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!


Top Ten Week: My favorite moments since 26 August 1992

Top Ten Week has been pretty fun, hasn't it? I may have to do Top Ten Day once a week, because I still have a bunch of lists to zip through. That would be cool - I could do a list of my favorite English monarchs!

For the final day, I thought I would list my favorite personal moments since 26 August 1992, which is the day I met my wife. I was thinking about doing it anyway, but it's doubly appropriate because today is the twelfth anniversary of our wedding. That's right - on 30 July 1994 we were married, and it's been a groovy time ever since! So I thought I would be all sappy. It's my blog - deal with it!

The top three are easy. My wedding day, and the birth of each of my daughters. I'm not even putting them on the list because they're so far ahead of anything else that it's unfair to compare! So, in chronological order, let's go to the other moments!

1. I meet my future wife. I have already told the tale, so I won't bore you again. A good day, needless to say.

2. Our first "date." 10 November 1992, if I'm remembering correctly. We went to a bar together to see a friend of Krys' do karoake. Painful! We weren't a couple yet, but when we got back to her apartment that night, we decided that we were attracted to each other. I used one of the corniest lines ever to get her to kiss me, and she bought it! Hah! (And no, I'm not repeating it. It's too corny!)

3. When I realized I loved her. It was sometime in December of 1992. We went to see Honeymoon in Vegas, which is a great movie (and contains a scene I probably should have put in my list of favorite scenes - when Nicolas Cage is waiting to buy a plane ticket and Ben Stein is holding up the line - classic comedy!), and I guess I was in a sappy, romantic mood, but walking back with her, I looked at her and just realized how much I loved her. It made me feel good.

4. We were camping near the end of our cross-country trip in August 1993 and I was, frankly, sick of camping. I told her I wanted to go home, and she looked all upset because she thought I meant Pennsylvania (I'm pretty sure we were in California at the time, although we might have been in Arizona). But I meant our new home, Portland, in an apartment with her. To quote the old Billy Joel song, "Wherever we're together, that's my home."

5. Our day trip along the MacKenzie River Highway. I have posted pictures of this trip, and it was one of those days on which everything feels right with the world. Nothing to do except drive around looking at scenery, away from anything that might bother you, and seeing things that are beautiful and ephemeral. We knew we were having a great day together, too, which is a rare thing and makes it much better.

6. A couple of plays that we saw in Portland stick out in my memory. Once we saw "The Anarchists' Convention" by John Sayles - well, I don't know if he wrote the plays, but he wrote the stories on which they were based. There were three short plays, and the one about the trucker driving through the night hopped up on amphetamines is stunning theater. We saw it in a garage in the back of a coffee shop - in Portland, anyplace can become a theater! The other play that sticks in my mind is "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard. We saw this in an actual theater, and it might be the best play I've ever seen. It's unbelievably complex, as he delves into chaos theory and the death of the universe, while telling stories set in the early eighteenth century and the modern day, with human drama winding its way through it all. If you ever get a chance to see either of these, do so. They're both excellent.

7. Our fifth wedding anniversary dinner. In 1999 we went to Higgins, a restaurant at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson in downtown Portland. It wasn't the first time we had gone there, but it was still a fun night. Higgins is a fantastic restaurant, and the service is impeccable. We had the same waiter that night that we had a few years earlier when we went there, and he either remembered us or was very good at pretending. He introduced me to port that first time, and hooked me! Damn him! It was a very nice dinner on a very nice night.

8. Soon after our fifth anniversary dinner, we went on our fifth anniversary trip, which was to Grenada and Venezuela with Windjammer Cruises. We wanted to go on a cruise but not on a huge ship, and this was perfect. A small crew and a small guest list, and we had a wonderful time. I will have pictures posted of our week in the islands when the time comes, and discuss it more then. It's definitely worth it, though. (And I'm wearing that same shirt right now, as I post this! Coincidence? I think not ...)

9. In February 2000 we went hiking. What was so great about that, you ask? Well, we went up to the Mount Hood area and hiked through the snow in snow shoes! It was pretty stinkin' cool. We went with a group of people we had never met before (it was one of these things you just sign up for) and had a blast. The snow was thick, it snowed while we were there, we burned thousands of calories, and had a grand old time. Another thing you should do if you get the chance. We, of course, don't have that chance anymore because we live in hell.

10. In August 2000 we had a nice night out drinking at the Hillsdale Brewery and Public House. It was just like a lot of nights that we went out drinking, but this time my good friend Charlotte was leaving town, and we were saying goodbye. Charlotte is an excellent person, and just like a lot of my great friends, I haven't seen her in a long time - six years, to be precise. We met in graduate school and formed a very nice friendship. And Krys actually likes her too! It was one of those nights where you know things are coming to an end, so it's bittersweet, but you enjoy it while it's happening. Another one that I remember fondly is the last night we hung out with our friends Mike and Gaetana at Philadelphia's, a restaurant near our house that served very good cheesesteaks (which is harder than it sounds). We were leaving town for Tempe, and we just had a nice night talking and eating and drinking. Friends rock.

You'll notice that since moving here I haven't had many favorite moments. Well, the location plays a part in that, but the two children (who were born here, so that's two of my favorite moments) take up a great deal of our time and we don't do a lot of things as a couple. We went out to dinner last night, which was very nice (we wondered a lot about what a couple near us was discussing), but we just don't have the time to do a lot of stuff these days. I don't mind, though - the family is wonderful and fun, and if most of my days consist of trying to keep Norah out of trouble while trying to get Mia to eat, well, that's fine with me.

More pictures tomorrow! Thanks for chiming in with your own favorites of various stuff. It's always cool to hear what other people really enjoy.

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Top Ten Week: My favorite television episodes

Yes, it's another harder-than-it-looks edition of Top Ten Week! Again, I could have gone with my ten favorite shows, which would have been hard enough, but I decided instead on my favorite episodes, even if the shows themselves would not have made the list. I read a blog post about this recently, so if I'm stealing your idea, sorry. I just can't remember where I saw it, but I thought it was a good idea. So let's go! (Again, these are in no particular order, because that's too hard.)

1. "The Last Newhart," Newhart, aired 21 May 1990. Of course this is the greatest series finale ever, but it's a wildly surreal episode as well that made up for a lot of subpar efforts in the last year or two of this sitcom (which I still like more than The Bob Newhart Show). Bob's world gets increasingly weirder, with the land around the inn being sold to a group of Japanese businessmen who turn it into a golf course. It's a subtle (okay, maybe not so subtle) shot at the modernization of America and the loss of innocence, something that is highlighted even more (in my eyes) by the big reveal at the end, in which Bob wakes up next to his Bob Newhart Show wife, Suzanne Pleshette, and we find out the entire show is all a dream. It's completely unexpected and very funny, but it harkens back to an earlier time (the 1970s) when things were less complicated. And Pleshette was still a hottie! (Of course, Mary Frann was kind of a hottie, too.)

2. "The One with the Embryos," Friends, aired 15 January 1998. Yes, I like Friends. Mock me if you wish! However, I usually only like parts of each episode - there's usually something in each one that isn't funny. The title of this episode comes from the fact that Phoebe has her sister-in-law's eggs put into her body so she can be the surrogate mother for Alice and Frank, her brother, and although that's an okay storyline, the other one in this episode is the one that makes it great. Yes, this is the episode where Monica and Rachel switch apartments with Chandler and Joey because they lose a bet. The game that Ross comes up with to test their knowledge of each other is fan-freakin'-tastic. Lots of great lines, culminating in Ross' final question: "What is Chandler Bing's job?" The running gag of no one knowing what Chandler does for a living comes back and bites the girls in the ass! Very funny stuff.

3. "The Contest," Seinfeld, aired 18 November 1992. There are a lot of great Seinfeld episodes, but this remains my favorite. The fact that they never mention "masturbation," Kramer's early exit, Elaine's attempt at nonchalance when she fails, the nurse giving the woman the sponge bath, Jerry's increasing irritation ("Meanwhile, I've got this contest, I'm dating a virgin!") - all of this make this episode one of the funniest ever. It's so much fun to watch even after repeated viewings.

