Thursday, April 30, 2015

April is Ending

Overall, a much better month than March for me and mine here.
Lessee ... We all ate a wee bit healthier, and I’ve started a program of walking (now including both little ones with me) in hopes of leading up to running.  The wife and I actually found three –  (3) – three! opportunities to dine out by ourselves, sans children. I read two Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, a baseball book, some science and some religion.  Watched a whole bunch of Survivorman episodes (Season One from 2005 as well as the new Survivorman: Bigfoot episodes) – Great American Wild you are now on notice!  Began an interesting research project I’m hoping to turn into my first nonfiction book, though I’m only about ten percent in.  Work has been progressively less stressful (though that kinda makes me nervous that something bad’s just around the corner ...)  There’s no more snow, there are leaves on the trees, the bills are paid and the house is functioning, although we did have a spell of dead mouse odor in the basement we couldn’t get rid of.
Oh well.  All in all, things are in a slight upswing for House Hopper.
What do I want to accomplish in May?

Prime Memories

It just dawned on me that a year ago was my sister-in-law’s wedding down in Austin, Texas.  We flew down for a few days at a ranch they rented for the ceremony and party and had a great time.  During the plane ride down, poolside, in a hammock on the ranch, in various rooms dodging people and guests, in my hotel bathroom, in the passenger seat of the black Volkswagen we rented, and on the plane ride home, I put away John Derbyshire’s excellent Prime Obsession, a book about German mathematician Bernard Riemann and his hypothesis (which attempts to predict the distribution of prime numbers in a given range of numbers).
The final page raised Everest-sized goose bumps all out on my arms, some 30,000 feet above Tennessee.

Ah, memories!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Yes, it’s happening again.
I’ve relapsed.  I am now reading physics books.
It started innocently enough over the weekend.  During our errands, Little One casually informed me that she was studying the Periodic Table in Science at school.
The Periodic Table?
The Periodic Table!
Images and emotions flooded my very being at that moment as I drove us from the dry cleaners to the recycling center.  The hours I spent on the floor of my childhood living room, on my belly, chin on hands, feet flipping and flopping, as I memorized every box on that wonderful chart.  Atomic Numbers, Weights, the abbreviations of the elements (and the intriguing journey of discovery figuring out what the Latin / Ancient names of some of them were), the families, the series, gases, metals, the elements theorized but generated neither in nature nor laboratory.  Yet.
Ah!  Life is Good!
So Monday I picked up John Gribben’s In Search of Superstrings, which happened to be the topmost book of a stack of nearly two-dozen pop-sci physics books in the basement, and haven’t been able to put it down since.
I’ve relapsed.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What I Learned from Survivorman

Some things I learned after watching the season 1 DVDs of Survivorman (nine episodes):

The “Five Ws” of every survival situation –   
1. Wood
2. Water
3. Widowmakers
4. Wigglies
5. Weather
The importance of the Ws depends on the situation.  Wood is needed to make a fire; Water is needed, well, to live.  But if you’re stranded in the snowy mountains or in the middle of the desert, which W takes priority will differ.
Widowmakers are, from what I can tell, such things as: “Don’t sleep under a giant rock ledge with a fire to keep you warm.”  The fire can cause the rock, if heated up to quickly, to fracture, and you have a ton of dead weight falling down on you, and your spouse is now a widow.
Wigglies are, uh, probably the biggest thing that keeps me from camping out in my backyard grass with a book for an afternoon.  In Survivorman episodes, though, they are quite a bit more nasty: snakes, spiders, scorpions.  The relative warmth of your surroundings will tell you the degree in which you need to be worried about wigglies.
Weather will dictate the type and location of your shelter.
I also learned some other basics of survival wisdom:
To stay warm, sleep on a bed of grass – wigglie-free grass, that is – to get you off the ground.  Also, take four flat rocks and warm them by placing them close to the fire.  Put one against your torso and the other down by your feet to stay warm (or less chilled) on really cold nights.  Rotate with the other two rocks as necessary.
If I had to, I now know how to build a shelter, from a basic lean-to to scavenging the area in the hope of discovering something more substantial to create one with.  Also, certain leaves can be pulled apart and very tough threads can be extracted – great for binding branches and whatnot together to form a fairly solid roof (make sure the leaves all point smoothly downward, an essential if you want to stay as dry as possible in the rain).
I think I know how to make a fire if I had a lens, or two rocks, or a couple of bent sticks and a shoelace.  I think.  (Tinder! Tinder! Tinder!)
I also think I know how to set a snare, a basic rock drop trap, and a fish trap to catch some food.  I think – wouldn’t want to bet my life on it.  And I never, ever, ever want to skin a mammal to cook it, though I think – thanks to watching the shows – I could if I absolutely had to.
Boil all drinking water thoroughly, if possible, and cook all caught meat thoroughly, if possible.  One word: parasites.
If you’re stuck on the beach and need some freshwater and you have the materials, put some seawater and some plants in a bucket, cover with plastic, and angle that plastic so its most downward point is over a cup.  Place whole contraption in the sun.  By nightfall, you might – if you’re lucky – have a cup of pure water to drink.
Be careful not to sweat too much, especially if you’re facing cold temps at night.
Oh, and always carry a swiss army knife or other somesuch multitool with you whenever you’re traveling out in Mother Nature ...
and, most importantly, STAY CALM!

