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!


Great songs, according to me (Part 29)

Yes, I'm back for another go-around with songs I think are great. There will be at least one that my awesome cadre of readers (now up to 9 of them!) will mock me incessantly over. I don't care - I will forge on!

First, as usual, the backlist: Parts 1-15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, and Part 28.

Now, let's get the next ten!

281. In My Life Today (by Lenny Kravitz on the album Circus, 1995): This is the last Lenny Kravitz album I bought, because it's not that good and I figured if he's going to keep making the same music, I can listen to the old ones, right? However, "In My Life Today" is a great Kravitz song, because it's the kind of sentimental tune that he does very well. Lenny is just singing to God, and he does it with such passion and power that we're swept away by it. His old-fashioned freak-out toward the end never gets old, even though it's a Kravitz staple. It's a song that makes you want to sing along at the top of your voice, and there's nothing wrong with that.

282. In My Time of Dying (by Led Zeppelin on the album Physical Graffiti, 1975): I'm sure, if Zep ripped this song off, that Roger will be nice enough to come by and tell me about it. But I don't care. This is an epic song off Zep's best album, and it proves that Bonham is the best rock and roll drummer ever - yes, better than Keith Moon and Neil Peart. Suck on that, Who and Rush fans! Plant's wailing is in fine form, but it's Bonham's amazing drums that keeps the song going through 11 eleven minutes or so - he slows and speeds the tempo at will and matches Jimmy's slide guitar wonderfully. This is the quickest 11-minute song you'll ever hear, and it's due exclusively to Bonham. Just a wonderful musical experience.

283. Incubus (by Marillion on the album Fugazi, 1984): Of Marillion's early albums (pre-1989), this is the weakest, because Fish got really weird with the lyrics and the sprawling music didn't help him. However, there are some gems on it, and "Incubus" is one of them. It still features the lyrical madness that Fish is so good at, but it's much less metaphorical than most of songs on the album and therefore more accessible. Fish gives it his all in the singing, as well, which helps sell the song. His weirdly delicate verse toward the end ("weirdly" because Fish is a giant man with a big set of pipes, and it's tough to imagine him being delicate), which ends with "You who wiped me from your memory like a greasepaint mask, just like a greasepaint mask" is wonderful and heart-breaking at the same time. It's a towering revenge song, which makes it all the more gut-wrenching.

284. Independence Day (by Elliot Smith on the album XO, 1998): It's difficult to pin down "great" Elliot Smith songs since they all sound alike, but a few stand out, and "Independence Day" is one of them. The wistful yet quirky music, a shade more upbeat than usual, helps, as the lyrics are more hopeful than Smith's usual stuff. It's hard to view his lyrics these days without thinking about his death (suicide? murder?) and if they portend things, and maybe that's why this song is better than others, because it is does point to a brighter future. A great song from a great songwriter.

285. Indian Summers Dream (by Stress on the album Stress, 1991): There have been more than one band named Stress, and this one broke up long ago and this album (their only one, as far as I can discover) is probably out of print, so I can find them nowhere in cyberspace. Oh well. This trio played that kind of 1960s-influenced rock so many bands played in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with some psychedelic influences and a definite nod to the Beatles. This whole album is pretty good, actually, and this song is definitely a highlight. It has nice melodies and some groovy sitar in it, and makes the whole thing an enjoyable listening experience. I'd say more about it, but Stress is long gone from the music scene, so it's kind of pointless. Anyone out there ever hear of them? I picked the cassette up in Australia, but I'm pretty sure they were British. Someone must have seen them on 120 Minutes at some point!

286. Indifference (by Pearl Jam on the album Vs., 1993): Ten is my favorite Pearl Jam album, but this is probably their best, and this final song is a big reason why. It's very moody and quiet, but Eddie mumbles with such conviction and then gives that howl when he sings "I'll swallow poison, until I grow immune," which caps the song. It's a powerful statement about getting through the tough times and surviving, which is what we need to do in this world occasionally.

287. Inertia Creeps (by Massive Attack on the album Mezzanine, 1998): This is the only Massive Attack album I own, and even though I like it, I don't really have a desire to buy another one. The songs are good, but nothing spectacular. "Inertia Creeps," however, is brilliant, with its sense of prowling menace and impenetrable lyrics. It has a nice electronic crunch to it, more than the other songs on the album, and it adds a nice touch of paranoia to your listening experience. Fine stuff.

288. Infecto Groovalistic (by Infectious Grooves on the album The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move ... It's the Infectious Grooves, 1991): The Suicidal Tendencies side project that is the Infectious Grooves made some brilliant music, especially on this first album, and this song is one of the great ones. As usual with the songs by the Grooves, we get some slap-funky bass, but Mike Muir reins in his usual venomous screaming to give us a bit more melody, even though the lyrics remain as embittered as ever. Trujillo's bass remains the backbone of the song, and keeps everything funky, which keeps everything pulsing nicely. A nice song to end the album.

289. Inside Information (by Foreigner on the album Inside Information, 1987): Mock all you want, but I like Foreigner, damn it! I recognize that most of their songs are pretty darned cheesy, and after 4 they really fell off the page musically ("I Want to Know What Love is"?????), but this album is pleasant enough, punctuated by a few gems, including the title track. Yes, it sounds like a lot of mid- to late-1980s cheeseball pop, but Mick Jones gives it a bit more bite than post-"Urgent" Foreigner usually had, with a bit of a nasty guitar slicing through the keyboards, while Lou Gramm, who often sounds bored on the album, actually puts some effort into it. The lyrics are goofy, but Gramm plays them to the hilt, and it helps put the song into more rarefied air. A classic? Maybe, maybe not. But a great slice of music. Too bad Foreigner didn't have more of them.

290. Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything) (by The Dead Milkmen on the album Bucky Fellini, 1987): The Dead Milkmen, who hailed from suburban Philadelphia (near where I grew up, actually), had a brief fling with fame with "Punk Rock Girl," but this album, which came out the preceding year, is probably their best (although Big Lizard in my Backyard has some great songs). This song, which is their snide retort to dance music, has some of the funniest lyrics you'll ever hear ("Don't try to tell me that you're an intellectual, 'cause you're just another boring bisexual"), a fantastic feedback guitar solo in the middle that totally crushes the boppy beat of the dance music, and finally, a list of Eighties bands the men feel are unworthy of your love even though you'll dance to anything by them: the Communards, the Smiths, Public Image Limited ... ending with a snarl about giving your money to "stupid Europeans" instead of giving it to a "decent American artist" like, say, the Dead Milkmen. Funny, funny stuff.

