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!


Blue moon alert, plus other things of note

It's a blue moon tonight, by the way. Well, depending on where in the world you live. Check it out!

There's a new book out called The Fox and the Flies. In it the author makes the case that his subject, Joseph Silver, a South African criminal in the years leading up to World War I, might have been Jack the Ripper. The evidence is circumstantial, but why not? I'm not into the Ripper as much as many people are, but it's still kind of neat to read about the murders.

According to this story, a public library in Gilbert, AZ, will be the first in the country to abandon totally the Dewey Decimal System to categorize their books. I wonder if Roger has an opinion on this. I do like how they're trying to make the libraries more like bookstores, where people can hang out and browse. I remember when the central library in Portland re-opened after being renovated, and it was so loud that it was much nicer to go to bookstores. Has anyone else noticed that libraries these days are louder than bookstores, even the big-chain bookstores?

Finally, the Spelling Bee is being televised today. One of the favorites is a kid from Gilbert. I happened to see him this morning, and he has a weird style. Check him out explaining his strategy here. There's a commercial first, but bear with it. I don't care if he wins, I just thought his tic was interesting. I also saw a girl get knocked out when she couldn't spell "difficile." I don't know how she spelled it (I came in a bit late), but why are they making kids spell French words? I bet they would never have a winner if they just threw some Russian words at those kids! What the hell? I felt bad for her, because why should she know how to spell a French word? Did "difficile" enter our language and no one told me?

I'm sure I'll have more interesting things soon enough. In the meantime, here's a site devoted to penny postcards. A fine time-waster!

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News of the Odd: the half-ton hog and grace under pressure

If you haven't seen the 1051-pound hog that Jamison Stone shot in Alabama over the weekend ... well, you just aren't paying enough attention:

The web site that his dad put up is, of course, awesome. The "negative comments" section begins with a note from the father: "Warning!!! Your Negative e-mails may be posted and some of you will be Prayed for." Excellent.

I assume it's real. If it is, what the hell kind of things are roaming the woods down there in Alabama? Jesus.

In another story, Miss USA fell down during the evening gown showing at the Miss Universe Pageant last night, but popped right back up and kept on sauntering! She ended up finished fifth. Now that's poise!

That's much cooler than some kid blasting away at a thousand-pound pig. Although that's pretty cool too.

Man, it's great to be an American sometimes.

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I thought I had won, but I was sadly mistaken

Krys has been talking about buying a bed for Norah, because we think she'll really dig it and she's big enough for one. So she's been shopping around and she found a good one at IKEA. We were talking about it last night, and she mentioned that we would need to get a new dresser when we got the new bed. I pointed out that Norah already has a perfectly good dresser.

"It doesn't match," said my wife. The bed, she explained, is white, while the dressed is cherry red. I rolled my eyes, because I don't understand the vagaries of fashion and decorating. She said that she had her eye on a white dresser that would look great. Just to be annoying, I said, "Well, that won't match the walls." Her walls are yellow.

Krys thought about this for a brief instant, then said, "It's fine. White goes with everything."

Instantly, I said, "So it will match the dresser we already have!"

I had won! I HAD WON!!!!!! After over 14 years of being wrong, I had WONWONWONWON!!!!! I raised my arms triumphantly and did a little dance in my chair and acted like a child. I didn't care. I had won!

Well, anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship with a woman knows that the man never wins. Krys said, "The white doesn't go with the cherry wood." It was the wood styles she was speaking of, not the color. She then said she meant that the white color goes with whatever paint color is on the wall. The wood of the bed would not match the cherry. I had, indeed, lost.

Well, I knew I was going to lose anyway. Krys and I don't begrudge each other anything - we figure we're mature enough not to spend all our money on hookers (Krys) and shoes (me). Oh, wait a minute - those two might have to be reversed. She wants a new bedroom set, and she was going to get it. I don't have a problem with it, even though Norah's dresser is perfectly fine. Krys suggested we have a garage sale to get rid of her baby stuff now that she's almost two, and that's what we'll probably do.

I just liked winning for one brief instant. That will sustain me for the next 14 years!

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The Star Wars thing

I guess today is the 30th anniversary of the release of Star Wars. I had just turned 6 when it was released, so you would think I would be a perfect target audience, and I was. I like the movie, but it didn't change my life and I didn't see it 88 times in the theater, or however many times kids saw it back then. In fact, I don't know if I saw it more than once in the theater. We were living in Germany in 1977, and it just wasn't that big a deal. I do recall seeing it in Austria during the winter, so it must have been seven or more months after the premiere. The Austrian show was dubbed in German with English subtitles, and I remember thinking how lame it was having to read the stupid screen when the movie was in English originally, after all.

