Thursday, June 30, 2016

June is History!

All in all, had a great month.

Started a new job, which I like and it seems they like me. Got a nice fat bump pay-wise, and it looks like I’ll be accomplishing more with less stress than at the old 2011-2015 place. And it’s so nice to see a paycheck of my own hit the bank account every week.

Put in 21 hours, by my reckoning, of self-study into the tax thing. Still like it, which I still think is kinda weird, but I’m looking at it as a possible additional contribution to the Hopper household financially, and a failsafe / escape clause / golden parachute / buffer should I ever be laid off again.

Very enjoyable month reading classic-style. Put away Moby Dick, King Lear, Mutiny on the Bounty, and am almost finished with a scholarly treatment (in paperback form) of Professor Tolkien. Which rekindled an ever-present interest in The Lord of the Rings, which decided to reread (for the fourth time), starting this weekend.

Not so much on the physical fitness or writing fronts, however. This’ll have to be addressed later on. And it was a sad week pet-wise, what with poor Cinnamon a few days ago and my sister-in-law’s long-time dog passing on yesterday. Geez, and my little ones want me to buy them a Boston terrier!

Well, gotta run. The wife has been on vacation all week, and today she took the girls down the Jersey shore for the day. Got us a rotisserie chicken, some fresh string beans, some microwavable cheese macs, and oreo cookie ice cream sandwiches for desert for when they all get back.

Ah! The sweet and pleasant boredoms of domestic tranquility!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


When I was born the 1040 form for filing an individual income tax return sported 54 lines over its two pages and the instruction booklet paired with it was 20 pages long.  By 2015, the form grew to 79 lines over two pages, and its accompanying instructions expanded to 105 pages in length.


Especially when you consider that when the 1040 was first introduced, in 1913 with the passing of the 16th Amendment, it boasted 31 lines over three pages, with a single additional page for instructions. After specific exemptions were taken, a tax rate of 1 percent applied to those making over (in 2015 dollars) $72,000. Higher earners making over (approximately, in 2015 dollars) $400,000 paid an additional 1 percent in tax.

The 1040 form and instruction booklet plus common attachments used to be mailed to every taxpayer every year, a policy only recently discontinued in 2009.

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This message brought to you by the weird dude poring over a blank 1040 form and saying, “Gee, I wonder …”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cinnamon, 2014-2016

Yesterday the Hopper household suffered a loss. Cinnamon, Little One’s beloved hamster, was found dead in her cage.

Cinnamon was of the albino roborovski breed, and, being such, was of a fiercer, more independent spirit than your average hamster. Initially she was a biter, and you ran the oft-realized risk of a painful nip if you tried to pet her. However, over the months she became acclimated to us and allowed herself to be held, petted, and played with. Hand-feeding her helped greatly with that.

She enjoyed dining on sunflower seeds, and spent many hours sorting and categorizing her food in the “penthouse” compartment of her hamster cage. She also liked running in her transparent globe while Little One did the weekly cage clean.

Back in early February the girls came to me in distress: “Daddy, Cinnamon has a piece of food stuck in her ear!” We carefully inspected it and it seemed true. The wife and I weighed the pros and cons of trying to extract it with tweezers, but due to the animal’s small size and fighting temperament, we decided a visit to the vet was called for. So, next morning after a fresh snowfall, I drove Little One and her pet to the new vet office that had just recently opened in our town.

Turns out that wasn’t an ill-positioned seed: it was a tumor. Words that nobody ever wants to hear, whoever or whatever the patient. Apparently, cancer of the endocrine system is quite common in the breed. Surgery was required to remove it, and the vet informed us of the risks of sedating such a small creature. I acquiesced to the cost, since she was indeed part of the family.

Three days later I picked her up, and she seemed completely normal: energetic, curious, fussy, ever-in-motion. Unfortunately, we were heading out to my father-in-law’s surprise 75th birthday bash down in Washington DC and she’d be alone all weekend. Would Cinnamon survive? Of course she did – a couple of days of peace and quiet (she shares a room with two fish) was all that she needed.