Well, that's another ten songs in the book. Next time I'll actually be up to 300 songs! Holy crap! Please, feel free to mock my affection for Foreigner. I can take it!

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Peyton Manning on SNL

If you haven't seen the United Way spoof Manning did on Saturday Night Live this past week, here it is. Warning: Peyton uses some naughty language (suitably bleeped)! But it's really freakin' funny.

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Picture Day goes back to PA

In November 1999 Krys and I went back to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. Pennsylvania in the autumn is very neat, but by late November it's pretty much winter, but that doesn't mean things are any less picturesque! Luckily (for whom, I don't know), I brought my camera!

There are lots of cool road names around where I grew up. Here are some of them!

And, of course, along the Delaware River sits the village of ...

Devil's Half Acre!!!!

Also along the Delaware is the town of New Hope. New Hope is known primarily for its, well, gayness. It's an artists' colony, and there are plenty of very neat places to shop and eat and hang out, but these days it's known as a place where those gay people can go and be fabulous. It's in New Hope that I experienced my only gay bar! It's a beautiful town, with lots of old buildings and neat streets and the river and the Delaware Canal, of which this is a picture:

The world-famous Bucks County Playhouse is in New Hope, too!

Here's another typical New Hope scene: a nice stream leading down to the river.

One of the nice things about going back East is the feeling of age. Around where I grew up, there are a ton of places that are shameless in proclaiming that George Washington slept there. I just like the look of these old houses. They look sturdy, unlike the crap people build these days.

Finally, there's Krys, my friend Ken, and my mother. We had a very nice day in New Hope.

That's it for today. I hope you enjoy checking out early winter scenes in Pennsylvania!

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What I've been reading

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. 376 pages, 2004, Egmont Books Limited.

There's a big difference between "good" and "entertaining." The Looking Glass Wars, which is a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, is not particularly good. It's entertaining, however, and although it could be much better, it's a nice distracting read for a few days. It's a page-turner. That might be damning with faint praise, but that's about all I can say about the book.

"Re-imagining" old stories has been done forever, but it's a kind of a fad these days, and Beddor's story takes on Lewis Carroll's wacky fairy tale. Alice Liddell becomes Alyss Heart, the princess of Wonderland, whose aunt, Redd, kills her parents and takes over the kingdom. Alyss escapes with the help of her personal bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, and together they jump into the Pool of Tears, which is a portal to our world. They're separated in the pool, and Alyss comes out in 1850s England. She falls in with a bunch of homeless kids, and then enters foster care, where she is adopted by the Liddells. She attempts to prove to everyone that she is a princess of Wonderland with the power to create things simply by her Imagination (which takes the place of magic in this book), but as she lives more and more in this world, she gradually loses the ability. The only person she finds who is sympathetic is Charles Dodgson, and friend of her parents', who claims to believe her but then writes her story as a fairy tale, twisting all the "real" things about Wonderland into childish fancies. Alyss decides to forget about Wonderland and accept her lot in this world.

Hatter Madigan, meanwhile, came out of the portal in Paris, and begins searching the world for Alyss. Back in Wonderland, Redd takes over and makes life miserable, of course. Years pass, and Madigan finally picks up the trail when someone points out that his story is remarkably similar to Carroll's book, which has become famous. He re-enters Alyss' life as she's about to be married to Prince Leopold, one of Queen Victoria's son, and he returns to Wonderland to enlist the help of Alyss' childhood friend, Dodge Anders. Anders enters our world and steals Alyss back as the ceremony is about to start. Then she must re-learn how to use her Imagination and defeat Queen Redd.

The final part of the book is taken up with Alyss' struggle to regain the magic she has suppressed for years and seize her birthright as queen, which includes making her way through the Looking Glass Maze and discovering what she needs to become a ruler. This all leads to a final confrontation with Redd, as we knew it would. Everything is resolved pretty much the way we think it will be, including leaving the door open to future volumes, if indeed that's where Beddor is going with this. We'll see.

The biggest problem with The Looking Glass Wars is the fact that it's not particularly good writing. Beddor, it feels like, is in a big hurry to get to the end, and therefore he simply zips from scene to scene, without allowing us to savor the moments. It's fun to read, but it's junk food lit, and although it's not as egregious as the worst John Grisham book, it's kind of on par with The Da Vinci Code, which is a page-turner but not much else. Beddor keeps things hopping, but we don't get much insight even into Alyss' character beyond the surface - she's sad when her parents are killed, she's worried that she won't be able to lead her troops, she's angry at Dodgson for perverting her tale - and therefore, we don't really get close to any of the characters. Whenever Beddor slows down a bit and starts to give the characters some depth, he quickly brings the action back and zips off again. It's a bit disconcerting, because the familiarity of the story, which brings us into the story, works against it somewhat. It's as if Beddor is using the original book to fill in gaps for him, and when the original book doesn't really match this vision, that falls short. This book doesn't match the weirdness of Carroll's original, and it seems Beddor shies away from that, which is a mistake. Whenever he gets into a bit of the weirdness of Wonderland, the book is actually more interesting, but then something explodes and we're off again.

I know that Beddor was writing a simply beach novel, but it feels like there's something more interesting lurking underneath. Re-inventing classic stories isn't the "wow" thing it once was, so something else needs to stand out. This book could have easily been a straight forward fantasy book with no antecedent and it would have worked just as well, or just as poorly, as the case may be. If Beddor is going to use Alice in Wonderland as his template, he needs to delve much further into that book and come up with something unique. It can be done, and others have done it. Beddor takes the easy way out, and the result is entertaining but nothing terribly memorable.

