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!


Tales from the East!

Well, I'm back, as Sam Gamgee once said. I've been back in the Basin for a few days, but haven't had a chance to blog about my adventures in Pennsylvania. The last time I was back, in 2005, I went on quite too much, so I'll try to keep it (relatively) brief. We'll see!

We took the red-eye on Thursday, 19 June. The kids were fine, which was nice. We got into Newark at about 6 in the morning, and then we had to drive the 90 minutes or so to my parents' house in Doylestown, PA. My parents came to meet us, even though we were renting a car at the airport. That was nice of them, but it also allowed us to split up the luggage into two cars. We had two car seats and Mia's wheelchair plus suitcases, so it was kind of tough to fit everything, even though we rented a Jeep Cherokee. SUV, apparently, stands for Storage UnaVailable, because the trunk space was miniscule. What's the damned point of an SUV if not for more storage space, I ask?

As my dad and I drove south through New Jersey with Mia in the back seat, I looked around and fell in love with the area all over again. I haven't lived in Pennsylvania in 15 years, but I always liked it. Usually, when I go back, I don't have time to really look around, so I often forget how nice it is. I miss the trees and other green things, but I also miss the curvy and bumpy and narrow roads, the breezes through the trees, and the old buildings everywhere. Sure, I hate getting stuck behind a slow driver on a two-lane road, but that's a small price to pay. We got home about 9 in the morning and kind of crashed. Nobody slept right away, but we all had to sit around like slugs because of the rough night. We sat outside on my parents' deck, which is very nice, and as the June heat wasn't oppressive and it was windy outside, we enjoyed it immensely.

On Saturday we went to Valley Forge for an impromptu high school reunion. My friend Randy put it all together, which was keen of him. One of the reasons we went to Pennsylvania at this point in the year was because this reunion was planned. When I heard it was going to be on 21 June, I thought to myself, "Hey! Norah's birthday is on 22 June. Why not make it a vacation?" My mother was thrilled, as she's always a bit depressed that she can't see the kids on their birthdays. So she planned a huge party when I told her I'd be back on that weekend. I knew I'd be tired (especially with what happened on Saturday night, which wasn't planned in advance), but I rarely get a chance to see so many of my friends and relatives, so who cares, right? I can suck it up and push through the sleepiness, damn it!

At Valley Forge we met up with a bunch of old friends. Some I had seen recently, as I keep in touch with them, but some I hadn't seen since I graduated. And that was in the Eighties, man! It's interesting how you lose touch with people, and we talked about it briefly. In the age of e-mail, it's far easier than back in the day, when you actually had to keep track of addresses and phone numbers. Most of the people I saw were doing far better things than I am. My friend Deborah (that's her in the first picture of this post) works at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, for instance. My friend Sharon (she's in the second picture of this post) teaches third grade, as does her husband. No dropping out of the educational turntable to sit on her ass for her! My friend Mike gets mentioned on because he's, you know, helping cure cancer. Stupid cancer researchers! My friend Kelli also works for Merck, doing cancer things (although my blog is the first hit on a Google search of her name, because I rule the world and shit). Her husband Randy, who set the whole thing up, also saves lives (a picture of the two of them is directly below). Stupid lifesavers! And what do I do? Yes, sit on my ass and blog about stuff. Hey, someone needs to do the essential stuff in this world, right?

It was great to see everyone. It was odd that everyone was pretty much the same age, but all their children were pretty much the same age. Nobody, it seemed, had kids when they were very young. I don't know what that means, but I did find it interesting. Mia and Norah were, with one exception, the only girls there. Everyone had two kids, and they were all boys. One friend said it was because of the water in Pennsylvania - I moved away and it sucked all the Y chromosomes out of me! Mia and Norah had a blast meeting everyone, and Norah played with the other kids and the toys and never wanted to stop! The weather, again, was wonderful, and I had a great day. Krys didn't know as many people, but I think she still enjoyed herself. She said she did, and why would she lie? I was very excited to meet so many old friends again and find out what cool things they're doing with their lives. It was nice because it wasn't an overwhelming reunion (my 20th is next year, but I probably won't be there) with too many people. I was disappointed some of the people who were invited couldn't make it, but at least I saw some good friends. That's always cool.

