Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve!

Okay – what’s your resolution?

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

Anyway ...

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

So what do I resolve to do in 2014?

Three things ...



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

That all being said ...

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

2013 Hopper Best-Ofs!

Best Novel

The Hawkline Monster (1974) by Richard Brautigan

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

Reviewed here.

Best Non-Fiction (tie)

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

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

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

Worst Novel

Time Enough for Love (1973), by Robert Heinlein

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

Best Short Story

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

Recently reviewed here.

Worst Short Story (tie)

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

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

Best Movie

Seen in the theaters – Gravity (2013)

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

Seen at home – The Tingler (1959)

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

Worst Movie

Land of the Lost (2009)

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

Runner-up: Sharknado (2013)

Best CD

Hendrix, People, Hell and Angels (2013)

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

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

Best Hopper Phase

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

And the winner is ...


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

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Desolation of Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


... is good for the soul ...

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: Great Expectations

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

“Roller Ball Murder”

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

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

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

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

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

What did I think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I am turning into my father

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

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

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

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

“Because I said so, that’s why!”

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

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

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

“Stop picking on your sister!”

Dad, your revenge from beyond the grave is complete.


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

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

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

Guess what happened after the second test?

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

What happened after the third test?

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

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

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Nightmare!

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

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

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

Then, it happened.

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Recap

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

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

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

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

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

See you later!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Kermis Part 2

Merry Kermis Everybody!

Updates to follow!

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Week from He**

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

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

So how do you face this?

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

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

First, no booze on Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

Third, gear up the body for sleep.

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

Fourth: sleep!

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

Now, how to handle Day One of hell?

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Role Reversal

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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

King Kong vs. Godzilla

© 1963

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

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

Couple of points.

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

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

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

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

Fifth, my rating. A+, what else?

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Grid? What Grid?

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

Things changed about a century ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Queued Up

In no particular order:

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

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

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

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

Regularly scheduled programming resumes tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pajama Boy

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Facebook is High School for Adults

Most insightful thing I read all week.

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

Monday, December 16, 2013


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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Just Because


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

Ever wonder how he arrived at this figure?

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

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

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

The scientific and logical precision of this utterly fascinates me.

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

Yeah. Me neither.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Day One:

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

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

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

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

Day Two:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Classical Countdown!

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

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

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

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

Sibelius, Sym. No. 2 in D

Holst, Jupiter

Delius, Florida Suite

Mendelssohn, Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)

Liszt, Les Preludes

Wagner, Siegfried Act 3 Overture

Brahms, Sym. No. 1 in Cm

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

Smetana, The Moldau

Debussy, La Mer

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

Beethoven, Emperor Concerto

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

Funniest Moment of my Lunch Break

Was seeing this online:

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

(Hat tip: bored panda website)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Colin Wilson (1931-2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. P. Lovecraft
George Gurdjieff
Ayn Rand

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

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

. . . . .

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

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

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

Rest in peace, great writer.

Friday, December 6, 2013

And Now for an Ay Caramba!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Paradigm Shift

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

1981: The Lord of the Rings

1992: The Bible

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Website Stats

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

Government. Movin’ at public-sector velocity.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

You want to know what strikes me as hateful?

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Christmas!

To all our family and friends this year!

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