4. "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'," The X-Files, aired 12 April 1996. I have never been the biggest fan of The X-Files, but this episode might be one of the greatest episode of any television show ever. I don't even know where to start: Charles Nelson Reilly as Jose Chung, Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as the Men in Black, the cursing policeman, Scully threatening to kill someone, Mulder eating piece after piece of sweet potato pie - it's all brilliant! It's outside the "mythology" of the show, too, so we don't have to know any backstory - although, obviously, knowing it helps, because the episode skewers so much of what has come before. When The X-Files was on, like here, it was a wonderful show. Unfortunately, too often it wasn't on.

5. "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," My So-Called Life, aired 26 January 1995. I could have thrown a dart at a list of episodes of this show and picked the one it hit, but the last one is sheer genius. Brian writes letters to Angela that are supposedly from Jordan, and she, of course, finds out about it. This is the crux of the issue, but Ricky finds out that that chick has a crush on him, which freaks him out, and Rayanne and Sharon move forward in their relationship. It's a classic example of the show, occasionally funny, often painful, beautifully written and acted, and full of those moments where you just want to scream at the screen because the characters need to say certain things but they don't. The final scene, when Angela finds out that Brian wrote the notes but doesn't say anything because Jordan arrives just then to pick her up, is heart-wrenching. I love this show. Buy the DVDs, people!

6. "Woody Gets an Election," Cheers, aired 22 April 1993. This is another show I love, and it's hard to pick one episode, especially because I can't remember in which episode the best ever conversation at the bar (the one in which the guys decide that Wile E. Coyote is the Anti-Christ) is in. But this one, coming near the end, is a brilliant example of why Cheers managed to survive the Shelley Long departure. Frasier decides to run Woody for City Council when the other candidate, played by Philip Baker Hall (who, of course, may have already been the greatest guest star in television history), spouts platitudes and never answers a question directly. As a joke, Frasier gets Woody on the ballot to prove that anyone can get 5% of the vote. After he's interviewed by Peri Gilpin (I love Peri Gilpin, by the way) and gives wacky homespun answers that he thinks are straight but she thinks are metaphorical, his stock begins to rise. Frasier has a nightmare in which Woody is the president and blows up the world because he's not too bright. Woody, of course, gets elected (it's near the end of the show, remember, so lots of things happen). It's a very funny episode that takes advantage of Woody's goofiness without really making too much fun of him. Most Cheers episode are excellent, but I always liked this one a lot.

7. Mystery Science Theater 3000 - the episode with Mitchell, aired 23 October 1993. This is another show with several great episodes - Manos, the Hands of Fate, Alien from L.A., Hercules Unchained, Girls Town, Kitten with a Whip - but I love the one when the guys make fun of Mitchell. I think it's because I like the modern pictures more - the 1950s sci-fi movies are just so easy, while Joe Don Baker and Linda Evans were actually trying to make something serious. This is the last episode with Joel, too, which actually makes it more interesting. I would love to get these on DVD, but they're really expensive. Probably the movie rights jack up the price.

8. "Season 1, 11:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m.," 24, aired 21 May 2002. The last episode of 24's first season set the tone for the rest of the show. Sure, at that point it had been a super-blast, but at the end, just when we think it's over, Nina kills Jack's wife, Teri. Holy crap! This set up the future shows, when Jack is more bitter than ever, and the show went even further with the surprises and the violence (Jack cuts off that dude's head!). The show has been better, but the first season remains my personal favorite, because we weren't ready for the balls the creators and Kiefer had to pull this stuff off. And Kim hadn't quite become a joke yet.

9. "Pilot," Lost, aired 22 September 2004. Lost is one of my favorite shows, and it might have the best first episode in television history. The mystery kicks off with a bang, as Jack wanders out of the jungle onto the beach and that great scene with the plane crash. Later we get the doomed pilot and the monster, plus Charlie telling everyone he's in the band Drive Shaft. It's visceral, it grabs you, and it's exciting, a bit scary, and occasionally funny. It has had its ups and downs, but it starts out so well, which is how all shows should start out - it gives them something to shoot for!

10. You know, I was trying to find two specific episodes of The Simpsons, but I don't know what they're called. I suck. Anyway, I'm cheating a bit, because almost any episode of The Simpsons (especially from the first ten seasons or so) could be on this list, but I think my two favorites are ... you know, I can't even pick one. The first time Sideshow Bob gets out of jail, when Marge stars in "A Streetcar Named Desire," when Selma marries Troy McClure, when the town bans alcohol, when Bart sells his soul ... Holy crap, what a great show. I'll go with the ban on alcohol (aired 16 March 1997), if only because it gives us perhaps the single greatest line in the history of television: "To alcohol: the cause of, and the solution to, all of life's problems!" Sure, it's not the greatest episode, but that line is awesome.

You'll notice that I'm missing some shows. Deadwood is currently my favorite show, but I don't view it as individual episodes, preferring instead to see it as one long episode for each season. Each one is brilliant, but it forms a whole. I also skipped several shows like The Simpsons where I can't remember individual episodes even though I liked the show. WKRP in Cincinnati, for instance, a show I love - Tom might have a wonderful memory for individual episodes, but I don't. There are a lot of shows like that - moments I remember, but whole episodes I don't. There was that episode of Moonlighting where they were rhyming all the time - man, that was cool. But I can't remember much about it. I suck.

What say you, good readers? What individual episodes do you like?

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Top Ten Week: My favorite movie scenes

I was going to go with my favorite movies for the next edition of Top Ten Week, but I thought I'd delve a little deeper and go with my favorite scenes in movies. This is a lot harder, as you might expect, because there are plenty of excellent scenes in mediocre movies, and in some of my favorite movies no one scene stands out as brilliant (I love Fight Club and would put it in my Top Ten of favorite movies, but it doesn't show up here). Some of these scenes aren't that great, but they are my favorites. I will even admit that they aren't that great. But that's what makes this fun! So, in no particular order:

1. I mentioned Mindwalk the other day in conjunction with my favorite poems. It's a strange movie, not unlike My Dinner with Andre (another good movie), in that it's basically a two-hour conversation. John Heard, Sam Waterston, and Liv Ullman walk around Mont. St. Michel in France (which I highly recommend - it's way cool) and discuss a ton o' different things, including quantum physics, torture, clockworks, relationships among people, and, of course, love. Ione Skye shows up briefly, but it's basically these three (Heard and Waterston play old friends, and they meet Ullman for the first time here). Toward the end, after they have thrashed through dozens of topics, Heard stands on the beach and recites part of Neruda's poem because he is angry that Ullman has come up with a coherent plan of the universe without accounting for human emotion. He believes that humanity has a lot more to offer than she does, even though each one of them has been damaged by relationships. He asks Sonia, "Where are the people in your system?" and she doesn't have an answer for him. It's a powerful scene, because we have been enthralled by this swirling conversation for so long that we almost begin to forget that there are people speaking the lines. Heard wistfully reminds his two friends that philosophy doesn't explain everything, and sometimes we need poetry to remind us of that. He stares into the surf as he recites the last line of the poem ("I woke up naked, the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind"), and it turns what could have been simply an interesting discussion into something much more real.

2. In the Name of the Father is one of the few movies that have made me cry. Yes, bash away! I'm so unmanly! It's certainly not the greatest movie, but it's pretty stinkin' good, and when the ridiculously wonderful Emma Thompson stands there in court and shows the picture of that homeless guy to the judge and asks why it was not to be shown to the "defence," I just lose it. It has earned it, though, because of the trials and tribulations that Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite have gone through and the dogged pursuit of justice that Thompson has gone through. Plus, the "bad guys" are so unctuous that to see them get their come-uppance is fantastic. Thompson sells the scene, too, as she gives us just enough of a pout to make us realize how horrible this is without making it oversentimental. I miss Emma Thompson. She's one of my favorite actresses, and she's done very little for a decade.

