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!


What I've been reading

War Reporting for Cowards by Chris Ayres. 2005, 280 pages, Atlantic Monthly Press.

The entire premise of this book is right there in the title! Ayres, a London Times reporter, somehow gets sucked into the Iraq War and lives to tell about it. There's more to this book, of course, but the central premise remains - he's a coward reporting a war.

Ayres begins in Iraq but quickly shifts backward and tells us about his entry into journalism and how it led him to an embedded position with the United States Marine Corps. What makes the book so funny is that Ayres is extremely self-deprecating, but never to the extent that we think he's doing it to gain our sympathy. He really does seem as impotent and incompetent as he writes, and it adds a great deal of charm to his narrative. We follow him as he stumbles into a job with the Times, then ends up being one of the few reporters for that paper in New York on 11 September 2001. The Times' new foreign correspondent decided to take the Queen Elizabeth II in order to get to New York, so he was stuck on the ocean for a while, and Ayres became a default foreign correspondent on that horrible day. Ayres manages to keep a light tone but still treat the attack with gravitas, and he gives us an excellent account of what it was like on the ground that day. Then, he happens to be right at the flashpoint of the anthrax attacks of later that year, something that makes him rethink his position in New York. He heads to Los Angeles to become the Times' entertainment reporter, a position he still held when his boss called him one night and asked him if he'd like to be embedded with the troops. He says yes, much to his later despair. But at least we get a humorous book out of it.

The bulk of the book is actually preparing for the war, as Ayres takes a hilarious journey around sporting goods stores in LA to buy the junk the U. S. government insists he buys. Then he ends up in Kuwait with the other journalists, and he bemoans the fact that everyone seems so much calmer about heading into a war zone. When he does enter Iraq, he brings a nice, jaundiced eye to the proceedings - he's not for or against the war, at least not in this book, and he instead focuses on the actual Marines, but he is skeptical of anyone who is gung-ho about the whole thing. One of the strengths of the book is that he remains a coward - there's no last-second change of heart or act of bravery on his part. It's refreshing. When he gets a chance to get out of the war early, there's actually some tension about what he's going to do, not because he's brave, but because he respects the Marines and he also worries about what people will think of him. It makes this much more than a story about the war - it becomes a story about what makes people fight and whether it's worth it. Even as it remains humorous, Ayres makes some interesting points.

War Reporting for Cowards is a breezy read - I read it in one day (although I was sitting in a hospital room doing absolutely nothing, but the point is that it's never boring, so I didn't feel like putting it down) - but it's unlike other war books by reporters you might read, because of Ayres' complete unwillingness to make himself even remotely heroic. He even points out some other reporters who were embedded and their books, saying they probably give a better picture of the war because the writers were in more important positions and stayed longer than he did. But this is a fine book nevertheless. It tells a bigger story than just the Iraq war, it does it with fine humor, and it's deeper than you might expect. It certainly makes you respect the troops a lot!

Labels: , ,


I feel old

Today on the radio I heard that it was Rihanna's 21st birthday. Rihanna, I'm sure you know, is the singer who has been in the news recently. She was allegedly beaten up by her boyfriend, by whom she is sticking, apparently. It's always nice to see a woman sticking by the guy who beats her up. She's the first native of Barbados to win a Grammy. That last bit was why I feel old. When Rihanna was about 5 months old, I was in Barbados. It was just before my senior year in high school. She was somewhere on that island, 5 months old, probably singing something! I don't know why that makes me feel old, but it does.

Labels: , , , ,


OMG!!!!!! The Messiah is coming!

You may or may not have heard, but President Messiah is in town, and tomorrow, he's speaking at Dobson High School in beautiful Mesa. In fact, it's about half a mile from my house. Squeeeee!!!!!! It was a spur-of-the-moment thing for Our Beloved Leader, so he only decided to speak there on Friday, but it wasn't in the paper until yesterday. Tickets were free, but people had already starting lining up for them when they were given away yesterday, so I had no chance to get them. Oh well. Apparently they're going to continue classes while he's speaking (at 10.30 in the morning), which is odd. Wouldn't they let the kids in for free?

I may have to watch local news for the coverage. I never watch local news! But that's what I will do for coverage of the Messiah!

Labels: ,


Let's skim through the news!

Items that have caught my eye recently:

The city of Birmingham (England) has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs.

Sigh. Just another assault on correct grammar, this time sanctioned by the government. Look, I'm a grammar and spelling enthusiast. I hate listening to people on the television and radio using poor grammar, because as much as I try not to judge, I always think they sound stupid. I'm also aware that grammar and spelling are largely fluid things, changing throughout the centuries. I get it. The reason this sucks, however, is that people are just giving up trying to learn things. Grammar and spelling aren't that difficult to learn, yet people just want to give up, and now it's gone up to the city council. It's part of the entire "dumbing-down" of life in general. Some choice quotes from the article:

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.