[Note: I am the type of guy who can barely survive a couple hours locked outside the house on a sunny afternoon, so every bit helps!]

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Beginnings

Just a brief update …

Wrote just under a thousand words today for the introductory “teaser” of my new book.  It’s going to be a work of nonfiction, and I have a pretty good idea where I want to go with it and how I want to write it.  Problem is, I only have it about fifty percent researched.  But I figure I can fill in the gaps as I write it, and then re-write the whole thing.


(Note: that was an non-sarcastic “Yay!”)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Old Ones

While watching one of the “History” channels last night, H2, this thought popped into my head:

Imagine some type of apocalypse hits the earth.  Our entertainment complex is so, so, so into apocalypses these days, be it Zombie, or Nuclear, or Biological Warfare, or whatever.  Ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine percent of mankind is wiped out.  The sands rebury the Pyramids.  The rain forest reclaims Manhattan.  Small packets of humanity, regressed to the primitive in the quest for mere survival against the elements and each other, gather together, and all knowledge is lost.

Fast forward two or three thousand years.

Man has now mastered the elements, mastered the innate desire to dominate his fellow man, and a new civilization has sprung up, similar in technological level as ours now is.  Archaeology is all the rage as the Masters of Culture wonder: What were the Old Ones like?

Two books are found and deciphered:  One, a history book of the 1960s, with a special section on the Space Race.  The other, a Star Wars DVD.

Might there not be media outlets in the year 5000 AD similar to our H2, who will trumpet that based on these two pieces of evidence, the record is conclusive: the Old Ones of Earth built massive space ships and space stations, developed hyperdrive, and colonized the universe?

Friday, April 24, 2015


This guy at work who could pass for my twin – he’s slightly stockier and six years younger but looks my age (I don’t know if that’s good or bad) – had a mild stroke yesterday.  I don’t know the details, but it seems to have been caused by high blood pressure.  I spoke with him earlier today and he seemed fine on the phone.  Said he’d be taking off the rest of the month, returning next Friday.
So, thankfully, it must have been real mild.
Still, a wake-up call.  Certainly for him, but also for me.  I will pray for the guy; he’s one of the assets at the place where I work, and a genuinely nice man. 
Twenty-four hours ago I was toying with the idea of giving up soda ... consider it done, with more overhauls to come!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Next in the Batting Order

– an Agatha Christie anthology (a genre I’ve never explored)
– The Dialogues of Plato
Little Big Man – a Western for when Spring truly kicks open them saloon doors
– a (possible) re-read of Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin

And part of me still wants to hurl itself full fathom five into either physics or mathematics, and the other part keeps reigning it in, saying, “Wait! Wait! ... Wait until you reach the half-century mark, and use all that science to keep your mind from going!”  To which the other part cries out: “It’s already gone!”

Depressing But True Quote of the Day

“Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.”
– Sallust, Roman historian, 86-c. 35 BC

How many of us settle for a paycheck at the price of a dream?
The energy required to overcome the glaciating inertia of the Desire for a Just Master seems downright Olympian.  But there must be a trick.  There must be a trick.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day 1990

