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!


Things I learned about men from an issue of Cosmopolitan

My mother-in-law was here last week, and she brought with her the June 2006 issue of Cosmopolitan. I told her to leave it here so I could look through it and see what they say about men, because it's always interesting to see what women think about men. You can believe me or not, by the way, about that story - I know some of you will think I subscribe to such a fine publication!

On page 70, ladies can find out how to tell if a guy is looking for love or just sex. These signs are accompanied, of course, by pictures of shirtless guys. Here's one: A half-smile means he's looking for sex. Also, a long, piercing gaze, even though you might think he's smitten, is unnatural, and it means he's trying real hard to seduce you. Meanwhile, if he laughs easily or interlocks his hand with yours, he's looking for love. So there you go.

On page 76, we learn things to tell your man to, presumably, turn him on: you occasionally go without underwear; you have sexual fantasies; you have looked at porn; you, um, pleasure yourself. Do women really need to be told that men enjoy hearing all four of those things?

Page 136 gives us erotic water positions. I'm not even going into those!

Apparently, men hate to talk and like to have sex. So on page 140, we get the secrets to really understanding each other. When you're on a long trip and your man doesn't want to talk, women should learn to just shut up (hey, I'm only writing their advice, although they say it more nicely). Of course, according to Cosmo, if you have something really important to say, it's a good time, because men feel more comfortable talking side to side rather than face to face. But don't push him! Most of this article is about how men don't like to talk. Strange.

On page 152, we get annoying traits of men and how to turn them into a positive. Most of them are fine, but one of them made me laugh: He doesn't make a lot of dough. What an annoying "trait." The answer, surprisingly, isn't "try to be less shallow."

Page 156 gives women advice on how to turn a "friend" into a "boyfriend." As someone who had big problems approaching women in high school and therefore accumulated a lot of female friends but few girlfriends (I was the "good listener"), this one is easy: tell him you want to jump his bones. That should work.

All of this advice is bizarre, not because it's necessarily wrong, but a lot of it seems to imply that men will never change and that women need to adapt to make a relationship work. They don't say so in so many words, but that's the implication. I always tell Krys that women's magazines are some of the worst perpetuators of stereotypes about women around, and Cosmo seems to be the leader in that regard. But I guess if changing your personality gets you a man, then all is right with the world. Right?

So, ladies, heed Cosmo's advice. It will lead to sexual and romantic fulfillment. And don't even consider asking your man to change. That's just foolish.

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Some random pictures on Picture Day before we head for the desert!

I could have posted more pictures of people you don't know, but I decided to skip those and head right back out to nature. In March 1997 Krys and I, along with my mom, went to the desert in Eastern Oregon. But first, some random photos!

These two pictures are on Sauvie Island, which is a neat place not to far northwest of Portland. This was not the first time we visited, but it was the first time with a camera. I miss real nature.

This is the first picture of our new cat! I took this picture in February 1997, a few months after Krys's cat died. When we moved to Portland Jezebel stayed behind, and we finally brought her out in August 1996. Just before Christmas she died, rather mysteriously. We were very upset and decided to wait a while before getting a new one. At the animal shelter, Zoe was the friendliest cat, so we took her home. Little did we know she would turn into the evil creature she is today!

(That's a bit unfair. She is very friendly, unless you pet her too much. Then she turns on you quickly. She also does not like the children, but luckily for all concerned she stays away from them most of the time.)

Then, in March, we were off to the desert - more specifically, Kah Nee Ta resort and casino on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon. It's amazing how once you cross the Cascades, you're into the desert - we had been there briefly once before, when we drove the Mackenzie River Highway, but this time we spent a few days there, and it's weird knowing that it's there just over the mountains when the western part of the state is so lush.

Here's the road leading to the resort. The lonely road through the desert ...

I love the choice lands the Indians got for their reservation.

Here are some pictures of the area with people in them. Krys, my mom, and me, to be specific. The casino is decent, I suppose - kind of small. They gave us $20 with which to gamble, and on low ante blackjack tables (I think the minimum was $3), I can play for a long time with twenty bucks. So it was fun. The second picture I like because it looks as if Krys and I are trying not to fall down. The wind was really strong out there! And I dig the last picture because it looks like I really have something on my mind. Nothing deep, I can assure you of that!

The resort had a pool, as all good resorts do, and it was heated, so we enjoyed the 80-degree temperature while it was 30 degrees outside. My mom took a lot of pictures of the pool, which was weird. This is the only one with people in it, so she couldn't even use that as an excuse:

Driving home, we took a neat picture of Mount Hood from the east. We rarely saw it this way, so we were jazzed by it. Yes, we're geeks.

So that was our brief sojourn to the desert. Little did we know that soon we would call a worse desert home!

Nik has much better pictures of Eastern Oregon, by the way. Go here and here to check them out!

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What I've been reading

The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert. 338 pages, 2004, Washington Square Press.

I know - I don't read a book for months, and now I've burned through two in not very long. And guess what? I'm almost done another one!

I hate pull quotes like the one on the cover of this book: "If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you'll love The Intelligencer." On the back is another one: "Shakespeare in Love meets James Bond." I don't know why - those kind of quotes really bother me. Maybe I'm too snotty.

But this is a perfectly fine book. It's better written than The Da Vinci Code, which doesn't elevate it to fine fiction, I know, since Dan Brown's book was written as if by a ten-year-old. The Intelligencer is more interesting than Brown's book, too, even though it's not as exciting. Brown's chapters are all a few pages punctuated by a cliffhanger. It's a cheap way to keep us turning pages, but it gets annoying after a while. Silbert is a little more interesting in telling a story, so although plenty of chapters end with mini-cliffhangers, they don't feel as shameless as those in The Da Vinci Code. But enough about that book! What about this book?