Ironically, Beddor wrote a comic book mini-series that follows Hatter Madigan around in our world just after he loses Alyss. It's not a great series, but it is more interesting than this book, possibly because Beddor spends his time with Madigan and can therefore delve a bit more into his character. Good art by Ben Templesmith doesn't hurt, either. It's a strange contrast to this book, because although it isn't as epic in scope as the book, in it Beddor seems to get that character development as well as action is perfectly all right.

The Looking Glass Wars isn't a very "good" book, but it does what it's supposed to, I guess: tell a decent story with minimal fuss. I read it quickly and painlessly, and was interested in where it was going. Upon reflection, however, it's just something to pass the time. Whether that's something you're looking for is entirely up to you.

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Odd news of the world

A weird story from the world of sport:

Pakistan's cricket coach is now believed to have been murdered. I heard about Bob Woolmer's death soon after Pakistan lost in the World Cup in Jamaica, and now it appears he was killed. People can say what they want about ugly Americans, but when soccer and (apparently) cricket is involved, other countries' citizens get a bit kooky. I just saw some guys playing cricket at a high school in Chandler last weekend. A bit of synchronicity there.

This kind of thing happens far too often in sports outside the United States. I wonder if the fact that we have so many other diversions means we don't take sports quite as seriously. I mean, Pakistan isn't really a garden spot in the world, is it? Maybe cricket is all they have! It just seems like the same thing that makes our national teams not as good (even in basketball, which we invented, for crying out loud!) might be the reason why we don't have coaches getting murdered over some gambling operation. I don't know; I'm just spitballing.

I guess the lesson is: man, don't lose at the World Cup of Cricket. And some groups think buying up web domains that could be used to criticize their coaches will stop the problem!

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Autumn in the Northwest means vibrant colors on Picture Day!

Sometimes I really miss Oregon. Long-time readers know this. But I really miss it when it's fall, and nothing happens here. When it's 85 degrees on Thanksgiving, you know something is so very wrong. Our next bunch of pictures were taken in October 1999 and showcase nice autumn stuff: fall foliage and a maize maze!

These first group of pictures was taken at Silver Star Mountain in southwestern Washington (where someone recently photographed a sasquatch!), which has plenty of hiking trails. This is just some nice fall foliage.

Here I am, as proof that I actually hiked up there!

I call the little woman "Heidi" when I look at this picture.

You can see the trail up which we hiked, cutting across the base of the mountain there.

Here's a nice view down the valley.

More proof that I could once engage in physical activity! These days I can barely get off the sofa!

A few weeks after this we went out to a maize maze. A good time was had by all. Check out Krys, getting lost!

The creators of the maze had set up observation platforms so you could see where you were. They were handy for picture-taking, too!

We saw a crash test dummy mask stuck on a corn stalk. It was actually kind of spooky.

Unfortunately, this is not a posed picture. This is how I look probably 90% of the time. It's so very sad.

Those are just some photographs that remind me that other parts of the country actually have things called seasons. I'm starting to forget what those are like ...

Next week: Not sure yet. Come back and see!

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Picture Day will be here tomorrow (I know you just can't live without checking out my pictographic record of my life!), but in meantime, enjoy this very funny and very politically incorrect monologue about beauty salons (it would help if you've ever been in a beauty salon, I guess):

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What I've been reading

Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season by Matt Taibbi. 331 pages, 2005, The New Press.

I don't read too many books that piss me off, but this is one of them. It's very funny, insightful, witty and cruel, and perfectly encapsulates what's wrong with this country. Taibbi follows the Democratic candidates for president in 2004 around on the campaign trail, joins the Republican effort in Florida for a few months in the summer of 2004, and comes to a terrifying conclusion: it's absolutely hopeless.

It's not quite as nihilistic as that, but it is an extremely depressing book, despite the fact that you will laugh a lot while reading it. What Taibbi points out with stunning clarity is that not only are the candidates simply carbon copies of each other and that neither Kerry nor Bush is good for the country (which was obvious watching the campaign in October and November of 2004), but that the media is an active part of keeping anything that might rock the boat out of the public eye. Jon Stewart highlights the meekness of the press with regard to Bush almost every night, but Taibbi goes much deeper than he does (not surprisingly, considering the two formats) and reveals how evil much of the press in this country is. Yes, I said evil. Taibbi obviously has an axe to grind, but it's clear that he's onto something, because even just looking at news articles this week (I finished the book a few days ago), it's clear that the press is not reporting the news, but shaping it. Again, this isn't all that radical an idea, but there's this idea that the press is shaping the news because they're "liberal" and they want to embarrass the president. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Taibbi points out. All the media wants is to keep things basically the same: they occupy a privileged place in the American political hierarchy, and they want to stay there. Anything that threatens to upset their spot comes under scrutiny. Again, conservative commentators would say this applies to Bush, but it applies equally to the Democratic candidates. John Kerry won the nomination for the Democratic Party because the press wanted him to win - he was the most palatable to the members of the media, and they knew that if he won the presidency, their position would remain stable - just like it has under Bush. Therefore, Taibbi tracks how the reporters destroyed first Howard Dean - which he doesn't mind, because he thinks Dean isn't a very good candidate - and then Dennis Kucinich - which he does mind, because he likes what Kucinich has to say. His indignation over what happened to Kucinich is the heart of the first part of the book, when he follows the candidates around in 2003 and early 2004. He points out that even if you didn't like Kucinich, you never got a chance to make up your mind, because the press didn't like him and therefore marginalized him. It's a fascinating look at how we are spoon-fed news to the point where we believe that Kucinich was a weirdo and Dean a loon, just because the press hammered home certain brief moments that showed this - Dean's primal scream comes to mind. Taibbi struggles to understand why the press doesn't care to ask pertinent questions and simply let the candidates talk about nothing, and as he does so, we get angrier and angrier. He points out that the candidates use hot-button words ("jobs," "patriotism," "values" - you know them all) without really saying anything. Why doesn't anyone call them on it? There are plenty of nifty little nuggets about the vacuousness of the press, and I opened the book at random to find one:

Soon afterward I joined the scrum around Edwards. He was turning clockwise in a crowd of hacks and expertly batting away one question after another; he looked like Rafael Palmeiro at a home-run derby. When he caught New York Times reporter Rick Lyman standing open-mouthed without a question ready, he cracked: "Hey, buddy? You just gonna stand there?"

