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!


Why my wife is the coolest chick ever!

I received my birthday present from my lovely bride a few days after the actual day, as it had to come in the mail and it took a while. But once it got here, it just proved what I already know: Krys is, indeed, the coolest chick in the world.

In case you can't tell, this is a map of Philadelphia, mounted and framed. It's an actual print from 1879, which is rather cool. She found it online at this site, which someone she works with told her about. It's a pretty nifty site, and the prices are quite reasonable. She wanted to get me an old map of Portland, OR, but they didn't have any. Of course, I grew up near Philadelphia, so this is extremely neat too.

So now we're figuring out where to hang it on our "map wall," which already has two others on it. It's fairly big, but we think we'll get it in a good spot.

Who can say that I'm not married to the most excellent woman in the world? None can say that!

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Time to go to the fetish prom!

As I was looking through the Arizona Republic website for stories about the AIMS debacle, I noticed a section that was labeled "Arizona Fetish Prom." Not being a prude, I checked it out. In case it's gone when you read this, it took me here. They're all safe for work, and they're not even all that strange. Yes, it's sad how fetish-wear is "not even all that strange" anymore. Remember the good old days, when shocking things lurked around every corner? Now fetish gear gets its own "prom." And yet gay people aren't allowed to marry. Anyway, my favorite picture was probably this one:

See? Nothing to be scared of!

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More education ranting

Don't you just love when I rant about education? Well, then, this one's for you!

It's graduation time around the country, and here in Arizona that means thousands of seniors who didn't pass AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) will get their diploma. If you've followed the news from Arizona (and really, who hasn't?) you might be perplexed, as this year was the first where our state would not allow people to graduate unless they had passed AIMS. Really. This time they were serious. It's not going to happen. Must. Pass. AIMS.

Or, you know, not.

Earlier this year, a representative introduced this bill, which would allow graduating seniors to get a "break." Basically, seniors this year (and probably subsequent years, as this article points out) can "augment" their graduation requirements if they took the AIMS test every time it was offered (but didn't pass) and can substitute good grades in other classes, including electives. The bill, perhaps not surprisingly, sailed through the State Senate with a 22-5 vote (and was signed into law by our governor).

Let's consider this for a moment, without bringing individual cases into it. The graduating class of 2008 is the first one (I think) who has lived with AIMS its entire school lives. Arizona voted for "tougher" standards in 1996, I believe, and since these kids have been in school, they've known they'll have to pass tests on reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Tenth-grade level reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, mind you. AIMS testing commenced in 2001, I'm pretty sure, so these kids were in fifth grade (or thereabouts) when they first took the tests. They get FIVE (5) chances to pass the test. Yet thousands of our "graduating" "seniors" cannot pass a tenth-grade math test even after taking it five times.

Yes, there is such a thing as test anxiety. I understand that. I also understand that there are different ways to learn and express your learning. But this is ridiculous. First, the test has been dumbed down quite a lot over the past few years, once the first few classes to take it did horribly on it. I'm not even sure if it's really "tenth-grade level" anymore. But let's consider people who want to graduate from high school when they can't do math at a tenth-grade level. That's more than just test anxiety. And shouldn't part of our teaching be to get these kids over their test anxiety? Everyone fears tests, but you can be taught to, you know, get the fuck over it. But that would imply toughness on the part of the teachers and students. We can't have that, can we?

I have sympathy for these kids, I do. When I was teaching, we had big problems with AIMS testing. These are kids who have been moved on through grades without showing the least bit of evidence that they've mastered what they're supposed to have mastered. These graduates should not have been allowed to move on until they proved they knew the material. We are not doing them any service by sending them out into the world without basic skills. But does AIMS do that? Some people argue it doesn't. AIMS is a flawed tool, because it does put so many eggs in one basket. It's ridiculous to ignore years of schooling, but the reason AIMS exists is because the standards in school are so lackadaisical. Schools allow kids to move through the grades without making sure they're prepared to do so. AIMS takes national standards and applies them to what kids should know. It's not a terribly difficult test, but it doesn't take into account the many factors that go into the lives of children. I have no idea if the test is "culturally biased," but we do have many kids who have not been in the school system their entire lives, and therefore have not been trained the way they should be. It's frustrating, because the system has failed these kids, but it also falls on these kids and their parents to take the schooling more seriously. I would bet there were more than a few parents who called their schools and whined about their kids not graduating, and the schools (and the legislature) caved.

