Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another Job I'd Like To Have

Spokesperson for the Obama Administration

[Ed. – I almost typed spokesman!!! Mea culpa!!]

No one would ask me any tough questions, whatever I said would simply be accepted at face value, and I wouldn’t be responsible as long as I kept repeating what they told me behind closed doors.

It’d be much better than my current job, where at any moment management could ask me something out of left field, I would be required to provide written or reported backup for my opinions, and I have to think for myself when any of the dozen or so daily crises pop up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Job I'd Like To Have

Custodian of a hotel during the four snowed-in months it closed every year.

It’s not like I’d go insane or anything

I’d probably enjoy the solitude.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If You Have It All To Do Over Again

Throw that punch in second grade.

Monday, January 28, 2013

PrePlan Musings

Muy busy today, at work, at home, commuting in snow, Little One’s night-time basketball game, bills to pay, yoga to do (yeah, I’m back on that after throwing out my back), and some much-anticipated reading of my latest PJF. So, some quick thinking-out-loud on what’s on deck.

About a sixth into James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, and I’m really digging it. 145 pages in and we’re still focusing on the prelude to the Civil War: filibusters – which is not what it means today, Know Nothings – who would’ve hated me and tried to suppress my vote, Bleeding Kansas. So I’m thinking a good way to celebrate spring would be to get the audio CDs of Michael Shaara’s epic of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels, and read along with it. Probably a 75-80 percent chance I’ll do it.

But before spring we Catholics have what’s known as Lent. What shall my Lenten reading be this year? Last year my attempt to read through the Psalms was not successful. But in previous years I was able to complete Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died and Anna Katherine Emmerich’s The Dolorous Passion of Christ. I want to read something relevant, but I lack the free time I had in the past to devote to an epic or even just a normal full-length novel. Not sure, but something must be done, so I’ll have to devote more thought to this.

Last year in February I had a very delightful surprise rereading Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man and first-time reading his Prelude to Foundation. I’ve had Robots of Dawn on my shelf for the past couple of months. Wouldn’t mind getting into that once I finish the PFJ phase.

Speaking of my PFJ phase, I’ve just started book number 5, out of thirteen that I’ve scooped up here and there. About 30 percent done with the Philip Jose Farmer project. So far I’ve enjoyed it immensely, as I figured I would. I like this guy. I’ve liked what I’ve read of his. I’ve even considered trying to bang out a quick novella based in his style. In this case, it would be more like the Flight to Opar and Wind Whales than Night of Light. That is, fish-out-of-water trying to survive on a decidedly hostile planet.

That’s about as far ahead as I’ve been thinking. At my reading pace, that’ll get me to April or May. Beyond that, I don’t know. Toyed with the idea of reading some of Gene Wolfe’s stuff (only read one book and one short story of his, many years ago). I also have a backlog of thirty-five or forty other SF novels on the shelf behind me to read. The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, staples of my early teens, are begging for a re-read. I have a couple of classics, The Grapes of Wrath and The Man in the Iron Mask, that interest me. Plus I might gear up for the endeaverous Neal Stephenson and read his Anathem. We’ll see about all this.

Uh-oh, that sounds like a youngling crying! Gotta go –

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mr. Kri

A long winding tree-lined walk led up go the great porch, which itself ran completely around the house. Halfway up the walk, Tand paused beside a tree.

“See anything peculiar in this?” he asked the Earthman.

As was his habit when thinking, Carmody spoke aloud, not looking at his audience but staring off to one side as if he were talking to an invisible person. “It looks like a mature tree, yet it’s rather short, about seven feet high. Something like a dwarf cottonwood. But it has a double trunk that joins about a third of the way up. And two main branches, instead of many. Almost as if it had arms and legs. If I were to come upon it on a dark night, I might think it was a tree just getting ready to take a walk.”

“You’re close,” said Tand. “Feel the bark. Real bark, eh? It looks like it to the naked eye. But under the microscope, the cellular structure is rather peculiar. Neither like a man’s nor a tree’s. Yet like both. And why not?”

He paused, smiled enigmatically at Carmody, and said, “It is Mrs. Kri’s husband.”

Carmody replied coolly, “It is?” He laughed and said, “He’s a rather sedentary character, isn’t he?”

Tand raised his featherish eyebrows.

“Exactly. During his life as a man he preferred to sit around, to watch the birds, to read books of philosophy. Taciturn, he avoided most people. As a result he never got very far in his job, which he hated. Mrs. Kri had to earn money for them by starting this lodging house; she retaliated by making his life miserable with nagging him, but she could never fill him with her own enthusiasms and ambitions. Finally, partly in an endeavor to get away from her, I think, he took the Chance. And this is what happened. Most people said he failed. Well, I don’t know. He got what he really wanted, his deepest wish.”

- Night of Light, page 19, by Philip Jose Farmer

* * * * *

[Ed. – Hopper! Be careful, very, very careful, for what you wish!]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Night of Light

© 1966 by Philip Jose Farmer

All right, I’m probably going to get the finer details wrong, but it goes something like this: Boonta is the goddess of the citizens of Dante’s Joy, a planet whose star periodically enables brain waves to materialize, uh, materially. Got it? That’s the starting point.

Here’s more: every time this star irradiates in this crazy way, the culture calls it the “Night of Light.” Not everyone can handle the Night of Light, however, particularly off-worlders such as earthlings. These individuals are administered the “Sleep,” which allows you to spend the weeklong Night of Light in the slumberland. Deeply sedated slumberland. Because during the Night your innermost thoughts and desires become manifest, and, well, for some if not most of us, having your innermost thoughts and desires could tend to become a trifle bit violent.

Where does the goddess Boonta come in? Well, during these Nights of Light she somehow chooses two groups of six men to mystically impregnate her. Which group does determines which of her sons takes form: Yess, the good god, or Algul, the evil one. These beings are flesh-and-blood and can be killed; but they live on in subsequent manifestations. Farmer’s more than a little hazy on the ugly details and timelines here, but it serves well for the novel’s main story.

