Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


"It's ALIVE!"

I set up the blog at which I will be writing my novel. It's called The Adventures of Isosceles Shaw.¹ I have only one post up there - an introduction, since we can't start writing until tomorrow. I'm very interested in feedback, so if you visit, I hope you leave comments telling me what you think and if you have any suggestions.² I will try to post here as often as I have been doing, but who knows. I will, however, link to any new post I put up over there. I welcome your encouragement. If anyone reading this is also doing the whole "novel-in-a-month" thing on-line, let me know where it is. I'm very interested in reading others' efforts.

Thanks. You may continue with your own lives now.

¹ Yes, I know it's a lame title. I came up with the name of my main character first, but since I haven't done any plotting, I couldn't come up with a good name. That will be the last thing I think of, so for now, that's the title.
² Suggestions like "You suck, why don't you amputate your fingers so you can never type again" will be ignored. You can't stop me from writing!

What have we learned - Week 8

Ugh. We learned that Andy Reid needs to be beaten with something heavy. He's a big guy, so it needs to be heavy or he wouldn't feel it. Ugh.

Anyway, how about your favorite psychic calling the San Francisco win? That's why they pay me the big bucks. So really, what have we learned?

I love Andy Reid, but I place the blame for the Eagles' poor season so far squarely on his shoulders. He called 11 passing plays and 1 running play in their first 12 plays. McNabb was 0-for-10 with one scramble for 1 yard. The running play picked up 3 yards. Yes, 12 plays, 10 incompletions, 4 yards, 4 punts. No wonder Denver was up in that game 21-0 early! The Broncos were blitzing on every play, and McNabb couldn't get a pass off. You know what slows down the blitz? Running the freakin' ball! I was so angry at that game. The owner needs to tell Andy Reid that in next week's game, if he doesn't run the ball twice as much as pass, win or lose, he gets fired. That's it. Denver looked pretty stinkin' good, I'll say that much. See what happens when you can run the ball and your quarterback doesn't do anything stupid? Good things, that's what.

The Arizona-Dallas game told us nothing about how good the Cowboys are. They're not bad, but who knows when you play the Cardinals. I cannot figure out why the Cardinals can't win. They have tried everything in the past 17 years or so. It's a mystery. The Cowboys get a week off and then they play the Eagles in Philly on Monday night. I'm reserving judgment about them until then.

Raiders-Titans was another brutally boring game. I watched about five minutes of it. It ended up being more exciting than it had any right to be, but I still wasn't watching.

I also called the Houston win, because I figured they had to win some game, and why not this one? I still don't think David Carr is the answer in Houston, but he got the job done yesterday. I think Dilfer gets one more game in Cleveland and then they go to Charlie Frye. Why not? Dilfer just isn't getting it done.

I completely missed the boat on the Washington-New York game. I thought the Giants would ride the emotion of Wellington Mara's death for a quarter, but then the Washington defense would take control. They just got run right out of the Meadowlands. I watched for a while in the first quarter, and Washington looked like they just didn't want to be there. On the radio this morning everyone is talking about how good the Giants are. Hey, New York - win a game on the road. Technically they have a road win, but it was against the Saints in New Jersey. Eli Manning still hasn't won a game on the road, so don't tell me they're the class of the division just yet. They have the talent, but they have to win on the road.

My friend Mike loves the Rams, so he's always watching their games. Yesterday he pointed out that the Jaguars ran for well over 200 yards on the porous St. Louis defense, but the Rams kept getting breaks because Jacksonville would inexplicably start throwing the ball. That's why Jacksonville isn't an elite team yet. You can bet Bill Cowher wouldn't have abandoned the run. He would have kept piling it up. St. Louis dodged a huge bullet because at weird times, the Jaguars went for big plays. And hey, look - the Rams have a running game and it's working for them! I said it a few weeks ago, and I'm sticking to it - I feel bad for Mike Martz, but I thought the Rams would be better without him.

How about that Green Bay team and their sucky quarterback? Five picks for Nancy-Boy Favre is too few in my book. Yes, the Bengals should be worried about this game because they should have blown the Pack right out of the building and only beat them by a touchdown, but a win is a win, and Cincinnati continues to beat the teams they should - the crappy ones. One of these days they're going to have to beat a good team, but as long as they're beating the crappy teams, the victory against the good team will come at some point. And everyone is ragging on the guy who ran onto the field. Sure, he was a tool, but to blame Green Bay's loss on him, as Woody Paige did on ESPN this morning, is crap. Green Bay lost that game all on their own. Five interceptions for Nancy-Boy = sweet.

I didn't watch any of the Miami-New Orleans game, because it was on at the same time as the Eagles game and when I got sick of that, I turned the television off. I thought the Saints would show up for their first game in Louisiana. I was wrong. Their owner tried to beat up a cameraman from a New Orleans television station after the game, which was kind of funny. He shows more spunk than his team, I'll tell you that much.

LaDanian Tomlinson might be the best quarterback on his team. That's pretty sad. San Diego got out to a quick lead on Kansas City and cruised. This was a pretty good game, even though I missed most of it. From what I saw, the teams were really smacking each other around. The Chiefs should probably learn how to tackle. Just a suggestion.

Well, San Francisco won by kicking five field goals and playing good defense. Whenever I turned it on, Tampa had the ball and the 49ers were bashing Chris Sims. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done. San Francisco has no talent whatsoever, but they can play hard, especially at home. Tampa = pretenders. Sorry, Gruden.

I watched one snap of last night's game. I was busy with children and cranky from the afternoon's outcome. Bruschi didn't die, so I guess that's something. I really hope the Patriots smack the Colts next week, even though I don't think it's going to happen.

College football gave us some interesting games. Penn State and Wisconsin won easily, setting up the big showdown next week which will probably determine the winner of the Big Ten. Texas looked horrible for the first half, but I knew they would win anyway, because Oklahoma State had a couple of chances to put even more points on the board and they didn't take advantage. It's lucky for Penn State that Michigan sucked earlier in the year, because the Wolverines look like they're putting it together, but it might be too late. UCLA somehow scored three touchdowns in the final 8 minutes to tie Stanford, eventually beating them in OT. I like the Bruins, but even though the game was on the road, you can't get down to Stanford like that. I was so mad at Maryland for blowing the game against Florida State, because every game that Bobby Bowden loses is a good one. Things are shaking out, as they usually do, with undefeated teams losing (this week it was Georgia's turn), but I still have a feeling we'll have AT LEAST three unbeaten teams after the regular season, if not four (Alabama can still run the table). That would be awesome. Any time the BCS gets screwed is a good time for me.

With the decline of the Patriots and Eagles, this NFL season is really shaping up nicely (well, except for fans of those two teams, me included), because who knows who's good? At least it means that when Philadelphia comes to the desert to play Arizona on Christmas Eve, a game for which I have tickets, it will mean something and all their regulars will play. That's something, I guess. And today on ESPN, Skip Bayless said that Ray Lewis was punking out of the game tonight because he didn't want to have to deal with Pittsburgh's running game. Jay Crawford said he was a brave man for calling out Ray Lewis like that. It was the closest thing I have heard in a long time to what I would do if I were a play-by-play man, and that is call Ray Lewis a murderer on every play. Funny stuff. But true. Ray Lewis is a big bully who runs to his mommy if someone stands up to him.


The final pictures of my grand journey to the bottom of the world!

Well, gentle readers, it had to end sometime. Yes, today I will post the final pictures I took on my voyage to Australia and New Zealand. Don't cry, good folk! The last round brings to you one of the wackiest things I've ever done. And it's captured on film!

I mentioned last week that we went from Napier to Taupo, in the middle of the North Island. Here's the map, one last time:
North Island

Taupo is a kind of sports resort place. Lots of people go there to do all sorts of extreme sporting events. So, because I am but a follower, I needed to do some extreme sporting-type thing myself! And because it's New Zealand, I decided to do that wonderful thing that New Zealanders invented: I went bungee jumping!
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Yes, that's me, not a stunt double. If you haven't gone bungee jumping, I highly recommend it. It's absolutely unbelievably excellent. I used to have a videotape of the incident, but my sister taped over it when she tried to play it, as she hit the wrong button on the VCR. I always say, if you're not smarter than the equipment, you probably shouldn't use it.

