Wednesday, June 28, 2017


For me, it started quite suddenly: the abrupt, irregular resignation of Benedict. For hundreds of years a Pope was Pope until death. Now, I am not a papal scholar, but something gnawed at me, the way things went down in March of 2013. Benedict pleading infirmity of age as a new office, Pope Emeritus, was created for the occasion.

Then, Francis became Pope. And all I heard was how humble he was. He didn’t wear the red papal shoes – humble! He’ll still be living in his own Vatican apartment – humble! He tips those who wait upon him with money from his own purse – humble! That, too, sat uneasily with me.

Next were the impromptu foot-in-mouth airplane interviews. The first – “Who am I to judge?” – while technically true in context, was used as fodder for the enemies of the Church. And still he babbled on and on. I have not a memory for the theological gaffes (or scandals, depending on one’s grounding in the faith), but I read them as they happened, one after the other. There are whole websites devoted to documenting these statements against traditional faith. Google them.

Now to the tipping point – Amoris laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” Francis’s take on how the Church should “pastorally” respond to contemporary sexual mores, released the beginning of April of 2016. Ghostwritten by a man of questionable orthodoxy, the document is deliberately written vague when it comes to the question of: Should the divorced and remarried be admitted to Holy Communion?

Or is it? Well, in addition to countless faithful and conservative Catholics laity, priests and bishops, four Cardinals seem to think so. Four months after the release of Amoris laetitia, these Cardinals – Caffarra, Brandmüller, Burke, and Meisner – sent a “Dubia” (Latin for “doubts”) to the Pope asking for clarification on five YES/NO questions pertaining to the Catholic faith in light of the papal document.

These five YES/NO questions are:

(i) Can adulterers receive Holy Communion?

(ii) Are there absolute moral norms that must be followed without exception?

(iii) Is habitual adultery an objective situation of grave habitual sin?

(iv) Can an intrinsically evil act be turned into a subjective good based on circumstances or intentions?

(v) Can one act contrary to known absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts based on conscience?

Sounds straightforward enough to me. According to traditional Catholic theology, the answer to each is NO. Upon reading Amoris laetitia, many felt the answers not to be so clear. Hence, the issuance of the Dubia.

There was no response from Francis.

The contents of the Dubia were made public two months later.

Still no response from Francis.

On April 25, 2017, the four Cardinals wrote a respectful letter to Francis requesting an audience in regards to the Dubia. It was hand-delivered on May 6.

Over six weeks later, no response from Francis.

Now, what I have been wondering over these past weeks (and months) is …


Why is Francis refusing to answer these five questions?

I must admit I am leaning toward the conclusion that Francis is trying to change Catholic teaching. And I fear this Communion-for-the-divorced is merely a tactic to wedge open the door to full communion and acceptance of homosexuality. I am not educated enough in the Inside-Baseball of the Vatican, Catholic theology, and the history of Papal documents to know this with any degree of certainty, of course, but in light of the question I asked a few days ago …

Is the Church converting the world, or is the world converting the Church?

I can not be persuaded that something like this is not currently being played out.

More in the next post …

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Kingdoms of the Wall

© 1992 by Robert Silverberg

Minor spoilers up to “MAJOR SPOILERS” point …

I wanted to like it, I really did. Really, really, really did.

And I kinda, sorta, did. Like it, that is. But ultimately it fell into that Dangerfieldian category “Even a mediocre book by Author X is better than 90 percent of the books out there.”

So I’m not disappointed I spent six or seven hours reading it. The pages turned, me glued to ’em. There was some interesting speculative dialogue, bits of horror, neat confrontational characterization, even an M. Night Shyamalan twist towards the ending. Kingdoms of the Wall is a good read. I think the problem is I’m rapidly getting used to supra-phenomenal Silverberg stories and went in full-force with greater expectations than I should have.

I mean, the novel’s set up holds lots of promise:

Every year forty villagers on an alien world compete from among thousands to make a pilgrimage up a towering, forbidden mountain, an Everest atop a chain of Everests. Few return, and those who do are changed in a kind of “attained-Zen-Satori” way. Most, however, are never seen again. The goal is to reach the summit and commune with the gods.