Well, first of all, it's a thriller with, unfortunately, more than one mystery, which weakens both of them. The first mystery is the better of the two, not only because it deals with Christopher Marlowe, for whom I am a sucker (despite never having read any of his plays or even seen one performed), but because it is more of a mystery. Silbert writes a fictional version of Marlowe's final days, and "solves" the strange circumstances of his death. Marlowe may or may not have been a spy, which allows Silbert to examine briefly the Elizabethan espionage world, another topic I am fiercely interested in (and why I dig Marlowe despite my woeful lack of knowledge about his plays). In the book, Kate Morgan, a private investigator (hmmm ... Kate Morgan/Kit Marlowe?), is hired to decode a book of seemingly random papers from Elizabethan times. The man who hires her, Cidro Medina, is an idle rich Englishman whose contractors found the book while they were building for him. Kate discovers that the book belonged to Thomas Phelippes, a senior member of the Earl of Essex's espionage group in the 1590s, and believes it is part of a collection of papers that Phelippes took from Sir Francis Walsingham, the father of Elizabethan espionage, on Walsingham's death in 1590. As she deciphers the messages, she begins to think that the papers also contain clues to why Christopher Marlowe was killed in May 1593. Marlowe was killed in a tavern, supposedly during a dispute over the bill, but conspiracy theorists since have pooh-poohed this explanation and searched for deeper reasons. If Marlowe was a spy (there is scant evidence that he was, but nothing conclusive), his murder becomes much more sinister, as the men he was with that evening - Robert Poley, Ingram Frizer, and Nicholas Skeres - were all connected to the spy network of either the Earl of Essex or Sir Robert Cecil. Poley was one of the more famous spies of the age. Before she went into the private investigator racket, Kate Morgan was a scholar of Elizabethan spying, so she is perfectly equipped to deal with this. She is being stalked, however, by someone who believes the notes reveal something that Marlowe knew about a high-ranking official in Elizabeth's government that could embarrass the descendants of that official. Prestige among English nobility is still valued highly, and Morgan figures out that the secret could still be damaging to the descendants of the official.

Silbert switches back and forth between the present day and May 1593, and the device works fine. Marlowe goes about his last days, working both sides of the fence (Essex and Cecil were rivals for the position of Secretary of State, and therefore tried to discover secrets about each other as much as they tried to discover plots against England) and uncovering the secret that someone is willing to kill for 400 years later. Meanwhile, Morgan decodes the notebook. However, Silbert throws another plot into the works, and this is where the book goes a bit off track, even though it remains a good read.

Morgan works for a private investigation firm run by an ex-CIA agent. This agent also does some contract work for the government. The firm discovers that a world-famous art dealer who also works in the black market has been meeting with a member of Iranian intelligence. The art dealer has bought something from the Iranian, and Kate is given the job of discovering what it is. This plot twists in and out of the Marlowe one, and it turns out to be far more personal to Kate. She thinks at one point that it would be a remarkable coincidence if the two cases linked up, but they never do. I suppose that's a point for Silbert, to keep them separate when the temptation had to have been there to link them, but it keeps the book somewhat disjointed. Just when the Marlowe plot is taking off, we get the other plot. Just when that is taking off, we're back to Marlowe. I understand that the Marlowe plot just doesn't quite have enough to pack a book, and therefore Silbert needed more in order to have a decent-sized novel, but it's kind of weird and interrupts the flow of the book. Perhaps Silbert could have fleshed out either idea a bit more so that she could have written two books! The other frustrating thing is that the secondary plot, which deals with Kate's life both before she became a private investigator and after, is setting up the next book. That's fine if you want to start a franchise, but shouldn't you make sure that the first one is successful before you start laying the groundwork for a series?

Despite that, this is an entertaining book. It's always interesting to read a thriller that is not a huge conspiracy theory (this is a minor one, and not as far-reaching as many that are imagined) or that doesn't involve religious figures, who are whipping boys for thrillers a lot. It's also interesting to read one in which the fate of the world isn't at stake. I would think that might make it less thrilling, but just because the stakes aren't ridiculously high doesn't mean we can't get invested in the characters and be drawn along by the plot. This is a quick, fun read, with a good pulpy plot, and better written than you might expect. And it has Christopher Marlowe!!!!

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Birthday girl!

Yesterday was Norah's first birthday, by the way. Read more about it and check out some pictures here!

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Things that still blow my mind years later

I can't get over that Iscandar was the sister planet of Gamilon. Holy crap, that floored me.

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Unmarried men! Heed the advice of a veteran!

I am finishing my twelfth year of marriage, so although I still have a while before I can be called a Master, I still know quite a bit. A few words of advice, then, for any bachelors who wander over here:

1. My mother-in-law is visiting right now, so Krys went out with her on Sunday to shop. Krys doesn't really like to shop all that much, but she's still a woman. She said, "I don't think we'll be gone all day." Men: when a woman says that to you, she is a LIAR! She might not mean to be, but she is still a liar! Whether you want it or not, you're on your own for the day. Krys said this has she was leaving at 10 a.m. She and her mom didn't get back until 3.30. Women might count that as not being "all day," but trust me - it is. I always attribute this to her "laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle" (she's Italian), but I believe it's a chick thing.

2. We got a nice print to hang in the bathroom. I got in the shower without touching it and at that very moment it fell off the wall and landed behind the toilet. I was already wet, so I wasn't getting out of the shower to fetch it - I would have gotten it later. Krys heard the crash and came in. If a man came in (well, if I came in - maybe not all men), he would say "What happened?" However, my wife, being married to a doofus, came in and said "What did you do?" Of course I must have done something!

Fret not about these things, men. Part of the glorious dance that is marriage means learning to deal with idiosyncrasies. I have plenty, and Krys just deals with them. But if you're a man planning on getting married, I have to say this: you will always be blamed for everything, and women have no sense of time.

That is all.

But not quite! Today the plumber came to our house because our garbage disposal was backed up. It was very vexing. He got inside and discovered several small stones. What could that be? He said it looked like someone had been cleaning a fish tank. Ah ha! Only Krys does that in this house! She, unfortunately, was not at home when the plumber arrived, but I was able to claim a small victory when she came home. It was accidental, but the stones still got down the drain. Yay, it wasn't my fault! Of course, in years to come I am sure somehow it will be miraculously transformed into my fault. Such is life in a marriage. Again, men, you can't fight it, so you might as well roll with it.