I was very young.  There was a special 20th anniversary concert being held in New York City at Central Park.  My friends all decided to go.  And we decided to go because we were all very young, and though we didn’t care a whit about liberal leftist environmental politics, we wanted to see a free concert in an altered state of mind.  Oh, and we were all very young, and the concert was free.
Now I have long since accepted and embraced my fear – no, my intense distaste and dislike – of crowds.  Of being crowded in.  Claustrophobia by sheer volume of bodies.  But back then I succumbed easily to peer pressure.  So I knew going in it would be crowded.  Messy.  Sweaty.  Extremely close-quartered and stinky.  And not having too great a love affair with New York City, I knew it would be stressful.  As in, always-be-aware-of-your-wallet stressful.
Which is why, paradoxically, the altered state of mind was imperative.
The problem was, once we got in to the city (a friend’s older sister drove us in and dropped us off), once we got into the park, there was nothing altering to be found.  Nada.  Finally, we split into groups and left the park and walked for an hour or two on the streets and avenues surrounding the event.  Every single deli and liquor store was sold out of beer.  Every one.  Not kidding.  Never saw anything like it.
Finally, in some beaten-down grocery store in what might have been Spanish Harlem, we stumbled across a case of beer.  Not Budweiser, but it was something along those lines.  Maybe it was Michelob.  We paid for it and hauled it back in to Central Park, one guy holding the front and the other the back.  Random people offered us as much as $10 for a single bottle, but we declined.
By this point the crowd in the Park had grew eight- or ten-fold.  We were roped off, with actual rope, into little sardinelike squares.  The heat was stifling – and, truth be told, my black pants and dress shirt were terribly inappropriate – and I don’t think I ever relished a cold beer more than I did that day.  Problem was that the beers were now all lukewarm at best.  And splitting a case of warm beer among eight or ten people doesn’t translate into a mind-altering experience, unless that mind-altering experience is one of misery.
I honestly don’t remember any of the acts.  Was Paul Simon playing?  Dunno.  Who was big in 1990?  I had gone into the city for other concerts and had quite memorable experiences (Neil Young on the pier, the Ramones at CBGBs I think it was, King’s X in some other club, Henry Rollins at the Limelight).  But of Earth Day 1990, the big gala 20th anniversary event, I have no musical memory.
I did scratch my name on some Save the Panda thing or another (probably right after finishing my 2.5 beers), and for five or six years afterward I got stickers and solications from the World Wildlife Fund.  I put the stickers on the wall in my apartment closet and threw out the solicitations.
We did eventually have a good time, after we got out of the park.  The whole group grabbed some food at some forgotten tavern, and then the pitchers flowed.  We had to foot it home, or at least to New Jersey soil, and it’s the only time I ever walked across the George Washington Bridge.  That same friend’s sister picked us up and dropped us all off, one by one.

And that’s the way it was for Hopper, twenty-five years ago on Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Immortal Lifetimes

I’m in the shower this morning, rushing through shampooing, conditioning, and shaving cuz we’re running late and I have to get the girls dressed, packed, and dropped off at school and get my own busted carcass to work.  What am I thinking of as I lather up my shiny luxurious hair?


Specifically, how one would go about living “normal” human lives amidst the backdrop of immortality.

I’m thinking about a tale by Borges that I read six or seven years ago during my JLB phase.  It’s focus was immortality, and how a life without death would drive a man insane.  The main reason being, if I recall correctly, is … what would you do with undying millennia spread out before you?  I have trouble figuring out what to do on a weeknight if the wife is overnighting on a sales trip.  The answer Borges comes up with, again if I remember correctly, is that one would live an infinite series of lives before insanity set in.  Indeed – SPOILERS! – one of the main characters, himself insane and immortal, is revealed to have spent a part of his existence as … Plato.

So how many lives would that be? the showering me wondered this morning.

Let’s keep the numbers easy.  Fifty years for a lifetime.  Every century the immortal you would live two lifetimes.

(This leads to an interesting tangent: being immortal means you can never form lasting attachments.  They die, you don’t.  They age, you don’t.  If the government gets a hold of you, man, you’re toast.)

Anyway, two lifetimes a century.  Let’s say recorded history goes back to 4000 BC.  I think that’s when writing was invented.  So we have 6,000 years of civilization here.  You, some average Chaldean joe chiseling out a cuneiform tablet one day, are granted the gift-curse of immortality.  How many different lives have you lived?

Simple math says only 120.

Yeah, “only” 120.

Once upon a time on this blog I posted how I could have had nine lives and my curse is to never have been able to choose among them.  Imagine having to decide more than thirteen times that, with no end in sight.

