Friday, January 31, 2014

January: Good Riddance

Okay, January 2014 has come and gone with such incredible speed I can’t believe I lived its 2,678,400 seconds. Can you? Seriously, this has to have been the fastest month on record. Who’s Einstein’s heir, because I need to call him – I’ve a sneaking suspicion someone’s fiddling around with the whole relativistic time/space continuum.

What happened to warp the passage of time so severely?

Well, they say massive bodies tend to bend spacetime continuum, and certainly my grandmother was massive, larger-than-life, and exuded her fair amount of pull on my family’s four-dimensional existence. She passed away January 2nd and the funeral was held five days later. I’ve written about it here a-plenty.

Work has been off the scale, stress-wise. How computers and computer systems dominate the way we do business in the twentieth century! I’ve been working since late October to completely overhaul two major software components to my job (I’m a buyer and user, not a developer), and this past month my worklife has been living hell. Today especially, but that’s a subject for another post …

Reading continues to be my main recuperative activity. Out of the blue – which means, not pre-planned, I read 200 pages on H.P. Lovecraft and ten of his “short” stories. I’m hooked. Bought a big omnibus I’m about twenty percent through. Will take me out to Easter / baseball season / a new reading regimen.

Gluttony. I blogged on the 18th that I had consumed 16 slices of pizza at that point, nervous that I’d consume something like 40 pizzas a year and gain 80 pounds. Well, that’s tapered off. In the remaining 13 days of the month I’ve only had 2 slices. So, sanity is prevailing.

The girls continue their phenomenal almost exponential growth, be it interactions with the extended family, sports (basketball), reading outside the box, watching movies as a familial unit, the super-precocious things they tell me one-on-one as we drive around doing this and that. Truly one of the better joys in life, raising children, if you focus on this and not on the discipline and the finances and all that.

So, for the life of me, that’s all that January 2014 represented to me. For better or for worse, I lived it. We lived it. And now we move on.

To February!

No Expectation of Privacy in the Internet Age

Here’s a puzzlement: I was looking through the published oeuvre of H.P. Lovecraft on on our iPad at home. Not logged in, because I only log in when on those rare occasions I’m ready to buy something.

The other day my wife shoots me an email. Her iPhone is getting emails from Amazon for Lovecraft books she might be interested in buying.

Hmm? How’d they make the connection?

Last name? Amazon account? IP address?

It’s almost as if some eldritch, odious and opprobrious hand from beyond space and time were reaching out ...

[Note: this post was almost titled, “The TCP/IP Protocol of Cthulhu” ...]

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nice Guys Finish Last

The nicest old gentleman came in to see me earlier today. His daughter had a long-standing relationship with my company, buying a lot of merchandise over the years. And thus his business card was placed on my desk, and thus he called me early this morning, and thus I had to let him come in to chat with me. Since we sold to his daughter all these years, he now wants to sell to us.

He is an insurance salesman.

Ugh. Not my favorite species. Particularly so since my company deals with AFLAC – whether they’re great or awful, don’t know, everybody’s got an opinion, but we deal with them for business reasons. Exposure, connections, that sort of thing. And AFLAC is popular with our employees. Over a third of them have policies with the Duck.

What the kindly old man was offering was an exact duplicate of what AFLAC is coming in to our shop in two weeks to present to our employees. “Only better,” he insisted, pointing out price and a myriad of minutiae my glazed-over eyes recorded and my glazed-over mind instantly forgot. How to tell him the whole thing is overkill to my people? How to tell him our employees can’t spend all their time attending insurance seminars otherwise we’d go out of business. You can’t tell these guys no.

Oh, and did I mention his daughter does business with us? He did. Two more times.

So I fell back to my default position: “I’ll bump it up the chain of command. Explain it to the owners. Give me about a week or so.”

Will I? Maybe. Depends how busy I’ll be next week. Depends how bad I feel I need to purchase a CYA policy. But the whole thing is grating, because this kinda thing happens to me a dozen or more times a year, in waves cresting around July, our annual renewal for these types of policies.

Ah the perils of Cubicle Boy ...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Man o’ Steel

Watched Man of Steel, the second Superman reboot of the past decade, a couple of weeks ago and, yeah, it was okay. Truth be told: it was better than the first reboot, but I still can’t remember much of the film. The Krypton scenes and accompanying special effects were very, very neat, and the actor portraying Superman did a decent enough job (Superman will always be Christopher Reeve for me). But what really stuck with me was –

the Theme from Man of Steel:

How Wagnerian! Would love to hear this played live on a Bayreuthian orchestra. Or transcribed into two dozen guitars of all makes and models, acoustic, electric, distorted, phased, a veritable late-70s Jimmy Page guitar army a la Presence manned by Brian May. Or some combination of the two. I think it would be the closest thing to attaining satori from waves of sound.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Well, originally I thought I might be interested in watching the President’s State of the Union address, but I feel the urgent need to make some cute handicrafts with my cat.

For sixty-one minutes and twenty-five seconds.

Monday, January 27, 2014

All My Gurus Are Dead

was my first thought of note this morning, still half-asleep as hot water scalded my back and shoulders. I composed an entire thousand-word blog post in those sixty seconds that followed, but life intervened, and all I can remember is that odd little title.

All my life I searched for a guru. Still do, I guess, though not with the passion of a twenty-year-old or the desperation of a forty-year-old. Now I’m just pessimistically complacent, and if the search is ever to be successful, well, it will actualize itself in its own terms and in its own time.