Arizona could always ditch No Child Left Behind, of course, and then there would be no need for AIMS. Of course, that would mean giving up a whole boatload of federal money ($600 million), and Arizona isn't about to do that. Nor is the legislature going to grow a spine any time soon and make AIMS a true test of students' abilities and hold some kids back if they don't pass it. One of the students who is graduating has failed the math portion of the test five times, yet has a 3.2 GPA and has already been accepted to Arizona State University. I feel for students like this, but is she worthy to go to college if she doesn't know math?

If we add this problem to the ever-increasing use of text messaging lingua franca in school term papers, it's clear that we are sending kids out into the real world with extremely poor skills. Of course, they may force employers to change so that they accept these lowered standards, but what does that say about us all?

Whenever I read about students getting undeserved diplomas, I get sad. We don't care, parents don't care, kids don't care. The few who do battle through, and they change the world. As for the rest - they're cogs in the machinery of society, but as the level of that society sinks, we all suffer. Look at our government, our entertainment, our news broadcasts. Life demands toughness, but nobody wants to be tough. Nobody wants to sit these kids down and tell them they need to study harder and learn how to accept challenges and defeat them. Instead of "everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die," these days it's "everybody wants to be rich, but they just want to win the lottery to get there." That's all we care about anymore. I don't want to be sad, but hearing about graduates who don't know how to read, write, or add depresses me just a bit. Or should I just get over it?

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New euphemism! Read it here first!

This is a fun article. All these people wanted to do was, you know, have some sex. What kind of world is it where people can't screw in the woods? Not the kind of world I want to live in, I'll tell you that much!

The best line in the article has to be: "A helicopter with heat-seeking equipment was called in." I'm sure that's what he claimed he had! (Badump-bump!)

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Grounds for divorce?

Yesterday I accidentally deleted the first part of the season finale of Lost. I'm not sure how I did it, but there it is. So I checked out tonight to see if they were rerunning it, but there was a two-hour episode of Grey's Anatomy on. Uh-oh.

The question is, can Krys legitimately divorce me for this? I mean, we only watch it every week and are as caught up in it as anyone else. And this was the freakin' season finale! I wasn't sure if I was going to make it through last night alive.

Luckily, the crisis was averted. The second part of the season finale airs next week, and the first part is rerun right before it. I've already set up the DVR to record it. My marriage is saved!!!!

I'm sure everyone is happy that peace reigns in our home.

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What a gamer!

Man, this is pretty gruesome, but cool:

A newspaper photographer at a high school state track championships in Provo was speared through the leg by a javelin.

Holy crap. The guy wasn't hurt too badly, as the javelin missed anything vital. Not only that, he snapped a picture of his own leg (see it below, and no, it's not that bad, but it is freaky). The guy was in an off-limits section, so it's his own damned fault!

There are a couple of funny things about this. The track coach had the line of the day: "Good thing we brought a second javelin." That's gold! The photographer, an ex-Marine who spent six months in Afghanistan, also had a zinger: "They don't have javelins in Afghanistan. That's where I'm lucky." Oh, it's all fun and games when someone gets speared through the leg with a javelin! But what about the kid who threw it? Well, after freaking out for a minute, he won the state title. Man, everyone is a gamer in this story!

I found the photograph here. Check it out:

Good stuff!

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This day in history!

Some things that happened on 19 May throughout history:

In 804, Alcuin of York, mentor of Charlemagne, died.
In 1536, Anne Boleyn died, rather messily.
In 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail.
In 1848, Mexico gave Texas to the United States.
In 1864, Nathaniel Hawthorne died.
In 1890, Ho Chi Minh was born.
In 1898, William Gladstone died.
In 1910, Cy Young won his 500th game.
In 1915, Pol Pot was born (boo!).
In 1925, Malcolm X was born.
In 1945, Pete Townshend was born.
In 1948, Grace Jones was born.
In 1959, Nicole Brown Simpson (R.I.P.) was born.
In 1967, the United States bombed Hanoi.
In 1974, the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup!
In 1976, Kevin Garnett was born.
In 1992, Amy Fisher shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco.
In 1994, Jackie O died.

And, of course, in 1971, your future dictator of the world was born! Oh, frabjous day! When I rule the world, this will of couse be a holiday. Who wouldn't want the day off to celebrate the birth of their benevolent leader?

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Idiots rule the world!

