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!


Top Ten Day: My favorite fictional detectives

Ruminating on the Hardy Boys a while back made my think of my favorite fictional detectives. So here they are, in no particular order! And yes, I originally started this post a few weeks ago, but just didn't have time to finish it. But that's okay - it's my blog, so I make the schedule, consarnit!

1. Jupiter Jones of the Three Investigators. In that same post, I mentioned I like the Three Investigators more than the Hardy Boys. I don't know why - maybe it's because they felt more contemporary than the Hardys (even though I did enjoy the Hardy Boys, don't get me wrong; but the first Three Investigators book came out in 1964, while the first Hardy Boys came out in 1927) and their adventures felt a bit more dangerous. The Hardys seemed to deal with mysteries that were often about smugglers and bank robbers, while the Three Investigators dealt with some real sadists. Jupiter was the brains of the outfit, while Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw were often along for the ride and to provide some muscle, such as it was. I liked Jupiter because he was portly, unathletic, and kind of surly - he was likable, but not a typical hero. The mysteries were complex but not too difficult, and the setting - modern Los Angeles - made this series feel like "adult" books while still being appropriate for kids. I still have some of the books at my parents' house, and I should try to get a complete set. They're fun books to read.

2. Sherlock Holmes. I was not into Holmes for many years, even though I had read many of the stories. Then I got the annotated version that came out a few years ago, and I devoured it. Man, I loved reading those stories. When you get a lot of the context to them, they become far more interesting. Conan Doyle wasn't the greatest writer of mysteries, as the annotations show, and Holmes often gets stuff wrong, but the personality Conan Doyle gave him is so neat that we can't help but be fascinated by him. He's a jerk, but a riveting jerk. And the stories, even the ones that don't make much sense, are interesting and often very exciting. I've never been a fan of Holmes pastiches, but I can see why people write them. He's neat.

3. Thomas Magnum. I've mentioned my love of Magnum, P. I. before, and it stems from my mom's love of Tom Selleck back in the day. She used to watch it every week, and I, being a young lad who couldn't go out wilding, would watch with her. These days you can catch reruns of WGN or Sleuth, and I tune in when I can. The great thing about Magnum was that he never seemed like that good an investigator, but when he needed to be, he was. His cases were quirky and strange, he very often took cases for which he knew there would be no payment, yet he didn't care, because he somehow got a job that allowed him to live in a mansion and drive a Ferrari. That always bugged me - did Robin actually pay him, or was the house and the car payment? Robin's rich, so it seems like he would get a good salary on top of the living arrangements, yet Magnum was always poor. Anyway, what made the show work were the relationships between the four leads, but also the unusual ways Magnum would get involved in the episode's plot. It wasn't just someone coming to him with a problem. Also, the show had some great guest stars - Ian McShane, June Lockhart, Ted Danson, Erin Gray, Morgan Fairchild, Ernest Borgnine, Shannen Doherty, Carol Burnett, Sharon Stone (in a stunning dual role!), Cesar Romero, Norman Fell, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few. Plus, they actually did a crossover with Simon & Simon, which was nifty.

4. Hercule Poirot. I have been an Agatha Christie fan for years, but really only of Hercule Poirot novels (the lone exception is And Then There Were None) - I just can't get into Miss Marple books. My favorite Poirot book is Murder on the Orient Express (I like the movie, too), but I don't think I've ever not enjoyed one. I always loved his characterization - he's a fussy little man, probably gay, who is so off-putting to the suspects in the murders, who always underestimate him. He's also, if possible, ruder to Arthur Hastings than Holmes was to Watson, even though there's also affection between both sets of men. Like Holmes, he can be rather annoying, but in a different way than Holmes. His final case, Curtain, is a brilliant book, fascinating and chilling all at once. And Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov played him excellently in the movies, too.

5. Jennifer Mays and Gabriel Webb of the Maze Agency. The Maze Agency was a comic book published in the late 1980s and early 1990s which was recently revived briefly. Mike W. Barr, a wildly underrated comic writer, created the series, which came out after Moonlighting and therefore might seem like a rip-off: the rich woman owns the agency and the charming rogue shows up and helps out on cases. Mays, however, is an ex-CIA agent, while Webb is a true-crime writer. The reason I like these two is that they are a couple from the beginning of the comic, and Barr does a nice job with the interplay between them, whether it's pillow talk or when they're solving crimes. The crimes are serious, but Barr manages to keep the tone a bit light. This never became a big hit, but they are very good comics.

6. Dirk Gently. Douglas Adams is, naturally, better known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its spawn of sequels, but the two books he wrote starring Dirk Gently are better, and I wish he had managed to write a few more before his death. Dirk is a "holistic" detective, meaning he examines every aspect of the case and/or the people involved to reach a conclusion, which means he often goes "fact-finding" in the Bahamas on his clients' pound, because you never know what crucial piece of information will turn up on the beach! The two books starring Dirk, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, involve ghosts, time travel, aliens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thor and the Norse gods, an I Ching calculator, and the selling of souls. Both are wildly convoluted yet amazingly fun to decipher, and I, at least, still haven't figured everything out, even though I've read them multiple times. I would recommend them over the Hitchhiker books (even though I really dig those, two), and I'm recommending them now!

7. Remington Steele. I haven't seen a lot of this television show, but it's another one my mother always liked, and I dig the concept. Stephanie Zimbalist isn't getting clients because no one takes a female detective seriously, so she invents one - Remington Steele - and claims he's her boss. So, of course, Pierce Brosnan shows up and convinces everyone he's Remington Steele. Whenever I watched the show, I liked it, because it has nice sexual tension between the two leads and some deeper-than-you-might-think sexual politics, too. Doris Roberts as the secretary is quite funny, far moreso than her annoying mother role on Everybody Loves Raymond. I should get this series on DVD. It would be fun to watch more episodes, as I missed quite many of them.

8. Jessica Jones. Jessica is the star of Alias, Brian Michael Bendis's pulpy Marvel comic that ran from 2001 to 2004. Despite the fact that Bendis loves the character and has inserted her into every significant event in Marvel history (it seems), her appearance in Alias is wonderful. She's an ex-superhero, so she has powers that she hardly ever uses, and she's very smart at solving cases and bad at everything else in her life. She smokes, drinks too much, has too many one-night stands, curses way too much, and makes a mess of things whenever she tries to get close to anyone. But her cases, which often intersect with famous Marvel icons, are fascinating. Read more about the series here.

9. Sam Spade. It may be hard to believe, but I've only seen or read one Sam Spade adventure - The Maltese Falcon. And I haven't even read that, relying instead on the movie version! Yes, I suck. But come on - it's Bogart! I love everything about him - he's kind of a jerk, tough with the bad guys and ladies, ready to hop into bed with the dame, but never falling for her and therefore able to keep his wits about him. He's only slightly less morally bankrupt than everyone else, which is why he wins out in the end - remember, this was 1941, so a villain couldn't win! This is a wonderful movie to watch again and again, and it makes me think I probably ought to watch more Spade movies ... and more Bogart movies.