Behind me, two female reporters cooed. "Wow," one said. "Just look at his tan!"

The press, on the other hand, did not like that Dennis Kucinich was a strange-looking man who actually talked about the issues. Taibbi writes about how Kucinich threatened to use eminent domain to seize a hospital in a poor neighborhood in Cleveland that a health conglomerate was planning to close. Little things like that get left out of the news stories about the candidates, because they're boring. Instead we see Kerry hunting ducks and hear about how presidential he is!

In a very funny section, Taibbi breaks down Kerry's acceptance speech at the Convention. He removes everything that was bullshit: self-aggrandizing bullshit; phony religiosity; pointless political platitudes; gratuitous flag-waving; forced and hollow tough-talking; comparing oneself to great figures of the past; callow patriotism; syrupy talk about love for our vast and beautiful country; references to the wonder and might of our armed forces; and hot-button words: hope, the future, freedom, truth, pride, values, heroes, power, change, pledge, faith. After a bunch of pages in which he breaks down the speech and eliminates all the bullshit, he comes up with this:

I was born in Colorado. America can do better.

Now that's an acceptance speech!

In another very funny section and slightly creepy section of the book, Taibbi infiltrates a Republican campaign office in Orlando and checks things out. What's most disturbing about the entire thing is the casual racism of the people involved with the Republican campaign. Taibbi asks to interview the black Republicans in central Florida, and they can't think of many until they recall the chairman of the Federation of Black Republicans for Florida, plus a Promise Keeper who comes in for a fake interview with Vibe magazine that Taibbi sets up. One of the white Republicans actually says to the Promise Keeper, "I know how you people don't like to work." He says it as a joke, but it's this kind of casual racism that is everywhere in central Florida, according to Taibbi. He mans a voter registration table at a gun show, where a woman was selling etchings of Nathan Bedford Forrest and doing rather well. Taibbi quotes her as saying, "People are so narrow-minded. They think that just because he founded the KKK, he was a racist." Later on, a woman calls Taibbi and says she loved Bush because he's against gay rights. Taibbi asks someone in the office if he should correct her, because Bush is against gay marriage, not gay rights. The guy thinks about it, then tells Taibbi not to correct her. The mainstream Republicans, Taibbi writes, knows that intolerant people are part of their base, and they don't care.

Taibbi reserves plenty of opprobrium for protesters, as well. He points out that protesting like it's the 1960s doesn't work anymore, because those in power aren't afraid of it anymore. In the 1960s, the randomness of protests worked because society was so much more rigid. These days, randomness is part of society, so these mass protests (which of course aren't covered accurately by the media, but that's another point) simply reinforce a new status quo: the protesters will have their say, and then disappear. It doesn't matter. What the powerful fear these days is organization, but these protesters aren't organized beyond the desire to show up at an appointed place at an appointed time and get on television. This goes back to Kucinich: he wants to talk about "boring" issues like NAFTA and the American manufacturing base, but the press doesn't care about that. They want to talk about John Edwards' tan and John Kerry's Vietnam reminiscences (which, as Taibbi points out, are completely beside the point). The powerful know that these protesters are just something to be endured for a very short time, and then everyone can move on and keep screwing everyone over. They are assisted in this by the press, who simply reports about a protest as if it's some quaint thing that means nothing. And everyone keeps going.

The saddest thing about this book is that it offers no real solutions. Taibbi doesn't seem to know what to do about it, and it's very difficult to change this political-media axis, because they control so much. I have no idea if Dennis Kucinich was a good candidate or not, but even if people like him and vote for him, Taibbi implies he will just be sucked up into the power structure and destroyed. We have options, but it will take a revolutionary effort, and no one really cares. It's a difficult book to deal with, because it leaves us angry but without a place to vent that anger. The best thing we can do, probably, is to keep it local and hold people who are at least a bit closer to us accountable. Those who are up in the hierarchy occupy a completely different stratum than we do. It's a horrible feeling of powerlessness that Taibbi leaves us with.

Despite that, it's an important and powerful book. It's must reading for anyone who cares about where this country is going. Taibbi, despite his inclination toward Kucinich and his loathing of Bush, is much more concerned with the way society is structured rather than picking on any one person. He calls Bush a monster more than once, but he also has special bile for John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. He absolutely hates the media, and his final chapter, in which he puts reporters in a bracket and has them face off against each other by looking at what they write about the campaign is devastatingly funny but very depressing. Taibbi does a great job making us laugh and making us angry, and that's a good thing.

Spanking the Donkey will make you think a lot about what you can do to make society better. Well, at least it did for me. Yes, it will make you angry. But it might inspire you as well. And that's not a bad thing.

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The Women of Jerry, Part 4

It's time to move on to the third season of Seinfeld and check in on Jerry's girlfriends! It's an actual full season of the show, too, with 23 episodes. So let's not waste time!

Episode One (18), "The Note" (aired 18 Sept. 1991). This is the episode in which Jerry and George get notes from the dentist so they don't have to pay for massages. Jerry talks about a kidnapper and freaks his therapist out. George gets a man and thinks "it moved." No girlfriend, unfortunately.

Episode Two (19), "The Truth" (aired 25 Sept. 1991). George's girlfriend is Valerie Mahaffey, so good in Northern Exposure, who asks him to tell her the truth. When he does, she enters a sanitarium. Jerry has given her his tax receipts, which she loses. No girlfriend for Jerry, but Mahaffey's presence makes up for it.

Episode Three (20), "The Pen" (aired 2 Oct. 1991). The astronaut pen. Whenever Jerry went to Florida the show suffered a bit, and this is no different. Jerry is girlfriend-less once again.

Episode Four (21), "The Dog" (aired 9 Oct. 1991). Jerry has to watch a dog. We never see the dog, but it's awful. This is a lackluster episode except for the fact that Elaine and George have nothing to talk about, which is funny 'cause it's true. Jerry is lonely once again.

Episode Five (22), "The Library" (aired 16 Oct. 1991). Despite no girlfriend for Jerry, this episode guest-stars Philip Baker Hall as the library cop Mr. Bookman, so it's awesome. Jerry does get to reconnect with a girl he had a crush on in high school, but that doesn't count.

