Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Recap

Well, Hopper’s been gainfully employed for the past three months. Feels good to get up and go somewhere every day, do something and get paid to do it, even if it’s not my first choice as to how I’d spend my waking hours. But I’m contributing to the family finances and still have time to help out, and that’s a good feeling.

My tax class starts in two weeks. So far I’ve logged 115 hours of self-study (yes, I keep track). Feel confident I won’t be seeing anything for the first time my first day. Or most of the semester, for that matter. I have a good grasp on the tax code, tax preparation, tax avoidance (avoidance is legal, evasion isn’t), and my right brain hasn’t run screaming for the hills.

Last week I wasted nearly five days battling bronchitis. Started last Tuesday when I woke up and found swallowing painful. By afternoon my nasal passages were fully flowing. Wednesday it migrated south and I began serial coughing. By Thursday it was unbearable. Dizzy, hot and sweaty alternating with the chills, my torso in actual pain from the constant hacking. I went to the doctor – something I never do – and she got me on special antibiotics (“and take some Alleve for your muscle pain!”). Turns out I had a 100.5 degree fever, though blood pressure and pulse rate were normal. By Friday afternoon the fever broke and I was on my way to recovery.

During all that, I kept picking up new books to read. Now I got four I’m snailpacing through, breaking my unofficial personal rule of TWO BOOKS AT A TIME, MAX (one fiction, one non-fiction). Right now I alternate between –

1,001 Things Everyone Should Know About the Civil War, by Frank Vandiver

Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire, by Michael Kaufman

How the Stock Market Works, by John M. Dalton

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K. Dick

Spent the last week, week-and-a-half watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. God, that’s an awful piece of cinema. But the girls, to my utter chagrin and heartfelt disappointment, have no desire to stroll the pages of Professor Tolkien’s literary masterpiece. So in a gambit to stoke some interest I’m letting them see the movies. My takeaway of the whole thing was that I need to write an epic, 10,000 word take down entitled “Everything Wrong with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy,” for the dozen or so readers online who might find it an interesting speak-truth-to-power. The girls’ takeaway was a fascination with Gollum and Orlando Bloom as “Legs” Legolas.

Looking forward to heading down to the Jersey shore and visit with my father-in-law for the Labor Day weekend. We’ll leave Saturday morning and return Monday evening. He and the girls will spend hours and hours on the beach while I will remain back in the air-conditioned apartment (or our hotel room, depends), reading, studying, and relaxing. Oh – and Tuesday is the first day of school for Little One and Patch, my seventh- and third-graders. Very exciting times, especially as Patch is firing up on the soccer field again.

As always, itching to read / learn / experience something weird. Borrowed a couple of unusual fringe-y stuff from the library, but not ready to reveal them yet. In line with the Peebles – Hynek – Sanderson books I’ve recently put away (at about a one-book-a-month pace). We’ll see.

Can’t believe how quickly the summer has flown by. This time a year ago, after an initial hypersonic burst of excitement and enthusiasm, I found myself lost and adrift at the border of August and September. Now, not so much so, and for that I’m grateful, happy, and hopeful.

Okay, then – bring it on, Fall!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Federal Index

As an addendum to yesterday’s post, linked here if you can’t see it for some reason, I’d like to bring the monster known as the U.S. Federal Government into my little “index” for perspective on vast amounts of dollars.

To recap, for reasons given in the previous post, we proposed a “soros” equal to $25 billion dollars.

Then we compared some bigwig businessmen, some politicians, and even humble old me on that index, that range of wealth, that the big movers and shakers of the financial – and cultural – world.

But immediately after posting I realized I should have re-imaged all of that against Uncle Sam. For comparative perspective reasoning. Since I wrote and posted late last night, I was too exhausted to re-edit the post.

So …

The wealthiest man in yesterday’s post is the man probably everybody thinks is the wealthiest man in the world – Bill Gates. I don’t know if this is true and it currently doesn’t interest me. But Mr. Gates ranked in at 3.1 soros. A little more than three times the wealth of George Soros. Since one soros is $25 billion, 3.1 comes out to around $77.5 billion or so, about what I found on the internet yesterday.