Carmody is a man without a conscious. An evil man, a petty thief always on the make for the big score and one who’s not afraid of a little torture, mayhem, or murder to get there. He fears nothing, he says. Indeed, he is on Dante’s Joy partly to avoid Raspold – “the galactic Sherlock Holmes – and partly to aid two priests from a futuristic Catholic Church investigating the Night of Light and Boontism. Just how and why, though, isn’t explicitly stated.

However, once the Night ensues, it’s revealed that Carmody is there to assassinate Yess, the current manifestation of Boonta’s child. Several interesting interludes lude, including manifestations of the pregnant wife Carmody murdered and our anti-hero having his finger stuck in the mouth of a statue as the two groups of six men converge on him after he’s performed his deicide.

Flash forward thirty-five years. Carmody is now himself a priest, having had a wholehearted conversion sometime soon after the incidents on Dante’s Joy. Now he’s there to prevent the assassination latest Boonta manifestation – Yess, again – of whom he is one of the six fathers.

Got it?

Though the story never really comes together as a cohesive whole, there is lots and lots and lots of interesting stuff here. I absolutely love when science fiction writers create their own religions (L. Ron Hubbard obviously exempted here). I would have liked a little more clarifications on the hows and whens and whys of the plot, but I guess that’s just Farmer being Farmer. The characters are the centerpieces, and Carmody-point-two actually greatly appealed to me. The man knows how to write suspense: there’s a he’s-bound-and-gagged-and-gonna-be-tortured-to-death scene that I couldn’t put down because I knew he’d escape, but how, man, how?!

My grade for Night of Light: solid-B, but a definite candidate for a re-read.

* * * * *

Neat stuff:

“ … I could swim through her blood, or anybody else’s, to reach my goal.”

* * * * *

“If I’m caught before I get to my own vault, I’ll have to go through the Night, willy-nilly. And once started, there’s no holding back. It’s all black and white then; you either get through or you don’t. At the end of the seventh day, you are god, corpse, or monster.”

* * * * *

Yess raised his feathery eyebrows. “Not really. It is obvious you are a disciple of Algul. It shines out from every pore of your skin, it radiates with every beat of your heart. There is evil on your breath.”

* * * * *

The pain of destroying himself was unendurable.

* * * * *

A few of the older people had painted legs, but the rest wore boswells – tights on the surface of which appeared moving pictures of the wearer at various stages of his life, and personal statistics or capsule biographies. One expensively dressed woman had boswells which portrayed in cartoons the highlights of her life.

* * * * *

“What would have happened if we had just walked across the floor at that spot?”

“Nothing especially fatal,” Tand replied. “The ceiling above that point, which looks like solid stone, is a trap door. It would open, and a great quantity of sticky jelly would drop and imprison you. At the same time, an alarm would go off in the Temple and a light on a control board, indicating the alarm location, would be illuminated. You’d be held fast until the Temple guards came to dissolve the jelly. You might not be alive; it would depend on whether the jelly happened to cover your nostrils and mouth.”

* * * * *

Abruptly he was in a gigantomachy of land monsters. These, like the thalassic things behind him, were eating or chasing each other or mating with a frenzy …

* * * * *


Friday, January 25, 2013


Read something in McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom that I had not yet read anywhere in the dozen or so books on the Civil War I’ve perused. Die hard pro-Southern apologists, both past and present, often declare the war to be one centered around States’ Rights. (Forget that the main right these states were fighting against was the right to own another human being.) States’ Rights versus a growing, aggressive, and increasingly anti-South centralized federal government. The War of Secession was fought to defend the state against the encroachment of the federation.

Well, hold on.

How about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?

This particular piece of nastiness crafted by Southern legislators in the House and Senate empowered the federal government to retrieve slaves who had escaped to free states in the North. Some components of the law? In cases of possible mistaken identity, judges were paid $10 for every alleged slave brought before them and returned to the slave owner, whereas they were only paid $5 to rule in favor of the alleged slave. Also, federal marshals could be fined up to $1,000 for not aiding in the capture of fugitive slaves, which often included deputizing citizens to help in the search and seizure. In cases where it conflicted with state legislation, the Fugitive Slave Act was upheld by the Southern-dominated Supreme Court.

So what about States’ Rights when free states’ rights were trampled?


Turns out the South did not really care about “States’ Rights” when the outcome threatened the immoral institution their entire society was structured around.

Just an interesting twist I’d never heard before on a well-worn and tiresome argument.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I will tell you,
The Barge she sat in, like a burnisht Throne
Burnt on the water: the Poope was beaten Gold,
Purple the Sails: and so perfumed that
The Winds were Love-sick.
With them the Owers were Silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat, to follow faster;
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggered all description, she did lie
In her Pavillion, cloth of Gold, of Tissue,
O’er-picturing that Venus, where we see
The fancy out-work of Nature. On each side her,
Stood pretty Dimpled Boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers color’d Fans whose wind did seem,
To glove the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.

(Anthony and Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 2)

One book I’ve read (Will Power: How to Act Shakespeare in 21 by John Basil, and, no, I’m not turning to acting) mentions Patrick Stewart, of Star Trek Captain Picard fame, speaking Enobarbus’s speech “as though it were an oil painting.” What a great simile, Mr. Basil! Now, re-read the speech with that thought in mind …

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Lord

Regretfully, I had to stop reading Romano Guardini’s The Lord, a hundred or so pages in. This is probably the third or fourth book of his I’ve tried to get through. From what I’ve read about him, and what I’ve read written by him, he was a very devout Catholic priest and writer (he died in the late 1960s). I just don’t get him, and I know it’s my fault. I can’t specifically put my finger on the reason why, other than perhaps it’s too much for me. His writings are too lofty, too spiritual, too esoteric, while I’m searching for something more nuts-n-bolts, grounded, historical.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Or it could be a question of finding the right translation.