That's the only time I remember seeing it in the theater. I've seen it plenty of times since then, but it still has little impact on me. I enjoyed the first trilogy (The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite) and loathed the second (to the extent that I still haven't sat through an entire showing of the last one), but it was just a movie. Even today, I still don't get the whole Star Wars culture.

I have often thought about why I'm like this. I may or may not be participating in a trivia contest next week at one of the comic book stores here in town (I was asked and accepted, but haven't heard the details yet). It's a pop culture trivia thing, and I guess people think of me as a big nerd who knows everything there is to know about pop culture. Well, I am a big nerd, but I'm really not hip to as much pop culture people tend to think I am. I'm a surface dweller, without delving into the depths of pop culture, so I don't know where the rebel base is in the first Star Wars movie (Yavin?). I think part of this comes from growing up in Germany. I spent four years there (1975-1979), so all that 1970s crap goes right over my head. I never watched The Six Million Dollar Man. I was never issued Frampton Comes Alive! like every other suburban white kid. When we returned from Germany in May 1979, I had never watched a lot of television, and it took me a while to discover the glory of The Dukes of Hazzard and Real People. I never got into video games (I'm still not) and I didn't buy comics until 1988, when I was 17. It's odd, but it sometimes feels like living in Germany for those few years set me back a decade. I don't think I've even caught up now.

I get, intellectually, that Star Wars is a huge thing to people of my generation. However, the only significance this date has for me is it reminds me how old I'm getting. I used to think that if I could refer to something as happening 20 years ago in my life, I was old. Now I can easily refer to things that happened over 30 years ago and remember at least a little bit about them. Soon it will be 40 years since Star Wars premiered. Man, I'll feel old then!

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Well played, Lost writers

Boy, I didn't see that coming.

So, who's in the casket?

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The end of days?

When Krys and I left the movie theater on Saturday night, we had to walk far to the car. Saturday at the mall in Phoenix is the shizznit, apparently, so the parking lot is always crowded, especially if you want to park near the theater and the restaurants near it. So we had a long walk. As we were walking, I noticed several smushed grasshoppers on the road. I mentioned it to Krys, and then we both started seeing several live grasshoppers (along with plenty of smushed ones) zipping around. They hounded us all the way to the car (a good eight-minute walk or so). Yes, hounded! Maybe they weren't after us specifically, but it could be that they had gotten a taste of sweet, sweet human flesh and wanted more!

The next morning I had to return a book to the bookstore at the very same mall. I arrived and noticed more grasshoppers as Mia and I crossed the parking lot. It was in a completely different part of the mall. They'd surrounded it! What the hell was happening?

That afternoon (Sunday the 20th), Krys took Mia in the pool, as our older child has decided that napping is for suckers (and this time she really means it!). Guess what kept jumping into the pool? If you said insects of the family Acrididae, go to the front of the class!

Perhaps, we thought, they were simply vexing us. Perhaps we had been famed grasshopper hunters in another life and now they were out for revenge. However, today I mentioned it to Mia's occupational therapist, who said they were everywhere in downtown Phoenix yesterday, and we were nowhere near there! So what, indeed, is happening?

Well, I could look for a scientific explanation, but we all know that science only gives facts, and deals not with "gut instincts," which is how we should live our lives. I choose to believe that this is a fabled Plague of Locusts, which heralds the End Times. Prepare yourself accordingly!!!!!

Who knew my turning 36 signaled the end of the world? I sure didn't!

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Another year closer to death

Today is my birthday. I'm 36, which means I guess I'm officially middle-aged (isn't the life span of men 72?). I had a good day, for a birthday. Krys bought me a camcorder, which we've been talking about buying for a while. I can't wait to record the children doing goofy things like dancing around when their music is on. They dig that. We also went out to dinner and then saw Spider-Man 3 (my quick recommendation, if you're one of the 8 people on the planet who hasn't seen it yet: skip it). All in all, a nice day. Krys also bought me a cake, and it's why she is the coolest wife ever:

Yes, it's a cake with Batman on it. How cool is that? She got it from a bakery near her that is tiny, but the guy makes excellent stuff. This cake is no exception, although he screwed up and made it all vanilla instead of one layer of chocolate, like Krys asked. Oh well - it's still damned good cake.

So another year is in the books. It wasn't a bad year, all in all. I have a feeling 36 is going to be better, because I actually have some plans. We'll see.

I just really wanted to post a picture of the cake. It was the star of the day!