I think I’d spend a couple of centuries in one field, say, medicine.  Or astronomy.  Or writing.  You become such a specialist in such a broad field that establishing creds in it is like sleepwalking.  (Oh – and being immortal you’d eventually become the most wealthiest human being ever to have existed – have to be careful about hiding that financial trail!)  But out of sheer boredom and the urgent desire to ward off insanity, you’d want to spend a half-century here and there doing something completely off the wall.  Say, a fashion designer, or an Amazon explorer, or a – but wait!  Careful – you can’t become famous now!

Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t too farfetched.  Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and are not my shower musings a form of reincarnation-without-the-whole-pesky-death-thing?  I dunno.  But I think one time around on this rock might be enough.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Musical Missing Link

Borrowed David Gilmour’s 2006 solo CD On an Island from the library this weekend.  Enjoyed listening to it during the commute to and from work.  Unsurprisingly, very Gilmourish.  Also unsurprisingly, very good.  Might pick it up next time I’m at a music store and have some cash in my pocket.  A good bookend to Frampton’s solo CD I bought a few years back that I play during barbecues on the outdoor deck.

Always liked David as a guitarist.  Pink Floyd’s Animals has some great guitar work, as does most of The Wall.  Always dug his vocals and thought his ethereal tenor a powerful counterpoint to the snaky and cynical baritone of Roger Waters.

But it was this quote from music critic Alan di Perna writing in Rolling Stone that brought out the bumps on my arms, hit me like a waterfall of ice cold Riesling, and made me lunge for the acoustic to pluck out some “Sheep” ending chords, “Wind Cries Mary” hammer-ons, and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” arpeggios:

[David Gilmour is] “ … the missing link between Hendrix and Van Halen.”

Wow!  That is totally correct, and I don’t think in thirty-five years as a guitar player I’ve mentioned the three of them in the same sentence.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ah, Spring!

Past two days sunny and beautiful.

Temps in the mid-70s.

Spring is here!

Spent three hours out at a couple of parks with the girls.  Back of my neck sunburnt.  Legs achy from all the walking we did.  Tired from all the fresh air I’ve inhaled.  Guilted by all the people, men and women, of all ages, out there running. 

Loved every minute spent with my girls, the perfect ages of ten and six.  Don’t grow old, ladies!  Please!

But my favorite time of the weekend (if you allow me a little bit of selfishness), was the hour I sat on the cool green grass, in the shade under a sprawling oak tree, overlooking the playground where Patch and Little One cavorted with two or three dozen other young children, while I journeyed out to Barsoom with John Carter for three or four chapters.

Ah, Spring!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Happy (Belated) Birthday

To a very wise, learned, holy man who I still miss.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tom Lincoln's Son

One of the readers of a columnist over at NRO's The Corner sent in a very touching, very appropriate cartoon I thought I'd like to repost:


(Click on image if you have trouble reading the captions.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Abraham Lincoln

A lot of places online today have been referencing Walt Whitman's poem "O Captain! My Captain!", composed specifically to honor our fallen sixteenth president.

Allow me to do the same, quoting the third and final stanza ...

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor shop comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

I always had an arms-length fascination with Lincoln, going as far back as the fourth grade.  In the mid-90s, after years digesting King, Koontz, and Clancy, a thick biography of the man brought me back to the first real, heavy-duty world of nonfiction. A surprisingly quick and engrossing read.  Fifteen years later I returned to Lincoln as I started delving into America's Odyssey, the Civil War, another top that fascinated me but one that I had never really explored.

Two tidbits that I will tell any and every one whenever the subject of Lincoln comes up: The man kept two sets of literary works on his desk at the White House - the King James Bible and the collected works of Shakespeare.  (Re-read the Gettysburg Address with that in mind.)  And, as a newly-minted lawyer, young Mr. Lincoln made his way through all thirteen books of Euclid's Elements, an early Greek masterpiece expounding the postulates, axioms, and theorems of geometry, in order to teach himself the rigors of thinking logically, a feat of incredible determination and will, even more so by today's standards.

The best book on Lincoln I have read was James McPherson's Tried By War.  The Daniel Day Lewis movie of a few years back was riveting, too.  Maybe to honor the man I'll go to the local library this weekend and borrow the biopic starring Henry Fonda ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Yet Another Cryptic Clue

Is it the third?



Dunno, but here it is:

Alls I know is that I am having a great time with this.

Oh, and there's yet another cryptic clue hidden within this post!

Monday, April 13, 2015


My little ones (and the missus in the middle) 
with their new cousins ...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Review: A Princess of Mars

© 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs

What was the first science fiction novel?  Who was the first science fiction writer?