A lot can be done with that. And Silverberg does do a lot. As the pilgrims – very cleverly written as “shape shifters” – climb the mountain, various “kingdoms” are encountered. Some straight from Lovecraft (a deserted town populated with ghosts – prior climbers infested and controlled by fungus; a cave with a plant-thing parasite telepathically siren-calling its victims), some straight from witchcraft (an idyllic kingdom in a nook where bodies never age and no one need ever die). All signature stamped Silverberg. I enjoyed it …

… up to a point. Somewhere between the two-thirds to three-quarter mark I realized I didn’t like where the novel was heading. But I couldn’t put my finger on it, and still can’t. It’s a disconcerting feeling. Was it the sudden, never-explained disappearance of the protagonist’s main antagonist? Was it the sudden appearance of a mysterious stranger whose main function is to be a very vocal Debbie Downer? Was it the Shyamalan twist (revealed a chapter or two too early, by the way)? Or was it what happened at the summit?

Not sure, but I definitely didn’t like what happened at the summit at all.

Excuse me a moment:


OK, the warning’s been issued.

Our hero and the surviving pilgrims find a spaceship with a handful of Earthmen inside besieged by apelike savages. It’s discovered that the savages are descendants of a lost colony from Earth who’ve reverted over the generations due to the extreme radiation of the planet’s sun. The pilgrims butcher the entire group of savages and mercilessly hurl them from the mountaintop – including women and children. The Earthlings are grateful and promise never to return.

It was this out-of-character “purifying” of the mountaintop that turned me off. Expecting an audience with an alien Buddha but rewarded with small-scale ethnic cleansing. Also, the encounter with the Earthmen – a First Contact situation from the other side of the mirror – imparted no wisdom, no awe, no insight. I felt the ending sabotaged everything that came before. And what came before, I really enjoyed.

Oh well. Even a great tale with a weak ending from Robert Silverberg is greater than 95 percent of the SF out there.

Kingdoms of the Wall is a 370-page paperback divided into 25 chapters. It’s tough to give it a single grade; a single grade won’t reflect my reading experience, my own pilgrimage up the wall. So I’d rather do something like this:

Approximately …

Chapters 1-2 ... B+ 

Chapters 3-16 ... A

Chapters 17-22 ... C

Chapters 23-25 ... D

And that rounds out to a high B. Not quite a B+, but a strong B.

But that won’t deter me – more Silverberg on deck … 

Monday, June 26, 2017

One Question

on my mind these past ten days or so –

Is the Church converting the world, 

or is the world converting the Church?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Revisiting Húrin

Over the past decade I’ve read through one of Tolkien’s works every year, year-and-a-half. It’s a nice, grounding, satisfying ritual. I encourage anyone who’s ever held a childhood love of the Professor to regularly revisit his tales. I find it overall one of the best antidotes to the daily culture smog.

I’m not an expert on Tolkien – more like a very well-versed acolyte, based on the following pilgrimages I’ve taken:

2016 – The Lord of the Rings

2014 – The Silmarillion (book on CD)

2014 – The Hobbit (book on CD)

2012 – The Lord of the Rings (book on CD)

2011 – The Lord of the Rings

2010 – The Children of Húrin

2008 – The Silmarillion

1994 – The Fellowship of the Ring

1981 – The Silmarillion (partial)

1981 – The Lord of the Rings

1980 – The Hobbit

I’ve read the other non-Middle earth works by Tolkien, too. Father Giles of Ham and Smith of Wooten Major back in the 80s, and Leaf by Niggle and On Faery Stories within the past five years. Also put away many books about Tolkien and his mythos, such as The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft, Master of Middle-earth by Paul Kocher, Tolkien’s Requiem by John Carswell, Exploring Tolkien’s Hobbit by Corey Olsen, JRR Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth by Bradley Birzer, and Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards by Michael Stanton. Oh, and almost forgot to mention the Christopher Tolkien-edited Lost Tales as well as the two very thorough encyclopedias of Middle earth by Robert Foster and J.E.A. Tyler.

So it’s kinda like my literary religion.

Anyway, I’m feeling again that twelve- to eighteen-month itch, and I think I’ve settled on revisiting The Children of Hurin.

I first read it in August of 2010. My review of it back then is here, but I am not going to re-read the review. Not until I’m finished with the second go-round with Hurin in a week or two, then I’ll compare impressions in a follow-up post.

To be continued …

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Early this morning, half asleep as the garbage truck rumbled up my block *, I raced out to the curb with a large white hefty bag of trash in each hand. Then I scurried back indoors before the neighbors could spot me in my black-and-blue wiener dog boxers.

Anyway …

For some reason I thought about that this morning at work. Two large white hefty bags of trash. Twice a week, Tuesday and Friday mornings, for pickup. That’s 208 bags of trash a year, not counting spring cleaning (which we did a month ago, focusing on organizing our garage), which probably contributes another dozen bags of garbage.

220 bags of trash annually from the Hopper household of four.

I felt guilty.

