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!


Wow, this is depressing

According to this article, Americans are reading less than ever! Yay!

Some numbers: 54% of 9-year-olds read every day "for fun." 72% of high-school graduates are "deficient" in writing skills, according to employers. That percentage really depresses me, because adults don't care about proper writing (or speaking) skills, so why should they teach the kids? And maybe the scariest number: the percentage of adults with bachelor's degrees and proficiency in reading prose dropped from 40% in 1993 to 31% in 2003. Conservative talk radio people like to bash colleges because of their liberal bias, but the fact that fewer people are getting advanced degrees should disturb even them, even if mouth-breathers would keep their audience numbers up.

This is really sad. We read to the kids every day, and Norah, particularly, loves reading her own books (she has most of them memorized, so it's not really reading, but it's a start). Even Mia has memorized a lot of her books, and we're going to push her hard to read because it's so important.

Explain to me again why we're so upset about gay marriage when are children are growing up stupid?

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What have we learned - Week 12

I told anyone who would listen this past week how the Eagles would beat the Cheaters. They had to run the ball (which they didn't really do), keep the ball away from the New England offense (which they did for a good deal of the first half, not so much in the second), and get pressure on Tom Brady (which they did, although not as much as I would have liked). They played almost a perfect game. Unfortunately, "almost" means they made two crucial mistakes, and it cost them the game, because the Cheaters didn't make any. That's why they're a great team and the Eagles are only mediocre. Damn.

Anyway, my wife has left me (for a few days, that is, to go back to Pennsylvania to visit her grandmother, who had a stroke last week), so I was dealing with the two kids all day Sunday. Therefore, I watched no football until they went down for a nap in the afternoon and I missed the early games. So I'll just mention some things based on what I've been seeing on the highlights.

A few weeks ago, I wondered why Penn State suddenly started heaving the ball deep when they were killing Michigan State with short passes and they probably didn't want to give the ball back to the Spartans because their defense wasn't playing well. Imagine my surprise when the Eagles did the exact. same. bloody. thing. Their defense had played okay, but hadn't really throttled the New England offense, and the Eagles were driving well. They were losing by 3 and moving right down the field, reaching the New England 29. It was 2nd-and-4 with a little less than 4 minutes left. The Eagles could have easily milked the clock, forced the Cheaters to take their timeouts, and left them with very little time. They probably would have scored a touchdown, but even if they had kicked a field goal, they go to overtime. Inexplicably, Andy Reid and A. J. Feeley went deep, and the pass was intercepted. Game over. I understand that you want to continue to attack, and if the call had been made earlier in the game, I would have liked it. But it's late in the game and all you need is a field goal to tie, and a touchdown wins it for you. If you score there, the Cheaters have three timeouts and 4 minutes. Do you really think you're going to stop them? Sheesh. I loved the game plan that Reid had, going for it on fourth down from the New England 15 and scoring a touchdown later, using an onside kick, and working deep occasionally just to keep the defense honest. My question is: why doesn't Reid coach like this all the time? If he can almost beat the best team in the league playing like this, he could beat the hell out of lesser teams. He used to do this, and I wonder if he's reached that point where's he afraid of the criticism if his moves backfire. Nobody was going to criticize him for this game, because if they lose, nobody blames him. Come on, Andy Reid: Fortune Favors the Bold! If they game plan like this the rest of the year, they might start winning. Don't wuss out, Andy Reid!
Turnovers: Eagles 3, Cheaters 0. Final score: New England 31, Philadelphia 28. Turnovers = loss? Considering the Eagles outscored the New England offense 28-24, yes, very much so. 1-0.

Detroit will not make the playoffs. Yeah, that's right! Green Bay, on the other hand, will, which pisses me off. I don't want to discuss their quarterback. Grrrr.
Turnovers: Packers 1, Lions 1. Final score: Green Bay 37, Detroit 26. Turnovers = loss? Makes no difference.

Man, Dallas is really good. Just one more thing for me to hate.
Turnovers: Jets 2, Cowboys 1. Final score: Dallas 34, New Jersey 3. Turnovers = loss? Sure, not that it mattered. 2-0.

That was nice of the Colts, spotting the Falcons 10 points and all that before throttling them. That's so cute that they let Atlanta stick around for a while.
Turnovers: Falcons 2, Colts 1. Final score: Indianapolis 31, Atlanta 13. Turnovers = loss? Looks that way. 3-0.

The Titans lost Albert Haynesworth and now they can't stop the run. Cincinnati ran right up the middle on them and pummeled the suddenly wussy Tennessee defense. Chad Johnson scored for the first time since Week 2 and went to the camera and pretended to film someone. Real classy for a 3-7 (now 4-7) team. I think Johnson is funny, but he's kind of a punk.
Turnovers: Titans 2, Bengals 1. Final score: Cincinnati 35, Tennessee 6. Turnovers = loss? Yes. 4-0.

I know Cleveland's defense isn't great, but they have a good quarterback, good receivers, and a resurgent Jamal Lewis. They should scare some teams. Of course, they'll probably come into Arizona next week and lose, because the NFL is wacky.
Turnovers: Texans 3, Browns 1. Final score: Cleveland 27, Houston 17. Turnovers = loss? Let's say yes. 5-0.

The only thing I saw in the Oakland-Kansas City game is Herm Edwards going for it on fourth down from the Raiders 25 with about 5 minutes left and trailing by 3. I loved the call. Even if you don't get it, you should be able to stop the Raiders and get the ball back, and a 40+ field goal is no guarantee. It's a shame it didn't work, but I still love the call.
Turnovers: Raiders 1, Chiefs 1. Final score: Oakland 20, Kansas City 17. Turnovers = loss? It didn't come into play.

Marc Bulger went down with a concussion, which is his first. It's kind of surprising that he's never had one, considering all the punishment he takes. Anyway, St. Louis reached the 2-yard line or so with a minute left, trailing by five and holding some timeouts (I can't remember how many they had). Incomplete pass. Incomplete pass. Inside run to Steven Jackson, no gain. Gus Frerotte fumbles the snap on fourth down. That's why the Rams are 2-9. Why did they throw? WHY???? Pound the ball with Steven Jackson, you morons!
Turnovers: Seahawks 2, Rams 2. Final score: Seattle 24, St. Louis 19. Turnovers = loss? Looks like it makes no difference. 6-0.

Bwah-ha-ha-ha. Eli Manning sucks. SUX! That game was awesome.
Turnovers: Giants 4, Vikings 0. Final score: Minnesota 41, New Jersey 17. Turnovers = loss? Minnesota's defense outscored the G-Men, so yeah, I'd say so. 7-0.

Washington apparently had no interest in winning this game, because whenever the Buccaneers touched a Washington player, they dropped the ball! Seriously - check out the highlights. Clinton Portis runs into the line and fumbles. Jason Campbell feels the breath of a defender and drops the ball. What the heck? Speaking of which, Sean Taylor, the Washington safety, was shot in the groin early this morning and is in critical condition with a lot of blood loss. Apparently is was a burglary, but I wonder about the circumstances, because Sean Taylor has been in trouble a lot in his young life.
Turnovers: Washington 6, Tampa 0. Final score: Buccaneers 19, Washington 13. Turnovers = loss? Definitely. 8-0.

Carolina hasn't won a home game in a calendar year. How the heck does that happen? New Orleans, like many other 5-6 teams, looks awesome one week and crappy the next week. It looks like the wildcard teams in the NFC will simply survive and finish 9-7 or so. Maybe it will be the Saints. Maybe it will be the Eagles. Maybe it will be the Giants. Maybe it will be the Bears.
Turnovers: Panthers 4, Saints 1. Final score: New Orleans 31, Carolina 6. Turnovers = loss? It seems so. 9-0.

Jacksonville can really run the ball. I mean, really pound it. They could go into New England and beat the Cheaters because they can keep the ball away from Tom Brady in the cold weather. Plus, David Garrard hasn't thrown an interception yet this season. Don't sleep on the Jaguars!
Turnovers: Bills 3, Jaguars 1. Final score: Jacksonville 36, Buffalo 14. Turnovers = loss? You bet. 10-0.

Here's why you're the Cardinals: you get a delay-of-game penalty on the game-winning field goal and get pushed back five yards, and your kicker then misses it. Your pretty good punt returner fields a punt at his 13-yard line and one of your blockers makes an inexplicable block in the back, pushing you back to the 2. Your quarterback attempts to pass on first down and instead of feeling the pressure and heaving the ball away, gets sacked and fumbles, which is recovered in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. And even prior to this, you turn the ball over too often, which is the only way an anemic offensive team like the 49ers could even be in this game late. I love that Ken Whisenhunt went for the win at the very end before settling for a tying field goal (most coaches would have kicked and not even tried), but the team commits far too many stupid penalties and turns the ball over too often. This is why you're the Cardinals: the minute someone starts to have expectations of you, you stink up the joint. Now they're 5-6, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they knocked off the Browns next week. Because no one expects them too.
Turnovers: Cardinals 4, 49ers 0. Final score: San Francisco 37, Arizona 31. Turnovers = loss? Absolutely. 11-0.