We left to head home, but my day wasn't done! No sirreebob! Earlier in the week, my friend Dave e-mailed me and told me some interesting news. He had been down in Philadelphia the weekend before and saw something in a bathroom. Oh, come on, people, nothing icky! He had been hanging out at the Theater of the Living Arts (TLA) and in the bathroom hangs a large poster showing upcoming shows. As he perused it, he noticed that on the 21st of June, Fish was playing. Long-time readers will know that this is NOT the Grateful Dead rip-off band, but the ex-lead singer of the greatest band in the world, Marillion. He e-mailed me and asked me if I wanted to go see him. Fish was hanging out at The Irish Times, a really cool bar near the theater, before the gig, so we went down, had a few beers, got my picture taken with him (he was kind of grumpy, but I didn't care), and then went to the concert. I debated with Dave which is lamer - wearing the T-shirt of the band the singer left 20 years ago, or wearing the T-shirt of the singer himself. We decided it was equally lame. The concert was quite excellent, as Fish jumped back and forth from songs from his new album and songs from his last Marillion album from 1987. I'm not sure why he's so in love with that album, but it was very good and Dave (and his twin brother Frank, who came down to the city and joined us) had a good time, which made me feel better, as they took the time to join me. I got home about 1 in the morning, exhausted, but glad I went. I can sleep when I'm dead, right????

Sunday arrived, and although I slept in a bit, my mom and Krys had things for me to do, man! I had to drive down to pick up some food from Wegman's. I went down with my brother-in-law, and as we drove, I noticed some things about our section of Pennsylvania. There's no freakin' convenience stores! I mean, what kind of world is it where chain stores don't rule the landscape???? Sheesh. Wegman's scared the crap out of me, by the way. It's huge and daunting and kind of pretentious. The store near my parents did have a second floor, which I've never seen in a grocery store. How odd.

Norah's party began around noon, and it was quite keen. My mom invited a bunch of people, and a bunch of people actually came. A few of my friends showed up, a few of Krys's friends showed up, and a bunch of relatives I hadn't seen in years showed up. Norah cleaned up a bit more than I would have liked (she really doesn't need any more toys, after all), but she and Mia had a great time. Michelle and Kevin, who used to live in Arizona and with whom I worked at my old school, came up from Virginia, and it was great to see them. My sister and her kids came up from Virginia as well, and Norah really enjoyed having a lot of kids around. It was another great day.

The rest of the week was relatively quiet. I asked my mom and dad to drag out their slides from our four-year European "vacation" from 1975-79, and we checked those out. It was quite funny looking at our stylish clothing from that era. On Monday we drove up to Pottsville to see Krys's grandmother. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here, but she had a stroke in November and has been hospitalized and/or in a home since. We knew she really wanted to see the kids (she had seen Norah in October, but she hadn't seen Mia in years), and we're honestly not sure how long she'll be around. She's over 90 (I think she turned 92 this year), so even if she were healthy, anything could happen, so I know she was very happy to see both Krys and the children. She looked better than I thought she would, and although she wasn't completely with it, she knew what was going on for the most part. The biggest problem with her now is that she tends to repeat herself a lot. It's very weird seeing someone like her, who has a lot of the same problems that Mia has, but at the opposite end of her life. She seems comfortable, but I'm not sure how happy she is. She was extremely upset when we were leaving, because she kept saying she wasn't sure if she would see us again. She's done this ever since the kids were born - whenever we left, she would wonder aloud if she would survive until the next encounter - but this time, obviously, it's a bit more serious. We don't know when we'll be able to get back to Pennsylvania - not only are plane ticket prices going up, but now they have the extra charges for luggage and such. Who knows when we can afford another trip?