"I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do."

It's not a debate. It's a rule. Yes, there needs to be an apostrophe. End of debate.

Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.

"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."

See? Idiots rule. "Waaah, waaah, I don't know how to find things because I'm so stupid!"

Mullaney claimed apostrophes confuse GPS units, including those used by emergency services. But Jenny Hodge, a spokeswoman for satellite navigation equipment manufacturer TomTom, said most users of their systems navigate through Britain's sometime confusing streets by entering a postal code rather than a street address.

She said that if someone preferred to use a street name - with or without an apostrophe - punctuation wouldn't be an issue. By the time the first few letters of the street were entered, a list of matching choices would pop up and the user would choose the destination.

A test by The Associated Press backed this up. In a search for London street St. Mary's Road, the name popped up before the apostrophe had to be entered.

British grammarians have railed for decades against storekeepers' signs advertising the sale of "apple's and pear's," or pubs offering "chip's and pea's."

I always like how people who want to get rid of apostrophes use them incorrectly all the time. If you never use them, fine. But to use them incorrectly and then bitch when people want to use them correctly? Shut up.

Okay, let's move on, staying on that side of the pond!

Britain's Royal Opera plans a show based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith.

Oh dear. Of course, there's been an opera about Jerry Springer, so why not Anna Nicole Smith? She started as a stripper, posed for Playboy, was the Playmate of the Year, married an octogenarian oil tycoon for his money, got embroiled in a law suit when he died and his family contested her portion, had a screwed-up later life, endured her son's death, and then died of a drug overdose. It's classic opera stuff! And no, I'm not being sarcastic. Come on, just because some operas are 100-200 years old doesn't mean they're not pretty lurid. Good on you, Royal Opera!

Anna Nicole Smith: Too buxom to live!

More news from England: He's 13. He scarcely looks 10. And according to a British tabloid, he's a father. Baby-faced and only 4 feet tall, the boy, Alfie, was just 12 when he impregnated Chantelle, now 15, The Sun reported Friday.

Oh dear. Oh my dear Lord.

Asked what he would do to support the child financially, Alfie asks in a small, high-pitched voice, "What's financially?"

Oh Jesus.

The Sun did not say whether any tests were conducted to prove the boy's paternity. The paper did not offer any immediate comment when asked whether it had paid the family for the story.

Police and child services in Eastbourne, in southeast England, said in a statement that they were "aware of a 14-year-old girl that had become pregnant as the result of a relationship with a 12-year-old boy," adding that they were offering support to both young people.

"Support." With our tax dollars! Or, I guess, pounds.

Alfie's front page picture has sparked renewed debate about teen pregnancy in Britain. The country has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe, and government figures show that about 39,000 girls under age 18 became pregnant in 2006. More than 7,000 of those girls were younger than 16.

That's sad. Not as bad as the U.S., though!

Britain had 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 between 2000 and 2005, according to a report published by Population Action International. Comparable figures are 10 per 1,000 for Spain, 8 in 1,000 for France, and 5 in 1,000 for The Netherlands.

Britain's teen pregnancy rate, however, is still far below that of the United States, which registers 44 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 and are more line with English-speaking countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which respectively have 17 and 27 births per 1,000 women between 15 and 19, according to the report.

U! S! A!

In a move last year to tackle the high teen pregnancy rate, British education officials announced they would start introducing sex education earlier in English schools. Beginning next year, children as in grades as low as kindergarten will be given basic sex education.

Tony Kerridge, of the sexual health group Marie Stopes International, praised the move, but local lawmaker Nigel Waterson said the pregnancy raised "huge questions" about whether British children were being educated about sex - at the expense of learning about healthy relationships.

Like the one between a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old? Yeah, those kind.

Chantelle and Alfie have reportedly pledged to raise the child as best they can.

"We know we made a mistake but I wouldn't change it now," Chantelle was quoted by The Sun as saying.

Alfie's father, Dennis - who reportedly has nine children - said his son told him it was the first time he had sex. He was reportedly allowed to sleep over at the girl's house.

At least we can't blame the parents!

"I will talk to him again and it will be the birds and bees talk," he said. "Some may say it's too late but he needs to understand so there is not another baby."

Yeah, good luck with that, Pops.

All right, let's move on to the United States! Things do happen here, you know!

Churches are beginning to accept evolution.