All my gurus are dead:

Douglas Adams Thomas Aquinas Isaac Asimov Augustine Ludwig van Beethoven Jorge Luis Borges Ray Bradbury Robert Browning Buddha Lord Byron Philip K Dick Antonin Dvorak Albert Einstein Richard Feynman Cary Grant Ray Harryhausen Joseph Haydn Jimi Hendrix Homer John Keats Soren Kierkegaard Stanislaw Lem Ignatius Loyola John Milton Isaac Newton Plato Frederik Pohl Ronald Reagan Francis de Sales William Shakespeare Percy Bysshe Shelley Jean Sibelius Socrates Alfred Lord Tennyson John Ronald Reuel Tolkien Lao Tzu Virgil Richard Wagner John Wayne Colin Wilson Roger Zelazny ...

to toss out some proper nouns upon the mountain peak.

All my gurus are dead.

[Bongo drums fade out; End histrionic teenage angst rant]

[Trust me, it sounded better in the shower.]

Sunday, January 26, 2014


The preface to the Lovecraftian anthology I just bought, The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales has perhaps the best summary of said Mythos, much better than anything I could have written at this stage in my investigation. It’s written by Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi:

“Looking over the entire corpus of Lovecraft’s work, we can identify four basic features of those stories that we now call ‘tales of the Cthulhu Mythos’ –

1. The use of ‘gods’ or extraterrestrial entities – Cthulhu, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath – along with their devotees and worshippers;

2. An ever-growing library of books, manuscripts, and other documents that purpose to provide information on the ‘gods’ and other facets of the Mythos;

3. A constellation of imaginary cities in New England – Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, Kingsport – that serve as the focal point of many of the tales, even if they later venture into very different locales;

4. A ‘cosmic’ perspective that renders human beings, and indeed all earth life, insignificant and transitory in the immense spatial and temporal gulfs of the universe.”

* * * * *

Rainbows and puppy dogs this ain’t.

Anyway, Complete Cthulhu contains the following stories (with original dates of publication in parentheses) –

1. Dagon (1923)
2. Nyarlathotep (1920)
3. The Nameless City (1921)
4. Azathoth (1938)
5. The Hound (1924)
6. The Festival (1925)
7. The Call of Cthulhu (1928)
8. The Colour out of Space (1927)
9. History of the Necronomicon (1938)
10. The Curse of Yig (1929)
11. The Dunwich Horror (1929)
12. The Whisperer in the Darkness (1931)
13. The Mound (1940)
14. At the Mountains of Madness (1936)
15. The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936)
16. The Dreams in the Witch House (1933)
17. The Man of Stone (1932)
18. The Horror in the Museum (1933)
19. The Thing on the Doorstep (1937)
20. Out of the Aeons (1935)
21. The Tree on the Hill (1940)
22. The Shadow out of Time (1936)
23. The Haunter of the Dark (1936)

Happy – or should I say, dreadful and unimaginably abominable – readings!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Now a Lovecraft Phase

All right, I am officially in an H.P. Lovecraft phase. Particularly, those stories / novellae that deal with his Cthulhu Mythos.

On a whim a week ago I began reading Lin Carter’s Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, a 190-page paperback I bought online a few years ago. I also bought a similar book of his book on Tolkien, which I read back then. Basically, they are quite readable general introductions into the subject at hand, with a little bit of history mixed with biography and peppered with Carter’s own subjective thoughts and opinions on the authors and their stories and tales.

Carter is a man from my past – I found his Barbarian at World’s End in one of my father’s drawers thirty-five years ago, read it, and was inexplicably enjoyably perplexed. A fantasy author since the Korean War and up until the mid-80s, he was nearly forgotten until I came across Barbarian in a dusty old used book store around the turn of the century. Re-read it on the train to NYC and did some research into the man. He died painfully of oral cancer (a result of smoking and alcoholism) just a few towns away from me in 1988. The Tolkien and Lovecraft books were the nonfiction entries of his that immediately appealed to me, so I ordered them.

I reviewed Carter’s book on Tolkien, here. And read another of his fantasy books, with a short review, here.

Anyway, Carter is – was – a huge fan of Howard Philips Lovecraft, the highly eccentric horror / science fiction writer whose career spanned about twenty years, ending with his death at age 47 in 1937. Allow me to quote from a review of his “At the Mountains of Madness” I posted here about five years ago:

H. P. Lovecraft is an odd writer. Probably because he was an odd man – learned and well-read, but socially awkward. Often ill, often impoverished. Married to an older woman in a possibly loveless relationship, he never had children. Apart from a few years in New York City he never lived outside the town he grew up in, living mostly with two elder aunts. But his work has understandably secured his fame in the annals of early fantasy and horror writing.

He belongs to that strange, obscure, underpopulated and unappreciated terrain in fantasy literature that straddles the expanse between the brash optimism of the late Victorian era (with its Vernes and Wellses) and the Golden Age of science fiction (with its Clarkes, Asimovs, and Heinleins). Thus the antagonists of his horror are usually some strange and obscure combination of the gothic demonic and the Atomic Age alien invader.