On Tuesday we took Krys to Newark so she could fly back to Arizona. She couldn't take more time off from work, so she had to go home. That night I went to a friend's house and saw a couple of friends who were in Boston over the weekend and so missed all the festivities. It was great to see them, because whenever we get back to Pennsylvania, I like to see all my friends, and Jen and Jeff are fantastic. Jeff reads the blog (hi Jeff!) and Jen ought to. What else does she have to do, man? They told us all about how horrible Bostonians are (the second people in a week to tell me how horrible Bostonians are, interestingly enough) and we talked about how much fun kids are (they don't have any, and after hearing our stories, probably aren't changing their minds about it anytime soon). I really wanted to see more of my friends, but all these people have actual jobs, so it was difficult to get together during the week. Stupid gainfully employed people!

On Wednesday we went on the New Hope Railroad with the kids. It was quite fun, and I think both kids enjoyed themselves. It's always tough to tell with Mia, because she's always in a good mood, and Norah is tough to read too - she never really acts like she's unhappy, but she's not old enough to really express if she likes something. But they seemed to enjoy it.

My last day in PA was Thursday, but I left late in the day so I had some time to do stuff. I went to the comic book store in downtown Doylestown, which lacked back issues (they're in a small space) but had a wealth of excellent graphic novels and trade paperbacks. Downtown Doylestown is a very cool place to visit, and I always wish I had more time to just wander around. Then I drove down to my old town of Warminster and visited the public library. I used to go to the library all the time, and I went because I had a mission. Years ago, when I was but a lad, I remember reading a hardcover book that reprinted the origin stories of DC heroes from the 1940s. Batman and Superman were in it, and so was Wonder Woman, Plastic Man (who wasn't with DC back then, but by the 1980s was), Green Lantern, and a few others. I mentioned this a while ago to the guys at my comic book store, and they were interested in finding out who published it and when it came out and all sorts of pertinent information. I didn't think it would still be at the library after 20 years, but I figured I would check it out anyway. They were having a 50¢ sale in the lobby, so I bought two books. Yes, I know I don't need any more books, but it was only a dollar! Anyway, I couldn't find the book I was seeking, but that was fine. I got to tool around in my mom's convertible for a while with the top down. Usually when we visit, it's too cold to have the top down, so it was pretty nifty zipping around in a sports car. I felt like picking up coeds, man!

We spent more time at the airport in Newark than I care to, but the plane wasn't too delayed. We ended up getting into Phoenix at about midnight and arriving at home about 1 in the morning. The kids were amazingly good, from the airport to the plane (where they slept most of the time) and even back to the house. It was quite the time.

So that was our vacation, or at least part of it. I go into more detail about the kids and the fun times they had over at the kids' blog. Go over and read about Mia's and Norah's groovy time!

These last two pictures are my sister, Barbra, and me, holding photos from high school. So mine is probably from 1988/89 and hers is from 1986/87. Man, she had big hair and I was thin. Perhaps it's best not to look into the past too much!

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Top Ten Day: My favorite vacations

It's been a busy week, because we're getting ready to go to Pennsylvania for a week. Norah's third birthday is on Sunday, and a few months ago we decided to spend it with the families. My mom has been planning a huge party for a while, so that should be fun. In honor of this pseudo-vacation, here are my ten favorite vacations. Some might not count, but I don't care!

1. Australia, February-June 1992. Okay, technically I was studying abroad, but come on. I went Down Under to PARTY! I scheduled my classes so that I had Mondays and Fridays off, and I had the worst GPA in that semester in my entire college career by far. It's not that I didn't like my classes (I took one on postmodern literature, which was awesome, one on novels that had been turned into films, which was also very good, and one on the Reformation, which was really difficult), but that's not why I was there. I had a wonderful time in Australia, and I consider it a vacation. I met fantastic people (and still keep in touch with one of them), spent a lot of time wandering around Melbourne, and went on mini-vacations to Tasmania, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, and (when I was heading home) New Zealand. My parents were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in 1992, so they flew out for three weeks, and during my "Spring Break" (which was really Autumn Break, as the seasons are reversed down there), we went all over Victoria, including Ballarat and a beautiful drive along the Great Ocean Road. I don't think it really counts as a vacation, but I don't care. It was a great time and one of the best years of my life (I met Krys later on that same year, in August).