I’ll try him again in half-a-decade or so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Octopus Beans

SCENE: The Impala this morning at 8 am. Little One just dropped off at school. Me driving, Patch in the back seat.

PATCH (age 4): Hey Daddy?

ME: Yes my dear?

PATCH: One time there was a boy who kept eating beans.

ME: (Uh-oh, where’s this heading?) Yeah …

PATCH: He kept eating and eating and eating them. Eating them all up.

ME: (guarded) What happened?

PATCH: He turned into an octopus!

ME: He turned into an octopus?!

PATCH: Yeah, he was eating octopus beans!

ME: I never even heard of octopus beans!

PATCH: (giggling)

ME: So what did his mommy say?

PATCH: (without missing a beat) “We have to stop buying octopus beans at the store!”

Monday, January 21, 2013


Forget about that whole judged-by-the-content-of-your-character-and-not-the-color-of-your-skin thing. Fifty-one percent of America has anyway. I spotted this in Magnificat magazine, quoting commentary from Bishop James D. Conley:

In his powerful and profound Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King said the Constitution and Declaration together form the “great wells of democracy” that express “the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage.” King was right. Our country was not founded to be a theocracy. But our country is also unimaginable without reference to the values of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. America’s founders shared a common belief that religion mattered – not only for the private salvation and welfare of individuals, but also for the commonweal of the nation.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brother vs Brother

In the Superbowl in two weeks.

San Francisco against Baltimore, with Baltimore winning.

At least, that’s how I’m rooting.

Halfway there, with the AFC championship to go.

[I cheered for the Ravens when me and the Mrs. lived in Maryland for two years back at the turn of the century. Just couldn’t be a Redskins fan …]

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Well, it looks like my family will be paying $314 a month more in taxes this year (so far). Guess it’s all part of the rich One-Percenters like me paying their fair share. Thanks for the leadership, Mr. Obama. Keep stimulating that economy.

In all seriousness, this is something like a $3,800 annual burden we now have to budget for that we didn’t have to in 2012. The wife and I are solidly middle-class living in a decidedly expensive area of the country. Unfortunately, we can’t just up and move because houses around here don’t sell.

So, we have to cut back spending that $314 a month (on home repair, dinners out, clothing, movies, maybe a big item piece of furniture, maybe an electronic gadget, perhaps a weekend getaway or summer camp). The problem is, we don’t spend $314 a month on discretionary items. We have to make more to pay the government.

Economic illiterates, see how higher taxes kill the economy?

Friday, January 18, 2013

History Lesson

“Hey Little One,” I say from the second-floor landing, “pick out three classical CDs from the cabinet.”

I’m finishing getting dressed in my bedroom as she comes in and throws the CDs on the bed. There’s a Mozart sampler and two by Franz Liszt: one of the his fully-orchestrated tone poems, and one of the “Transcendental Etudes” for solo piano.

Ah! Time for a history lesson that, maybe, she’ll remember the rest of her life. Or at least until I drop her off at school in 15 minutes.

“Did you know,” I begin, pronouncing words slowly so as to import Great Significance, “that Franz Liszt was considered …”

Does she know who Jimi Hendrix is? I think so – or maybe not. She must’ve heard me listening to him. I know she’s heard me playing him on my guitar, but that doesn’t mean anything. I decide to proceed and see if she’s developed enough (age 8, mind you), to make the mental connection.

“Franz Liszt was the greatest piano player of his time, in all of Europe. No one else could play as well as he did. In fact, it’s estimated that only a dozen people at any one time on the planet can play these songs called the Transcendental Etudes.” As I’m saying this my fingers are splayed as far apart as possible and wiggling in all directions. And I know it’s pianist, not piano player, but I don’t want any giggle fits to ruin my history lesson.

“He was considered the Jimi Hendrix of his day.”

Blank stare.

But I think she got the gist of it, Hendrix or no. Or maybe that “Wow,” was simply meant to appease me so I could release her to play with Patch until we leave for school.

I’ll have to quiz her when I see her up later today.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Church in Paris

Where I spent, perhaps, the most restful hour of my life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Wind Whales of Ishmael

© 1971, by Philip Jose Farmer

Ever read Moby Dick? I did, once, twelve years ago. For me, it was kinda like why some people climb Mount Everest. Took me a solid two months, and I learned all I ever wanted to know and more about whales and whaling. Oh, yeah, and a guy with a peg-leg full of issues who winds up destroying everything and everyone around him.

Philip Jose Farmer read Moby Dick, too, and when PJF reads a classic, something in his mind clicks and sends this message to his brain: What would it be like if I contributed in some way to this great work? Sometimes he gets permission to write follow-up novels with the original characters. Other times he writes peripheral novels focusing on some aspect of the classic work, like the city of Opar in his Hadon books. In this instance, he decided to write a sequel of sorts. The Wind Whales of Ishmael is the result.

My verdict? I’ve read it twice, once about a decade ago, and now again in the midst of my Farmer craze. Both times were fast reads, three hours spread over four days in each case. And both times I came away with this major take: how effortless is this man’s ability to create a lush, detailed, well-developed, and deadly dangerous new world!

The book begins where Melville leaves off: the Pequod has sunk, leaving poor Ishmael afloat Queequeg’s engraved coffin. He’s picked up by a passing vessel, is allowed to sleep for 36 hours, and is put to work as lookout on the main mast to earn his keep. But man is this guy unlucky. For what happens his very first night on watch but some strange St. Elmo’s display causing the very waters the ship is sailing upon to vanish!

Ishmael plummets for – literally – miles, and is only saved by smashing through something slimy and organic, and then tumbling into thick vegetation. His new ship crashes to pieces in the shallow waters beyond. By page 20 or so, our hero has deduced (based on a fat red sun and a gigantic, swift-moving moon), that he has gone forward through time millions of years to a future Earth, where the most of the ocean has boiled away. The plush island he finds himself on is on the bottom of what he once called the Pacific.