Episode Six (23), "The Parking Garage" (aired 30 Oct. 1991). The gang gets lost in a mall parking garage. Not much time for Jerry to have a girlfriend, is there? However, this episode features a brief cameo by Cynthia Ettinger, who later showed up on Carnivàle and Deadwood (plus she was in Silence of the Lambs, which is kind of neat). She's not Jerry's girlfriend, though.

Episode Seven (24), "The Café" (aired 6 Nov. 1991). Jerry's lack of a girlfriend is getting vexing. This is the episode in which he "helps" Babu Bhatt with his restaurant and ends up putting him out of business.

Episode Eight (25), "The Tape" (aired 13 Nov. 1991). Elaine talks dirty on Jerry's tape of his show, causing all the guys to fantasize about her. Not a girlfriend in sight, but it has that good line when Ping tells George that the Chinese baldness cure will make him "look like Stalin."

Episode Nine (26), "The Nose Job" (aired 20 Nov. 1991). Finally, a girlfriend! Jerry picks up a vacuous model in the elevator and his brain plays chess with his penis to determine if he should keep seeing her. The model? Tawny Kitaen! Tawny Kitaen, break-out star of Bachelor Party (I think there was some guy named Hanks in it, too), superstar of Whitesnake videos, and would-have-been Oscar winner except for, you know, politics. She has to get a Fame Rating of 8 out of 10 just for "Here I Come Again." I suppose if you weren't a teenager in the 1980s her Fame Rating would be smaller (despite her recent drug bust, she's still not very famous), but I was, so there! Kitaen, by the way, was 30 when the episode aired. Jerry was 37. Not a bad age gap.

Episode Ten (27), "The Stranded," (aired 27 Nov. 1991). Back to no girlfriend. This episode has George leaving Jerry and Elaine at a party so he can go home with a co-worker. Largely forgettable, except Michael Chiklis is a guest star, and he's pretty good.

Episode Eleven (28), "The Alternate Side" (aired 4 Dec. 1991). No girlfriend either - Kramer gets the line in the Woody Allen movie but screws it up; George tries parking cars and screws it up; Elaine dates a much older man who has a stroke. Jerry's car is stolen, leading to his very funny exchange with the rental car agent ("You know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation").

Episode Twelve (29), "The Red Dot" (aired 11 Dec. 1991). Jerry has no girlfriend, but George diddles the cleaning lady at Elaine's office! This contains the cleaning lady's very funny reminiscence about cashmere.

Episode Thirteen (30), "The Subway" (aired 8 Jan. 1992). A poor episode, with each cast member going their separate ways on the subway. No story is really all that interesting. Jerry talks to the naked man and George gets robbed. No girlfriend, alas.

Episode Fourteen (31), "The Pez Dispenser" (aired 15 Jan. 1992). No girlfriend. A funny episode, as George pre-emptively breaks up with his pianist girlfriend so he can have the "upper hand." Jerry's Pez dispenser causes problems and helps in a drug intervention.

Episode Fifteen (32), "The Suicide" (aired 29 Jan. 1992). I'm going to call Gina a "girlfriend," because she and Jerry did sleep together, I think. In this episode, Jerry's neighbor attempts suicide and his girlfriend, Gina, comes on to Jerry. Jerry is frightened to be seen with her, even though Martin is in a coma. Gina is played by Gina Gallego, who accuses Jerry of not being a man because he's afraid of a comatose man. Gallego never did much before or after this (although she did show up in CHiPs, Knight Rider, and ER, and Julia Roberts got snippy with her in Erin Brockovich), but I'll give her a Fame Rating of 5 out of 10, because this is a pretty memorable episode. She's very good in it, and Drake's Coffee Cakes (the best mass-marketed coffee cakes in the world) play a huge role in the proceedings. She was 32 when the episode aired, and Jerry was 37. Again, not a bad age gap. (I can't find any pictures I can steal, but if you go to her IMDb page you can see her.)

Episode Sixteen (33), "The Fix-Up" (aired 5 Feb. 1992). Jerry lacks a girlfriend again, and he and Elaine fix George up with Elaine's friend. This is a pretty funny episode, as George and Jerry discuss what they want in a blind date. Maggie Wheeler, who later played Janice on Friends, is the blind date, and it's strange hearing her talk without the whiny "Janice" voice.

Episode Seventeen & Eighteen (34 & 35), "The Boyfriend" (aired 12 Feb. 1992). No girlfriend, but Jerry does "date" Keith Hernandez (so does Elaine, properly). This is a very funny episode for a number of reasons: Jerry is jealous of Elaine and Keith, but he's not sure who he's jealous of; George tries to get an extension on his unemployment, leading to him trying to convince Jerry to pretend to be latex manufacturer Art Vandelay (and leading to George lying on the floor with his pants down as Jerry stands over him saying, "And you want to be my latex salesman"); and Jerry's JFK riff explaining how Hernandez couldn't possibly have spit on Kramer and Newman. If you want to count Hernandez as a "girlfriend," I'd give him a Fame Rating of 10 out of 10, as he won the 1979 MVP Award (he tied for it, but still), won two World Series titles, and is generally regarded as one of the best fielding first basemen in history. He's six months older than Jerry, by the way.

Episode Nineteen (36), "The Limo" (aired 26 Feb. 1992). No girlfriend again, as Jerry and George get in a limosine at the airport that turns out to be something very different than they thought. Not a bad episode, and it guest-stars Peter Krause (later of Six Feet Under) as a neo-Nazi.

