Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Hawkline Monster

© 1974 by Richard Brautigan

Wow. I am floored.

Reading The Hawkline Monster is the closest thing to dropping acid without dropping acid. That is, from what I’ve been told about dropping acid. It was also the most entertaining and shocking read I’ve read in a long, long, long time.

Written in one- or two-page “chapters,” it is a blisteringly fast read. I started late one night and put away 35 pages in a half-hour. Next day I finished it, 145 more pages, in two hours. I often write in reviews that I “couldn’t put this book down,” but in this case, it’s the brutal truth: I couldn’t put this book down.

How can I possibly summarize the story? Let’s see ... Magic Child, an Indian girl of indeterminate age, meets up with two assassins-for-hire in a 1902 San Francisco house of ill-repute with a proposition: a Miss Hawkline wants them to kill a monster for $5,000. The men willingly agree and ride out to Oregon to the Hawkline mansion, built over “ice caves” by a mad scientist who happens to be Miss Hawkline’s father. Only the doctor is now missing and presumed to be monster fodder.

Very quickly things get weird. Excuse me, weird-er. Magic Child morphs along the journey and winds up as Miss Hawkline’s indistinguishable twin sister, and is now also refered to as “Miss Hawkline.” And the two assassins, Cameron and Greer, a cross between the two Bond killers from Diamonds Are Forever and John Travolta / Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction mixed into and out of Unforgiven, discover that the “monster” somehow is something that plays with all their minds, and the line between reality and dream becomes increasingly thinner and thinner. For instance, the simple suggestion, “Let’s just grab the shotgun and go downstairs and kill this thing,” never quite gets put into action.

All the characters, main and peripheral, are so weirdly interesting and magnetic I wished those one- and two-page scenes were drawn out to five- or ten-. No, that’s not exactly true; then the novel would lose its disjointed, unreal feel. Maybe I really wish there were more scenes with all these characters. There’s a giant of a butler who shrinks to a midget, a man who becomes an umbrella stand, a whole bunch of standard Western townsfolk right out of a slightly-skewed parallel universe. Characters are enfleshed very obliquely, a line here or there yielding a total backstory, very effectively and quite masterfully.

Why was it a “shocking” read? Well, and this is kind of embarrassing, but the novel’s quite a bit more sexually explicit than the normal fare Hopper reads. Not explicit in a titillating way; more just for shock value, a splash of cold water on any unsuspecting readers (ahem) looking unsuspectingly to read a “Gothic Western.” Or maybe that’s hot water, dunno.

If I have any complaint with the book, it’s with the monster itself. It’s closer to Forbidden Planet than, say, Beowulf. There ain’t no dragon. But it’s not something just in our minds, despite the monster playing with our minds by playing with the characters’ minds. It is an entity – I guess – for it has thoughts and motivations and a physical presence. At least, I think so, but on further reflection, I could be so far wrong it’s laughable.

Richard Brautigan is somewhat of a cult figure, dying way too young and leaving behind a hodgepodge of poetry, short stories, and novels. First learned of him from an homage short story by Philip Jose Farmer, a story that I liked. Based on this work, I’ll have to research further to see if there is anything else of his I must read. As an aside, The Hawkline Monster has been off-and-on in Hollywood development hell, with various actors over the years attached to it. One such name is so perfectly perfect that he did get it made and starred in it, in a parallel universe: Jack Nicholson. And in that universe, the movie bombed at the box office but became a sleeper cult classic twenty-five years later.

Grade: A+

Latest Obsession

I am so into this recently:


Or perhaps a picture?

I must know everything about it!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Dark Travelling

© 1987 by Roger Zelazny

All right; knocked this one out so I could move it off the “unread” shelf.

Actually, it’s a short novel / long novella (about 110 pages) bundled with To Die In Italbar (see review of that, here). So I figured it would be a quick, enjoyable, entertaining read.

I figured right.

It’s actually aimed at a somewhat younger audience than a mid-40-ish male. I’m thinking middle school or early high school. Regardless, it was intelligent, logically consistent, and set itself up for a whole series of novels, which I don’t know were ever realized before Mr. Zelazny’s death.

Anyway, our protagonist is a kid who’s learning to be a werewolf. His step-sister is a witch, as is his mother, he later discovers. An exchange student who lives with them is a trained assassin proficient in the martial arts. Dad works at a think tank which somehow built a computer / transporter that allows travel between parallel universes.

Zelazny developes a whole range of worlds labeled “bands.” There are lightbands, graybands, and darkbands, and you can whittle out which are the good places and not-so-good place to go to. Problem is, as we discover right from page 1, is that some of the darkbands are at war with the lightbands. Gunfire is heard, Dad is missing, the computer / transporter is sabotagued. How are our young heroes going to save him? And by saving him, save the lightbands?

Well, you have to read the book.

Grade: B. A Dark Travelling is a good read for the younglings, like my nephew, or Little One when she gets a bit older.

Ish is Sick

Here I am, home, with Patch (aka, “Ish”). Patch is sick. Has been, since Thursday or so. Has some sort of weird stomach bug. No fever or nausea, but she gets pains and she has to go to the toilet a dozen times in a row. Nothing really comes out, and this happens a half dozen times a day. Her nether regions are red raw from wipes and wiping and butt cream, and there’s a whole lot of head scratching because no one quite seems to know what exactly the problem is.

Took her to the doctor’s on Monday, and even he was puzzled. Samples were sent to the lab, so we should have results later this afternoon. She’s not in pain. In fact, when she’s not having these “attacks,” she’s perfectly fine and normal.

The wife watched her the first two days this week while I took care of some essential work at work. Now today is my turn. Honestly, most of the day will be fine. Patch is going to watch a lot of DVDs and either take a nap or read in her room. Me, I got some writing to do (two book reviews today and tomorrow). Also some thinking. And domestic chores: clean the first floor, do some laundry. Little One has a Halloween party tonight, so I have to plan dinner around all that. The wife is in meetings in NYC and won’t be home until 10 pm or so.