But that’s the least of his troubles. The vegetation has an aggressively symbiotic relationship to the weird varieties of life he spots. You eat a leaf, then the leaf sedates you, inserts a sharp vine, and drinks some of you. It’s the deal you gotta make unless you wish to die of thirst. There are also hybrid monkey-like critters and foot-long roaches, but the worse things are the things that fly in the air.

Evolution has given future Earthlife lighter-than-air bladders to float – often at great speeds – creating a highly-structured food chain in the air. Massive clouds of blood-red plankton drift in the clouds, harvested by the massive wind whales, who are, in turn, harvested by cylindrical “air sharks” – hollow tubes with teeth, basically. And harvesting them all, at great risk, are the men of this world, who practice their whaling in great airships sailing giant bladders on the swift jetstream currents miles above the ground.

As luck would have it (we literary types call it deus ex machina), Ishmael is found by Namalee, a princess / priestess from the local city-state of Zalarapamtra. She nurses Ish back to health and manages to teach him her language in an incredibly fast few days, guaranteeing her a job at the Pimsleur School of Languages should she ever go back in time a million years. Then they view a whale hunt and the disastrous results that sometimes follow. What crewmen survive inform them that their home city has been destroyed – by the Purple Beast of Stinging Death (that’s a translation, by the way), led there treacherously by ships from rival town Booragangah.

Now, it may sound silly (it certainly sounds silly to me writing this), but … it works. You’re pulled into the tale from the early pages and you have trouble putting the darn thing down. Like all PJF, it’s lean and mean, fast-paced, and quite brutal at times. Characters come into the story fully-fleshed-out, only to give up the ghost a few pages later. Like Two Hawks from my previous Farmer read, and sort of like Hadon from Flight to Opar, Ishmael is a fish-out-of-water that has to survive in an intensely violent world by his wits and, more often than not, his fists. And in the end he manages to surprise everyone, most of all himself.

As far as the whole “sequel to Moby Dick” business, it ain’t. PJF didn’t even make an effort to write stylistically like Melville, though I doubt that was even in his design. The wind whales are only passers-by in the story and don’t have the integral role you might have expected. Indeed, the “Purple Beast” is the nemesis, the big baddie, and it’s more like the giant squid Captain Nemo fought (and I believe Ishmael refers to it as “the kraken”). And the final third of the novel deals with the Zalarapamtran revenge upon Booragangah.

But it does appear to be quintessential PJF, so I like.

Grade: B+

Note: This book has one unique feature that puzzled me – it doesn’t contain any chapter divisions! My paperback has 152 pages, and from the very first page to the very last page, there is but one single-line break in the story, and that’s not denoted in any special way. Just struck me as odd. I don’t recall ever reading a book (Wind Whales is probably 60,000-75,000 words in length) without any internal division.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Demand a Plan

Yes, have a calm, reasoned, rational debate on gun control, with each side representing their case with facts and not strawmen. By all means.

But can we deny input from every single actor and actress that appears in this video on the simple ground of inconsistency?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

I’m not up for reviewing the movie, ’cuz I have all sorts of ambivalence towards the whole War on Terror / torture vs. enhanced interrogation thing. Even if you leave all that out of consideration, I didn’t like the flick. Without the intense subject matter, the movie stunk, and it stunk for one major reason:

Moody, angst-y, diverse thirtysomethings overdosing on testosterone and punctuating their never-wrong convictions with the F-word!


And since when does everybody smoke? Didn’t we all stop smoking – at least in government buildings – 25 years ago?

If I’m not mistaken the lead chick’s nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Didn’t know they gave out nominations for one-dimensional, unimaginative performances, but I guess they do. Hey, screenwriter, by all means, don’t waste our time with character back-story. It’s not like we might want to know why she’s so moody and angst-y. Might make her two-dimensional and somewhat imaginative.

The only truly interesting part of the movie was the final twenty minutes – the raid on Bin Laden’s “compound.” And even that failed at the end, for we never see what exactly happens to that monster. Indeed, save for a nose and a scruff of gray beard, we don’t even see him. And why is our moody angst-y heroine crying at the end? Shouldn’t she be telling somebody to go to f-in’ hell or something?

I might watch it again on the small screen. Or not.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


What a singularly craptastic weekend I’ve had. First, thanks to Pharaoh in the White House, my check is a net $30 lighter (and will be even moreso next pay when the entire pay period is in 2013). Then, I had absolutely no self-control over my diet, eating like I’ll live forever: burritoes, pizza, soda, milk duds, egg and cheese sandwiches with taylor ham, beer. Spotting a mouse trying to gnaw its way through a wire mesh window, I haul my 45-pounder (Patch) up on a shelf to observe and manage to throw my back out. Looking for some peace and quiet last night (the wife out for ladies’ night and the children asleep), the upstairs toilet clogs and overflows, spewing unspeakableness all over the tiled floor. This morning I seemed to gain some peace of mind helping serve at Mass, but the Impala overheats on the way home. A Russian gas station attendant literally (and I mean “literally”) gets intimate with the engine’s coolant system to get it running again, but I have to take it to the shop tomorrow and that’ll cost $$$ we don’t have. And to top it off, I’m 0 for 3 with the playoff games so far.

I’m due to hang out with my bud later tonight to see Zero Dark Thirty, and I have my fingers crossed the movie theater won’t go up in flames with us in it.

If problems are opportunities, I want to delegate them to a subordinate for a few days!

[But I did get lots of sleep and manage to get two-thirds of the way done with The Wind Whales of Ishmael … it’s the simple things in life …]

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Two Hawks From Earth

© 1979 by Philip Jose Farmer

Imagine an Earth where plate tectonics never cause the Americas to rise above sea level – save for a few island chains where the Rockies and Andes might have been. There is no jet stream; there is, in effect, but one global ocean. This affects the drift of the other land masses; Europe, for instance, is a couple hundred miles north and India never joins Asia.