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If you don't like nature, Picture Day has no use for you!

Yes, it's a lot of green today! After we left Seattle in 1996 we took the long way back to Portland - we drove completely around the edge of the Olympic Peninsula, that big thumb thing west of Seattle. It's chock full of nature! Let's allow the nature to just wash over us!

Apparently, if the propaganda is to be believed, on the Olympic Peninsula sits the only rain forest in North America. That might be true or not, but I can't remember the definition of rain forest - it looks like a forest to me. It's still cool. Like this gnarled tree:

Lots of water up there, too. Nice streams and such:

Finally, that's my mom. She's standing on a petrified tree. You can barely tell it's a tree, but it sure is!

We didn't drive through Aberdeen, which is where Kurt Cobain lived, but apparently we didn't miss anything. We did stop at Port Angeles, which is actually a nice little town. The Olympic Peninsula is a pretty nifty place. If you're ever in Seattle, head west to check out some nature!

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What's the big deal with fathers anyway?

I thought I could do some links this week, but after a few days during which I had some time to surf the web, I ran into obstacles. The kids are actually taking up a lot of my time - imagine that!

So it's Father's Day, and although I don't buy into these ridiculous Hallmark-mandated holidays (I'm not knocking it, because I got a few books from the wife, but it's still silly), it is a good day to reflect on fatherhood and what it means in today's world.

I love being a father. Despite yelling at my kids when they don't do what they should (well, Mia gets the brunt of it, because she understands me, but Norah knows the word "no" now, so she gets a little of it) and realizing that I shouldn't yell at them because it will eventually turn them into serial killers, I really enjoy being a father. In our society, there is a lot of debate about "traditional" families and how those crazy gays and lesbians want to destroy it and how can two women raise a child when kids need a father, damn it! That's what the "traditionalists" say, anyway. Well, maybe, maybe not. Lots of fine people have been raised by single mothers, just as lots of fine people have been raised by single fathers. Fatherhood, however, still doesn't get a lot of respect, which is strange.

Part of this is due to feminism. Yes, I'm going to attack feminism! Well, not really - the basic tenet of feminism, it seems to me, is that women should be treated as human beings and not chattel, which is certainly a noble thing. Feminists, for the large part, are not man-hating harpies, as the conservative right would have you believe, but a vocal segment of feminists claim that one woman can do the job of two people (whether they are women or men doesn't really matter). In child rearing, this means that a single mother is just as capable as a woman married to a man, or two women, or two men. This is where fathers become downgraded and even extraneous, and it bothers me. Because no single person can do as good a job, especially in raising a child, as two people can. We are, of course, talking about committed individuals - if one part of the couple isn't interested, it could be far more damaging than a single person raising a kid. Because mothers are seen as having a far more emotional attachment to their children - they did, after all, carry them in their wombs for nine months - fathers are the ones written out of the equation.

This bugs me, as it should everyone. Again, I'm not going to bash single mothers, most of whom have no choice in the matter. However, you can't tell me that a devoted single mother is a better choice to raise a child than two devoted parents, which usually means a mother and a father (not to downplay gay couples raising kids, but I suspect their numbers are miniscule). First, single mothers usually have to work, and work a lot, and this cuts down on time spent with the children. Kids need to spend time with their parents, and that's difficult when the single parent has to work all the time just to provide the necessities for their kids. In America, obviously both parents have to work often, which presents the same problems, but at least parents who both work can try to juggle their schedules. The extra income is nice, too. In a household where only one parent has to work, like mine, the kids benefit from the time they get with the parent who stays home. If Krys were a single parent, she would probably be forced to move closer to her home because she wouldn't be able to afford the kind of child care that Mia needs. And if Mia were in a "regular" day care (which she probably wouldn't be, because they wouldn't take her, but let's imagine), she wouldn't get the care she needs. We're lucky that I get to stay home, but the situation is the same in households with two parents - the kids get to bond with their parent, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that makes for better kids.

Fathers in the equation are often discounted because they have always been seen as the breadwinners. Ironically, in our post-feminist world, stay-at-home dads are still seen as a bit of an anomaly, mainly because even after all the advances feminists have made, men still get paid more and are hardwired to a certain extent to believe they must be the providers in a family. A small example of this: above the title of Parenting magazine is the tag line: "What really matters to moms." [Emphasis mine, obviously.] The articles are largely mom-centric, although not overwhelmingly so. There still seems to be an unspoken criticism of stay-at-home dads, as if they can't provide for their families and there's no possible way they could be as good a parent as the mother. It's a bizarre double-standard, and one that is slowly changing as more fathers stay home with their kids and more mothers stay in the workplace. I'm certainly not saying I'm any better than Krys as a parent - I'm different, but not better. But I think I do a pretty good job when I am home alone with Mia and Norah, and they seem to have a good time, too.

The biggest problem with fathers today is fathers themselves. Men in general are weird in different ways than women are, and unfortunately, neither gender wants to admit that they can learn stuff from the other. Men, I think, find raising children less macho than they should, and therefore often pass off to mothers the nuts and bolts of it. This has a lot to do, I think, with the way men are raised - not necessarily poorly, but it does seem a lot more difficult for men to be as emotionally connected to their children. I love Mia and Norah more than anything, but I think Krys feels more connected to them - again, because she carried them inside her. That allows me, I believe, to be a little more objective about them. Krys spoils them more. Part of this is because she's a woman, and part of this is because she's not around them for hours and hours on end. When she gets home from work, they pine for her, and she indulges them a little more than I do. I shouldn't write "spoil" because I don't think they're spoiled. I suppose she's more attendant to them - I ignore them a lot, because I think they need to figure things out for themselves. Well, not Mia, but Norah. I've had to stop typing this twice because she has wandered off, and I looked around and realized she was far away. So I had to follow her - I'll ignore her, but I don't want her getting into trouble! Krys doesn't do that - she sits with them and talks to them more than I do, and I don't know what's better. I think it's good that they get a mixture of both styles. But I still love them dearly, and I can't imagine being the kind of father who doesn't show them how much I love them. Fathers need to realize that showing emotions doesn't make you less manly, while mothers need to realize that smothering your kids with kisses doesn't mean you love them more than fathers do. The balance between mother and father helps kids, I think, to be more well-rounded. Krys and I both have different skills as adults, and I hope we can pass on both to our kids. I know I'm going to teach them not to "throw like girls," because Krys sure won't be able to!

