Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014!

Patch as Wonder Woman ...

Little One (on the left) as a Hamster ...

Squeak the Hamster as a Hot Dog ...

Another shot of poor Squeak! ...

Spooky pumpkins on our front porch ...




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blast from the Ancient Past

Thinking about that list of “earliest / oldest books I’ve read” I posted a few weeks ago a thought popped into my head:

What was the first non-children’s book I read?

Hmm.  Can I even remember that far back?

Fortunately, when it comes to books, I can.

I have extremely vivid memories of walking to school with my friends in the third grade, age 8 (yes, back then at age 8 we walked to school by ourselves, albeit in packs).  It was a warm spring day.  Tucked proudly under my arm with whatever paper-bag covered text book I happened to be carrying then was a fresh, brand new copy of

recently purchased from the Bookmobile. 

I remember this as if it happened last week.

I remember the book, the cover, the 16-page color insert of scenes from the movie (which had very little to do with the book – a major source of existential confusion for Young Me).  I remember it so, because I found it again in a used bookstore in New Hampshire on a rainy fall day eleven years ago.  Bought it and placed it on the shelf until the following June when I took it down and burned through it in one day.

For me, books are not just stories; each book itself is its own story.

But my memory is not that black-and-white.  I also have strong recollections of reading Pierre Boulle’s The Planet of the Apes right around the same time, at a large desk in the basement of my house.  But I put it at 95 percent that Logan’s Run was read before Apes.  And Christmas in fourth grade I got the Asimov five-pack, and discovered my father’s secret stash of SF books, and that changed everything.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy Cat Day

Somebody at work mentioned that today is National Cat Day.  Now, I don’t know the truth about that, but I decided to do something to honor the pet from my youth.

No, it’s not Leroy, but it looks a lot like him.  Leroy was my pet from 1972 until we had to put him down in 1986.  (Damn you, feline leukemia!)  He was a good little guy.

Wrote a long, silly poem about him and his brother, here.



Been under so much mental strain the past … I dunno … weeks? months? years? … at least since my big hospitalization and subsequent job hunt over five years ago now.  I feel pulled in so many directions, yet none of them offer a clear-cut path to economic freedom.

Or at least economic acceptance.  What do I mean by “economic acceptance”?  I guess earning a paycheck for doing something I enjoy.  Right now, I’m good at what I do and I like what I do, but it’s unfulfilling, monetarily unrewarding and ultimately a dead-end.  It’s treading water.

The problem is, I can’t discern what I should do.  Oh, I can discern what I want to do, no problem.  Always have, and it is one of the major regrets in my life that I didn’t pursue better dreams with more passion earlier in my life.  But then I wouldn’t have the wife and little ones, would I?  So, there’s at least half a dozen things I’d like to do, maybe even more, but I feel powerless and uncertain on which one I should pursue full-force, knowing full-well my time and energies are limited at this point in my life.


Pulled this way, pulled that way, pulled here, pulled there, pulled everywhere …

An ounce of certitude.  That’s all I want.  That’s all I need.

* * * * *

Note: This has been a rare intimate moment of personal openness from your semi-anonymous host.  Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


A lot of moral relativism, especially in the arena of sexual morality, has by and large rejected Natural Law, the basis of morality in the Catholic ethics I hold to, and relies instead on this thing called “consent.”  As long as two adults “consent” to something, that thing is okay.

But I’ve just read something that I’ve never read before, or heard before, or realized before, and it raises some good points.  I’d like you to memorize it, should this “consent” thing come up in conversation you’re part of.  And, eventually, it will.

Two adults consent to a relationship.  But what if they had already previously consented to relationships with other people?  Does that matter?  How does that matter?  Does that invalidate or lessen to some extent the newer consensual relationship?  What if the other member of a prior consensual relationship does not consent to the partner entering another “consensual” relationship?  What if children resulted from a prior consensual relationship, and now will lose out from spending time with an adult because of this newer “consensual” relationship?  Does the fact that innocent parties are harmed somehow convince us that “consent” cannot be the sole criteria in determining the morality of certain actions?


The Maze

Every October the owners of a house a couple of towns over erect a haunted maze in their backyard.  It’s not-for-profit, just for-fun, and it’s a spooky treat for the little ones as well as for the adults.  They go all out, and it shows, and it’s appreciated. 

We’ve gone three out of the past four years, though I did not go the first year (stayed at home with a still-in-diapers Patch).  This past Saturday, me, the wife, Little One and Patch, as well as our good friends and their children, all stopped by for an hour or so trip through the creepy labyrinth. 

First, as you pull up, I’m always a little leery at the sheer suburbanness of it all.  How do their neighbors not call the police on them?  Saturday at 7 pm must be prime time, because a dozen SUVs crowded the real estate all around the house.  Anyway, we got the little ones out and across the dark street without event.  Then, the fun began.