Taupo is also famous because of the hot springs right outside of town. These bubble up to the surface and do all sorts of nasty things to the landscape, and one such area is called "The Craters of the Moon" because of the steam rising from the earth making everything look very alien. My friends and I wanted to go out to see them, but we had no transportation. It was the first and only time I ever hitchhiked, and as I was with three attractive young women, we got picked up pretty easily by two guys in car, who also happened to have the ditziest girl I have ever met with them. She talked the entire drive, and I have blotted out most of what she said, but it had a lot to do with drinking and not remembering anything the next day (she was a college student from Hawaii, of all places). Anyway, we got out to the Craters. They were neat:
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Here are the ladies I was traveling with. That's Cindy, Theresa, and Lisa.
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Finally, it was time to leave Taupo. I had an earlier flight than my traveling companions, so I left a day before they did. Here I am, ready to leave. Check out my groovy Akubra hat. I love that hat.
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I'm wearing my Polish watch. That is to say, it's a watch with the numbers written in Polish on the face - it was made here. My Polish grandmother bought me that watch, and I love it. I still have it, but for some reason it never works anymore. I don't care - I'm keeping it because it's neat-o.

I returned to Auckland, which is NOT the capital of New Zealand, as I mentioned a few weeks ago because I'm stupid, but it is the largest "city" in the country. I use the term "city" loosely, because it's smaller than a lot of suburbs here. It's still a nice town. The weather, apparently, is like this a lot.
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Then I flew home. Here I am back at my house in beautiful Warminster, PA. Ready for six weeks off before my senior year of college starts. I didn't have to get a job because the time was too short. This would be the final six weeks of my life when I had absolutely no responsibilities. Good times.
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So those are my pictures from Australia and New Zealand. I hoped you enjoyed them. Next week it's back in the U.S.A., as I head for the exotic wilds of ... Pittsburgh! There's nothing crazier than the Steel City!


Ugandan dictators, hypocritical Republicans, hardcore nature, and milk ... to the extreme! It must be the return of the links!

It's been a few weeks since I had time to surf the Internet, so the links have been missing, but today they're back! Unfortunately, I know that they will be missing for all of November, because I'm writing a novel in 30 days. Go do it yourself here! So I will not have any time to cruise around the Internet - I'll be writing 50,000 words (or trying to).

Before we begin, some fun stuff: today I was watching college football while I was putting this post together, and the Washington State-USC game was on. Bob Griese said, in the space of a few seconds, "I think he pulled out too soon" and that Matt Leinart "throws a high hard one." I know, it's juvenile, but those statements cracked me up.

Have you seen the new commercial for motor oil with Danica Patrick? I saw it a few days ago, and Krys saw it today. It's hilarious - Ms. Patrick is dressed in fancy finery with her hair all wind-blown talking about how great the oil is. In only one brief shot is she in her racing gear. That's right - they're using sex appeal to sell motor oil. It's awesome.

All right, let's get to the links!

First, let's go random with the "Next Blog" button. Where would we be without it?

Very random musings.

A Portuguese (maybe Spanish, but the language looks like Portuguese) guy in Japan. He has a picture of a Japanese girl licking what looks like a cell phone, which is mildly interesting.

The blog of a teenager in Asia (Malaysia, maybe?). The usual poor spelling and lots of slang.

Serious Christian blog. It's called Under His Wings, for crying out loud!

17-year-old Canadian girl's blog. It's called You Know You Love Me. Read at your own risk!

International news. You must know about the world around us!

A Texas businessman is seeking the Haitian presidency. This isn't as crazy as it sounds - he's from Haiti. However, even if you're Haitian, why would you want to be president?

Andrew Sullivan points out that Bush has something in common with the dictator of Uganda: they don't like gay marriage. It was just banned in Uganda.

Brent Scowcroft, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, says we've had 50 years of peace in the Middle East with dictators running things. Now, while it's nice that an insider is criticizing the case for war in Iraq, I question what his definition of "peace" is. I saw this first at The Cranky Professor.

Politics closer to home. Because while we're busy screwing up the world, we might as well screw up America as well!

Today's fiscally responsible Republicans: We'll just borrow the money to pay for everything!

Speaking of those fiscally responsible Republicans, they're cutting lots o' social programs, don't you know. There is an EXCELLENT quote by our president included. See if you can spot it!

Another reason why I love politics: Two strangely contradictory quotes from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. She couldn't be talking about a Democrat in the first instance and a Republican in the second, could she? No, a crime is a crime, isn't it?

Newark, NJ, pays a newspaper to publish only good news about the city. I've been to Newark. This is not a bad idea.

Bush's presidency is OVER! Yeah, I know, you hadn't heard the news. This essay explains why.

Would you believe that Tom DeLay supports horrible things in the Pacific Rim? I know, it's shocking.

Brit Hume says the casualties in Iraq are "negligible." You know, technically he's correct, but what a stupid thing to say and word to use. This is from Road to Surfdom.

Comic book junk. Who doesn't like the comic books?

Chris talks about badass panels in The Question. Believe you me, they are badass.

Because he can, Tom Peyer brings us Zebra Batman:
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Speaking of fun old stuff, Sleestak has Golden Lad:
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Interesting article (with links!) about comics as a cultural force.

A link to the top ten graphic novels.

Gary gives us his Batman pitch. Because it's interesting, there's no way DC would ever let him write it (even if he was a big-time comic writer, which he's not).

Scipio always finds the hidden haiku in comics. Hal Jordan needs some action:
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Hey, Stan Lee should sue: They found Captain America! This is from Ace of Spades.

Scott shows us the wackiness of Lois Lane. Remember wacky Lois?

T. reviews Wanted in two parts. Very interesting, and it really crystallizes why I don't read Mark Millar books anymore.

Hey, I have a new column about Comics You Should Own! Batman 452-454 by Peter Milligan, Kieron Dwyer, and Dennis Janke. But you already own them, right?

Fun stuff. At least I hope it's funny for you, because you all deserve to laugh now and then.

I'm sure most of you have seen this, but the White House is cranky that The Onion is using the Presidential Seal. Because they have nothing better to do, I guess.

Notes from Ann Coulter's editor. So true, so true.

Bill watches public access television and you reap the benefits of his wisdom.

Do the Republicans know how icky nature is? I mean, come on:
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Raising children and the joys that go with it.

An eternal truth from the mouth of a child.

Mr. Nice Guy explains that the love affair between parent and child begins at four months, and ends at five months.

A child has committed a horrific crime! Whodunit? Learn the sordid tale!

Miscellaneous Signs of the Apocalypse. Run for the hills!

Halle Berry's big secret! I was going to steal the picture, but it's much more visceral if you click on the link.

A fan asks Paul McCartney's permission to propose to his girlfriend. If I was his girlfriend and I found out he needed McCartney's permission, I'd say no. Do I really want to marry a loser who can't make up his mind?

Kelvin Green looks at what Americans deem offensive in art and entertainment. I'll give you a choice as to what we think is "bad for children": bullet holes in foreheads or female nipples. You make the call!

Here's a charming story of a rape victim who can't get the "morning after pill" in Tucson. Because of, you know, moral reasons. Things like this piss me off so much. I found this on Donklephant.

Because of a poorly worded anti-gay amendment, it turns out that Texas wants to ban ALL marriage. Is Texas too easy a target? I got this from Ones and Zeroes.

A Roman Catholic high school orders students to stop having personal blogs. Because telling kids they can't do something always works. Seriously, this is idiotic. The kids seem to think so, too.

Jesus was not a Republican links to some crazy remarks about gays and AIDS from a youth minister speaking at a high school. Of course, we also have his defense. You be the judge who we should believe!

What do you know? An anti-Semitic poem has been published in a children's poetry book that is being distributed throughout the United Kingdom. The poem is written from the point of view of Hitler. The editor says they aren't willing to censor this kid, which is almost the dumbest thing I've ever heard. I got this from Ahistoricality via Respectful Insolence.

Other miscellaneous. Come back from the hills!

I don't know if you've seen the new milk commercial, but it's funny. It pokes fun at Major League Baseball's drug policy, and of course, MLB is angry about it. Maybe if they had a good drug testing policy the milk people wouldn't make fun of it. You think?

Lyle points to the story of people using the Lost numbers to play Powerball. They didn't win. That would have been too freaky.