Ah, interesting questions for buffs like Yours Truly.  From what I’ve read, a good percentage of those in the know tend to go with Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.  Me, I see where they’re coming from, I like to kick the can down the road a half-century and go with Jules Verne.  Definitely, at the turn of the century, H. G. Wells cemented the new literary form yet to be called science fiction (I believe it was called “scientifiction”, though perhaps even that nomer was still a few years away).  But a little over a decade after Wells a man came along with created the science fiction pulp novel.

That man is Edgar Rice Burroughs.  He of Tarzan fame, as well as lost world tales like At the Earth’s Core and The Land that Time Forgot.

Not sure which came first, published or written, but 1912 saw both Tarzan and  A Princess of Mars come hot off the presses.  The latter became a dozen-or-so-novel franchise that would become entry-level sci fi fodder for uncountable boys over the past ten decades.  I myself read it forty years back, probably in fourth grade if memory – ever sketchy – serves.  A terrible movie-by-committee was made a few years ago by Disney (please don’t judge this work by that!).  Repackaged and reprinted probably close to a couple hundred times, I am reading Burroughs’s Carter series in a very respectable Barnes and Noble hardcover holding the first five novels.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

This: Action.  Adventure.  Swordplay and swagger.  Monsters and bad guys – plenty of bad guys.  Beautiful scantily clad women.  Barbarians and barbarity.  Empires, emperors, and all the perilous intrigue you’d expect.  Heroes who outwit – or, more likely, out-punch, out-stab, out-slash, out-shoot, or otherwise out-muscle – those legions of baddies.  And it never lets up after a brief, establishing opening chapter to the exciting, climactic penultimate one.

That’s pulp.  There’s no hard science fiction in this tale.  Even pre-atomic era hard science fiction found in Verne and Wells.  Our hero, John Carter, finds himself transported in some vague, dreamy way to a breathable, Earthlike Mars.  Gravity on the smaller world is taken into account, however, and turns out it provides Carter with his great advantage over the natives: superior strength due his Earthling musculature and the ability to airborne leap hundreds of yards at a pop to escape difficult fixes.

There are warlike, six-limbed Green Martians, the human-like Red Martians (of which the titular Princess, Dejah Thoris, is the prime example), monstrous dog thingies, banta-like uh banta thingies.  To whatever extent necessary Burroughs delves into the anthropology of the two groups.  Presumably there are more variations of different colors, perhaps to be revealed in following novels, and a possibly extinct possibly not extent race of advanced Martians is hinted at through great though abandoned ancient architectural wonders dotting the red planet.

A good, quick read when taken for what it is: a trip down memory lane.  While I read Burroughs as a kid, I consider Asimov the writer upon whom I cut my teeth.  But I still enjoy the thrill of abandoning myself on the sands of another world, vicariously watching the barbarians butcher and the dashing hero get the Princess.

Grade: B+  (B for the actual story, an extra “+” for creating a subgenre)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

150 Years Ago in Northern Virginia

A rerun of a part of a post from three years back (on Harry Hansen's 1961 magnum opus The Civil War: A History), in honor of what happened on April 9, 1865 ...

*  *  *  *  *

Anyway, here are some things that stuck with me – 

1. Grant’s Astronomic Rise.

After a mediocre mid-level military career, Grant is working for his younger brother in a tannery owned by his dad at the start of the Civil War. A little over two years later he is the chief commanding officer of the military, bringing Lee to surrender a littler over a year after that. And five years after that, he’s President-Elect of the United States. I’d previously thought he was always a general or something, colonel maybe, and always had the president’s ear during the war. Not so.

2. The Union named battles after the nearest body of water; the Confederacy named them after the nearest population center. 

I used to wonder why some sources called Bull Run Manassas and Second Bull Run Second Manassas. Now I know. Bull Run is a meandering stream in Virginia. Manassas is the town where Southern forces were encamped. Thus, Northern historians refer to the battles as First and Second Bull Run, while Southerners call it First and Second Manassas. Ahhhh.

3. The Union named its armies after the nearest body of water; the Confederacy named them after the largest population center. 

A variation of #2. Quiz – which sides did the Army of Tennessee and the Army of the Tennessee fight for? How about the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, armies that pretty much locked horns continuously throughout the four-years of fighting?