3. I have mentioned before how much I love The Fisher King before, and it has a few scenes that make it a classic. One of those is when John de Lancie (most famous as "Q" in Star Trek: The Next Generation) tries to pitch a show about the homeless to Jeff Bridges (and which has given me and Krys a standard fun line to say to each other: "They're wacky, but they're wise"), but the scene that I love is after Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, and Amanda Plummer go out to dinner and Williams takes Plummer home. She has been damaged by men before, and she tells him how the whole night will unfold. As she goes on, telling him that they'll sleep together and in the morning she'll feel so great and he'll be distant and then he'll have to leave and he'll promise to call but he won't, we see Williams growing increasingly upset because he's confused, and in her voice (which I usually hate, I'll admit) we hear the pain of hundreds of bad relationships. Williams finally tells her to shut up (nicely) and says that he's not going to do any of those things. All he wants is a kiss, because to him that's the nicest thing, and he's not planning on coming up to her place. Then they kiss, and it's such a sweet moment between two people who have shown how awkward they are in social situations. A very nice moment comes when Williams keeps saying plaintively, "I don't drink coffee," when she keeps saying that they're going to go up for coffee. Williams is often annoying, but occasionally he's brilliant, and here he is (for most of the movie, even). The scene itself is great, but then, as he walks onto the street, he remembers his wife getting killed, and the Black Knight appears up the street in the fog, and things fall apart. It's all the more tragic because of how good Plummer and Williams are in the scene.

4. Jacob's Ladder is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, and there's one scene that totally freaks me out. Tim Robbins is in the hospital after going through yet another horrific experience, and he comes out of a stupor and doesn't quite understand what's going on. His ex-wife and kids come into his room, which is strange because he's living with Elizabeth Peña, and they smother him with hugs and kisses. They talk briefly and then his ex-wife says everything is going to be all right. A low, growly voice says, "Fat chance," and Tim Robbins, fear all over his face, looks directly at the camera, whimpering. It's a terrifying moment and signals that this is an even creepier movie than we thought it was. What a cool movie. And what's up with Adrian Lyne? He directs Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, Lolita, Unfaithful, and this? How did he manage to make this in the middle of a career devoted to slick, somewhat sleazy movies about morally bankrupt individuals? Weird.

5. I suppose I should go old school at some point, so I'll go 1940s old school! I'm sure I've mentioned my love for The Third Man at some point, but if I haven't, I'm doing it now! Most people point to this movie and Welles' wonderful entrance in the door, and it's very nice, but it's not my favorite. Others point to Welles' speech about Italy and the Renaissance and the Swiss and the cuckoo clock, and I enjoy that, but the first part of that scene is what makes this one of my favorites. The speech about the Renaissance wouldn't have as much resonance if we didn't have Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles on the Ferris wheel, when they are discussing morality and how far men will go. Welles points out all the "ants" on the ground (the people) and if Cotten would care if some of them just disappeared. He asks Cotten how much money he would want to make one, or two, or one hundred just disappeared. When he opens the door, we, along with Cotten, really aren't sure if Welles is going to throw him out. It's a creepy scene despite (or because) of the carnival music and Welles' calmness, and we understand just how evil he really is. It's tough to fathom, because this is still handsome and suave Welles, unlike the sheriff he plays in Touch of Evil, and it's a wonderful performance by both men. It's a great movie, and this scene is its fulcrum.

6. Another one of my favorite movies is Apocalypse Now. Yes, I love Heart of Darkness, and I love the movie from which Conrad ripped it off (that's for you, Lefty). This is a horrifying portrait of war and Vietnam specifically, and I am riveted whenever I watch it. There are a bunch of great scenes (including any with Robert Duvall, who deserved his Oscar), but the scene when Martin Sheen kills Marlon Brando is visceral filmmaking. Coppola juxtaposes Sheen slaughtering Brando with a machete with the natives slaughtering a cow with the same weapon, and, as Milhouse once said, "I fear to watch, yet I can't look away!" The fact that they actually kill the cow helps, but the not-very-subtle linking of the cattle with Kurtz, who has been used by the government and then discarded, is what makes this such a powerful scene (and I'm not bashing it for not being subtle - Coppola is a great director, but he's not necessarily that subtle). It's a stunning climax to a stunning movie. And then Brando whispers "the horror, the horror." Testify, Marlon! Coppola and John Milius should have sued Conrad because he didn't give them any credit (oh, wait, that was Coppola and Milius who didn't give Conrad any credit!).

7. There will probably never another teen movie as savagely satirical or funny as Heathers, and it has a bunch of great scenes. The greatest is, of course, the funeral of the two football players. Christian Slater and Winona Ryder's plan to kill the popular kids is turning out poorly, and at the funeral, even though they made it look as if Kurt was gay, everyone loves him even more, culminating with his father standing up there and crying, "I love my dead gay son!" It's a great line (there are hundreds of great lines in the movie) that caps off a great scene in, you guessed it, a great movie.

8. I just realized I have two Kevin Smith movies on this list. Chasing Amy is the first one. Yes, Chasing Amy, which might be Smith's best movie (Clerks is still my favorite, but it's kind of juvenile). Anyway, this scene also features Ben Affleck, who seems kind of annoying in real life and always plays a bit of a dick, and Joey Lauren Adams, who has a really annoying voice, so it's kind of surprising it's one of my favorites. The great scene here is when Ben finally admits that he's in love with Joey, who is, you know, a lesbian. He goes on and on about how great a friend she is and how he knows she's gay but he doesn't care because he knows they can make it work. Affleck really does a nice job, and he see how much this is bothering him, and Adams is great in this scene even though she doesn't have a bunch of lines. She just stares at him in astonishment, and then slowly gets angrier and angrier. She finally loses it and gets out of the car even though it's raining hard. She stalks off, but Affleck catches up to her and they kiss. It's a great scene that is a wonderful portrayal of two people who love each other but can't figure out what to do about it. And then, of course, Affleck acts like a dick and blows it all! Good job, Ben!

9. Speaking of Smith, Clerks is still one of the funniest movies ever (even though Tom saw it for the first time last week - for shame, Mr. The Dog!), and it has some great lines and great scenes. Most people remember "37!" but the best conversation is when Dante and Randal talk about the contractors on the Death Star. What a cool conversation, because it's something that geeks everywhere would think. What about the contractors on the Death Star???? Aren't they innocent bystanders? The subject matter is cool enough, but the way Dante and Randal make it zing is great, too. And then that contractor comes in and tells them that those guys working on the Death Star should have known the risks. Very cool. I haven't seen the sequel, because I have heard it's awful, but it can't taint the excellence that is Clerks.

10. Finally, you may mock me at your leisure. My final favorite scene is the end of Rambo: First Blood Part II. Now, First Blood is actually a good movie - really! The sequel, I must admit, is pretty awful, but Sly's speech at the end is awesome. He's all pissed because the Americans left him and the POWs behind and he had to get them out himself, and when he gets back to the base he shoots up the command center with an M-60 (holding it with one hand, which is somewhat unbelievable). Then Richard Crenna, thin-lipped as ever, confronts him. Rambo isn't in the mood. Crenna tells him he'll get a second Medal of Honor for it, and Sly tells him to give it to the POWs. Then Crenna, well, let's get the whole exchange:

Trautman: The war, the whole conflict, may have been wrong, but damn it, don't hate your country for it.
Rambo: Hate? I'd die for it.
Trautman: Then what is it you want?
Rambo: I want (pause), what they want (pause), and every other guy (pause), who came over here and spilled his guts (pause) and gave everything he had (pause), wants! For our country (pause) to love us (pause) as much as we (pause) love it! That's what I want!
Trautman: How will you live, John?
Rambo: Day by day.

And remember - you have to do the great little speech Sly gives about wanting his country to love him with that Sly sneer and that Sly mumble. And then he turns away and mutters, "Day by day," quietly as the credits roll. Awesome.

So that's it for this installment. I'm sure there are tons of other scenes I could think of if I sat down and thought about it, but the point is - these are the ones that leaped into my head. Anyone got any favorite scenes?

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We apologize for the technical difficulties

On Tuesday night we had a HUGE lightning storm and apparently the Internet couldn't handle it! Seriously, this was the scene in the Basin on Tuesday:

So yesterday I was unable to get on-line for most of the day, and then I had other stuff to do. Then this morning Blogger has been acting very weird, so I have been unable to do much of anything. Now I'm taking a quick break from parenting to let you know that Top Ten Week will continue a bit later. Just so you know!

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Top Ten Week: My favorite books (fiction and non-fiction)

As we continue Top Ten Week, I figured I'd stay in the realm of literature for another day and run down my favorite books. I decided to split them into fiction and non-fiction just for the fun of it. This is a really hard category, because I have read a lot of books. But I'll try! I know I will have some honorable mention, because that's where I'm going to put the kids' books.