Big day tomorrow with the school costume parade (I’ll be taking an extra long lunch) and trick-or-treating. And after that, hopefully, a long, boring, uneventful weekend.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


[minor spoilers]

The wife and I had the rarest of rare things this weekend: a couple of free hours without children. We mutually decided to see Gravity. The wife had her reasons, and I had mine. I’d heard it was a technical marvel, I’d read the word “transcendent” thrown around on a few blogs, and it was a movie of another rarest of rare things: all the action takes place in low earth orbit.

After 90 tense minutes imprinting my clenched hands into the theater chair arm rests, I decided I loved this film. Well, that’s not exactly true. Three minutes into the film I decided I loved it.

The special effects are phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. This is a movie that deserves – needs – to be seen on the big screen, and in 3D if possible, both of which we did. See it big this way and you’ll get the best experience of being in orbit around the earth short of actually hopping a Chinese Shenzhou rocket. In fact, I’ve read that the movie stars three people: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and, well, space.

Forget everything you know about the world up there that you learned from science fiction teevee and movies. Most of it’s wrong. In space it is absolutely quiet. It is quite cold (unless you find yourself coasting a little too close to a very massive body). There is no up or down. And Newton’s First and Third laws reign supreme. A body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force – and remember, space essentially is a vacuum, devoid of forces. And every action yields an equal and opposite reaction.

Oh, yes, and I forgot: Gravity can kill you.

The setting is beautifully established a few minutes into the film, and the plot driver a few minutes afterward. After that, it’s all nonstop intensity, Murphy’s Law in overdrive, as stranded astronauts try to get back home alive, three hundred and fifty miles down.

I’ve read some complaints about Gravity and agree with them to a certain extent. This “whatever can go wrong will go spectacularly wrong” motif in the movie generated the best line I saw – which I can’t go into for spoilers sake but will say it involves an alligator and a lake; you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see the film. Also the dialogue’s good but not great; sometimes corny and sometimes a little bit cliched. And as far as boycotting any Clooney movie – despite his loathsome left-wing politics – he is easily still one of the most charismatic and capable actor working in Hollywood today.

The movie does indeed have its “transcendence.” Like brillaint jewels sprinkled in the crisp, cold winter night, they’re there. Prayer, the life after this one, rebirth, the indomitable human spirit. It’s there. The wife and I also speculated on angels and “Early Man”, but that’s as far as I’ll go in this post. All in all, a beautiful movie.

Sandra Bullock is quite impressive; yes, they’re right when they say she can carry a movie by herself. I was pulled in by her character, her peril, her epiphany. She should be nominated for an Oscar. And if Gravity doesn’t win Best Picture – considering all the above – it would be a real shame.

Grade: A+

Monday, October 28, 2013

William Harrison

I noticed the other day that author / screenwriter William Harrison died a week or so ago. Don’t know much about him except for one thing that was huge for me and my friends in the late-70s: he wrote a short story called “Roller Ball Murder”, in which the James Caan futuristic SF / sports film of 1975 was based.

That movie was big with me and my friends c. fourth grade. First of all, it was rated R, I believe, so in order to watch it you had to sneak it on your parent’s Cable TV, a relatively new feature in the Jersey suburbs of those days. In fact, I’m not quite sure when exactly I saw it (it may indeed have been a pared-down edited version on regular teevee), but I knew everything about the movie from my friends. We drew pictures of games-in-progress in art class. We discussed a kissing scene from it. We played a version of it on the blacktop playground.

A year later, I had a friend whose stepdad was a huge paperback book collector. Must’ve had a couple of hundred books on shelves in his den, where me and my chum would sit and draw and play board games. I spotted Harrison’s book Roller Ball Murder and decided I must read it. My friend plucked it off the shelf and tossed it at me. “Go ahead, no big deal,” he said.

I experienced a similar confusion as with William Nolan’s Logan’s Run – the book didn’t match up with the movie. Being just a kid still in his single digits, this greatly perplexed me. Worst of all, “Roller Ball Murder” was just a short story, the very first one in the book, fifteen or twenty pages if I remember correctly. Huh? I read halfway through the second story and realized it had absolutely no connection to the James Caan futuristic SF / sports film of 1975 which me and my buddies loved.

What the h?

So I just let it roll, so to speak. Over the years I’ve seen Rollerball perhaps three or four times. Last time probably twenty years ago, and I did not see the atrocious remake of a few years’ back. But I have never re-read the short story, first and only experienced during those warm spring days of 1978.

Now Harrison has died after a long and fruitful life. I think I owe it to the man to search out the story – and the anthology paperback it gave its name to – and give it a re-read.

It’s placed on the Acquisitions List! Maybe as a Christmas present to me from me.

My Nemesis

So they rehired my nemesis at work this past week. My only question to the Universe: Why, why, why did it have to be the week of my fruit-veggie-brown rice detox diet???

Anyway, after childishly calling the corpulent s.o.b. "Fatty fat fat" in front of my family two dozen or so times over the past week, I've decided to take the high road:

Nemesis, I wish you success and good fortune, and will help you if you need it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Detox Bonus

A by-product of my dietary detox week inadvertantly gave me bonus results: more free, productive time and a more positive outlook on life.

What is it, you ask?

Well, going in to the detox I realized I would be, uh, shall we say, a little emotionally volatile. Still had to go to work, interact with family and friends, coworkers and drivers on the road. But there was something I could do to help maintain an even keel. I went on a news fast.