His prose tends to give the reader a rigorous workout; big chunks of big-worded exposition, page-length paragraphs the basic building bricks of the edifices of even the shortest of his tales. He’s impassioned with adjectives; he’s never met, oh, say for example, a triangle that could not be described as “that most nightmarish and terrifying triangle, odious and invidious, a three-sided entity that should never have been, bringing forth shudders and driving all to the edge of madness! Oh that stygian and opprobrious triangle, unhallowed and mephitic, that will forever haunt and plague my overwrought dreams!” I’ve read that the man simply can’t write dialogue, and I agree with that assessment. The evidence is the fact that even in his longer works, such as At the Mountains of Madness you’d be challenged to find even more than a few words enclosed with quotation marks. So even though H. P. doesn’t have an ear for the way normal human beings talk, what he does well is to establish an authentic, eerie atmosphere of foreboding in each and every one of his stories.

* * * * *

I like that; I’m going to give myself a pat on the back for writing it.

So now I’m back into H.P., thanks in no small part of Lin Carter. I just treated myself and bought The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales, a 600-page compilation of 23 stories that fall within his dark mythology.

And what exactly is “his dark mythology”? His “Cthulhu Mythos”?

That is the subject for a later post …

Friday, January 24, 2014


“Humans were invented by water as a means of transporting itself from place to place.”



Read this today (unable to find the precise source of the quote) and was absolutely floored. One of those things that, if true – but we all know it isn’t true, right – if true, it turns one’s worldview upside-down inside-out. Flips the telescope or the microscope so you’re looking in the other end. Makes you see the 3D image in the poster. Makes you wonder what the hell you’re doing working in a cubicle all day.

That sort of thing.

So now I’m going to refill my thermos and drink 64 ounces of H2O today to keep my true masters appeased.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Yes You Did

Saw it live as it happened Sunday night … and my reaction was similar to Erin Andrew’s, only with more disbelief and disgust.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Well …

My store closed at 3, sending us all out on the slippery highways slip-sliding away, my back aches from shoveling not once but twice (before the snow freezes overnight), the wife is trying to fly out to Canada (of all places!) tomorrow, I have a gazillion things to do at work (which closed early), I have to wait until schools open up tomorrow to drop the little ones off (that’s after shoveling yet again), brave the once-plowed roads timid drivers maniac drivers, and get some projects finished before 3 pm deadlines tomorrow.

But for now …

(cue the Nelson Riddle Orchestra)

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping,
And I’ve bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

When we finally kiss goodnight,
How I’ll hate going out in the storm.
But if you’ll really hold me tight,
All the way home I’ll be warm!

The fire is slowly dying,
And, my dear, we’re still good-bying,
But as long as you love me so,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!!!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Point Nemo

Ooh, this is interesting. The “oceanic pole of inaccessibility” is simply the location in the ocean that is, on average, the farthest from land. It’s position lies in the southern Pacific Ocean, over 1,650 miles north of Antarctica, south of the Pitcairn Islands, southwest from Easter Island (the closest landfalls). Picture it the center of a circle of diamter 3,200 miles, with the entire area filled only with seawater and devoid of land.

In homage to Jules Verne, the oceanic pole of inaccessibility is known as Point Nemo.

Interestingly enough, Lovecraft places the lost city of R’lyeh, sunken prison home to the ancient extraterrestrial evil known as Cthulhu, only a few degrees away from the Nemo point, the farthest oceanic place from land on Earth. (R’lyeh’s coordinates are taken from the short story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” which I am soon to re-read for the first time in a dozen years.)

File that away in your memory for the next game of Trivial Pursuit.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


My big takeway from Claus Jensen’s No Downlink, a 1993 book detailing the Challenger space shuttle disaster, regards risk. Specifically, how different people interpreted the ticking time bomb that was the early-80s space shuttle in terms of the odds that a catastrophic failure, a failure resulting in the death of the crew and destruction of the orbiter, would occur.

These odds of risk were determined by brilliant, Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the commission that President Reagan charged with investigating the disaster.


NASA management placed the risk at one in one-hundred-thousand. In other words, if they launched a shuttle launched every day, year after year, for almost three hundred years, such a fatal accident might occur.


The odds that many of the contractors – the companies that constructed the booster rockets, the main fuel tank, the orbiter itself, external systems, etc – were comfortable with.

1:200 or 1:300

The average of the NASA engineers privately polled by Feynman.


Feynman’s own estimate after his own investigation into the affair.

The launch on Tuesday, January 28, 1986, was the 25th shuttle mission and the 10th flight of the Challenger.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

OD'd on Pizza

Oh, I am feeling it.

And it does not feel too good.

I’ve OD’d on pizza.

Yesterday it was a ziti slice chased with a pepperoni slice.

Today it was a buffalo chicken slice with a barbecue chicken slice close on its heels.

I am now officially paying the price.

By my unofficial calculations, I’ve consumed 16 slices of pizza so far this year. That’s point-89 slices of pizza a day. 324 slices of pizza a year. Over 40 pizzas a year, all by myself!

At this rate I will also weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 pounds by 2015.

I am a pizza junkie. I need a Twelve Step intervention …

Friday, January 17, 2014

Socrates Meets Kant

Okay, just finished reading Professor Peter Kreeft’s book Socrates Meets Kant, a 326-page dialogue in which Kant’s metaphysics and ethics are put to the Socratic torch in some purgatorial afterlife.

It’s too complex for me to review it. I lack the tools (though I have the desire). Or, perhaps, I’ve been pop-culturally-dumbed down over the years, if in fact I ever had the ability to critique a work such as this. (For the record, and I think my record supports this, I think I do. Or did. These shifting verb tenses are confusing me …)

Anyhoo – I grade it with an A. Any – every – student of philosophy should read Mr. Kreeft’s books, especially those of the Socrates Meets So-and-so series.