After a lifetime in the church, the Rev. William L. Rhines Jr. lately has started to question one of the Bible's fundamental teachings, that God created man. It's an especially touchy topic in his Wilmington, Del., congregation, where generations of black worshippers have leaned on faith to endure the indignities of racism.

But as the world marks the 200th birthday of evolution theorist Charles Darwin on Thursday, Rhines figures its time for even the most conservative congregations to come to terms with science.

Welcome to the 21st century, everyone!

"We're becoming more middle class, upper middle class, so we have more free time ... to ponder these eternal issues," said Rhines, who will encourage a discussion at Ezion-Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church.

I like that the implication is that low-class people are too dim to concern themselves with philosophical problems!

Participants say they're not abandoning the Bible's story of Adam and Eve. Rather, they want to blend theories in a way that helps today's faithful reconcile their modern world with Biblical teachings.

"We have to give God a lot more credit than we give him now - we need to give him the benefit of the doubt that his word includes evolution," said Mike Ghouse, president of the World Muslim Congress, a Dallas-based union of 3,000 Muslims that hosted its first ever Evolution Weekend discussion Friday.

God sure does deserve some credit, right?

Zimmerman argues the faithful can accept parts of creationism - the notion that a higher being created man whole - and evolution.

"Faith is related to one's belief system ... science, on the other hand, is in a different domain," said the Rev. Gerald Kersey, who planned a Sunday school lesson and discussion of Darwin's theories at Avondale Estates First Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta.

He blamed religious intolerance for causing many faithful to feel they must choose between science and the Bible.

"I'm presenting the idea that science or evolution is compatible with faith," he said.

The religious are never intolerant, are they?

Still, many Americans believe that God created man. A 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life found 63 percent of Americans believed humans and other animals have either always existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the guidance of a supreme being.

That percentage is especially high among the nation's black churchgoers, who have been taught for generations to cope with everything from slavery to Jim Crow by using the Bible's teachings, Rhines said.

"We don't want to tamper with what grandma taught us - we've come this far by faith," Rhines said.

At one of the nation's oldest black churches, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., the Rev. Thurmond Tillman doesn't oppose evolution.

But he argued black Americans have other social issues to address, and the faithful should focus on uniting mankind - not dividing his origins.

Well, that's a relief!

So, what else in the news? Nothing too important, I'm sure.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Hans Beck has died

You might not know who Hans Beck is, and neither did I until today, when I read that he died a week ago. Hans Beck invented Playmobil, perhaps the greatest toy line ever. I was stunned, reading that obituary, that he created them in 1974, because I remember playing with them when I lived in Germany in the middle 1970s, so they were brand new when I started playing with them (my parents were cutting-edge, don't you know). I loved playing with Playmobil toys, and I still own a comic book based on the toys (it's a Western, if you can believe it, and yes, it's AWESOME). If you have children, you need to buy some Playmobil!

Rest in peace, Herr Beck!

Labels: , , ,


What I've been reading

Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare by Clare Asquith. 2005, 348 pages, Public Affairs Books.

This fascinating book stems from a premise that, whether you accept it or not, will color your appreciation of it: William Shakespeare was a Catholic, and encoded Catholic political protests against the Elizabethan and Jacobin regimes into his plays. Asquith certainly makes her case well, but there's one problem: She never actually proves that Shakespeare was Catholic. She finds some evidence of it, but by failing to adequately convince the reader of that one fact, she calls into question the entire book. That's a shame, because it's a very readable, extremely interesting book, one that explains a lot about Shakespeare's more difficult plays and why he retired at the peak of his powers.

Asquith looks at the plays in chronological order and how they might have been informed by the politics of the day. She begins by pointing out that Elizabeth's England, far from being the Golden Age many historians painted it as, was actually a police state, with the dominant Protestants suppressing any and all dissent, including the Catholic resistance. There is plenty of evidence for this - the Northern Rebellion in 1569 was a Catholic one, while Guy Fawkes in 1605 shows the continual dissatisfaction once James took over. The fact that Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil rose so high in the Elizabethan government as spymasters also shows that Elizabeth had plenty of enemies (real or imagined). According to Asquith, Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, and this gives his plays a new layer of meaning that makes them easier to understand. She makes this conclusion by very inconclusive means, by pointing out Catholic activity in the area of Stratford when he was young, among other things. It's all circumstantial, and therefore not as compelling as one would hope. Asquith is stronger when she examines the literary culture of late sixteenth-century England, as she makes connections between Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, and Ben Jonson - all more obvious Catholics than the Bard. She also gets into the coding of all Elizabethan literature - again, she's on firmer ground here. Then she examines the plays. She claims that Shakespeare used easily identifiable markers for Catholics and Protestants - "light" and "dark," "high" and "low," for instance, which don't necessarily mean good and bad, as she points out - and dozens of other codes to show that he was speaking out, the only way he knew how, against the draconian measures of the Crown.