Episode Twenty (37), "The Good Samaritan" (aired 4 Mar. 1992). Jerry sort-of has two girlfriends in this episode, but the second doesn't really count. He spots a hit-and-run driver, who turns out to be a hot woman. He begins dating her, then finds out the car she hit belongs to a woman in the building he really wanted to date! Oh, the moral conundrum! He doesn't actually get to date the second woman, because she thinks he hit her. The hit-and-run driver is played by Melinda McGraw, who is quite attractive and very funny when she gets all evil on Jerry (he threatens to tell on her). She's been a guest star on quite a number of television shows, including The X-Files, where I assume she played Scully's sister (she and Gillian Anderson are both redheads, so it makes sense). She's never been really big, but I'll give her a Fame Rating of 5 out of 10. She was 28 to Jerry's 37 when the episode aired, so the age gap is a bit significant, but not too much. The object of Jerry's desire, meanwhile, is played by Helen Slater, who was Supergirl, after all! After that and a few other 1980s movies, her career went nowhere, and even a brief guest-starring turn on Seinfeld couldn't help! Still, I give her a Fame Rating of 6 out of 10, because of Supergirl. Slater was also 28 when the episode aired, and since I can't find a picture of Melinda McGraw, I'll throw up one of Slater!

Episode Twenty-One (38), "The Letter" (aired 25 Mar. 1992). Jerry finds out his girlfriend plagiarized a Neil Simon play in a letter she wrote to him. It's a pretty funny episode. But we're here for the girlfriend, and she's played by Catherine Keener, whose Fame Rating has to be 9 out of 10. She's been nominated for 2 Oscars, for crying out loud! Keener is an excellent actress, and you can tell even back in this episode, which was before she had done anything noteworthy. She's really the first of Jerry's girlfriends to go on to bigger and better things. Good job, Catherine Keener! Keener, incidentally, turned 33 two days before this episode aired, while Jerry was still shy of his 38th birthday.

Episode Twenty-Two (39), "The Parking Space" (aired sometime in 1992). George starts to park his car, but takes too long, and Mike Moffit, a friend of Kramer's, tries to pull into the space before him. So begins a long deadlock. No girlfriend to be seen!

Episode Twenty-Three (40), "The Keys" (aired 4 May 1992). No girlfriend for the season finale, as Kramer leaves to head to Hollywood after abusing "the covenant of the keys." This episode, which continued into next season, was only okay, because it took the gang out of their comfort zone - "New York."

Not a bad season for girlfriends. 4 girlfriends (5 if you count Slater, 6 if you count Hernandez), one a 1980s sex kitten and one a future Oscar nominee. Not bad at all, especially if you throw Supergirl into the mix! And you knew it was coming: "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake, full of Tawny Kitaen writhing on Jaguars and David Coverdale's hair! (Plus, icky French kissing!)

Join us next time for Season Four!

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Picture Day returns from exotic locales and gives us some good photos of friends

Yes, we're back from Venezuela and back in Portland for today's edition of Picture Day. These pictures are from late August 1999, when my friend Ken and his significant other Jim came out to visit us. We had a grand old time. I liked to use Ken and Jim as examples when my students would talk about gay people and how they would kick the shit out of any they ever met. As you will see, Ken and Jim are big dudes, and would easily beat the hell out of my bigoted students! But that's neither here nor there - we're all about peace here at the blog! So enjoy the pictures!

My mom actually took this first one, out of the airplane window when she was leaving Portland. That's Mt. Hood in the foreground and Mt. Jefferson in the background. This is a cool picture.

In 1999, Portland was home to the Single-A baseball team of the Colorado Rockies, and we went to see a game. From front to back, that's Charlotte, Krys, Gaetana, Ken, and Jim. It was quite the fun night.

Ken had to visit the world's smallest park, so we did. I've shown a picture of it before, but this was fun because there were three of us in it.

Portland has a really wonderful Japanese garden. This is just one of the idyllic scenes.

The Rose Garden is also a nice place, with neat views of the downtown area.

They grow a lot of different kinds of roses in the garden. Krys is just pointing out a few of them!

We had a very nice time with our visitors. Now that we live in Arizona, no one wants to come and see us. And we're sad!

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What I've been reading

Damascus Gate by Robert Stone. 500 pages, 1998, Simon & Schuster, Inc.

There's a lot to like about this novel of political intrigue in 1992 Jerusalem, as Stone weaves a tale full of millennial passions, Arab-Jewish relations, mysticism, and a quest for meaning, set against a backdrop of a plot to destroy the Temple Mount and restore the Jewish Temple, a foolhardy task if there ever was one. It's a hugely ambitious novel, and one which I admire more than I like. There are some problems with it, you see.

The main story concerns Christopher Lucas, an American expatriate journalist who has come to Jerusalem searching for meaning in his life. He lives an indolent lifestyle, trying to find stories to tell, and ultimately finding little to fill the void inside him. One day he comes across Sonia, another American, but far different from Lucas. She's a black Sufi whose parents were Communists, and she spent time in Castro's Cuba when she was younger and in third world countries during her adult life. She too has come to Jerusalem to discover something, and she thinks she has found it in Sufism. She and Lucas begin a tentative romance, but his lack of faith contrasts sharply with her mystical faith. When Stone tracks their relationship, the book is riveting, even as he introduces other players to highlight their differences (and similarities). The people in the novel are all lost souls, and when a musician friend of Sonia's, Raziel Melker, becomes friends with an older Louisiana man, Adam de Kuff, who becomes a street preacher and stirs up the religious yearnings in his flock, Lucas finds himself being drawn into a world that he refuses to understand. He begins to work on a book about "Jerusalem syndrome," the idea of people coming to the Holy City and becoming possessed by a millennial fever, and so even as he tries to get closer to Sonia, he is also trying to analyze this phenomenon. She attempts to coax him closer to her side, but he resists, and this tension keeps much of the book gripping and fascinating.

Stone overreaches, I think, with the plot to blow up the Haram esh-Sharif. The plot is introduced almost halfway through the book, and it never really coalesces into much, fizzling out impotently, even though it has major consequences for the players in the drama. It's just that Stone tries to turn this into a political thriller, and it's not really suited for that. Although the meditative parts of less "exciting," they are also far more interesting, and the idea that De Kuff is setting himself up as the Messiah is far more pertinent than blowing up the Muslim holy places. Toward the end, Stone attempts to reconcile the fact that restoring the Temple in the physical world means little in the spiritual world, but that's somewhat self-evident, and it feels forced. The machinations of the plot - who's really behind it? - are not terribly interesting, and the various dangers that beset the characters could easily spring simply from the volatile atmosphere that already exists in Jerusalem. Lucas and Sonia take a harrowing journey through the Gaza Strip, and although the problems that occur there are tangentially related to the plot, they don't have to be. It's unfortunate that we get tangled up in it, because it doesn't seem to fit.