1. Smile on the Void by Stuart Gordon. This book is out of print, but I remember reading it more than once in the mid- to late-1980s, when I used to check it out of my local library. It's a biography of a legendary figure named Ralph M'Botu Kitaj, who was born in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and became a strange shamanistic figure deep in the heart of Africa. This book is his story, but also the story of his biographer, and the story becomes how these two men change and how Kitaj tries to transform himself and others into something greater than human. It's a very weird book, but strangely moving and more than a bit trippy. If you're at your local library or at some backwoods used book sale, look for it. It's neat.

2. Sinai Tapestry by Edward Whittemore. Another long out-of-print book, but apparently it has been re-released by Old Earth Books (I may have to order it). This is the first book in a four-part series by Whittemore, and it's the best one. It's a story about several weird characters in the Middle East at the end of the 19th and through the beginning of the 20th century, including Plantagenet Strongbow, who wrote a 33-volume history of sex in Victorian England before disappearing into the Egyptian desert, Joe O'Sullivan Beare, who fought the English in Ireland during the 1916 uprising before heading to the Holy Land and eventually playing a 12-year poker game for control of Jerusalem (which is the subject of the second book of the quartet), and Haj Haroun, an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem who is as old as the city itself. In this book, a Trappist monk finds the secret original Bible and spends the rest of his life forging another one, and at the end of the book several characters end up in Smyrna in 1922, which is some of the most tragic stuff I've ever read. I love this book and I'm glad it's back in print.

3. White Noise by Don DeLillo. This is probably my favorite book. Every time I read it I am struck by its insight into the human and American condition, its satire of pop culture, and its biting humor. DeLillo is one of my favorite authors, and he's written good books before and since this one, but this is a perfect distillation of his ideas on history and conspiracy, as well as what binds us together. Excellent stuff.

4. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut. Boy, this is a good book. It's funny and sad, it's bizarre, and it stays with you long after you read it. Vonnegut's style is nicely suited for the material, because both stories - the war story about Dresden and the Tralfamadorian one - are a bit surreal, and Vonnegut is good at keeping everything grounded. It's a fast read, too, so you can read it again and again!

5. Picture This by Joseph Heller. As much as I love Catch-22, I like this book a little more. It's not as funny as Heller's first book, nor does it have a visceral scene like when Yossarian comes upon the bombadier, but it's more deeply moving and wry, plus it offers very excellent social and political commentary that's more subtle than Catch-22. Heller deftly compares Aristotle's Greece, Rembrandt's Holland, and contemporary America, showing the tragic similarities among them. He does this through Rembrandt's painting "Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer," which hangs in the Met - I saw it a few years ago, and it's pretty keen.

6. The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic. This might be the weirdest book I've ever read, but it's still excellent. It is literally in the form of a dictionary, with hundreds of entries that tell a strange tale of the Khazars, a tribe that lived around the Caspian Sea at the end of the first millennium and converted to Judaism. It's a dreamlike book, with bizarre folktales and modern murders, and it's fun to read, because you're never sure what's going on. There's a male version and a female version, identical except for one sentence. I have the male version, and I have never discovered what is different about the female one.

7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I love re-reading this book, and I've done it several times because I used to teach it. It's ahead of its time, it influenced politics, and it's a very interesting adventure story as well as being a grand allegory. I've heard that Nostromo is better, but I haven't read that yet. I own it, though, so I'll get to it eventually!

8. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. I keep meaning to read this again, because the first time I did I was astonished by how beautiful it was. It's a modern fairy tale, and Helprin's dreamy prose evokes a long-lost world that still feels familiar. This is the New York of fantasies, and the love story in this book is so powerful and compelling you wish this world existed.

9. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. Interestingly, I don't really like the other Robbins books I've read, but this one is very good. It's a meditation on immortality and love that stretches across the centuries, but it's also quite ribald and very funny. Plus, Robbins gives us plenty of information on how to make perfume, and don't we need more of that kind of esoteric knowledge?

10. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. This book apparently divides families and causes friends to fight because opinions on it are so mixed. I think it's fantastic - creepy, scary, and funny all at the same time. Eco obviously had a blast putting together this conspiracy, and it satirizes all the weird beliefs people hold about the history of the world. The Illuminatus! Trilogy did this well, too, but I like this book more.

Just missing the cut: the Hitchhiker's "trilogy" plus Adams' two Dirk Gently books (which are better than the trilogy, by the way, if not as laugh-out-loud funny); The Lord of the Rings; Vox by Nicholson Baker (a story about a man and a woman on a phone-sex line and the 200-page conversation they have - very dirty but brilliant, and written before Baker became a raving pervert, apparently); Imajica by Clive Barker (a fantasy masterpiece); The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (great King Arthur book told from the point of view of the women); Possession by A. S. Byatt (the only Byatt book I like); House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (the scariest book I've ever read, but it's brilliant); Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (a wonderful novel about magic in the 1920s); Pontius Pilate by Paul Maier (the Jesus story from Pilate's point of view).

Honorable mention (kids' lit): Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. This would be a perfect family-type movie. Why no one has made it yet is beyond me. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engel. My favorite of the trilogy, although they're all good. The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, The Westing Game and The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues by Ellen Raskin. Two of my absolute favorites. If I owned the latter I would read it probably once a year, and I probably do read The Westing Game every other year or so.


1. Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. I almost hesitate to put this on the non-fiction list, since much of it has been revealed as fiction. Although this is atrocious history, it's a fun book to read, and it's pretty fascinating. If you hated The Da Vinci Code (and who didn't?), this book tells the same story much better. I still read it every so often, and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. It did, however, get me very interested in the Merovingians, which led eventually to my Master's Degree, so it's not all bad.

2. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom. This is a big, meaty book, but I couldn't put it down. It's unbelievably interesting. Bloom's thesis is that Shakespeare, through his plays, changed the way people thought of themselves, as they became more introspective and willing to question the way they lived their lives. He goes through each play in pretty good detail (some more than others, obviously) and shows how Shakespeare did this. It's brilliant.

3. O Jerusalem! by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. A book about the birth pangs of Israel, and although we know how it turns out, it still reads like a thriller. That, for me, is the mark of a good book - keeping you riveted even though you know the ending. It's another hefty book, with a cast of thousands, but Collins and LaPierre keep everything humming along, and although they are clearly on the Jews' side, they also show the Arab side very well. These days, this book is more relevant than ever.

4. The Blood of Israel by Serge Groussard. Speaking of which, here's another book about Israel that is similarly gripping. Groussard goes into great detail about the 1972 Olympics, and again, even though we know the tragic ending, we can't stop reading. Each athlete comes to life, and when they die, we feel it keenly. This book is also out of print (damn them all!), but Vengeance uses it as a source (and was what Spielberg based Munich on) and One Day in September is a good merging of the two books, but Groussard's is better than either.

5. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. This is yet another huge honkin' book, but I don't care! In the 1930s West went on a journey through the Balkans, and this is her account of the area and the people who live there. I love the Balkans, and this book is beautifully written and evocative of not only the region but the time period. West was not fooled by Hitler, and wrote a great deal on the threat he posed, and she also goes into great detail about the clash of Christian and Muslim civilizations in the Balkans. It's a wonderful book.

6. Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan. Yes, I like the Balkans. Kaplan is a travel writer/political analyst, and I enjoy his books very much. This was the first one by him that I read, and it's a very interesting look at the Balkans after the break-up of Yugoslavia and Communism. Kaplan follows West's template (he makes reference to her book often) and discovers a great many things that political leaders in the West might have heeded a few years later.

7. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen. In recent years I have read people bashing this book because they say Matthiessen got his facts wrong, but it remains a gripping read about Leonard Peltier and the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. Matthiessen obviously believes that Peltier, who is rotting in a federal prison right now, is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, and even if you don't buy it, this book is a wonderful account of the new Indian wars and how our government continues to treat minorities poorly. Both the documentary Incident at Oglala and the underrated Val Kilmer movie Thunderheart were based on this book. It's a book that should make you angry, which is always fun.

8. A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton. Morton's book tells of Vienna in 1888-1889, when the Hapsburg Empire was ramshackle at best, and the heir to the throne, Rudolf, shot himself and his mistress in his hunting lodge outside of town. It's a remarkable book about a Baroque culture completely out of touch with the changing world, and Morton does a nice job with various character sketches of Vienna's more famous inhabitants and how Rudolf's suicide affected not only the Austrian world, but the wider world around it. It's a haunting book.