4. The naval aspect of the Civil War. 

You all heard of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. The Monitor was one of the first functioning submarines (if you define “submarine” very loosely). The Merrimac was one of the first “ironclad” ships – wooden ships with iron plating making it all but impervious to traditional artillery. The battle raged on for a day at the Battle of Hampton Roads, a port in Virginia.

But what I didn’t realize was that, by war’s end, there were over 75 ironclads and a half-dozen monitor-class ships in the Union navy. In fact, the last “monitor” was decommissioned sometime in the 1930s.

Some of the best writing in the book occurs during these naval scenes. Of particular interest was Admiral David Farragut’s victories in the ports of New Orleans in 1862 and Mobile Bay in 1864; Cushing stealthily destroying the CSS Albemarle like a WW2 espionage mission; and the battle before the USS Kearsarge and the CSSAlabama, a fearsome Confederate privateering vessel, off the coast of France. 

5. Only one man was executed after the war for war crimes. 

Henry Wirz, commandant of Andersonville Prison, sight of thousands and thousands of deaths of Union prisoners-of-war. Deaths due to malnutrition, exposure, disease, and neglect. Now, I don’t know enough about the case to assess the man’s guilt, but I do know that at his military trial his lawyers enacted the Nuremburg Defense: “I was only following orders.”

6. The sheer brutality of the war. 

Over 210,000 men died in the conflict (two-thirds of that figure Union forces; the rest Confederates). It was not uncommon for skirmishes to have hundreds killed and major battles thousands. Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the war, had over 2,100 Union soldiers killed and over 1,500 Confederate killed. (By the way, Antietam is a creek in Maryland. Sharpsburg is the nearest hamlet to the battlefield. In the south the battle of Antietam is known as the battle of Sharpsburg.)

Some of Hansen’s descriptions of the carnage are particularly nightmarish and infinitely sorrowful. The Battle of the Wilderness, where fallen soldiers, too wounded to move, were consumed by raging flames begun by artillery shells igniting the brush. Other wounded, such as those at Spotsylvania, lying in the hot sun during the day and the cold chill of night, unable to be rescued to due sharpshooters from either side. And those who were brought off the battlefield to reach the hospital often suffered much, much more. The most common “remedy” to a bullet wound was amputation. Sterilization was not practiced, and infection killed more than actual lead.

7. Lincoln as General-in-Chief. 

The first two-and-a-half years of the war Lincoln desperately searched for a general who would lead Union forces to victory. A fruitless search, as he went through over a half-dozen generals – Scott, McDowell, McClellan, Halleck, Burnside, Hooker, Meade – before Grant stepped up with western victories. And throughout those two-and-a-half years Lincoln himself often had to suggest and even order various strategic and tactical objectives upon his indecisive and overly-cautious generals.

8. Novel aspects of the war – 

Balloons used for reconnaissance, one of the first instances of such an application. “Torpedoes” – actually mines, which lined many Southern harbors and ports. The famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes!” is attributed to Admiral David Farragut during the naval battle of Mobile Bay, an 1864 clash that took the South’s last major open port. 

I learned about “mining warfare” from the book. Apparently, in at least two battles, Vicksburg and Petersburg, Union soldiers from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, expert in mining, tunneled out 500-foot shafts underneath Southern battle lines. Hansen addresses how you do this, how you get fresh air down a hole that long, how the rebels could hear sounds of tunneling but couldn’t determine where. Then they’d send in a ton of explosives and set it off. Though the aftermath never really justified widespread use, it’s an example of war-time ingenuity that never occurred to me.

9. The sheer numbers of generals – 

Wikipedia notes 1,600 (!) Union and 88 Confederate generals; Hansen’s mentions 153 generals of various stripes (determined by a quick count of names in the Index). Before I’d assume there was Grant and Sherman and a few others in the North, Lee and Stonewall Jackson plus a few others in the South. Hardly! And I was shocked to note the number of generals killed in action. You may know Stonewall Jackson shot by mistake by his own troops, but snipers, normal combat wounds, cannonballs – all claimed the lives of these high commanders.

10. The West Point fraternity of Civil War generals.

I found it strange and almost unbelievable that so many of the generals on each side knew each other – many roomed together – at the West Point Military Academy. A brief list of notable graduates: Generals Grant, Sherman, Meade, Sheridan, McClellan, Custer, Doubleday, Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Hood, Stuart, Johnston, Johnston, Polk, Bragg, Kirby Smith. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a graduate of the class of 1826. General Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of West Point for three years; his son was also a graduate, class of 1854, and became a Southern general himself.