Today the family went to see a ballet of Peter Pan. Krys thought it would be fun for the kids, and it was, for the most part. We're not sure if Mia really got the whole thing or not, but she seemed to enjoy it. Norah liked saying things like "They flying!" when Peter, Tinkerbell, and Wendy rose off the stage (they were attached to wires), so we had to tell her to hush. She sat on Krys the entire time because she couldn't see over the seats in front. But that's not important right now!

The ballet wasn't great. It was fine, but not great. But at the end, two things happened that annoys me about the theater. First, most of the theater gave the cast a standing ovation. Standing ovations have become pretty standard with theater productions, and it pisses me off. There's nothing really wrong with it (I did not participate), but it's kind of a symptom of what Americans have become - always praising everything to the extreme, no matter the quality of it. I appreciated the ballet company, but I didn't think the dancers deserved a standing ovation. It's kind of annoying.

The second thing that happened was even worse. While the applause was going on, and while the dancers were still bowing, people were leaving. Krys and I noticed this years ago in Portland. The worse time was when we went to the opera, where you would expect people to have a bit more class, and people left. This was the first time we had been to a theater in a while, and apparently this trend is still a trend. I loathe this trend. This is such an insult to the people who perform. I think giving a standing ovation is overpraising, but I certainly don't believe in insulting people who work hard to put on a nice show. There's no excuse for this kind of behavior. I don't care if you have small children - I have a two-year-old, and she didn't need to run out of there! People like this need to be beaten within an inch of their lives. People wonder why Americans have a reputation for being rude. This is one small reason why.

Won't it be nicer when I'm dictator and we can send people who leave theater productions before the bows are finished to the camps?

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Life is crazy weird

ATHENS, Greece - A 9-year-old girl who went to hospital in central Greece suffering from stomach pains was found to be carrying her embryonic twin, doctors said Thursday.

Doctors at Larissa General Hospital examined the girl and surgically removed a growth they later discovered was an embryo about six centimeters (more than two inches) long.

"They could see on the right side that her belly was swollen, but they couldn't suspect that this tumor would hide an embryo," hospital director Iakovos Brouskelis said.

The girl has made a full recovery, he said.

Andreas Markou, head of the hospital's pediatric department, said the embryo was a formed fetus with a head, hair and eyes, but no brain or umbilical cord.

Markou said cases where one of a set of twins absorbs the other in the womb occurs in one of 500,000 live births.

The girl's family did not want to be identified, hospital officials said.

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I couldn't make this up!

I was listening to the radio this afternoon. Gambo and Ash were broadcasting from the Hooters at I-17 and Bell Road in beautiful Phoenix. They mentioned that on 6 June the 10th Annual Hooters Pageant was being held in the downtown Hooters. Two waitresses from the I-17 and Bell Road Hooters were participating. Gambo said, and I couldn't make this up if I tried, "Yeah, we have Ashley ... and Ashley." What, Tiffany wasn't available?

When you see stuff like this in fiction making fun of places like Hooters, you assume they're exaggerating for comedic effect. But that's not necessarily true!

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What I've been reading

In Search of Myths and Heroes: Exploring Four Epic Legends of the World by Michael Wood. 272 pages, 2005, University of California Press.

This book was published in conjunction with a film documentary that was broadcast on the BBC. It's an interesting book, but it's fairly superficial, and I wish Wood had gone into some more detail about these myths. He examines four myths: Shangri-La, Jason and the Argonauts, the Queen of Sheba, and King Arthur. But he never goes into them too deeply, and the book suffers a bit for it. The best part of the book is the fantastic photographs that Wood takes as he travels around the world seeking these myths. As a documentary introducing people to these myths, this is probably fine. As a book that goes deeper, it fails.

That's not to say it's not entertaining. Wood wants to examine the historical bases behind myths, and so he travels to where their origins are and tries to trace the folklore back in time. This works rather well in the first two chapters, especially the first one, in which he heads to Tibet to find Shangri-La. This is a marvelous chapter, because he does a fine job of not only tracing the legend but making an actual pilgrimage. For many of the same reasons, his chapter on Jason and the Argonauts and the Queen of Sheba is fine too, but as the book progresses, he seems to spend less time on the actual folklore. With something like Shangri-La, it's easier to focus on the legend, because there's very few new stories being generated. With Jason and the Argonauts, the legend is also somewhat calcified, and therefore Wood can simply track the story along the Black Sea coast. It's more difficult for him to trace the Queen of Sheba, simply because there's less literature. His trek across Yemen, however, is fascinating, and, like the journey into Nepal and Tibet, makes me want to visit there (my cousin recently spent some time in Yemen, and I hope I can talk to her about it soon). It's far easier for Wood to travel with those three myths, as they are rooted in specific places.