Woody! links to sexy Halloween costumes (they call them "adult," but let's face it - they're "sexy"). Okay, maybe it's too late for this year, but what young lady wouldn't want to show up to work in, say, the middle of April wearing the slutty Rainbow Brite costume?
Rainbow Brite

What's the beauty of Sirius satellite radio? People with no lives can listen to a station that plays only Bruce Springsteen music. He's not the only one, either - you can have an all-Elvis and/or all-Rolling Stones station. Why oh why would you want this? I can't even see my old friend Patti, who LOVED Springsteen, getting this.

It's ancient porn! And because it's thousands of years old, it's not icky, it's, you know, classy. This is from Superblog!!, where there's a link to a giant phallus. Truly, truly wild.

Do you want to be a Marvel superhero? Sure you do! So make sure you drink ... extreme milk!

It's ... (wait for it!) ... the Shaft theme in Middle English! Good stuff. I found this at Another Damned Medievalist.

Is this the scariest movie poster ever? Sleestak thinks so.

Everyone already knows this, but it's still stunning: Sulu is gay. I know I couldn't believe it.

The Phantom Scribbler is a Googlewhack. If you don't know what that is, click the link!

I hope you like the links. As I mentioned, I'm trying to write a novel next month. More information in the next few days, because I want to do it on a blog, but might simply write it off-line. We'll see.

Tomorrow: the very last bunch of pictures from my travels to Australia and New Zealand! How exciting!


Friday means football predictions!

Well, I know my blog-reading public desires to know who they can count on to win this weekend's football games, so I oblige. Serve 'em up!

Last week I was 9-5, meaning I'm 49-39 for the year. I haven't had that break-out week when I pick 11 or 12 right. Damn.

DALLAS (-9) 26, Arizona 14. The Cardinals on the road? The Cardinals on the road? If they were playing the Aggies of Delaware Valley College on the road, I might pick them. Might.
Washington (+2) 20, NEW YORK GIANTS 17. Tough game to pick. The Giants should be emotionally ready to win one for their dead owner, Wellington Mara, but I'm taking the Washingtonians. I hope they tie, actually. Can't they both lose?
CINCINNATI (-9) 35, Green Bay 27. Chad Johnson cracks me up. He said that the bad news is that Al Harris has to cover him, but the good news is he can save a bunch of money on insurance by switching to Geico. Now that's funny. The Bengals are good against crappy teams. The Pack, happily, is a crappy team.
DETROIT (-3) 17, Chicago 14. The Lions are at home, and Garcia is apparently the QB for them. Neither team is very good.
CAROLINA (-7.5) 24, Minnesota 10. The Vikings on the road are almost as crappy as the Cardinals on the road.
Oakland 24, TENNESSEE 20 (no line). Steve McNair will probably start. However, the Titans still aren't that good. It appears the Raiders might be starting to get it together. Especially if Lamont Jordan keeps running.
HOUSTON (-2) 21, Cleveland 13. I jumped on the Browns bandwagon last weekend and got burned. The Texans get their first win! Go, Houston - this makes up for sucking in the World Series, right?
NEW ORLEANS (-2) 27, Miami 20. The Dolphins are a better team, but I think the Saints get an emotional lift by playing in Louisiana. Enough of a lift to get the win.
ST. LOUIS 23, Jacksonville 20 (no line). Marc Bulger is questionable, but I think the Rams have figured out that Steven Jackson is a decent running back who can carry a team. If Martz were still coaching, I'd take the Jaguars and their defense, but I think the Rams win at home.
SAN DIEGO (-6.5) 20, Kansas City 16. LaDanian Tomlinson can't suck two weeks in a row, can he? The Chiefs don't have the Eagles defense. It's in San Diego, so the Chargers squeak out a win.
SAN FRANCISCO (+11) 24, Tampa 17. Yes, I'm picking the 49ers! I rule! The game is in San Francisco, and Ken Dorsey is starting. Ken Dorsey isn't much better than Alex Smith, but at least he's not a rookie. Tampa will probably win this game by 30 points, but if the 49ers pull the upset, I'll look like the genius we all know I am.
DENVER (-3.5) 24, Philadelphia 20. Once again, I'll be rooting against my pick. I desperately want the Eagles to win, and I think they have a great chance, but I think they'll come up a bit short. Stupid Eagles and their lack of a running game.
NEW ENGLAND (-9) 31, Buffalo 17. The Patriots win easily. Let us hope Bruschi doesn't play, because I seriously fear for his life.
PITTSBURGH (-10) 35, Baltimore 10 (Monday night). If the Steelers don't stomp the Ravens, I'll be stunned. This is a lousy game that once looked decent. Funny how the season works out.

There you have it. Any suggestions that I might not be quite sane are welcome.


Don't these people read my blog and realize that when I'm dictator, I won't stand for this crap?

I like lawyers. I only have experience with three of them, and have employed two (the third is a divorce lawyer, so it's probably good I haven't employed him), but I have no problem with lawyers. They do a job. However, I recognize that some people have issues with them because they are leading idiots down a twisted road of litigation that will come to no good.

Today I have heard on ESPN that a bunch of people are considering suing Major League Baseball because of the roof at the Houston Astros' ballpark being open the last two nights of the World Series. They are not doing this because they think MLB cost their team the wins. The Astros screamed bloody murder because their team apparently sucks with the roof open - listen, Houston, if you can't win games with the roof open, then you don't deserve to win the title. No, these people are considering suing MLB because they got sick from the chilly weather that Houston had those nights and they weren't sufficiently prepared for it.

I wish I was making this up. These people have no access to a local news channel with a weatherperson, nor do they have access to any kind of sports outlet that had all the news about the roof being open. It's also Houston, for crying out loud! It got down to 50, apparently. Dear God, doesn't anyone realize your brain freezes at those temperatures?????

I doubt if this thing will go very far, because even these people can't be that idiotic. However, the fact that I heard of this means that all those people contemplating suing MLB would go into the camps if I were in charge. And any lawyer who takes this case would also be thrown into a hole somewhere. Yes, lawyers are just in it to make money, but there are plenty of legitimate things to make money off of. By encouraging these people, they are giving them false hope that they can get rich because they're stupid. Maybe it works for Paris Hilton, but not for most people.

When are they holding the referendum to give me supreme power? Shouldn't it be soon?


True Tales From My Childhood - "My family flees the country"

Dear readers, not all of my childhood was Slurpees and stripteases, I can assure you. Yes, my previous true tales from my childhood have been uplifting tales of my triumphs as a young man - my first time, the time I was victorious over my bedwetting problem, and when I met the girl with the hat. But my childhood has a dark side, and a part of it must be told, in response to the several thousand e-mails I received about my childhood. A sample one comes from Donald T. of New York and Atlantic City, who writes:

"O future dictator, your childhood recollections make my own rise to the top of the business and entertainment world seem easy by comparison. However, I was wondering how you, your father, and your Uncle Mac ended up on a molybdenum plantation on the northern reaches of the Irrawaddy. This story needs to be told to inspire the thousands of young capitalists who doubtlessly read your blog!"

Well, Donald T. of New York and Atlantic City, your request has found me in a reminiscing mood, so I will tell the sordid tale and my unfortunate key role in it. Please, gentle readers, try not to judge me too harshly.

It was a glorious time to be an American, I can tell you. It was a cruel winter, true, but we had a new president in the White House, one who had practiced well for the harsh reality of politics by starring in movies with chimpanzees. If you want to say he is the greatest American ever, my father and Uncle Mac would not have disagreed with you. I remember the winter so well. Admiral Nelson and the Trafalgars topped the charts with their groovy single, "I'll Never Surrender (Especially Not To Spaniards)," I won the International Nose-Picking Title, Youth Division (for best form), and I spotted my first brassiere. Now, it's true that it was worn by my Theosophy teacher, Mr. Ohlmeier, but we all have to crawl before we can walk, and I counted that as a big deal. My father and mother were still together, but unbeknownst to me, she had already started her torrid affair with the seven-fingered clown Giuseppe, a man so devoted to her that he would follow her halfway around the world and eventually steal her away from my father. I thought all was perfect in my life. Little did I know. Little did I know, gentle readers.