I remember Hansen noting that Confederate General James Longstreet attended General U. S. Grant’s wedding before the war, and afterwards, after the surrender at Appomattox, the Confederate leader paid a visit to his long-time friend who’d been his opponent for four years. I wonder – would Longstreet put a bullet in Grant’s brain, given the opportunity, in the months before April 1865?

11. The war in the “west.”

Before, when I read about the western theater in the Civil War, I thought about California. It was a state back then, right? Right. But the war in the “west” refers to action along the Mississippi River. West of the Mississippi was mostly semi-settled territories controlled by both the North and South, plus Texas in the Confederacy and the new states of Kansas and Nebraska in the Union. 

Part of the North’s strategy early on (devised by General Winfield Scott, aged hero of the War of 1812) was the “Anaconda Plan,” a plan to strangle the South. This entailed a naval blockade in the Atlantic and Gulf, and the capture and control of the Mississippi with the intention to bisect the Confederacy. Some of the most effective generals the Union produced – Grant, Sherman, Sheridan – rose to prominence in the battles of the west to wrest control of the Mississippi River from the South.

12. The whole slavery question.

Was the Civil War fought to abolish slavery? Did the South secede over the issue of States Rights? For a long time I did not know for certain. Then I read in an online forum someone smack-down the States Rights issue. The person wrote, “Yeah, the States Rights issue in question was whether one human could own another.”

It is true that Lincoln fought the war to retain the Union in its pre-1861 configuration. It is true that he said he would free all the slaves, free some of the slaves, or free none of the slaves if it would keep the Union whole. However, a majority of the North was trending toward abolition at the start of the conflict. Though it was not a majority’s majority by any stretch of the imagination. Some Union enlistees would be shocked to be asked to give their lives to “free the slaves.”

The callousness of Southern leaders, such as Jefferson Davis and John C. Breckinridge, toward the enslavement of other human beings, appalls Modern Me. Black soldiers fought on the Union side, and their lives were often forfeit to Southern hatred and atrocity were they to be captured. The Fort Pillow Massacre is one such example, though I concede that there are varying versions of the degree of “atrocity” in regards to the killing of captured black troops. Regardless, the whole issue brought to my eyes really for the first time, was quite disturbing.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Project Go!

So the ladies are all heading down to DC tomorrow morning to visit my wife's newborn nephews (I guess they're my nephews, too; it just feels weird writing that).  Little One and Patch can't wait to see their cousins.  They'll also take in the sights at our nation's capital.  Me, I'm holding down the fort.  Gonna stay productive ... get all the errands done, wake early, go for walks, represent the family at Mass.  Oh!  Most importantly, begin serious work on that cryptic project I mentioned a few days ago. Also, a book review tomorrow or Sunday.  In honor of the 150th anniversary of the ending of the Civil War - rather, Lee's surrendering of the Army of Northern Virginia, 150 years ago yesterday, which for all intents and purposes ended the Confederacy - I might repost something nifty I wrote when I was back into the whole great conflict two or three years back.

See ya tomorrow!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Alpha Girls

"Surely there must be a better way to inspire and develop confidence, outgoing-ness, and a goal-getting mindset in my young girls than turning them into boys," Hopper asks the four walls and ceiling after tossing the hardcover book written by the PhD back on the pile.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hopper Dreams

Had a lot of weird vignettes overnight.  Weird like Three's Company meets Salvador Dali.  Common, every day events (for normal people, maybe not so much for me) wrung through the lens of a Christopher Nolan philosophical film.  One segment flowed into the next, no segment subjectively lasting longer than a few minutes, though the night flew by and I only woke up once, after a full six hours of slumber.

Highlights:  The wife and I decide to go out for Indian (!) food, wind up with turkey and cheese sandwiches, and meet Dwight Schrute there.  Shyly, I chat him up about how The Rocker is the greatest movie ever made, and make a slight fool of myself.  Then I'm pursued through shadowy, Kafka-esque labyrinths, wind up on the town high school football field during a fall festival.  Something's hinky, though, and my hunch of something wicked - a diabolical cross between Alien chestbursters and Body Snatchers pod people - thankfully goes unresolved as I'm now racing off in a Buck Rogers rocket car at night, burning grooves into tree-lined, white-picket-fenced Americana streets, damning a malfunctioning GPS as I'm panicking I'm going to miss my daughter's final appearance in the Final Four game at some undisclosed big city arena.

And on, and on, and on.