9. The Reckoning by Charles Nicholl. Ah, Christopher Marlowe. I have mentioned my love for Marlowe before, and this book, which delves into his murder and the shadowy world of Elizabethan espionage, is wonderful. It's amazing how Francis Walsingham and his ilk got things done in the 16th century, and the spy stuff is the best part of the book. Nicholl does a very nice job bringing Marlowe to life, too. Very intriguing. I own another book about Marlowe's murder but haven't read it yet. I hope it will be half as good as this one is.

10. Parliament of Whores by P. J. O'Rourke. This may be the funniest political book you will ever read (America: the Book comes close, but that's not grounded in reality). Even today, almost 20 years later, it remains relevant. O'Rourke skewers every aspect of government, and his sword cuts both Democrats and Republicans. He's kind of an old-school conservative, so he comes at it from that angle, but he spares no one. As he puts it, the thing about government today is not how to make it work, but how to make it stop? This book is sheer genius.

Sorry for the length! Can you tell I love books! Share your favorites!

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Top Ten Week: My ten favorite poems

Partly inspired by Chance (who lists the ten best poems in the English language) and partly by Tom (who lists his top ten sitcoms), I decided to do a Top Ten Week. I will do my favorites, though, because I haven't read every English-language poem or seen every situation comedy. I probably won't even do situation comedies! Each day I will list my favorite ten somethings. Since Chance inspired me, let's do my favorite poems first! We don't get enough high-falutin' culture up in you around here!

(In no particular order, because it's tough to decide exactly where I would rank these).

1. "The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot. Except for this one, my favorite poem EVER. Eliot is my favorite poet ever, and this one is almost perfect. "Lips that would kiss form prayers to broken stone." Holy crap, it's beautiful. I used to do this with my students in the ghetto even though I knew most of them wouldn't care or understand it. I didn't care.

2. "Lepanto" by G. K. Chesterton. I only recently discovered this poem (and I can't remember where) but I instantly fell in love with it. A long, beautifully constructed piece about the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, with wonderful rhymes, wonderful rhythms, and a wonderful sound. It deserves to be read aloud, despite its length.

3. "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I suppose it's a dull choice, because it's one of the greatest poems in history, but I have always loved this poem since I was a wee lad and first read it. I'm sure other, smarter people have brought this up, but I think it works better because Coleridge never finished it. It adds to the mystery.

4. "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Another standard, but there's a reason. One of the most stellar examples of a sonnet ever, and who can resist the ironic line, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" Great stuff.

5. "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats. Another candidate for my favorite poem ever. This gives me chills when I read it. "What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" Brrrr.

6. "Enigmas" by Pablo Neruda. This poem is simply beautiful and heartbreaking. It's tinged with Neruda's romanticism of the sea, and it evokes a moonlit beach and strange creatures in deep crevices. I first heard it in the movie Mindwalk, which will be on a future list!

7. "An African Elegy" by Ben Okri. The most recent poem on this list (1992), this is a beautiful poem about Africa and the hope that flourishes there. Okri is a very good poet.

8. "Locked Doors" by Anne Sexton. Sexton is my favorite female poet. She's tough to read, because she dealt with so much pain in her life, but she's freakin' brilliant. This is a very disturbing little poem.

9. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" by Wilfred Owen. Another sonnet, and as you might expect from Owen, it's kind of depressing. My favorite anti-war poem: "What passing-bells for those who die like cattle?" Horrifying and powerful.

10. "The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" by Dylan Thomas. Another poet I love, and this poem is just creepy enough to make it more memorable than "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," even though I love that too. This is a more challenging poem, and the imagery is more disturbing. I heard a record of Thomas reading his poetry years ago. He had a cool voice.

Honorable mention (because I love more than just ten poems, and it's my blog, damn it!): "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, "Epitaph on a Tyrant" by W. H. Auden, "Addressed to Haydon" by John Keats (there are apparently a few different poems by Keats called this - I like this one), and "Nire aitaren etxea defendituko dut" ("I will defend the house of my father") by Gabriel Aresti, a Basque poet.

Anyone out there have favorites they want to share?

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Picture Day goes to Tahoe!

In May 1998 Krys and I went to Lake Tahoe and met my parents and my sister and her new husband for a nice vacation. Lake Tahoe is pretty cool - the Nevada side has a bunch of big casinos, and when you get to the state line with California, all the buildings are a lot smaller and less obnoxious. The state line is a small walkway, with casinos literally built right next to it. We had a nice time share apartment and did a lot of cool stuff. Because my mom was there, we had to go to the Calaveras County Fair (yes, it was going on at that time) to see the jumping frog competition. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you have never heard of Mark Twain's little story. Well, the people of Calaveras County think it's pretty groovy, so they have a jumping competition every year. And of course my mom wanted to go.

As we drove over the mountains from Tahoe to Calaveras County, we stopped at a small convenience store. My brother-in-law, who is remarkably droll even though he doesn't really look like he would be, said casually, "I'm going to hit the motherlode." We had no idea what he was talking about, but then we saw what he was talking about:

Yes, the port-o-potty was called the "Motherlode." So perfect. It has become an in-joke between Krys and I. I wonder if my sister even remembers it. I should ask her.

So we went down to the fair, and it was pleasant enough. My mom has a problem with staying far too long at places that really aren't that exciting, and the jumping frog competition was really not that exciting. The competitors can't touch the frogs, but they can smack the ground and yell at their frogs. The judges figure out how far they go in three jumps. There are a LOT of competitors. Here's one of them:

We finally dragged my mother back to Tahoe. On the way we stopped in the mountains. Check out that hottie with that big geek!

The pool at Lake Tahoe was heated, and there was still snow on the ground even though it was May. So we had to sit in the pool and hold snowballs. This is a horrible picture of me, but I believe in the coolness of the snow/pool thing rather than suppressing horrible photos of me!

The following day we went to Squaw Valley to ski. Krys, my brother-in-law, and my mom did not go along, because they don't ski. I know, I know - maybe they're Communists or something. I took my camera because I thought it would be neat to get some pictures of us on the slopes. I took this picture as we were going up in the cable car. I call it "Godzilla's view of the world."

This is my sister and me ready to go!

I know those look like gnats, but it's actually my sister and my father.

After we went skiing, we hung out in the lodge for a bit and checked out the pool. It was really hot that day, and there were people suntanning. Even with all that snow piled high next to the pool!

I had a really good time - Squaw Valley is a very cool place to ski. Because it was still chilly in the morning, though, and a bit overcast, I forgot to put sun screen on before I went skiing. I got burned so badly that a day or two I looked like a leper. Seriously. I thought all my skin was going to fall off.

So that was the first couple of days of our vacation. There's so much more! So much!

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Pop Quiz answer!

No links today! Sorry, folk - I had a rough week. I hurt my back picking up the child (and not the heavier one - I'm just getting old) and then I had a sore throat and a bit of a fever, so I was miserable and aching for about three days and just didn't feel like surfing the web. I found a few fun things, so we'll see about next week.

The answer to my pop quiz was, of course, John F. Kennedy. You scamps are so darned smart! I suppose I shouldn't have given any choices or given better ones, but I wasn't trying to stump you too much. I read this quote in the June 2006 issue of History Today. JFK wrote this in 1945 (or possibly 1946 - he was 28 at the time) while touring Germany after the war ended. It's a strange quote, because even though his father and several others in the State Department wanted a closer relationship with Nazi Germany in the 1930s as a bulwark against Communism, it seems unbelievable that Kennedy could not have known about what Hitler did in pursuit of his "boundless ambition for his country." Anti-Communists in the 1930s and 1940s could argue that Hitler did good things for Germany and just happened to be on the wrong side, but once you know the extent of the Holocaust I just can't believe anyone could defend him. That wacky JFK!

Of course, JFK was an ardent anti-Communist. He tried to kill Castro more than once, sanctioned the assassination of President Diem in South Vietnam, and increased the troop size in Southeast Asia to block the Communist threat. But this is still a weird quote.

Thanks for playing, everyone! Pictures tomorrow, and then it's Top Ten week. I will explain all!