It's a shame in society that fathers often end up the deadbeats and losers in a relationship, but it also seems like bad fathers get more publicity than bad mothers. In Arizona, as I'm sure around the country, there is a bit of an epidemic of boyfriends killing the children of their girlfriends. The men get the worst of it, naturally, but only until recently did the state start holding the women responsible as well - the kids, after all, are theirs, and often they're more concerned about pleasing the boyfriend than making sure their kids are safe. There are bad father and bad mothers, but for some reason we always try to find excuses for bad mothers - they're insane, they're depressed - instead of just recognizing that some people are bad parents. We have no problem trashing a dad who does something horrible, after all.

So it's a day to celebrate fathers, and that's fine. I think being a dad is a wonderful thing, and I'm very glad Krys and I decided to have kids, even though they drive me insane occasionally. It's also nice to see that we are continually breaking down stereotypes of both men and women, because that can only benefit both the kids and the family unit in general. Kids flourish in families - no matter what kind - and that's what's important. Isn't it?

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What I've been reading

God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan by Jonathan D. Spence.
400 pages, 1996, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Man, it's been a while since I finished a book. I was trying to read some of the magazines that I subscribe to, and then, of course, there was my spectacular failure to get far in The Gulag Archipelago, so it's been some time. I finally decided to move to the next book in my alphabetical list, and I was glad it was this one!

Spence is a bit of a China expert, and I read his book The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which was about the revolution, and liked it, so I figured this would be a good read. For those of you who are weak on your Chinese history, the Taiping ("Great Peace") movement was a millenarian Christian movement led by the charismatic Hong Xiuquan in the mid-nineteenth century. Hong believed that he was Jesus' younger brother, hence the name of the book. It's a fascinating time period in Chinese history, as the Western Powers were encroaching on Chinese soil and fighting wars to force the Chinese to import opium, while the Qing dynasty, ethnically different from most Chinese, were holding onto power by the slimmest of threads while rebellions mushroomed all around them. The Taiping rebellion was the most successful of these, but even with God's blessing, it could not displace the ruling dynasty and usher in Hong's Heavenly Kingdom. It went down in flames, but not before making a huge impression on China and the way the West dealt with the Chinese.

Spence traces the roots of Hong's movement back to apocalyptic movements predating Christianity, but quickly brings us to Canton in the 1830s, where Hong Huoxiu (his given name) takes the Confucian exams that is the gateway to civil service in the vast Chinese bureaucracy and always fails them. Canton, Spence tells us, is a place where several Western powers have their trading depots, and it's a strange melange of Western thought and Chinese traditionalism. In 1836 he met Edwin Stevens, a missionary from New England, and got a hold of several Christian tracts by Liang Afa, who had attempted to distill Christian thought into a form the Chinese would understand. Hong at first didn't read the tracts, but in 1837 he fell ill and had a dream. This dream would inform the rest of his life and lead to countless deaths. In his dream, Hong goes to heaven. While there he learns that he is God's son, and Jesus is his brother. God wants him to return to earth to destroy "the demon devils" that have wrecked the world. He also has to change his name, because "quan" means "completeness," and this experience has left him complete. So Hong Huoxiu becomes Hong Xiuquan. When he woke, he initially lashed out at his family members, but eventually calmed down.

Hong's revelation lay dormant for years, and in the meantime, the British fought the Opium War. This strange war with China, forcing the Chinese to accept shipments of opium even though they tried to ban it, leads to several things, not the least of which is the founding of Hong Kong, but it also leads Hong to finally read Liang's tracts with a critical eye. As he read them, he came to believe that Liang was talking specifically about China and the situation as it now exists. The "demon devils" are obviously the ruling Manchus, foreigners from the far north, and Hong is supposed to cleanse the country of them. It all becomes clear!

Hong left his home and went west into the mountains of southern China, where he met up with some relatives and other Chinese Christians who called themselves the "God-worshipping Society." They attacked traditional Chinese gods and Confucius, and were often persecuted, but they managed to recruit several powerful families in the area to their cause, which shielded them from the worst punishment. Hong was also able to bring bandits - the Triads - into the fold, because they were also outlaws in the eyes of the Qing and the British, and were also good fighters. For several years the Taiping movement remained localized, but Hong gathered a great many people to his cause. Two men, Xiao Chaogui and Yang Xiuqing, became part of his inner circle, and Xiao began channeling Jesus and Yang channeled God. Their proclamations when they are speaking with Jesus' or God's voices became part of Taiping law. The Qing were largely disorganized in the area and Hong's power grew until he was able to challenge the army directly. He spoke of a Heavenly Kingdom where all his followers could live in peace, but he was very careful to never say exactly where this kingdom would be nor when it would come about.

In 1850 the situation changed - the Qing forces were able to root out the Taipings, and Hong was forced into action. In a great march north, he led his now large army from Guangxi province to Changsha, outwitting and outfighting the Qing but for one disaster in northern Guangxi. They were thwarted at Changsha, but they simply continued north to Wuchang on the Yangzi River, and then downriver to Nanjing. It was a spectacular campaign of coordination, covering thousands of miles and involving tens of thousands of people - men, women, and children. In 1853 the Taiping army broke in to Nanjing and founded their Earthly Paradise. It lasted until 1864.