When he reaches Arthur, however, the book becomes less interesting. The biggest problem is that King Arthur still commands so much of our attention, so the story is still being written, plus the geography is quite sketchy. Wood takes a much more generic approach to the Arthur chapter, basically surveying the literature. It's unfortunate that he chooses to end the book with it (not surprising, given that this was produced for a British audience), but it's not completely awful. If you've never read anything about King Arthur, it's not a bad chapter, but it's not as inspired as the first three chapters. With Shangri-La, Jason, and the Queen of Sheba, we get adventure stories in exotic lands. With Arthur, we get recitations of medieval literature. Wood even seems a bit bored by it.

As a primer on these myths, this is an interesting book. The photographs are spectacular, and Wood does make comments about what myths mean, but he never goes to far into that aspect of the legends. What he does best is make these places that many people are unfamiliar with - Tibet, Georgia, Yemen - and make them more real. That's a very cool part of the book, and it would have been nice to see the documentaries, just to see the scenery. I didn't learn much about legends from this book, but I did get to see some cool places and learn a little about modern cultures where the myths occurred. There's nothing wrong with that.

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Starring Ian Ziering as ...

I happened to be watching the Sci-Fi Channel tonight. What, you may ask, was on? Well, it was a fine movie called Tyrannosaurus Azteca, or its far cooler American title, Aztec Rex. Now, this movie, like many on the Sci-Fi Channel, was complete crap. A group of Spaniards lands in Mexico and finds a group of Aztecs who sacrifice people to a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Of course, one of their number falls in love with a local lass (as I was researching this, I noticed the actress who plays her was born in Kathmandu, which is kind of neat), and the two fight against the dinosaur and an evil Aztec shaman. Two things made me laugh: at one point, the Spaniard and his Aztec girl flee the dinosaur with a monk, and as they hide in a stand of trees, the monk marries them and then they have sex. With a freakin' dinosaur breathing down their necks! Yeah, nothing turns you on like a giant lizard about to eat you!

Better than that, though, was the casting of Hernán Cortés. You may know him as blond, blue-eyed Steve Sanders on Beverly Hills 90210, but I'll forever know him as black-haired, poorly-bewigged, blue-eyed Hernán Cortés! Yes, Ian Ziering as Cortés. The mind reels.

Anyway, the movie sucks, but if you happen across it on the Sci-Fi Channel, stay a while. Ziering apparently isn't in the movie all that much (I saw him early on, turned it off, and saw him at the end, but I watched the last twenty minutes and he had no role in defeating the T. Rex), but it's worth it to see him. It's awesomely awful.

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What I've been reading

Napoleon and his Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship by Isser Woloch. 281 pages, 2001, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

If you've never read anything about Napoleon, this is not the book to start with, as Woloch freely admits in his preface. He ignores pretty much everything that we think of as "Napoleonic" history - his military victories, his coronation, his law code - to focus on the men around Napoleon who helped him take power and ease his creation of a dictatorship. In fact, after the first chapter, detailing the coup of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799), which made Napoleon the first consul, Woloch rarely brings the emperor into the picture very much. He always lurks in the background, and he shows up for Senate debates and the like, but Woloch implies at some places and baldly states at others that Napoleon was too often off engaging in military expeditions to be too involved in the nuts and bolts of government. Napoleon was very keen on governing, and when he was in Paris, he was a dynamo of activity, and even when he was at the front he insisted on dispatches that would keep him abreast of what was happening, but Woloch shows us that his collaborators were working hard to implement his program even when he wasn't around.

This is a serious work of history, so it's somewhat dry, but for someone who has read a little about Napoleon but usually only in the context of the great conqueror as one-man empire, it's a neat book. Woloch basically goes chronologically through Napoleon's reign, and he makes clear that Napoleon didn't do it alone. He was a genius in making people believe they had a say in how France was run, even though after about 1802 (when he became consul for life), there was really no way to stop him beyond assassination (which came on 3 Nivôse - 24 December 1800 - and really catapulted him even more toward authoritarianism). So the people he surrounded himself with - the Senate, the Tribunate, the Legislature - were allowed to believe that they had some input, and Woloch is unable to say whether they really believed they did, or if they simply deluded themselves. Probably a bit of both.