Where she shines is explaining the most problematic plays, such as Titus Andronicus, which has always been kind of a bizarre "horror movie" in the Shakespearean canon. Written in 1594, Titus has often puzzled critics - "How could Shakespeare have written such a terrible play?" Asquith writes is the usual reaction. She points out, though, that the play was written in the aftermath of the death of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, a Catholic hero. Even though his death is usually attributed to Jesuits (it's largely assumed he was poisoned), Asquith points out that the Cecil family benefited greatly from his death. Lord Strange was a great patron of the arts and was probably Shakespeare's early in his career. Asquith sees Titus Andronicus as an angry reaction to Strange's death, and she goes about proving it. As an allegory, Titus Andronicus is a history of Reformation England, with Titus standing in as the old Catholic order who loses control over his life when he foolishly gives up the throne (and power) to the wrong brother. According to Asquith, Shakespeare uses this allegory quite often - Lear is an example of the old Catholic order, for instance, as is Prospero, with the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand representing Shakespeare's hope that the old religion could be reconciled with the new - and uses characters to represent other stages of the transformation of England from a Catholic to a Protestant country. When viewed through the lens of Shakespeare's anger over the murder of Lord Strange, Titus Andronicus makes more sense. At least it does to Asquith.

She also explains Shakespeare's later plays, the ones that came after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (a reaction to which she also sees in the plays Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus). Why, when Shakespeare was capable of writing great comedies and tragedies (1599-1606 saw the completion of Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth - among others) did he shift, in 1608, to writing "fairy-tales," as Asquith puts it (page 239). Her explanation is that after the Gunpowder Plot, James I began to move away from the brief mood of reconciliation with Catholics that accompanied his accession (if indeed he had ever been sympathetic to Catholics, he certainly wasn't after the conspirators tried to kill him), so Shakespeare and other writers stopped appealing to him. Instead, they turned their attention to the heir to the throne, Henry (1594-1612). As Henry was a 14-year-old, Shakespeare deliberately wrote "romances" that would appeal to the heir's sense of adventure while still subliminally influencing him to support the Catholic cause. Hence, in the years 1608-1612 (when the prince died of typhoid fever), Shakespeare wrote Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. Asquith makes the point that these plays, although more simplistic (at least the first three) than his earlier plays, continue his propaganda campaign, just geared toward a different, younger audience.

Finally, Asquith explains why, in 1610, Shakespeare left London and returned to Stratford, basically retiring. He was only 45 years old and seemed to be at the height of his powers, but he completed only one more play (The Tempest) and simply appeared to give up on theater. She goes briefly over Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsman, his final two plays that were basically written by John Fletcher from amorphous Shakespeare plots, and shows how Henry VIII, especially, is blatant Protestant propaganda that doesn't fit at all into the rest of Shakespeare's output. Her explanation is that the assassination of Henry IV of France in 1610 by a deranged friar confirmed James's fears that Catholics couldn't be trusted. The English king therefore started cracking down harder on Catholics, and many prominent ones were forced deeper into hiding. Asquith points out that many other playwrights dropped out of society at this time, and the one who didn't, Ben Jonson, publicly repudiated Catholicism. She also claims that when Shakespeare's first folio was published, in 1623, there was a loosening of the restrictions on Catholics and many who had fled in 1610 came back. It was, of course, too late for Shakespeare, who died in 1616.

The reason these hidden messages in Shakespeare's work have remained so for 400 years, Asquith argues, is because historians were unwilling to tarnish the reputation of religious tolerance that has become a hallmark of Elizabeth's reign. Even after years of scholarship on Elizabeth's secret police and the somewhat shocking lengths Walsingham and Cecil would go to root out supposed conspiracies against the queen, many historians still wanted to believe this was a fringe element and that the majority of the populace embraced Protestantism. This is a silly fairy tale in its own right, but it also forms the bedrock of English character in many respects, so it's plausible that Asquith is onto something. Her argument is that many more people were Catholics into the seventeenth century but that has never been acknowledged, and we need to examine the time period with fresh eyes and understand what the culture was saying about the monarchy.

