science. However, it is at radical odds with the truth that I know of my Catholicism. So I read a little bit of it, try to apply a little bit of it to my life via some habits of thought, feel guilty like I am betraying Who I know to be Truth, and give it up. For a couple of weeks or months.

But I find it oddly attractive. Not sure exactly why; perhaps it has something to do with the “self-help” culture that saturates 21st-century America, which is heretical to Catholic belief (you cannot “earn” salvation). Indeed, and don’t laugh, but I found great solace in the works of Emmet Fox nearly twenty years ago when I had my first and only great tangle with the Law.

Anyway, the part of me that’s interested in this stuff says, “Hey, you know you need to treat your body well, get fit, exercise. Do you think God has a problem with the books you’ve read about Diet and Nutrition? Weightlifting? He is the one that probably put them in your path. Could these New Thought books merely be teaching you only how to govern your noggin? After all, St. Paul says in Philippians to focus your mind on what is beautiful, noble, true and worthy.”

I find the argument both extremely enticing yet just shy of persuassive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cra-pola-care


Okay, just one more post and that’s it, I promise. Only because I have to deal with this nightmare every day at work, and this blog is my one true outlet ...






Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Education Continues Apace


So, me and the Little One have just finished going through all our Halloween DVRings. This is part of my master plan to turn her into a successful science fiction horror drama adventure writer actress artist. Laying the foundation, so to speak.

Also, it is great father-daughter bonding, a serio-goofy diametrically-flipped analog of a dad having catch with his son.

Right around Halloween we got all the obvious Halloweenish stuff out of the way: The Ghost Hunters, the MonsterQuests, et al. Then we watched the following flicks:

Them!

The Raven

The Tingler

Aaaahhhhhh!!!

No, Aaaahhhhhh!!! is not a movie, it's a cry of triumph from me masked as a cry of terror from Little One. And by “cry of terror,” I really mean “cry of delight.” She enjoyed all three movies (gave each one an A+ if I remember correctly), unable to decide which one's her favorite save for the fact she always likes best the latest one she's watched. Be it giant bugs, Edgar Allan Poe, or a slimy slug on your spine, she took each one to heart and we both enjoyed our little spookfest marathon.

Got some other stuff DVR'd, such as Victorian Captain Nemo, the original Star Trek movie, a pair or really old Boris Karloff black-and-whites. Also, I DVR'd the season opener of Finding Bigfoot, a show I normally dislike but recorded since this episode revisits the classic “Monster of Boggy Creek” from Fouke, Arkansas. She may or may not want to watch this with me, because, try as I might, I can't seem to light the sasquatch flame in her heart. Oh well.

And if you want my opinion -

Them! – A+, still the bestest big bug bonanza ever, the Alien of its time

The Raven – B for Vincent Price, didn't hold up as well for me over the long years

The Tingler – Awesome, A+, first time I saw it – campy creepy crittery goodness!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Art of Monopoly


Yesterday, while watching the Giants game, I asked Little One if she wanted to play a game of Monopoly. Did she? In an ecstatic blur she whooshed into the play room and zipped back with her beloved game.

She is Donald Trump’s mini-me, less the tumbleweed hair of course.

Our games last about two hours. Usually I win for the first, oh, twenty minutes or so. Then my Little Shark takes over. Ninety minutes into the game I was firmly losing to her merciless buy-buy-buy build-build-build philosophy. She had five hotels aggressively constructed across two complete color groups, three out of four railroads, twice as much cash reserves than I had somehow, and got that “Get Out of Jail Free” card not once but twice.

Before long I was coughing over my utilities, Boardwalk, and a few of those other properties I bought to keep her from building on completed color groups. All in order to pay those exorbitant hotel rents she was charging! I threw in the towel just shy of two hours, completely bankrupt, much to her cackling maniacal glee.

Then, we wondered: Is there a tried-and-true strategy to win at Monopoly?

Turns out, there is. Kinda, sorta.

There are a couple of websites out there where the dudes really crunch the statistics. We both read through them carefully, referring to the still-open Monopoly board to let the tactics sink in. Truthfully, I don’t know if I understood everything (not sure if that’s my fault or the website researchers’), but here’s a quick distillation of what we took away:

Not all properties are created equal. Obvious, due to increasingly higher buying prices, rental charges, and building costs as you travel around the board. But some squares have a higher statistical probability of being landed on than others, and that makes all the difference.

Which square on the board is the most visited during a course of a game? Deceptively easy – it’s Jail. Why? Well, you can get there a whole bunch of ways. You can land on it during the round the board travel. You can be sent there by landing on the “Go to Jail” square. You can roll doubles three times. You can land on either a Community Chest or Chance square and pull a “Go Directly to Jail Do not Pass Go Do Not Collect $200” card. Lots of ways to get to Jail, making it the most-frequently-visited square during a game.

What does this mean? It means the properties just outside jail are the most frequently-landed-upon. That makes them more than worth their price to buy. The orange-ish squares just before Free Parking are thus the most valuable on the board. Buy ’em and build on ’em and watch your opponents fork over the dollars to you hand over first. This, by the way, was Little One’s intuited strategy to beat me yesterday.

Similarly, the purple and the red properties, which are on either side of the orange-ish, are valuable too, only slightly less so. Buy them and build on them too. FYI, Illinois Avenue is the second-most landed on square, followed by the B&O Railroad and Go.

There are some properties not to worry about. The dark purple, Baltic and Mediterranean, on squares one and three from Go, are among the least statistically visited squares on the board. Their low price and build-up costs are almost not worth the small rents you’ll get because no one hardly lands there.

This brings up a question: which is a better to buy, a utility or a railroad?

Railroads all the way! First of all, there are twice as many railroad squares then utility squares (4 versus 2) so you have about twice the chance of having opponents land on them. With both types, the more you own the more you can charge your foe. Utilities are a roll of the dice when it comes to “rent”: one dice times ten if one is owned; two die times ten if both are owned. So your rents can range from $10 to $60 or $20 to $120. If you own three railroads, “rent” is fixed at $100. All four and you can charge $200. When you factor in the double-odds of ensnaring the other guy that railroads have, they are the best bet.

Another tactic found across the internet is to develop 3 houses per property as quickly as possible. Why 3 houses? Because the jump in rent from 2 to 3 is huuuuuge. If 2 houses brings in $250 rent on a certain property, 3 will bring $750! The jump from 3 to 4 or even to a hotel is not as huge percentage-wise.

Other tidbits: The average income you make going round the board once is $170. Early in the game it’s a disadvantage to be in Jail, so pay the $50 to get out; late in the game it could be an advantage (if your opponent owns a lot of developed property), so wait to roll doubles. Pay the 10% income tax until you’ve gone round the board three times – then it’s best to pay the $200 (you’ll have accumulated enough property by then to justify it).

Boardwalk (and Park Place) are nice gems to have but not essential to win the game. There is only a 5% chance of landing on either square during the trip around the board (2 out of 40). If your opponent does own both and begins building, well, you best start building up your cash reserves, just in case.

Which leads to the most head-scratching advice we saw: Try to build up your cash early in the game and try to buy as much property as possible. Huh? I’ve tried that for the past ten years and all it’s done is give me a mountain of credit card debt.

Anyway, Little One made me promise not to tell Mommy (and I hope either one doesn’t read this!) while she hones her monopolist skills, evilly rubbing her hands and chuckling at how she’ll send her Mama to the poor house ...