The Taiping didn't want to stop in Nanjing. They tried to seize Shanghai, but were rebuffed by Westerners. They sent armies north to strike at Beijing, but the campaign fell apart. Hong, meanwhile, set himself up with his various sub-kings and ruled his Paradise. The Taiping, like all fundamentalist movements, wanted to control every aspect of life, and while they did not succeed throughout the areas under their control (a great swath of central China in the 1850s), they were able to dominate life in Nanjing. And, of course, the various factions began squabbling with each other. One of Hong's oldest friends, Feng Yungshan, died on the march north, and Xiao, the voice of Jesus, died outside Changsha. Yang became more and more powerful, as God spoke through him constantly, even going so far as to criticize Hong. In 1856, during a power struggle, Yang and his entire family and several thousand of his supporters were slaughtered by Wei Changhui, another sub-king, and Qin Rigang, who were in turn put to death, despite having acted under Hong's orders. Nanjing became a ghost town, as Western merchants were refused entry and commerce came to a halt. Hong did allow Westerners to visit the city, because several of the Powers - the British and the French most notably - were interested in his brand of Christianity, but they were never allowed to meet with him and they came away disgusted by his "blasphemy" of equating himself with Jesus. Finally, in 1864, after years of fighting, the Qing army was able to attack Nanjing directly. Hong had gotten ill, and passed away quietly on 1 June 1864. His son and heir, along with the last remnants of his advisers, fled the city, but they were all captured and executed. His son was not yet fifteen.

The story of Hong Xiuquan is certainly compelling, and Spence tells it with an interesting twist. While he goes over the events of the Taiping movement well enough, he is much more interested in Hong's proclamations, his relationship with God and Jesus, his hierarchy, and his exotic brand of Christianity. Therefore, the book is filled with quotes from Hong's many writings, which attempt to forge a new kind of religion from the Bible and Chinese folk religion. Hong is even more strict than the Bible, and when he reads something he doesn't like - Lot's incest with his daughters, for example - he simply excises it from the published work. Spence does a good job explaining the context of southern China in the 1830s, when Hong began his mission. Once the Taipings arrive in Nanjing, he focuses less on the political events and more on the society that Hong attempted to build and the power struggles inside the movement. It's a good way to tell the story, because even though we lose some of the exterior drama of the downfall of the Earthly Paradise, we still get a good sense of why it fell apart and how the hubris of humans - imagine that! - gets in the way of building a utopia. Another interesting thing Spence does is never comment on the actuality of Hong's visions. They are presented as fact, without irony, and Xiao and Yang are never said to be faking it when they speak with Jesus' or God's voices. It's interesting, because we in this cynical age might be tempted to tear down the artifice of Hong's vision and call it delusion, and certainly others at the time did so. Even if we think Hong was mad, Spence does not say so, and it is up to us to interpret what is going on in the mind of Hong Xiuquan and his followers. How much did they believe? How much did they claim to believe but didn't? How many of them were opportunists? Some might think this is a weakness in the book, but there's no way to tell exactly how cynical Hong and his followers were - if they were at all - so it's best to present their written statements and leave it up to us.

The book is written in a slightly jarring style - it's in the present tense, which feels weird at the beginning but becomes more natural as you read. It also ends poorly. Spence ends the book with the execution of Hong's son and then a very brief paragraph musing about the influx of Westerners into China. The Taiping movement is not placed in any historical context, which is strange, because it lasted for 20 years and dominated Chinese politics for ten. It also weakened the Manchus considerably, and forced them to turn to foreigners for assistance, which led to a whole host of other problems. It's a strange way to finish, because it leads people to believe that this entire movement occurred in a vacuum, which is untrue. It's a minor complaint, however, because the book is pretty gripping - Spence has access to Taiping documents, obviously, and we get deep into the movement and experience the rapture and the horror of this deranged - my word, obviously, because I'm cynical - man. It's a fascinating book.

If you're interested, Caleb Carr wrote a book about the Taiping movement, too: The Devil Soldier. His book, however, is about Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who was hired by the Manchus to fight the Taiping. Ward was killed in 1862 but became a Chinese folk hero. That's an interesting book, as well.

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The word of Picture Day is ... awesome!

Today we visit (or revisit, since the trip happened 10 years ago) the Emerald City, Seattle. In May 1996 Krys and I took our first trip to Seattle. We went with my parents and stayed in an apartment that Krys's boss rented for when she needed to go up there. The woman wouldn't buy a dying man in the desert a glass of water, but she spent like a lord when it suited her, and we reaped the benefit!

Seattle is, in case you're wondering, awesome. It's the adjective of the day, in fact! I have long had a strange fascination with Seattle - I decided in the early 1980s that I would root for the Mariners, and I don't know why. Probably the awesome hats they had back then with the trident on it. I still own one. Then the Seahawks drafted Curt Warner from Penn State, and that sealed it. Seattle was like the New Jerusalem in my book. When we left school we thought about going to Seattle, but we did some research and found out it's ridiculously expensive. Still is, apparently. So that put the kibosh on living there, but it's still a neat place to visit. I shall now prove that to you!

We'll start with a nice picture of me and the missus standing in front of one of the many totem poles in the city. Because I am a supreme fashionista, I still have that shirt. Because I'm, you know, awesome.

This is my mom and dad with some stuff in the background. Actually, it's the Kingdome, which ain't there no more. They blew that sucker up a few years ago. I find it pretty cool to have photographs of things that no longer exist. That may be just me.

If you're in Seattle, you must visit Pike Place Market. It's very awesome. My mother was dying to go to the fish-flinging place, so we had to check it out. I tried to get a picture of a fish in the air, but this is the closest I got. I like the sign warning about low flying fish. Ha!

If you go to Seattle, you must take the underground tour. You MUST! Seattle is built between two bodies of water on a narrow strip of land, and it slants drastically down to Puget Sound. This leads to mudslides and such, which means that the cities has lots o' layers, and the tour takes you around to various places that have been buried over the years. It's very - you guessed it - awesome. I only took one picture because it's dark. But this one gives you an idea of what it looks like down there.

If you go to Seattle, you must go up in the Space Needle. You MUST! Since we were with my parents, we ate dinner at the ridiculously overpriced rotating restaurant at the top of the tower. The food was okay, but decidedly not awesome. The view was, though. Views of cities from the tops of high buildings are awesome. That's the Kingdome again, with Mount Rainier a bit hazy way in the background.