The book spends roughly a third of its space putting Kant’s metaphysics (his theories about being and existence) through the mental meat grinder, with the remainder focusing on the Prussian’s ethics (foundation of morality). Of these two broad, college-course-apiece-in-themselves subjects, I understood and followed the arguments of about

50% of the metaphysics section
10% of the ethics section

And that’s being quite self-generous.

The book definitely merits a re-read, a slow, thoughtful, analytical re-read. This is a book that can be read in a week (which I did) but almost demands to be re-read over the course of two or three months. Unfortunately, I lack the time, energy, and discipline to do such a second reading, though under different circumstances I would do so in a heartbeat.

Now – onto some science fiction – or some early 20th century horror …

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Every now and then I get a really, really good email in my spam folder. Today, I think I got the king of all really, really good email in my spam folder. Much better than the Nigerian prince who needs my banking info to get his $350 million out of that country. Much, much better: it’s a definite keeper!

Here it is:


They Kept Asking Me:

...How the Heck Did You Do It? Whats Your Secret For Winning The Lottery? Tell Us Or Well Kill You...

...I Managed To Escape But I Got Shot In The Left Foot.

They Would Have Killed Me If I Did not Tell Them My Lottery Secret...

I Decided To Thank GOD For Saving Me By Donating A Lot Of Money To Charity.

Can Anyone Win The Lottery? ...Or How Did I Manage To -Kill- The Lottery 5 Out Of 10 Times?

...You too, can have this lottery secret.

Or V1sit_Here for more details

url removed

Many blessings and good fortune...

Thank you and more power,


A few notes:

What a great way to introduce a chain letter email: Hey

How edge-of-your-seat the Clive Cussler-John LeCarre suspense – “They” kept asking her, “they” would kill her for her secret – but she manages to escape!

Curious that “they” use relatively tame language (“heck”) when threatening our heroine’s life.

Curious also the capitalization of just about all the words, except for the two somewhat normal sentences at the end.

Love that little detail of being “shot” in her “left foot.” Not just any foot – the “left” one.

Plus, she killed the lottery 50% of the time.

God answers her prayers of deliverance and she donates A LOT of money to CHARITY!

I don’t know about you, but I want to know more about this Missy!

1 = 0.999...

Yes. The repeating decimal 0.999... is actually equal to 1. Counter-intuitive, but nonetheless true, intuition be damned.

Don't know if I've blogged about it before here on the Hopper, but this sweetest of sweet proofs was just pointed out to me again recently. While waiting for the wife and children (one of my part-time jobs) to meet me at a restaurant, I browsed the mathemathics section of a nearby B&N bookstore. You know, where all the hot chicks hang out. Anyway, I flipped through a pocket math book on the beauty of proofs, and re-re-remembered this beauty.

Let x = 0.999...

Then 10 x = 9.999...

And 10 x - x = 9.999... - 0.999...

So 9 x = 9

Then x = 1

Ergo (whoa!) 0.999... = 1

Another way this proof is formed is this way:

1/9 = 0.111...

9 x 1/9 = 9 x 0.111...

1 = 0.999...


So very cool. I'll forget it in a couple of days, then stumble across it again in a year or two. Such is the curse of the Hopper.

Which reminds me –

Q: How many mathematicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: 0.999...

(That last joke, fortunately, is not original to me ...)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Budding Entrepreneurs

Driving home from aftercare earlier tonight we pass one of those emergency first response vehicles at the side of the road, lights-a-flashing. Is it a police car? No. Fire truck? No. Ambulance?

“Hambulance,” Patch says, giggling.

In sixty seconds, the two girls have their business model spelled out. The Hambulance is a truck that drives around delivering ham sandwiches and other assorted ham products to homes and businesses. A mobile meals-on-wheels for all your pork and bacon needs. The siren is a ululating “oink.”

Ah, my budding entrepreneurs! If we train and support you properly enough, will you buy me a house for my retirement? A small house is all I need, a book allowance, and three squares a day …

Zen and the Art of Choosing a Book

All right, so I really have no reading plan for 2014, which is quite a departure from my fairly regulated 2013. I figure this year I’ll just read what I feel like, when I feel like it. Nothing planned out in advance. No grand strategies. Just moment-by-moment stuff. Very Zen-like, this focusing on the here-and-now.

So, last Saturday I went into my local library with no idea what I’d select to read. Well, that’s not a hundred percent true. I decided I would go to sections I rarely, if ever, frequented. And it sorta worked. For at least one book, that is.

That book is Atlantic by Simon Winchester, a “history” or “biography” of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, I’m not really a nautical kind of guy. I read Jaws a hundred years ago and Moby Dick around the turn of the century. I was fascinated with Donald Crowhurst and the round-the-world solo yacht race for a couple of weeks a few years ago. That’s about it, unless you toss in Robert Silverberg’s excellent kid-SF Conquerors from the Darkness.

Needless to say, based solely on skimming through the book, I’m excited to read it. Don’t know if I’ll finish it, or get beyond the first chapter, but it definitely looks interesting.

My other scores are more me, though not necessarily the types of books I’ve recently read. Buzz Aldrin’s Mission to Mars; a book detailing the heartbreaking Challenger disaster, No Downlink; and a book on the whole UFO thing that examines our American mythology from a unique, for me, point of view: manufactured paranoia. Looks interesting, all of them. I will get to each in its turn over the next couple of weeks.