A large, disembodied hand greets you at the front of the driveway.  Then – and you never quite know where – voices catch your ear and movement catches your eye every couple of feet.  Animatronic witches and zombies move and cackle with glowing eyes.  Freddy Krueger menaced a line of maze-goers from a fir tree next to the garage. 

Then: the maze itself.

From the outside, it looks tiny.  Incredibly tiny.  I’d estimate it at twenty by twenty feet, four hundred square feet inside.  Probably a couple hundred wooden stakes planted every two or three feet held up rows and rows of burlap.  Klieg lights flood the yard with blinding white light, but once inside the maze it gets a bit dark and murky.  In falls past there would be dry-ice smoke, but there wasn’t any this time.  Only twenty-five people at a time were allowed inside; any more, the owner said to us waiting on line to get in, and the slightest scare could cause a “herd stampede through the nearest burlap wall.”

Little One and her girl friend went in ahead of us, to their sheer delight.  Me and the wife, with a nervous but brave Patch sandwiched between us, followed.  Once you went in the labyrinth, you were in a labyrinth.  The corridors were narrow, about two feet across I’d guess.  If my math’s correct that means only a hundred feet of winding path, but the sheer amount of twisting and forking made it feel like it was four or five times as much.  The walls were about seven feet high; you couldn’t see out, and some stretches had a burlap overlap as a ceiling.  Occasionally there’s a door you could push through; these are unmarked.  Sometimes a mirror is hung.  Sometimes a baby or a skull.  There was a “Snake Room” where a dozen rubber snakes adorned the walls; this turned out to be an integral clue to finding your way out.  Then you had to find the “hall of hands,” a ten-foot section where bloodied stumps poked you.  Once you got here, you could almost find your way out.  I got past the Snake Room and the Hall of Hands three times before finding my way out.

Oh, and when the crowd thins, they have a Clown and a Demon sneak about grabbing your legs.  Fortunately, since we had Patch with us, they were not causing mischief this night.

Quickly I got separated from my family.  Kept passing the same people over and over.  Caught up with Little One but found it hard to keep up with her.  Didn’t matter, because she’d get us lost anyway.  Outside the maze stood a deck where the owner’s wife camped out with a bullhorn to help anyone who needed it.  On the deck you could look down into the maze and see everyone scurrying blindly about, like rats in the dark.  My buddy was next to her and, looking down on helpless me, relentlessly mocked my helplessness.  Several times I passed the entrance and thought about leaving that way, but that would be like admitting defeat and opening yourself up to the wholesale mockery of two dozen strangers. 

Finally, after thirty minutes in, I was the last one of our party to part the secret doors and exit the haunted maze on the far side.  Our friends had already left, but my family was still there.  Patch, who started to lose it in the maze (so bad that my wife had to exit via the entrance with her), came up to me and said, “Dad!  I can’t believe you kept going through the wrong door!”

Wait till next year!  I have a secret to find my way out first …

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Course of Tolkien

So the Tolkien bug bit me (again) last week, and now I’m halfway through listening to the audio book of The Silmarillion as I read along with it.  A pleasurable distraction, one whose 45 minutes every day I truly look forward to.  Anyway, it got me thinking.  This being my second time through The Silmarillion, and having read The Hobbit twice, The Lord of the Rings three times, The Children of Hurin once (but the audio CD of that is on deck), and with Little One ready to crack There and Back Again for the first time, I got to wondering (again) at the best order to read Tolkien’s works.

A most logical starting point would be to read them in the order Tolkien (and later on, his son Christopher) published them: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurin.  I agree.  The Hobbit can be read by children no younger than ten; The Lord of the Rings I think should wait until Middle School, ages eleven or twelve.  I was twelve when I read it, and it absolutely changed my life.  The latter two works are probably best left for high school or adulthood.

Okay.  You’ve read all four books, all 2,100 pages / one million words of them.  Here’s where the fun begins.

You pick up two reference books: Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster and The Complete Tolkien Companion by J. E. A. Tyler.  If you are a true Tolkien fanatic, you can spend hours thumbing through them.  I have, and still do every couple of months. 

Now you reread the books in the true chronological order Tolkien intended.  That is, The Silmarillion is read first, as it begins with the, er, Beginning, and goes right on through the First and Second Ages and the start of the Third.  Then, read The Children of Hurin to get some supplemental First Age Tolkienna fleshed out.  Follow that with informed readings of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  All the while adding to your knowledge of Middle-earth with Foster’s and Tyler’s reference guides.  You need not have to worry about spoilers.  More important at this stage are backstories and seeing the characters and plotlines in the greater scheme of Tolkien’s history.

Congratulations.  You are now an official Tolkien expert.

But let’s go a little wild, shall we, and throw caution to the wind! 