I was a spy in a movie (participating in a movie is a big dream theme with me), with good women, bad women, and all the requisite fistfighting, though that part's now hazy.  A non-connected rumble with spiked baseball bats, a la Escape from New York, followed.  That's vague, too, flushed down the memory hole.  Other bits and pieces, vivid when the alarm went off, self-promised to remember while in the shower, are now scattered to the aether.

Oh well.  There's always tonight ...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Holy Me

Not much happened today.  No humorous anecdotes.  No crazy occurrences at work or on the road.  No weird, esoteric, mind-bending thoughts either original or read, heard, or otherwise seen crossed my mind.

But -

An idea for a small and interesting project tugged at my sleeve this morning, and grew more and more insistent as the day aged by.  Now, I don't want to give away the whole idea just yet, especially since it is still just germinating in all its glorious nebulocity, but I'm not adverse to giving out cryptic hints.

Cryptic Hint 1:

See the title of this post.

Cryptic Hint 2:

... unus militum lancea latus ejus aperuit ...

Cryptic Hint 3:

Open up yer Bible to the fourth gospel, nineteenth chapter, thirty-fourth verse.

So there!  Hopefully more to follow soon.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Virus Boy

OK ... my 10+ year old PC at home is pretty much toast with all the viruses and junk clogging it up.  Since it's so old and outdated I don't want to spend the cash to try to get it up and running.  All my valuable documents and photos and whatnot are safely stored elsewhere, so I don't need it. I guess we'll be shopping for a PC to pick up at some point cuz we do need one for various stuff that we have to do.

Anyway, I get to work this morning, fire up my completely-unrelated and unconnected work computer, and start juggling the debits and credits.  An hour later the IT guy comes up to my desk.  "Hopper," he says, "I need to schedule a diagnostic run on your workstation tonight.  Got an alert your anti-virus software has been turned off."

Ay caramba!  What am I contagious now?!?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Victimae Paschali Laudes

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended
In that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus' resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee He goes before you."
Christ indeed from death is risen,
Our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My Girls in a Nutshell

Last night the little ones were sleeping over their grandparent's house.  The wife and I, exhausted after an eventful week and partaking of our Lenten fasts, settled in and had two slices apiece of vegetarian pizza to break our Friday fast.  Seeing nothing of note on the DVR, we finally stopped on Dateline,  the news show where every now and then that weird and creepy white hired old guy juicily details a gory murder mystery and trial in lurid detail.

This morning, I'm in the shower as my wife is getting dressed when last night's show comes up.  In it, the murdered woman's toddler daughter played a role, and we start talking about our little ones, and my comment, I think, perfectly captures the essence of my two girls, Little One age 10 and Patch age 6.

"If I was ever the victim of an unsolved murder," I said, "Little One would write an emotional semi-autobiographical bestselling memoir about it, and Patch would devote her life to tracking down and catching the killer."

Friday, April 3, 2015

Seven Last Words from the Cross

Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do …

Today you will be with Me in Paradise …

Woman, behold your son … behold your Mother …

My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? …

I thirst …

It is finished …

Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit …

*  *  *  *  *

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You –

Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Pair of Thoughts for April 2015

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth
becomes a revolutionary act." 
(Attributed to George Orwell)

Kinda fits nicely, keeping the news if the day in mind, 
with another Orwell quote:

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people
what they do not want to hear."  
(From the original preface to Animal Farm, 1953)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wherefore Art Thou, Hopper?

OK, OK, I know "wherefore" is Shakespeare for "why" and not "where," but allow me to slum a bit, and go with a pithy blog post heading.

I've been around.  Here.  There.  Just not online.

Been very busy.  Work being busy is a given, but the past week it's been even more so, so that I haven't found time to write during lunch.  The computer in the writing office is still battling the worm.  Though, truth be told, I haven't resumed the battle since Sunday.  Can't seem to find a restore point in System Restore, which I find odd, and if I can I think I can beat this thing.  That is, without shelling out dough.

So I am writing this on the iPad.  You know how I feel about that.

Anyway ...

Lots to say.  I will resume the once-daily post.  But there have been the usual thoughts - on books, movies, theology, math, politics.  I did a little correspondence with a company over the Indiana RFRA thing which I'll post about.  Thoughts on C.S. Lewis which may surprise you.  Watching SF with the girls.  Baseball.  The Walking Dead.

So ... more tomorrow.  And this weekend: WORM - YOU ARE TOAST!