So, since Sunday night, no Obama, no Obamacare, no Democrats, no Republicans, no culture war. These things invariably raise my blood pressure and, aside from voting in every election and living according to my beliefs, there's not a damn thing I can do one way or the other to influence them. Why torture myself? Why gripe, complain, moan and groan when the only thing doing so will really affect is my state of mind and state of health?

Over the past week there has been no online browsing of news sites, opinion sites, or cultural forums that I regularly visit. No watching political shows on teevee. No discussions with the wife or coworkers. Nothing. There has been a socio-political vacuum in my life.

And I feel great!

I highly recommend it.


SCENE: The Pilot, driving towards our friends’ house, discussing the detox diet we’re on …

WIFE: So, white wine, cheese, and bread is my reason for all this.

HOPPER: Pizza, beer, and cookies are mine.

PATCH: Cookies are a “sometimes” food.

LITTLE ONE: Yeah, “sometimes” Daddy eats too much of them.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

North African Campaign

During WW2 …

in 500 words or less:

Germany pretty much overruns Europe by the summer of 1940, conquering Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and France. She’s partnered with Italy and sits uneasy with Russia. Spain is neutral.

North African countries, most still European colonies, can be remembered as EL TAM, going east to west. That’s Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

Libya is occupied by Italy; Egypt (as well as the strategic Suez Canal) by England. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are French colonies, and their status is uncertain as France is now under German rule.

c. 1940/1941 Italian forces in Libya attack and drive British forces in Egypt. British forces fight and drive back successfully.

A worried Hitler sends Rommel and the African Korps to bolster Italian troops. Rommel becomes the “Desert Fox” of legend, striking fear into the hearts of Allied commanders.

Battles and campaigns see-saw. One side gains the initiative until it becomes over-extended, runs out of supplies (gasoline, water) and/or men. Then the other side gets the momentum.

Russia, besieged by German forces in its north, central, and southern regions, demands a separate front far, far away to occupy German forces.

US wants an English channel invasion, but is in no shape to do this, as pointed out by Churchill. England also has raw memories of being kicked off the continent a year or two earlier at Dunkirk.

England wants to kick Germany out of North Africa for two reasons: gain control of the Mediterranean and use Tunisia as a staging ground for an invasion through Europe’s “soft underbelly”: Tunisia to Sicily to Italy to Germany.

Also it will “blood” inexperienced US troops as well as help to spread and thin out German resources.

Operation Torch, November 1942: green US forces land in Morocco and Algiers to attack the African Korps from the west. Montgomery is put in charge of British 8th Army to attack the Korps from the east – a pincer movement.

Rommel severely defeats ineptly-led US forces at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. A learning experience for Supreme Commander Eisenhower. He installs a new general – Patton. Three months later, Germany evacuates Tunisia. North Africa is firmly in Allied hands by May 1943.

America learns how to fight.

A 2014 New Years Resolution

When working, work.

When resting, rest.

When working, do not rest.

When resting, do not work.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween DVRings

So, in anticipation of a very scary lead-up to Halloween with Little One, I’ve DVR’d a bunch of spooky, creepy, eerie movies and TV shows. One of the few true joys I have right now in my life is laying on the floor amidst pillows and blankets (a “nest”, coined by my wife) with my nine-year-old daughter watching horror and SF movies. It’s like the passing of a torch, like a father teaching his son how to throw a baseball. Only more demented.

But age-appropriate. Patch, note, just turned five, so there may be a Godzilla movie in her future, but that won’t be until next summer or so.

Two weekends ago we watched Logan’s Run. I looooooved that movie when I was a kid. I remember being eight, in third grade, and buying the novel at the bookmobile, carrying it around with me all over, reading it over and over and wondering why it didn’t quite match up with the movie. Not sure how old I was when I saw it, but since we had cable back then, it was probably around the age of nine, too.

Anyhoo, she loved it. I hadn’t seen it in at least twenty (thirty?) years, and thought it quite dated, fake, phony, and badly-acted. But I still love the memories.

Here’s the line-up I got for the frightfest over the next couple of nights:

- A MonsterQuest episode pertaining to ghosts ...

- A Ghost Hunters episode where the paranormal detectives stake out an old, abandoned assylum. Little One has never seen a show like this, where they make all sort of night-vision recordings and all, and is super-excited about finally being able to watch one.

- The Tingler, the Vincent Price classic about a parasitic creature that hitches onto victims’ spines and feeds on fear. Never seen it before, so I’m looking forward to it, too.

- The Raven, the 1935 Karloff-and-Lugosi horror flick. Never seen this one either, but it looked creepy-good in the little summary page on my DVR screen.

- The Gorgon, a black-and-white Peter Cushing film about a man who discovers the new lady in town might be, er, Medusa. I have vague memories of being scared watching it as a child; I think I watched it since and was not too impressed, but for some reason, that memory, too, is vague. So we’ll give it a shot, given Little One’s affinities for Greek Mythology.

So that’s the viewing on our Halloween screen this year.

How about you???

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Will to ... ?

“One definition of military morale is a will to fight that is stronger than the will to live.”

- An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson, page 401.

I like that.

I like it even better replacing “military moral” with “success”

and “fight” with “achieve.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Best Baby Pic Ever

[from Gibson Guitars Facebook page ...]

Wuz on Deck

Last Week in October:

The Hawkline Monster, a Gothic Western


Kennedy’s Last Days (to be read in tandem with Little One)

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, part II of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy


The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, part III of Atkinson’s trilogy


Now, should ? be ...

Frederik Pohl’s The World at the End of Time

Whitley Strieber’s The Grays

Jack Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls

Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood

The oldest book sitting on the shelf – Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar

The shortest book sitting on the shelf – Zelazny’s A Dark Traveling


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Detox Redux

As I write this, I am at the 42-hour mark of dietary detoxification.

No, I am not ready to haul off and slug someone. Though there are plenty of candidates.