This is Queen Anne hill, just north of downtown. Frasier Crane lived there, apparently, but I didn't see any kind of high-rise apartment building like he lived in. It's almost as if he didn't exist. But that couldn't be, could it? If you're rich and live in Seattle, this neighborhood is apparently on of the places to be. I'm sure Serene lives there!

We took a boat ride around Seattle, beginning in Lake Washington, heading through the canal north of downtown, and into Puget Sound. Lots of houseboats on the lake, so why on earth would I take a picture of this one? Because it's where Tom Hanks lived in Sleepless in Seattle! Ah, yes, who could forget that classic? It would be awesome to live on the lake.

Why would I post this picture of a small bird near a lock on the canal? Tell me what is strange about this! I double-dog dare you!

This is looking straight up at the Space Needle. We visited during the NBA playoffs, and the SuperSonics were making a run to the Finals. They ended up losing to the Chicago Jordans.

Finally, there is the Fremont Troll. Gaze in wonder on the Fremont Troll! A while ago Thomas was having problems finding the Troll. I hope he found it. It is, of course, awesome.

If you're looking for a very cool city to visit, you should think about Seattle. Especially in the summertime. It's a beautiful place, and quite awesome.

Next week: the Olympic Peninsula!

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Great songs, according to me (Part 22)

It's been a while, so I thought I'd continue the Award-Winning Series! I know you can't live without knowing what songs I think are great!

As usual, links to the rest of the list: the archive of parts 1-15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21. Enjoy the selections!

211. Given To Fly (by Pearl Jam on the album Yield, 1998): One of the forgotten classics in Pearl Jam's song list, this song begins with Eddie's standard mumbling, which bugs me a bit, but I forgive it because when he lets loose, there is such power and passion in his voice. The music kicks in just as Eddie screams, "He's flying" and we feel the same way. It's a nice song that matches the feeling of flying with coming back to earth. It's also a nice Christian song without really preaching. I wonder if Eddie wrote it to be a Christian song. He doesn't strike me as one.

212. The Globe (by Big Audio Dynamite on the album The Globe, 1991): BAD never really took off, but this album is a blast of party music with a slight leftist edge, and that ain't bad. This song is the perfect example of the album - bouncy, danceable, a wee bit funky, and easily digestible pseudo-political lyrics that never get in the way of the fun. And it has lung cancer advice, too: "What's the health department got to say? Don't smoke more than fifty fags a day." Mick Jones - always looking out for you!

213. Glory Girl (by Amanda Ghost on the album Ghost Stories, 2000): This is a very good and largely ignored album, by a performer who I haven't heard much from since (but who is apparently working on something new). Ghost has a strong and strangely off-kilter voice (occasionally she lisps, which adds a weird edge to her songs), and on this tune, she shows off its power. She's singing about a lost girl who needs to find her way, and we're never sure if she's talking about herself. The music is nostalgic (in a good way) and Ghost's voice adds a nice touch of melancholy.

214. Go! (by Marillion on the album, 1999): Marillion is certainly excellent at these kinds of songs, where the music and vocals start softly and build slowly to a climax. In this song, however, the blast of noise never comes, and the climax is instead soft yet still very powerful. Hogarth sings about never accepting a rut in your life and breaking out into something special, and the final refrain - "Wide awake at the end of the world" - lingers long after the song is over. It's a beautiful song on a very good album.

215. Gold (by 0+> (Prince) on the album The Gold Experience, 1995): This is by far the best Prince album of the 1990s (the concept album with the symbol is good, but not as good as this), partly because Prince drags his guitar out of storage and jams a lot, and partly because of this song, which is his most inspiring anthem since "Purple Rain." It's a song about the illusion of riches and how we have to find real wealth elsewhere and reflects his deepening religious thoughts, but it never gets preachy. The "Hey Jude"-like ending and a final transcendent guitar solo push this song to even greater heights.

216. Gold Dust Woman (by Fleetwood Mac on the album Rumours, 1977): This is a strange little song from Rumours, with Stevie rasping her way through bizarre late-1970s lyrics, but the chorus - "Did she make you cry, make you break down, shatter your illusions of love? Is it over now, do you know how - pick up the pieces and go home" - with Nicks chiding the foolish lover and dismissing him (?) so casually is what gives this song its nasty heart and makes it great. The music is haunting, too, which always helps.

217. The Golden Age (by Beck on the album Sea Change, 2002): Beck's 2002 album begins with this song and signals a complete change (hence the name) from what he has done before. This is a slow, thoughtful song, full of unrequited longing and despair, made more heartbreaking by Beck's tremulous voice. It's a lovely song even though it saddens us. Sea Change is a fantastic album, and this sets the tone for a more mature Beck and a more introspective one.

218. Golden Age (by Midnight Oil on the album Capricornia, 2001): Midnight Oil's last album isn't their best, but it begins with a great song that contrasts the depravity of the world with the promise of freedom and glory and a return to a natural state. It's something that the boys have sung about before, but this song, tinged by a nostalgia that shows their age, is pushed ahead into greatness over other Midnight Oil songs with similar themes.

219. Goldfish & Clowns (by Fish on the album Sunsets On Empire, 1997): A typical Fish song, in that the lyrics occasionally verge on the far-too-obscure before hitting us with a few lines that make it all worth it, while the music propels us along and changes up on us, just to keep us on our toes. It feels like a hopeful song, but as usual, Fish subverts our ears by slipping in just enough doubt to keep us from feeling completely uplifted. He's very good at that, and it keeps this song from falling into cheap sentimentality (which, unfortunately, when he's not on, he sometimes does). A nice song that is made great by its uncertainty about love and life.