I read today that it's actually not a bad idea to kick to Devin Hester, because he muffs a lot of punts, which lead to turnovers (he did it again yesterday, after his two returns for touchdowns). I don't think it's a bad idea the first time, but the second time was a bit dicey. Anyway, the Broncos couldn't hold a two-touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter, so they have bigger issues. If you haven't seen the last Denver touchdown, it's amazing. The tight end leaps between two defenders, one of whom actually touches the ball first and knocks it toward the ground. However, the tight end is below him, so the ball hits him, rolls toward the ground as he falls, but he manages to get his hand underneath it and roll over, finally straddling it between his legs before plucking it back with his hands. Absolutely brilliant. It has to be one of the ten best catches ever.
Turnovers: Bears 4, Broncos 2. Final score: Chicago 37, Denver 34. Turnovers = loss? In this case, no. Devin Hester is a great equalizer. 11-1.

Norv Turner quiets the critics ... for one week. Is this Pete Carroll's job next year? Let the speculation begin!
Turnovers: Ravens 2, Chargers 0. Final score: San Diego 32, Baltimore 14. Turnovers = loss? I guess. 12-1.

I watched quite a bit of college football, beginning with the beatdown in Tempe on Thanksgiving. I actually turned the game off at halftime because Krys and I wanted to watch television, and when I turned it back on, a ten-point ASU deficit had become a 27-point beating. What the heck happened? Then, of course, LSU choked away a win against Arkansas because of lousy coaching and even lousier tackling. Seriously - was anyone on the LSU side playing defense? I mean, the Razorbacks didn't play much defense, but they did look like they were trying. I was happy because it messed up the BCS even more. I would have been happier if West Virginia had lost, but they have one more game to screw up, so let's all root for Pitt! I also hope Missouri loses, not because I like Oklahoma (I don't, in fact), but because then Ohio State will play a two-loss team in the title game. In fact, I'm rooting for Boston College and Tennessee this week, too, just to screw everything up even more. I would love for a two-loss team to play Ohio State and beat them, so the National Champion would have two losses and a team like Kansas, who didn't even win their division of their conference, could whine about it and a team like Hawaii, who beat all the patsies on their schedule, could whine about it. It's time for a playoff! I do find it interesting that Hawaii tries to schedule teams, but most teams won't play a home-and-home series with them, because they don't want to fly to Honolulu. Michigan was supposed to play the (Rainbow) Warriors this year, but they backed out and scheduled Appalachian State instead. Yeah, how'd that work out, Wolverines? So let's all root for chaos this weekend, people. We can do it!

By the way ... teams that turn the ball over less than their opponents: 123-16. Hey, don't turn the ball over!

Next week: will A. J. Feeley start? Oh, the drama! Will the Ravens play aggressively like the Eagles did and upset the Cheaters? Only time will tell!

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What have we learned - Week 12 (my initial reaction, which should not be shown to the kiddies)


Fuckity-Fucking Fuck FUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!

And, did I mention: Fuck. Also: Damn.

That is all. More later.

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What I've been reading: Giant-Sized Bonanza!

I have three books to review today, because of two reasons: I read them all pretty quickly and didn't get a chance to post about the first before I was almost done the second one, and then I realized that the next one I was going to read (I read books in alphabetical order by author, remember, and only rarely break from that) was thematically similar to the first two. So I decided to wait. These three books all deal with the Byzantines in one way or another, so let's check them out! Is there anything more interesting than the Byzantines????

The Dark Angel by Mika Waltari (translated by Naomi Walford). 374 pages, 1953, G. P. Putnam's Sons.

The first of the three books is The Dark Angel, which I got in February 2005 at the annual book sale in Phoenix. Yes, it takes me that long to read some of my books. Remember: I have close to 300 that I haven't read yet, so it's going to take me somewhere around 30 years to read them, and that's if I don't buy any more (not bloody likely). So: what's the deal with this?

It's a novel about the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The hero, John Angelos, arrives in the city in December 1452 (the Turks entered the city on 29 May) and this book is his journal of the events up until the fall of the city. Constantinople (not Istanbul!), as many of you know, was the eastern capital of the Roman Empire from 330, when it was founded, and after 476 the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which became known as the Byzantine Empire because it was far more Greek than Roman. As long as Constantinople remained in the hands of the Greeks, there was a Byzantine Empire, even though for the last 150 years of its existence or so the territory it controlled barely reached beyond the city walls. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the Emperor was a much more symbolic figure, but that symbolism was still important - he was the Eastern bulwark against Islam, a link to Rome's glorious past, and the embodiment of a time when Emperor and Pope, theoretically, worked in harmony. Of course, by the middle of the 11th century the Pope and Patriarch of Constantinople had excommunicated each other and the Orthodox Church was on its own, but we're talking about symbolism, not reality.

I've already gotten off-topic! John comes to Constantinople from the camp of the Ottoman Sultan, Mohammed, and throughout the book, most people in the city think he's a spy for the Turks. He tries to convince people that he's not, but rarely succeeds. Constantinople in its death throes is a cauldron of intrigue. The Emperor, Constantine XI, and the Patriarch, Gregorios, have concluded a treaty with Rome that unifies the churches in exchange for help from the West against the Turks. This move is wildly unpopular with the people, who believe that the Turks will simply take over the governance of the city and let the Christians worship as they please. This opposition is led by a monk, Gennadios, whom John knew in the West. Meanwhile, the defense of the city is led by Giovanni Giustiniani, a Genoese who has been promised lands the Emperor no longer holds as payment (something that deters Giustiniani not at all when he learns of it late in the book). The Genoese and Venetians are constantly at odds, which leads to more disasters for the city. John writes of his history in southern France and Italy, his capture at the Battle of Varna in 1444, and his years with Murad II, who tried to take Constantinople but was thwarted, leaving the job to his son (usually spelled Mehmet but spelled Mohammed in the book). John has a secret that's rather fascinating, so I won't spoil it, but he is trying to reconcile his Latin (Western) heritage with his Greek heritage. He tries to see both sides even as his faith pulls him one way. He is convinced that he will defend the city to the death. How he continues to write a diary when he's actively courting death is interesting, but he does survive the Turks' sacking of the city. His fate is ironic and somewhat just.

The main story of the book, beyond all the political intrigue, is John's love for a young woman, Anna Notaras. Anna is the daughter of a Byzantine grand duke, Lukas Notaras, but John doesn't know this for quite some time. He falls instantly in love with Anna and can't understand why she resists him, even though she obviously loves him. Their relationship, while melodramatic, is very well written, and is heightened by the knowledge that the city is going to fall. Anna tries to understand why John won't commit to her, and John tries to make Anna realize why he has to die on the walls without giving away his secret. Lukas Notaras was conspicuous by his belief that the Turks would be better masters than the Emperor, and although there's no evidence either in history or in the book that he was actively conniving against Constantine, Waltari makes it clear that he wasn't going out of his way to make a glorious last stand (most of the people in the book are actual historical figures, by the way). So that aspect of their relationship is there, too. Waltari does a very good job writing their passion but also their intelligent debates about fate and the destruction of the empire. It's a neat trick, and it makes the siege feel more real, because these people are real to us. What's interesting is that Waltari never makes it clear whether John and Anna would love each other without the tension of the siege. Are they so passionate because they know it can't last? It's neat that we're allowed to speculate about it.

This is a very good read. The narrative flies along, and even though we know how the grand story will end, we don't know how the story of John and Anna will end. Not well, of course, because it's the fall of Constantinople, but the way in which it ends is poignant and ironic. It's an old book, but it's probably around in libraries somewhere. You could do a lot worse if you're looking for a nicely-done romance with an adventurous backdrop. And who doesn't love something like that?

The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins. 239 pages, 2005, Oxford University Press.

In this fascinating book, Ward-Perkins makes the bold assertion that the Germanic invaders actually destroyed the Roman Empire! Why, say you, is this a bold assertion? Isn't that common knowledge? Well, back in the day it was, but in the past 30-40 years, historiography has gotten much more focused on using words like "accommodation" to describe the fifth-century arrival of Germanic tribes, as several historians have claimed that Rome never "fell," but was simply "transformed" into the Western Europe we all know and love. Ward-Perkins is going old-school on us by saying, "Hah!" He claims the Romans wouldn't have viewed it as "transformation," they would have seen it for what it was: a disaster.

Ward-Perkins makes a good case, first by going back over the written records that caused people to believe in a Fall of Rome in the first place. He points out the Battle of Adrianople in 378, at which the Goths destroyed the eastern Roman army and killed the Emperor, Valens. He mentions the sack of Rome in 410 by Alaric the Goth, an event so traumatizing St. Augustine wrote a billion-page book about it. (Okay, City of God isn't a billion pages long. It just feels that way.) He brings up the deposition of the last Emperor, Romanus Augustulus, in 476, paving the way for the Ostrogothic domination of Italy. All of these events are well known. So why have historians argued for years that Gibbon was wrong and we shouldn't speak of a "fall" of the Roman Empire?