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The Women of Jerry, Part 6

Let's check out Season 5 of Seinfeld to see how the girlfriends stack up, shall we? Yes, we shall!

Episode One (65), "The Mango" (aired 16 September 1993). This is the episode when Jerry found out Elaine faked her orgasms, so he wants another chance. He gets one, and then fails to perform. I can't really count Elaine as a girlfriend. Besides, we already covered her as Jerry's girlfriend.

Episode Two (66), "The Puffy Shirt" (aired 23 September 1993). No girlfriend, but this is a great episode. Jerry can't hear Kramer's girlfriend, who asks him to wear her "puffy" shirt on the Today show. George gets a job as a hand model (and we find out he won the "no masturbation" contest, even though later we find out, in typical George fashion, that he cheated), but of course it all goes horribly wrong. Excellent stuff.

Episode Three (67), "The Glasses" (aired 30 September 1993). George's glasses are "stolen," so he needs new ones. While he's blind, he claims to see Jerry's girlfriend kissing Cousin Jeffrey. This is a not bad episode made better by the presence of Timothy Stack (now seen hilariously playing himself on My Name is Earl) as the glasses salesman who Kramer helped get off sweets. Jerry's girlfriend is played by Anna Gunn. Ms. Gunn has had a pretty decent career, and her Fame Rating is 6 out of 10 simply because she played Timothy Olyphant's wife, Martha Bullock, on Deadwood. What a great freakin' show. Gunn, by the way, was 25 when the episode aired. Jerry was 39. Pretty decent age gap there.

Episode Four (68), "The Sniffing Accountant" (aired 7 October 1993). No girlfriend. Jerry suspects that his accountant is using drugs even though he's just allergic to mohair, and this leads to various complications. Elaine is angry that her boyfriend, Jake Jarmell, doesn't use enough punctuation. It's that kind of goofiness that makes this sitcom such a classic.

Episode Five (69), "The Bris" (aired 14 October 1993). Jerry and Elaine are godparents, Kramer sees a "pigman," and George parks outside a hospital in a bad place. A pretty funny episode, but no girlfriend in sight.

Episode Six (70), "The Lip Reader" (aired 28 October 1993). Jerry dates a deaf woman! The deaf woman, of course, is Hollywood's go-to deaf woman, Marlee Matlin, who gets a Fame Rating of 8 out of 10 for filling the "deaf-woman" niche so ably all by herself. This is a pretty funny episode, as Elaine pretends to be deaf so she won't have to talk to her driver, Kramer becomes a ball boy and takes out Monica Seles, and George uses Matlin to spy on his girlfriend. Matlin has done a ton of work, and on network television, she has been playing Jaime Pressly's lawyer on My Name is Earl (Earl, of course, falls for her). Matlin was 28 when this episode aired, and Jerry was 39.

Episode Seven (71), "The Non-Fat Yogurt" (aired 4 November 1993). No girlfriend in this episode. Jerry, however, curses a lot and influences a child, who begins cursing a lot. We meet Lloyd Braun for the first time (and when he came back, he was played by a different actor). Not a bad episode.

Episode Eight (72), "The Barber" (aired 11 November 1993). Ugh. First of all, no girlfriend. Second of all, the whole "Jerry-switching-barbers" thing is stupid. A lousy episode.

Episode Nine (73), "The Masseuse" (aired 18 November 1993). Jennifer Coolidge shows up as Jerry's girlfriend, the masseuse who refuses to give him one. It's a pretty funny episode, for two reasons: Jerry's attempts to get her to give him one, which result in something like sexual harassment (it's funny in an uncomfortable way) and George ditching his girlfriend, who likes him, to chase Coolidge, who "dislikes [him] so intently" that he starts to like her. I'm going to give Coolidge a Fame Rating of 7 out of 10, because she's been a bunch of stuff even though she's never really achieved big-time stardom. She's always a riot, though, whether she's guest-starring on Friends, being schooled on how to pick up a man in Legally Blonde, seducing teenagers in American Pie, or showing up in one of Christopher Guest's "mockumentaries." Seinfeld was her first job in the entertainment field, by the way. Coolidge was 30 when the episode aired, and Jerry was still 39. Not bad. George's girlfriend, by the way, was played by Lisa Edelstein, who currently plays Dr. Cuddy on House.