Until …

I glanced around my office at work. My own little private office where I do payroll for 650 employees at 12 locations. I have it all to myself for privacy reasons. I did some mental calculations. How many bags of trash could fit into this office, about the size of my living room at home?

Well, I visualized stacking 5 bags of trash atop one another. Then, 10 along the short wall and 13 along the other. The long wall I estimated at 12, but my office is kinda shaped like Utah, so there’s a little nook where I could probably stack those extra bags of trash.

Basically my little office at work can hold 5 x 10 x 13 bags of trash …

650 white hefty bags of trash in all.

Or, slightly less than three years of garbage.

I’m sure the compacter at wherever they take the trash can smush all that down to a quarter of the size they are when I haul them out to the curb in my boxers.

Thus, my little office at work can hold 2,600 compacted bags of Hopper trash … 11.8 years’ worth, in other words.

So that’s why right now I don’t feel guilty.

* = the company my town hired to truck away our trash likes to come at different times of the morning, just to keep all us townfolk on our toes. Sometimes they roll up at 6:15 AM. Other days, four and a half hours later. I used to put the garbage out the night before, but despite living in suburbia and only five houses from a major highway, raccoons, rabbits, ravens and toms cats routinely tear into trash bags left curbside overnight. Thus my early morning runs out to the curb in various states of semi-dress.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ten Physics Questions

I’d like to live long enough to understand the answers –

Is string theory at the root of elementary particles?

How can gravity be quantized?

Is faster-than-light travel possible for man?

What is the fate of the universe?

Are there parallel universes?

What are the limits of quantum computing?

What’s going on at the singularity of a black hole?

What, exactly, is time?

Is the inflaton and inflaton field real?

What really are dark matter and dark energy?

More, perhaps a post on each question, upcoming ….

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Eating Crow

Well, for what seems to be the 25th time this season, the Mets managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory last night. It was a pathetic heartbreaker, as the majority of Met games wind up this season, to lesser or greater extents. So over here at the Hopper household, we’ve all come to the conclusion that I’ll be eating crow very very soon.

You see, way back in March, I bought me one of those baseball preview guides, with all the baseball experts analyzing the baseball stats and baseball numbers, prognosticating who will win the baseball divisions in each baseball league, triumph in the baseball playoffs, and win the World Series. Of baseball.

They had the Mets back in the playoffs, securing a wild card spot. The Yankees, on the other hand, were divined to eke out a “rebuilding” .500 season.

I am the only Met fan in the house (though they have eroded a soft spot in my wife’s heart). The girls are all die-hard Yankees fans. And I unwisely floated this baseball magazine’s predictions to them, a little too heartily, with a tad too much gusto, perhaps.

At 25-33, eight games below .500, the Mets are treading just above the basement of the NL East, on track to finish the season 70-92. They have lots of problems – injuries to key players, regulars shifting to cover unfamiliar positions, poor fielding, horrible starting pitching, horrendous relief pitching, questionable managerial decisions, just to name a few. Some are saying they’ll lose a hundred games this season, though I don’t think the implosion will be that severe. 70-92 seems about right to me.

The Yanks, on the other hand, sit three games in front of Boston in the AL East. Their “.500 rebuilding season” has them so far at 35-23, 12 games above average and on par to win 98 games this year. The humongous Aaron Judge has replaced Yoenis Cespedes as King of New York, and will probably drive them deep into the playoffs, if not to the World Series. As a result, the wife is demanding a Judge jersey and has quietly tucked away her Mets shirts.

So unless something drastic shakes Citi Field, like a 15-game winning streak and / or the acquisition of three or four seasoned vets before the trade deadline, I will be eating crow for dinner for the next four months or so.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Brain Rush

So many ideas racing through my brain …

… the inflaton

… a holographic universe

… strings, superstrings, spinors and twistors

… the QGP – quark gluon plasma

… spacetime, Kaluza-Klein, 10, 11, 26 dimensions

… 6EQUJ5

Yes, I have been reading physics again.

Fairly consistently over the past seven weeks. Read Quantum Fuzz, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Six Easy Pieces, The Little Book of String Theory, The Hidden Reality, and am working my way through F. David Peat’s Superstrings and the Search for the Theory of Everything. Been thinking about it a lot, and a lot of it is starting to come together. Not in any coherent form, mind you, but at least I recognize a concept one physicist author writes about that I read in another book another physicist author wrote about.

I am very excited.

Every now and then I come across a passage that I say, “Gee, this is something pretty neat and cool I should put up on the old blog.” But I haven’t so far, and my excuse is sheer laziness. Going forward, if something strikes me as pretty neat and cool (a.k.a., “mind-blowing”), I will post it here.

Carry on, young scientists!