Anyway, despite the vet’s cautious warning that a tumor could return in as short a time as a few weeks, Cinnamon thrived. For the next three months she gnawed on her cage bars, climbed up and down the tubing to her penthouse, and continued her exploratory ways. Then, in early May, we noticed her coat thinning out and darkening. She seemed to gain weight and became very lethargic, and developed sores on her belly. By June she stopped going into her penthouse and spent most of her time sleeping. I got into the habit of checking on her frequently just to see if she was still breathing.

Sunday night I walked past her cage and saw her foraging in her bowl for food. I slowly put my hand in her cage and softly petted her head. She returned a gentle nibble on the tip of my index finger. Sometime Monday morning she passed on to the great beyond. I discovered her yesterday before leaving for work; we woke the girls and told them the sad news.

Yesterday afternoon we wrapped her body in tissue and a couple of notes the girls wrote to her. We tucked in some pellets of corn and sunflower seeds, and buried her in a small hole in the corner of our backyard. We said a prayer and the girls each said something short about Cinnamon through tears.

Rest in Peace, little fella. May you be back in the arms of Little One in eighty or eighty-five years.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: Mutiny on the Bounty

©1932 by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

Part One of the “Bounty Trilogy”

Plucked this novel off a used book shelf two or three years ago, and each time I placed it in the On Deck circle a modicum of fear overcame me. Would it be worth the investment of time? Would it be a thick mire of verbiage necessitating a metaphorical machete hack to get through the dense 80-year old prose? Would I be able to experience the visceral tangible tangle, the moral and ethical sparring match between William Bligh and Fletcher Christian? Unwilling to roll the dice to these questions – after all, life is way too short to fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way – I returned the book back in its place and vied for more conservative far.

Boy, was I ever wrong. In fact, it’s so rare how wrong I was, more wronger never was I.

True, it is a pretty hefty endeavor at 372 pages, many of those pages packing pretty hefty paragraphs. Yet the story never lagged. Because these two authors have a very special gift for creating vivid, exciting images, painting a lexical picture as it were, of the tension, the terrors, the wonder and the beauty, of the seafaring life in the late 18th century. The brutal discipline of a captain at sea, the agonies of thirst and hunger, the danger of shipwreck and drowning, the insane randomness of mutiny – and the gorgeous paradise of Tahiti, of love with the most angelic people this side of heaven. This novel could be one of the few where I’ve actually dug those packed paragraphs more, perhaps, than its intelligent, intellectual, and witty dialogue.

So – I was surprised. Over the course of seven days, I almost couldn’t put it down. I started the novel at my parents’ town pool with the girls on Father’s Day weekend. Only read forty pages on day one. Then on Father’s Day I put away a hundred pages in the tub, in the guest room taking a break from the party, on the car ride home, at night in my cozy chair. During the week I’d read on my lunch break and every night after all the girls went to bed. Stayed up past my bedtime, too, which is impressive for my old carcass, especially as Patch the human alarm clock wakes me every morning at 5:45.

It was one of those tales I didn’t want to end. At first I thought I’d never get all the characters – over twenty regulars, I suppose – straight, but their personalities, both good, not so good, and downright nasty, quickly shined through. We all know the story, right? A true one, too. The H.M.S. Bounty under strict disciplinarian Lieutenant William Bligh is charged with retrieving a large cargo of breadfruit trees from Tahiti to replant in one of Britain’s new world colonies. The ship stays in the tropical island for five months, then resumes her mission. Now, whether it be the liberties taken with the Tahitians, or Bligh’s excessive Queegish punishments for the slightest offenses, or some unholy combination of both, mutiny occurs under the leadership of mercurial Fletcher Christian.