Episode Ten (74), "The Cigar Store Indian" (aired 9 December 1993). This episode mainly deals with Frank Costanza's obsessive collecting habits about TV Guide, but it also features Jerry dealing with stereotypes, and is pretty funny. His "girlfriend" in this episode (do they ever actually go out on a date?) is Winona, played by Kimberly Norris, who I always thought was very attractive. Norris gets a Fame Rating of 3 out of 10, because she hasn't really done much in television or movies. She does, however, have a web site, and she is a Native American, which is nice to see (because of the subject matter in the show). I can't find any pictures of her to steal (her IMDb page and her web site have plenty, but I can't steal them), and I haven't been able to find her birthdate, but I would venture to guess that she's at least ten years younger than Jerry.

Episode Eleven (75), "The Conversion" (aired 16 December 1993). George converts to Latvian Orthodox, Kramer learns he has the "kavorka," and Jerry finds fungus cream in his girlfriend's medicine cabinet. His girlfriend is played by Kimberly Campbell, who never made much of an impression on me - she seemed vacuous. I'm giving her a Fame Rating of 2 out of 10 because she was on Seinfeld (her first job), but it's interesting that this was her first job and the last thing she's appeared in is Memento. I just find that neat. I have no idea how old Ms. Campbell was when this episode aired, but once again, I would say at least ten years younger than Jerry.

Episode Twelve (76), "The Stall" (aired 6 January 1994). Seinfeld went for some stunt casting here, as Elaine's boyfriend is played by Dan Cortese (remember Dan Cortese?) and Jerry's girlfriend is played by Jami Gertz. This is a pretty funny episode, mostly because of Cortese and George's man-crush on him. Krys and I still say "step off" and ask each other what we're doing "mañana." I have never liked Gertz, so her part of the show is less enjoyable, but the idea of not sparing a square is pretty funny. I give Gertz a Fame Rating of 8 out of 10, because she's still working and, let's be honest, she was pretty darned famous in the 1980s. For having been around a while, Gertz was only 28 when the episode aired, while Jerry was still 39. The ten-year age gap seems to be in effect!

Episode Thirteen (77), "The Dinner Party" (aired 3 February 1994). No girlfriend in this episode, as the gang splits up to find appropriate gifts for a dinner party. George wants to bring Pepsi and Ring Dings. Jerry eats a black-and-white cookie and throws up, breaking his non-vomit streak. Of course, this is the episode in which George and Kramer see Saddam Hussein on the street. It's not a great episode, but it's not bad.

Episode Fourteen (78), "The Marine Biologist" (aired 10 February 1994). This episode was just on TBS a few days ago, and that's good, because I love this episode. I especially love George's account of how he saved the whale ("The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli"). Jerry has no girlfriend, although Elaine accuses him of wanting to date the woman who was hit in the head with her organizer, played with grating goodness by Carol Kane (which would have been unusual, as she's two years older than Jerry). I always liked Rosalind Allen, who played Diane. As George puts it, she was the "It" Girl, and you can see why.

Episode Fifteen (79), "The Pie" (aired 17 February 1994). Audrey, Jerry's girlfriend, inexplicably refuses pie. He spends the rest of the episode trying to find out why, but never does. It's quite funny. This is, of course, the first appearance of Poppie, Audrey's father, who shows up again even though Audrey never does. Audrey is played by Suzanne Snyder, and interestingly enough, this was NOT her first appearance on Seinfeld. She was the female neo-Nazi who picks up Jerry and George in the limousine at the airport in Season 3. This episode actually came toward the end of her career (in entertainment, that is). I'm going to give her a Fame Rating of 5 out of 10, because she was in some fun stuff prior to Seinfeld, including Killer Klowns from Outer Space. That has to count for something, right? Snyder was either 32 or 31 when the episode aired (I have only a birth year, 1962), which is not a bad age gap.

Episode Sixteen (80), "The Stand-In" (aired 24 February 1994). Jerry is girlfriend-less again! This episode is the first with Mickey, Kramer's actor pal. This is also the episode in which Elaine dates the guy who "takes it out" on their first date. Not a bad episode, but not really that memorable.

Episode Seventeen (81), "The Wife" (aired 17 March 1994). Jerry makes up for the previous episode by having two (2) girlfriends! The most famous one, of course, is Courteney Cox, who dates Jerry for most of the episode before their fake marriage (contrived so Meryl (Cox) can get a dry cleaning discount that is offered to Jerry and his family), but he dumps her to give the discount to Paula, played by Rebecca Glenn. (I have to admit, though, that I'm not positive Paula is the girl he "cheats" with. I can't find anyone else who's a likely suspect, and I can't remember the girl's name. Can anyone confirm or deny?) This is a pretty good episode, as they often are whenever the gang plays around with a social convention without actually engaging in that social convention. Cox gets a Fame Rating of 10 out of 10 (this is for Tom, who wondered if Teri Hatcher couldn't get a 10, who could?), because since this episode aired, she hasn't really been out of the spotlight. Prior to this episode, she was in that Bruce Springsteen video, Masters of the Universe (man, that's a unintentionally funny movie), and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. After this, of course, she was in Friends, Scream and its two sequels, and her latest show, Dirt. And there's the marriage to David Arquette. I would put in the claim that Cox is the most famous of Jerry's girlfriends. When this episode aired, Cox was 29, and Jerry was 39. Back to normalcy in the age gap!