What non-geographic changes might these geographic changes spawn in this world? The Negro race never evolves. The Amerinds, who migrated into the Americas over the Siberian-Alaskan land bridge, travel westward instead into Europe. Hence, Western Civilization is an amalgam of proto-Iroquoian and Greek culture. And since there are no Americas, there is no rubber, horses, corn, potatoes, or tobacco. Also, thanks to the Amerind conquest, there is no Hebrew people, no Semitic peoples, and no Roman Empire. Christ never walked this Earth.

However, despite all these metachanges, things are remarkably similar. Or so Roger Two Hawks comes to understand. On a moonlit night in mid-1943, high above the oil-rich fields over Nazi Romania, Two Hawks is one of hundreds in the air, dropping bombs and dodging fire from German Messerschmidts. Then, as his ship disintegrates beneath his feet, as he and his co-pilot O’Brien bail out, they somehow slip out of the Earth they know to this new Earth of Farmer’s we’ve been describing.

Though there is no Germany and no Russia and no England on Earth 2, there is Perkunisha, Hotinohsonih, and Blodlandish. There is no Hitler, but there is the Kassandrash. And, like the events on Earth 1, there is one, long, global conflict, with Perkunisha out to conquer all of Europe and eradicate anyone of non-white descent.

The economy, though, is still based on steam. Cars driven on wooden wheels (no rubber, remember) are powered by a boiler where an internal combustion engine should be. Since there is no gasoline-powered engines, there are no airplanes. Instead, massive blimps spined with balsa wood (no aluminum) bombard enemy infantry. Firearms are single shot muskets. Clubs and knives are part of every enlisted man’s personal armament.

Because of this, Two Hawks and O’Brien find themselves very important men. Men whose knowledge – of engines, aircraft, and weaponry – make them very valuable. Thus, once they are found out, just about every nation on the planet is after them, and if one nation can’t have them, they’ll kill them so another won’t have them. Such becomes their lot on this parallel world.

Like most of the Philip Jose Farmer books I’ve read, Two Hawks from Earth is fast-paced though never rushed. There’s plenty of deus ex machina to drive the tale forward, as our heroes become, in turn, the property of one superpower after another, escaping this trap and that predicament, propelling their destiny with their wits and, on more than one occasion, their fists and their guns. Like any tale set during the grim days of World War II – even world war on a parallel planet – it’s unexpectedly and shockingly brutal in more more than a couple of spots.

Does Two Hawks survive and thrive on Earth 2? Does his stereotypically-Irish pal O’Brien? Do they overcome the deadly schemes of their nemesis – a German named Raske who’s also been pulled in through the mysterious parallel world gate? What happens to Perkunisha and Blodlandish and the millions of war-ravaged refugees?

There’s a nifty twist concerning Two Hawks’s origin revealed at the end of one of the closing chapters that almost makes the whole thing worth reading. (However, to pick a bone, it could’ve been written a little better for a greater shock value). And a couple of chapters book-ending the original story, written in a decade after original publication, kinda detracts from a leaner, meaner tale.

All in all, though, I enjoyed the read. Like I find myself saying after a lot of these PJF stories, it ain’t Dostoevsky or Dickens, but it’s a great couple-hours read that pulls you completely into the tale.

Grade: B+

Friday, January 11, 2013

Swords and Plowshares

“Those who beat their swords into plowshares will be plowing for those who didn’t.”

– variously attributed to Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Heinlein, and others.

Why can’t 50 percent of the population understand this?

[Interesting post compared to yesterday’s, somewhat schizophrenic, no?  Well, what can I say: I’m a work in progress!]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Politics Kills

Hmmm. I like this. The rebel in me, long dormant, finds this message immensely appealing. Instead of mildly bucking against half the population, why not go in full-force against the whole tribal mentality of modern-day America! Be truly counter-cultural!

Read somewhere that this might be coming out on t-shirt soon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

FIOS, part II

Well, we’re up and running and all seems well. Techs were very nice to the wife and went out of their way to make sure both teevees, her laptop, and my PC had connectivity. I’ve seen no break in service, which is a good thing. The teevee, though, looks a bit intimidating as now we have to relearn the location of nearly a hundred channels.

The wife and Little One are off to pick up an iPad, her/their Christmas gift this year. I don’t know nuthin’ about ’em, but I imagine I will, soon. A selling point from her was that I could use it to write blog posts from anywhere in the house. Hmmm. Does that include the bathtub?

Anyway, short post tonight ’cuz I got some stuff to do. And seeing that I’m halfway done with PJF’s Two Hawks after four days reading, I want to make much better headway before sleepy sleep time.

See ya tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Tonight, before bed, I quizzed Little One for her vocab test tomorrow. She’s in third grade, and while most of the words seemed her level, there were a couple of unexpectedly tough ones, such as “tsunami,” “psychic,” “cinnamon,” and “cyst.”

It brought to mind one of my most negative early experiences … the first grade spelling bee.

Well, it wasn’t a Spelling Bee per se, capital letters and all, it was more informal, the audience basically being the entire classroom. We were all participating. I remember we all sat on top of our desks, and we threw a bean bag to each other. Whoever got the bean bag, got the word from the teacher to spell.

Before long the beanbag comes my way. My first word! Now, in first grade, if I may be so bold as to brag on my publicly anonymous blog, I was quite the smartie. I was probably third behind this one boy and one girl. The boy I eventually became friends with in fifth grade. The girl I despised because she displaced me as the class authority on dinosaurs.

Anyway, the word my teacher gives me is: Of.


Or – is it? Suddenly, I am filled with self-doubt. Of. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. It’s such an unobtrusive, innocent word, so important to sentence structure yet built so that you never notice it.