The next step is to expand your knowledge of Tolkien’s world that did not necessarily make it into Tolkien’s books.  For starters, try Unfinished Tales.  It’s a thick paperback with several long chapters on various aspects of Middle-earth, divided by Age.  This is a good initial point to begin filling in those holes and answering those unanswerables.  It was in this book, for example, that an enormous riddle from my youth, which no amount of searching Foster and Tyler helped, was finally resolved: who were the other two Istari? Read Unfinished Tales.

And then, read Christopher Tolkien’s twelve-volume work The History of Middle-earth, culled from just about all of his father’s notes and writings.  I have perused two from the library, but would not be adverse to purchasing the volumes as I come across them (or buying them all at once should I have a financial windfall allowing for a semi-major discretionary purchase).

Two bonus books worth seeking out: The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad and The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  I own one and borrowed the other from a local library on more than one occasion; both are fascinating, informative reads.  Get them, read them, learn them.

You are now a Tolkien Scholar.

Final assignment: read through The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurin again, though this time while listening to the audio book on headphones.  A slow, almost transcendent and enriching experience.  Once I complete Silmarillion in this fashion I intend to move straight on to Hurin.

I myself have not strictly followed this course, but I have stayed close enough to fully appreciate its soundness.  But as for Little One, whose starting the journey with Bilbo next month …

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Evening Luthien

This is an artist’s rendering of Tolkien’s Luthien, but I am captivated by the picture to the point where, it seems intuitively to me, it might best represent any or all of the Marys of the Gospels.

And it likewise seems fitting here for me to post –

Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae;
vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae.
Ad te suspiramus gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle. 
Eia ergo, advocata nostra, 
illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte. 
Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, 
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. 
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.

As a fitting end to a fine weekend.

Oldest / Earliest to the Desert Island

OK – final thoughts.  If I had to take one – and ONLY ONE – of the oldest/earliest works I’ve read to date, cited in the previous two posts, to a desert island, a stand-in, if you will, for Tom Hank’s volleyball, what would they be?


Tough, tough, tough, for a whole host of reasons.

How about …

Nonfiction – Imitation of Christ (with the Old Testament a close second)

Fiction – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with Moby Dick right on its heels)

There.  I said it.

But these choices could change for any given shipwreck.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Oldest / Earliest Fiction I've Read

To the best of my knowledge …

Note: has to be a complete, cover-to-cover read.

Frankenstein – 1818

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – 1831

Various macabre stories by Edgar Poe – 1838-1849

Moby Dick – 1851

A Tale of Two Cities – 1859

Great Expectations – 1861

Journey to the Center of the Earth – 1864

Ben-Hur – 1880

King Solomon’s Mines – 1885

“The Death of Ivan Ilych” – 1886 

Kidnapped – 1886

She – 1887

Allan Quatermain – 1887

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – 1889

Quo Vadis – 1895

Red Badge of Courage – 1895

War of the Worlds – 1897

Have I missed out on anything I should’ve read?

Note 2:  I find myself extremely astonished to see I have read no fiction published prior to the year 1818.  Can this be true?

Oldest / Earliest Nonfiction I've Read

To the best of my knowledge …

Curious to know what exactly were the oldest, earliest-written stuff I’ve read, and, not surprisingly, it turns out to be mostly religious literature with some philosophy tossed in.  Surprisingly, the earliest history I’ve read is the last item on the list, dating all the way back to 1885.

Old Testament – c. 1500-1100 BC

The Iliad – c. 750 BC

Tao Te Ching – c. 500 BC

The Dialogues of Plato – c. 400 BC

Of True Religion, by St. Augustine – c. 400 AD

Dante’s Inferno – 1321

The Imitation of Christ – 1418-1427

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola – 1522-1524

Various plays (7, or 8, I think) by Shakespeare * – 1594-1611

Various poems by John Milton – 1631-1638

Pilgrim’s Progress – 1678

Various philosophic works of Hegel ** – 1806-1821

Various essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1836-1874

Way of a Pilgrim – 1884

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – 1885

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant – 1885

Have I missed out on anything I’ve should’ve read?

* = I included plays and poetry here; a later post will be on “Oldest Fiction I’ve Read,” and I have pure novels (and the occasional short story) in mind.

** = maybe shouldn’t be on the list as a) reading them was sheer unmitigated torture, and b) I have no memory of anything in those four books I read.  Which leads me to question whether I even read them at all.  And if I didn’t, what exactly did I read those four months in 2008?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Yet Another Cage Match ...

“ .. a poetic sentence is the exact opposite of a logical proposition.”

- Quantum Philosophy, Chapter 1 (page 6 in my hardcover edition) by Roland Omnes.

Now, my first thought about this poetical proposition – after intuitively agreeing wholeheartedly with it – was …

Poetic Sentence vs. Logical Proposition
Cage Match to the Death!