Why am I detoxing? And what exactly is detoxing?

Well, all I’m really doing is eating healthy. Super-healthy. Me and the wife; it’s a joint effort. For the next nine days all we’re allowed to eat is fruit, vegetables, raw nuts and brown rice. Oh, and also a little bit of cheese and/or yogurt every day (something like 6 ounces or so), but I’m avoiding that because I think dairy is my problem. Sunday morning I had a ham and cheese omelet that was more like a half-pound brick of melted cheese with a little bit of egg and ham thrown in. Toss in the two metric tons of pizza I eat on an annual basis, and, well, you see where I’m going.

When you eat super-healthy, you’re like Tom Brady. The first seventy-hours, though, you’re like Tom Brady in his last Super Bowl: suffering high-velocity sackings again and again by Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Only Tuck is Sugar and Caffeine Withdrawal and JPP is Toxin Elimination.

See, from what little I understand about all this, when you begin to eat super-healthy, after about a day of so eating, you’re subjected to headaches, bodyaches, fatigue, irritability. Some experience other symptoms, but that’s what I’m blessed with. It’s my body craving all those cookies and all that chocolate and all the Diet Coke and chips and pasta and pizza ad infinitum that it’s no longer getting. And it’s p.o.’d in a mean, serious way.

Good news is, per most of what I’ve read, this withdrawal only lasts about seventy-two or ninety-six hours. In most cases.

I’ve lived through this a handful of times before, and it’s true. I’m approaching the halfway mark of this part of the dietary detox experience.

At the same time, and, unfortunately, lasting for about two weeks, the body begins purging all the junk it’s been storing for years and years and years. I’ve been pretty much cleaned out during my hospitilization in 2009, so I only have about four years’ worth of accumulated crp in me. Once the body realizes I’m not compounding the problem, it, in its God-given wisdom, begins a very thorough and very efficient housecleaning.

These toxins come out in three ways: via your bladder, your back end, or through your skin. But in order to get to their point of disembarkation, they gotta travel your streams of blood and lymph. Toxins are brought out from being safely sealed away to get expelled, and that’s why – the doctors say – that’s why you can expect headaches, flu symptoms, fatigue, fevers, aches and pains, rashes, moodiness, irritation, etc. for the next two weeks.

Once that’s all behind me, the body begins rebuilding internally. But that’s the subject for another post. For the record, my longest stay on this path was twelve days, back in ’07 or ’08. So I’ve never experienced that aspect of detoxification and clean-living.

Why am I doing this? Yeah, I could stand to lose 10, 20 pounds. But basically I’m sick of the lack of energy. Life’s going by, and I’m just there, moving from bed to couch to car seat to chair at work, reverse and repeat. Got lots of dreams and goals, but no energy to actually get something done past the planning stage. Oh, and overhauling my diet is one of those goals. I once read that if you have a ton of things you want (need) to do in your life, major things, start with the Physical, cuz that’ll spill into all other areas of your life more than anything else.

As of October 20, 9 pm, I did.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mainstreaming to Normalcy

Had an odd but brief dream last night.

First, a bit of exposition:

Television has always been a medium for advancing social causes. One of these is mainstreaming something to normalcy. In particular, making “those not like us,” those philosophers pretentiously call “the Other,” making them normal. Granting them normalcy. The process starts out as pushing the envelope, and then, after a handful of seasons and ratings sweeps, “the Other” becomes positively humdrum boring.

Now, in lots of cases – most, in fact – this is a good thing. I’m talking mostly racial and ethnic things here, traits people were born with. No one should be shunned because of the color of his skin or the sound of his last name. That’s a given, and pretty much ninety-nine-point-something percent of the American population has agreed with that for the last couple of decades.

Television has been on the forefront of this probably since the sixties and seventies. For example, teevee shows with black characters sprouted up back then, back when I was a kid. Hispanic characters. And as a result, if you forgive the massive simplification, different races and ethnicities were “normalized” (for lack of a better term) to the majority white audiences. Me, I had a Fat Albert lunch box in third grade.

Anyway, where teevee gets in trouble, especially of the past few years, is its attempt to mainstream different behaviors to normalcy, behaviors which large, majority-sized chunks of the population view as immoral, behaviors that have been historically viewed as immoral for millennia. I won’t get specific here, for I want to talk now about my weird little dream.

Often I find myself in the middle of movies when I’m dreaming, and the result is dismay because I don’t know whether it is a movie or is really happening. This time, however, I’m in a teevee show. I’m an extra in a scene that’s some cross between a happenin’ bar of the kind you only see on the small screen and an Olive Garden commercial. People eatin’, laughin’ talkin’ too loud, the camera swooping in and out and figure-eighting amongst the very diverse crowd.

Which is okay to me. Then, I see something that almost makes me spit up my generic label-less beer. In the middle of the festive feast is a clown.

A kind of grungy, older clown, a clown that looks like he doesn’t really care. A clown whose makeup’s sixteen hours old and starting to flake off. A clown like Heath Ledger’s Joker, only middle-aged, ulcer-riddled, and a little too interested in having a drink to take his mind off things.

All that’s not the weird part, though. The weird part is – everyone at the table, or bar, or whatever it is, is treating him as if he’s perfectly ordinary. It’s as if one-sixth of the population where clowns, so this clown being in this room with twenty other people should be nothing worth raising an eyebrow about. Everyone is pal-in’ around with him, regardless of his white caked makeup and big red nose thingie, and there ain’t a single thing unusual about it.

And I all but cry out, “Does this not seem forced to anyone here? Am I the only one that sees the agenda here? Am I? Hmm?”

Then the earth turned a mile or so, and my dream slipping into more pleasant in-a-movie territory: Me and Richard Carlson, black and white, scanning the skies with a telescope, ready to defeat those hidden aliens from conquering the world!