I suddenly realized I had no idea how to spell it.

I stutter.

I stammer.

Then, my mouth starts moving and I spell my word: U – V. “Of,” I say.

Wrong, the teacher says, quite un-diplomatically. (Are kids “wrong” nowadays in school?) I have to sit back on my chair, out of the game, out of the spelling bee.

It is an incidence that I obviously still recall with some bitterness today. Damn you, of!

Monday, January 7, 2013

FIOS, part I

My wife, bless her soul, has figured out a way we could save something like $150 a month. After chatting New Year’s Eve with a semi-techie friend about routers and wireless networks for iPads and iPods and whatnot, she called up our current provider to give them whatfor. Once they admitted they could not beat the offer offered to us by Verizon FIOS, we made the switch.

At least, on paper we did.

A technician came over a few days ago and installed some device in our laundry room. A huge, heavy box of equipment came on Saturday, and we were supposed to complete the installation by plugging this and that and this and that in. Now, I’m about a dozen years out of the computer game. I had my A+ and Net+ certifications back in the day, but so much has changed and I’m quite rusty. I can use a computer, that’s about it. Oh, and some basic troubleshooting. And I can install easy stuff, like a cable box to a teevee. Which is what we thought this was going to be.

Well, after spending twenty minutes connecting all the coaxial and Ethernet cables to the router, laptop and PC and powering everything up, we spent about an hour-and-a-half with tech support to find out why we had no internet connectivity. Turns out it has – maybe – something to do with the install from a few days ago by the Verizon tech. Guy on the phone didn’t know for sure, so another tech is coming out tomorrow.

So if you don’t hear from me from Tuesday on, you know it’s Technical Difficulties.

I’m seriously hoping the dude will come over and press a few buttons and tweak a few settings and – voila! – Internet! Teevee! New DVR box! $150 in savings! And no blackout of Family Hopper’s communication with the outside world.

We’ll see.

Verizon, you’re on notice: Get it done!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Walking Cliché

So me and Patch are at B&N yesterday, waiting in line to pay for our purchases. She got a big illustrated book about Peter Pan. I found a PJF anthology (Riverworld and Other Stories) to add to my collection.

Directly in front of us is the Walking Cliché. Let me describe him; perhaps you’ve seen him out there, too.

First thing you notice is the scuzzy scruffiness. Hair fashionably unkempt, several days of growth on his face. Scarf wrapped two and a half times around his olive green army jacket that’s not quite an army jacket. Matching wool cap that’s not quite wool. Jeans, almost torn at one knee. Some type of compromise between a boot and a shoe.

A slightly unpleasant odor envelopes him like a halo; I try not to get too close as the line slowly, inexorably, moves forward towards the cashiers.

He’s listening to an iPod, of course. The white wires protruding from the smelly jacket into his mangy hair beneath the cap. Then, because I guess you can’t waste any time not listening to a cool song, he whips it out and with a dexterous thumb queues up another one for us. I say “for us,” because me and Patch and probably the three people behind us can hear it, too.

My wife is probably sick of it, but every time I see a commercial for an i-something, or a cell phone, or a fast food restaurant, or the NFL, or a non-luxury car line, every 20-40 year old male is viewed through the scuzzy-scruffy lens. My pet peeve is, I don’t know anybody who looks like this, and I happen to work in a company that employees eighty or ninety 20-40 year old males. Even in my travels about the county every weekend, I never see any dude that looks like the dude I stood behind in line yesterday. Who are these people?

Hence the eponym, the Walking Cliché.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Flight to Opar

© 1976, by Philip Jose Farmer

A nice, fast, entertaining read. Nothing deep, nothing life-changing, nothing earth-shattering. Just a nice, fast, entertaining read.

I liked it.

Now, I don’t know anything about Tarzan, or Edgar Rice Burroughs (a sad lapse in my literary adventures). From a one-page Forward in the book we learn that this series is based on a map from one of Burroughs’s books. A map of central Africa, c. 10,000 years before Christ, when the world was warmer and the Sahara was lush and verdant and harbored two inland seas. Pre-historic civilizations flourished, armies ranged across the plains, and gods walked the earth. Life was cheap, bought with the price of a sword.

At least, that’s Farmer’s vision, His swordsman is a pre-historic Tarzan name of Hadon, heir-apparent to great southern kingdom of Opar. Now, since this is book two of the series (and I honestly don’t know if there is a third book), we catch Hadon in mid-venture. He’s fleeing an evil king with the queen who’s rebellion against her husband, with a score of warriors and hunting dogs minutes behind. Aiding Hadon are his trusted comrades – dwarfish Paga, Hinokly the scribe, and bard Kebiwabes, three musketeers to his D’Artagnan. Oh, and beautiful, seductive witch-beyond-the-northern-Sea (which I’m taking to be the pre-Mediterranean), Lalila, accompanies them, bearing both Hadon’s unborn child and a broken ankle.

Needless to say, Hadon manages to save his companions, and many more adventures ensue in Hadon’s flight to Opar. Farmer’s forte is in the people and places who populate this part of the world, six millennia ago. Colorful character pop into and out of the story for pages at a time, and seem so fully enfleshed you’d think you read entire biographies of them. Ocean cities built on stilts, goddess-temples where trespassing is paid for with death, subterranean secret passageways, piranha-filled rivers, demon-haunted cities where the sound of a flute is the only sound you hear before death takes you ...

My immediate impression, which lasted throughout the book’s 212 pages, was that Flight to Opar was a modernized (for 1976) H. Rider Haggard novel. Haggard is famous for his “lost world” epics written at the end of the 19th century, making him the Stephen King or Dean Koontz of his day. (See reviews on this website for She, King Solomon’s Mines, and Allan Quatermain.) His novels are set in the Africa of his time, and involved similar adventure tales of lost cities and civilizations which turn out to be not-so-lost. Well, I thought, take away the extravagant dense Victorian prose, take away the first-person narrative, add twice as many characters (and a lot more gore and violence), and you get Farmer’s novel. In light of the note in the Forward linking the novel to Burroughs’s Tarzan, I wonder how much closer Flight to Opar would be to that work, not having read the “source” material.