2. Egypt, November 2006. This was the first vacation Krys and I got to take since the birth of the children (or "vacation-killers," as they should be known!), and it immediately vaulted to the top of my list of best "actual" vacations I've taken. Krys planned the whole thing, because that's her thing, and we had a wonderful time despite the fact that for about two days I had some bad feelings in my stomach from eating or drinking something nasty. We saw a ton of stuff in two weeks, met some nice people, and slept really well. Yes, we missed the children, but it was also good to get away from them. If you're a long-time reader of this here blog, you recall I wrote about our Egyptian adventure in great, great detail. If you're interested, check those links out!

3. France, July 1985. My parents took me to Paris in 1985 when they visited friends of theirs from our days in Germany. It was a fantastic vacation. We stayed at their home, which was west of the city and not too far away, and they knew French, so we were able to deal with the snooty French a bit more easily (yes, the French are a bit snooty - that's just the way it is). We saw a ton of cool stuff, ate at excellent restaurants, propositioned a male hooker (our host has a weird sense of humor, and one day while we were driving into town he stopped the car and asked a guy what his rates were), checked out the nearly naked female hookers (yes, the hookers are often almost completely naked - I recall most of them had G-strings and that was about it), and I got beaten at table tennis quite often by their daughter, who is 3-4 years older than I am and quite hot (I was 14, so I blame my failure at ping-pong on the fact that I was busy thinking about how to impress this 17-year-old hottie). Then we went south to the Loire valley (without our hosts), toured there, and then went north to Normandy, seeing Mont-St.-Michel, the Bayeux Tapestry, and the D-Day beaches. It was the last time I've been in Europe, and I really wish we could go back.

4. Venezuela, August 1999. Here's another vacation Krys and I took, our first real international vacation we went on as a couple (Canada doesn't count). I have posted pictures of this in the past, so I'll just write about it briefly. We went on a cruise from Grenada to Venezuela, stopping at several islands and having a wonderful time. It was extremely relaxing, and it was fascinating seeing this part of the world.

5. The United States of America, August-September 1993. When Krys and I graduated from college, we decided to save our money for a few months and the hit the road. We were young, in love, and possessed degrees in English - what better time to hit the road? For over three weeks we drove across the country. We went down the Skyline Boulevard to North Carolina, drove through the Great Smokeys, went up to St. Louis, across Kansas to Denver, north to Wyoming and across the Yellowstone, south through Utah to the Grand Canyon, across to I-5, north to San Francisco, and finally to Portland. There were decided to stay. It was a quite a journey, and it was wonderful to see this great and glorious country, but living in a tent kind of wears on you after a while. We spent two nights out of the tent, and sleeping in a bed rules, man!

6. Barbados, summer 1988. Before my senior year of high school, my parents took the family to Barbados. It's a beautiful island, and we had a great time, even though my mother gets a little weird on vacations. She does not believe in using a vacation to relax, because there's way too much to do! So we relaxed a lot, but we also saw a lot of stuff. Bridgetown, the capital, is a typical Caribbean town, but it has a lot of charm. We went to a sugar plantation, where we all drank rum (yes, we little ones could drink). Barbadian (Barbadosian?) rum is really good. It was a fun trip, even though I had to take a copy of Miracle at Philadelphia along because I had a summer assignment for my AP American History class. Reading that book on the beach was no fun, I'll tell you that much. But the vacation was cool!

7. New Orleans, October 1995. Krys and I went to New Orleans as our "honeymoon," well over a year after we got married. Hey, we had no money when we first got married! We had a nice week in the Crescent City. We stayed in a small bed and breakfast with a beautiful courtyard right north of the French Quarter. We wandered around the Quarter, took a riverboat ride, saw a little bit of downtown, went to the aquarium, and took a tour in the countryside of a few plantations. It's a beautiful city, although I think it's a foolish place to put a city. Plus, the Louisianans are still in denial about the slave-owning past. They go out of their way to say that slaves in the state were treated far better than they were elsewhere in the South. Yes, but they were still slaves! Just deal with it, Louisianans!