The bomb plot also hinders the book in that Stone is forced to introduce many more characters than my poor little brain, at least, can handle. Characters show up early on in the book and then disappear for 300 pages, when we're supposed to remember them. That might be more my problem than the book's, but it's still a bit annoying to read about characters who have previously appeared for one or two pages and who we're supposed to remember. Many of them are involved in the bomb plot, so they would be unnecessary if that aspect was dropped.

The best thing Stone does is give us a wonderful sense of the city of Jerusalem. As Lucas moves throughout the city, we get a good feel for the various neighborhoods and the tensions in the streets and houses. These are people packed onto a tiny plot of land, each believing their way is right and that they have a valid claim to the land. The mystical feel of the book goes a long way toward mitigating the frankly dull bomb plot. Is De Kuff a holy man, or just crazy? Will Lucas ever believe, or will he convince Sonia that she's foolish for believing? What is Melker's role in the plot - is he part of it, or are others using him because he himself is a spiritual fool? Even without the bomb plot, the various organizations jockeying for position in Jerusalem are vividly shown, as they all bite and scratch at each other to gain a small upper hand. Stone almost effortlessly shows the folly of trying to take control of something that defies control - the soul. He never belittles the religious or the non-religious, but he does point out that each person will fail, unless they recognize what's inside them and deal with that accordingly. Lucas will fail to find peace, and Sonia will fail to find salvation, unless they can understand who they are. That's where the book shines.

It's unfortunate that it isn't better, because the parts that are good are very good. It's an intriguing and difficult book to read, but it's certainly a fascinating journey through a city that defies expectations and people who are trying their best to live in it.

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Newt Gingrich: NOT a hypocrite!

That's good to know, isn't it?

He has a point: Clinton got in trouble for perjury, not adultery. But it still smacks of hypocrisy, because the Republicans back then said a lot more about Clinton than just the perjury, including the fact that he was cheating on his wife. They were paragons of virtue, they claimed, and even if Clinton hadn't lied to a federal judge, they would have torn him down.

This is why I'm sick of "virtuous" politicians. No politician is virtuous. The minute anyone calls another politician on his or her values, you know they're going to get caught doing something equally horrible. So they should just shut up.

Did Clinton lead the country well? I think yes. Did Gingrich do a good job in Congress? For a while. That's all that matters.

Of course, I told Krys this morning that I'm allowed to have an affair as long as she doesn't ask me about it under oath. So there's that. Of course, I suppose it's a two-way street. I don't think I like that. I wonder how Newt would feel if his wife was cheating on him. Of course, we'd have to narrow it down, as he's on his third wife.

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Great songs, according to me (Part 28)

Another fun installment of what I think are great songs! Of course, my tastes may be a bit off, according to you, but that has never stopped me before!

Of course, I have to link you up to the previous lists. Because that's how I roll!

Parts 1-15, archived. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27.

271. I'm A Mother (by the Pretenders on the album Last Of The Independents, 1994): I am not a huge fan of the Pretenders, but this album is pretty strong, and this song kicks all kind of ass. It has a great rumbling guitar part that propels us along, and Chrissie's voice, which for me is sometimes a detriment to the song, fits it perfectly. She mutters early on in the song, which gives her snarl as we move through the song more savage impact. She sings about motherhood, and it becomes a powerful indictment of those who would deprive mothers of their children.

272. I'm Free (by the Soup Dragons on the album Lovegod, 1990): I know this is a Rolling Stones song, but I've never heard it (yes, I suck). Well, I've heard a brief part of it on that new commercial, but I've never heard the entire song. And I don't care, because this is a great song when the Soup Dragons did it. It has that excellent reggae thing going for it, and it's just so darned funky. I can take my reggae in small doses, thank you, and this the perfect amount. It still gets me bopping!

273. I'm Lost And Then I'm Found (by the Godfathers on the album More Songs About Love And Hate, 1989): Man, I love this song and this album. The Godfathers never hit it big, even though they showed up on Saturday Night Live in 1989 (which is where I saw them, doing this song, which convinced me to buy the album), but they kicked much ass. They were a throwback to solid guitar bands in an age of keyboard-drenched stuff, and this song epitomizes their awesomeness. With great lines like "Cigarettes and women be the death of me, better that than this old town" and hard-driving rhythms, this is just a wonderful rock and roll song. They released a couple more albums and then disappeared. But they still rock!

274. Immortality (by Pearl Jam on the album Vitalogy, 1994): This is such a cool song, coming at the end of maybe Pearl Jam's best album. Eddie mumbles a lot, sure, but he has such a way with making the mumbling sound powerful and deep, and in this song, the lyrics even demand that kind of portentousness! And when the music builds and Eddie actually sings "Truants move on ... cannot stay long ... some die just to live ..." and then we pull back and meander off, it's a magical musical moment. It's kind of disappointing that they have never released another album as good as this one (good ones, but not as good as this).

275. In A Bar (by Hamell on Trial on the album The Chord Is Mightier Than The Sword, 1997): Ed Hamell is a punk rocker playing an acoustic guitar, and he kicks much ass. This album is out of print, apparently, which is a shame, because it's very good, largely due to songs like this, in which Hamell slows things down a bit and sings about a man returning to his home town after years away, and discovering that things haven't really changed. Hamell does this sort of wistfulness very well (he has another song further down on this list with the same kind of feel to it) and it speaks to a nostalgic longing for the good old days, even with the recognition that they weren't all that good. Of course we can never go home again, and this song captures that sadness perfectly, as well as the depression of those we leave behind.

276. In And Out Of Love (by Bon Jovi on the album 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit, 1985): You know, if you're going to do cheesy big-hair metal, at least do it well, and Bon Jovi was pretty good at it. Occasionally they would really crank out a song that rose above the rest, and this one is an example. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but Jon actually sneers and snarls a bit, which makes it less mass-produced than their usual songs, and Richie's wailing guitars remind us that he's pretty darned good. Maybe I think it's great because my 14-year-old male brain remembers it that way, but it still rocks 20 years later.