My six-foot-high stack of books in the basement still cry out to me, too. I sorta randomly selected two for upcoming reads, again depending on which strikes my fancy at whatever time. One is a bio of Lovecraft by Lin Carter (selected subconsciously, I think, after all my chats about horror with Little One). The other is Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles, chosen really only for it’s “feel” in my hands.

That is all. Commence reading, Zen warriors.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Medusa at Five

So my oldest daughter (Little One, fourth grade) is now full-fledged into Percy Jackson, the Harry Potter stand-in where Greek Mythology replaces Rowlingian magic, wizards and witchcraft. She’s seen both movies and wants to start reading the books. I think. Maybe she’s read one already in school; have to check back on that.

Anyway, the movies are not that bad. Very heavily special-effects laden, which makes them good and fun. Yeah, they give the tired old post-modern treatment to those Grecian myths and legends I loved reading about as a boy. You know, making them hip, flippant, multicultural, relocating everything to the United States. (The entrance to Olympus is at the top of the Empire State Building, for example.) Every female character is a Xena: Warrior Princess type of thing. Still, all in all, the movies are not bad because, well, they’re enjoyable on a juvenile level. Plus they fire up Little One’s curiosity.

And Patch’s, too. She’s my kindergartener. Two weeks ago the wife recorded the original movie, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and we decided to let Patch watch, too. Well, she wanted to see it with her big sister, and when I said that there might be some scary scenes, she solemnly authorized me to put my hands over her eyes when she gets scared.

One truly scary part is the encounter between Percy and his multicultural friends with Medusa (icily played by Uma Thurman). Medusa’s new lair is somewhere in central New Jersey, an hour’s drive from where I live, in what appears to be a gardening and outdoor supply store – there are statues everywhere. Get it?

Well, at the end of the movie, Patch climbs up on the couch, drops her pants and moons us all. “Don’t look at my butt, guys,” she announces, “or you’ll turn to stone!”

We all collapsed in laughter.

These precious moments are what Saturday Monster Movie Matinees at the Hopper are all about!

One Wish

If I could have any wish granted, here’s a strong candidate I’d consider –

Be born in 1940

Experience the “UFO” / science fiction craze of the 50s

Get a degree and PhD in physics/engineering/mathematics in the early 60s

Work for NASA during its heyday (1963-1972)

Write books about it during the 70s, 80s, and 90s

What an awesome, thrilling, purposeful time to have been alive!

My adrenaline pumps right now just thinking about it!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bad Parents

Well, it was bound to happen. Four years of going to Little One’s soccer games and three years of attending her basketball games, it was bound to happen.

There was almost a rumble at yesterday’s basketball game: bad parents.

My daughter’s fourth-grade basketball team traveled to the next county to play an unfamiliar town. We were coming off a rare win so the girls – and coach – were feeling confident. Those that got there early went out on the court and shared a net to practice with their nine-year-old opponents, most likely with laughter and good humor and general fourth-grade-girl goofiness.

Then, the parents arrived.

The girls play a frantic four-quarter game, each quarter six minutes long. Shooting probably has about a ten percent success ratio, so most of the game involves bad shots with no rebounds, lots of steals, and running back-and-forth and back-and-forth between opposing nets, almost like watching a tennis match. There are fouls when the girls get too spazzy and bump into each other; the refs’ whistles blow nonstop cuz the girls are still learning the rules of the game.

Anyway, good refs are firm and don’t let anything slide. When they blow the whistle, they take a moment to educate the girls on what is and what isn’t allowed. They’re teachers as much as referees.

Not so our pair for this game. But let’s return to our parents for a moment.

Exhibit A: the jerk shouter. This guy is standing on the bleachers about ten feet to my left. He shouted nonstop during the entire one-hour game. (You’ll see why the game laster one hour in a minute.) “Shoot!” “Stop the Ball!” “Rebound!” “Where’s the Call?!” “C’mon Ref!” “Who’s Watching 13?!” “Foul!” blah blah blah blah blah. I mean, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Not only is he shouting at the top of his lungs, he’s getting visibly upset. (His team was losing to ours, first eight-nothing, and finally thirteen-to-nine.) He’s emotionally invested in a game played by nine-year-old fourth-graders. And the most obvious thing is, NO ONE IS LISTENING TO HIM. None of the girls on the court acknowledge him. None of the coaches acknowledge him. None of the refs acknowledge him. He’s just getting’ all the parents either very annoyed or very fired up, depending, I guess, if you live in the same town with him.

Then, at the start of the fourth quarter, the scoreboard goes blank. Now no one knows the time remaining or the score. Ten or fifteen minutes pass as they try to get it up and running. Finally, a father from the other team (not the shouter, who’s still shouting from the bleachers) stands in the middle of the court sidelines, cups his hands and barks out the remaining time every thirty seconds or so as the older girls keeping track of it inform him. Now, no one in the stands knows exactly what’s at stake when it’s at stake.

Two things immediately happen to the refs, two portly older gentlemen who have presumably refereed games before. Depends on your point of view or, er, which locality you maintain a residence. First, the game careens wildly out of control. It’s now a free-for-all, wild, rules-be-damned, Rollerball without the wheels, basketball according to the Lord of the Flies. Fouls are called, fouls aren’t called, there seems to be no rhyme or reason and parents on both sides of the court get louder and louder.