Episode Eighteen & Nineteen (82 & 83), "The Raincoats" (aired 28 April 1994). This two-part episode aired on the same day in April 1994, the day before Jerry's 40th birthday. This is the episode in which Jerry's parents are going to Paris but Kramer gets Morty involved in a business deal involving his beltless trenchcoat, "The Executive." Elaine's boyfriend, played nicely by Judge Reinhold, is a "close talker" and takes an inordinately weird liking to the Seinfelds. Jerry, meanwhile, is dating Rachel, played by Melanie Smith, who actually stayed Jerry's girlfriend for a few episodes. Ms. Smith only gets a Fame Rating of 4 out of 10, because she's never really done much, although she did work pretty regularly (including some time in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Melanie Smith was 31 when this episode aired. Jerry, as we've seen, was 39, but when the other episodes with Smith aired, he was 40.

Episode Twenty (84), "The Fire" (aired 5 May 1994). This is one of the great episodes, even though Jerry has no woman. After Kramer's date, Toby, heckles him at his performance, he goes to her office (she works with Elaine) and heckles her, causing her to run in the street, where a street cleaner cuts off her pinkie toe. This leads to Kramer's tale of how he got on the bus to take the toe to the hospital (Jerry: "You kept making all the stops?" Kramer: "Well, people kept ringing the bell!"). In this same episode, George exhibits ridiculous cowardice by pushing over women and children at his girlfriend's son's birthday party in order to escape a small fire in the kitchen. Jon Favreau is the clown, and he's very funny.

Episode Twenty-One (85), "The Hamptons" (aired 12 May 1994). Jerry's girlfriend is Rachel again, played by Melanie Smith. This isn't a bad episode, as the gang heads out to the beach to "see the baby" - their friends' baby, who's absolutely ugly. Rachel catches George with his pants down after he gets out of the pool, which leads to the word "shrinkage" entering the pop culture vernacular. The notable thing about the guest stars in this episode is that George's girlfriend, who sunbathes topless, is played by Melora Walters, who has been in a bunch of stuff from Dead Poets Society to The Butterfly Effect but was absolutely brilliant in Magnolia (of course, everyone was brilliant in Magnolia, but still).

Episode Twenty-Two (86), "The Opposite" (aired 19 May 1994). In this absolutely brilliant episode, one of the best ever, George realizes that he must do everything the opposite from what he's ever done, which gets him a girlfriend and a new job with the Yankees. Meanwhile, Elaine turns into George and loses her job and her apartment. Rachel breaks up with Jerry, but everything always works out for him, so he's not worried. A great episode, and a good place to end a season.

So that's the fifth season of Seinfeld. Not a bad tally at all. 9 girlfriends, plus the girl he dumps Meryl for (I won't count her). One Oscar winner (Matlin), one quirky character actress with an impressive body of work (Coolidge), one 1980s "It" girl (Gertz), and one über-celebrity (Cox). Even the ones who are only famous for being in Seinfeld appeared in some good episodes. A fine season for Mr. Seinfeld. Who knows what future episodes will bring!

Here are the rest of the entries in this particular group so far:
Part One (the pilot), Part Two (Season One), Part Three (Season Two), Part Four (Season Three), Part Five (Season Four).

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Our cat Smokey, R.I.P.