Uncle Mac lived across town from us, alone in his attic apartment after his mail-order Gambian wife left him to become a transsexual member of Malta's Parliament. My father was worried about him, because Uncle Mac would simply sit up in the attic, scraping off his fingernails with a file, solving impossible mathematical theorems, and dyeing his pubic hair orange. My father would smuggle puppy jerky past the overbearing landlord, Mr. Jarndyce, because Uncle Mac refused to go out for simple sustenance. On those frequent days when Mr. Jarndyce got drunk on turtle beer while watching tractor pulls on WSHT, the favorite UHF station in our area, I would sneak in to visit Uncle Mac. This was more at the insistence of my father than through any of my own desire - Uncle Mac had by now started calling me "Miranda" because he had learned of my bedwetting problem, and I still hadn't gotten used to the phenomenon of my testicles retreating into my body whenever he did - but I dutifully went, because I knew if anything happened to Uncle Mac, my father would hold me responsible and force me to sing the entire score of "Showboat" at the most popular intersection in town.

One morning, when the cruel north wind was angrily screaming through town looking for toupees to snatch away and skin to flay from bone, I gazed through Mr. Jarndyce's window and watched as he cried himself into a drunken stupor while a reel-to-reel played "Won't You Come Back To New Jersey, Sweet Ursula" by the Minstrels of the Lost Trail. Then I cautiously opened the front door and tip-toed up the stairs to the attic. My father told me I must always knock before disturbing Uncle Mac, but the haunting lyric "I gave up my seat on the bus of your heart" distracted me momentarily and I unthinkingly pushed the door open. Oh, how I wish that mynah bird had gouged my eyes out when I was three instead of simply pecking me in the ear!

There was Uncle Mac, sitting with his back to me in the center of a circle. The circle was made up of small figures. In the light of the flickering candles I couldn't make out what they were. I dropped the bag of Funions I was carrying and turned to go. My uncle heard me, though.

"That you, Miranda?"

I stammered an affirmative, and he told me to come in. I was stuck, so I had to obey. I slowly walked into the middle of the room. The candlelight was stronger there, and I saw what the figures were.

Each figure was a plastic doll. Most of them were dressed like Wonder Woman. Each doll looked like Lynda Carter. The ones that were not dressed were - how shall I put it? - anatomically very correct. The craftmanship was exquisite. I felt my testicles retreat further, which meant they were now somewhere deep in my colon.

I asked Uncle Mac what he was doing. He grinned that maniacal grin he had and whispered, "You go to church, right, Miranda?"

He knew I did. We all attended the First Church of Saint Cosominus, who had been martyred in 1979 when he refused to "Do the Hustle" at a wedding. When I said of course, he responded, "Well, this is my true church, boy. The Most Excellent Dynamic Church of the Prime Lady of Paradise Island. The Temple of the Woman of Wonder. My Sanctuary."

I looked around. Painted on the walls of his apartment were frightening sigils and disturbingly realistic depictions of various stages of a bacchanalia. My young eyes could not comprehend much of what I saw. I looked at my uncle and saw he was wearing vestments and holding open a dog-eared comic book, circa 1942. His eyes were glazed in the candlelight. They may have also been glazed from the large pile of what he would later jokingly refer to as "the brown acid" lying next to him. I asked him what kind of religion it was.

"Religion is an ecstatic experience, Miranda," he murmured. "It can also be an economic one, and quite a lucrative one. That is the kind of religion I want to found. I want to spread my devotion to the Wondrous One to all. Religions, like sharks, must swim or die. Do you understand?"

I didn't but I had learned not to say "no" to Uncle Mac ever since he asked me if I wanted to purchase his Starland Vocal Band album for a huge mark-up so he could use the money to get his mail-order Gambian wife. So I said yes and asked him to explain more.

"You see, young lady, people will pay. Yes, they will. They will buy my icons and worship them as I do. I will be the high priest of this new religion, the Prophet, the Caliph, the Pope, and my rule will be absolute. Absolute, do you hear me, girl? And these icons - priced to move - will be the wave on which I will surf to financial and spiritual glory! Are you with me, Miranda?"

I still didn't understand, but I nodded meekly. I then asked what my role in his plan was. I was strangely intrigued. I had met prophets at the elementary school I attended (Melvin Becket predicted the fall of the Shah, after all), but I had never been around for the founding of a religion. It seemed a good way to pass the time.

Uncle Mac bared his teeth, and for a moment I thought he was going to go for my throat. "Listen well, girlie. You are going to be my Apostle Paul. You are going to be my Khadijah, who was the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. You will spread my faith to the masses."

I wondered aloud why he couldn't do it. He snarled, "You fool, Miranda! Don't you remember? Don't you remember that they are after me?"

I had forgotten that after Uncle Mac helped fix the 1964 pennant race, he had to go underground because so many members of the Swiss banking houses had lost their fortunes and had arranged with certain intelligence agencies to destroy him. I wouldn't have believed it, but there was that mysterious trench-coated man with the buzzard on his shoulder who used to lurk in the alley behind our apartment ...

He said, "This is what you have to do, Miranda ..." He then outlined a plan so audacious, so bold, so astonishingly brilliant that it would have made us all billionaires and, quite possibly, secured our ascension as Religious Superstars. I gathered up all the icons and stuffed them in the knapsack that Uncle Mac had gotten for me. I slipped out before Mr. Jarndyce woke up and made it home before dark, fighting against the banshee wind all the time. The next day I put the plan into action. As I suspected, it was brilliant. The icons sold like hotcakes, and suddenly we were flush with cash. My parents never knew, although I think my father caught one of my customers leaving the house one day and demanded to know what was going on. The customer almost cracked, but got lucky when a 1948 Packard came tearing around the corner driven by a statuesque red-haired Hispanic woman. My father has always had a weakness for Packards and statuesque red-haired Hispanic women, and his momentary distraction allowed the customer to escape. All was well.

Then it all came crashing down. Somehow our reach extended too far, and the wrong people heard about our fledgling religion before it was strong enough to influence the correct people and secure tax-free status. One day a shrunken toad of a man, wearing a sombrero and a catcher's mask, knocked on the door of my room. I admitted him, thinking he was another customer. Instead he flashed a badge of a certain government agency which made my bladder weaken (and with my problem, that was not a good thing). I knew, somehow, that the jig was up.

"Young man, you are causing the wrong people some consternation." He reached in his pocket and extracted a photograph. "This person, specifically." I looked at the photo, agog. I knew the person pictured on it, but, even after all these years, still fear to name him. Let's just call him Mr. X. "Young man," the agent continued, "I don't think I have to tell you the power this individual wields. Ms. Carter is a personal friend of his, and he will not suffer this affront to her reputation. His power is idle at this moment, but if you continue with this mockery, he will bend that power exclusively to destroy you and your family. Do you understand?"

For once, and at the wrong moment, I found courage. I laughed. I was a child, and although I had learned not to sass my father, my mother, or my uncle, I had yet to learn that lesson with regard to government officials. I laughed and told the man that I didn't believe Mr. X had anywhere near the power he ascribed to him. Through the catcher's mask, I could see the agent's eyes grow thin and his lips tremble. He could not believe the attitude he was getting from this impudent youngster. I doubted if he knew exactly what to say.

Finally, he recovered his composure. "Fine. There will be consequences. I hope you are prepared."

And that is how we came to flee the country. The next day our bank accounts were frozen. My father lost his job at the carnival because certain pictures (doctored, I'm sure) of him in a compromising position with the dog-faced boy were delivered to the owner. Mr. Jarndyce sobered up long enough to evict Uncle Mac. My mother was driven out of the sewing circle when it was revealed that she had actually used a machine to get her hems straight. I think it was this shame that eventually made her leave our family completely. I was told that my spelling tests at school were unacceptable and that I was only suited for a career in (the horror!) broadcast journalism. In less than a week, we were destitute. Uncle Mac did the only thing he could - called his old friend Flightless Gus (an old joke, he said, from their days in the RAF) and asked if he had any career opportunities for two bankrupt but stout fellows. Flightless Gus knew about the molybdenum plantation, which needed an overseer, and we were off, hours ahead of the group of government agents carrying knitting needles of death and wearing Lynda Carter masks in some bizarre homage to their insulted queen who broke into our house and mistakenly slaughtered the family of Quakers who had decamped there on their way to Tipperary. Oh, we were quite lucky!