Who would win???

And I actually planned on writing three or four paragraphs on this until I realized that not all stream-of-consciousness trains-of-thought need be pursued to their final destinations.  In fact, it is probably a blessing to us all that the Lord has given me the gift of Hoppericity.  My short attention span has just saved you five minutes, ten if you’re a masochist!

Ozzy's Guitarist

The sparsity (sparse + scarcity) of posts of late should indicate to the careful reader that Hopper is battling either:

A) Illness

B) Time

C) An Energy Deficit

D) A Plethora of Pseudo-Imaginary Boogeymen

In this current case, it is A and C.  However, my mind always works, though it does not always get my butt into the writing chair at the writing desk in the basement.  That being said, I am back, I think, and should resume normal blogging activities here at the Recovering Hopper.

I titled this post “Ozzy’s Guitarist” because during one of the past couple of bleary, sweaty, coughing nights I had an awesome dream where, well, you kinda know where I’m going to go with this.  It was awesome!  Always a blessing to have a dream of pure joy, confidence, and fun.  I was the newest member of a band fronted by a pre-mumbling and addled Ozzy Osborne.  I knew the songs and the riffs front to back and back to front, I could play them in my sleep.  I got along well with the other guys in the band.  We were hanging in hotel rooms on tour, and I fit right in.  We laughed, joked, partied (nothing too unseemly in this dream) and had a blast.  When I woke, I wished I could go back to Nod to resume the dream lifestyle of an Ozzy Osborne guitarist.

But such things are merely innocuous interlude in life. 

For those keeping track at home, I was a huge Black Sabbath fan in high school.  Not so much Ozzy as a solo artist, though I did own Blizzard of Ozz and No More Tears at various points in my life.  Loved a few songs, such as

Revelation Mother Earth
No Bone Movies
Steal Away the Night
I Don’t Know
Flying High Again (ed. Never figured out what this one’s about!)
Lightning Strikes (ed. Holy Eighties!)
No More Tears
Mr. Tinkertrain

Oh well.  Think I’ll toss Master of Reality in the old CD player …

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Scarecrow

(A poem by Little One, just-turned-10)

Her head came from a supply store, her body is borrowed, her mouth came from Michael’s.

But a Scarecrow’s life is all her own.

Her hair is blonde, her eyes are hazel, her mouth is brown pipe cleaner, her pants and gloves are white, and her shirt is green.

She is special.

It’s not every day you talk to the birds, chat with the grass, and have the wind whistle to you.

This takes a certain peace.

The birds, the squirrels, they are kind, and they love the Scarecrow for what she is.

To hear the birds “WHOOSH” overhead, the chipmunks “CRACK-CRACK-CRACK” on the ground, crunching on leaves and branches as it scurries, is quite unique.

The Scarecrow has sat through many, many, many months on that post in the garden, watching the butter sun and the milky moon rise and set, rise and set.

She doesn’t care that someone could take her apart.  She won’t think, “Oh my, how rude!” or “Wow! What wilted white daisies they are!”

As fast as the cheetah who made her, the Scarecrow knows she can easily be taken apart in 3 minutes flat, and she doesn’t mind.  She doesn’t mind she’s not real.  Or that her body parts aren’t hers.

The Scarecrow is thinking her thoughts ....

.... And soon birds will be coming by.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

St. John Paul the Great

Today is the feast day of St. John Paul the Great, Karol Wojtyla, the man who was Pope for most of my lifetime.  I read the first hundred of so pages of George Weigel’s biography of him, Witness to Hope, about ten years ago, and it still sits as the base of a stack of books next to my bed.  I will finish it one day, for everything I have read, seen and heard about this man convinces me completely that he was truly, thoroughly and in totality a Man of God.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Vitae Interruptus

I guess.  Anyway, like it too often do, life has interrupted the ebbenflow of this blog.

It begins with the wife: journeys to Cleveland and Montreal bookend the weekend, leaving me, of all people, in charge of the little ones.  Of which three soccer games were scheduled.  Pencil in the wife’s birthday and all that prep that entails, plus normal and necessary activities as grocery shopping, laundry, housekeeping and, er, work and all, and you can plainly see I’ve had no time in the past three or four days to reflect, with the muses, upon existence and the ironies of human condition.

Also had barely any time to read.

So – hopefully I can bang out a few two-a-day-ers this week at the job, in between answering the happy customers ringing in on the phone and walking that tightrope of keeping both my managers and subordinates happy.