10. Daryl Zero. I've only seen The Zero Effect once, which is a great defect in my character, I know. This 1998 movie is absolutely brilliant, with Bill Pullman starring as the world's most brilliant and reclusive detective and Ben Stiller (when he was still a decent actor) as his Dr. Watson. Pullman is completely socially inept, so when he falls in love, it's funny but a bit like watching a train wreck. Plus, the mystery is interesting. And it was filmed largely in Portland, which is an added bonus. It's a shame this movie didn't get more love when it came out, because it really is excellent. And Gordon loves it! Who doesn't trust Gordon?

So that's my list. Do you have any favorite fictional detectives?

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Yesterday I had to break out the sandals

It was the twenty-seventh day of February, and my feet were too hot for socks. The mercury climbed a bit over eighty degrees, and although it did that on Tuesday, too, yesterday it was a bit higher, and that was enough. I'm a bit hotter than most people around here (not in the looks department, of course, but in the internal temperature department), so most people are still in jeans, but after about ten in the morning, it's shorts weather for me! And now sandals. Sheesh. I just mention this because the brief time it is bearable here in the Basin is drawing to a close, and from now on, it's going to keep getting hotter until it's egg-frying-on-the-sidewalk weather. But the first day I break out the sandals is a bit of a watershed.

So, how's the weather in the Northeastern United States these days?

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Independence for Kosovo: What's the big deal?

In case you didn't notice (and really, who would blame you?), last week Kosovo declared independence. Why do you care? Well, Kosovo, as you may or may not know, was part of Serbia until its declaration, and the Serbs aren't happy about it. Neither are the Serbs' allies, Big Bad Russia (BBR for short). The United States, always keen to poke the Russian bear, recognized Kosovar independence (but God forbid they recognize Taiwanese independence, because we wouldn't want to piss off the country that holds so much of our debt), which made BBR unhappy. So guess what? Another shitty little place in the Balkans is driving the world's superpowers toward war. Anyone remember their history? Yes, Kosovo declared its independence not too far away from where a Serb gunned down the heir to the Austro-Hungarian crown, thereby precipitating World War I. Nice to know that cesspool of Europe still can't figure out to live with each other.

Yes, I'm grumpy. I love studying Balkan history, but it's rather depressing, filled with petty people killing each over petty reasons. Serbia, for instance, hates the idea of Kosovo breaking away. Kosovo is almost 90% ethnic Albanian, and Muslim to boot, so Serbia, which is, well, Serbian and Orthodox Christian, shouldn't have a problem with letting it go. Except for one small problem - Kosovo is where, in 1389, the Ottomans destroyed the Serbian army at Kosovo Polje - the "field of blackbirds." As the Serbs can't be bothered to celebrate, say, Stefan Dušan, the Emperor of Serbia in the mid-14th century, who was one of the greatest rulers of his time. No, they have to celebrate a cataclysmic defeat that led to a half-millennium subjugation by the Turks. Kosovo Polje, as you might expect, is smack dab in the middle of the new nation. Boy howdy, are those Serbs pissed that they can't celebrate the annihilation of their army 600 years ago anymore!

I have no problem with celebrating your history, really. I'm a freakin' history major - of course I don't! But might it be time for the Serbs to let it go? I may have written about this before, but when I was in college, I took a class on the Crusades. My professor, an odd little man who wore a bow tie and had immaculately coiffured hair but was nevertheless quite interesting and engaging, told us that the next big battle in the Balkans (this was 1992, maybe, when the wars were just getting ramped up) would be over Kosovo, because of what it meant to the Serbs. Lo and behold, six years later, the battle was over Kosovo. Those people need to grow up and let things go.

But why is BBR squeamish about Kosovo's independence? For that matter, why is China? Well, BBR is Serbia's ally, and the Russians have always seen themselves as kind of the Big Daddy of all the Orthodox Christian states, having "taken over" that mantle when Constantinople fell in 1453. More problematic for the Russians, however, is that they have several grumpy republics in their own country, such as Georgia, who would love to be independent. We can't have that! China, too, has some places that would like not to be China - and I'm not even talking about Tibet! So those two powers are nervous about any country, especially one sort of near to them and sort of strategically important (I don't know how strategically important Kosovo is, but it's more strategically important than, say, Alberta), going its own way. Even Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world and should therefore welcome a new largely Muslim country into the fold, is upset. Yes, they too have ethnic groups that might be inspired by this move.

Other than that, I haven't found any, you know, good reasons why those countries should block this move. Holding onto "holy ground" where your country suffered a horrible defeat over 600 years ago? Not a good reason. Worried that your ethnic minorities might declare independence? Not a good reason. It might cause BBR and China and Indonesia some embarrassment if some tiny republic breaks away from them, but there doesn't seem to be any real, tangible reason they don't like the thought. I mean, does BBR rely on Chechnya for some kind of economic lifeblood? Maybe it does. If a republic breaking away might actively hurt your country in some way (and no, psychological scars don't count), then I could see it. But nobody has given one yet. There's just been a lot of posturing. I doubt if it will lead to war, but a lot of European politicians didn't think Franz Ferdinand's death would lead to war either, and look how that turned out.

Of course, many people say this will lead to many other groups looking to declare independence. Some of these people resort to violence - the Palestinians and Basques come to mind. Palestine, of course, is a special case - they want land that is actively occupied by a completely different group with whom they are at odds (and, of course, they had their chance for a state back in the 1940s, and they rejected it). The Basques live in an area that is almost completely occupied by Basques, and although I don't condone their violence, I don't get why Spain doesn't let them go. There are tons of separatist movements around the world. Scotland, of course, is a famous one, and why not let them become a independent state? I don't know how that's going, but what benefit is it for Scotland and Wales (why not?) to remain part of the United Kingdom? And, of course, there's the Second Vermont Republic, which wants to return to its independent state status that it had before 1791 (yeah, I bet you didn't know Vermont was independent back then, did you?). Why not? Is Vermont necessary for the continued wonderfulness of the United States? Maybe other states would become independent, but why would they? It seems like it's far more advantageous to stay in the union than not. Texas, California, Alaska, Hawaii - they all have secessionist movements (probably more states, too). I doubt it will ever come to anything, but it's interesting to read about them.

The idea of states breaking up and new ones forming is endlessly fascinating. I'm very curious to see what happens with Kosovo. Will it lead to war? Of course I hope not. I imagine there will be a lot of saber-rattling, but nobody's stupid enough to go to war over this, are they? Well, countries have gone to war for far less! In the meantime, let's all salute the Vermont flag:

Don't you feel patriotic?

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My one thought about the Academy Awards (with possible spoilers)

I saw only one film that was nominated for an Oscar this year, and that was No Country For Old Men. While it's a brilliant movie and I can't really argue with its awards, I will point out one thing that makes me think it's not as good as everyone says: The only reason Javier Bardem finds out about Josh Brolin (well, not Bardem, but his employers) is because Brolin goes back to the massacre site at least six hours later to take water to a guy whose guts had almost completely leaked out of his body the first time he saw him. Did Brolin really think the guy would still be alive? It's this act of monumental stupidity that alerts the bad guys to his presence. That and the fact that he should have taken the money out of the bag immediately, which is what any smart person would have done. Even though I loved the movie, all through it I kept wondering how someone as smart as Brolin proves himself to be could be that stupid. A guy I know who saw it says it was because of his sense of honor, but really - he was a soldier, so even if he made the guy a promise, he should have known that the guy was going to die real soon. Maybe if he had gone back immediately I would have bought it, but he waited quite a while. If something like this happens in a whimsical romantic comedy (not the exact situation, of course, because I doubt if there are many drug-related massacres in many whimsical romantic comedies, but I mean the absence of logic in the characters' actions), we call bullshit. Why does a serious movie get away with it?