I felt enough guilt about the whole episode to confess all to my father and Uncle Mac a few months later. They simply laughed and sipped their flaming drinks out of their boot-shaped glasses and ordered more poi. Uncle Mac put it succinctly: "Miranda, you did us a favor. Where else on this planet can you hear the wails of the two-headed cats as the burly tribesmen whip them? It's the loveliest sound on earth." My father smiled and nodded. For one brief instant, all was right in the world. And home no longer felt so far away.


"Every Van Gogh Must Go!"

I'm watching Amazon Women On The Moon on the Sundance Channel right now. If you haven't seen this movie, I pity you. It's freakin' brilliant. It's a bunch of sketches parodying, among other things, 1950s-era science fiction movies, local commercials, horror movies, trashy romance novels, and a host of other stuff. It includes the classic commercial for the Met's going-out-of-business sale, in which the curator announces, "Every Van Gogh must go" and offers the Declaration of Independence as a free bonus gift (you can sign your name on the bottom at parties!). It has a host of people in it, like Ralph Bellamy, David Alan Grier (as Don "No Soul" Simmons, the black man without soul - so sad), B.B. King (as the spokesman for the organization to help black people like Don Simmons), Henry Silva (host of "Bullshit Or Not?"), Arsenio Hall, Howard Hesseman, Phil Hartman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter Horton, Joe Pantoliano, Andrew Dice Clay, Russ Meyer, the guy who played Jimmy Olson, Ed Begley Jr. (who gets naked!) ... so many to choose! The main "story," which is a movie called, appropriately enough, Amazon Women On The Moon, parodies a 1957 movie in which astronauts from Earth land on the moon and meet beautiful women. The moon looks suspiciously like Arizona, and when the men are captured by the Amazons, the Queen says that men are good for nothing. The captain, played with lantern-jawed goodness by Steve Forrest, says, "Where I come from, no woman is complete without a man." Awesome.

Parts of it were directed by the criminally underrated Joe Dante, and others were directed by John Landis. It's kind of a slight movie, but if you catch on cable at some point (the uncut version, with the nudity!), watch it. It's hilarious.

Why I don't write letters to the editor

This is a letter that was published in Saturday's Arizona Republic, and which I quote in full (I can't be bothered to link to it):

I am sick of all of the liberals who do nothing but gripe and complain no matter what the president does.

George Bush is the best president the United States has ever had. We are fortunate to have a man like him who stands up for what is right, doesn't waver from his beliefs, delivers what he promises, cares about people across the country, mourns with the families of the dead and wounded, and isn't afraid to go to war to protect our lives and livelihood.

Don't you liberals understand that it is your left-wing policies, economics and philosophies that have caused the country so many problems?

Stop bashing morality and conservative values, and do your part to make this world a nicer, more caring place.

(I withhold the name to protect the idiotic.)

I almost had a stroke when I read this. I'm quite sure that Laura Bush doesn't even think her husband is the best president ever. I think Bill Clinton was a pretty good president and I don't even think he's in the Top Ten of great presidents. Without even consulting a history book to look at their achievements, I can list several presidents who are better than George II: Washington, Madison, Monroe, Polk (don't sell Polk short, people), Taylor, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Taft (bigger trust-buster than Teddy), FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Reagan, Clinton. Hell, Bush I was probably better than George II.

That's neither here nor there, however. The reason I don't write letters to the editor is because they only publish letters by people who are insane. And that makes it seems like everyone is insane. And that keeps the insanity going. I can say, "I can never have a conversation with a conservative because, as this guy proves, they're all insane." Of course that's not true, but that's what happens. Ridiculous.

I didn't make this letter up, by the way. I think this letter might have been written by Harriet Miers. Or a ten-year-old.


What have we learned - Week 7

As you know, we didn't learn anything last week, because I did not watch football. Therefore, you were all in the dark about what you should know. So sad! But now I'm back, so knowledge can be imparted. Let's begin!

First, we have learned that Andy Reid should be fired. What, say you? He's the most successful coach in Philadelphia Eagles history? He has won the division title four years in a row (or is it three?) and taken his team to four straight conference title games and last year's Super Bowl? How can I call for his firing? Because he's a moron, that's why. The Eagles won yesterday's game despite the worst coaching job I have ever seen. Andy Reid is going to get his quarterback killed and his team is going to lose. They went for it with a little more than three minutes left in the game yesterday on 4th-and-1 from his own 30. I agreed with going for it, but the play call was a short pass over the middle to the fullback, who was covered by three defenders. It fell incomplete, naturally. Because the Eagles have no running game, San Diego knew they wouldn't run, and could cover everyone. Sweet Jeebus. They got so lucky to win that game. At one point they threw the ball 25 consecutive times. That's almost unbelievable, but I saw it happen. The Chargers didn't deserve to win, either, because for most of the game, they played like crap. At least the Philly defense appears to be back. They stuffed the best running back in the game. Excellent.

Speaking of teams that don't run, the Cardinals got an ugly win over the Titans, who are truly awful. David Macklin returned an interception for a touchdown. I like Macklin because he went to Penn State, but isn't it illegal for a player to hold up another? Somebody on the Cardinals grabbed Macklin's jersey and helped him regain his balance. It was pretty obvious, too. Why no penalty?

For a while, the Texans were in the game with the Colts. It was 14-14 at the half. Indianapolis, however, is like USC right now, especially against horrible teams like Houston. They simply ran them out of the building in the second half. Now the Colts' schedule gets difficult. They've been pounding Division II teams up until now.

I thought the Browns would pound the Lions. I really did. They didn't even score an offensive touchdown. I resisted the Cleveland bandwagon, and then I got on, and they lay an egg. I'm off it again! Bring on Charlie Frye!

We learned nothing from the San Francisco-Washington game except that the 49ers are really bad. Oh, wait a minute, we already knew that. That franchise is still paying for mistakes they made 10 years ago. It's a long road back, San Fran.

I think the Bengals got hosed on that first touchdown that was called back, but it was probably not going to help. Cincinnati is one of those teams that is taking baby steps - they have won games against teams they used to not beat, they have won games against teams they should beat, but they haven't yet beaten that team that stands in their way. Pittsburgh is that team, and they got rolled. They will have another chance against Indianapolis later this year.

Green Bay-Minnesota was a weird game. There's no way Green Bay should lose that game, but their defense remains suspect. As much as I hate Nancy-Boy Favre, he had a good game and threw some nice balls. The look on his face as the field goal went through the uprights: priceless.

Another instance in which a running game helps, even if it's not working: Shaun Alexander was getting nothing against the Cowboys (21 carries, 61 yards), but the Seahawks kept going to him. At the end of the game, Hasselbeck was able to play fake and find his receiver wide open in the end zone for the tying touchdown. If the Eagles run that play, nobody thinks they're going to run and it's a lot harder to complete the pass. And what the hell was Bledsoe thinking throwing that interception at the end of the game? What an imbecile. Parcells almost beat up one of his coaches, too, which is nice.

Look at that Chicago-Baltimore score. 10-6, Bears. Just like I predicted. Yes, I actually predicted a final score. I also said first team to 3 wins. The Bears scored a touchdown to make it 7-0, and they won. I am awesome. The game sucked, though.

Hey, Lamont Jordan can run the ball pretty well! Who would have thought? Andy Reid, see what happens when you run the ball? What the freakin' hell is wrong with you?

Finally, the Broncos pissed away a game they had in hand. Another good running game, but this one goes for naught because Denver played the dreaded "prevent" defense at the end. Morons. Eli Manning, as James Hasty pointed out this morning, didn't look that good. His receivers bailed him out. If I had Plaxico Burress, who's nine feet tall, to throw to, I'd fling it up there too. I'm mad because if Denver had won, they might have been overconfident next week at home against the Eagles. Now, they'll be pissed and whomp 'em. Stupid Broncos.

Penn State smoked a horrible Illinois team, scoring 56 points in the first half and setting a record for points in a half. They're still in good position to win the Big Ten, which is shocking. I was at Traffic Survival School all day Saturday (don't ask), so I missed most of the college football action, but I know that today Texas inexplicably jumped over USC into the #1 spot in the BCS standings. It doesn't really matter, since the top 2 teams play, but Texas is there solely because they beat a wildly overrated Texas Tech team on Saturday. Texas Tech was beating the snot out of teams like Sam Houston State. I understand that voters can't see every game, but if you're looking at the scores on Sunday morning, shouldn't you look at the opponents as well and think, "Well, yes, Texas Tech scored 77 points, but it was against Sam Houston State. I'm not voting for them." I guess voters are that stupid.