Oh, on top of all this I’ve had severe reader’s block, so I went to an unfamiliar library and scored a quartet of thousand-page books.  A good plan or not?  We’ll see.  More details mañana.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heraclitus Weeps at Everything

“Among gods, all are shaken by the jeers of Momus.
Among heroes, Hercules gives chase to all the monsters.
Among demons, Pluto, the King of Hell, oppresses all the shades.
While Heraclitus weeps at everything,
Pyrrho knows naught of anything,
And Aristotle glories in knowing all,
Diogenes spurns the things of this world,
And I, Agrippa, am foreign to none of this.
I disdain, I know, I do not know, I pursue,
I laugh, I tyrannize, I protest.
I am philosopher, god, hero, demon
and the whole universe.”

- Epigraph to De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum (1531) by Agrippa of Nettesheim, quoted in the essay “The Nothingness of Personality” (1922) by Jorge Luis Borges

[Intriguing premise in the essay, teasing me on to that unread copy of Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea stacked in a tower of books in the corner.  And weird to read the old Argentinian master while listening to The Doors on the headphones in the bathtub.]

[What does it all mean?  Beats me, but there’s something there, if I could but summon whatever that specific but essential quality I lack to delve deep into it.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Q: Do Geese See God?

Ans. No, it is open on one position

Obj. Some men interpret nine memos

Repl. to Obj. Wow

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An English Pub Abroad

How I’d love to drain a pitcher of beer, here

in an English pub abroad

with the likes of gentlemen as these …

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Wedding Recap

Not much of a post today … still recovering from a very hectic three-day weekend (only to be launched, frying-pan-to-fire style, into a very hectic workweek).  One of my sisters-in-law got married this past Saturday, and the little ones and the wife were part of the wedding party.

Fortunately, I was left alone for large parts of the weekend (thank you Mo!)

Anyway, we drove the seven hours down to an colonial Old Southern house nestled in the middle of the Virginian thickets Friday, arriving in time for the pre-party party that evening.  The house itself, where we of the bridal party were staying, was over 200 years old.  Creaky timber floorboards, winding narrow staircases, sliding wood doors, fire pits, and lots and lots of books on bookshelves gave it its mystique.  Sushi was served and the spirits flowed (though I behaved myself).  The girls had a blast amongst the 50 or 60 guests.  After tiring a bit from all the stimuli, I went up a winding staircase to our bedroom and read the forty or so pages of C. P. Snow’s introduction to G. H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology.

The night ended with drizzly rain, which fortunately drizzled on off by Saturday morning, though the skies remained overcast most of the day.  And after brunch, most of the morning held frantic bridesmaids frantically getting prepared (my sister-in-law seemed very calm, cool and collected, as she always has).  I got dressed in my suit by 10 and finished Hardy’s short book (some thoughts on that later in the week).  After pictures, we all headed out a half-hour’s drive to the Inn where the ceremony would take place and dinner would be had.

And what a high-classy affair it was, very reminiscent, if I may be so bold, as my own wedding over 13 years ago, only more so.  Five courses, one of the best fish meals I’ve ever had, one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, a frommagier (sp?) serving up world-class cheeses (I didn’t know such a thing existed), a real live jazz band headed by a real live jazz singer with a recording contract.  The rain held out and the temperature dropped to that Platonic Form of a perfect October night.  I walked out into a dark field, the party a bright light in the distance, in quiet meditation.  I came back and danced with the wife to our wedding song, Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”  I wrangled the girls, as well as compliments about them from many of the guests.  Around 10 the Inn lit up a bonfire out in the courtyard and we toasted marshmallows and made s’mores.

We brunched at the colonial house on Sunday, then cleaned up and packed the SUV.  Hit the road by 1 but didn’t get home until 8.  (Due to the incessant construction, I had opportunity to recycle my joke, “why can’t our route take us through states that are already built!”)  Stopped by a pizzeria for a late Sunday dinner and to cleanse my palate of all the first-class food I’ve been consuming, only to have that ruined by the New York Giants proudly displaying to the entire world how not ready they are for prime time this year.

Got my first real sleep in three days last night, but that old alarm had to go and wake me up at 5:58.

Maureen and Jamie – congratulations and best wishes for a long, healthy, and happy marriage!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tolkien and Angels

Want to hear something nice?

I read that, in one of his letters to a friend, J. R. R. Tolkien described a meditation he had while at Eucharistic Adoration.  As he was kneeling in prayer, his mind wandered, as did his eye, and he caught a reflective glimpse of a piece of dust, floating in a sunbeam. He turned from contemplating the Eucharist to contemplating this piece of dust, and a sudden thought surprised him.

We are these pieces of dust, but, more importantly, that ray of sunlight is our Guardian Angel.  Indeed, as a ray of light, it is an apt and very vivid metaphor for God’s personalized attentive love of each and every one of us.  We are bathed, brightened, and warmed in it.

Nice.  I especially like that ray of light spoken of as a Guardian Angel. 

I don’t think I’ll ever see a ray of sunlight streaming through a church’s stained glass window the same way again.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Strange Devices

What are these strange devices? I came across pictures of them on the Internet, quite by chance, but ... something seems oddly familiar about them.