That is all. It's still an unbelievably excellent movie. I wouldn't say it's really enjoyable, because it's so bleak, but it's riveting. I'm still dying to see There Will Be Blood, even though I hear it's even bleaker. That's how I like my movies, consarnit!

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Picture Day, not unlike Busch beer, heads to the mountains!

In August 2000 Krys's younger sister came to visit us again. This time we went up to Mount Hood for a fun day at the various summer activities they have up there. And, of course, I took my camera!

Here's Krys and Shauna on the chair lift. We were heading up to slide down on the Alpine Slide. See below!

Here's a nice shot of Mt. Hood itself without much snow on it. We were on a separate part of the bigger resort, hence the ability to see the big mountain when I just claimed we went up to Mt. Hood.

This is an action shot going down the slide. It's quite fun, even though there are a few places you can almost come to a stop. That's no good!

This is me, bungee jumping. Krys and Shauna had never done it, but they enjoyed it immensely. I didn't like it as much as when I jumped in New Zealand, because the drop wasn't as high and the fact that you're secured around the waist rather than around your ankles means you bounce in a much more controlled way, which is probably safer but not as much fun. Still, it was very cool. If you haven't bungee jumped yet, you're missing out.

They had this thing, which is a big Velcro wall and against which you jump while wearing that weird looking suit, which is also Velcro. And thus you stick to the wall! It's an odd experience, but pretty neat.

Here are Krys and Shauna modeling their outfits.

This is me in the batting cage. Look at that form! I could have been a major leaguer, I tells ya. It's all politics, man, and I wouldn't play their games!

A few days later, after Shauna had left, Krys and I went out with my friend Charlotte. She was moving away from Portland, so we went out drinking one last time. Charlotte is way cool, and I haven't seen her since then, although we still communicate via e-mail. She's in England now, living near Hastings, which makes me ridiculously envious. She's on Facebook these days, which is nice, because I can say hello more easily.

Another week of pictures in the books. Remember: bungee jumping = awesome. Try it!

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Off the grid

Man, I had a rough week. Not a lot of time for blogging, unfortunately. I'll be back soon (maybe tomorrow, but definitely Monday), but I'd like to direct your attention, if you haven't heard about it yet, to the nude pictures of Lindsay Lohan in New York magazine (that first link, obviously, might not be safe for work). Here's what I don't get. Famous people frequently whine about not being able to live life as private citizens. I sympathize with them when a paparazzo chases them down a street at 90 miles per hour or when they've gone completely around the bend, like Britney Spears apparently has, but usually, they cry out for attention. Lohan is desperate for attention (and yes, I know that I, in my own little way, am indulging her), so why should we listen to her if she ever tells us to leave her alone?

Lohan used to be a somewhat charming actress. Not great, but charming. She's only 21 and her life seems to be on a downward spiral. Wouldn't it be nice if someone took her aside and told her to go live in Pierre and never court attention again? She'd probably be happier. Oh well.

Celebrities puzzle me. I guess that's why I'm not one of them. That, or the fact that I'm kind of ugly. You be the judge!

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Presidents' Day Quiz!

How well do you know your chief executives? If you get more than five wrong, I have to think you're not a true American. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

1. Who is the only president who also served as chief justice of the Supreme Court?
a. Millard Fillmore
b. William H. Taft
c. Rutherford B. Hayes
d. James K. Polk

2. Which president approved The Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem?
a. Abraham Lincoln
b. Zachary Taylor
c. Herbert Hoover
d. Franklin D. Roosevelt

3. Who was the first president to call the president's residence in Washington, D.C., the "White House"?
a. James Buchanan
b. Theodore Roosevelt
c. Franklin Pierce
d. Warren G. Harding

4. Who said: "I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damned business"?
a. Richard Nixon
b. Chester A. Arthur
c. John F. Kennedy
d. Bill Clinton

5. At 6 feet, 4 inches, Abraham Lincoln was the tallest president. Who was the shortest?
a. John Quincy Adams
b. Andrew Jackson
c. James Madison
d. Harry S Truman

6. Who was the first president to ride to and from his inauguration in an automobile?
a. William H. Taft
b. Woodrow Wilson
c. Warren G. Harding
d. John F. Kennedy

7. Which president got out of his limousine and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House on Inauguration Day?
a. Ronald Reagan
b. Jimmy Carter
c. Bill Clinton
d. George W. Bush

8. Which president killed a man in a duel after he cast a slur against the soon-to-be president's wife?
a. Ulysses S. Grant
b. Andrew Jackson
c. Zachary Taylor
d. James A. Garfield

9. Who gave the longest inauguration speech in U. S. history at 105 minutes?
a. Ronald Reagan
b. William Henry Harrison
c. Rutherford B. Hayes
d. Calvin Coolidge

10. Who served the shortest term?
a. Chester A. Arthur
b. William Henry Harrison
c. Andrew Johnson
d. Millard Fillmore

11. Who was the only bachelor president?
a. James K. Polk
b. John Tyler
c. Martin Van Buren
d. James Buchanan

12. Who was the last prsident to be born in a log cabin?
a. Abraham Lincoln
b. Theodore Roosevelt
c. Jimmy Carter
d. James A. Garfield

13. Who was the first president to visit all 50 states?
a. Harry S Truman
b. Richard Nixon
c. Lyndon B. Johnson
d. Dwight D. Eisenhower

14. Who was the third president to die in an assassination?
a. John F. Kennedy
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. William McKinley
d. James A. Garfield

15. Who was the first president to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery?
a. Theodore Roosevelt
b. John F. Kennedy
c. Ulysses S. Grant
d. William H. Taft

16. Which president signed the bill that made Arizona the 48th state in the Union?
a. William H. Taft
b. William McKinley
c. Theodore Roosevelt
d. Grover Cleveland

17. Who was the first president born in the United States?
a. Martin Van Buren
b. George Washington
c. James Monroe
d. William Henry Harrison

18. Which president regularly swam nude in the Potomac River?
a. John Quincy Adams
b. Calvin Coolidge
c. Herbert Hoover
d. James K. Polk

19. Which president was a speed reader, having been recorded reading 2000 words per minute?
a. Thomas Jefferson
b. Bill Clinton
c. Jimmy Carter
d. John Adams

20. What political party did George Washington (1789-97) belong to?
a. The Federalists
b. The Whig Party
c. The Revolutionary Party
d. No party

The answers are in the comments section!

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You know it when you see it

Is this porn?

A writer for Time thinks so. This article is an interesting take on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Back when I subscribed to SI, in the mid- to late-1980s, the swimsuit issue was just really becoming a big deal. The issue was still a "sports" issue with a section of women in bikinis. It was starting to take over the whole thing, but hadn't yet. By the time my subscription lapsed (I can't remember when it did, but it was probably in the early Nineties), the swimsuit issue had become the sprawling thing it is today, with no connection to sports whatsoever. I've heard that they've tried other things - athletes and their wives (and I bet Roger Clemens wishes they hadn't done that!), female athletes, celebrities - but it's kind of lost its cachet, I guess, from the proliferation of "men's magazines" that don't show actual nudity but come as close as you can. That's really the legacy of the SI swimsuit issue.