What about the U.S. federal government?

Quick googling tells me the estimated federal spending for 2015 was $3.69 trillion dollars.

That’s 147.6 soros. That’s almost a soros every two-and-a-half days.

This result conflicts me. Obviously it’s a huge number, but I expected something huger.

How about – how much does Uncle Sam spend per hour, in both units of measurement?

Well, there are 8,760 hours in a year, so simple division tells us that the hourly spending rate is roughly $420 million, or around 0.016 soros, which falls somewhat neatly proportionate-wise between our two Presidential candidates (almost ten times larger than the alleged net worth of one and almost ten times smaller than the alleged net worth of the other).

Still not sure to make of this, except to put it all out there rambling style, and iterate the obvious conclusion that while the federal government’s annual spending is an incredibly almost inconceivably large number, so is a soros.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Billionaire Index

Conservatives enjoy casting George Soros as the super-evil maniacally-messianic billionaire tweaking U.S. politics and machinating the downfall of American culture like a sinister marionette string-master. For liberals, their super-evil maniacally-messianic billionaire tweaking U.S. politics and machinating the downfall of American culture like a sinister marionette string-master is actually a pair of brothers with the last name of Koch. I’d like to try to put this all in humble perspective, and since I’m currently skimming a bio of George Soros, let me put it all in terms relative to him.

A quick Google inquiry tells me that Soros has a net worth of slightly under $25,000,000,000.

Let’s round up and proclaim the unit of 1 Soros = $25 billion.

His diametric foes in the super-evil blah blah blah category, Bill and Charles Koch, are each worth, from what I understand, 1.75 Soros (for a combined 3.5 Soros score). So the conservative super-evil blah blah blah outnumbers the liberal counterpart seven to two. That should give some perspective and some comfort to those who fear the palindromed philanthropist philosopher money market maestro from Hungary.

For a business world / world headlines comparison, the following clock in at

Mark Zuckerberg – 2.2 Soros
Warren Buffet – 2.7 Soros
Bill Gates – 3.1 Soros

Our wonderful 2016 Presidential candidates yield

Donald Trump – 0.2 Soros
Hillary Clinton – 0.002 Soros

Though who really knows for certain with those two.

Finally, in the interest of full if slightly anonymous disclosure, I offer myself, Hopper. Now, to be truthfully honest, I have no idea of my own net worth. Living in a blue state with two children yet to attend college, house poor and bouncing from one job to the next (when not unemployed), it ain’t much. But if I had to throw out a figure, with a few seconds quick calculation of what I can see with my eyes around me, I’d put it as …

0.000003 Soros

Yikes! Better finish that book on Soros and invest some take-home pay …

There. Perspective.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

An Uncommon Form of Warfare

Came across this interesting, little-known (and not-known previously to me) factoid about the War between the States, care of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the Civil War by Frank Vandiver:

“Confederate finances were shaken by various ills. Inflation, of course, sapped monetary strength, as did the misfortunes of battle. Perhaps the most constant threat came from Northern printing presses. The Federal Treasury aimed a deliberate counterfeiting campaign against the Rebels, and although the South did good engraving, copying Southern paper money proved a fairly easy challenge. Part of the ruinous inflation stemmed from bogus bills.”

Very interesting …

Seems to me that this would make a great background for Hollywood to spell a tense, compact love-in-the-time-of-war story. Plus it’s just so damn clever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Robert Heinlein once wrote:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Me, I’m certain of nine of ’em, having done ’em to varying extents of success. Ten others maybe or maybe not, never been put in a position to try my hand at them, but I’d feel comfortable placing a wager on myself. Two I know I definitely can’t do.

How about you?

As for specialization … that’s the only way to make money in this society of ours, provided you’re lucky enough to choose the correct area to specialize in.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: Uninvited Visitors

© 1967 by Ivan T. Sanderson

I have learned a new acronym with my infrequently occasional paranormal / cryptozoological / pseudoscientific reading:


It stands for “Out Of Place Artifact.” Any archaeological object that exists in a time period when it shouldn’t.