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Pop Quiz!

It's a lazy, ridiculously hot day here in the Valley (yesterday it reached the highest temperature - 118 - since 1995), and I thought I'd throw a pop quiz at you on a slow weekend afternoon. Don't fret, it's multiple choice and only one question!

Whose words are these?

"... within a few years Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived. He had boundless ambition for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way that he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him. He had in him the stuff of which legends are made."

What a great quote! Was it:

A. Joseph McCarthy.
B. John F. Kennedy.
C. David Duke.
D. Lyndon B. Johnson.
E. Harry S Truman.
F. George W. Bush.
G. Bill Clinton.

Choose wisely, grasshoppers! I will reveal the answer tomorrow!

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Great songs, according to me (Part 23)

Just when you think I've given up on these ... I hit you with another ten songs! Can you stand the sonic goodness????

As usual, the archives: links to parts 1-15, part 16, part 17, part 18, part 19, part 20, part 21, and part 22. And away we go!

221. Gone Daddy Gone (by Violent Femmes on the album Violent Femmes, 1982): For pure pop nastiness and snottiness, this may be the perfect album. The only clunker in the group is "Good Feeling," and even that is okay because it doesn't go on too long. I like all the songs, but "Gone Daddy Gone" is probably the best song on the album. Gordon sneers his way through the lyrics, and you know what puts it over the top to greatness: the xylophone solo! Yes, the xylophone solo takes a good song and makes it transcendent. Dare you argue with the xylophone solo? I thought not!

222. Grendel (by Marillion on the album Script For A Jester's Tear (remix), 1983, 1997): Lefty picked on me last time for having so many Marillion songs on this list, but the reasons for this are twofold: they're my favorite band in the world, so of course I think many of their songs are great; they've released 13 albums, so I have a large selection from which to choose. This song is one of their first, and although it's a bit rough around the edges, it shows the brilliance of Fish, their first lead singer, as well as the musicians around him. For about 18 minutes (the song is a bit long, I'll admit), we get a reimagining of the Beowulf legend from the point of view of the monster. It's a chilling song, and at the end, when "Grendel" himself is narrating and Fish's vocal becomes accusatory and shrill and he almost screams, "Why should I feel pity when you kill your own and feel no shame?" you feel almost like you're in some Danish hall and the fire is getting low. Very creepy, but effective.

223. Groove Is In The Heart (by Deee-Lite on the album World Clique, 1990): Deee-Lite flamed out relatively quickly, but their first (and best) album remains a fun one, and the first single from it remains possibly their best song. The lyrics are almost incomprehensible (I like succotash, but why would you wish for it?), but Bootsy's unbelievably funky bass line and Lady Kier's dippy vocals and Q-Tip guest-rapping ("Baby, just sing about the groove") and the smooth horns at the end make this not only a great dance song, but a great song period. You can't help but smile when you hear this song!

224. Hard To Handle (by the Black Crowes on the album Shake Your Money Maker, 1990): I know this is a cover, but I've never heard the original, so this version will have to do. I don't mind, though, because this version kicks much ass. Robinson's raspy voice is perfectly suited for this rough-and-tumble jolt, and it has that great guitar solo near the end to match the crunch in the beginning. Most of the Crowes' songs sound alike, but occasionally a few of them rise above the rest. This is one of them.

225. Haunted (by Shane MacGowan and the Popes (with Sinéad O'Connor) on the album The Snake, 1995): MacGowan is a weird little man. He's ugly as sin, he drinks waaaaaay too much, he has an awful voice, yet he creates compelling music, and can even crank out a nice love song if he's of the mind too. This album, his first post-Pogues release, features some decent songs, but this duet with O'Connor, whose ethereal voice contrasts very weirdly with MacGowan's gargling-with-dirt voice, is strangely great. It's a touching little song, and MacGowan gives it just enough despair that all great love songs should have. Weird, but great.

226. He Got Game (by Public Enemy on the motion picture soundtrack for He Got Game, 1998): It's probably a crime against nature and hip-hop that this is the only PE album I own. Yes, I know - heap your vitriol upon me! And it's not all that great an album, but the title track kicks ass. Yes, ASS! Chuck D is in fine lyrical form, rapping about the failure of religion and government and the power of l-u-v. Stephen Stills coming in at the end to sing the chorus of "For What It's Worth" is a bit bizarre, but you can't hear the actual chorus without getting chills: "It might feel good, it might sound little somethin', but fuck the game if it ain't sayin' nuttin'." Amen, Brother D, amen.

227. He Knows You Know (by Marillion on the album Script for a Jester's Tear, 1983): Yes, another Marillion song. Sue me. This is from Marillion's first album, and it's a terrifying little ditty about drugs and the toll they take. Rothery's guitar screeches through the song, shredding your nerves, while Fish recites the lyrics like an incantation: "Pumping arteries ooze their problems through the gap that the razor tore." Unlike a lot of very early Marillion, the grounded nature and ugly subject matter of this song make it more memorable than some of their other stuff. And Fish, despite a leaning toward opaque metaphor, keeps it relevant enough to really freak us out.

228. Heart Of The Sunrise (by Yes on the album Fragile, 1972): In the weird world of Yes, this might be their masterpiece. Other songs might be more popular, but "Heart Of The Sunrise" is quintessential Yes, and it never succumbs to the pretentiousness that so many other of their songs do. Anderson's high-pitched whine is used very well here, and the music builds and builds to a not-quite-unendurable climax, pushing us right to the edge of madness before Anderson warbles, "I feel lost in the city" and we slowly fade. A strange, early-1970s acid trip of a song, but a great one. It's too bad Yes felt the need on so many other songs to go too far. Oh well, at least we got a few great tunes out of it.

229. Heart-Shaped Box (by Nirvana on the album In Utero, 1993): This is the first single from Nirvana's last album, and it disappointed many people. I'm not sure why - this song, at least, fuses Kurt's "I wanna be a loser punk, damn it!" with Novoselic and Grohl's more pop sensibilities (Kurt's whining made him an icon, but without Krist and Dave, Nirvana would have been nothing and I guess Kurt would have been happy and alive). The lyrics are pure Cobain (brilliant) hate: "I got a new complaint, forever in debt to your priceless advice," but the bass underlying the screeching guitars keeps the song rumbling along, and Grohl's garage-band-drums add a nice touch of indy spirit to things. In Utero isn't the achievement Nevermind was, but it contains a bunch of very good to great songs, and it's kind of a shame that Kurt was such a drip. Growing up in Aberdeen will do that to you!

230. Heathaze (by Genesis on the album Duke, 1980): This song, like the album, mark a transition from the weird, 1970s-era Genesis to the poppy, 1980s-era Genesis. Even though this was Phil's fourth album as lead vocalist, the band still retained some of that Peter Gabriel weirdness, and even though they were moving toward more conventional fare, they were still writing songs that defied easy categorization. This song is about a hot day. Oh, but it's about so much more! The music suits the subject matter perfectly - languid and almost lazy, only occasionally showing a small spark, but it still drifts along beautifully. Meanwhile, Phil is singing ostensibly about the lethargy that comes from a humid summer day, but he's really singing about the torpor that affects us all and how we allow ourselves to get trapped in places that aren't good for us and remain there, slowly dying. "The trees and I are shaken by the same wind but whereas the trees will lose their withered leaves, I just can't seem to let them loose," sings Phil, and we feel his despair. He ends with "I feel like an alien, a stranger in an alien place," and the music swells briefly before fading like a dream. It's a beautiful and haunting song, and is followed ironically by "Turn It On Again," which became a staple of the arena tours Genesis went on when they became a supergroup. The juxtaposition is weird.

That's all for this time. Comments, questions, criticism, praise - it's all welcome! I can handle it all!

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What I've been reading

Meet You In Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America by Les Standiford.
319 pages, 2005, Crown Publishers.
I love the Gilded Age. I find it terribly fascinating - the rise of "robber barons," the political scandals, the petty little wars we fought, the progressivism that came out of the reaction against scandal, and the way the United States slowly began to assert itself on the world stage after the Civil War. I love it. I also don't know a whole lot about it, because whenever I sashay through the American history section of the bookstore, I see dozens and dozens of books about the Civil War (when I was small I read Bruce Catton's book on the subject more than once, and that's all I need, damn it!), I see many books on Theodore Roosevelt (one of my favorite presidents, and the fact that Republicans today don't like him raises my esteem for him even more), but I see very few books about the era in between. What the crap?