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Spotted last weekend in the untamed wilds of Warwick, New York ...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Altar Server

Little One and Patch, at Little One’s commissioning mass before she begins her service as an altar server at our church.

We are so proud of her!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Beef with Obamacare

I’m on the front lines here, folks. At my job, the finger pointed, and it fell on me, with a disembodied voice saying, “Thou shalt be the liaison between the Company and the Affordable Care Act.”

Then there were chuckles all about, and I was admonished to always put that word affordable betwixt quotation marks.

All kidding aside, Obamacare is something that incites a mixture of varying levels of fear, anger, and confusion among not only members of management and ownership here, but also in the hundred and sixty employees I deal with on a daily basis.

Now as I’ve said before, I’m not an expert on the law. Also as I’ve said before, I think there’s less than a handful of people in the country who are. Many may know all that’s in the two-thousand-plus page law (and by “many” I mean maybe a few hundred country-wide), but only a handful have a grip on the ramifications of the law on the economy. And none of those handful agree.

It’s a mess. If you’ve been following the news since October 1, you know the federal and state exchanges are a mess. Embarrassingly so. Since this is the public sector we’re talking about, no one will get fired. If Apple or Facebook or Target or any major private enterprise did this sort of thing, heads of whole divisions would be pink-slipped for such utter incompetence.

In a general way, I have three major beefs with Obamacare.

1. The government can’t do anything efficiently.

Yes, the military can win wars in spectacular fashion. Cf. World War II. That is, as long as the government doesn’t interfere too much. Cf. Vietnam.

Left to itself, government has no incentive to be cost-effective or perform in a way to satisfy its customers. Indeed, if it looks at us in any way, it’s as subjects, not customers.

So get out of the health care business.

2. It’s a violation of privacy.

The government has no right to my medical history. It’s bad enough they have access to my income and earning history. I’m not so sure the Sixteenth Amendment was a great idea. Scratch that, I know it wasn’t. Anything that can separate the federal government from our money is a good thing and a step in the right direction, but that’s a subject for another post.

Do you really want some government bureaucrat – no matter how well-intentioned – to know your medical status? Is it really so far-fetched to think that some day in the future health care will not be rationed, i.e., not given to you if you are past a certain age and past a certain income-generating ability? Many, me included, are worried about this.

3. It’s a gun to your head.

For the past one hundred or so years, we’ve had to pay federal income taxes. If you don’t, you will go to jail. If you refuse to go to jail, men with guns will come to take you there. So the whole income tax thing is a gun to your head. It’s one just about all of us live with.

Now, there’s another one. We are all required to have health care, no matter what our age, state of mind, state of health, fiscal state, whatever. You gotta be insured. No exceptions.

For most of us, no problem. We want the insurance. It’s the estimated 30 million of us that is the problem. Now, some of that 30 million willingly forgo insurance. The other 25 million or so (let’s say for the sake of argument) are too poor to purchase it or else otherwise are unable to purchase it (the “pre-condition” problem).

Note I am talking about health care insurance, not health care itself. That’s a point of obfuscation that some liberals enjoy tossing about with abandon. Just listen to ’em talk on the teevee if you haven’t ever noticed it.

So to ostensibly aid 25 million Americans, 325 million Americans now have this new tax, this new gun to our heads. This leads to my final beef with Obamacare:

4. I don’t believe it will do what it is intended to do.

This is what alarms many opponents of the “Affordable” Care Act. Quite simply, by over-interference and tinkering with the free market, government will drive up rates making insurance quite unaffordable for the middle class, making providing insurance plans unprofitable for insurance companies, leading to the dreaded Single Payer health care system. Uncle Sam, or Big Brother, depending on one’s viewpoint, becomes the sole provider of health care insurance.

And when the government is the sole provider of something so essential, we can all count on an honest, condition-free, incorruptible, and non-political disbursement of that thing, right?


So there. I hope I’m wrong.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Beef with Obama

Is really simple. After five long years it’s nagged at me, vague, undefined, and nebulous, but now I think I’ve nailed it.

Throw out all the ideology (and “ideology” really isn’t a negative word; everyone, without fail, has an “ideology”). Forget my conservative opposition to the liberal philosophy. Forget, even, that Obama, like all liberals, campaigns to the center-right and governs (if “govern” the verb can be used to describe the Obama presidency) to the left and far left. Forget all that.

What really gets me is how he demonizes his opponents. His domestic opponents.

Our foreign foes he treats with respect: Putin in Russia, Assad, the burgeoning Islamic theocracies in Egypt and Libya, the mullahs in Iran. The petty South and Central American dictators (Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez). He evens maintains a respectful tone – tough, granted, but still respectful, never petty or belittling – towards the evil leadership of al Qaeda.

But not so if you are a conservative American, especially if you are a politician with an “R” after your name.

If you oppose anything he is for, it’s simply because you are either:

- evil
- heartless and uncompassionate
- racist
- two out of these three
- all of the above

And that’s it. That’s it in a nutshell.

Now, I understand how politics is played. I know that – unfortunately – it’s mostly show, political theater, public perception, bells and whistles. But it’s also about ideas, and I believe that conservative ideals, studied logically and thoroughly, work better than liberal ones. And I think liberals realize this. Hence the need for liberals to label their opponents as evil, heartless and uncompassionate, racist, all of the above.

It’s not just Obama. But he’s the highest profile offender. And, like it or not, believe it or not, he has a massive segment of the media that carries his water in the way they would not if, say, his last name started with a “B” and ended with an “USH.” This chunk of media – okay, I’ll say it: ABC NBC CBS PBS NPR CNN MSNBC Hollywood Washington Post New York Times Los Angeles Times, to name the tip of the iceberg – this massive chunk of media enables Obama to do this to his domestic opponents in a way the global media does not allow him to do it on the world stage. Perhaps that’s why his red lines ring hollow to foes such as Putin and Assad.