220. Go'n Breakdown (by Suicidal Tendencies on the album Lights ... Camera ... Revolution, 1990): This song is just a nice piledriver of metal and mayhem. From the crunch of the opening guitars to the whine of the solos, we're never let down at all. Mike Muir's lyrics and the way he spits them makes this even more fun: "Went to school at U. of Hell, favorite course was kill and tell/Graduated head of class, majored in kickin' ass/Did hard time to get my Master, wrote the book on personal disaster/I don't need no PhD to be a doctor of fuckin' misery!" Sure, it's ridiculously violent, but it's a cartoon, and Muir never takes himself too seriously. A crazy ride to end the album, and a great song.

Yes, that's it for this time. Your insults are welcome!

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The World Cup starts today. In fact, Germany is playing Costa Rica right now!!!! I love the World Cup. Soccer on television can be boring, but a cool thing about it is that, like baseball, you can have it on in the background and just pay attention to it vaguely and you can still get all you need out of it. People who watch baseball but call soccer boring are weird.

It's a national holiday in Costa Rica today. How cool is that?

Germany scored 5 minutes in. Beautiful shot. Costa Rica is going to lose big time, I think. Go Germany!!!!

Costa Rica tied in 10 minutes in. Nice pass to an onside - just barely - player. Still, I think Germany will win. They should. Go Germany!!!!

(By the way, the cryptic title of this post refers to the 1990 World Cup, when Cameroon advanced to the quarterfinals. My roommate in college spent the summer in Austria and met a Cameroonian (?) who was very excited about his country's run. At one point while they were at a bar watching, the guy just kept jumping up and shouting "Camerooooooooon!!!!!" I love that people get so excited about this. Americans don't get it, which is kind of a shame.)

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Doom! Doom, I say!

Remember how the world was supposed to end on Tuesday? Yeah, that was funny. Anyway, we had a big storm here, and at times it felt like the world was going to end, let me tell you! One very small good thing about living in Hell is occasionally the weather acts really freaky, and quick-witted photographers get pictures like this:

I bet those people in that church in the foreground wished they had prayed a little harder! Because it looks like Armageddon to me!

Luckily, it wasn't. Or was it ...

(Insert your own dramatic music here.)

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So ... much ... anger ...

Number One: Why does Ann Coulter make a ton of money when she makes statements like that when other people who make statements like that are wandering around under bridges peeing into their own hands and wearing tin foil on their heads?

Number Two: Colin Cowherd today called Jason Grimsley a rat today on the radio. He wasn't bashing Grimsley, who apparently has named a bunch of names of baseball players who take or took steroid and human growth hormone, but he did call him a rat. Anyone who calls Grimsley a rat and says what happens in the clubhouse is stays in the clubhouse is an idiot. I've heard various sports people say that this will make people think twice about confiding in their teammates. Guess what? They're breaking the law! It should make them think twice about cheating and breaking the law. This is what happens when we elevate sports and entertainment figures above every other single person in our society.

Shit like this makes me so grumpy. Is it too late to move to Mars?

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Picture Day is back in Portland - Old Testament style!

People say it rains a lot in Portland. As offended Portlanders will tell you, it rains more per annum in Houston than it does in Portland. However, I would guess that in Houston all that rain comes in about a month during hurricane season, while in Portland it is spread out over many months. And in Portland, it will rain one day in the winter and then be overcast for a week, with a little drizzle for a few minutes each day. So it just seems like it rains all the time.

Of course, sometimes it rains a lot, and it's relatively warm, and snow melts, and bad things - like floods - occur. In February 1996 one such flood occurred, and it was a doozy. It wasn't quite as bad as the one in the '60s that the newspapers kept referencing (I can't remember the exact year, sorry!), but it was close. However, we were safe and the weather after the flood was beautiful for February - balmy (low 60s) and sunny, so we did what any reasonable person would do - took pictures!

First we have a pretty typical flood picture - the Willamette is very high, the water is nice and muddy. Just easing you in!

The Willamette rose almost as high as it could go. It's usually a good 20-30 below this level, but as you can see, it almost reached the top. That would have been an even bigger disaster than this was. It didn't crest, though, and downtown was saved!

That's the Hawthorne Bridge, by the way, with the Morrison in the background and the two towers of the Iron Bridge in the distance. Portland's bridges are way cool.

Down by the river is an area with shops and condominia. It got hit pretty hard, as you can see. It's okay, though, because they only people who live down there are snooty rich people. Suckers!

(Okay, that's mean. Sorry, rich snooty people. Nobody should have to deal with everything they own getting waterlogged. That would suck.)

Here's another picture showing the effects of the flood. That's the Hawthorne Bridge again.

This was, unfortunately, an all-too-common sight around town that weekend. The state once commissioned a study that showed cutting trees down caused more erosion. You think? We didn't live in a mudslide area, so we escaped this kind of thing.

I love panoramic views of things (who doesn't?), so we drove up on Terwilliger Boulevard to get a better look. This is one of the pictures from up high.

(By the way, Matt Groening did grow up in Portland, and many of the names on The Simpsons are place names in and around the Rose City. If you ever wondered where Milhouse's last name came from, there's a Van Houten Street near the University of Portland. Sideshow Bob, obviously, gets his last name from this road.)

Here is some more devastation, but with added freakiness! This is the apartment complex where we lived when we first moved to Portland! Had we still been living there, our apartment would have survived, as it was on the other side of the driveway from this structure, but this building would have landed on our car. So we were pretty happy we didn't live there anymore.

The next day we figured we had seen enough of the flood, so we thought of other things to do. My mom happened to be visiting us at the time, and she is always jazzed about going to museums and such, and she was keen on the Oregon Trail Museum in Oregon City. Krys and I were less enthused. But we figured, what the hell, and we headed south. Well, that was a less than stellar idea. We reached Oregon City, and there's the museum on the left.

Ah, the flood interferes with all our plans! So that was out. We lived in Portland for five more years, and my mom never suggested it again. We never went to the museum. Somehow, I don't think our lives are much sadder because of it.