277. In The Cage (by Genesis on the album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, 1974): I have mentioned my love for Genesis quite often, and this album in particular. Every weird experiment Genesis did with their music came to fruition on this album, and they were able to get rid of the really weird stuff that didn't work and pare it down to "basic" weirdness. Take this song, which is probably my favorite from the album. Gabriel sings, "I got sunshine in my stomach, like I just rocked my baby to sleep" to start off, and the song quickly turns from the relatively feel-good beginning to a paranoid delusion of terror - "Stalactites, stalagmites, shut me in, lock me tight." The music whirls dervishly, then crunches to a slow burn as Gabriel sings like a prophet, "Outside the cage I see my brother John ... But he does not even want to try to speak. I'm helpless in my violent rage and a silent tear of blood dribbles down his cheek." Chilling. Then the gang ratchets up the music again and we spiral into madness once again. It's a brilliant song, and shows why Genesis could be a great band.

278. In The Dark (by Janet Speaks French on the album In The Planet Janet, 1994): This is a great song on an odd album that is out of print, sadly enough. It's not that it's that great an album, it's just that the packaging - it looks like a comic book, complete with story, and the songs on the album sort of go along with the story - is fun. This song, which is about despair and finding a way out of it, mines familiar territory, but the band feels like they care more about this song than many others on the album, which counts for a lot. It's a song that feels like it deserves a better album around it. The album is an oddity, and if you see it in a bargain bin, pick it up. It's nothing memorable, but it's not lousy.

279. In The Neighborhood (by Hamell On Trial on the album Big As Life, 1996): The second song from Hamell on this list, this song also goes to the nostalgia well, but with a less wistful yet more heartfelt feel to it. Hamell sounds like he has been more injured in this song than in the other, and it makes the song a bit more thoughtful. The music has a bit of an epic feel to it, coming out of the past to haunt the present, and lends the lyrics more heft. A beautiful song.

280. In The New Age (by King's X on the album Out Of The Silent Planet, 1988): The first song on the first album by King's X gets things off to a rousing start. It begins slowly and quietly, building power through the trio's soon-to-be-distinctive throbbing guitar play, and the vocals eventually reach a crescendo of barely-controlled screaming. The lyrics are, well, new-agey (shocking, given the title), but they're still pretty interesting, announcing a Christian sensibility without beating the listeners over the head with it. King's X got more overt with their Christianity in later albums, then backed off it, but on this album and in this song they strike a nice balance, and this song sets a mood for a powerful rock album with a nice trippy feel to it.

That's another group of songs that I think are great. Tell me how off-base I am, and I will scoff at your pedestrian tastes!

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Picture Day gives us the most disturbing photograph EVER ... plus some other ones

I promised last week that I would publish the most disturbing picture ever today, and I will not back down! I'll save it until the end, however, to build the excitement!

We wound down our cruise by stopping near Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, and hanging out for a day. Early one morning we took a small launch out so that we could all take pictures of the Mandalay, our home for the week. They came out well:

Now that's a good-looking ship!

We also got to "drive" the boat for a while. I can't help but think of Kramer driving the bus when I look at this picture. I didn't wreck anything, so that's something.

We went into town one day and checked it out. We found a shrine to the Virgin Mary, which freaked us out a bit (not the presence of a shrine in a ridiculously Catholic country like Venezuela, but the way the shrine looked). This isn't the disturbing picture, but it is a bit weird:

That's a freaky shrine!

We also took a trip up into the mountains to visit a "traditional" village. Venezuela is typical of many Third World countries, in that there are very few rich people and the rest of the population is very poor. However, in the mountains, it's possible to live a marginally decent life without being rich - they've done it for centuries, after all. It makes one wonder why they all went to the cities. But sociology aside, the town we visited was very nice. We met a pottery maker named Humberto who was actually rather well off - his parents were rich and his pottery is in demand! He had a nice view from his terrace:

I'm sorry it's not brighter, but you get the idea. I could eat breakfast looking at that view, I tell you that much!

Of course, back down in the city, we have the evil Yankee influence!

I wish this picture had come out better. We flew back to Grenada to get our plane to the States, and in the terminal, this sign hung from the ceiling. If you can't read it because it's too dark, "Way Out" is written on it. I just found that so bizarre - it's not an exit, it's a way out! - that I took a picture of it. But the sunlight was so bright behind it I didn't compensate for it. That's the other thing - I think we can figure out where to go!

Finally, the most disturbing picture ever ... Avert your eyes if you're easily scared!!!!! One night on board they had a costume party. None of us were exactly prepared for it, so we all had to improvise. I came up with ... well, an award-winning costume, I'll tell you that much:

Yes, it's true - I won a prize! But at the cost of ... my dignity!!!! (Such as it is.)

So that was our vacation to Venezuela. When we returned, Zoe our cat was crying at the window, and we realized she needed a friend. So we got Smokey. Yes, not only did we have a cool vacation, we got another cat in the bargain. It all worked out!

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Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

I don't know if anyone has watched the new game show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, which followed American Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday. If I had known how to get on this show, I would have stampeded people to do so, because I'd now be a million dollars richer. Man, the questions are easy. I missed some of the ones on Tuesday, but here are the ones I heard from that night plus all the ones from Wednesday. These are taken, according to host Jeff Foxworthy, directly from grade-school textbooks. Wednesday's contestant bailed on the last one, which means she got to keep $100,000. Sad. So very sad.

1. In which month does Columbus Day fall?
2. Who was the first president impeached?
3. What was the name of the ship in which the Pilgrims sailed in 1620?
4. During sleep, you enter the REM cycle. What does REM stand for? (The contestants compete with actual fifth graders who can help them. The kid who got this correct spelled the last word wrong, however.)
5. When you mix equal amounts of red and yellow paint, what color do you get?
6. What star is closest to the Earth?
7. What country has the longest border with the United States?
8. How many sides are there on a trapezoid?
9. True or false: Fiction books are NOT assigned numbers in the Dewey Decimal System?
10. How many decades are in two millennia?

Sigh. If you get ANY of these wrong, I think you need to apologize in the comments. Why can't I go on these stupid game shows? WHY?????

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