But is it porn? That's the problem, isn't it? As we can't define porn, it's tough to call something porn unless it's pretty obvious. Are pictures of women in bikinis pornographic? Sports Illustrated has body painted their models quite often, so they're technically naked. Is that porn? If porn is something that titillates people, what about pictures of feet? Some people have foot fetishes, after all.

All of this stems back to America's weird attitude about sex and the naked body, which is, frankly, backward. We fear nudity even if it's not titillating at all, yet violence is fine. I think the Time writer overreacted, but I also understand her objection to having this issue delivered to her desk. I don't think it constitutes sexual harassment, but it's still an odd thing to distribute to the employees.

I'm not sure why we're so obsessed with nudity. I don't think it's all that healthy. We claim we want girls to have a good body image, but we make people in general ashamed of their bodies. I'm certainly going to try to give my girls positive images of the human body when it comes up (and it's something we don't have to worry about for a while, thank God), but I don't want them thinking that nudity is somehow evil. It's a very tough line to walk, I know.

So ... is this porn?

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Our annual trip to the big book sale

This weekend was the gargantuan VNSA Book Sale at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, and Krys and I got a babysitter and went off on our annual book-buying adventure. I wasn't sure if we were going to go, because I have far too many books already and I wasn't positive if Krys wanted to go, but she reads far more quickly than I do and has far fewer books, so she was jazzed about it! So we headed off to West Phoenix, waited in line for an hour (it's very popular), and finally got inside. The place is huge and is always full of a wide variety of books, and they're hella cheap, as the kids might say. I'm sure nobody cares what we bought, but I'll tell you anyway! I've done it for the two other times we went, so why not now?

(The books in bold are the ones Krys picked up.)

1. The Will by Reed Arvin (2000). A big-city lawyer returns to his hometown in Kansas to execute the will of the town's richest man. There lies intrigue! This sounds fun - I might have to read it eventually.

2. The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry (2006). You might expect me to get a book like this, but to be honest, I'm not that keen on fiction about the mysteries of the Templars. This sounds like a Da Vinci Code-style thriller - which means it's probably a fun, inconsequential read. I'll have to ask Krys what she thinks of it before delving into it myself.

3. The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne (2006). Another thriller about a weird religious secret that people will kill to protect! Krys was really into thrillers this year. She can't explain it! I think it's because her husband is so very boring, and this is how she gets excitement in her life.

4. Four Complete Novels by James M. Cain (1982). The books are: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, and Serenade. I've only ever read Double Indemnity and liked it a lot, so I figured I'd pick this up for one thin dollar!

5. Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (2006). Krys and I saw the author interviewed on The Daily Show, and this book sounded fascinating, but I never got around to buying it. But for $3, I couldn't resist!

6. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke (2004). I heard tons of good things about this, but I also heard some bad things about it. I'm very curious to see what's what. I'm also glad I didn't buy it when it first came out!

7. Days of Infamy: Military Blunders of the 20th Century by Michael Coffey (1999). Despite the fact that a lot of this book seems to be devoted to World War II - the dullest of all wars! - it still sounds neat. I love military screw-ups.

8. Sphere by Michael Crichton (1987). Krys picked this up. I'm not sure why. It keeps with her theme this year of buying trashy thrillers. I guess this fits the bill.

9. Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding (2003). This is Krys's nod toward chick lit, although it seems to be somewhat thriller-ish as well. She liked Bridget Jones's Diary, so I guess she'll like this one.

10. The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen (2006). And we're back to thrillers with religious overtones! Is Satan stalking the streets of Boston? Well, considering the way Boston sports teams have performed over the past few years, I'd have to say yes, and that they sold their collective souls. Now he wants his payment! This is another one I may read, depending on Krys's assessment.

11. The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman (2003). A "gothic mystery" about a woman researching her mother's death, and finding strange secrets about it. It might be interesting.

12. Soon I Will be Invincible by Austin Grossman (2007). It's a novel about a superhero! How could I not love it? I'm glad I saw this at the sale, because I've been considering buying it for a while, and I'm happy I didn't have to pay full price.

13. A Season for the Dead by David Hewson (2004). Another thriller, this one set in the Vatican and involving murders and priests and martyrs. Another one I will ask Krys about before reading.

14. America's Wars and Military Excursions by Edwin P. Hoyt (1987). I love me some "military excursions" in places like Hawaii and Central America, but I don't know much about them, so I figured this would be a good book to read.

15. The Trudeau Vector by Juris Jurjevics (2005). Shockingly enough, it's another thriller, but just as shockingly, religion does not appear to be involved! It's a murder mystery at the North Pole (or thereabouts), and environmental disaster is involved somehow! What could be going on?

16. The Night Manager by John le Carré (1993). Well, it's John le Carré, so I doubt we're getting a love story!

17. The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland by Karl E. Meyer (2003). America and Britain's involvement in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Stans is examined. I love books about "The Great Game" that British imperialists played in this part of the world a century ago, and I like modern equivalents to that. So I guess I'll like this book!

18. Le Colonial by Kien Nguyen (2004). Three French men head to Vietnam in the 1770s. Man, it sounds right in my ballpark!

19. The Fig Eater by Jody Shields (2000). In 1910 Vienna, a girl is found murdered near the Imperial Palace. Krys got this one, but I'm fascinated by pre-World War I Austria, so I might have to read this eventually.

20. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith (1981). I've never read it. I probably should, shouldn't I?

21. A Factory of Cunning by Philippa Stockley (2005). The story of a French noblewoman on a mission of revenge against a British aristocrat in eighteenth-century London. This is probably the closest thing to a non-thriller that Krys bought this year.

22. War in the Falklands (1982). This book was put together by a bunch of writers from The Sunday Times of London. I've never read much about the Falkland War, so I figured this was a good place to start.

23. Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors by Stephen Taylor (2004). The Grosvenor was a ship that wrecked on the southeast coast of Africa in the 1780s. This sounds really neat.

24. Rhodes: The Race for Africa by Antony Thomas (1996). In all the books I've read about African imperialism, Cecil Rhodes, weirdly enough, doesn't get enough attention. I mean, authors don't ignore him, but he seems to spring full-grown like Athena onto the African scene. So I got a biography of him! Okay, he sounds like a scumbag, but a fascinating one!

25. Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace (2007). A magician disappears one night in 1954 and his circus friends try to unravel the mystery of his life. Daniel Wallace wrote Big Fish, the movie of which I haven't seen completely yet, but he seems to be good at these weird, whimsical, somewhat mystical books.

26. Nanjing 1937 by Ye Zhaoyan (1996). A professor in a sterile marriage falls in love with a woman when he sees her on her wedding day. Of course, it's all set during the horrible massacre perpetrated by the Japanese, which should make it depressing. I love historical fiction!

We also bought a few kids' books for less than a dollar. So we got 30 books (I think we got four books for the children) for $88.30. Not a bad haul at all. I always enjoy going to the book sale, because it's quite fun, especially after I was done shopping and was just looking around at some of the odder stuff. They had several Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew sets, which I might have to get at some point, but no Three Investigators. I loved the Three Investigators when I was but a lad. Of course, I shouldn't be buying books at all, as my stash of unread books gets larger and larger. I'm almost 37. I may finish all the books I haven't read that I own by the time I'm 70. And that's if I stop buying books until then. What are the chances of that?