Then, there’s the issue of fouls being called possibly unfairly. Our coach immediately screams when one of our little ones is fouled and it’s not called. Later, I find out he calculated a 14-2 disparity in our girls being called for fouls versus their’s. This the ref won’t take and he ejects our coach and gives the other team a two technical foul throws in addition to the two foul throws the alleged foul incurred. With the score 13-9 in our favor with a few seconds left in the game, it could tie it all up.

One mother on the other team, indignant that our coach got upset for fouls being called against us, parades her daughter, teary-eyed and cradling her left arm, up past our side of the stands. “It’s going both ways!” she screams at anyone and everyone, though I am unsure of her exact meaning or implication.

Then, outright stupidity from one of our parents. As this nine-year-old on the other team is getting ready for her four free throws in front of all these insane, asinane, allegedly mature parents, one of ours yells out: “Miss!”


This is heard by the girls working the score-clock-thingie, and they immediately pass word to the other town’s parents across from us.

Which is where I’ve been sitting the whole time, mind you.

Well, now our hosts are looking for blood – our blood. The poor girl does miss all her throws and we win the game. The refs high-tail it out of there. So do our town’s parents after gathering up their girls. The other town’s parents linger in the gym (to which I had to return to get Little One’s jacket ... and I have to admit I did feel a trickle of irrational nerves doing so). Our coach sent out a group email last evening apologizing for losing his temper at the game and promising to be better disciplined in the future.

My suggestion is that the basketball league needs to have all parents sign a Code of Conduct letter that the soccer league has us do.

It has officially come to that. (Though it’s probably been that way for decades now.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Progeny and Personality

The best way to understand the personalities of my children, Little One (age nine) and Patch (age five), if you don’t know them and only read about them here, can best be summed up in this little spark of inspiration I had a year or so ago:

Patch will be Little One’s agent someday.

That’s them in a nutshell.

Another way of understanding my two greatest pieces of work is by relating them to me and the wife. For reference, me and the Mrs. are diametrically opposed on those Briggs-Myers tests: me the sensitive introvert, she the b*lls-to-the-wall extrovert.


Little One is 75 percent me, 25 percent the wife

Patch is 75 percent the wife, 25 percent me.

The wife agrees in theory with the above, merely wanting to tweak the percentages to 65-35. I dunno. Maybe I’ll go down 60-40, maybe not.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Man the Astronomer

KANT: Would you please tell me how else you would save religion and science from each other? How else would you meet the threats to both that emerged in my time, especially from Hume?

SOCRATES: Perhaps the threats from which you thought you saved both science and religion were not so serious at all. And perhaps your cure was worse than the disease.

KANT: Oh, no, the threats were very real. The threat of science was not merely the threat against science launched by Hume’s skepticism, but also the threat from science to reduce man and the human element to nothing but a tiny cog in the great cosmic machine. As I once said to an astronomer who argued that “astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant”, “Sir, you are forgetting that astronomically speaking, man is the astronomer.”

- from Socrates Meets Kant, by Peter Kreeft (ch 5, “Kant’s Big Idea”)

That two sentence critique of Kant’s philosophy by “Socrates” above pretty much sums up this excellent book. As someone who’s been fascinated with what little I can understand of Kant – his ideas best fit what little I can understand of quantum mechanics – I find this book (I’m little past halfway through it) a page turner.

The last sentence “Kant” speaks above, though, reached out and slapped me in the face, in a good way, if a slap in the face can be in any way called good. Almost raised bumps on my arms, that’s how insightful it is. Don’t know if Kant every actually spoke it, or wrote it, but I plan to immediately appropriate it and use it whenever necessary, always giving credit to the little old German professor.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Evelyn Kasa

Oh, what a whirlwind week we’ve had.

My grandmother died last week at the age of 97. It’s not a surprise; the whole family had been preparing for it for a long time. In fact, she’d been sent to hospice twice before, and twice she recuperated, recovered, and, reinvigorated, reinvested herself in our lives.

A word about Grandma: she was force of nature. In the dictionary, next to the word matriarch, is a sketch portrait of her. Her little house had been the family focal point probably since before I was born until she and Grandpa up and moved to Florida three decades later. Always on the go, ever opinionated, always doing things her way – and to her, that was the only way things should be done. But she did everything her way because, basically, that’s the way she truly thought things ought to be done, and truly thought those ways were the best ways. She always meant well, however heavy-handed her parenting skills, however oblique her meaning was to us.

Last Thursday I got a call from my mother saying that this time looked like the end for Grandma. She was fighting a losing war against her latest foe, shingles. It would be best, my mother said, to hurry on over if I wanted to say my goodbyes. A priest would be arriving at 2:30 to perform the Last Rites. I left work, hopped in my car and drove to her nursing home as fast as I could.

When I got there – oh the changes in my grandmother. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of months, probably since the girls’ birthdays in September or thereabouts. Back then she looked like she’d gone a few rounds with Tyson; always black-and-blue about her checkered face, unsteady behind her walker and more at home in a wheelchair. Disheveled as someone who needs assistance dressing herself often is. But sharp – sharp – SHARP – as a tack, as the saying goes. A little hard of hearing, yes, so we had to repeat ourselves a lot, but there was no mental fog there.