So, after a couple months of somewhat heavy reading, I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would: a nice, fast, entertaining read, emphasis on entertaining.

Grade: strong B+.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Words that have never, ever been uttered by any sane, rational, intelligent human being, anywhere, anytime in the last 32 years or so :

“I’m proud of what the work we did at MTV” …

(This was the first thought in my mind after watching two minutes of the MTV show Ridiculousness – and a commercial for Snooki’s new show – while making hot chocolate in the company break room this afternoon.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Atlas Shrugged II

Some backup to yesterday’s review from the first half of the book …

“Francisco, what’s the most depraved type of human being?”

“The man without a purpose.”

(pg. 98)

* * * * *

“I can forgive all those others, they’re not vicious, they’re merely helpless. But you – you’re the kind who can’t be forgiven.”

“It is against the sin of forgiveness that I wanted to warn you.”

(pg. 142)

* * * * *

“Well, it’s like this, Miss Taggart,” said the delegate of the Union of Locomotive Engineers. “I don’t think we’re going to allow you to run that train.”

Dagny sat at her battered desk, against the blotched wall of her office. She said, without moving, “Get out of here.”

It was a sentence the man had never heard in the polished offices of railroad executives. He looked bewildered. “I came to tell you – ”

“If you have anything to say to me, start over again.”


“Don’t tell me what you’re going to allow me to do.”

(pgs. 216-217)

* * * * *

“Good day,” she said.

She had turned to go, when he said, his voice jerky and high, “You haven’t any right to despise me.”

She stopped to look at him. “I have expressed no opinion.”

“I am perfectly innocent, since I lost my money, since I lost all of my money for a good cause. My motives were pure. I wanted nothing for myself. I’ve never sought anything for myself. Miss Taggart, I can proudly say that in all my life I have never made a profit!”

Her voice was quiet, steady and solemn.

“Mr. Lawson, I think I should let you know that of all the statements a man can make, that is the one I consider most despicable.”

(pg. 292)

* * * * *

The only pride of her workday was not that it had been lived, but that it had been survived. It was wrong, she thought, it was viciously wrong that one should ever be forced to say that about any hour of one’s life.

(pg. 343)

* * * * *

“Is that his excuse for himself? Is that what he’s made you feel?”

“No. Oh, no! That’s the feeling I lose when I speak to him. The strange thing is what he does make me feel.”



She nodded, in helpless wonder, knowing that she had felt it, too.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “But I look at people and they seem to be made of nothing but pain. He’s not. You’re not. That terrible hopelessness that’s all around us, I lose it only in his presence. And there. Nowhere else.”

(pg. 398)

* * * * *

“Mr. Reardon,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of this strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?”

“I … don’t know. What … could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

(pg. 424)

[all page numbers refer to the 35th anniversary paperback edition]

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Atlas Shrugged

Drat! I made it 756 pages into Atlas Shrugged before every fiber of my body rebelled and convinced me to move on. Since my paperback version is densely packed at 1,074 pages, the bean counter in me is somewhat satisfied that I made it 70 percent of the way through. I did read it cover-to-cover back in the late 90s, so I still have a vague memory of the novel’s conclusion.

Why did I stop?

Well, truth be told, I lost heart. While I do enjoy listening to the book on tape so-to-speak, reading along with it, it was taking forever! It’s truly amazing that I tamed my hopper tendencies for the 49 days-worth of reading. Since I noticed I was tracking about a dozen pages a half-hour, I put nearly 32 solid hours of reading into the darn thing.

Okay. Enough statistics.

Here’s the bottom line you need to know about Ayn Rand’s (I’ll admit) masterpiece: She diagnoses the disease correctly, but prescribes the wrong cure.

How to condense 1,074 pages into a paragraph? Tough, but here goes:

In a somewhat alternate-timeline 1950s, socialism has spread its tentacles throughout the world. The United States stands alone in a sea of People States, i.e., the Peoples State of England, the Peoples State of Canada, the Peoples State of Argentina, etc. But the US is not impervious. A soft, gelatinous, greedy form of institutionalized meddling has straddled more and more all aspects of the economy, arts, and daily life. This leads to an unexpected and unique “strike.” One by one, the great producers of society – be it in industry, literature, music, education – are disappearing. At first our heroine, Dagny Taggart, heir with her soft, gelatinous, greedy brother of great Taggart Transcontinental railroad, believes a “Great Destroyer” is out there, causing these leaders and visionaries to disappear. Then, through a systematic series of revelations, she learns the identity of the first striker, John Galt, and the fate of the other missing men, and their philosophy for the future as the world collapses all about her, the inevitable result of the “looters” and “moochers” in the government.

I don’t know about you, brother, but it seems to me that we’re a-travelin’ down this road further and further every year, regardless of who occupies the big house in DC. (Others on this here Internet label it the Hegelian Two-Step: two steps to the left, one step to the right, two steps to the left, one step to the right, ad infinitum.)

Now here’s where Rand goes wrong. Her thesis is that only the promotion and glorification of some type of “higher” selfishness (possibly an oxymoron), through the vessel of completely-free-market capitalism, can overcome that government man with a gun to my head emptying my wallet. This ideal of “higher” selfishness is personified in the main protagonists of the book: John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, and Hank Reardon. It is revealed to us as we accompany Dagny on her sleuthing and listen to her lengthy, tortured, interior ruminations. The seed’s always been in her, and we see-first hand this gloriousness as it sprouts and blossoms within her.