On the one hand, this is a very interesting book. It's always been a bit vexing, to me at least, that Shakespeare never seemed to be all that political in his writings, especially given what we know about other playwrights (Marlowe and Kyd, especially), who were very political. So this book is a fascinating look at someone who, according to Asquith, was very good at being political and very good at hiding it enough so he wouldn't get in trouble with the authorities. However, it often feels like she's reaching. As I pointed out above, the evidence that Shakespeare was Catholic is very circumstantial, and the fact that he wrote a terrible play - Titus Andronicus - might have had to do with an attempt to produce a "blockbuster" and appeal to the fascination with sex and violence that people of all times have. Christopher Marlowe, who died around the time Shakespeare began working on Titus, was more of a crowd-pleaser in those early days, as many of his plays fit into a Jerry Bruckheimer kind of mode - Tamburlaine (for which he even wrote a sequel!) and The Massacre at Paris, for instance. Maybe Shakespeare was just trying to "sell out" early in his career. Asquith's arguments, while compelling, often come across as determining a thesis and then looking for messages that fit the thesis while ignoring everything else. I'm no Shakespeare scholar, so I don't know if her thesis has made any inroads with them, but while it's a very interesting book, I'm not sure how reliable her conclusions are.

Still, if you've ever read and enjoyed Shakespeare, you might want to check this out. Asquith writes very well, and although she often beats us over the head with her interpretations (another allegory for the history of England? really?), she keeps things moving and does a nice job looking at the context for Shakespeare's plays, something most people ignore. It's definitely a cool book to read.

Labels: , , , ,


Happy Birthday to Zsa Zsa!

Yes, it's Zsa Zsa Gabor's birthday. She's 92. NINETY-TWO! Holy cow. Good job, Zsa Zsa. She's on Marriage #9, by the way, and it's actually lasted since 1986. Good job, Zsa Zsa! She may have lost $10 million recently in that Madoff thing. Oh, bad move, Zsa Zsa! Still, let's raise our glass to everyone's favorite Hungarian.

Labels: , , ,


Plan your future!

We got this in the mail a few days ago, and Krys was flipping through it and found some fun classes you can take at Mesa Community College. Your future is assured if you join up with these classes! Trust me!

Razzle Dazzle Simple Bead Jewelry. You will learn to make a stunning necklace, bracelet and earrings using beautiful Swarovski crystal beads. All materials and supplies are included.

Tamales, Yes I Can!! [Two exclamation points are necessary, damn it!] Yes, you can! You will learn to make Red Chili Con Carne Burros and Chimichangas. These dishes are a Southwest tradition so join us for fun, laughter, and ethnic cooking together!

Conversations in New Thought. 'Conversations' is a discussion-based class that explores old and new ways of thinking about philosophy, religion, science and psychology.

Flirting 101. Flirting allows you to have fun no matter where you are and to interact with people you are interested in meeting. This class will cover the basics of body language: breaking the ice, small talk, how to get their number or how to terminate the interaction respectfully. You'll learn where to meet people, how to avoid common mistakes, make a good first impression and what signals you may be sending off that may be hurting you. This is for men and women who want to learn the basics of becoming comfortable in "the flirt."

Past Life Regression. This course will discuss how past lives play a major role in your current life path. Learn how to relax deeply and use you inner senses. Group regression will be performed.

Basic Belly Dancing. This class is designed for the beginner, focusing on the basic elements of Middle Eastern Dance: The elegant and graceful movements celebrate the strength and beauty of the female form, regardless of age and body shape. Body awareness, posture and the anatomy of hip work, with an introduction to the rhythm structure of the music are taught in this class, as well as putting basic steps together to create a simple dance routine. Costuming will be discussed with ideas on how to put together an inexpensive costume. Individual attention will be given to students when needed. Students should wear clothing that allows the body to move without restriction.

Italic Calligraphy. This course will introduce you to the beautiful Italic alphabet and techniques using the traditional pen. You will learn letter forms and gain detailed knowledge of the broad edge pen. Begin to use calligraphy for your personal and professional writing.

Stacks, Piles and Stash: It's Here Somewhere. Do you wonder why we keep everything? Have you tried to break this habit but need the support from a professional organizer? Then this is the class for you! This course works with emotional/mental as well as the physical reasons we have clutter in our lives and how to deal with it. Have you always wanted to learn how to set up your desk for better productivity? Come learn how to handle your mail and how to handle your paper more than once, but not a dozen times. Learn the self-talk messages when deciding to file or not to file. Second night of class will be hands-on working with our clutter.

How To Become a Mystery Shopper. Learn what a Mystery Shopper does and how to get started earning money while having fun. Typical assignments include evaluating restaurants, retail stores, banks, gas stations, and events. An optional working lunch is included. Owning or having access to a computer is highly recommended to be successful as a mystery shopper.

Look at all those great classes! Sign up now! Your future demands it!!!!!

Labels: , ,