The most interesting part of the novel is the protagonist. It is not Christian. Nor is it Bligh. It is Roger Byam, a fictional personage based heavily on one of the true-life midshipmen on the voyage. Byam is a young man with a gift for language, who is sent with the Bounty to compile a dictionary of the Tahitian language as a service to the Crown. He’s the window in which we see life on a British small merchant vessel. We see both Bligh – originally a charming, magnetic influence on Byam – and Fletcher as opposing sympathetic poles to the lad. The incomprehensible loveliness of Tahiti seeps through every sentence he tells us (he is telling us this story as an old man at his hearth). Through him we experience the roil and turmoil of the semi-spontaneous mutiny. And we suffer with him through capture, imprisonment, and near death at sea as he stands accused – falsely – of being complicit with Christian because the small boat set adrift holding Bligh and his loyalists could not hold any further men without sinking. Put on trial and convicted on untrue testimony, with those who can possibly save him dead or lost at sea … how can poor Roger Byam deny the hangman his poor innocent life?

A thoroughly enjoyable, absorbing tale. Grade: A+


I mentioned at the start that Mutiny on the Bounty is the first part of the “Bounty Trilogy” written by Nordhoff and Hall.

Part Two – Men Against the Sea – describes Bligh’s journey over four thousand miles of ocean to eventual civilization in the Bounty’s smaller launch, with eighteen other men, battling thirst, hunger, the elements, and cannibals. He made it in seven weeks with the loss of only one man to the spears of natives on an island they stopped at to forage for fresh water and food.

Part Three – Pitcairn’s Island – follows Christian and the mutineers in search of a settlement / hideaway to eke out their lives and avoid the British authorities. After deposing Bligh the crew fights savages unsuccessfully on an uncharted isle, then returns to Tahiti. Several of the mutineers, as well as the innocent crewmen unable to obtain a seat in Bligh’s boat, remain on the island. Christian with eight of his compatriots, plus eighteen Tahitians depart, eventually to find refuge on Pitcairn’s Island. Within eighteen years all but one mutineer is dead, many at the hands of their fellow conspirators.

Both novels are on my Acquisitions List.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Is good for the soul.

Now that I am healthy spiritually and am starting to turn things around financially, it’s time to think about my physical health. Hopper’s about 10 percent overweight and is wholly addicted to SAD – the Standard American Diet. Last Monday I went sugar-free for 18 hours and wound up with a blazing headache. Mrs. Hopper is in the same boat, and we’ve both been wanting to do something to clean ourselves up for the longest time. So I think that’s on the deck next.

I have a handful of other unfinished projects that need, uh, finishing. Incomplete things, of which I always have aplenty, due to my hopping about nature, incomplete things weigh heavily on my psyche, especially when I lay in bed awaiting sleep each night. So those handful of things too have now found themselves in the spotlight of my strengthening attention.

Tomorrow: Book review.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Busy Life of Busyness

Sorry for the lack of posting of late. Been – wait for it – waaaaiiiiitt – been very busy.

Working hard at the new job. Lots to learn and do. So far, successful. I’ve been performing, if you permit me some honest pride, phenomenally. And by phenomenally, I mean impressing the new bosses and functioning flawlessly in my position.

Studying hard for the tax preparing stuff. Early next month I’ll find out when the class by me is scheduled, and that class will start in August. I had stopped by one of the company’s offices two months ago and have been reading through their suggested material, as well as some books on my own that my aggressive curiosity has led me.

Completely absorbed in the 1932 novel Mutiny on the Bounty. What a page-turner! I began it at the pool last Saturday and haven’t been able to put it down, reading about fifty-sixty pages a day. I have a review half-written in my mind, but I still have a hundred pages left, which I want to finish by this weekend.

The girls are away with their grandfather down the Jersey shore and on a trip to see their aunt and cousins down in Washington DC. While this means peace and quiet in the evenings, it also means I have to do their work: feed their pets and clean their pets’ cages and bowls. Also did some yardwork one evening and fought off one of them fat hairy bees.