I have the eeriest sensation that I've held these things in my hands, countless times a day over many, many days (months and years, even), but I have absolutely no idea what they could possibly be.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Immovable Center

Was reading Asimov’s readable textbook Understanding Physics last night and came upon this tidbit for the first time ever:

“A point on the rim of a turning wheel is moving at a certain speed, a point closer to the center of the wheel is moving at a smaller speed, and a point still closer to the center is moving at a still smaller speed.  The precise center of a turning wheel is motionless.” (Book I, chapter 6)


Can that be true?

I suppose so, if you consider the center as a pointless, dimensionless idealized location.  But in practicality, I would think not.  Even a dot a millimeter in size would revolve.  So would one a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of an angstrom.  Or would it?  That’s an awfully, awfully, awefully small size – angstroms are typically used when talking about measurements within the atom.  And at a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of that, you’re messing with sizes smaller than an electron, much much smaller, so quantum weirdness (is it a wave or is it a particle?) takes effect and things are not what they seem to us up here in Macro World.

So, yeah, maybe when you shrink that point small enough, it does stop spinning with the rest of the disk.  (Though my intuition still balks at this.)

But my new question is – at what size does this happen?  Where is the boundary between motion and motionlessness?

I need to subscribe to a physics magazine and write a letter to an editor!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Veruchia

© 1973 by E. C. Tubb

A few days ago I reviewed E. C. Tubb’s Technos, #7 in his “Dumarest” series.  You can read it, here, if you wish, but to recap:

(1) Dumarest is one tough space dude

(2) Dumarest is seeking the fabled, mystical, lost world of Earth

(3) Dumarest always gets involved in life-or-death high level political intrigue every time he lands on a new planet

(4) Dumarest always gets the babe(s)

Every novel incorporates these four indispensable truths.  The planets vary, the political systems vary, the monstrous wildlife vary, the death games and attempted assassinations vary, but they are all there, in varying degrees and combinations, in every hard-boiled space opera novel.  For instance, in Technos, the planet government resembled very much the government of the Soviet Union or North Korea.  In Veruchia, we’re visiting something more like imperial “bread and circuses” Rome.  Oh, and every novel is either named after the planet Dumarest alights on, or the name of the babe he, er, alights on.

Anyway, it seems unnecessary to say I enjoyed the novel.  A quick, fast, hard-to-put down read, just the kind I like every couple of weeks to take my mind off weightier matters like raising children and eking out a living in Obamaland.  I’ve now read 15% of the Dumarest series, and I’ve put out a General APB on all yellowed out-of-print Tubb sci-fi novels at all the used bookstores I frequent.

Veruchia, #8 in the series, seemed a bit more fleshed out than Technos; it may be the extra 27 pages or it may be a quest that Tubb throws in the final third of the novel that’s actually quite suspenseful.  Seems that Veruchia, the beautiful but bizarrely-pigmented potential heiress to the world of Dradea must locate an ancient starship to prove her birthright or else suffer assassination at the hands of her eeeeevil cousin Montarg.  To help her is, natch, Earl Dumarest, but our selfishly macho hero has an ulterior motive: that ship, if it exists, might hold some navigational clues to long-lost Terra.  As the clock ticks down, the pair have to deal with treachery, incompetence, subway-car sized eels, decapods, the perils of deep sea pressure, and Montarg’s goons. 

I liked it; it moved and held my interest.  What more can I say?

Oh, I know.  Another characteristic of a Dumarest novel is

(5) Dumarest ultimately out-maneuvers the evil cybers of the Cyclan

The Cyclan is something like Star Trek’s Borg – a collective, a hive, of emotionless morally ambiguous Spocks called cybers.  Prized as top advisers by planetary rulers throughout the galaxy for their precision logic-guided predictions, they secretly march to the drum of the Cyclan itself and its long, long-range plans.  Appearing something like ancient Egyptian priests, these superstrong monotone Machiavellians tussle with Dumarest in every novel I’ve read to date in the series, and while they are without a doubt his most challenging adversaries, so far the score stands at Dumarest 5, Cyclan 0.  But each of those victories came as the result of a Hail Mary pass with three seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Grade: A-ish.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Came across this word today on CSICOP’s website … LOVE IT!

For the record, I don’t believe in UFOs and alien abduction and blah blah blah.  But I am madly in love with the whole sociological, “American mythology” thing, that combination of horror and camp that’s become part of our cultural makeup.  Ever since I was a kid I ate it all up.  Books, In Search of, all those 50s sci-fi flicks.  And especially so since that weird silent object I saw floating over me one night a long, long time ago.