Ward-Perkins claims it's for a few different reasons. First, many historians of "Late Antiquity" - meaning the period, roughly, between Constantine (AD 300) and Charlemagne (AD 800) - are English, German, and French, or American, which means English. Therefore, they want to portray their "tribes" - the Anglo-Saxons, the Franks, and other Germanic groups - as positively as possible. Second, the stench of political correctness permeates historiography - how dare it! It's no longer fashionable to speak of "civilized" versus "uncivilized" people, so all groups become equally civilized. Anyone watching an English football match knows that's bogus, but that's the way it is! Ward-Perkins points out that it's only because we have allowed the term "uncivilized" to become pejorative that people object to it, but the fact is, some groups are civilized and others not. That doesn't make the civilized groups better. The Germanic tribes were uncivilized, but nobody wants to make that argument anymore. Third, the focus of historiography when Rome broke up shifts abruptly from political history to religious history. No one, not even Ward-Perkins, can argue that the Fall of Rome coincided nicely with the Rise of the Church. Historians can therefore argue that the destruction of Roman infrastructure mattered little because the Roman Catholic Church stepped into the breach. Yes, he admits, the Church did ease the transition slightly, but the Church was such an elite organization that it didn't do much for the common people. St. Augustine might not have suffered too much materially from Rome's sack, and he could afford to write billion-page laments about how everyone should now focus on the Heavenly City. As always tends to happen in disasters, the elite come off relatively unscathed. And as they write the history, it's easy to take a less extreme view of the Germanic invasions. Hey, they all eventually converted to Catholicism, right? Everything must have been groovy!

For the first part of the book, Ward-Perkins focuses on the actual events, but then he shifts to the archaeological record, which is where his case is probably strongest. Past writers have relied mostly on written records, which are of course biased. Ward-Perkins looks at the production of goods, the way houses were built, and the minting of coins, all decent ways to measure a society's prosperity. In the fifth century and afterward, all these indicators declined significantly, and Ward-Perkins uses this to help prove his thesis. Rome was a specialized society, much like the modern world, and he traces the complex web of manufacturing that tied the empire together that fell apart when the political structure disintegrated. When the specialists and their markets disappeared, it affected the common people much more than the political problems. Ward-Perkins also shows that the East, which has been commonly assumed to have managed to escape the ravages of the invasions, also went through a "dark age" in the late sixth and early seventh century, something most historians have ignored. The collapse was empire-wide, not simply confined to the West. Ward-Perkins also looks at settlement patterns and postulates that not only were the houses less elaborate, but the population went down as well. He admits its only speculation, but he makes a strong argument.

Ward-Perkins also does something we rarely see, and that's look at literacy in the Roman and post-Roman periods. It's another thing he admits is very difficult to measure, but he looks at casual graffiti in the Roman world, from places such as Pompeii, and the lack of it after the invaders arrived. He also uses the written evidence, as various religious writers have pointed out the lack of literacy among the rulers of the new countries, a situation that would have been unthinkable in the Roman period, when even middle-class people could read and write.

Ward-Perkins does look at both the pluses and minuses of the invasions, and he does acknowledge that historians who claim that Rome brought in Germanic tribes and incorporated them into their society aren't all wrong. In the end, he softens his thesis a bit by pointing out that the invaders did help revitalize a sagging empire somewhat. It's only a small concession, as he sticks to his main point for the most part. His evidence remains fairly persuasive, even when he can't make as strong an argument as he wants.

The fall of Rome will probably remain a contentious issue, based on the bias of the historian. Ward-Perkins makes a fine case for returning to the "classic" view of the destruction of the empire, but I have no doubt that historians have already challenged it.

Sailing From Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells. 335 pages, 2006, Delacorte Press/Bantam Dell/Random House.

The last book of this trifecta is Sailing From Byzantium, in which Colin Wells makes the case that the Byzantines were instrumental in creating Europe's Renaissance, influencing the Arabs, and midwifing the birth of Eastern Christianity. Wells breaks the book up into those three sections, so that he begins chronologically almost at the end of the Empire, in the fourteenth century, when scholars from Florence and Venice began to yearn for the knowledge that the Greeks had in their libraries. He then goes back in time to the seventh and eighth centuries, before Muslim culture ossified and the Arabs were willing to learn from the older culture, and then he finally turns his attention to the Balkans and Russia, which is where Byzantium probably had its biggest influence. It's a nice, quick, readable book, and Wells doesn't come up with anything terribly controversial, but he does a good job putting each sphere in its context and showing how they shaded into each other. He has written the book to rehabilitate the Byzantine Empire for an audience that might not know much about it or even care. Shame on you people who don't care about the Byzantines!

Wells begins with the Renaissance, and he tracks how a new fourteenth-century philosophy in Constantinople, the Hesychast movement, led not only to Byzantine humanists seeking new students in the West, but also solidified the Orthodox Church's status in the East with the Slavs. Wells goes over the Hesychast controversy quite well, but essentially it boils down to a conflict between the rationalism of the Byzantine humanists, many of whom were monks themselves, and the mysticism of many other monks. The Hesychasts believed in meditation to create a spiritual union with God, and they were angrily opposed to the humanists' use of pagan philosophy to inform their Christian thought. There was a political element, too, as the humanists saw no problem with compromising the Orthodox Church's independence in exchange for military help from the West, while the Hesychasts believed it would be better to be ruled by the Turks rather than give in to the Pope. So the humanists turned increasingly to the Florentines and Venetians, who had been a presence in Constantinople as traders for centuries. As the Byzantines lost more and more territory to the Turks, humanists began making diplomatic missions to the West to gain support from the Pope and Catholic rulers, and they mixed with writers and thinkers in Italy such as Boccaccio and Petrarch. In the fifteenth century, the high point of the Italian Renaissance, several more Byzantine scholars taught Greek to the Westerners so that they could read the works of the classical writers. Again, there's nothing controversial about Wells' theory, and it's just interesting to see how many connections there were between the dying empire and the reborn West.

The relationship between Byzantium and Islam is a bit more complex, because the Muslims were bent on destroying the empire. Early on, however, the Arabs modeled their architecture and their literature after the Byzantines. The early caliphs admired the way the Byzantines had created their culture, and for a people who came out of the desert, the splendor of Constantinople was impressive. The Arabs quickly conquered several people who had Christian roots - notably Nestorians in Syria, who began translating Greek works into Syriac and Arabic. The Arabs sought out Greek texts on medicine and mathematics, which became the foundation for Muslim science and the so-called "Arabic Enlightenment," typified by philosophers like Avicenna. It couldn't last, of course, and the Abbasid Caliphs began to react against the Greek rational influence seeping into Islam. Just like the Hesychasts, Muslim zealots attacked the scientific schools because they were distracting people from the religious schools. In the thirteenth century the Mongols shattered the Muslim world and Arabic Islam went into decline. Despite a brief flourishing of culture under the Ottomans, the torch had been passed to the West.

Wells' last section deals with the Byzantine missionaries and their work in the Balkans with the Slavs and later with the Russians. The Slavs came into the Balkans in the sixth century, and by the ninth century Bulgaria, under their khan Krum, was a major threat. By the middle of the century, both the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople realized their was a huge group of people just ripe for the Christianizing. The Patriarch, Photius, was a deeply religious man and a well-learned scholar of ancient Greek literature, and he chose two monks who would become legends: Cyril and Methodius. Cyril is best known for creating a language for the Slavs, Old Church Slavonic (ironically, the "Cyrillic" alphabet which is named for him has little to do with him). He and Methodius failed in their mission, for the most part, but the foundation they laid helped future monks bring the Slavs into the Orthodox fold. Interestingly enough, the Bulgars and later Slavs like the Serbs were able to retain their independence from the Patriarch of Constantinople even as they adopted the Eastern form of Christianity. This led to the creation of the Byzantine Commonwealth, perhaps the enduring legacy of the Empire. In the tenth century, the Byzantines were able to convert the Russians, first in Kiev and then later in Moscow, and the Hesychast controversy, which damaged Byzantium's relationship with the West, appealed to the Russians and helped that bond. Later, Moscow took the lead as the spiritual head of the Orthodox Church and claimed the title of the "Third Rome." The Greek literary tradition would live on in the new church.

As I've mentioned, Wells doesn't write anything terribly controversial. He doesn't make any bold claims about the influence of the Byzantines, just condenses it into one source, as most books will discuss one of the three but not all three areas. It's interesting because of the links he makes between the eras, which is why this is better than just a survey. Byzantium's relationship with the West influences its dealings with the Slavs, just as its problems with the Bulgarians in the ninth and tenth centuries influences its relationship with the Muslims. Wells does a good job making the connections between all three arenas without confusing us.

So those are three books I've read recently, all connected a bit. If you're interested in this period of history, these books are all very worthwhile. Of course, it's been a while since I've finished them, so I'm almost done another book! Look for that soon!

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What have we learned - Week 11

The first thing we learned is that whoever is calling plays for Penn State needs to be fired. FIRED!!!!! I'll explain below.

The nice thing about next week in the NFL is that I have pretty much zero hope that the Eagles can go to Massachusetts and beat the Cheaters. So I can watch the game without getting upset at all. I'll probably still get upset, but I'm figuring if they hold the Cheaters below 35 points, it will be a win! But that's for next week. Let's review this week!