And I will grant that Obama is a master of this demonization. Some call it the “Chicago Way.” I dunno about that. But he is a master politician, I will willingly admit to that. Leader, well, I could write a thousand words on how he’s not that. But he’s perhaps the greatest politician we’ve seen in a generation.

I want one more leader in my lifetime, but I fear a succession of petty politicians, one after the other, election after election, managing America’s decline.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Menu for the Next Dozen Sunday Nights

Three meals to avoid while watching The Walking Dead

(1) Homemade baked ziti with meatballs

(2) Chipotle beef burrito bowl

(3) Pumpkin pie

Just a little friendly advice.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Microminutiae of a Typical Weekend

Bought the wife’s birthday gifts

Watched Murder By Death (something I remembered from my youth)

Balanced the checkbook and paid the bills

Did errands with Patch (post office, dry cleaners, recycling center, library, Blimpie’s)

Watched Barbie and the Magic of Swan Lake with Patch

Watched Killing Lincoln with Little One and the wife

Attended mass where Little One was “commissioned” as an Altar Server!

Went apple pickin’ with the family

Watched The Real George Washington and Saving Ronald Reagan with my little political junkies (and amateur historians)

Put away half of Sun Tzu at Gettysburg and a chapter of An Army at Dawn

Listened to Act I of Gounod’s Faust

Did four loads of laundry, some grocery shopping, checked and helped with homework, fed hungry bellies, supervised showers

Thank God there was no soccer games or practices this weekend!

Pictures and (hopefully) interesting peripheral blog entries to follow this week …

Saturday, October 12, 2013

From the Chronologs of Synchronicity

So, barely a week after penning my homage to Tom Clancy, in which I stated Red Storm Rising would be the one book of his I’d re-read, guess what I find at my local library’s book sale?

Not a bad score for fitty cents.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sage Words to Memorize

“We are a nation with a government,
not the other way around.”

- Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981

Never read these words before. Certainly didn’t hear them when they were first spoken those many years ago. I think they’ve now replaced this as my favorite Reagan quote.

Side note: Oh how I want another Reagan in my lifetime, now that I’d be old enough to truly appreciate him!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Streak

© 1937 by Max Brand

Occasionally, avid reader that I am, I stumble across a novel whose simplistic beauty and perfection qualifies it to be something of a Platonic Form. Such a novel is The Streak, a neat and tidy accomplishment from the pen of Max Brand that the old philosopher himself might rubber-stamp to the aether world as the Form of the Western Novel. Now, other Westerns might be better, indeed I assume there are scores of better Westerns that readers better acquainted with the genre could point out to me. But this bit of philosophic geekiness was the first thing that came to my mind sitting down to review this novel.

What more praise can I give a novel? I suppose a novel can change one’s life substantially; I’m not going that far with this book. But it hits all my criteria for a good tale: it pulled me in, made me forget the job and the bills and the to-do lists and such, kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next. I liked the characters, their actions and words made sense, and the plot moved logically forward without any forced suspensions of disbelief required.

Okay – enough of the literary eggheadry. How about this: Hey Hollywood! Make this a movie!

The Streak is a kindler, gentler Western, yet still retains that rough, edge-of-civilization nastiness and brutality so unfortunately common to frontier life at the time. I imagined a youngish Jimmy Stewart in the role of our protagonist, Jim Terrance, “Blondy” to his friends Buck McGuire and Bill Roan. Fed up and bored with ranch life, the trio decides to split up and travel about for a year, then meet up and compare adventures.

Year goes by; Bill and Buck ain’t done much to be honest. Blondy said he was going out west to Jasper Canyon to see what’s what, but he hasn’t returned. So the boys head on out and soon discover that their old friend is now “The Streak,” a gunslinger with veins of ice who’s rounded up a half-dozen undesirables, who’s tamed the untameable stallion Rocket, who’s successfully wooed the beautiful daughter of one of Jasper’s most powerful families – and who’s now been accused of cold-blood murdering the wealthiest power broker in the canyon.

Only none of it’s true, as Blondy swears, and no one believes. He’s just been at the right place at the right time, and things just happen to, er, happen for him. A victim of happy circumstances. And good-natured gossip. The entire canyon of Jasper believes him to be the great man in the white hat, riding up out of the dust to solve all the town’s problems, to fix all the wrongs.

Did he murder the miser Philip Coles? Can he outmaneuver the posse sent to track him down? How will “The Streak” face the ruthless psychopathic gunslinger Calico Charlie, sent to gun him down for a bounty? How can Blondy untangle himself from this gloriously false image the people of Jasper County have built upon him? I tell you, it’s classic black-and-white Western cinema. I think I actually envisioned the novel in black-and-white while reading it! The 178 yellowed pages turned fast – I read it in about four hours partly because I took my time and enjoyed it. Will I remember plot details and character names a year from now? Maybe, maybe not. But considering I could’ve spent those four hours watching mindless teevee I am the better man because of it.

Grade: solid A. Will check out more of Max Brand’s work as I come across it.

A note about the author: Max Brand was one of many pen names for the extremely prolific writer Frederick Schiller Faust (now that’s a name that I’m not convinced needs a pen name). Brand wrote about 500 novels and almost the same amount of short stories, often serialized in magazines (as The Streak was). Wikipedia estimates his total output at something like 25 to 30 million words. To compare, the entire five-and-a-half year to-date run of Recovering Hopper holds something like 750,000 words – about three percent of Brand’s total. Wikipedia also states that he wrote so frantically that a 12,000 word weekend was not uncommon. That’s about two weeks output for me when I wrote my two unpublished novels.