I recently read that the best parts of Rand are Aristotelian. That’s something I find myself in complete agreement with. Large chunks of the novel are dedicated to the “looters” beliefs that there is no objective reality, there is no “out-there,” there is no such thing as “thought” and “thinking.” Mostly these chapters dealt with the State Department of Science and the corruption / capitulation of the eminent scientist Dr. Robert Stadler (one of the saddest and most tragic arcs of the novel). Though she makes caricatures out of her opponents, Rand’s arguments in these segments seem rock-solid to me.

And, from the same article, the worst parts of Rand are Nietzschean. Specifically, Nietzsche’s concept of the “Superman,” or “Overman”; however it’s imperfectly translated from the German, it describes a superior man, one above traditional morality, one who is his own morality, aspiring to and excelling within his own noble goals and ideals. In Rand’s world, these men (and women such as Dagny) are the Prime Movers, the ones whose ideas are translated into products and services that raise the entire world up (hence the titular metaphor describing their “strike”). True, the existence and flourishing of such individuals (and their resulting philosophies into a world-view and culture) is an antidote to the evils of socialism. Problem is, as an antidote it is as loathsome as the disease it’s sent to cure.

This loathsomeness is illustrated by the protagonists’ actions. Infidelity and the justifications for it struck me hardest reading the novel. (And Rand’s own life distastefully bears this out.) Other aspects, such as their rigid inflexibility and loyalty to their … libertarian (? Is that the right word?) … ideals, their no quarter given to those who cannot function on their level, their hoisting of Work and Workaholism to Idol worship stature, these things I found repulsive too, though in moderation and not as an End but a Means there is the rare possibility they can be a positive.

Oh, and all these Super Men and Women are atheists. At least, they never mention the following: God, Jesus Christ, theology, the Bible, a priesthood, organized religion, prayer. Correction: the name of Jesus Christ is taken in vain on a handful of occasions. But I find it hard to believe that on his deathbed, someone like John Galt would be self-satisfied he gave no “sanction” to looters or moochers rather than ponder the ultimate destination of his soul. Rand’s protagonists espouse a philosophy as much at odds with Catholic teaching as that of the socialists.

There are other faults, too, faults of a literary as opposed to philosophic nature. First of all, I could never shake the soap-opera feel to the names of these people: Dagny Taggart, Francisco d’Anconia, Hank Reardon, Wesley Mouch, Midas Mulligan, Ragnar Daneskjold (!). These are the Days of Our Lives! Also, this chick loves exposition, thick chunky page-length paragraphs of it. Not necessarily a fault, unless done in excess. Characters often speak in similar seemingly endless sentence-upon-sentences. Listening to it on audio CD I would often wonder if the person being spoken to had fallen asleep as a ten minute clip of dialogue keeps going on and on and on.

And, of course, there’s Galt’s famous speech toward the end of the book (which I mercifully did not live through a second time). I did, however, locate it one night and did some calculations. The speech covers 56 pages in my paperback. Checking a few random pages I noted 51 lines per page and anywhere from 12 to 15 words per line. This totals out the speech to nearly 40,000 words! That’s almost 150 times the size of the Gettysburg Address! It’s about half the size of a yer average, regular-sized novel! This book-within-a-book restates, for those of us who slept through the first 920 or so pages, every single point made by every single character in every single chapter. Only in a dry and boring speech format.

All this being said, I do believe Atlas Shrugged should be required reading in high school. If only as an antidote to that soft, gelatinous, greedy socialism being force-fed the world. Or as a warning to literary excess, for those exhibiting a bit of flair with the pen. And though I can’t say hated the novel, I can’t say that I liked it, either.

Grade: A-minus or C-minus, depending where you stand in the ideological spectrum.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Day

Well, the first day of the new year was - pretty darn good, I must admit.

Didn't think it would be so, first thing in the morning. 8 am, that is. Woke up extremely dehydrated. Tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth dehydrated. Wonder why? Well, let's review the past twelve hours, shall we?

(Honestly, I've drunk worse on New Years Eve. I been to Times Square during the Dinkins days, when it was pure anarchy and bacchanalian revelry. But my tolerance has taken a nosedive since I entered my forties.)

Got home from work at 6, had some beef stew the wife made. Got the girls into their pajamas and then we drove over to our friends' house. Their children played with ours for two hours before we put them to bed, and then we watched Neighborhood Watch with Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughan. Afterwards, we channel surfed as the countdown to midnight proceeded, then hung out about another hour before scooping up the girls and the wife driving us all home.

I never laugh as much at any time of the year except when we hang out with these friends. Tears-in-the-eyes laughing, doubled-over belly laughs. And this is even before any serious drinking is done.

I didn't drink too much, but just enough to wisely not drive. Hmmm. Now that I'm reviewing what I had, I may have to rephrase that. I had four Belgian beers (forget the brand) chased by mini-shot glasses of Bailey's Irish Cream, over the course of three hours. Not raging drunk, but happy. Then, a glass of champagne with a little Chambord for the countdown. Finally, my buddy gave me something that tasted like jet fuel, and after that, I knew we were either crashing at their house or the wife was driving home.

But I was able to get out of bed with only a minor headache. Two sixteen-ounce glasses of water cured my dehydration (and I continued to drink water during the day). I fixed the girls eggs and toast for breakfast when they all came downstairs, around 9.

The wife took the little 'uns into the city to see the tree from 12 to 3. I did three loads of laundry, read a whole bunch of pages of my new PJF paperback, watched a surprisingly entertaining old Western DVR'd from TCM called Quantrill's Raiders (though it completely fictionalized the outcome to the Lawrence, Kansas slaughter). Tidied up, put out trash and recycling, blah, blah, blah. Girls came home and the wife went out for a massage. I managed to get a handle on our finances and did some exercising.

Tonight we're going to watch the conclusion of a Frank Sinatra flick we started last week. Then it's back to work, three full days until the weekend. Domestic bliss and tranquility. Just what the Hopper's been craving.

Until we meet again ... (why not tomorrow?)