8. Walt Disney World, 1980, 1986. Yes, it's two vacations in one! I went to Disney World twice and I can't really decide which one was better, mostly because they've kind of melded in my mind. The first time we stayed at The Polynesian resort, which was pretty frickin' cool, and the second time we stayed at The Disney Inn, which is further away but cheaper. I always liked Disney World, mostly because of all the other stuff beside the actual theme park. I mean, the water park is my favorite. The second time we went, I was a bit older, so I flirted with the female park workers. Plus, Epcot Center had just opened, so it was cool wandering around there. Disney World is a huge place and you could probably spend a good month there, but it's also ridiculously expensive. I probably should thank my parents for taking me there.

9. Italy, Christmastime 1977. When I lived in Germany, we went on a lot of vacations, because my mom loves traveling and every country in Europe is so close together, it's easy! My favorite vacation was one of the times we went to Italy. We took a boat from Naples to Palermo. The fun started on the boat, when my sister started sleepwalking. For some reason, we woke up before she did, perhaps because she was climbing out of her bunk bed saying, and I shit you not, "Guy, where are you?" She then jumped onto the floor, waking up. We still, to this day, have no idea who Guy is or why my sister wanted to know where he was. Anyway, Palermo is a beautiful city, and we saw many steps and columns. We drove around Sicily for a while, then saw Mount Etna erupt. That was pretty frickin' awesome, let me tell you. We were on another mountain, so we were perfectly safe, and it was at night, so we could really see the lava well, even though it was far away. It was quite the interesting journey.

10. Pontresina, February 1979. Our last vacation in Europe was a ski trip to this Swiss resort. It's near St. Moritz, which is more famous, but my parents really liked it here. My mom said if they had known how nice it was we would have gone every year (German schools often have a break in February, usually so people can go skiing) instead of going to a different Swiss or Austrian resort. I remember amazing skiing, and I'm pretty sure we crossed the border into Austria at one point (or maybe Italy). A lot of Alpine ski resorts are above the tree line, so they don't have trails, just wide open snow fields that are wonderful to ski. Another great thing is that they're so long you often only go up one time on a cable car, and then spend the day skiing down (while stopping at a restaurant halfway down for lunch). More skiing, less time on a lift = good times!

So those are my favorite vacations. Maybe this one to Pennsylvania will be one, but I doubt it. Spending time where I grew up doesn't really count, even though it will be great to see family and friends. At least I can catch up on my sleep!

Until then, talk amongst yourselves. I'll have access to a computer there, so I might post something, but I may not have time. We'll see!

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What I've been reading

Pontius Pilate by Ann Wroe. 412 pages, 1999, Random House/Modern Library.

I've always been a sucker for Pilate, so when I saw this book, I had to have it! Wroe doesn't write a biography, as such, because there's hardly anything that we actually know about Pilate, but it's still a fascinating book.

What Wroe does is write an imaginary biography of Pilate. She delves into what the life of a Roman soldier and gentleman of the early first century would be like and extrapolates from that. Of course, we can't know if Pilate was like that, but given that Roman men rarely broke the mold, we can easily believe that Pilate's life followed the track she lays out. Another thing she does is examine the legacy of Pilate through the writings of the Church Fathers and especially the medieval mystery plays. It's an interesting way of illuminating the life of a man about which we know hardly anything but played such an important part in the history of Western civilization.