I had to go out for a while early in the afternoon, so I paused the Eagles' game (I love DVR!) and watched it when I got back. This meant I watched very little of the early games, plus I got to watch a lot of the Philly game in fast motion. Basically, when the Eagles had the ball I watched in regular motion, but the rest I watched in fast motion. This is a cool way to watch a game, because you don't have to listen to the yammering of the announcers. Anyway, the Dolphins are the only team that can win the turnover battle and lose the game, because their offense is awful, especially with a rookie quarterback. Donovan McNabb sprained his ankle and left the game in the second quarter and did not return. Brian Westbrook simply ran 32 times for 148 yards, and A. J. Feeley settled down after throwing an early interception. The big debate in the Philadelphia newspapers today is why Andy Reid doesn't call more running plays with McNabb in even when it's obvious he's not as good as he used to be. It begs the question whether the Eagles are better off without McNabb in the lineup. It's strange, because Reid should be able to see that McNabb isn't as good as he was 5 years ago, and their receivers aren't great. Westbrook dominated yesterday, and Feeley was able to "manage" the game, which is a bad word around the NFL but works when you have a good running game and a pretty good defense. I think the Eagles are going to get pounded in New England on Sunday, but it's weird that their only chance might be if McNabb doesn't play. That way, Reid will run the ball more, keep the ball away from Brady, and maybe cause them to become impatient. If McNabb plays, Reid will throw the ball all over the place and try to outscore the Cheaters. That won't work! Why doesn't Andy Reid see this? He's not stupid!
Turnovers: Eagles 3, Dolphins 0. Final score: Philadelphia 17, Miami 7. Turnovers = loss? It's the Dolphins, so no. The Dolphins are really bad. 0-1.

Atlanta had won two games in a row with Joey Harrington at quarterback. So Bobby Petrino, naturally, replaces him with Byron Leftwich. What? WHAT? Hey, the only touchdown drive by the Falcons, when they were trailing 31-0 was led by ... Joey Harrington. Coaches make my head hurt sometimes.
Turnovers: Falcons 4, Buccaneers 2. Final score: Tampa 31, Atlanta 7. Turnovers = loss? Indubitably. 1-1.

Antrel Rolle got ripped off yesterday, as he should have gotten three touchdowns on interception returns. The final one was wiped out by a penalty when a teammate blocked Carson Palmer. Now, if you haven't seen the play, you might wonder what the problem is. He didn't hit him in the back or anything. The reason he got a penalty was because the rules say that you can't hit the quarterback when he's "defenseless." The play was going right past Palmer at the time, and he was looking at Rolle and, presumably, thinking of chasing him. He didn't see the blocker, but it's one of those calls where I can understand the reasoning behind it (quarterbacks are the movie stars of the NFL, so we must protect them!), but it makes me wonder why they just don't put a flag on the quarterbacks and take the pads off of them. Aren't they football players? Other players get popped without seeing it coming. Shouldn't the coaches tell the quarterbacks to just fall down if they don't want them trying to make a tackle? Sheesh. Anyway, the Bengals are spiralling down the toilet, and I don't want to freak you out, but the Cardinals are a game out of first place with 4 of their last 6 at home, where they've played pretty well. Arizona in the playoffs? Could happen!
Turnovers: Bengals 5, Cardinals 0. Final score: Arizona 35, Cincinnati 27. Turnovers = loss? Absolutely. 2-1.

Jon Kitna made some stupid decisions, but did anyone see his last interception? He's driving the Lions to a possible game-winning touchdown, and he throws a nice pass to a wide-open Shaun McDonald for a first down. The ball hits McDonald right in both hands, and he doesn't catch it. The ball pops over his head and the Giants intercept it. How are you a receiver in the NFL and not catch that? The Lions, by the way, have lost 2 in a row and look like the Detroit we all know and love. I doubt they'll even make the playoffs.
Turnovers: Lions 4, Giants 2. Final score: New Jersey 16, Detroit 10. Turnovers = loss? It looks that way, doesn't it? 3-1.

I just can't talk about R. C. Favre. It just upsets me too much.
Turnovers: Panthers 3, Packers 0. Final score: Green Bay 31, Carolina 17. Turnovers = loss? Yes, but I have a feeling Jesus wants Green Bay to win anyway, so it won't matter. 4-1.

Hey, if you put some pressure on Peyton Manning, he looks ordinary! I wonder why nobody thought of that before now? And if you take away one of his great receivers, he looks ordinary! What a shock! Now, if only they could play someone who could play some offense, they would get stomped. I don't hate the Colts, but I always like when a team that has had it easy has to play through some adversity. The Eagles had their back-up quarterback in for most of the game and won. Can Indy say that Jim Sorgi would lead them to victory? I'm not sure why Tony Dungy is a "genius" for going for it on fourth down with 2 minutes left at the KC 2-yard line with the score tied. It's a nice call, I guess, but I don't know if it's a "genius" call.
Turnovers: Chiefs 2, Colts 1. Final score: Indianapolis 13, Kansas City 10. Turnovers = loss? I suppose. 5-1.

I wonder if Adrian Peterson's success has anything to do with Minnesota's very good offensive line and especially Steve Hutchinson? Peterson didn't play, and Chester Taylor gained 164 yards. Offensive lines don't get enough credit. Surprisingly enough, Oakland sucks. That's a shock.
Turnovers: Vikings 5, Raiders 2. Final score: Minnesota 29, Oakland 22. Turnovers = loss? No. I guess the Raiders are also so bad that teams can turn the ball over more than they do and not lose. 5-2.

If you get a chance to see Maurice Jones-Drew block Shawne Merriman, check it out. The Jaguars were down at the goal line, and David Garrard went back to pass. Jones-Drew, who's about 4'6", went right and blasted Merriman so hard that the steroid-user was lifted off his feet and fell hard, not getting back up for the rest of the play. It is, quite possibly, the greatest block ever. Garrard threw the game-winning touchdown on the play. Jacksonville isn't great, but they play mean, and you have to love that. San Diego, meanwhile, stinks. The only thing they changed from last years 14-2 team was their coach. Norv Turner sucks. Bad.
Turnovers: Chargers 2, Jaguars 0. Final score: Jacksonville 24, San Diego 17. Turnovers = loss? You bet. 6-2.
Speaking of which, I just found the block on YouTube It's not very good quality, but it gets the point across:

Cleveland won its second 33-30 overtime game in three weeks. That's weird. If you haven't seen the game-tying field goal, it's a doozy. Phil Dawson's kick hit the left upright, then hit the curved support pole before bouncing back through the goalposts. By rule it's a field goal, but the officials said it was no good. Field goals, inexplicably, are not reviewable (they probably will be after this year!), but the officials got together and talked about it. They claimed they didn't see a replay, but that's unlikely, as the stadium was playing it on the big screen. They finally decided the field goal was good, well after many of the Ravens had left the field and some even started taking showers. Very weird. Then, the Ravens couldn't cover the kickoff in overtime, and the Browns won the game on a field goal. The ref got it right, but why didn't the officials at the uprights see the ball originally? It's pretty obvious it hit the pole and not the crossbar. I don't want to freak you out, but the Browns are 6-4 and in the playoff hunt. Go, Derek Anderson!
Turnovers: Ravens 4, Browns 2. Final score: Cleveland 33, Baltimore 30. Turnovers = loss? The Browns returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, so sure. 7-2.

Mario Williams had a much better game than Reggie Bush. That's kind of funny, as everyone rushed to judgment on the draft picks last year. Houston, by the way, is 5-5. New Orleans is 4-6. Where are the mea culpae from the "experts"?
Turnovers: Saints 3, Texans 2. Final score: Houston 23, New Orleans 10. Turnovers = loss? Why not? 8-2.

I like how last week people were ready to put Ben Roethlisberger third on the "best quarterback in the NFL" list, and this week he's a bum. Yes, he had a bad game. Everyone has a bad game now and then. He'll be fine. What should worry the Steelers is their pathetic running attack, which got 112 yards. That's not good enough. Plus, there's not that huge a difference in talent between the better teams in the league and the crappy ones. The Cheaters and probably Colts, of course, are far more talented, but other than that, the margin is pretty thin. Usually it comes down to stupid plays and bad coaching, and in this game, it came down to Leon Washington returning a punt deep into Steeler territory in overtime. I'm not going to say the Steelers can beat the Cheaters, but they're better than this game indicated.
Turnovers: Steelers 2, Jets 1. Final score: New Jersey 19, Pittsburgh 16. Turnovers = loss? Yes. 9-2.

I'm certainly not going to cry over spilled milk, but why has Terrell Owens suddenly become super-teammate? Is it because he realized that people were sick of his act? Couldn't he have wised up before so that he could have helped the Eagles? Or is this just a function of Jerry Jones caving and throwing money at him? It certainly can't be just because he has a man-crush on Tony Romo, because when he played with McNabb, they had a pretty good relationship as long as they were winning. I'm still dying to see what happens when the Cowboys hit a rough patch. Not when they lose one game, but if they lose two or three in a row. Then we'll see if Owens really has reformed. The interesting thing about Owens' performance, as well as Randy Moss': no one covered them. NO ONE COVERED THEM!!!!! It's pretty easy to catch four touchdown passes when you're simply standing in the end zone with no one near you. I hope the Eagles decide to, I don't know, cover Randy Moss! That would be nice.
Turnovers: Washington 2, Cowboys 1. Final score: Dallas 28, Washington 23. Turnovers = loss? Pretty much, as Campbell's last interception came with less than two minutes left on a 3rd-down play where he had plenty of room to run and either get the first down or make it a very short 4th down. Run, Jason, run! 10-2.