So it was with glee that I picked this book up. Carnegie is a fascinating figure, and I knew very little about his business practices, his relationship with Frick, and how he tried to break the unions that operated in his plants. Standiford tells us early on that he is going to focus not exactly on Carnegie's and Frick's lives, but on their relationship and how their business practices led to the Homestead strike of 1892, a watershed event in the history of American labor. However, the book does a nice job of tracking the early years of Carnegie and Frick, losing its way only a slight bit in the section after the strike is over. We get into the personalities of both men, which helps us understand why the Homestead mess went as far as it did and turned so bloody. Frick was always disdainful of labor, and Carnegie, although he pretended to be a friend of the working man, was much more interested in keeping down costs. He was in Scotland when the strike hit, and he gave Frick carte blanche to deal with it. Frick responded by calling in scabs protected by Pinkertons, and things got messy.

The book is divided into three sections - the first leading up to the strike, the second about the strike, and then the denouement. We learn some interesting things about the two men - Carnegie was scornful of his fellow robber barons like Morgan and Rockefeller who pursued profit over all. He believed much more in keeping costs down, and hired people who shared that vision. He was one of the first people to pioneer the eight-hour shifts because one of his plant managers told him it would cost less for three eight-hour shifts than two twelve-hour ones. One of the reasons why the union representatives felt betrayed by Carnegie was because he reversed this policy. Carnegie was at the forefront of innovation in steel-making, too, because of this obsession with cost-cutting. He was also dedicated to creating a monopoly on steel-making for the same reason, which brought him into contact with Frick, who controlled the coke in western Pennsylvania. Both Carnegie and Frick were self-made men (to a degree) who were in the right place at the right time. Standiford goes into their business dealings in great deal, showing how they both became rich through steel. He also sets the stage nicely for their friendship and subsequent falling out.

The Homestead strike is covered in great detail, and this is where the book does a nice job. Homestead, Pennsylvania, was a complete company town, and when the union tried to negotiate a higher wage, Frick balked. When the workers went on strike, Frick kept in close contact with Carnegie, who basically told him to trust his instincts. So Frick played hard ball, brought in scabs, and tried to land them by boat inside the plant grounds, hoping to keep the strikers outside the fence. The strikers got inside and blocked the boat bringing the workers in. Frick had hired Pinkertons from the famous detective agency to defend the new workers and make sure they could get to work. Naturally, somebody fired a shot, and to this day no one knows who fired first. Four union workers died and a few of the Pinkertons, but no one could gain a clear advantage. Frick remained resolute, and the strike eventually fell apart. Standiford makes a mention to the slower news cycle of the times, which worked in management's advantage. He also goes into a bit of detail about the Haymarket Riot of 1886 and how American public opinion was slowly turning against labor at this time, which helped Frick as well. By the early 1900s, Carnegie's businesses were union-free, and would remain so until the late 1930s and the upswing in socialism.

The Homestead strike also put the first chinks in the friendship and partnership of Carnegie and Frick. Standiford tracks their falling-out, but he does so a bit perfunctorily, as if he lost interest in the subject after going into Homestead in such detail. It's still fascinating to read how petty it became, especially on Frick's side. He built a skyscraper in downtown Pittsburgh that dwarfed Carnegie's right next to it. He built a mansion in New York that made Carnegie's look small. He amassed a huge private art collection that is now housed in his mansion, which was converted into a museum. Both Frick and Carnegie, who were examples of American nouveau riche, believed in bettering themselves through the arts. Of course, Carnegie ended up giving away most of his fortune, and Standiford leaves us wondering if it was because of his strict religious upbringing or because of the guilt he felt over crushing labor. Carnegie himself probably didn't know.

Meet You in Hell is by no means a great book. It's an interesting read, but I can't tell you that you must run out and read it right now! If you're interested in this time period, it's a good book, and Standiford's prose is easy-going and loose, with an easily digestible style. I think the book could have been a bit longer, especially in the latter stages when Frick and Carnegie's friendship fell apart. Standiford does a nice job, however, in showing how Carnegie and Frick were at the forefront of the complete transformation of American society from an agricultural one to an industrial one. The sections dealing with Carnegie's business dealings and the Homestead strike itself are fascinating, and I enjoyed the book for the most part. It just let me down a bit at the end.

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Picture Day reveals the harsh Portland winter!

Usually Portland winters aren't that bad. It rains a lot, and it's overcast the rest of the time, and it's always damp, but the temperatures don't get too low and you never get that really painful cold that I used to endure in Pennsylvania (although I do miss snow and those bright, crisp sunny days that follow a good snowstorm). Every so often, though, it snows in Portland. When I say "snow" I mean at least a good inch! This paralyzes the city, because no one knows how to deal with it. We once got almost 2 inches and they closed the Interstate outside of town. Dear God! And then, occasionally, we got an ice storm. In January of 1998 we were hit with one, and we were trapped inside our apartment. Except when I went out to take pictures, of course!

I actually managed to get some good pictures close up to the various ice-encrusted leaves and such. I'm not a professional photographer (I know, shocking) and so I don't have a fancy camera, and occasionally extreme close-ups are blurry. Here are some neat pictures of ice on leaves and berries. I don't know what kind of leaves are in the middle picture. I think it might have been a frozen alien, though.

This next picture is right out our front door. What a nice view - and this is, technically, inside the city limits! To the left are the steps down to the parking lot in the apartment complex. By "steps" I mean 52 of them. Yes, it was fun living on the side of a big hill, but it was no fun bringing groceries up from the car ... in the rain. We had a nice place, but were happy to move.

Finally, it's the hard life of a kitty. How, oh how do they endure????

Sorry for the lack of exotic locales this time. Next week, we're off to Lake Tahoe and we'll see jumping frogs. I kid you not!

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Big bunnies, unisex bathrooms, Mr. T, destroy all robots!, pirate lingerie, and many Signs of the Apocalypse - all in the links!

Yes, this week I had time to zip around cyberspace and find all that's great and glorious about this big blue marble we inhabit. Can you handle the cosmic goodness of all the links?

Let's get right to it!

FUNNY STUFF. We laugh so that we may not cry.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2006 winners are out! Your winner:
Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

That's just painful. Lots more at the link, but beware - they are all as bad as this one!

Jesus contemplates his scars. Do the ladies like them or not?

Dave brings us: Bus Off A Cliff Comics! Excellent political humor, including my favorite:

Dave did these himself, so I don't want to steal any more - go check the rest out at the link!

Holy crap, that's a big bunny!

Google Senator Rick Santorum's last name! Fun stuff. This is from YesButNoButYes.

True tales of the unisex bathroom!

If you've been wondering what Deadwood, one of the best shows on television, is lacking, the answer is obvious: a laugh track. Lyle pointed this out.

This is a long (but funny) post about being way too polite.

My obituary:

'What will your obituary say?' at

This is from Stuntmother.

Have you ever found a very old note to yourself?

Life lessons from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Who knew such philosophy was embedded in a Disney movie?

FASHION NEWS. We're all about the fashion here!

The school district in Arlington, TX, is banning "grills" - you know, those jewelry-encrusted things rappers wear on their teeth. There was an article in this week's newspaper about them and how unhygienic they are, but stupid people wearing stupid things on their body is as American as denying minorities their rights! Fashion is largely stupid, and trying to ban it never does anyone any good.

Speaking of fashion, Mr. T has ditched his gold chains after viewing the destruction wrought by Katrina. It's a sin against God, according to T, to wear such ostentatious bling while there are so many people put out by the hurricane. But I thought they were put out by the hurricane because they were sinning against God? Religion is so confusing. I'll miss the gold chains. It's like KISS without the makeup!

Go Fug Yourself brings us an unidentified poorly-dressed person:

Fashion makes my head hurt.

COMIC BOOK WACKINESS. When comics take the place of classic literature, you'll all be sorry you don't read them!

Scipio has discovered Spider-Man's weak point:
That's gotta hurt. Unless, of course, Spidey is, you know, that way.

Scipio has a bit of a theme going, as he the only example we need for why the importance of word balloons on comic book covers:

But that's not all for the Man of Steel! Scott discovers that Superman is sexist:

Oh, the horror! Boy, Superman really is a dick, isn't he?