Anyway, that's the word from the weekend in football. Next week I will get two scores correct! Actually, probably not.


After a week off, Picture Day is back!

Well, I know you're all dying to see more of New Zealand, and I will accommodate you. Sorry about skipping last week - I was going to post photos on Monday or Tuesday, but real life intruded and I never got around to it.¹

So, anyway, in case you're wondering, this is the North Island of New Zealand.
North Island
I mentioned two weeks ago that we ended up in Napier, on the east coast of the island. You can see it if you squint. Anyway, in the 1930s Napier was largely destroyed by an earthquake, and they rebuilt the sucker in architecture that was in vogue back then, namely, Art Deco! Art Deco, in case you don't know, is excellent. If we all built buildings in Art Deco style, we'd all be happier and conservatives and liberals would walk down the street holding hands and singing "We Are The World." But no - we have left Art Deco behind, and things suck. Thanks, architects!

Here are some pictures of the buildings in Napier. Soak in the beauty! The first one is the Criterion Hotel:

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The second one is, well, I don't know. Who cares? It's awesome.

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And finally, the Daily Telegraph Building. I assume it's the local rag.

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This picture is of my friend Theresa, the wacky Filipino from New Jersey. She's standing by a sign for a store called Three Times A Lady. You can't really tell because of the glare, but it's a store for women of size 16 or larger. It's a store for large women and it's called Three Times A Lady. Ponder that for a while. I made Theresa pose there (the women can't resist me!) because she's wee.

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I'm not sure where this next picture is. It's the same night as the other pictures, but we were on the road a lot, so it might be in Napier, or it might be in our next stop, Taupo (check the map). I think it's in Taupo because of what it is. You say, "Greg, do we really need to see you in a pool?" And I say, well, no, but it's an outdoor pool. "So?" say you, blissful in your ignorance. And I say, it's an outdoor pool at night. Those of you in Arizona say, "I swim at midnight here, because the water is 85 degrees!" And I retort that it's an outdoor pool, at night, in the middle of the New Zealand winter, which is somewhat cold. And finally you scratch your puzzler and say, "How can it be?" Well, it's heated by underground hot springs, and it's a big hit among the townspeople. That's why I'm pretty sure it's in Taupo - it's sitting on a bunch o' hot springs. I think it's cool, and I wish I lived near a pool heated by hot springs. Is that too much to ask?

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Two weeks ago I published this photo of my friend Lisa, in which she made a nasty face because of some bad food she got at McDonald's. Well, that's not the worst picture I have of Lisa. After she got out of the pool, she looked like a zombie. Fear her!

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Don't let her eat your brains! She didn't like the McDonald's food, but she might enjoy your gray matter!

So that's the latest installment of Greg's pictures. Next week, I will prove to you that I may be the stupidest person in the world, but I am not a coward! I am brave, damn it! Can you figure out what I did?²

¹ "Real life?" you say. "How dare you have a life outside of the computer! You exist to entertain us!" Well, yes, but when the children are writhing on the floor in piles of their own filth moaning with hunger because I'm too busy on the Internet, I have to do something. I mean, they're annoying me. So you must forgive me.
² Come on, people, it's New Zealand! Use your imagination!

What I've been reading

It's been a while since I rambled on about a book I just finished, so here's another interesting one. It's not that I haven't been reading, just that I read the latest Harry Potter book and didn't feel the need to expound upon its merits (or lack thereof, if you're not a fan), and then I read this book and wasn't terribly impressed by it, and why should I tell you to read a book that I don't like? I am, after all, the arbiter of culture around these parts. So. Moving on, I read:

The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family (although my book has a cooler cover) by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave
394 pages, 1999, Broadway Books

As many of you know, I'm a big history buff, and not only for the Merovingian period (which is good, because there just aren't a lot of books readily available in bookstores on that subject). I go through phases of high interest in certain places and time periods of history, and recently I've been fascinated by Asia. I'm still reading my books in alphabetical order by author, so I'm not reading all my books on Asia at once, but I am buying more than I used to and spending more time in that section of the library than I once did, and more time there than in, say, the European medieval section. It's not because I don't like medieval Europe anymore, but the books in that section of any bookstore are woefully inadequate, and if I haven't already read the books, I've already read a lot on the subject and don't feel the need to buy yet another book about, say, Eleanor of Aquitaine.¹

Japan and China are just interesting for the complete difference in culture from ours. It's amazing finding out things about these cultures, and how the Asian cultures have an impact on history in general. I read a book once about the Pacific War from Japan's perspective, and the author mentioned that the attack on Pearl Harbor was simply a way the Japanese waged war, and any decent Japan expert in the United States would have been able to figure out what they were up to. Seagrave makes similar points in his book, pointing out the woefully bad diplomatic corps that resided in Japan prior to the war, a group that was far more concerned with securing loans for the great Japanese banking families than trying to rein in Japan's militarism. The Pacific War was a tragedy for a great number of countries, but, as usual with hindsight, we can see ways that it could have been prevented.

Seagrave is not concerned with the ancient history of the Yamato dynasty, which has "ruled" Japan for 1500 years.² He is more interested in the last four emperors and the current crown prince - Mutsuhito (known generally by the name of his reign, Meiji), Yoshihito (whose reign was called Taisho), Hirohito (whose given name is most commonly used, although his reign was called Showa), Akihito (the emperor since 1989, whose reign name is Heisei), and Crown Prince Naruhito. The reason for this is simple - the Meiji Restoration of 1868 destroyed the shogunate which had ruled the country for 700 years and supposedly brought the emperor back to a position of power. As Seagrave points out repeatedly, this is simply not true - Japan exchanged one shogunate for another, more insidious one, and the emperor continued to be a caged bird without much say in the running of the country. Seagrave wants to look at how the country became a modern power and, more importantly, how it failed in the post-war years to become a democracy. He blames both the Japanese oligarchy and the American occupational forces, led by General Douglas MacArthur, for this failure, and brings us up to the present by pointing out that whereas Germany, for the most part, has exorcised its war ghosts through public recriminations, Japan remains tied to the past and unable to move beyond it because their war guilt was swept under the carpet by these two groups.

The pre-1930s period is sketched more quickly than I would have liked, but as it is not the focal point of the book, I can understand it. Seagrave is simply laying the foundation for what Japan became in the 1930s and in the post-war period, so I can forgive him. For me, late 19th- and early 20th-century history is far more fascinating than World War II-era stuff, so I was slightly disappointed that, for instance, Seagrave didn't go more into the Sino-Japanese War of the 1890s and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. He goes over them, but with less detail than I would have liked. The reason I was surprised he didn't get into them more is because this is where Japan's modern militarism really begins, and because of his focus on the Rape of Asia and the war spoils this brought to Japan, as well as their idea of warfare as a business option, I thought he would examine its roots more. It's a minor complaint, because, as I mentioned, he's simply laying the groundwork.

He gives us much more on the rise of the oligarchy that dominated Japan in the 20th century and still dominates it today. The cast of characters is large and diverse, and I'm not going to go into them here, but Seagrave is able to give us an excellent sense of how Japan has always worked - a few families controlling everything and inter-marrying, with most of the political and economic decisions made in back rooms at family gatherings. He even shows how certain members of this oligarchy are "elected" to take the fall if a scandal ever develops (as it has numerous times over the past 40 years) and go quietly off to a country retirement as a reward for being the scapegoat, while the machinery continues to turn. Seagrave points out that Japan is very far from a "democracy," even though the Americans like to tout their achievements in turning them into a model for Asia. Modern Japan is ruled by a group of families that do not allow true democracy to flourish. Votes count for nothing, and the only thing that happens in Japan is that power rotates among the ruling families. If one of them gets voted out of power, another steps into the breach. Nothing ever changes.