God, the less said about the St. Louis-San Francisco "game," the better. I will say that I watched Torry Holt catch a pass for a first down in the middle of the field, turn upfield briefly, and then slide like a quarterback when confronted by three tacklers. The defenders weren't even about to tackle him, although if he had kept running, they would have. Holt could have easily gained three or four more yards, and maybe, if he tried, he could have eluded them. Instead he slid. He's a football player! I have never heard anyone call him on this (another reason why I should have a show on ESPN) except my friend Mike, who has a man-crush on Marc Bulger. Then, this morning, a radio sports talk guy said that Holt is tough to get a good hit on. He implied it was because he was soft, but didn't come out and say it. That's the closest I've ever heard anyone make an issue of it. Last week, Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals dragged about six Detroit Lions from about the 5-yard line into the end zone. I can't even conceive of Holt doing that. What a loser.
Turnovers: 49ers 2, Rams 0. Final score: St. Louis 13, San Francisco 9. Turnovers = loss? The last interception came in the end zone at the end of the game, so sure. 11-2.

I watched very little of the Chicago-Seattle game, but whenever I turned it on, I was amazed, again, by how much better the Seahawks look with Maurice Morris in there rather than Shaun Alexander. Sorry, Shaun - you're going to be looking for work next year.
Turnovers: Chicago 1, Seattle 1. Final score: Seattle 30, Chicago 23. Turnovers = loss? It's a wash.

The Cheaters ran up the score again, and although I do agree that it's the job of the defense to stop them, Bill Belicheat is really courting trouble with the way he runs up the score. It was 42-10 in the fourth quarter and Brady was still in the ball game. Belicheat went for it on fourth down and scored a touchdown, which, again, I'm not that bent out of shape about, but I can't believe he's willing to sacrifice a Super Bowl victory just to rub the NFL's nose in it. All it takes is one really pissed-off defender to not care what kind of fine he has to pay for breaking Brady's leg in a game that's well out of reach and Belicheat can kiss that ring goodbye. When it went to 42-7 with 9 minutes left in the third, did anyone really think the Bills were coming back? Give Brady the rest of the night off. Let Matt Cassel go for it on fourth down if you want. I hate myself for thinking this, but I hope Trent Cole breaks Brady's leg in the first quarter of next week's game. Not only is it the Eagles' only chance to win, but I bet the rest of the league would pony up the money to pay his fine.
Turnovers: Bills 2, Cheaters 0. Final score: New England 56, Buffalo 10. Turnovers = loss? Probably not, but the numbers say they do! 12-2.

Colin Cowherd, who's entertaining because he says so many idiotic things, said today that Vince Young will never win a Super Bowl because of the way he plays, but that's okay because he's entertaining and will win 60% of his games and win some playoff games. This is the same Colin Cowherd who loves what the Cheaters are doing because they play to win the game. So it's okay for the Cheaters to pile it on because they're paid to score, but it's not okay for the Titans to either change the way Vince Young plays or get rid of him because they'll never win a Super Bowl with him? What an idiot. Anyway, I watched hardly any of this game, but I did see a play early on where Young threw a deep ball to a receiver and put it right on his hands. The receiver dropped it. I don't know if Young will ever be a good quarterback, but lousy receivers aren't helping him!
Turnovers: Titans 3, Broncos 1. Final score: Denver 34, Tennessee 20. Turnovers = loss? Sure! 13-2.

That makes teams a pretty good 111-15 when they turn the ball over fewer times than their opponents. Someone on ESPN was bitching this week about boring offenses built "not to lose." I think it was Mortensen, and he went on to say that teams don't take chances, don't turn the ball over, and win 3-0. This is "boring," according to Mort. Well, sure, it's boring to Mort, but I wonder if the fans in Baltimore will give up that Super Bowl victory because their team was "boring." Not every team can have a rock-solid offensive line and Randy Moss running 50 yards downfield uncovered, you know!

So, back to Penn State, who blew a 24-7 lead, a chance to win 10 games in the season, and a New Year's Day bowl because their defense decided to start sucking at the wrong time and because whoever was calling plays for them needs to be fired. Here's the situation (I know you don't care, but indulge me): they're losing 35-31 but have two timeouts with about 1.50 left. They're at about the Michigan State 20, having gotten the ball with about 4 minutes left and driven down the field, mainly using their powerful running game, which the Spartans haven't been able to stop. So on first down, Anthony Morelli throws incomplete into the end zone. Okay. Not a great call, because if they score, MSU gets the ball back with three timeouts and plenty of time, with a Penn State defense that is phoning it in. Then they throw an idiotic screen pass in the center of field, which is incomplete. Even if they had completed it, the receiver had a guy draped all over him and wouldn't have gone far. Third down: another deep route, another incompletion. Fourth down (with still 1.20 left or so): another deep route, another incompletion. What the hell happened to the running game? Not only have you been ripping off huge chunks of yardage, you'll probably force the Spartans into taking timeouts and you'll probably score with very little time left. But no, the Lions had to go pass-happy. Why should the person who called those plays keep his job?

In other college football news, some team from Ohio beat some team from Michigan, prompting Lloyd Carr's resignation. The pundits have been talking about how he was a mediocre coach (Cowherd again) or, on the other end, a great coach (Kirk Herbstreit mostly, but his opinion seems to be the prevailing one). One thing they agree on is that Carr cared more about graduating players and making sure they were well-rounded individuals and less about beating the Buckeyes. But who makes winning such a huge priority? The same people on the network that is now praising him for caring about things other than football. Nice one, ESPN. Oregon lost last week as well, opening the door for a bunch of other schools to jump up, including Arizona State (if they can beat USC on Thanksgiving - watch the game on ESPN!). Some "experts" - Corso, I think - were talking about how great Oregon was and how they were the best team in the country. Can you really be a great team when you're so dependent on your quarterback? I love the Ducks, but like a lot of teams, if you're that dependent on one player, you're probably not that good. It's a lot more obvious in college football, where one great player (Vince Young, for instance) can take a team to #1, but a lot of NFL teams are too dependent on their quarterback. I hate bringing this back to the Eagles, but the Eagles often win without their back-up quarterback in there, because they play a game that isn't too reliant on McNabb. Take Brady off the Cheaters and see what happens. Anyway, the last two weeks of college football ought to be fun. I hope that Missouri beats Kansas, then loses to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. I hope that West Virginia loses one of its last two. I hope LSU loses to Arkansas or to Tennessee/Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. I hope Arizona State beats USC and Arizona, because then they'll play for a National Championship. If Penn State and Oregon can't win the thing, I'd rather see ASU do it!

I hope everyone enjoyed their football weekend. And remember: skipping the NFL games, which feature one of the most loathsome teams in the league and the most overhyped quarterback ever, is your patriotic duty! Eat some bird, then watch the Sun Devils!

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Dick Wilson has died

Who? WHO? He played Mr. Whipple for 21 years. 21 YEARS, for crying out loud!

Make sure that when you go shopping for your Thanksgiving turkey, you stop by and give the Charmin a squeeze. Somehow, I don't think Mr. Whipple will mind anymore.

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A question about Martin Scorcese's The Departed

I just saw the movie last night, and I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone, but I do have a question for anyone who happened to see the movie.

What's in the envelope that Leo DiCaprio gives to the psychiatrist? He tells her to open it if she doesn't hear from him for two weeks or if anything happens to him. Then she puts it in her drawer and it's never mentioned again. Krys and I think that it has something to do with Mark Wahlberg, but we aren't certain. Can anyone tell me what's going on?

Anyway, it was disappointing because of the ending. I didn't like it. Up until then, it was pretty good. That's all I'm saying. If you haven't seen it, the acting is tremendous. But you might not like the ending.

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Scary things in the Sunday comics!

I was reading the funnies this past weekend, and my eyes happened to scan something really frightening. And I'm not talking about the fact that a good 90% of the comics in any given newspaper aren't funny, either. This was a strip devoted to teaching children about interesting things around the world. This week's installment featured ... well, check it out:

It's a strip about Roald Dahl, which is, I suppose, a decent subject. Dahl's children's books are quite good and should be required reading for kids, because they're fantastical and exciting and funny but teach some decent lessons. I'm still astonished that no one has made a movie of Danny the Champion of the World, because I love the book and think it would be a great kid's movie that wouldn't be animated by Pixar or be about talking animals (although there is a stage show, so that's something). But that's not what's scary about this strip. Check out Dahl himself:

Yeah, I'm not trusting Crazy Chocolate-Clutching Man to write books for my children! Couldn't they have made him look less menacing? I know he's smiling, but it's kind of a freaky smile.