When I got to the small hospice room, though, Grandma was clearly at her end. She was somewhere closer to us than unconsciousness, but not conscious enough to acknowledge us. Her eyes were closed and she did not move, but I felt she was aware of us. Indeed, the priest asked us to recite our parts of the Rites as loud as possible because in all probability she could hear us; who’s to say otherwise? A machine was softly whirring at her bedside to help her breathe somehow, but every inhale/exhale was a loud gurgle which made me think how worse off she’d be without it.

The priest turned out to be the salutarian of my high school class. When I found out I immediately recognized him, even though in hindsight I thought he looked familiar. We did not move in the same circles at school (he was much smarter than me and in all the advanced placement classes), but apparently we took the same bus every day. I, who every day chastises himself for not living up to potential having attended a school of potential movers-and-shakers, was confronted with a very bright and courageous man who gave himself to the ultimate of all causes.

Anyway, the sacrament of the Last Rites (“extreme unction,” I think it’s called), took at most fifteen minutes. We all held hands in a circle around her bed while the priest led us through prayers, taking the Eucharist, and anointing my grandmother with the various oils. Nothing discernibly changed in her (eyes still closed, breathing still labored), but something in me knew she was at peace.

We chatted a bit in her room then I had to leave to return to work. My mother called me a little after 5 pm that night saying Grandma had died fifteen minutes earlier.

That night, after a pizza dinner, we told the girls. We were unsure what to expect: Little One is nine and Patch is five, but both were fairly close to their great-grandma. Both my wife and I are practicing Catholics, so we are candid with the girls about this life and the next and how our beliefs affect both. Also, the girls were kept aware of Grandma’s deteriorating health. I told them that Great Grandma had passed away earlier in the day and was now face-to-face with Jesus, and could be with her husband, mother and father, sisters and brothers. She was happy now.

Patch immediately flopped on the couch and cried out: But I want to see her again! You will, we assured her, one day you will. Little One was cool and calm ... at first ... then her face got red and the tears came. My wife held her and soothed her. Little One was always very close to her great-grandma and always asked about her. Both my children had an almost magical way of cheering up my grandmother, too.

The funeral was five days later. The wake was held in a small room at the funeral home – way too small for the numbers of people who showed up to pay their respects. I took Little One with me to the casket to kneel and pray and was acutely aware, as I always have been the few times I’ve experienced it, of the unreality of looking at the deceased. Yes, that was my grandmother, the woman I knew since, well, my earliest memories I guess. But it did not seem to be my grandmother.

Me, my brother, and my cousins served as pallbearers. I was positioned at the front. When it was time to drive to the church for the funeral mass, we all assembled into the empty viewing room with the casket. On the count of three, at the instruction of the Funeral Director, we heaved the coffin off its stand and placed it on a roller. The heaviness of it completely floored me. I could probably lift my grandmother in my arms (and she was a big woman in life), but now I could barely manage my little corner of her casket.

The funeral procession drove past that little house of hers, my second home all those years ago. How many summer days did I spend there? How many nights did I sleep there? The basement rec room I turned into a weightlifting gym – how many times did I work out there? Two hundred? Three hundred? How many games of running bases did I play in that backyard with my brother and uncle? Though the house hardly looked the same as it did back in those days, it was very nice to drive past it.

Mass was held at my grandmother’s church a town or two away, one she took me to quite a few times when I was a little boy. Us pallbearers wheeled the casket up the center aisle and stopped it before the altar then took our seats in the front row. One of my aunts did a short eulogy touching on the major points of my grandmothers life as well as the major “stories” that have personified and defined her over the years. Little One and some of the great-grandchildren draped a white cloth over the casket. My wife did one of the readings.

Father Stephen – my classmate from high school – presided at the mass and gave a very heartfelt homily, speaking of knowing my grandmother over the past five or six years. He even put me on the spot, all but encouraging me to translate Latin in front of the half-full church when he brought home the tender point that at death our lives are not given or taken but changed. The reality of my grandmother’s death did not come home to me until the last act of that funeral mass, when Father swung the burning incense around the casket. That’s when I knew she was definitively gone.

Subarctic winds beat down upon us at the cemetary; the canopy did little to stop it. “I don’t think Evelyn would mind if we used the abbreviated ceremony,” Father Stephen joked, teeth chattering as all of ours were. Ten minutes and a few brief prayers later it was finished. We all quickly made it to our cars to escape the freezing weather, and drove to my parent’s favorite restaurant for dinner. They rented out most of the first floor for us all, and an early dinner was capped with a toast of Bailey’s Irish Cream, Grandma’s favorite drink.

Trying to think of my earliest memories of her, I came up with three, all of which exemplify the type of person she was. The earliest, I think, is of me around age four. Grandma was coming over to visit and my room was a mess. (Side note: I have a very vivid memory of a peace sign sculpture hanging on my bedroom wall.) Time was of the essence, and it was running out. So my mother told me to just push all the toys under the bed. I did. And guess what Grandma did as soon as she walked into my bedroom? That’s right: crouched down and inspected under my bed. I was busted!

Something like a year later my grandmother and my mother took me out to eat at a restaurant. We were waiting on line. The line was not moving. To amuse me, Grandma stepped into a cordoned-off area, reached up and grabbed a drum stick and banged on a big bass drum perched atop a shelf at the restaurant’s entrance. I was mortified! She was laughing, but I wanted to melt into the background.

Then I remember her more grandmotherly ways. In particular, whenever I would get hurt or upset, she’d scoop me up into a big bear hug and calm me down by having me listen to the tick-tick-ticking of her little watch. It always worked. But then God help you if you had a loose tooth and got a little too close to her ... for a big woman she could move awfully fast ...