Looking forward to a nice, ice cold beer tomorrow after work, out on the deck, pad and pen before me as I brainstorm dozens and dozens of fun, witty, exciting, motivating, and mind-blowing posts to wrap up June.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Don’t know why, but these juxtaposed headlines on a fairly popular news site I peruse every now and then cracked me up to no end this afternoon. 

I had to take a screenshot of it with my cellphone:

I am concerned my new co-workers might think something’s wrong with the new guy …

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Book Review: The UFO Experience

© 1972 by Dr. J. Allen Hynek

This may have been the classic weirdity book from my youth.

And the thing is, it isn’t really all that weird. The UFO Experience is one scientist’s attempt to make an unexplainable inexplicable phenomenon a respectable study for science.

As a wee young lad in the single digits of life, my mom, a librarian, would take me to work with her quite often. And just as often I’d find myself splitting the time between the Science Fiction shelves and the 001.94 section, conveniently located in the farthest, quietest corner from the check-out desk. I spent many enraptured hours in both spots, but it’s those memories in front of the Weirdity Section I remember best. Stretched out on the cold white tile, I soaked up every book on Sasquatch, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, cryptozoology, haunted houses, whatever eerie thing I could find. Hynek’s book was one of them.

I reread it a few weeks ago, and now see it for the book the author intended it to be. Hynek, a professional astronomer, was attached to the classic UFO phenomenon from the earliest, late-1940s days, as an Air Force consultant whose primary job was to red flag those eyewitness encounters that were explainable as misinterpreted stars and planets and such. Over the course of two decades he became, gradually and gradually, more discontented with the stance the government was taking. Rationalizing that not every single UFO report is Venus misidentified, or a hoax, or a plane, or swamp gas, or whatever, he realized that scientific rigor had to be applied to this perplexing puzzle.

The UFO Experience is his answer to the Air Force’s deconstruction of the whole phenomenon.

The biggest takeaway from the book is the classification system Hynek devised (the last famously used by Steven Spielberg):

Nocturnal Lights

Daylight Disks


Close Encounters of the First Kind

Close Encounters of the Second Kind

Closer Encounters of the Third Kind

The difference between those Close Encounters? Well, in the First Kind the UFO is seen at near range, about 500 feet, but it does not interact with the observer or environment. In the Second, there are some physical effects on the environment – vegetation burnt or damaged, car engines or radios shut down. A Close Encounter of the Third Kind is a UFO encounter where the “occupants” are sighted … and maybe sight you …

Each classification type is fleshed out and illustrated by several detailed eyewitness encounters.

Remember the chase in Close Encounters where the state troopers pursue the ice cream cone shaped UFOs across the countryside? That’s in the book. So is the opening scene, where air traffic controllers nervously watch a radar screen as a UFO zips past two aircraft, and the pilots clam up to the suggestion of reporting an unidentified flying object.

Hynek also discusses now-famous cases in Ufology lore, such as the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case and the Third Kind encounter out in the desert by patrolman Lonnie Zamora. And dozens and dozens of others.

Verdict: A little dry, dryer than your average flying saucer book, but much more respectable than the more lurid paperbacks on the subject. Plus, I had a major Close Encounter of the Nostalgic Kind in nearly every chapter of this solid read.

Grade: A-minus

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Patch and Mr. Spock

My seven-year-old, Patch, is quite the budding artist. She’s been drawing since forever and has probably been serious about it now for about a year. She does caricatures of family members, and has covered all four walls in her room with her artwork. One of the things she enjoys doing is asking me for subject matter to draw. In the past I’ve suggested Godzilla, bigfoot, aliens, werewolves, zombies – you know, stuff any seven-year-old girl would be familiar with. And she’s drawn every single one of them.

Since she wakes up around 5:30 every morning, we’ve gotten into the habit of telling her what to draw in the morning while everyone’s still asleep. Last night, I said, “Draw Mr. Spock from Star Trek.” And she complied:

“That’s not very logical, Captain”

Unleashing emotions care of the spores.

 Mind-melding with the Horta.

Pretty good for someone who’s only seven, right?