Damn the torpedoes, I say! There are books to be bought!

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Picture Day shows us that not all of Greg's photographs are exotic and glamorous!

Yes, it's true. These batch of pictures are somewhat dull. In June 2000 we moved into a rented house on the East side of Portland. We had always lived on the West side in apartments, so this was quite the interesting change. The house was tiny, but we loved it, as it had nice hardwood floors, a keen yard, and was in a wonderful neighborhood. I wouldn't trade my kids or even my experiences here in Hell for anything, but that year in the house was a highlight of our marriage, because we were close to a lot of cool places along Milwaukie Avenue, and we could take long walks around the neighborhood (we can here, obviously, but the houses aren't as interesting), and we could spend a lot of time in the backyard. Plus, I hardly ever drove my car, because I could easily take public transportation downtown, so during the week I didn't drive, and on the weekends, we usually drove Krys's company car. Good times in Eastmoreland! So here are some pictures of the house and the environs.

Here's the front of the house. We lived at 7635 SE 21st Avenue (and damn, that Google maps in seriously cool - check it out), in case you ever want to drive by and check it out. It wasn't very big at all, but it had a lot of charm.

This is the living room. Krys dug it because of the fireplace, the built-in bookcases (Krys loves built-ins) and the hardwood floors (Krys also loves hardwood floors).

This is the back of the house. We had a nice yard and a nice little deck.

Here's a poor view of the kitchen but a better view of the truly perilous staircase leading to the second floor. Nobody ever fell down it, but we feared we would. The only bathroom was downstairs and we slept upstairs, so if we ever needed to pee in the middle of the night, navigating our way downstairs was quite the journey.

Here's a view south on our street. Such a Norman Rockwell neighborhood!

Here's Krys walking the cat. Yes, Zoe is on a leash. When we moved into a new place (which we did often for a few years around that time), we would take Zoe out so she could get a good sense of the area. Hence the leash. She didn't mind it that much, even though she didn't like it. Smokey was an indoor cat, so he didn't get taken around on a leash.

Zoe and Smokey loved the house. It got lots of sunlight. They liked napping in it. I miss our kitties.

So that's our house. No, those pictures weren't very exciting. They can't all be, can they? I mean, our life isn't that crazy all the time!

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Great songs, according to me (Part 36)

Hey, it's another installment of the never-ending list of songs I think are great! By the time I'm finished with my original list, I'll have to make a new list just as long to reflect the music I've gotten since then! So it will, indeed, never end!

In case you're interested, I have written other installments, as you might guess. Here is the archive for Parts 1-15, here is the archive for Parts 16-30, and here is Part 31, Part 32, Part 33, Part 34, and Part 35. But let's look to the future!

351. Mean Street (by Van Halen on the album Fair Warning, 1981): The opening song on Van Halen's fourth (and wildly underrated) album signals that this album is different and slightly darker than the first three, which featured bright, shiny, party metal. This time, Eddie's groove is much rougher and fuzzier, and Dave's growl is definitely far more menacing than usual. The lyrics reflect this: "At night I walk this stinkin' street past the crazies on my block and I see the same old faces and I hear the same old talk." It gets darker from there, until Roth snarls "See, a gun is real easy in this desperate part of town, turns you from hunted into hunter, gonna hunt somebody down" as Eddie's guitar starts to fade into the distance. It's a short blast of anger from a band that had rarely shown it, even in their darker songs, and would not show very often in the future.

352. Meaningless (by Magnetic Fields on the album 69 Love Songs (vol. 3), 1999): Like most of the songs on this excellent album, this is a quick one, but also as usual, the strength of it lies in Stephen Merritt's fun lyrics, which propel the song along. Many of the lyrics on the album are much darker than the tone of the song implies, as in this one, when Merritt sings, "And if some dim bulb should say we were in love in some way, kick all his teeth in for me and if you feel like keeping on kicking, feel free" and it sounds absolutely delightful.

353. Memories Can't Wait (by Living Colour on the album Vivid, 1988): This is a strange song, but that doesn't make it any less great. It starts off with a strong grungy vibe, angry lyrics, pounding through the song, and then suddenly switches to a quiet, even reflective sound, with Cory Glover musing about his memories. It's an odd shift, but it works in the song, and then the band slowly builds again to a powerful finish. It's an excellent song on an excellent album.

354. MidLife Crisis (by Faith No More on the album Angel Dust, 1992): Man, I love this album and this song. Faith No More's follow-up to their breakout album The Real Thing didn't continue their rise, but it's a better collection. On this song, Mike Patton growls "Go on and wring my neck like when a rag gets wet" to start, and it only gets better. The chorus is fantastic: "You're perfect, yes, it's true, but without me you're only you. Your menstruating heart isn't bleeding enough for two." The music is less heavy than many of FNM's songs, but it's somewhat haunting, grinding away and propping up Patton's anger. It's too bad Faith No More never made it bigger.

355. Milk & Honey (by Beck on the album Midnite Vultures, 1999): I've said before how much I love Beck's disco album, and this is one reason. It begins with a kind of heavy rock groove, but switches quickly to a space-age disco beat, with corny keyboards that nevertheless fit beautifully in the framework of what Beck is doing. As is fairly typical with Beck, especially on this album, the lyrics are almost incomprehensible (at least to a layperson like me), but they have a twisted sense of fun about them, and at the end, when the music becomes more driving, they even have a bit of poignancy to them. It's a wild song, and a perfect example of Beck's versatility.

356. Mind Over Matter (by Ice-T on the album O. G. Original Gangster, 1991): Whenever I listen to this album, I rap along with every single lyric, which makes it the only time I ever use the "n" word (I hope Roger forgives me for it). I love this album, but only a few songs are really great, and this is one of them. It's simply a song about T telling us how great he is, but he does it with such flair and lyrical fun, plus he gets slow and funky on the song, that we can't help but forgive his arrogance. He does, however, talk about improving his mind (hence the title) and how he's making himself smarter than anyone else on the streets. "My brain's a hand grenade - catch" he raps, then follows with "I'm a hit you with an overload of bottomless thought, reversin' all the shit you're taught." Considering Ice-T's subsequent career, maybe he did know something we all didn't.

357. Miss America (by Styx on the album The Grand Illusion, 1977): I'm not sure if you're a true American if you don't like Styx, but we'll discuss that another day. "Miss America" is a lesser-known great song from this, their triumphant masterpiece, but Dennis DeYoung really sells it with his nasty lyrics about a woman who believes looks are everything, but realizes they aren't. I love the line "In your cage at the human zoo, they all stop to look at you." It starts the second side of the vinyl album (you all own it, right?) very strongly.

358. Mofo (by U2 on the album Pop, 1997): Many people, apparently, don't like this album, but it's a very good disc, highlighted by this song, which has a cool techno groove and deeper lyrics than you would expect. Bono gives the lyrics some emotion, too, and we feel his pain when he sings, "Mother, am I still your son?" Meanwhile, the boys give us an ethereal vibe when the song slows down before ratcheting up again. I wish U2 had kept pushing the musical envelope, but on the next album, they went "back to their roots," meaning they tried to recapture the cash cow music that had made them global superstars. Oh well. This album isn't great, but it's far more interesting than their last two releases.