Of all the members in my large extended family, she might have been the one I found easiest to talk to. I enjoyed being in her presence – I really did. There was a lot of friction between her and her children. But she was always good to me, and, as far as I know, to all the other grandchildren. Yeah, she beat me with a shoe one summer night in 1984, but that’s because I, not being used to a curfew, ignored the one she imposed on me when I was staying at her house while my parents were away on vacation. But, being Grandma, she thought she was helping me, molding me into a successful, respectful man. And who knows? Maybe it just did work.

Rest in peace, Evelyn.


Sunday, January 5, 2014


The three wise men, Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior, visited my church today for the Epiphany of Our Lord. The girls, and all the other fifty or so children of the parish, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Especially the camels.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Das Rheingold

… my latest musical crush …

Here is the Prelude – the “Rheingold,” which to me (not Wagner) is the primordial time just a few millionths of a second after the Big Bang, during the outflating of the multidimensional thing we call the Universe.

(The clip also includes the first part of Scene I, which is okay, but pales in comparison to the second part of that scene.)

Listen at your own peril …

Friday, January 3, 2014

Psalmus XXIII

Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit:
in loco pascuae, ibi me collocavit.
Super aquam refectionis educavit me;
animam meam convertit.
Deduxit me super semitas justitiae
propter nomen suum.
Nam etsi ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis,
non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es.
Virga tua, et baculus tuus,
ipsa me consolata sunt.
Parasti in conspectu meo mensam
adversus eos qui tribulant me;
impinguasti in oleo caput meum:
et calix meus inebrians, quam praeclarus est!
Et misericordia tua subsequetur me
omnibus diebus vitae meae;
et ut inhabitem in domo Domini
in longitudinem dierum.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: The Gates of the Mountains

© 1963 by Will Henry
Well, now I know more than I ever thought I would about the Lewis & Clark expedition. You know, the two frontiersmen who explored Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase way back at the beginning of the 19th century. Remember? There was a question on it in an eighth grade history test you took all those years ago.
A few years ago my in-laws gave me Undaunted Courage, a hefty tome on the explorers written by historian extraordinaire Stephen Ambrose. It’s still on the bookshelf behind me, sentenced to a Schrodinger-like semi-existence of will-I-read-it or won’t-I-read-it. In all honesty the sheer amount of the book’s pages weighed against all the other books stacked in my On-Deck Circle have tilted me against reading / living it. But now, after reading Will Henry’s The Gates of the Mountains, I may seriously reconsider.
Henry’s novel, as far as I can tell, is a fictionalized account of Lewis & Clarks “Corps of Discovery” two-year exploration of the Louisiana territory. However, and also as far as I can tell, the fictionalization extends only to adding a new protagonist: young Francois Rivet, a half-French, half-Pawnee wannabe scout, son of the famous – but long-lost – frontier explorer Auguste Rivet, eager to make his bones and see the world. All the other details of the expedition that I’ve read about while reading the novel – from a terrible death by appendicitis, Clarke’s black slave named York, and various Chieftains and Indian tribes – all other details seem really to have happened.
So through young Rivet’s eyes we follow the expedition as it moves up the Mississippi / Missouri river system, heading north, then north-west, then west, in search of that elusive waterway passage to the Pacific. The challenges they face – hostile Indian tribes, fierce floods and unpredictable snowstorms, wolves, starvation, disease, the constant pressure to follow the correct river fork – intertwine with the characters to form a nice, fast-paced read.
And then there’s Sacajawea, in all her Shoshone glory – beautiful, magnetic, elusive, wise – and yet, in a powerful scene late in the novel that could never be published today, brutal and ugly. A paradox, I guess they call it, and if we have too much Sacajawea in the narrative (especially since Frank fawns over her relentlessly and tiresomely for half the novel), we have not enough Captain Lewis and just the right amount of Captain Clarke.
What did I learn?
– The Lewis & Clark Expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase did not begin, as I naturally thought, in Louisiana. It launched from St. Louis.
– Wild wolves get something called “hydrophobia” that I think (without consulting wikipedia) is a really, really bad case of the rabies. When a hydrophobic wolf bites a man, he gets a really, really, really bad case of the rabies. And dies. Painfully.
– As harsh as living life as a frontiersman in 1805 was, it was exponentially harsher living life as a plains Indian.
– I could never force myself to eat what they had to eat. No matter how hungry I was.
– Captain Clarke, renaissance man: soldier, explorer, cartographer, carpenter, naturalist, doctor, writer. A man who truly bent his environment to his will. We need more renaissance men.
– How muscles must ache paddling eighteen miles in one day – upstream.
– Books like this are much, much better when maps are included.
– I would last about three – maybe four – hours in the wilderness before succumbing to starvation, wildlife, and the elements. How these men survived off the land is something a veal like me just has absolutely no comprehension.
All in all, The Gates of the Mountains was a nice, sweet read.
Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


My takeaway from last night’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve:

Miley Cyrus, current icon of pop culture yuckiness

Bill the Cat, mainstay from ’80s cartoon Bloom County

I now need to spend the rest of the day detoxing from the three hours of teevee we all watched last night waiting for that damn ball to drop!

NOTE: After googling for pics of Bill, I see I’m only the 4,000,000th person or so to hop on this bandwagon ...