Wroe basically lays out Pilate's life in chronological order, but with plenty of asides to delve into legend. She uses the Gospels liberally, naturally, but she also uses the Apocrypha as well. As she moves through Pilate's life, her tangents often become esoteric, but that's part of what makes the book so interesting. She psychoanalyzes Pilate to a degree, but she also gets into why we are so fascinated by him. It's difficult to understand what Pilate was thinking, of course, because the Bible doesn't get into that, but Wroe deftly takes the brief passages that deal with him and spins a tale of a man struggling with several different pressures as he tries this rebellious minister. She never absolves Pilate, but she does try to understand why the governor would allow himself get involved in the trial. As she tracks the trial, she puts us into his palace and into his heart. She shows us how different the Roman and Jewish cultures were and why Pilate could not understand this difference at all. Pilate might have been a cruel and inept man, as is implied in various sources, but that doesn't mean he didn't try to rule the colony in a way consistent with Roman values. That he failed, Wroe claims, is because he failed to appreciate the uniqueness of the Jewish way of life. This extended to the trial of Jesus, where Pilate allowed himself to be outfoxed by Caiaphas and the priests. Wroe takes her time with the trial, looking at Judas and his role, the Sanhedrin and the way it used Pilate, and how Jesus himself manipulated the governor. Pilate was a failure, but he wasn't a failure because he didn't care about governing well. He was a failure because he was in an impossible situation.

The most fascinating parts of the book is when Wroe takes off and imagines how Pilate acted based on texts written long after the fact. The English mystery plays are a big source, and Wroe shows how those writers, along with others, used Pilate to further their own ends. Pilate was useful to writers who wanted to cast Jews in a bad light and who wanted to prove that the governor was part of the divine plan. Pilate becomes a patsy who is twisted to suit God's plan, but Wroe makes the point that it was his very spinelessness that made him the perfect foil for Jesus. She gets into a complex discussion of the nature of faith itself, and how Pilate had none, so he was doomed in his battle with Jesus. But as Wroe points out, later writers became enamored of the idea of Pilate as the first witness to Christ, the first to proclaim Jesus as the King of the Jews (ironically-titled placard or not), and the first to understand the Resurrection. Pilate becomes us, every person who did not believe but saw the light. Later writers wanted to show that even someone as obtuse as Pilate could come around to the light of Christ, and some churches have made Pilate and his wife Procula saints. Pilate's struggles with Jesus become humanity's struggles to learn about Christ, and later writers wanted desperately to believe that he won. If Pilate couldn't see the light, what hope do any of us have?

Pontius Pilate is an extremely readable yet complex book. It's a fascinating journey through an almost completely imagined landscape, and although Pilate is in the middle of it, he's also a passive observer to so much history it's somewhat astounding. Pilate is the universal human, and that's what makes him so compelling. This book is extremely interesting, because it puts us in Pilate's place. What would we do? That's the question, and it's not an easy one to answer.

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The transformation of a front yard

We got our front yard landscaped. Krys always hated the lava rock we had there (it was there when we moved in), so we decided to change it. We also decided to install fake grass, because what's the point of having real grass in a desert? The initial cost would be quite a bit, but we figured the money we'd save on water would make up for it. So we did some research and found a good place and put the wheels in motion! We originally wanted to get some of the back yard done and all of the front yard. Yeah, that was a little beyond our budget. So we decided to replace the stones in the front yard, mark off an area that is almost always shaded by our huge Chinese elm tree, and leave it at that.

A few weeks ago, the dudes came out to clear out the rocks and get rid of our oleander plant in front of the house. The next day they put the curb in. It had to sit for at least three days to harden, so they were going to come this past Friday. The schedule got screwed up, though, so they came yesterday (Monday the 9th). They put the grass down and filled in the rocks. Voila!

Here's the yard before anything was done to it. Note the ugly lava rocks!

Here's the yard after they took out all the rocks.

Here's the yard with the curb and nothing else.

Finally, here's the final product. Norah is there for scale!

Here's something interesting. When they took out all the lava rocks, they found a long piece of concrete in the dirt. We have no idea what it is. The guy who lived here before us often did some strange things on his own, and we wonder if he (or someone else who lived here) started to build a wall but gave up, and this is the foundation. It's very odd.

Here's the curbing where it meets the wall in our yard and the concrete that makes up our driveway.

These are some action photos of the guys who worked on the yard. The first guy is flattening the ground where they were putting the grass. The second two are the guys taking away the last of the lava rocks from the side of our house.

The rock guy had a nice job. He pulled up in his dump truck, dumped the rocks (three-quarter inch Walker Gold!), and drove away. Good work if you can get it.

Norah enjoyed pointing out the rocks. She kept saying, "These rocks!" I would agree.