But most notably, Brand enlisted in the armed forces in his late 40s at the outbreak of World War II to serve as a front-line reporter. This despite poor health for nearly two decades (he had a heart attack in 1921). In 1944, a few days shy of his 52nd birthday, covering the fighting in Italy, he was killed by shrapnel.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Slapped by a Roman

Here I stand, Hopper, on the receiving end of an eighteen-hundred year old wake-up call from a Roman Emperor:

I. Remember how long thou hast already put off these things, and how often a certain day and hour as it were, having been set unto thee by the gods, thou hast neglected it. It is high time for thee to understand the true nature both of the world, whereof thou art a part; and of that Lord and Governor of the world, from whom, as a channel from the spring, thou thyself didst flow: and that there is but a certain limit of time appointed unto thee, which if thou shalt not make use of to calm and allay the many distempers of thy soul, it will pass away and thou with it, and never after return.

II. Let it be thy earnest and incessant care as a Roman and a man to perform whatsoever it is that thou art about, with true and unfeigned gravity, natural affection, freedom and justice: and as for all other cares, and imaginations, how thou mayest ease thy mind of them. Which thou shalt do; if thou shalt go about every action as thy last action, free from all vanity, all passionate and willful aberration from reason, and from all hypocrisy, and self-love, and dislike of those things, which by the fates or appointment of God have happened unto thee. Thou seest that those things, which for a man to hold on in a prosperous course, and to live a divine life, are requisite and necessary, are not many, for the gods will require no more of any man, that shall but keep and observe these things.

III. Do, soul, do; abuse and contemn thyself; yet a while and the time for thee to respect thyself, will be at an end. Every man’s happiness depends from himself, but behold thy life is almost at an end, whiles affording thyself no respect, thou dost make thy happiness to consist in the souls, and conceits of other men.

IV. Why should any of these things that happen externally, so much distract thee? Give thyself leisure to learn some good thing, and cease roving and wandering to and fro. Thou must also take heed of another kind of wandering, for they are idle in their actions, who toil and labour in this life, and have no certain scope to which to direct all their motions, and desires.

- Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, Book II.

N.B. I am humbled in the most traditionally liberal sense of the word ...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013



My cold flu thingie is not going away. It’s migrated from my head to my throat, after a brief stopover at my nasal passages. I can balance on my two feet, but that’s about it. Had a headache just behind the right eyeball all day today and part of yesterday. Quite fatigued. Ribs hurt from coughing. Still chugging the Nyquil, still getting quantity and surprisingly dreamful sleep.

So much to get done at work (three hours OT so far at Tuesday’s end) and at home (mostly stuff related to the little ones). Haven’t had time to write. Sat at my desk for 15 minutes last night after girls went to bed, but nothing inspired the fingertips. So ... might be scant posting over the next couple of days.

In my bedridden down time I have been charting my way through The Streak. Almost done, ’bout thirty pages to go. After that, I think I’ll open The Hawkline Monster, a “gothic Western” – nice good potential for an October novel. Always like to read something a little macabre this time of year. After that, something on Kennedy for November (all while continuing through my Atkinson WW2 trilogy).

But I gotta shake this thing!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thirteen Hours

It was the longest I’ve slept since, oh, forever. Seriously, probably since I got back from my whole hospital to-do in February 09. Last night I put the little ones down (in a daze, it must be admitted), flopped into bed, channel surfed until I realized absolutely nothing was on (out of three hundred channels). I threw in the towel at 9 and guzzled 30 mL of Nyquil.

That did it.

I remember somewhat vaguely getting up to pee twice in the night. First time was about 1 or 1:30, the second around 6. Then, the eyelids opened and blurrily settled on the green readout on the DVR: 10:15.

Thirteen hours of sleep.

Laid in bed all day today. The wife was home from her business trip to herd the young uns. Me, I read a bit of The Streak, read some of the 1940-42 war in North Africa, wasted three hours watching the pitiful Giant loss, watched some bad Syfy haunted house movie, watched some of the Pirates-Cardinals playoff game.

Now, a blog post.

Then, some more bed rest, and a date with Nyquil around 9. I am feeling much, much better than yesterday. Feel confident about going to work tomorrow, but we’ll see.

Until then, my friends …

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I’m in Love with a Ghost

Candace Hilligoss, playing the ontologically-challenged Mary Henry, in Carnival of Souls, a 1962 cult classic – at least according to wikipedia and IMDB; I’ve never heard of it until I watched it Friday night on TCM. I was immediately enraptured.

The best I can come up with to describe the atmosphere of this flick, a spiraling dance of the weird and creepy, is some mishmash like creepiweir and weirdicreepid, or, better yet, some damned hybrid of Shyamalan-meets-Lovecraft. Whatever word is settled upon is only pronounced in your mind with a whispered menace ...

Painting With Words

… He was clean-shaven, thin-lipped, and deeply religious, with untidy gray hair, small eyes, and – one American officer noted – “an air of grinning preoccupation.” He was said to lack “the jutting chin that gives force to personality”; a British acquaintance wrote that “he looks more like a moderately successful surgeon” than a soldier … Certainly he was the sort of gauche, abrasive Scot invariably described as “dour.” A sardonic subordinate nicknamed him Sunshine, while his American code name was GROUCH. Fluent in French and Italian, he could be silent in any language. Even his rare utterances were to remain private: he soon threatened to expel from North Africa any correspondent who quoted him.

- An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson, page 173

A whole book-worth’s description of Lieutenant General Kenneth A.N. Anderson, commander of the British First Army in Algiers, November 1942, in a half-dozen well-honed sentences.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Okay, so I’m sick. Er, fighting something. Still can stand on my two feet, if a little brain foggy.

Have two goals this weekend:

One, do the very next thing I have to do, and only the very next thing I have to do.