I re-learned the term from re-reading Ivan Sanderson’s Uninvited Visitors. Sanderson, a cryptozoologically-interested zoologist and jack-of-all-trades (including espionage against the Germans in the Caribbean during the Second World War), penned a bunch of books in the 60s before his somewhat untimely demise in the early 70s. A few of his weirder works trimmed their sails my way a decade later, as a starry-eyed youngling wanderin’ the creepy shelves in my mom’s library. Such was Uninvited Visitors, which I stumbled across and read this past weekend after an expanse of some forty years.

Now, as far as OOPARTs go, my first thought was the “Baghdad Battery.” That’s a working (or workable) electro-chemical battery, similar in theory if not design to the one that starts your car in the morning, discovered in the Middle East and dates back a dozen centuries. In other words, an OOPART is something that shouldn’t be where it is, time-wise.

Sanderson does not mention the Baghdad Battery in his book on the section where he introduces the awesome acronym. But he does write about iron nails found in glaciers whose ice predates the invention / discovery of steelmaking. And a wall painting dating back to the Roman Empire of what appears to be a rocket sitting on a launch pad with guide wires holding it steady pre-liftoff. Interestingly oddball stuff, though I had to chug a whole shaker of salt to get through it.

But I liked the book. I didn’t recall it as well as I probably will recall Sanderson’s other main work, Invisible Residents, which is also on my Acquisitions List. The subtitle of Uninvited Visitors is A Biologist Looks at UFOs. Hmm. There’s a viewpoint you don’t hear much from.

Sanderson firmly plants himself in the Scientific Method, a là Professor Hynek in his The UFO Experience, recently reviewed here. However, Sanderson’s book’s not as dry, and not as skeptical, because my newly favorite zoologist (who, incidentally, spent much of his later years in a house an hour’s drive from where I live) allows himself to freely speculate on the who, what, where, how, and why of flying saucers. And boy do I mean freely. There’s a picture of Dr. Sanderson on the back cover of the book working the telephone and smoking a cigarette. I’m thinking he may have been smoking something a lot heavier than tobacco researching his material.

There’s a lot in Uninvited Visitors. For example, in addition to the aforementioned OOPART, you’ll read about –

* New acronyms to replace UFO – UAOs, “Unexplained Aerial Objects” and UAPs, “Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena”

* In-depth investigation of the classic Flatwoods Monster of early-1950s Virginia UFOlore

* Are UFOs, ahem, UAOs, biological entities?

* An unidentified blobby thing that washed up on the shore off Hobart, Australia – too tough to cut yet it inched frantically away from an open flame!

* Star jelly and weird stuff that falls from the skies

* The “life” that is a virus – “dead” in one generation, “alive” in the next

* The Wassilko-Serecki Theory – “some UAOs could themselves be life forms, indigenous to space and ‘feeding’ on pure energy …”

* The Greys (as well as the Nordics, hairy giants, and other alleged alien species) and … gypsies?

* Men in Black – “MIB”s and the Mothman

* Instant Transference, a speculative method of travel that violates Einstein’s (alleged) speed limit of c

* Different universes that may share the same physical space (higher dimensionality, I guess)

* A quick digression into the possible why of alien abduction (the Hill case, the Villa Boas case), still in its infancy at the time of publication, 1967

* Possible varying degrees of intelligence among the various alleged UFO occupants, as well as a possible explanation for the varying types – sizes and shapes – of UFOs

* Panspermia and “seeding” of Earth (probably more novel in 1967 than it is today)

* The 16th-century Piri Reis map of Antarctica (sans ice …)

* A theory of cosmic evolution which links human beings to actual UFOs

* Cameos by Charles Fort, Carl Sagan, Dr. Hynek, L. Sprague de Camp, Otto Hahn, and Carlos Allende.

Some are mere mentions, some he digs and delves into for pages and pages.