Smokey died on Tuesday, 8 May. It had been a long time coming, but it was still a tough moment. He had a sinus infection for a few months, and we had taken him to the vet back in March to get his blood work done. We had been checking his blood to make sure his kidneys were still functioning, since that's what had killed Zoe, our other cat. While he was at the vet, she diagnosed a sinus infection and put him on medication. He had curtailed his eating and drinking, probably because he couldn't smell the food and because he couldn't breathe that well and needed to breathe through his mouth. So we gave him his medication every day, let him drink from the faucet (he always loved drinking from the faucet, which was a tad strange), and hoped he would get better. His blood work came back fine, so we figured that all he had to do was fight off the infection and he'd be fine, at least for a while. But he never got rid of it. He kept losing weight because he still couldn't eat very well (even though he ate pretty regularly, but he just didn't get the volume of food he needed), and he got weaker and weaker. He had always liked jumping up on the bed or the counter in the kitchen, but he couldn't do that anymore. He still liked lying on Krys at night after the kids were in bed, but she now had to pick him up to get him onto her lap. He had always been pretty skinny, even when healthy, but his weight dropped from seven pounds to just under four, and that's not good. Last week I took him back to the vet and asked if we could get him fluids to administer subcutaneously just to get him hydrated until he got rid of the infection. We always thought he would recover because the medicine seemed to helping, and he would sneeze out a bunch of snot, but then it would just return. So for a few days we hydrated him, and after getting fluids he seemed to be a bit stronger. On Tuesday night we wrapped him in his towel (pilling a cat is no fun) and gave him his medication. Krys had to put clothes in the dryer, so I held him in the towel and rocked him. Once Krys was done, we went into the bathroom, and I looked at him. "I think he's dead," I said, and he was. Sometime between getting his pills (which he struggled against) and going into the bathroom, he gave up the ghost. I imagine it was just too hard to survive anymore.

We don't think he suffered all that much. When Zoe died, her kidneys failed with such speed that we think it hurt her a bit, but Smokey didn't appear to be in much pain in the days leading up to his death. He wasn't moving around terribly well, but he didn't act much differently. I know it's very hard to tell if cats are in pain, but we like to think he wasn't. It was just too much of a struggle for him, and we're glad it was quick. It was very weird holding a dead cat in my arms, because his eyes were still open, just blank. I had to wait to take him to the vet until the morning, and now we're just waiting for his ashes from the cremation.

We got Smokey in 1999, after we got back from our trip to Venezuela. When we arrived home, Zoe was in the window crying loudly, and we knew she needed a friend for when we weren't around. Krys found a foster home for cats, and we told the women who ran it that we wanted a laid-back cat, because Zoe was so high-strung. They gave us a cat who was far too laid-back - in fact, he made himself so at home immediately that Zoe got freaked out. Plus, he was bigger than Zoe, so she couldn't bully him. We took him back and told the ladies that we needed a laid-back cat who was also a big wimp. They gave us Smokey. He was in their bathroom, hiding behind the toilet, because he didn't like all the other cats. He was about 5 years old at the time, and he had been a feral cat, the only one of his litter to survive. He had had sinus problems for years, ear mites that almost destroyed one of his ears, and at some point all his teeth had been extracted. He was perfect!

We brought him home, and he immediately ran into the room with a futon in it and hid underneath it. We had to give him medication for his sinuses (it wasn't a recurring problem, and after that initial time, I can't recall giving him medicine for that until now), so we had to drag him out of the room and take him in the bathroom with the door closed so he wouldn't run away. Lots of fun there, I can tell you! For about a month he lived under the futon, venturing out at some point to eat and drink, but never going very far. He didn't trust us, so we had to wait until he realized we weren't going to kill him. Eventually he came out and began to feel at home. Zoe hissed at him and swatted at him, but we think she came to enjoy having him around, even though she never quite warmed up to him. He was good for her, because he was very friendly (eventually) but always kind of wimpy around her. As the years passed he got a little braver when she was around, but she could always bully him, mainly because he didn't really care - if she got pissy, he would just walk away. He was always very playful, and couldn't figure out why she didn't want to run around more. He would try to bait her, and occasionally she took it (as she got more comfortable with him), but often she just hissed at him. Such was life for Smokey!

He also became much more comfortable around us. As he began to understand that we weren't interested in hurting him, he started jumping up on us and settling down for some good napping. Unlike Zoe, who was always skittish, we could move around while he was on our laps and he wouldn't jump up and run away. It was kind of a pain sometimes, because we wanted to move but felt bad for disturbing him. He would get up in our faces, too - he liked to lie around Krys's neck like a scarf. He rarely slept with us, but when we were getting ready to go to sleep he would come into the bed and settle down under the covers, either under Krys's legs (while they were bent, creating a nice tent) or in between us. But he would always leave when we settled in to sleep. I guess he just liked hanging out in a different room all night.