Wife won’t be back until early Sunday morning from her business trip. In the meantime, I have to clothe, feed, dress, wash the little ones, get them to soccer practice and soccer games, Fall Festivals and church, and pick up my healed Impala somewhere in the mix. Also have to pay bills, bring cardboard to recyclers, handle two estimates to repair my sidewalk, get clothes to and from the dry cleaners, return library books, and decide whether to remain on my company’s health benefits plans or sign up with the wife's new company’s health benefits plans.

Two, read Leibniz’s Monadology.

Now, it’s only eleven printed pages. I remember reading a part of it maybe three or four years ago and thinking, “Hey, this is some freaky *** ****.” And now, today, I’m in the mood to read some freaky *** ****. So, at some point this weekend, I will fill my tub up with scalding water, pour in copious amounts of Epsom salts, breathe the steam in deeply, and try to understand this 17th century classic piece of philosophy. Er, 17th century classic piece of freaky *** ****.

Man, I need a new body.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tom Clancy

In case you haven’t heard, Tom Clancy died this past Tuesday at the age of 66. Though I haven’t read anything by him in about a dozen years, his work completely and unequivocally blew me away. Can’t be said any more direct than that. You can read all the obits at the various sites out there, and every one is true: he revolutionized the military techno-thriller novel. No one who writes in the genre can honestly admit not being influenced by the beglassed, smoking, ex-insurance agent and creator of Jack Ryan. All military techno-thrillers published before 1984’s Hunt for Red October should be labeled as B.C. – Before Clancy.

On a whim, not knowing anything about him or his writing style (though I saw and somewhat enjoyed the movie versions of his books), I picked up Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears from the library one day in the fall of 1994. Now, how to best describe this literary / mental metaphysical 2 x 4 head slap?

Like this: That first day reading Clancy made me look at the world differently. Or, more precisely, it made me realize that there were different ways of looking at the world. I love it when a book creates this kind of realization in me. The definitive world-changer for me was reading through the Bible in 1992. Reading Tolkien ten years earlier, and paperback SF (Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein) earlier than that, did the same on a much smaller level. Even smaller, though no less powerful (if that can be understood in the way I’m trying to do), was my introduction to Tom Clancy, writer.

I entered a world of honor and duty, of physical and mental excellence, of strong and rigid-yet-flexible systems designed not only to protect and serve the weak but to ensure the survival of the very best country the world has ever seen. Yeah, this was a pro-military and pro-United States book.

Two things pretty much struck me immediately about The Sum of All Fears. First, the complexity of the work. Forget about the introduction into a new world – the US military (and other nations’ militaries) in all its acronymed glory. The sheer intricacies and details found in a simple chapter taking place on a sub was overwhelming. But not in a defeating sort of way. I wanted to understand this world. In hindsight I should’ve been taking notes (I remember having to thumb back and forth on a consistent basis to find out who was who and what was what and waht meant what) but in time I learned to navigate my way around Clancy’s armed forces.

(Indeed: all the militarized technology in my two novels are deeply indebted to what I’ve learned reading Clancy.)

Second was the global stage: action takes place all across the world and under the seas. The bad guys were multi-national and gray-shaded, despite their evil actions. The detail found in the painstaking construction of a dirty bomb – and the results of its detonation at the Super Bowl, kept me flipping pages. The corridors of power in Washington DC, seen through the eyes of a young Jack Ryan negotiating this Theban labyrinth, well … there was a definite realism there I’ve never read before. Or since, I suppose.

I jumped over to The Hunt for Red October next. Shorter, meaner, leaner, his breakout novel. A quick read, making me hunger for more. So I opted for the thicker Red Storm Rising. The literary version of a near-future World War III erupting over Europe intrigued me. But … no Jack Ryan. Huh? Still, I read through it quickly, rarely putting it down (I remember reading huge portions of it up in Lake George, NY). If I was to re-read Mr. Clancy, it’d probably be this one, the closest he’s come to a stand-alone novel, to the best of my knowledge.

A break from his techno-thrillers, then a return – a few novels in quick succession: Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Cardinal of the Kremlin. All good reads. The sensory deprivation torture device and the James Bondian destroy-the-space-laser-gun-on-the-top-of-the-mountain commando climax of Cardinal are still memorable to me to this day.

Moved on to other things for a while, then returned to Clancy around 1997 with what I feel is the best of all his books: Without Remorse. Taking place a generation before the books of his Jack Ryan “universe,” it’s really the story of how an ex-Navy man named John Kelly becomes CIA operative extraordinaire and Ryan’s right-hand John Clark. Along the way he manages to not only rescue downed fliers at a Vietnamese POW camp and come to the attention of Admiral Greer but figuratively decapitate and disembowel a nasty Baltimore heroin ring that just so happens to be responsible for his girlfriend’s death. No, it’s not the family feel-good book of the year, but it is gripping and, oddly, satisfying.

Then I made my way through Debt of Honor and Executive Orders. Debt has the dubious distinction of predicting the September 11 attacks seven years early, though in the novel it is a disgruntled Japanese man who flies a plane into the Capital Building. Executive Orders has our hero Jack Ryan in the presidency and focuses on an extremely vile biological attack on the US – and it was a painful read. Two years later I got married and the wife bought me Rainbow Six, similar in plot to its predecessor but a much more enjoyable read for me.

In seven years I read ten of the master’s books, a little over half his output, and most of these books were cinderblock-sized. Never read anyone like him before or since. If you are even moderately interested in (a) the military, (b) technology, or (c) thrillers, and if you have seen one of the movie versions of Tom Clancy’s books (ones starring Harrison Ford or Sean Connery – the big screen adaptation of Fears with Ben Affleck is atrocious), then go to Barnes and Noble and buy and read ’em.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Hands down the funniest commentary I’ve seen concerning the recent, ongoing government shutdown:

Partly because – forgive me – it reminds me just a tad bit of my little ones.