I ate this stuff up as a kid. Still do, I suppose, since I couldn’t put Uninvited Visitors down all weekend. Read it in four hours over three days, and I wish it was longer.

Grade: B+ / A-

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Einojuhani Rautavaara

I was driving back to my apartment one dreary, overcast day during my lunch hour about ten years ago. The highway was abandoned, Apocalypse-empty, and my foot may have been a little heavy on the accelerator. Such a gray, dismal day, uneventful, uninspiring, drab. My hand reached out for the radio and flicked it on as I swerved about the curving road.

Overwhelmed was I at the mournful, baleful sounds emanating from the speakers all about me. Immediately. A rarity to be taken so mercilessly by such melodies, yet not unknown. All through my life I have been susceptible to particular strains of music, strains which defy catalogue or encyclopedic taxonomy. It is what it is, or they are what they are, but certain notes in certain keys in certain orders overwhelm me.

Such was the case at this moment. At first, I thought it was a joke. Is that a goose – gaggles of geese! – honking? I double-checked the preset, set to the local classical music station. Then the forlorn, woeful wistful melodies, intertwined and interwoven in a slow mazelike dance, rising from the lower registers, instantly had me hooked. I had to know what this piece of music was, and had to make it part of my musical collection.

That piece is the third and final movement from Cantus Arcticus: Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, written in 1972 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. Yes, you read that right: Concerto for Birds and Orchestra. Sounds crazy, presumptuous, stupid maybe, but to my ears, it works. Rautavaara died half a month ago at the long-lived age of 87, and I’ve had it in the back of my mind to write something about it since.

What does it say about my musical tastes that two Finns, Rautavaara and the similarly long-lived Jean Sibelius, are among my top favorite composers?

Here is a more contemporary performance of the selection I heard (probably around the 2 minute mark):

PS. I have no idea how to pronounce his name, especially the first. He’s known in my mind as ROW (rhymes with “cow”) – tuh – VAIR – uh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


In 1984, Walter Mondale received 13 electoral votes in the Presidential election.

Way, way back when I was a tiny wee lad, George McGovern tallied 17.

In 1980, Carter got 49 in his re-election bid.

Dukakis (embarrassing confession: he was the one I cast my very first vote for in an election) nailed 111 in 1988.

In ’96 Dole managed 159 electoral votes, nine shy of the total George H. Bush snagged four years prior.

McCain only pulled in 173 against the media phenomenon known as Barrack Obama, 100 less than he needed to win the election.

If you need 273 electoral votes to win, I’d say it’s a good assumption that anything 20 percent of that or less can be considered a “landslide.”

Maybe you can round it down as say 50 electoral votes or less is a landslide.

In my lifetime there’ve been three presidential landslides: Mondale, McGovern, and Carter’s failed attempt at re-election.

I’m wondering if I’m going to live through my fourth in three months.

(I’ll note it down to check back on this post on November 9.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Monetary History of the United States

© 1963 by Milton Friedman

Frequently, with all the tax stuff I’ve been reading and studying, there’ll be a reference to an economic concept I know but can’t recite a specific definition for: GDP, inflation, the money supply, nominal this versus real that, etc. Googling such terms has rekindled an interest in economics I probably haven’t had since the early 2000s.

Way, way back in the pioneer days of college I took both macro and microeconomics 101. Thoroughly hated micro, with all the opportunity costs and units of utility and widgets and whatnot. But macro appealed to me, the ability to stare balefully down with a falcon’s-eye view upon the worms and mice of the national and global economy. So while I enjoyed it when I was suffering through it, it really had no day-to-day relevance to eighteen-year-old me. I promptly forgot it all before my nineteenth birthday.

In fact, my most delightful memory of college economics was walking to the lecture hall with my roommate one crisp fall day. He was wearing gray corduroy pants (it was a long time ago) and suddenly, completely unexpected, a squirrel raced out off the grass and clawed halfway up his leg. I never laughed so hard despite his panic attack which may not have been completely feigned. (We later deduced the rodent must have thought the corduroy to be the bark of a tree.)