But “Saucerology” – that’s one cool word.  Can I be a saucerologist?  Part-time, amateur?  Even if I’m not convinced big-headed midgets with black almond eyes from Zeta Reticuli are voyaging on a regular basis hundreds of light years to fertilize our women?  Where does one go to get accredited in Saucerology?  How long is the study to become a saucerologist?  I want to be one. 

Hopper: Saucerologist.

From a cultural-historical perspective, of course.  Flying Saucer stories, I find, are the best kind of campfire stories.

The scariest ones, ones that kept me up at night when I was a kid?

- The Hopkinsville, Kentucky alien “attack” on a farmhouse
- The Flatwoods Monster
- The Travis Walton abduction
- The Betty Andreason abduction

Plus, a whole lot of others just plain creepy and eerie (the “Lubbock Lights”, the Mothman, cattle mutilation, the Allegheny abduction, Roswell conspiracy theories, etc, etc, etc).  My problem – and, perhaps, every amateur saucerologist’s – is that while my two little girls are getting too old to appreciate the creepy and eerie elements of these stories, I still want them to get a good night’s sleep.  You know, not waking the entire house up shrieking at the top of their lungs.



Monday, October 6, 2014

My Kind of Funny

Saw this earlier today on one of the twitter feeds, and still can’t stop the self-chuckling over it …

Seems that Joe Biden has just put out a truly sublime political manifesto entitled

Literally Delaware: This Book Has No Subtitle

Can’t remember who came up with it, but whoever did – it’s genius!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: Technos

© 1972 by E. C. Tubb

I’ve been meandering through E. C. Tubb’s “Dumarest” series of pulp SF novels at the breezy pace of one every nine years.  Since there’s something like 33 books in the saga, and I’ve read four to date, I should finish them all sometime around the year 2275 AD.

That’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek.  The first Dumarest novel I read was one I found stashed away in a drawer with a handful of other 70s sci-fi paperbacks (a legacy of my father’s) as a ten-year-old.  I struggled through it but never quite completed it, being only ten years old and not worldly savvy like I am today, I didn’t quite get the themes and concepts and whatnot.  I was still cutting my teeth on Asimov at this stage, and while Asimov is light-years superior to E. C. Tubb, the latter is not necessarily valueless in the genre of science fiction.

Earl Dumarest is the loner hero of the series, a rough-and-tumble man-with-no-name far-futuristic hitchhiker working odd jobs on this planet and then that one, trying to earn enough money for passage to the next rock, always searching for that fabled lost world of Earth.  And who isn’t (at least in a huge swath of Science Fiction)?  But these books came out in the late 60s and all throughout the 70s, so it wasn’t quite yet the tired old cliché it is today.  The thing I find most interesting about the saga is that each novel is spartan, compact, gritty – little Quentin Tarantino vignettes if Quentin Tarantino did sci fi. 

So I tend to view these books as long teevee episodes.  Ninety-minutes, instead of sixty.  Two season’s worth.  With different Guest Stars each week.  Dumarest and his quest are the only constants in Tubb’s universe, or my imaginary televised versions of his novels.

Ten or fifteen years ago I found a battered copy of that first Dumarest book, Haven of Darkness, in a used bookstore and finally read it all the way through.  About four years ago I picked up online the first two books in the series (The Winds of Gath and Derai), read ’em and reviewed ’em here and here.  Over the past summer I came across two more in a used book store in PennsylvaniaTechnos is the first of those two, #7 in the series.  #8 is swinging a bat in the on-deck circle.

I read Technos in one day.  Three hours.  While it was not good in a harrumphing, lit-major sort of way, it was good in a can’t-put-it-down sort of way.  Kinda like watching a ninety-minute sci fi show on the WB or a made-for-Syfy Syfy movie.  I got hooked right from page 4, and had to see it all the way through to the denoument on page 154.

How would the story appear summarized in a teevee guide?  How ’bout – Fulfilling a dying man’s wish, Dumarest travels to the militant world Technos, searching for a clue to Earth’s whereabouts, becomes entangled in political intrigue and thrown into the dreaded labyrinth, accused of attempted assassination of the planet’s ruler.

Sounds simple, but a lot is packed into those phrases and clauses.  The dying man – who saved our hero from a freak mining accident – spurs Dumarest to the bucolic farmworld of Loame, suffering under the yoke of Technos in the form of the Thorge, a devastating unstoppable form of biological weed warfare.  Sneaking into the oppressor world, a kind of planetary North Korea, Dumarest eludes pursuit, seeks out a woman with an eidactic memory that might hold a key to locate Earth.  Fate enables an encounter with a woman on the planetary high council and our protagonist is soon thrust into Soviet-style power politics.  There’re hints of unpleasantness in the form of Loamite organ harvesting to extend the lifespans of Technos ruling elite, as well as “The Labyrinth,” where unsuspecting victims must overcome mechnical and other fang and claw nastiness.  Most don’t last longer than four minutes.