We worked hard to get him healthy, and he enjoyed eating, although he never gained weight. He just liked hanging out and getting in our way. He had a "silent" meow, in that he would look at you, open his mouth, but barely any sound would come out. The sound he did make was more of a rasp. We're not quite sure why he wasn't louder, but it was quite humorous watching him wandering around and not making much noise. He was always very patient with the kids, allowing both of them to pet him and put their faces on his fur. Mia was very good with him, and Norah was getting much better - she still pulled on his tail occasionally, but we always told her that she should not do it. Norah loved putting her face into his fur and making contented noises - Smokey's hair was long and silky and very soft. In the past few months, Mia had begun calling him by name, and when we asked what he was (expecting her to say "cat"), she would say, "Fancy." Long-time readers of the blog will recall that two years ago he had a brain tumor (details and pictures here, here, here, here, here, and here) which we got removed, even though most people told us to let him die because he wasn't worth the money. He only lived a couple of more years, but it was worth it. He had been fine since the operation, and he got a nice life for two more years, so we don't care that he didn't live very much longer.

We had Smokey a little less than eight years. Of course we wished he had lived longer, but considering the state he was in when we got him and what he had already been through, we're grateful we had him this long. We think he got a bit depressed when Zoe died, and maybe that contributed to his demise. We were thinking of getting another cat when Zoe died, but for now, we think we'll stay pet-less, at least for a time. It's hard enough dealing with the two children, and especially because we want to move from here in the not-too-distant future, so maybe once we find a new home it will be time for new cats. For now, we'll just remember our two excellent cats and how nice it was having them around. We'll miss Smokey, just like we miss Zoe. They were part of the family.

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What I've been reading

The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger by Bill Jenkinson. 412 pages, 2007, Carroll & Graf Publishers.

As Barry Bonds, unfortunately, comes closer to breaking Henry Aaron's all-time home run record, it's a nice time for a book to come out reminding us that Babe Ruth will always be the King of Baseball, not only for his power, but for the simple fact that he completely changed the way the game is played. Barry Bonds wouldn't have had to take all those drugs to become a great(er) home run hitter if it hadn't been for Ruth. All these hitters today who crank big flies off their back feet and when they're jammed on inside fastballs and when the pitcher makes a mistake in the tiny strike zone of today should thank Babe every day. Without him, they're nothing. That's why certain players, no matter who passes them on the all-time list, are the greatest. Ruth changed baseball completely. That's why he's the greatest baseball player of all time.

Jenkinson is a long-time Ruthian scholar, and he spent 30 years on this book. It's a fascinating look at Ruth, because Jenkinson has done something no one else has ever bothered to do: looked at all the evidence about Ruth, not only the raw numbers, but the distance he hit his home runs, the ballparks he played in, and the conditions under which he played. The consensus is that ballplayers are getting better all the time (not just because of the drugs), and therefore Ruth wouldn't be much of a hitter today. Jenkinson turns that argument on its ear and does a pretty good job of proving that Ruth might even be better today. As he points out, for most players, the argument of modernity producing better people is valid. Ruth, however, was a freak of nature. That's why his argument makes a certain amount of sense.

This is a book for baseball geeks, no doubt about it. It's not a biography of Ruth as much a statistical analysis of his career. It's not even particularly well-written. Jenkinson doesn't really have much of an affinity for arresting prose. A lot of the book is "The next homer Ruth hit, on __ May 192_, traveled ___ feet. Following that, he went to Fenway at hit two more, each traveling ___ feet." And so on. Like I said, this is for baseball geeks only. But for those geeks, it's a wonderful and revelatory book.

What Jenkinson has done is combed through the newspaper accounts of Ruth's career. he interviewed people who had seen him in person (something that becomes far more difficult with each passing year, of course) and he visited several of the places where Ruth hit homers, even though many of them had been changed over the years. He comes to some surprising conclusions.

First, Ruth hit balls further than anyone in baseball history. He makes the point that Ruth may have hit the only 600-foot home run ever recorded, in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, on one of his many barnstorming tours (my dad grew up in the suburbs of Wilkes Barre, and famed one-armed outfielder Pete Gray did too). Ruth hit far more 500-foot home runs than such juiced-up titans like Mark McGwire and Bonds (in fact, Bonds' homers are relatively short), and he even outpaced the two men Jenkinson thinks are in contention for the second-strongest man ever - Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle. Because of the media attention Ruth received, Jenkinson is fairly certain that his research is conclusive, and when he can't document something, he tells us. The fact that Ruth hits balls a greater distance than anyone else shouldn't really mean anything, because once it leaves the yard, who cares, but Jenkinson uses the distance of Ruth's blasts to make his major argument, which is that Ruth was cheated out of at least 300 home runs over his career, and therefore no one, not Aaron and certainly not Bonds, should be anywhere near him.