I think we move on to classic Star Wars characters next.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Change in Information Delivery System

Here at the Hopper there has now been an official change in information delivery systems. Particularly, regarding politics.

Now, I am a completely disenchanted voter this cycle. 100% chance of not voting for Hillary. 99% chance of not voting for Trump. Since my northeastern state will go Hillary this November regardless of who I, one of seven or eight million eligible voters, will cast my vote for, I face a conundrum. Do I stay home or do I lodge a third-party protest vote.

However, this is not the subject of today’s post.

Instead, I have opted for a change in the way Political News is delivered to me.

Instead of relying on the Industrial News Media Complex – Fox News, National Review, Breitbart, as well as CNN, the Today Show, and the inescapable Facebook news feed – I have switched delivery systems.

For the next five months, Hopper shall only get his news from …

The Onion.

The two examples which made me realize the wisdom of this switch are

and here

Donald Trump

Trust me, it’s worth the clicks. Perfection in the dark comedic arts, a closer vision of reality than what we have been allowed to have, and a prescription for sanity leading up to the national election.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Castaway

But it so happened, that those boats, without seeing Pip, suddenly spying whales close to them on one side, turned, and gave chase; and Stubb’s boat was now so far away, and he and all his crew so intent upon his fish, that Pip’s ringed horizon began to expand around him miserably. By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

Moby Dick, chapter 93 “The Castaway”, by Herman Melville

One of my favorite passages so far, being now about three-quarters of the way through the greatest American classic. In all honesty, though, it is just one selection of many – a dozen? two dozen? – that I’ve noted, all giving me chills, stirring my imagination, creating vivid oil paintings upon my inner silver screen, reeling dormant emotions to the surface. For the longest time I felt Bradbury my literary master, and he no doubt still is and remains so, but I think in my most natural, non-self-edited writing self, Melville comes closest to the ideal I write to in my mind’s Eye.

O to write like Melville in Moby Dick!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Art to Enchant, Spirit to Enforce

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

   – The Tempest, epilogue, spoken by the wizard Prospero
That’s the first speech that truly enchanted me the first time I read Shakespeare outside of High School. That reading’d be a little over four years back, and I still find delight in it. Since exploring The Tempest back in 2011, I’ve journeyed through nine more of his 37-39 plays (let’s go with 39). That means I’m a hair past a quarter of the way through the Canon.

Well, the bug’s bitten me again, and once I’m through with my current pair of reads (Moby Dick and a book on Economics 101), I’m may try my hand once again with the Bard.

Oh, and I had another insight that’s spurred this re-interest in Shakespeare. I’ve long written here that when I turn 50 (ach! much closer than I’d like it to be, though I still have over a year to go), in an effort to combat mental degradation (and why not?), I would return to the higher mathematics I studied in college physics. Well, I’m not so sure of that, for a variety of reasons.

One is that I see my teenaged nephew, a budding mathematician, how natural it all comes to him. I was never a mathematical natural; always had to work at it, but when I did, I was richly rewarded. Second is, well, perhaps the old synapses, axons and dendrites up in the neural network that makes up me brain, uh, perhaps they may have petrified or atrophied over the past decade. Or two, or three. After all, mathematics is a young man’s game (it’s been said that if you ain’t made a name for yourself in mathematics by age thirty, hang up your Number Two pencil).

It came to me out of the ether that memorizing Shakespeare would be an equally effective way of combating the old specter of dementia. Short speeches, then longer ones. It’d be fun, enlightening, and inspiring. Especially for a writer like myself, for Will is the premier pensmith of the entire English language. It’s been written that he used 29,000 words in his 900,000+ words of plays – and the average American man or woman uses 7,500 to 10,000. That alone gives me chills.

So, sometime mid-June, I think I’m going to crack open a Shakespeare play, then watch it on a library DVD. And, of course, blog about it.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more …


Here’s the video of the Tempest epilogue above, featuring the great Michael Hordern, he of the Voice of Frith the rabbit-god in Watership Down