359. Moment of Forgiveness (by Indigo Girls on the album Become You, 2002): Like most Indigo Girls songs, the strength of this tune lies in its lyrics (not to bash the music, which is always pleasant, but it's not like it's revolutionary or anything). Amy's powerful voice takes over as she sings about trying to reconnect with a lover in a moment of weakness. There's no hope to rekindle the romance, but that doesn't stop Amy from trying. It's a common theme in popular music, of course, but as usual, the way it's sung and the lyrics used make it much sadder than you would think. It's why we cling to hope when it's all gone.

360. Monday A.M. First Thing (by Think Tree on the album Like the Idea, 1992): The first song on Think Tree's masterpiece (and final record) is a blast of odd techno-rockabilly-punk backing some of the most innovative and twisted lyrics you could ever hope to find. Think Tree, as I've mentioned here before when they've shown up, was a bit too avant-garde for the early, pre-Nirvana 1990s, and that's a shame, because this album is brilliant, and this song sets the tone. Here's just one excellent verse, to give you an idea of Peter Moore's lyrical genius: "Monday A.M. First Thing/And in walked an old crow named Poe/Who smelled like a library book I'd checked out/Some twenty-odd years ago/His dark gray parka sat on him/Like the shell of a crustacean/He had flowers to bring to his wife, Lenore/Back home at the bus station/Then his eyes lit up, he screamed, "My God!"/And dropped the bottle he was nursing,/And said, I was fired from that chair/You're sitting in, four years ago on a/Monday A.M. First Thing!" And that's one of six wild verses in the song. This is a wonderful song to begin this wacky album, and it's a shame that Think Tree disappeared not long afterward. If anyone is interested in this album, let me know and I'll burn you a copy, as it's long out of print. That's how much I dig it!

That's another ten songs in the bank. Will I ever finish my list? Only the blogging gods know for sure!

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Top Ten Day: My favorite Christian sects

I don't know why I thought of this topic, or if it will be interesting to anyone but me (maybe this guy), but I've always been fascinated by the various divisions in Christianity (being a history major of European history, this is perhaps not shocking), and naturally I have favorites. So here are my ten favorite, in no particular order (except for the first two, which are my absolute favorites!):

1. The Anabaptists. This group, which tried to create some kind of utopia in the German town of Münster in the 1530s, was notable because they believed that infant baptism was invalid and that only adults could receive it. Now, today this might not seem too radical, but back then, despite the Protestant Reformation sweeping Europe, that was crazy talk! In fact, a lot of Protestants persecuted the Anabaptists, because they learned quickly from the Catholics about oppressing people who thought differently than they did. A bunch of Anabaptists took over Münster and tried to create a theocracy, but German princes besieged the city and it turned into a horrific place. Their leader, John of Leiden, legalized polygamy and took 16 wives, and near the end, the townspeople turned to cannibalism. Or did they? Accounts vary. Anyway, this apocalyptic event drove Anabaptists underground, not surprisingly, but their traditions live on with the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and, of course, Baptists. I just always thought the Münster rebellion was pretty cool.

2. The Cathars. One of the most depressing spectacles of medieval Europe is the Albigensian Crusade, launched by Pope Innocent III to destroy the Cathars of southern France in the early 13th century. The Languedoc, as the south of France is known, was influenced by Muslim Spain, and was a place of learning and (relative) tolerance, ruled over by the counts of Toulouse, who were often more interested in reading than ruling. Innocent (1198-1216) was flexing papal muscle in these years (he Interdicted England, for crying out loud!), and he didn't like the fact that the Cathars were so powerful in the Languedoc. The Crusade, the first launched specifically against Christians, destroyed the infrastructure of the region, brought it under the sway of the French (Catholic) king, and made Simon de Montfort, an obscure French count, a superstar (until he was killed in a siege). This Crusade also gives us the famous line by the papal legate when asked how to distinguish Cathars from Cathoics at the siege of Béziers: "Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own." Charming fellow. Anyway, Cathars themselves were influenced by gnostic teachings, believing that all matter was evil and that the divine spirit was trapped in a polluted world. Jesus himself was not a man, but a manifestation of the divine spirit. The Cathars believed that procreation, war, and capital punishment was wrong, which pissed off quite a lot of medieval Christians, who really enjoyed screwing and slaughtering! And, of course, the Cathars were supposed to have the treasure of the Templars, and they hid it from the filthy French! Ha, screw you, Frenchies! Cathars, by the way, have a web site. Check it out!

3. The Nestorians. Back in the fifth century, the archbishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, taught that Christ had two distinct natures - a divine one and a human one, and that they did not mingle. This led him to claim that the divine part of Christ did not suffer on the cross. Boy howdy, this pissed people off, you bet! The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorius, but of course a lot of people still believed in that doctrine, and they went off to the East. It reached China still exists today in Iran, Iraq, and India. The Church's unofficial web site is here, and the Catholic Encyclopedia delves very deeply into Nestorianism here. I like the Nestorians because the heresy led, however mistakenly, to the legend of Prester John, which is a very cool story.

4. The Arians. Ah, Arianism. One of the most popular Christian heresies ever, and one that had an excellent chance to be the "orthodox" teaching throughout Europe. But alas! it failed, and has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Arius, the bishop of Alexandria, taught that the pre-incarnate Christ was created by God and did not exist prior to that. The Catholics, if you recall, believe that the parts of the Trinity are equal and have always existed. Splitting hairs, say you? Bite your tongue! Arius was condemned at a rather famous Council at Nicaea in 325 (whence comes the Nicene Creed), but his teachings lived on. Many Germanic tribes adopted Arianism, including the Visigoths, who ruled in Spain until the eighth century (but by then had become good Catholics). Arianism was very popular for centuries, but it eventually fell to the all-crushing Godness of Catholicism!

5. The Monophysites. The Monophysite position was completely antithetical to the Nestorian one - Monophysites argued that Christ had one nature, as opposed to two. This heresy was eventually rejected by the Catholic Church at the Council of Chalcedon of 451. Yes, it's hard to keep up.

6. The Copts. The Coptic Church, which is the dominant Christian sect in Egypt today, is actually monophysite. I guess that I should have distinguished between "heresies" and "sects," but what the hell. Copts don't recognize the Roman Pope, but the head of the their church is the Pope ... of Alexandria. I just find the Christians of Egypt interesting.
[Edit: A few commenters have pointed out that the Coptic Church is not really monophysite. Sorry about that. I knew I shouldn't trust the Internet! I wouldn't want to insult any Copts out there, so I'll just say I was wrong and move on.]

7. The Ethiopian Orthodox. Ethiopia, surprisingly enough, was one of the earliest countries to embrace Christianity (they say they're the oldest; the Armenians disagree). Because of this and the fact that Ethiopia is, to say the least, a bit isolated, means that their form of Christianity is archaic. Plus, the Ark of the Covenant is in a church in Addis Ababa, so they have that going for them.

8. The Mormons. What's so fascinating about the Mormons is they wouldn't be out of place in fourth- or fifth-century Asia, what with the whole origin of the sect and the fervor with which they practice and the persecution and intolerance they faced (and occasionally still face) and the way they quickly turn to oppression themselves when they get the chance. It's all very medieval, but the fact that it's such an American form of Christianity makes it oddly compelling.