It gets worse, if you recall the original strip. They have another drawing of Dahl above the main one. Here it is, in more detail:

You know, if some old guy wearing "red trousers and cardigans that invariably had holes in the elbows" and those crappy sandals came near me holding out a big bag of onions like some kind of sacrificial offering, I think I'd run for the hills! Especially with that expression on his face!

Poor Roald Dahl. He deserves better than this, doesn't he?

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What have we learned - Week 10

This was a pretty good football weekend, all things considered. So let's check it out!

I don't get paid to watch film of football. That's what coaches and players, who get paid a lot of money, are supposed to do. So on the Eagles' first touchdown, they had the ball at the Washington five-yard line. Brian Westbrook and the fullback lined up in an "I" formation, but then split before the snap. I immediately thought to myself, "Shovel pass." The Eagles love to run a shovel pass near the goal line, and they're one of the few teams that do it well. Of course, they ran a shovel pass to Westbrook, and the Washington defense looked completely lost. They play each other twice a year and are supposed to watch film on the other team, and they didn't know a shovel pass was coming? I'm just some schlub on a sofa and I saw it coming. Andy Reid, showing some balls, went for it on 4th-and-1 at his own 30 in the second half. I'm not saying the Eagles are back, because they're still in last place and their defense can't stop anyone, but I hope Reid starts calling more gutsy games like this past one. That would be nice.
Turnovers: Eagles 2, Washington 2. Final score: Philadelphia 33, Washington 25. Turnovers = loss? Not an issue.

I probably mentioned this last week, but the Eagles held Adrian Peterson to 70 yards on 20 carries. I only bring it up because on ESPN they were gnashing their teeth about how to stop him. Apparently, you need to watch the Eagles game. The Packers stopped him pretty good, holding him to 45 yards on 11 carries before knocking him out of the game. Everyone couldn't believe he slipped to 7th in the draft, and I kept wondering why no one remembered the fact that he always got injured in college. I hope he gets better, of course, but this is a trend, and one the Vikings should be worried about. On the other side of the ball, if anyone wonders why I hate Brett "R. C." Favre so much, look no further than his final touchdown pass. He underthrows it into double coverage, and one Viking goes up and gets two hands on the ball, only to be bumped by the other Viking, causing the ball to pop over both of them and into the receiver's hands. R. C. has thrown those kind of balls his entire career, and for some reason, defensive backs can't catch the damned things! It just upsets me, because he has plenty of talent, and he doesn't need all the confounded luck as well!
Turnovers: Vikings 1, Packers 0. Final score: Green Bay 34, Minnesota 0. Turnovers = loss? Probably not, but I won't argue with the stats. 1-0.

Vince Young is not good. I said it last year when everyone was slobbering all over him, and I'll say it this year. He can't throw very well, and teams have adjusted to him rushing all over the field. Learn to throw, Vince, and then get back to us about being the next great quarterback.
Turnovers: Titans 3, Jaguars 1. Final score: Jacksonville 28, Tennessee 13. Turnovers = loss? Sure. 2-0.

I doubt if you could have paid me to watch the Denver-Kansas City game. I'm sure most people would say the same thing about the Eagles-Washington game, but if you're a fan of Denver or KC, I'd expect you to watch this. But I couldn't.
Turnovers: Chiefs 4, Broncos 1. Final score: Denver 27, Kansas City 11. Turnovers = loss? Yes. 3-0.

I was so hoping the Bills-Dolphins game would end 3-2, like it was in the third quarter. As it was, it was another game that set back offensive football. Miami comes to Philly next week. If the Eagles lose I may have to poke one of my eyes out.
Turnovers: Bills 1, Dolphins 0. Final score: Buffalo 13, Miami 10. Turnovers = loss? No, consarnit! 3-1.

Somehow, the Rams almost squandered a 34-7 lead, but they hung on for a "dominating" 8-point victory. I still don't understand why sports "experts" love Stephen Jackson, who isn't very tough, but don't like Marc Bulger, who gets pounded because his offensive line stinks. Bulger is an idiot for staying in St. Louis, because he could have gone someplace else with an actual line. But when he gets protection, he's excellent.
Turnovers: Saints 2, Rams 0. Final score: St. Louis 37, New Orleans 29. Turnovers = loss? Why not? 4-1.

Ben Roethlisberger had a 30-yard touchdown run, and if you didn't see it, it's astonishing - nobody touched him until he was inside the 10. He claimed that the Browns were scared he was going to slide, so they made no move on him, and if that's true, the Browns are idiots. That run is why I like Roethlisberger - he does what it takes. I don't want to see McNabb running like he used to, but I have a feeling that if he had had that lane to the end zone, he still would have danced around looking for a receiver and then gotten sacked. Sometimes you just have to dash for glory! The Steelers are getting better and better, and might steal the #2 seed in the AFC from the Colts. In case you haven't been paying attention, you know.
Turnovers: Browns 1, Steelers 1. Final score: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 28. Turnovers = loss? It's a wash.

Panthers-Falcons was another game I couldn't watch. Can you blame me? When, exactly, will the "experts" stop picking Carolina to win the division and go to the Super Bowl? Sheesh.
Turnovers: Panthers 2, Falcons 1. Final score: Atlanta 20, Carolina 13. Turnovers = loss? I'm going to say yes. 5-1.

Shayne Graham kicked 7 field goals, all from close in. The Baltimore defense were desperately trying to keep the Ravens in the game, and the offense kept giving it away. It's ridiculous how bad the Baltimore offense is. I mean, really ridiculous. Brian Billick ought to be fired, but that Super Bowl win years ago, when he had one of the best defenses of all time, keeps him employed.
Turnovers: Ravens 6, Bengals 0. Final score: Cincinnati 21, Baltimore 7. Turnovers = loss? Pretty obviously. 6-1.

Another horrible game was the Chicago-Oakland clash. It was 6-3 late before Rex Grossman threw his one good pass per game (he's only allowed one) and broke the game open. Whenever I turned this game on (which wasn't often, I admit), I felt like I was going to fall asleep. It was that dull.
Turnovers: Raiders 3, Bears 0. Final score: Chicago 17, Oakland 6. Turnovers = loss? Yes. 7-1.

I didn't watch very much of the Dallas-New Jersey game, because I really don't feel like listening to Fox announcers (it was Stockton and Aikman, wasn't it?) gush over both teams for three hours, which I'm sure they did. Tony Romo hasn't played a full season, Terrell Owens is happy because they throw him the ball a lot, Eli Manning isn't very good. I have nothing against Romo, but we'll see if he keeps this up, Owens can turn on you quicker than a rattlesnake, and Eli isn't very good. So why should I watch the game? I did like that Tony Curtis caught the first Dallas touchdown. The dude is over 80, but he's still playing football! I wonder how Jamie Lee feels about that?
Turnovers: Giants 2, Cowboys 1. Final score: Dallas 31, New Jersey 20. Turnovers = loss? Sure. 8-1.

Arizona and Detroit played a Comedy of Errors, as each team tried to give the game away, especially in the second half, when the turnovers were coming fast and furious! Detroit managed to give the game away a bit more, however, and the Cardinals played like many people in the Basin expected them too, with nice passing and solid running. It was still a goofy game - whenever a shotgun snap goes over the head of the quarterback (as one went over Warner's head) and one team gains -18 yards rushing (as the Lions did), you know you're watching comedic gold!
Turnovers: Lions 5, Cardinals 4. Final score: Arizona 31, Detroit 21. Turnovers = loss? You bet. 9-1.

Why I should be on ESPN, Exhibit Q: Yesterday, the "experts" were falling over themselves trying to excuse Peyton Manning's 6-interception day. One pundit claimed that some opposing players were calling it "heroic," because he kept slinging the ball even though he was playing so poorly and almost brought his team all the way back. Dear God. Manning had a somewhat downgraded offensive line, and he had lost his Hall-of-Fame receiver and very good tight end. So he had an average offensive line, one good receiver (Reggie Wayne), and a mediocre tight end. In other words, he had what almost every other team has to play with every single game. Yet you don't see other quarterbacks throwing six picks, do you? I like Manning, but so much of his (and Brady's) success has been a) great offensive line play; b) great receiverS (plural, although until this year Brady didn't have that); c) a solid running game; d) NO INJURIES. Now that he's facing a bit of adversity, suddenly he's heroic because he throws some absolutely shitty passes but still managed to get the Colts to within two points? Guess what? Philip Rivers was playing with a mediocre line, no good receivers (Chris Chambers? please), an excellent tight end and running back, and he managed to not throw six interceptions. Spare me the heroism of Manning. He had a shitty game because he had to do it all by himself. Welcome to the rest of the league, Peyton. Not to be a homer, but Donovan McNabb got the Eagles to three straight Championship Games with a good defense and pretty much nothing else except him. Only in the fourth year did he have ONE top-of-the-line receiver, and the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. Football is pretty much the ultimate team game, which is why it bugs me whenever people talk about the brilliance of Manning and Brady. Sure, they're very good, but now we see what happens when you take away Manning's supporting cast. He looks pretty crappy, doesn't he? Does that make him a bad quarterback? No, but it does make him a lot more like the other QBs in the league.
Turnovers: Colts 6, Chargers 3. Final score: San Diego 23, Indianapolis 21. Turnovers = loss? Just barely. 10-1.