The major focus of Seagrave's book is the Pacific War and its aftermath. This is where he sees the true tragedy of Japan. The emperor, despite having no political power, has great influence - if he chooses to exercise it. Being raised in a cage, the emperor is neutered from an early age, but Hirohito, especially, is a disappointment to Seagrave, as early in his life he was able to travel to Europe in the 1920s and soak up some of the liberal politics there. However, when he returned to Japan and took up his position, he was stifled by the rulers of the country. In the 1930s, a group of soldiers tried to overthrow the militarists who were leading the country into their expansive and ultimately disastrous war in Southeast Asia. They claimed that they were doing it to "rescue" the emperor from the oligarchs (the same thing the oligarchs said in the 1860s about the shogun), but when pressed on it, Hirohito caved and condemned the coup, allowing his country to spiral further into aggression.

The antebellum period also allows Seagrave to examine the influence of the Americans on Japanese politics. American banks got involved early in turning Japan into an economic power, and their investments meant that they had to defend what Japan became in the 1920s and 1930s. After the war, this meant that American lobbyists in Congress, including Herbert Hoover, had great influence over how the Japanese government was restructured (or, more accurately, reconfigured, as the principal players stayed in place) in the late 1940s. Seagrave points out that MacArthur, who desperately wanted to be the Republican presidential nominee in 1948, allowed the business interests in the United States to dictate how Japan would be rebuilt. This, combined with the fear of the spread of communism, meant that true democracy could not be allowed to rise in Japan - those crazy Asians might vote Commie! The Japanese oligarchy also convinced MacArthur and his staff, who had no experience whatsoever with the Japanese psyche, that Hirohito was vital to the healing of the nation, and therefore the emperor - and anyone who "spoke for him," meaning those who really ran the country - had to be spared from any war crimes prosecution. Prime Minister Tojo Hideki, in classic Japanese fashion, became the scapegoat for the war, while the emperor, who could have stepped in a stopped the slaughter going on throughout the East, and his uncle, Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, who was personally in charge of the Rape of Nanking, one of the most heinous organized crimes in history, got off scot-free, both living happily and comfortably for 40 years after the war. They had to be exonerated, because if the Japanese oligarchy allowed the emperor to be punished, their whole way of life might come to an end. MacArthur and the American occupation forces had a golden opportunity to turn Japanese into a democratic model not unlike Germany became in the post-war era, but because the Japanese did not espouse as obvious a reprehensible ideology as the Nazis did, the pressure to remake Japan was not as great as it was in Germany.

Another large focus of the book is the plunder Japan took from the countries they conquered. Japan has never admitted to stealing gold and other treasures from China and the rest of Southeast Asia, and this was used to "prove" that the emperor and his household was broke at the end of the war, despite owning billions in hidden wealth. The OSS and other American groups witnessed the Japanese hiding boxes of bullion in caves in the Philippines, and although some of it has been recovered, MacArthur and the business interests remaking Japan were uninterested in finding it. Despite cries for the past 40 years for restitution, the Japanese government still insists that they not only don't have treasures of other countries, but that they didn't take it in the first place.

Seagrave sees the post-war era in Japan as a great tragedy. The economy, so envied by the West in the 1980s, is spiraling downward now, because it was never a true, robust economy, simply one propped up by the age-old Japanese tradition of bribery and backroom deals that were simply rotated among the ruling families. When it crashed, it could not recover because it wasn't a true cyclical capitalist economy. Seagrave also makes the point that because the Japanese have never confronted the war crimes of their leaders, they can't move past it. The older generation does not want to discuss it, but the younger generation, which didn't experience the war, still feels as if they are held back by these great crimes committed by their government. It was even more pronounced while Hirohito was alive, as the younger generation of Japanese became angry that this old man had been allowed to escape responsibility. When Akihito became emperor, there was great hope that the Japanese could escape their past and begin to move toward a constitutional monarchy on the model of England, but so far Akihito nor his son, Naruhito, has shown any inclination to exert independence and try to change the country. According to Seagrave, until the Japanese confront their past and how their country's political hierarchy is structured, they will not be able to become a functioning member of the world body.

This is a fascinating look at a part of history that often gets overlooked. Whenever we read about Japan and its history in the 20th century, it's all about Tojo and his crimes and Japan's subsequent economic "miracle." We never hear about the attempts by the women of the royal family to change the way the country is run, nor the influence of Christians, mainly Quakers, in how the country is governed (Hoover was a Quaker, and Quakers made great inroads in proselytizing in Japan during the early 20th century), nor how the Americans had but missed an opportunity to turn the country into a democracy. Although the book was written in 1999, I couldn't help but think of our current attempts in Iraq to establish a democracy and how often it's easier to allow the corrupt infrastructure to continue ruling than possibly allow the people to elect someone you don't agree with. Are we willing to allow the Iraqis to elect someone we don't like, all in the interest of democracy? We didn't do it in Japan in the 1940s, because the fear was too great. This led to decades of continuing corruption and a modern feudal society in Japan. We shall see where it leads in Iraq.

¹ Medievalists take note: I love Eleanor of Aquitaine. She is one of the most fascinating women in history. However, I've read a lot about her. I need an Eleanor break.
² I use quotes because the emperor has never really ruled Japan. In every sense of the word, the emperor has always been and always will be a figurehead.


The football picks are back!

After a week off, I thought I'd try this again. So far this year, I'm 40-34 picking games, and that's after being 4 games under .500 after two weeks, so I'm getting better. I'm still waiting for my call from the big-time sports networks.

Tonight's game: MIAMI (-2) 21, Kansas City 16. Miami plays well at home, and it's a weird hurricane condition. The Chiefs just arrived today. Too much to overcome.

ARIZONA (-3.5) 24, Tennessee 14. If the Cardinals lose this game, they might as well start contract negotiations with Matt Leinart.
ST. LOUIS (-3) 24, New Orleans 10. The Rams aren't as good without Marc Bulger, but they're good enough to beat the Saints. Especially if they do what they did in the first quarter of last week's game, and that's run Stephen Jackson.
MINNESOTA (+1.5) 24, Green Bay 17. This is kind of a pick-'em game. The only reason I'm going with the Vikings is because Nancy-Boy Favre sucks in domes. I wouldn't be terribly surprised, however, if the Pack wins by three touchdowns. The Vikings are just that weird.
Indianapolis (-15) 24, HOUSTON 20. The Colts are giving FIFTEEN on the road? Wow. The Texans have probably already called Reggie Bush or even Matt Leinart. They suck. But 15 is a huge number, and the Texans have their pride, don't they? Don't they?
CINCINNATI (-1) 30, Pittsburgh 21. Is Big Ben playing? This pick is based on him playing. If he doesn't, the Bengals win by two touchdowns, easy. Yes, I just used the word "easy" to describe a Cincinnati win. Actually, the only reason I'm picking them is because the game is at home.
PHILADELPHIA (-3.5) 24, San Diego 14. Was the Dallas game the Eagles' "sucky" game that they have every year, or the start of a huge decline? This game will tell. They've had two weeks, the Chargers have to make another trip to the East Coast, Reid gets his boys prepared after a bye week - all the stars are aligned, Eagles, so let's come through, shall we?
CLEVELAND (-3) 31, Detroit 10. How are the Browns only favored by three? Detroit on the road is almost as bad as Arizona on the road. It doesn't matter who is playing QB for the Lions (by the end of the game, it'll be Garcia) - this is a walk for Cleveland. A walk!
WASHINGTON (-12.5) 21, San Francisco 14. How is Washington favored by that much? They're not that good, and the 49ers are awful, sure, but they play hard. Washington wins, but not as easily as people think they will.
SEATTLE (-3) 28, Dallas 17. Give the damned ball to Shaun Alexander, Coach Holmgren! Just do it!
Buffalo (+3) 22, OAKLAND 17. Oakland is favored because they're at home, I imagine. I don't care. They'll commit 19 penalties and the Kelly Holcomb magic works again!
CHICAGO (-1) 10, Baltimore 6. Just like the Ravens-Jets game from a few weeks ago, first team to get a first down wins!
Denver (+2) 26, NEW YORK GIANTS 21. This is a tough pick - the Broncos have been playing well, and I think they carry the momentum from the big win over the Patriots into the swamp and beat the Football Giants, who I think are playing slightly over their heads.
ATLANTA (-7) 31, New York Jets 13 (Monday Night). I don't care if Vick plays or not. The Falcons are too good at home.

There you go, gentle readers. Take that money out of your mattress and head to Vegas. These picks are money!