Since the flood was all-pervasive, we drove to Tualatin, on the southern edge of the Portland Metro area, to check out the damage. We wandered around for a while, but not too far, because there was - shocking - some water damage:

The floodwaters receded, of course, and life went on. But for a few days, it was a weird experience to live in Portland. Of course, it can't compare to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and other places that have been hit by serious natural disasters, but when Katrina ripped through the area last year, I thought of the flood of '96 and realized that just that small amount of water really did a number on the town, so I can imagine what happened to the Gulf Coast. Natural disasters have an eerie beauty to them, but they are certainly not fun to experience.

Next time: Seattle!

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Why does my wife have "yes" written on her abdomen?

A warning: this post contains many references to "feminine" stuff. Don't read if you can't handle it!

Last Wednesday, the last day of May, Krys was at Chandler Regional Hospital for a scheduled surgery. What, you ask, was wrong with her? Well, for quite some time she was bleeding quite excessively during her period, and for far longer than usual. Her OB/GYN put her on birth control pills that were supposed to help, but they didn't. So her doctor recommended a more drastic step: an endometrial ablation, which sounds a lot less evil than what it actually is: cauterizing and removing the endometrium lining from the uterus. Fun! Along with this, he suggested she get a tubal occlusion - her tubes tied - because once the inside of the uterus has been cauterized, it's an inhospitable environment, and anything that tries to latch on will cause a miscarriage and possibly damage the host.

We talked about it for a while, but her insurance would cover it and it would not cover a vasectomy (shocking! - we need to keep the men fertile as long as possible so that they can dump their old wives and hook up with nubile girls to spawn more great Americans!). We had discussed a vasectomy last year, but decided to try birth control pills. But that option was no longer viable. Krys was pretty depressed about it, but finally we decided to do it. She could have simply waited until she reached menopause, but considering she's not yet 39, that could be years away. Considering that there were days when she had to change her pads every hour because they were soaked through, that didn't sound fun. We weren't planning on having any more kids, because she's 38 and I'm 35, and the two we have are enough of a handful, but she was still depressed. I don't mean to make light of it, but I think it's a female thing. I would be perfectly happy (well, not "happy," necessarily) getting a vasectomy, because I know we're not having any more kids and it's one way to make sure there are no "accidents." But I suppose for a mother, it's different. She was a little upset, but the thought of enduring a week and a half of heavy bleeding every month finally pushed the argument toward surgery.

She went in about three in the afternoon. I waited with her until she went in. She was a bit nervous because she had only had surgery once in her life, and that was for wisdom teeth, so this was something a bit more serious. They gave her general anesthesia, too, so that's another concern. When I joined her in the preparation room (she went in first), I could smell garlic. The nurses were apparently cooking their lunch. Krys hadn't had anything to eat since 7 in the morning and the smell was driving her nuts. She also had "yes" written on either side of her abdomen. They do this so that the doctor knows he's tying both her tubes. Some women only get one tube tied because it's damaged, so the doctor has to know! That made me laugh - I said they should draw a smiley face if that side was getting tied, and a frowny face if not. You know - jazz it up a bit! Then the nurse came in to take her away, and I went home.

Yes, I went home. What of it? They told me she was going to be in surgery for over an hour, and then in recovery for another hour, and they would call me when the surgery was finished and I could come get her. I had nothing to do at the hospital anyway. I came home and sat around - pretty much what I would do at the hospital, but at least I could talk to my mom. The hospital called about 4.15 and told me she was fine and in the recovery room, but she was pretty doped up and would take a while to come out of it. I got back to the hospital about 5, but she was still groggy. Whenever she sat up, the nurse told me, she would get green and throw up. Finally, we were ready to go about 6. Krys came home and went to bed. She dragged herself out about 9, took a few bites of toast, and went back to bed. She's been recovering ever since.

She's still in some pain, but she's feeling better. Two things bug her: she can't swim for two weeks, and the past few days it's been well over 100 degrees and the pool feels very nice (yes, I'm going in it - I'm not going to deprive myself of the one saving grace of this hellpit just because she can't!), and she can't pick up the children. Being Krys, she has picked up Norah a few times, and this morning when I took my mom to the airport she picked up Mia, which earned her some stern words from her husband. She knows better, after all - once when she picked up Norah (about 19 pounds and going up fast!), she said she "felt something pull." She has stitches in her abdomen, after all! She occasionally pisses me off, but that's why I love her! So those two things make her grumpy, but otherwise, she's fine.

It is kind of weird to know that we're never going to have another kid, and if we had been younger, we would have dealt with the bleeding in the hopes of having one more. Of course, this procedure isn't 100% guaranteed to work, so the next step would be a hysterectomy. Boy, that would suck.

Krys gets to go back to work tomorrow, which I'm sure she's not looking forward to. At least she won't be running to the bathroom ten times a day - we hope. I'm glad she got this done, but it's still a bit sad. Oh well - we have two beautiful children, and with Norah getting closer and closer to walking, two is probably enough.

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What's wrong with well-cooked steak?

On Friday night we went to Sapporo in swanky Scottsdale for some teppanyaki. Sapporo is quite the hot spot; we spent our time waiting for the table checking out the parade of twenty-somethings cruising for action. It's very popular, too - our reservation was for 8.45 and we didn't get seated until a little bit after nine.

I ordered filet mignon done medium well, as I usually do. The chef laughed at me more than once. Everyone else got theirs done medium rare, and my lovely wife often laughs at me for my choice as well. I'm sorry, but dripping bloody steaks just aren't my thing. There's still plenty of flavor if the meat is a nice dark burgundy as opposed to pink. Am I right, people? People?

So what's the deal? There's nothing wrong with cooking your meat a little longer, right?

Dinner was delicious, by the way. And it was quite the cool experience. There was an onion volcano!

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Just when you think you've seen everything on the world wide web ...

... comes something else bizarre. The set-up: I was at the hospital yesterday waiting for Krys to get out of surgery (long story; I'll get to it, I promise, and she's fine). I was reading an issue of Esquire from last winter. I saw a short write-up of a web site that is one of the more interesting and strange ones you will visit. The site encourages people to send in videos of themselves ... having an orgasm. From the neck up only! It's still weird. You have to sign up to see everything, but there is a free preview. I'm sure you're dying to check it out!

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