This probably shouldn't be in the comic book section, but what the hell: Tom has an interesting post about sexism and gender differences. It was inspired by comics, so that's where it's going!

Dorian visits the DC message boards. Why, Dorian, why? At least we reap the benefit of reading about the idiots without having to actually go there.

I forgot to mention that last week Chris Sims had a theme: Badass Week! He wrote about Ghost Rider and Captain America, gave out a Lifetime Tough Man Achievement Award, and revealed the Toughest Man in Comics (which was unsurprising) and the Toughest Woman in Comics (which was surprising). Quality stuff as usual from the Invincible Super-Blog.

Speaking of Chris, he brings us the awesomeness of Project X, which is a comic about noodles in a cup. Do you doubt it? Gaze in wonder:

If your mind is now blown, you're not the only one.

Thoughts about Greg Land and "pornface."

Nik has some interesting thoughts about Alan Moore's Lost Girls.

Mike Sterling wants to destroy all robots!

POLITICS. And related insanity.

Is this guy serious? According to him (well, I assume it's a him, but it could be a her), if Israel didn't exist Jews and Muslims would live in perfect harmony. WTF? One thing that bugs me about crazy liberals is their occasional hatred of Israel. I don't think Israel is the shining paragon of goodness that conservatives make it out to be, but it certainly has a right to exist. Israel not existing wouldn't help solve the problems in the Middle East. I hate to agree with crazy right-wingers like Ace, where I found this, but this is just ridiculous.

A Baptist minister compared Kenneth Lay to James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to his death, saying they were both "lynched." He also compared him to Martin Luther King Jr. and - get this - Jesus. I can't even find the words for this. I got both stories at Andrew Sullivan, here and here.

Who, oh who, can we blame for the illegal immigration problem? Duh. Ronald Reagan, of course. You have to love unintended consequences.

"The president is always right." Actual quote by Stephen Bradbury, a Justice Department lawyer. Un-frickin'-believable. This is from The Carpetbagger Report by way of Balloon Juice.

Echidne links to this article about how liberal Christianity is dying because people want authoritarian sects telling them what to do, and then rips it to shreds. It's fascinating because I have always heard that the Catholic Church is in crisis, yet they seem to be more authoritarian than anyone. The author kind of skims over that point.

Edward Copeland on Film has the news that the CleanFlick people have to knock it off. An interesting reaction to the ruling can be found here (with links).

Are the Minutemen riddled with corruption? I know, it would be shocking!

This has been making the rounds, but if you missed it, it's new to you! The Disgruntled Chemist first brought it to my attention. He pointed out this story in The Onion. It's amusing enough, but this pro-lifer thought it was serious and really ripped into it. Over a thousand comments later, most telling him how stupid he was, and he responded here. Satire is dead, apparently.

This story didn't get much press, which is odd: the Supreme Court has basically ripped the guts out of the insanity defense. This is from an Arizona case, so I'm surprised I didn't see more about it here. This is from Heretical Ideas. It's good to see that we're getting tough on those paranoid schizophrenics!

This is a sobering story about all the neo-Nazis in the United States military.

OCTOGENARIAN NEWS. Eighty is the new forty, you know.

An 83-year-old man took a turn at bat in a minor-league baseball game. He struck out. If you're the pitcher, don't you have to throw at him? I mean, come on! But at least he wasn't selling drugs for sex, like this 80-year-old! That's just icky.

SOCCER-RELATED STUFF. Because the World Cup may be over, but football lives on!

It's the World Cup headbutt heard 'round the world ... in LEGO!

From Majikthise.

In related news, the Ministry of Information links to this story about the cultural norms of swearing.

POP CULTURE-O-RAMA! Because there's no culture like the disposable kind!

Afe found this picture somewhere:

That's Yvonne Craig, apparently (it doesn't look like her). You may know her better as Batgirl!

Neel Mehta brings us news that Adventures in Babysitting is getting remade. What an awesome movie (I kid you not). The question is, of course, what the fuck? Can no one in Hollywood come up with even the semblance of an original idea? Of course, because it's the Internet, there are always people who go a little nutty about the news.

Woody asks the most important question ever: who's hotter, pirates or stormtroopers? I must say, his stormtroopers would fare poorly in battle. And he actually links to a pirate lingerie page:

See? If you visit this blog, you can find out how to spice up that aspect of your life!

The weirdness of the new television show Who Wants to be a Superhero. Ah, yes, MonkeyWoman was there (with her only "natural" superpower - the monkey screech) ...

... as was Fat Momma (who can hit you with a "super burp") ...

... and Lemuria, who is of course from Atlantis:

If you don't think the Japanese have the weirdest culture in the world, this may change your mind.

Will M. Night Shyamalan direct a Harry Potter film? The rumor comes is linked to at The Beat.

Kate Hudson likes porn, apparently. Or, more specifically, she doesn't mind if her husband watches it. I doubt if she'll have to worry about it much longer - aren't they due for a divorce?

Adam West exhibits his Bat-art!

The always-fun Tom Peyer found this piece of pop-culture goodness.

SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE. It's coming, people!

Stolen from Allison:

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Dave finds something that's pretty disturbing. He found a message board where people are happy because of all the crap that's going on in the world because it means the Rapture is coming soon. And I'm pretty sure they're serious.

My pal Roxy goes to Ozzfest and learns dark, depressing things about herself.

Here are a ton o' statistics about books, courtesy of Goin' Ape. The saddest one of all: 58% of Americans never read a book after high school.

I've seen this a few places, but I say it first at Basketbawful: A man has sued Michael Jordan because they look alike and he's tired of being mistaken for Jordan. He sued Phil Knight too. For 416 million dollars. Each. Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

Here are two news stories about various schools banning tag. Yes, tag. It messes with kids' self esteem, don't you know. This is from Dadcentric.

You've heard of the cuculoupe, right? Thank goodness we have Dave Barry to bring us the news!

MISCELLANEOUS. I can't come up with categories for everything!

This post has some interesting thoughts about Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser as well as thoughts about obesity in general. I'm obese (probably, although I'm not sure how obese) and struggle with it, and it's far too easy to become obese. I'm working on it!

Pete Coors was arrested for DUI. I know drunk driving is a serious issue, but this is pretty funny. I got the news from Ace of Spades.

Here are some nice signs trying to get abled people to stop parking in disabled parking spaces. My favorite is:

The other two don't have the swearing, but they're still good. I found this at ahistoricality. Ever since we got our handicapped parking tag, I've noticed only a few times where it appeared someone was blatantly abusing it. My darling wife actually threatened to call the cops on a guy once who was parked in a handicapped space. This was after she politely asked him if he had a tag and made a big deal about dragging Mia's wheelchair out of the van. The guy had a hard time getting the hint, I guess.

The Ministry of Information gives us this bit of information:

Ladies, you know you want them! The manufacturer thought, "How can I make stiletto heels even more uncomfortable? I know - I'll make the shoes out of metal!"

Are you looking for the best nudist resorts? Sure you are! Go here for four of the best. If you peruse this woman's blog, you'll know she's very qualified to discuss this.

This is a weird site in what appears to be Russian. Why would I link to it? The pictures, oh, the pictures:

The Russian Spider-Man shows up, too. Doubt me at your peril! I found this at Heidi's blog.

Why we'd all be better of if a secret cabal was actually running the world.

Here's a link some nice old-school pictures of the Liberty Theater in Portland, courtesy of Stumptown Confidential.

Have I mentioned how much I miss Portland? Sigh.

Yes, it's virtual bubble wrap. Pop it yourself! I found it here.

Here are a few links from Histori-blogography: autoantonyms and the coolest ice tray ever:

You know you want it!

Vincent Van Gogh's paintings: a precursor to chaos theory?

Matthew writes about discovering a Sazerac cocktail. I've never heard of it either.

I found this weird picture here:

So sad!

This links to Nudist Trampolining. Don't worry, it's totally work safe! Well, maybe 98% work safe.

Finally, we have this:

Missile tests over New Mexico. Yes, it's very pretty. Yes, it's kind of freaky!

That's all for this week. I hope you have fun wasting time with these - remember, surfing the Internets is best done while you're supposed to be working! Nobody reads those TPS reports anyway!

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