9. The Catholics. Well, duh.

10. The Byzantine Orthodox. This refers to the Orthodox Church prior to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when the Orthodox Church splintered. This is perhaps another no-brainer, as I've always dug the Byzantine Empire, and I just love that the schism between it and the Catholic Church came about from such tiny things, like the "filioque clause." For those of you who don't know Latin, "filioque" means "and the Son," which was inserted into the Nicene Creed, so that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This caused much consternation in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and helped lead to the break between the two Churches (there were, of course, other reasons, but I love that one). The Orthodox Church today, of course, celebrates Easter at a different time than the Catholic Church does, which I'm surprised hasn't led Benedict XVI promulgating a new crusade. He seems like that kind of guy.

So those are my favorite sects. Like I said, I guess some are technically heresies, but you get the idea. I like others, of course, but those are my favorites. As for the majority of Protestant sects ... boring! When they take over a German town, legalize polygamy, and turn to cannibalism, then come talk to me!

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An example of what happens here when it rains

With the country's sports (and other) media focused on Phoenix last week, you may have heard that it wasn't particularly pleasant around these parts. It does occasionally get cold here (the van's doors were frozen shut this morning when I went out to take Mia to school) and it does rain occasionally, despite the 13-year drought. My parents laugh about our water problems, because back in Pennsylvania, if they go three weeks without rain the governments tell the people to start rationing water, while here we can go months without rain and nobody seems to notice. But it did rain last week, and the high temperatures were often in the low 60s, and the media people complained. Such is, as they say, life.

The Sunday before the Super Bowl (so the 27th of January), we were going to go to the zoo with the kids. However, it rained all day. When I say "all day," I mean that there was very little time when it wasn't raining, which is extremely surprising around these parts. Usually, we get sudden and brief downpours, and twenty minutes later it's sunny again. But that Sunday was pretty miserable.

The next day was chilly buy nice, and I took Mia to school. As I drove home, I had to check out McKellips Road, part of which runs ... across the bottom of a river bed. Yes, the road runs across the Salt River, which, of course, is dry 95% or so of the time. But when it rains, you get this:

It's been closed for over a week, too. We had more rain on Monday, and since it's not very warm, the water isn't evaporating as quickly as it does in the summer (I first noticed this last August or September when I was first taking Mia to that school and we had a big storm, but it cleared up pretty quickly). I just love the fact that it rains so little here that they can build a road across the bottom of a river, confident that it will be open 50 weeks out of the year.

That's really all I have to say. It looks cooler when you're driving on the freeway slightly above it, but I can't get a good picture from there. Well, maybe I could, but I'd have to stop in the middle of the freeway, and that might get a bit messy.

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Some final thoughts on the Super Bowl

Justin Tuck should have been the MVP. I assume they let the fans vote, which is stupid. Why don't they let people who actually watch the game vote, instead of letting people who are sitting around eating nachos and drinking beer vote for the glamor position. Justin Tuck: two sacks, one forced fumble, part of the Giants' four-man defensive line that put a ton of pressure on Tom Brady. Eli Manning? Please. One great play, and one excellent read of the defense on the game-winning touchdown. That's not an MVP.

Bill Belichick is kind of a tool, isn't he? The refs tried to tell him that they needed to run one more play, but he pushed them out of the way and ran off the field, leaving his team behind. I always knew he was kind of a sore loser, but he really proved it yesterday. Jerk.

Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants' defensive coordinator, learned how to coach defense from Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator. I just needed to point that out, to take some solace from Philadelphia's sorrows.

On that early long pass to Amani Toomer, why wasn't offensive pass interference called? Toomer clearly shoved the defender in the face mask to get separation, and two officials were watching the play. What the crap? Usually the Cheaters get all the calls, but that one went totally the Giants' way.

Why was Belichick allowed to challenge the fact that the refs didn't call the penalty when the Giants had 12 men on the field on that punt? No call was made, so you're allowed to challenge that? Does that mean if you believe a penalty has been committed, you can throw the challenge flag and they can call one? Earlier in the playoffs, David Garrard picked up a fourth-and-one against the Steelers when an offensive lineman clearly held. Could Mike Tomlin have thrown a flag on that, and the refs could have retroactively called a penalty? How is Belichick's challenge flag allowed?

David Tyree's catch has to be one of the top three or four in Super Bowl history. Lynn Swann's catch is probably still #1, but this was a great one.

I mentioned this in the comments to the previous post, but I have no idea why the roof was closed. It was a decent day here on Sunday, and I don't think rain was in the forecast. It's been chilly here all week, but it's still not that cold, and apparently, the humidity that wore the Giants out toward the end is a common problem at the UPS. The field completely rolls out of the stadium (it's pretty cool, actually), and water does get in there and stay there, causing the humidity when the temperature goes up. It's dumb to close the roof, because what's the point of having an outdoor Super Bowl anymore? The teams should play in some elements, after all, even it's just a bit of chill.

When does the regular season start?

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Frankly, I'm shocked

I've decided I'm happier that the Cheaters lost than angrier that Eli Manning is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and an undeserving MVP and that an NFC East team won the championship before the Eagles did. But I'm still shocked. I'm still not entirely sure how it happened (and, to be honest, I didn't watch the whole game). Surprisingly enough, if you rush the passer effectively, you can shut down a good offense. Who knew?

So in the end, the Cheaters get theirs. And as I saw Randy Moss and Junior Seau looking like they were going to cry, I thought, "Yeah, fuck you guys." I don't want to hate the Cheaters, because I admire a lot of what they do, but as many long-time winners get, they started to get a bit full of themselves, so it's nice to see them taken down a peg. Is this the beginning of the end of the New England dynasty?

I'm also not worried about New Jersey dominating the league, because I'm still not all that impressed with them. They could easily miss the playoffs next year. We'll see.

Of course, now Mercury Morris will be even more insufferable. Please, national media, stop calling him up to get quotes from him. Man, what asshole. Maybe next year no team will be undefeated late in the year, so nobody talks to Morris and his geriatric cronies.

Anyway, good job, New Jersey. I'm stunned.

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What I've been reading

Love and Death in Kathmandu: A Strange Tale of Royal Murder by Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker. 320 pages, 2003, St. Martin's Press.

I remember reading about the massacre in Nepal in 2001, in which the crown prince killed most of his family before turning the gun on himself. It was a shocking story, but most of the accounts I read had little to say beyond the fact that it happened. Willesee and Whittaker, two Sydney-based journalists, read about the story and decided there was a book in it. They went to Nepal in 2002 to study the situation, and this book is the result. It's not a great book, but it is an entertaining one, and it gives us a very interesting look into Nepalese culture and history without providing many answers as to why the crown prince did what he did (and, to be fair, answers are probably not forthcoming, as I'll get to below).