I guess people are bashing San Francisco for going for it from Seattle's 2-yard-line late in the game, trailing 24-0. I'm extremely happy they went for it, even though they didn't pick it up. Too often you see a coach kick a field goal when trailing big just to avoid a shutout. The 49ers needed touchdowns, and even though they didn't get it, you have to love the call. Is it worse to lose 24-0 or 24-3? Most coaches would argue the former. But it doesn't really matter! Mike Nolan, whose father died over the weekend, honored the old-school tough-guy mentality of the NFL with the call. And did anyone notice how well Maurice Morris ran in place of Shaun Alexander. Alexander seems like a nice guy, but he got old fast. Give Morris, the Oregon Duck, the ball!
Turnovers: 49ers 2, Seahawks 2. Final score: Seattle 24, San Francisco 0. Turnovers = loss? It didn't make a difference against a bad team and a sad coach.

This weeks makes teams who turn the ball over less than their opponents 98-13 for the season. I'm going out on a limb and saying that if you don't turn the ball over, you have a good chance to win. But I may be crazy.

College football continued to be wacky, and if I ran the zoo, I would want one more big upset and things would be perfect. That upset, of course, would be LSU losing, because I don't like the SEC and think it's overrated. If LSU wins the National Championship, we'll never hear the end of the greatness of the SEC. I don't care when they lose, either. It might be nice for them to lose to Oregon in the Big Game, but before that would be fine, too. Oregon, of course, has to go on the road to Tucson on Thursday night, which is kind of a trap game, especially because the Wildcats always play well when they have nothing to play for, which is their situation now. You East Coast people should tune in, especially if you haven't seen the Ducks play. They're a hoot to watch. Penn State was unimpressive in going to 8-3 (they played Temple, which is as close to a bye week as you're going to get), but the Penn State blogs are a bit peeved at Illinois for knocking off Ohio State, because it means Penn State probably won't play in a New Year's Day bowl. I'm of the opinion that 10-3 (if they win their next two games) is a pretty good year, even if they don't play on 1 January. But I'm crazy. Speaking of the Illinois win, everyone noticed that the Illini went for it on 4th-and-inches from their own 30 or so, right? If you can't pick up six inches, you don't deserve to beat the #1 team. Illinois not only held the ball for the final 8:09 of the game (!), but Ohio State possessed it for only 1:08 the entire fourth quarter (!!). That was awesome. Arizona State battled to beat UCLA, but no one cares even though, technically, they're still in first place in the conference (Oregon had the week off, so they're 5-1 while ASU is 6-1). That's what bugs me about college football. Arizona State is still 9-1 and could, conceivably, play for the National Championship, but nobody talks about them. Now that Ohio State has lost, it's the same thing. Hell, Oklahoma could play for the National Championship (although I don't want that, because I don't like the Sooners). In this season of upsets, shouldn't we be looking beyond the top three? Kansas is a nice story, but they have to play #4 and #5 (probably). What happens if LSU, Oregon, and Kansas all lose? Stranger things have happened!

So that's the week that was. Well, other stuff happened too - Notre Dame continued to suck, which makes me very happy, Miami lost their last Orange Bowl game 48-0, which makes me very happy, and Navy beat North Texas 74-62 ... and threw only six passes (here's the box score - note that their quarterback has the greatest football name in the history of football itself: Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada). All in all, pretty entertaining.

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Let's recast a movie!

Man, it's been a long time since I updated a movie and asked you, the fine readers, to pick a new cast. It was so long ago, I actually had readers! But it's a fine tradition here at the blog, and with the advent of the WGA strike, Hollywood should gear up for some old movies redone. They wouldn't even have to change the script, thereby bypassing those Commie writers!

This time around, we're going to recast Arsenic and Old Lace, Frank Capra's brilliant 1944 comedy. If you haven't seen it, rent it now. Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, and Peter Lorre, with serial killers, crazy people, marriage issues, and botched plastic surgery. And it's hilarious! You know if someone threw those elements in a movie today they'd make it dark and disturbing and Darren Aronofsky would have to direct it. But we're remaking it as a comedy, because it came into the world as a comedy, and it will return as one! So let's recast that bad bear!

First, we're going to need a director. Capra isn't available. Capra isn't my favorite director, but in this movie he kept things razor-sharp. Who will replace him? WHO?!?!?!?

First up, of course, is Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster. Grant is excellent, of course, because he has great comic timing but also a bit of that upper-class stuffiness that makes his predicament even funnier. In case you haven't seen the movie, he's a newspaper columnist who claims not to believe in marriage, but at the beginning of the movie he's getting a marriage license. When he takes his fiancée back to his aunts' house in Brooklyn, however, he learns some distressing things about the goings-on there. Here's Grant, in case you're from another planet and don't know what he looks like:

His girl, Elaine Harper, is played by Priscilla Lane. She didn't have a great career, but she's a cutie:

Here's Grant and Lane. He looks uncomfortable. You don't suppose he wasn't too impressed with the ladies?

While Elaine readies for a trip to Niagara Falls, Grant visits his aunts. They're dotty old women, played wonderfully by Josephine Hull as Abby Brewster and Jean Adair as Martha Brewster. Abby is slightly less dotty than Martha, but only just. Here is Grant with his aunts:

That's Martha on the left, and Abby on the right.

While he's there, he learns that his aunts are actually serial killers. It's true! They take in lodgers, who are always lonely old men, and they decide the men would be much happier if they were dead. So they poison them. I can't remember how many they've killed, but it's around 12 or 13. It's of minor importance later on in the movie. Grant is understandably upset by this, but his aunts don't seem to think anything's wrong with it. They're too worried about Grant's cousin, Teddy, played by John Alexander. Teddy, you see, actually thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt. Whenever he goes up the stairs, he thinks he's charging up San Juan Hill and he blows his trumpet. The neighbors don't like this, and the police are threatening to take Teddy away. This is Teddy (the one in the pith helmet, obviously):

Teddy helps his aunts bury their victims in the basement, because he believes he's digging the Panama Canal. As Grant struggles with this, his brother Jonathan shows up. Jonathan is on the run from the law, as he is a particularly vicious killer. Raymond Massey plays Jonathan with barely suppressed rage. Tagging along with him is his alcoholic plastic surgeon, Dr. Herman Einstein, wonderfully played by Peter Lorre. Dr. Einstein botched Jonathan's surgery and now he resembles Boris Karloff. They want to lie low in Brooklyn for a while until the heat is off, but of course, they discover what Martha and Abby have been doing. We've already seen them, but here they are again, with Grant:

Finally, the cops keep coming around. Jack Carson plays Officer Patrick O'Hara, the clueless young policeman who keeps bugging Grant about the screenplay he's written. Surely we can find someone to fill his role?

So there's the cast. I welcome your substitutions! The only person you can't use is Steve Buscemi in Peter Lorre's role. When we recast The Maltese Falcon, my wife cast Buscemi in Lorre's role, and Tom pointed out that Buscemi as Lorre is too easy. Other than that, it's all wide open! Who will be in your remake of a comedy classic? And will it be able to defeat Fred Claus for those Thanksgiving dollars?

I should point out that a bunch of these pictures came from, which has more Cary Grant information than you thought you'd ever need. It's a good thing, too, because it was tough finding stills from the movie!

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What have we learned - Week 9

Well, the most important thing we learned is that I don't have to pay any attention to the NFL season any more. Krys asked me who was making me pay attention to it until now, and I told her, "My upbringing." But now that the Beagles are 3-5, their season is absolutely over. They're 4 games behind the C'boys, and just got spanked by Dallas. If they had won, they would have been 4-4 and 2 games out, and I would have had to endure another few weeks of mediocrity until they proved they sucked. At least now, I can turn them on occasionally, watch how badly they suck for a while, and move on. My nerves are okay for another season! Andy Reid, who is the best coach the Eagles have ever had, probably needs to go. The situation with his family is awful, and I have a feeling he's taken this team as far as it's going to go. He, like many other coaches, shows no inclination to try something different when what he's doing doesn't work. This was covered up when he had talent. Now, he talent is getting old, and it's obvious whatever he did 3-4 years ago doesn't work. Thanks for the memories, Andy. Take care of your children, because they're more important than football.

As for the game ... McNabb fumbled on the first play. This is far too indicative of how he plays. They didn't run the ball, and McNabb holds the ball too long and doesn't secure it when he gets hit. The Eagles actually had several chances in this game, because the Dallas defense wasn't playing all that well. But they never went deep, never brought in Correll Buckhalter to change up their running plays, and then their defense decided not to play at all. It looked like the C'boys could score at will. That's just sad. They're getting older and slower, and although I think that McNabb can still be the quarterback, I don't think he's ever going to get better unless Reid leaves and takes his scheme with him. McNabb can't do what he used to, and the Eagles need to get tougher and take some pressure off of him. The Vikings won with a third-string quarterback, for crying out loud, because they ran the ball to take the pressure off of him. Sheesh.
Turnovers: Eagles 3, Cowboys 1. Final score: Dallas 38, Philadelphia 17. Turnovers = loss? Definitely. 1-0.