E. C. Tubb was one of those super-prolific Asimovian writers of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.  A pioneer of British golden age science fiction, he died just a few years back at the age of 90.  The “Dumarest saga” was written over a period of 18 years, from 1967 to 1985.  If you come across any other of those 29 remaining books, send ’em my way, would ya?

Er, 28 books.  I’m currently reading Veruchia, #8 in the series.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Rainy Day Find

Both girls’ soccer games were rained out today.  Which was good, as Little One is still fighting some weird congestion and we were all dead tired anyway.  The wife had to go to work for an event, so I went downstairs and did my usual (pre-soccer season, that is) routine: paid bills, got the dry cleaning ready, made an errand list, grabbed the little ones and headed out into the drizzle.

Our second-to-last stop was a local library.  The girls went in with instructions to get a DVD and one book each.  I lingered in the foyer, where they have a couple of shelves of used books, stacked roughly by subject, for a minimal donation fee.

Guess what I found?


The Second World War, sixth volume (the concluding volume, from D-Day to Germany’s capitulation), by Sir Winston Churchill.

For the incredulous price of $1.00!  Four quarters!  Ya know how much Barnes & Noble would sell this, in the quality condition that it’s in?  Probably $20 bucks.  Minimum.

Now, I have four hefty tomes to complete my study of the World War II European theater (which has been on hiatus since mid-May … and probably won’t resume again until next summer, as I’m beginning a physics phase currently).  The other three are –

The Second World War, by Antony Beevor
The Guns at Last Light, by Rick Atkinson
Crusade in Europe, by Dwight D. Eisenhower

I’m really curious to see the comparisons and contrasts between the literary styles of Eisenhower and Churchill. 

But what a steal, no?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thoughts Amidst a Headache

My head is pounding, so I think I’m going to spend a delightful weekend holed up in an anonymous New York City low-end hotel, studying this amateur manuscript I’ve found on hollow earth theories.  There may or may not be copious amounts of booze involved – I got a lovely bottle of chocolate-flavored vodka chilling in the freezer – and I may spend all the money in my bank account.  On that airplane trip.  To Juneau, Alaska, where I might hire a dog sled captained by a mysterious Esquimaux woman, mush-mush-mushing all the way up to the Aurora Borealis.  And maybe – just maybe – I can use that map the one-eyed man left behind and find the way in, to the world where only Lindebrooks and Saknussems trod, and attain the center of the earth …

Or I might just take a hot tub with some Epsom salts and read one of those physics books I pulled out of a box in the basement.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


In chamber low and scored by time,
Masonry old, late washed with lime –
Much like a tomb new-cut in stone;
Elbow on knee, and brow sustained
All motionless on sidelong hand,
A student sits, and broods alone.
The small deep casement sheds a ray
Which tells that in the Holy Town
It is the passing of the day –
The Vigil of Epiphany.
Beside him in the narrow cell
His luggage lies unpacked; thereon
The dust lies, and on him as well –
The dust of travel.  But anon
His face he lifts – in feature fine,
Yet pale, and all but feminine
But for the eye and serious brow –
Then rises, paces to and fro,
And pauses, saying, “Other cheer
Than that anticipated here,
By me the learner, now I find.
Theology, art thou so blind?
What means this naturalistic knell
In lieu of Shiloh’s oracle
Which here  should murmur? Snatched from grace,
And waylaid in the holy place!
Not thus it was but yesterday
Off Jaffa on the clear blue sea;
Nor thus, my heart, it was with thee
Landing amid the shouts and spray;
Nor thus when mounted, full equipped,
Out through the vaulted gate we slipped
Beyond the walls where gardens bright
With bloom and blossom cheered the sight.

Opening lines of Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

Did you know that Herman Melville, acclaimed author of America’s arguably greatest though ignored-in-its-time novel Moby Dick, also wrote the longest epic poem in American history?  Clocking in at nearly 18,000 lines, Clarel is longer than Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Milton’s Paradise Lost.  And it, too, was sadly overlooked when it was first published nearly seven-score years ago.

Reading these excerpts online, my interest was instantly piqued.  But, alas, my library contains no version  of the poem, and a quick online search yielded $43 – for one of two volumes – as the basement price for a used copy, a little too pricey to justify initial investigations of pique.  But I did find it online, and while I disdain reading books through a computer screen, I may give this a go on the iPad.

The poem was written after Melville himself made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, propelled by his own doubts and uncertainties concerning the ultimate matters of life and death.  As a fellow seeker myself, Melville’s writing here is something I will eventually explore, sooner or later.  If I can’t get to the Holy Land in person, then at least I can do it vicariously.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October's Theme

Peccatum enim vobis non dominabitur: non enim sub lege estis, sed sub gratia.

(Romans 6:14)