Woloch devotes one chapter to Jean-Jacques-Régis Cambacérès, the second most important man in Napoleonic France. Cambacérès was the second consul and later archchancellor, and as Woloch himself admits, perhaps second most important man in the country "is not saying much, given the absolute grip on power that Bonaparte eventually established" (page 123). But Cambacérès gives the reader an interesting focus, because of his credentials as a revolutionary. In Napoleon, the revolutionaries thought they found a culmination to what they had worked a decade for, and many were unwilling to admit they had been betrayed by Bonaparte. Cambacérès is one of these people, as Woloch shows that he tied himself into knots trying to justify his service to Napoleon, just as he had tied himself into knots in 1792 when it came time to vote for the death of Louis XVI (technically, Woloch points out, he could be considered a regicide, but with less enthusiasm than many of his colleagues). As Napoleon became more secure in his power, he began to phase the older revolutionaries out, perhaps because he feared they might actually remember their past and do something about him as they had to the king.

Woloch goes over several key topics concerning the later empire, including the creation of a nobility in 1808 and the return of press censorship. What he does nicely is show how many of Napoleon's edicts were heartily endorsed by his government. They didn't do this out of fear for their life, Woloch argues, because with the spectacular exception of the duc d'Enghien, people did not lose their life for speaking against Napoleon. He exiled them, sure, but didn't kill them. With very few exceptions (Tallyrand the most notable, perhaps), the men in Napoleon's government didn't resign in protest. Napoleon created a dictatorship, as Woloch makes clear, but he did it with the full endorsement of the men who overthrew the last oppressive government, that of the Bourbons.

This book isn't a page-turner by any means. It's well written but not particularly lively. It's for people who like history books (hey! that's me!), but not for someone with only a passing interest in the past (and that's nobody, right?). If you've read a book or two about Napoleon and want to learn more about his rule, I'd certainly recommend it, because it sheds a lot of light on how Napoleon was able to carve out a dictatorship when the French had just gotten rid of one. In many respects, this book is more valuable to the present than a straight history of Napoleon. This shows us, in chilling bureaucratic detail, how a government can take away rights if they do it "the right way." Good thing we don't know any president who tries to do that, right?

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Draft Zach Feinstein!

In today's newspaper, there's a brief mention of Zach Feinstein, who has declared for the NBA draft. I think every team should give this guy a look. Let's check out his web site:

"As a 5'8" 130 pound Caucasian, I am the perfect candidate for professional basketball. Also, I do not play basketball.

You see, I am not currently on my college's basketball team (Division 3 just for reference) nor did I try out to be. I was at no point on my high school's basketball team nor did I try out to be. I was at no point on my middle school's basketball team nor did I try out to be. The last time I was on a basketball team was before Bill Clinton got caught with his pants down.

So there you have it, I, Zach Feinstein, am in the 2008 NBA Draft."

Feinstein attends Washington University in St. Louis, and he has a page that gives his "stats," which are estimated from pick-up games that he plays. He also has some fun facts about his stats, such as his total for "rebound": "Only to get over Sarah." He claims to have a high basketball IQ, but his obvious weakness is that he "lacks actual basketball skills, ability, and experience."

He's actually in the draft - apparently it's not that difficult to put your name into the selection process. The Arizona Republic suggests the Suns draft him because they don't use the end of their bench anyway, so why not get someone who's goofy and will get you some publicity? He'd probably be cheaper than a "real" basketball player anyway.

Someone needs to draft Zach Feinstein. Look at this form:

He's a natural!

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I think we've moved to Beirut

Last Friday night, I was lying in bed reading, and Krys was out in the kitchen getting ready to come back to the bedroom. Suddenly she heard sirens. She went outside and saw a fire truck right outside our house. A police car was blocking the street, and the firemen were putting out a fire in an SUV sitting across the street from our house. We have no idea how the truck caught on fire, but it's still sitting there! Sheesh - get rid the damned truck, people! Here are the photos:

This is the SUV:

Here's a close-up of the window:

Here's all the shattered glass on the street next to it. How charming. Perhaps someone should, I don't know, get the glass off the street!!!!!

Burned-out husks on the street? Yes, America is pretty awesome.

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