I watched absolutely none of the San Francisco-Atlanta game. I have nothing to say about it.
Turnovers: 49ers 4, Falcons 1. Final score: Atlanta 20, San Francisco 16. Turnovers = loss? I guess. 2-0.

See what having a tough running back can do? Marshawn Lynch carried 29 times for 153 yards against the Bengals, and I bet Cincinnati wasn't too interested in tackling him late in the game. In fact, his longest run was a 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, after he'd pounded the Bengals for a while. Cincinnati won the division two years ago. Now, they're terrible, with a lot of the same players. The NFL is weird.
Turnovers: Bengals 1, Bills 1. Final score: Buffalo 33, Cincinnati 21. Turnovers = loss? Not an issue.

I watched some of the Denver-Detroit game early, but it was kind of boring. I should have stuck around, I guess, because the Lions blew it open in the second half to hand the Broncos their second 37-point loss in two weeks. Ouch. If you haven't seen Shaun Rogers' 66-yard interception return, it's a hoot. Rogers is a big man, and it seemed like he was running forever. Why couldn't anyone catch him? And then, finally, he made it to the end zone. He still hasn't caught his breath.
Turnovers: Broncos 4, Lions 1. Final score: Detroit 44, Denver 7. Turnovers = loss? A fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown, so yeah. 3-0.

How did Tennessee win their game? I guess their defense is a lot better than I thought, although playing against David Carr makes anyone's defense look great. They turned the ball over 4 times, and Vince Young's line was awful: 14-23, 110 yards, 2 picks. I know I've said this before, but the Titans aren't going anywhere unless they get better play from their quarterback. Maybe he'll be better, but you know what? He wasn't that good a passer in college, either.
Turnovers: Titans 4, Panthers 2. Final score: Tennessee 20, Carolina 7. Turnovers = loss? Not with David Carr at quarterback! 3-1.

I can't even talk about Brett "R. C." Favre. He throws two perfect R. C. Favre interceptions, and the Chiefs can't do anything with them. We're close to returning to the media of the late 1990s, when R. C. made a ton of mistakes during a game, but would throw one huge touchdown pass and everyone would slobber all over him. If the Chiefs had any kind of offense, today we'd be talking about the second loss of the season and why R. C. throws into coverage. I know it's not R. C.'s fault, but sheesh. This was a pretty entertaining game in the second half. What the heck is up with these boring first halves and good second halves?
Turnovers: Packers 2, Chiefs 2. Final score: Green Bay 33, Kansas City 22. Turnovers = loss? Technically, it's a wash, but the final nail in KC's coffin was an interception that went for a touchdown.

I've been a bit down on Adrian Peterson, because I didn't think he warranted the hype, especially after the Beagles held him to 70 yards on 20 carries. Then he set the NFL single-game rushing record ... in his eighth career game. Holy crap. If he can stay healthy (a concern in college), he can do some things. The nice thing about him is he can move sideways, find a hole, and then turn upfield so quickly. Watch some of his runs from this season. He moves behind his line, then boom! he's through. I'm stunned that Philly held him in check, actually. What the hell, San Diego? You used to have a good defense, didn't you?
Turnovers: Chargers 2, Vikings 2. Final score: Minnesota 35, San Diego 17. Turnovers = loss? It's a wash.

Another game I skipped but probably shouldn't was the Jacksonville-New Orleans game. 17-17 at the end of the first quarter, kickoff returns and interceptions for touchdowns, and Drew Brees lighting it up. The Jaguars need to rely on their defense, and they didn't get it done. The Saints, meanwhile, are 4-4 after an 0-4 start. Must be nice for them.
Turnovers: Jaguars 3, Saints 1. Final score: New Orleans 41, Jacksonville 24. Turnovers = loss? Sure. 4-1.

I watched a bit of the Washington-New Jersey game, and man! did Clinton Portis pound the shit out of the J-E-T-S Jet Jets Jets. He carried 36(!) times for 196 yards. In overtime, you could tell the Jets, who had led the game 17-3, just wanted to go home. I'm surprised they actually forced a field goal.
Turnovers: Washington 1, Jets 1. Final score: Washington 23, New Jersey 20. Turnovers = loss? Another wash.

On about the third or fourth play of the game (it might have even been the second), Kurt Warner made a beautiful play fake, got Ronde Barber to bite hard, and threw to a wide open Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald took off down the sideline, and had a sure touchdown. Then, with no one touching him, he stepped out of bounds at the Tampa 33. The Cardinals kicked a field goal, and I thought, "They just lost this game." Tampa held the ball for 43 minutes. It's tough to win games when you don't have the ball! Why did Larry Fitzgerald step out of bounds? Because he plays for the Cardinals, that's why.
Turnovers: Cardinals 2, Buccaneers 0. Final score: Tampa 17, Arizona 10. Turnovers = loss? Probably. 5-1.

Seattle took a 21-9 lead into halftime, but the funny thing was, I kept thinking that the Browns had a good chance to win. They were moving the ball pretty well, and just some stupid playcalling when they had the ball down on the goal line (4 plays from inside the 5, 4 passes) kept them from being closer. And Seattle kept giving the ball to Shaun Alexander, who has gotten lousy damned quickly. Poor Shaun Alexander. He seems like a nice guy, but he's not the guy he was two years ago. So the Browns kept plugging away, and won the game in overtime. The Browns are 5-3. What the heck?
Turnovers: Seahawks 2, Browns 1. Final score: Cleveland 33, Seattle 30. Turnovers = loss? Well, it didn't help! 6-1.

I doubt many people watched the New England-Indianapolis game, but I noticed something very interesting. Early in the game, the Colts were running the ball against the Cheaters, and really pounding them. The Cheaters were actually pissed off and were shoving the Colts around. I laughed. "Hey, look, the Cheaters don't like getting pushed around!" thought I. I know they lost the game, but Indy showed that the bullies, like all bullies, will fold if you stand up to them. I really, really, really hope that other teams saw that and will decide to punch the Cheaters in the mouth. If you keep doing it, I foresee many unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in their future. And you know what? I'm sick of the 1972 Dolphins. They played a shitty schedule and one of the five worst teams ever to make a Super Bowl. So shut up, 1972 Dolphins. You're probably not on the list of top ten teams of all time. A mediocre team today would pound you.
Turnovers: Cheaters 2, Colts 2. Final score: New England 24, Indianapolis 20. Turnovers = loss? The Colts' last drive was ended by a fumble, but the Colts scored their first touchdown off an interception. Oh well.

Of course, the game everyone wanted to see was ... Houston versus Oakland! Holy cow, the epic of epics! Sage Rosenfels and Josh McCown! Two teams that live in legend! Sebastian Janikowski almost made a 64-yard field goal! I guess that would have been kind of cool. How important was the other game? Fans in Houston were the only ones in the country who saw this game, as Oakland failed to sell it out. Oh, and people with DirecTV Sunday Ticket. Despite my loathing of the way the Eagles' season has turned out, I love Sunday Ticket!
Turnovers: Raiders 3, Texans 1. Final score: Houston 24, Oakland 17. Turnovers = loss? Sure! 7-1.

As I type this, the Steelers are pounding the shit out of the Ravens. Didn't the Ravens have a good defense once? I guess Ray Lewis might have to go murder someone to get the passion back! I'm going to call this a win for the Steelers, and they've gotten the turnovers, too. Let's say 8-1!

That makes it 88-12 when teams turn the ball over less than their opponents. Say it with me: Don't turn the ball over!

College football continues to be wacky, but not wacky enough for my tastes. Penn State allowed a touchdown on the opening kickoff and didn't allow another one. Purdue ran something like 33 plays in PSU territory without scoring a touchdown. So the Lions are 6-3 and I really hope they'll end up in the Outback Bowl. We'll see. The big game of the week, Arizona State-Oregon, proved a couple of things. The Ducks are really freakin' good, and Arizona State wasn't quite ready for the big time. Their defense wasn't horrible, but their offense couldn't get it going, and when you play the Ducks, you need to keep the ball away from their offense. I'm pretty pissed that Oregon lost to Cal, because I don't think a one-loss Oregon team or one-loss Arizona State team could jump a one-loss LSU team and play for the National Championship. The season isn't wacky enough because Ohio State hasn't lost yet, and I really hope they do, because if they get to play in the National Championship game against LSU, it will be a repeat of last year, when they got shellacked by Florida. Oregon-LSU would be a good game, but unless the Buckeyes go down, it's not going to happen. Stupid Buckeyes. Everyone knows they suck, but because they play in the Big Eleven and can run the table, they'll play for the Championship. And stupid Boston College. I wanted them to lose, because they're just not that good, but I didn't want them to lose to Florida State, because I don't want Bobby Bowden to win games. Stupid Matt Ryan.

So that's that. Maybe the Eagles will get it together in the off-season and ask Andy Reid to step down. He deserves a year off to deal with his family problems. And they deserve a new coach. We'll see. It's looking like a Cheaters-C'boys Super Bowl. Nobody wins in that situation!

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