The best part of the book, ironically, doesn't have much to do with the massacre itself, or even the examination of Dipendra, the prince, and his life leading up to it. Willesee and Whittaker first talk to several people about the massacre, including the royal astrologer, some of the aides-de-camp, and a journalist who has agitated for democratic reform for years. They also get into the Maoist rebellion that began in 1996 and was still going on when the book was published, interviewing a soldier who originally believed in the cause but became disillusioned with it. Necessarily, they get into Nepalese history, and they do a good job with it, too. Two major families, the Shahs and the Ranas, dominate recent Nepalese history, and the authors give us a good overview of how the royal family - the Shah - allowed the upstart Ranas to gain control over them in the middle of the nineteenth century, a situation that lasted a century. As the Ranas married into the royal family, everyone in the ruling sector of society is related, which makes family politics, which often reflect national politics, often volatile. In the 1950s, King Tribhuvan regained power from his Rana prime minister, but the Ranas remained very powerful in the country. This part of the book, that tracks the history of the royal dynasty and its many branches, is the most interesting part of the book.

In Part Two, the authors concentrate on Crown Prince Dipendra (who was born about a month after I was in 1971), and the book starts to weaken a bit. It's not that Dipendra isn't a fascinating character, it's just that the scope of the book narrows to focus on the family, and we start to lose the context of greater Nepalese society. Willesee and Whittaker never completely forget that this book is about a country as much as it is about its crazed prince, but they do narrow down their examination to Dipendra, and he's just not as interesting as the bigger picture. He rebelled against his parents, King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, but kids tend to rebel. He fell in love with Devyani Rana, one of his (distant) cousins, but his domineering mother disapproved of the union. Royalty, of course, is all about producing heirs, so as Dipendra moved through his 20s without marrying, people began to worry. The story of Dipendra, as gripping as it is because we know how it ends, is a fairly standard story of a prince trying to be independent in a country that honors tradition over all. It's a sad story, to be sure, but we never really sympathize with Dipendra, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it's because we're just waiting for him to kill everyone. Perhaps it's because we, as a Western audience, simply can't deal with the crushing burden of tradition, which dictated that he could not just marry whomever he wanted. We can't even understand why Aishwarya objected so strongly to Devyani. It went back to the 1880s, when an ancestor of Devyani, Khadga Shamsher Rana, led a palace coup against his uncle the prime minister. This ancestor was later accused of plotting against his brother, the new prime minister, and he was exiled with his wife - his junior wife. Yes, Nepalese men back then could have more than one wife, but the junior wives were often considered mere concubines. Devyani was descended from this junior wife, and although her more recent ancestry was still extremely wealthy, they had lost all their titles, and were therefore seen as beneath the royal family. Yes, an obscure caste problem from a century earlier made the queen reject Dipendra's choice for a wife, and that led, pretty directly, to her murder. It's difficult for us to accept that, but in a society like Nepal's, it was very important.

When the authors get to the massacre on 1 June 2001, the book becomes even a bit weaker. Again, the events are fascinating enough, and they do a good job recreating the scene, but they introduce several new characters who end up getting killed, and it's hard to keep track of them. Dipendra ended up killing his father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, two aunts, a great aunt, and an uncle-in-law. Plus, of course, himself. Willesee and Whittaker narrate these events with somewhat bloodless efficiency, which is perhaps the best way to do it because it's so horrifying, but it still leads to a fairly rote recitation. We don't know much about the ancillary relatives Dipendra kills, and we can never know why, for instance, he spared one cousin who was trying to block him from killing several younger female cousins. The events, of course, are shocking enough, so I'm not sure what the authors could have done with them, but it feels like they could have perhaps done a bit better giving us more information about the victims beyond Dipendra's immediate family. It would have made for a longer book, sure, but in this section of the book, we're getting so many names that it's tough to keep track of them. It's frustrating.

The aftermath of the killings is bizarre, too. Once Dipendra killed his father, he automatically became king and was therefore above the law. He didn't die right away, so while surgeons were working on him and futilely trying to save his life, the regent (and future king), Birendra's brother Gyanendra, was in a bit of a bind. What if Dipendra miraculously survived? He couldn't be prosecuted for his crimes, because he would be technically a god. It became a moot point a few days later, but the authors make the point that Dipendra was so beloved by the populace that even today, many people blame the massacre on anyone but him.

Although the book doesn't end well (in the way it's written, not in the subject matter, which we knew going in would not end well), it's still a fascinating examination of a culture about which most of us know little. Nepal is a strongly traditional nation struggling to adapt to the modern world, and that's the best part of Willesee and Whittaker's book. There's a goddess who possesses a pre-pubescent girl and decides whether it's auspicious for the king to ascend the throne. There's a royal astrologer who determines whether the heir to the throne will have a good life. There are Maoist rebels fighting with machine guns in villages where people marry their children off at eight or nine years old. There's a modern man, the authors' translator, who is secretly engaged because his family won't accept his girlfriend, who is from a different caste and religion than he is. Willesee and Whittaker fail to get inside Dipendra's head. Not many people want to talk about their relationship with the Crown Prince, and it's almost impossible to psychoanalyze a dead man. However, the authors do a nice job examining the society in which Dipendra lived and died, and from that we can gain a better understanding as to why he shot up his family. The actual events of 1 June 2001 are the weakest parts of the book, but the rest of it helps make up for that. It's a sad book, but a very interesting one.

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My kind of gentleman's club!

You may have heard that they're playing a football game not too far from my house this weekend (okay, it's probably 30 miles from my house, but it's closer than it's ever been to where I live). I haven't had much to say about the game, because I expect the cheating team that's not from Boston to beat the snotty team that's not from New York rather easily (I'm talking at least three touchdowns, maybe more if the cheating team's coach is feeling chippy), but it has been interesting to observe the media blitz from relatively close, as everyone has descended on Scottsdale (where the game is not being played) and Phoenix (where the game is not being played) to hang out and do their shows (if you've seen any ESPN this week, you've seen swanky Scottsdale). Of course, it's been pretty chilly here this week, but I still want all the media types to shut up about how cold they are in 55-degree sunny weather. Yes, it's in the 40s in the morning. Yes, it was overcast early in the week. It's still better than Connecticut in late January. And yes, I can't believe I'm defending the land that I loathe. See what these media types do to me?

Anyway, the newspaper has been full of advertisements for all sorts of Super Bowl™-related items. I'm not sure how it is in the rest of the country, but here in the heartland, strip clubs advertise almost exclusively in the sports section. We all know that if you like sports, you must love strip clubs, and if you like sports, there's no way you're a woman, so of course that's where they advertise! Earlier this week I was perusing the sports section, as is my wont, and I spotted this ad:

Yes, it's a strip club trying to align itself with the Big Game, more specifically the New Jersey Giants. However, that's not what caught my eye. Check out what kind of women they have for your viewing pleasure:

"Plus 3 fat ones." Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Okay, ignoring the fact that it's horribly sexist and demeaning, implying that heavier women can't possibly be beautiful, you still have to love a few things: one, that they're honest; and two, that they recognize that some people don't ascribe to the "standard" definition of beauty. In their own offensive way, this strip club is making progress!

I may have mentioned that I've never been to a strip club in my life. I've never had much of an opportunity or even the interest. However, if that's your thing, you can't go wrong with a place that advertises this way!

As for the game ... I don't want either team to win. The thought of Eli Manning winning a Super Bowl™ before Donovan McNabb and the Eagles makes me gag with hatred, and I don't want to see the Cheaters go unbeaten. However, I never had too big a problem with the Cheaters before, you know, they cheated, so I guess I want them to win. I just can't root for an NFC East team that's not Philadelphia. I cannot!

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