Years went by … about ten or twelve. I took a bunch of business classes in night school. Finance was one of them. I enjoyed it, aced the class. Learned about stocks and bonds, interest rates, different types of money, etc. And again, forgot it all soon after. Then in the early 2000s, on a Hopperish whim, I read a few books on various economic topics. Some stuff stuck, some didn’t. One thing that remains with me to this day is the colossal mistake that was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930.

Anyhoo, I put away a couple of books on macroeconomics this summer, taking notes, hoping it will help me with the tax class I’m taking in the fall. Probably understood 76-79% of what I read. So, feeling somewhat emboldened, I decided to reach out for a masterwork. After a few weeks of hauling my weary carcass up hills, I set my sights on Everest.

That Everest was A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman.

Now, I have tremendous respect for Friedman and this work. He was a Nobel-prize winning economist who eviscerated your grandparent’s Great Depression Keynesianism, influenced a whole generation of later economists, and was an unofficial adviser to Reagan and Thatcher in the 80s. He died about ten years ago at age 94. In the early 60s he wrote a couple of books which cemented his legacy. Monetary History, clocking in at 860 pages, was one of them.

So naturally I had to throw myself into it.

I got up to page 54 before I realized I was wasting my time. Not because of the book, no, not at all. Because I was ill-prepared for it. Basically a study of the changing size and make-up of the US money supply from 1867 to 1960 and how that affected the economy, Friedman analyzes different ratios, comparing specie to fiscal money (coinage versus paper – “greenbacks”), “high-energy money”, charting it all out, comparing his comparisons against each other. Consciously I made the effort to slow my pace down and read – and understand – each sentence before moving on to the next. After a short while, despite my best intentions, it all devolved into Hegelian gobblygook to my inner ears. About the only thing I could understand and appreciate was the politics behind all the comparisons. Which were often, Friedman admits, counterintuitive.

Ergo, with great regret, I return the book back to the library whence it came.

Please don’t mistake this as a critique of the book. I will return to it and master it. Just not right now, as it is way above my pay grade. Perhaps I’ll return to it next summer, depending on how things turn out over the course of the year. It does interest and appeal to the nascent yet stilted mathematician in me. A topic I’d never be able to discuss with anyone, yet one that would give me some degree of satisfaction.

A Monetary History of the United States – I shall return to you!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Statement of Candidacy

No matter what I do, what my friends and family do, what Donald Trump does, what Hillary Clinton does, what the terrorists do, or what the media reports, there’s a 99-percent chance my state will go Democrat this November. Since that nauseates me, and since I find the GOP candidate constitutionally unfit for the office, I spent my lunch break searching for a viable third-party protest vote. And no, it won’t be to the libertarians, who strike me as discontented Democrats after listening to an interview with their VP candidate on the AM airwaves.

What I found between bites of turkey and cheese on bagel was insane.

My wanderings brought me to, where I discovered that, as of August 1, 2016, a total of 1,817 candidates have filed a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. This is the first official step in running for President.

Here is a “random” sampling of some of the candidates on the list:

Seven the Dog

Some Lice

Han James Solo

Pizza Hey He Stole That Guy’s

Soul Bunny

Super Reagan

Emperor Palpatine

Paul Y. Potato

Franklin Delano Robbins Jr

Alexander Hamilton

Dog Eating Maniacal Fish Brained Ugly Commandant

Abraham Lincoln

Tim Timmy

Gyro Zeppeli

Batman Notbrucewayne

Kermit Frog

Boris de Pfeffel Johnson

A Senataur

Patrick Stewart

Fonzi Berman

Neez Dutz

Bofa Deez Nuts

Doctor Pepper


This Is Fake

Ambiguous Bob VII

Rarest Pepe

Porcupines R. Spikey Jr

Frosty Chicken

Sauron Tar-Annatar

Benjamin Dover

Very Odd Dog

President Emperor Caesar

After checking not once but twice, I could not find Hugh Jass on the list.

The Federal Election Commission website states that one must file a statement of candidacy after receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $5,000.

I have to believe this rule has recently been violated at least 1,817 times.