Adult content? What adult content?

One of the people I wrote about in my epic post about my journey through Pennsylvania mentioned that her husband cannot read my blog at work because his employer has blocked access to it because of "adult content." Last weekend, my father said he is also blocked from viewing this at his place of business, and so is my aunt in Ohio. This is appalling.

I am shocked that any place of business would consider this blog "too adult" for their employers. Long-time readers will know that I'm all about the wholesomeness. I mean, really - everything I have ever linked to on this blog is about family-friendly, wholesome, All-American values. Why, I'm as pure as Ivory Snow! How can anyone say there's things on this blog that the hard-working proletariat in this country shouldn't be allowed to view while they're engaging in that greatest of American traditions, wasting time at work?

Fret not, good readers. When I'm dictator those employers who blocked access to my nascent political ramblings and entertainment options will be disciplined. Oh yes, they will. Heads will roll. And I don't mean that figuratively.

Why I don't get "human" nature

Krys and I had a mini-argument last night. They're always fun. We are refinancing the house and the appraiser came by yesterday without much notice - meaning, he called yesterday morning and came over yesterday afternoon, and I didn't call Krys to tell her that he was coming. This bothered her because I did not mention all the fun stuff we've done to the house to make it nicer, and she would have. I didn't mention it because, you know, I'm stupid.

So she said last night that she wished she could have cleaned up the house a bit. Now, the house is clean, but there's a lot of clutter around. Obviously, when you have kids there is going to be clutter around, but there's also a lot of clutter because I'm lazy. For instance - we had a laundry basket full of clothes that I had not folded yet (I did it last night). She was worried that the appraiser would put a large death's-head mark somewhere on our application because of the clutter.

This is why we argued (I'd say it was a discussion, but whenever I disagree with someone, I raise my voice - I grew up in a family of shouters, so it's genetic). I argued that the appraiser would just look at the physical state of the house because, let's face it, when we sell the house, the pile of laundry won't be there. Krys said it's "human nature" to factor that in - if the appraiser thinks we are messy, he will think that we don't take care of the house. Now, I can see that point, but wouldn't he look at the house to see if we take care of it, rather than deducing it from the clutter? That seems logical. She disagreed.

Krys works in the mortgage industry and has more experience with appraisers, so she's probably right, but I can't believe it. She means to tell me that our house might not be valued as high, even though we had the pool resurfaced, the background landscaped, the walls painted, and the back porch redone, simply because the house was cluttered. If that's human nature, then I want out of this stupid species.


Great songs, according to me (Part 13)

It's kind of a strange list today - unusual songs and bands you might not expect. But that's why this is fun to do - it's all about the controversy! Follow me into the next ten entries on my list of great songs, according to me:

121. D.M.S.R. (by Prince on the album 1999, 1983): There are a lot of good songs on this album, and this is one of them. Prince is still unbelievably funky these days, but he seemed to be having more fun back then (and yes, I own pretty much everything he's done since the mid-1980s). This song is just a celebration of, well, dancing, sex, music, and romance. There's nothing wrong with that. And, as Mr. Nelson himself points out, it ain't no sin to strip right down to your underwear. That's a fine Bible he's reading!

122. Daddy I'm Fine (by Sinéad O'Connor on the album Faith and Courage, 2000): I have always been a big fan of Ms. O'Connor's, even when she went crazy. She can still write damned good music. This is a triumphant howl justifying her life to her father, and it feels great. It starts off quietly then ramps up to full throttle, with the wacky Irish lass spitting out such great lyrics as "And feel real hot when my makeup's right like I wanna fuck every man in sight." Sinéad! So shocking! You might not agree with her very often, but she can sing a mean song.

123. Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta (by the Geto Boys on the Office Space soundtrack, 1999): The song is actually from 1992, but most white people, I would guess, know it from Office Space. And just because white boys know it doesn't make it any less awesome. It's such a great laid-back tune, and although it drops the "n-word" a little often, in rap songs I tend to overlook that. Mostly it's a relatively fun song, but there's that hint of darkness behind it, and that's what makes it great. Plus, it fits in well in the movie. Go watch Office Space if you haven't seen it! Holy crap it's a fine film.

124. Dancing With Myself (by Generation X on the album Kiss Me Deadly, 1981): This is the only Gen X album I own, and I haven't listened to it in years, because it's really not that good. However, the early version of "Dancing With Myself" is excellent - nice and raw and less polished than when Billy Idol took it when the band broke up and redid it. You all know the song - what else is there to say? A paean to the loneliness of punks. Poor punks.

125. The Day Before You Came (by ABBA on the album More ABBA Gold, 1982): I was just listening to this on my travels, and I was reminded again how good it was, and how incongruous. Yes, the music on this song almost kills it - it sounds like a Casio, seriously, and almost ruins the painful words poor Agnetha is trying to sing. Ultimately, it's a happy song, as presumably her life is a lot better now that it's a day after you came, but to hear her sing of the joylessness of life without love is to re-experience it yourself, and really, who wants to do that? That damned music, though ...

126. A Day In The Life (by the Beatles on the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967): I mentioned way back when I began this exercise that my great songs list would be woefully incomplete because of my lack of ownership of some of what many people would consider "the great bands." Hence, longtime readers may have noticed a lack of this Liverpuddlian group, as well as certain seminal combos like the Stones that Roll. It's not that I don't like them, I just never got around to buying their albums. I like the Beatles and the Stones a lot, but once you grow up listening to classic rock stations and hearing them six thousand times a day, your desire to actually buy the albums wanes a bit. This is a good album, though. This is an excellent song. 'Nuff said, I think.

127. Days That Used To Be (by Neil Young and Crazy Horse on the album Ragged Glory, 1990): See, Young's another guy I should like more, and whose work I should own more of. This is the only Neil Young album I own (with or without Crazy Horse), and it's decent enough, but nothing that makes me hurl myself out of my chair to the nearest record store and pick up his entire catalogue. That being said, this is a nice song, laced with bittersweet yearnings for lost friends and a sense of purpose. I'm kind of a sucker for songs laced with bittersweet yearnings for lost friends and a sense of purpose, so this hits me in the gut. Good job, Neil.

128. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground (by the White Stripes on the album White Blood Cells, 2002): Ah, the White Stripes. I wondered if they peaked with this album when it showed up on Spin's Top 100 list. Even if they never approach this, White Blood Cells is a brilliant album, and this song kicks off the whole thing. That twangy, nasty guitar, those subtly creepy lyrics, Jack's weird, off-key, occasionally whispery singing - this was my introduction to the band, after hearing a lot about them, and I was blown away. It's a great song, but putting it first on the album was a masterstroke.

129. Dead Man's Road (by Cinderella on the album Heartbreak Station, 1990): By the time this, their third album, came out, Cinderella had pretty much left the big hair behind and were concentrating more on the blues. That's not to say they left all the trappings of Hair Metal behind - there's a power ballad on this album - but they were branching out musically and lyrically, and this song is a perfect example. It's a swampy little tune straight from the bayou, and even though Keifer snarls his way through it like he does the more metal stuff, it's with a bluesy sensibility missing from a lot of the other hair bands of this era. It's one reason I like Cinderella, despite the fact that they still had the hair working for them.

130. Dear Friend (by Fish on the album Internal Exile, 1991): Fish's second album is full of songs that showcase his brilliant lyrics and his occasionally maudlin romanticism, and this one shows off another side of him: his nostalgic longings. It's a song about an old friend whom he hasn't seen in a while, and how he has moved on from the craziness of youth but wonders if the friend still thinks about the "good old days." It's a clever song, not bogged down by how wonderful everything was when they were wild, but still remembering that once the world was their oyster. It also contains some nice references to old Marillion songs, the band from whom Fish split a few years before this album came out. It's a somewhat sad tune, but happy even through that.

As usual, if you have anything to say, I'm a tough guy - I can take it. I actually appreciate hearing about all these songs I may have missed, because it gives me something to shop for - like I need to spend more money. In case you're interested (I know people who read this blog have nothing better to do with their time), you can check out the first 120 great songs:
Part One.
Part Two.
Part Three.
Part Four.
Part Five.
Part Six.
Part Seven.
Part Eight.
Part Nine.
Part Ten.
Part Eleven.
Part Twelve.