How is that so? Jenkinson points out how much bigger ballparks were in Ruth's day. Everyone focuses on the fact that Yankee Stadium had a short right field porch, but Jenkinson makes the case that Ruth hit very few homers down the line in right and was robbed of far more in other areas of the field. Remember, before Ruth came along, everyone was hitting singles, doubles, and triples, and so the outfields were vast to accommodate this. Ruth was working against the way baseball was played, and therefore lost dozens of home runs as flyouts to deep center, flyouts that would easily clear the walls of modern stadia. Jenkinson notes that in Fenway Park in the teens, dead center was 488 feet away, while today it's 405 feet. The power alley in right was 420 feet instead of 375. Dead center in Yankee Stadium when Ruth played there was 490 feet, and the power alley in left was 460. These dimensions are staggering, and the fact that Ruth routinely cleared them makes his lifetime totals even more amazing. Bonds, Jenkinson points out, rarely hits balls 450 feet. Ruth was also hurt by a weird rule that said a ball was foul if it landed in foul territory at any time. Umpires could watch a ball, and if it left the field of play in fair territory but then curved foul, it was a foul ball. The pitching mound was higher, too, meaning the pitchers had the advantage, plus they tried to walk him intentionally just like pitchers do with Bonds today. Other factors worked against Ruth as well. The travel conditions were atrocious, and the balls were awful. If someone didn't hit the ball out of the stadium, the same balls were often used for several innings or even the entire game, no matter how dirty they became. Today, if a new ball skips in the dirt, the umpire doesn't even hesitate, but chucks it out. The hitting conditions are so much better today it's astonishing that more people haven't come anywhere close to Ruth. But that's part of why Ruth was an amazing player.

Jenkinson makes a few more points about Ruth's era. The medical conditions were almost medieval, and Ruth missed significant time in 1925 and 1929 due to injuries that, if incurred today, would have meant some time on the disabled list but would not be serious. The Yankees also played far more games than today's players did. The schedule was shorter (154 games to 162 today), but if the Yankees had a day off, they usually played exhibition games. They scheduled these to make extra money, of course, and even if Ruth had wanted to sit out (which he didn't, because he loved playing so much), they wouldn't have allowed it, because he was their main attraction. So the Yankees would take the train from New York to Chicago and stop at several places along the way to play exhibitions. After the season Ruth went on barnstorming tours to parts of the country where Major League baseball hadn't reached yet (in Ruth's era, St. Louis was the westernmost city in the big leagues). Again, he didn't have to do this, but it was encouraged. If Ruth were a superstar today, he would play far fewer games (just the regulation ones) and would be much healthier. He managed to last until he was 40 years old, but he could still hit when he retired (in the last game in which he hit a home run, he hit three). Today he would have been a designated hitter from the time he was 35 or so, and he probably would have played at least 3 or 4 more years. That Ruth lasted as long as he did is a marvel. And, of course, he spent his first few years pitching (he was one of the best left-handed pitchers of the time, and probably ever). Today there's no way they would let him pitch. He'd be hitting home runs from the very beginning.

The title of the book comes from Ruth's astonishing 1921 season, probably the best year any baseball player has ever had. He hit more home runs in 1927 (60 to 59), but he hit .378, slugged .846 (the second-best ever, behind his 1920 season), hit 44 doubles and 16 (!) triples, drove in 171 runs, and scored 177. Jenkinson looks at the parks in which he hit his home runs, combined with the rules changes, and concludes that in a modern ball park under modern rules, Ruth would have hit 104 home runs. It's a staggering figure, but there's not a lot of reason to doubt it. Jenkinson even addresses the problem people always have with Ruth - that he didn't play against black players. Well, yes, but he did play against Cuban players in various barnstorming tours, and he often played against teams in the Negro Leagues on those tours. He faced some of the best Negro League pitchers of the time, and did very well against them. Jenkinson says that the Negro Leaguers were trying their best against Ruth, because they were competitors, and he makes a pretty good case. It's rather insulting to think they wouldn't try to beat Ruth, even if it was in an exhibition. Jenkinson admits that it's not a perfect way to judge Ruth, but it's still pretty compelling.

This is a fascinating book, even though it's not for everyone. Despite the writing style, Jenkinson is engaging enough with his statistics that he keeps everything flying along, and even though he's obviously biased toward Ruth, he still looks at the evidence as objectively as he can. Baseball lovers should read this book. It would be nice if the people who talk about baseball on television and are in awe of Barry Bonds would do the same. I can't even imagine what it was like watching Ruth hit. It would have been way cool.

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Hey, remember when we had won the war in Iraq?

This is awesome.

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