Here are the guys putting down the grass. They nailed it in, then spread sand mixed with tiny rubber pieces to weigh it down, then watered it to make sure the sand didn't blow away. Maintenance is pretty easy - I have to blow the leaves off of it every once in a while (which I had to do when it was all rock) and I'm going to get a industrial-sized broom from Home Depot to brush it every once in a while.

Here are a bunch of different shots of the yard. It's supposed to last 15-20 years, and the salesman told us because it's under shade most of the time (in the hot months, that is - trees do lose their leaves around here in the winter), it should probably survive until the high end of that scale. Of course, if we're still here in 15-20 years I may have to kill myself, but at least we'll still have a nice yard! We're hoping Norah plays out there a lot. She can't play in the back yard too much, because the pool is so big and there's very little shade, so even in the winter it's fairly hot back there. We want her to play outside more, and we're going to get some cheap patio furniture to put out front so I can sit out there and watch her (if she doesn't want to play with me, which she often doesn't). It needs to be cheap because of the unfortunate tendency of stuff to get stolen from the front of our house. We'll chain it up, but some thieves must have a bench, man!

So that's our new yard. It looks great, and it's pretty soft. You can tell it's fake, obviously, but it's not abrasive on your feet or anything. And even though it's not cheap, in the long run we'll save money and water. Hey, we're in the middle of a 13-year drought. We shouldn't be watering our lawns around here!

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Picture Day gets a Master's Degree!

In June 2001 I received my Master's Degree in History from Portland State University. Okay, that's not exactly true. My degree, which is hanging on my wall, says that I received it in December 2000, and that's strictly true. But they had no graduation ceremony in December 2000, so I had to wait until June to get my fancy "hood" and walk on stage while my name was called. Oh well - it gave my parents and sister a chance to visit, and June in Portland is a lot nicer than December, after all.

This first picture is when I received my "hood" in a small ceremony in the history office. In case you're wondering why I'm using quotation marks, well, the "hood" is just the strip of fabric that you wear over your gown. Mine was green and white because those are, apparently, the colors of history. Who knew?

As my parents were visiting, we went out to fine restaurants. And my mom took pictures! This is my dad, me, and my brother-in-law Mark. My dad looks much younger, interestingly enough, since he shaved his head. That's weird.

This is Krys and my sister. I haven't seen my sister in years. It will be good to see her in June.

Here is the ceremony, which was held in the Rose Garden. I wasn't too jazzed to go, because thousands of people were graduating, but my mother insisted. But here's the thing: my parents left early. MY PARENTS LEFT EARLY!!!!! They didn't actually see me walk up on the stage and get my diploma. And it was my mother who wanted to leave! She was bored, which didn't surprise me, but if I had to stick it out, she should have too. This was in the age before any of us had cell phones, so I had no idea what was going on. We had taken two cars, so I just drove home and found them there. Boy, was I peeved. Thanks, Mom.

We took some pictures on our front lawn. You get a good view of my "hood" in the first one. Krys looks nice in the second one, doesn't she? It makes my presence more bearable.

These last two pictures were taken a few weeks later. It was at a bar that my co-workers and I went to after my last day of work. I had already gotten my teaching job in Tempe, so we knew we were leaving Portland (boo-hoo!), and so we all went out and I didn't have to pay for alcohol. I love these two pictures, because they show me being goofy and (probably) loud, which is how I get when I drink (and often when I don't drink). I'm not a mean drunk at all - I'm boisterous and more talkative (if that's possible) and have far too many theories about life. This was the last time I got really sick while drinking. My friends were buying me shots of Jägermeister, which I love (or loved, back then), and I had one too many. Have you ever been drinking, and you're feeling perfectly fine (drunk, but fine), and you take one more drink, and it suddenly comes rushing up? Of course you have! I had six shots of Jägermeister in a couple of hours (and maybe two beers), and I was feeling great. I was a bit apprehensive about the seventh shot, but someone bought it for me, so I felt obligated. Boy, was that a mistake. My night was pretty much over after that. Whenever I get that drunk (every five years or so), I stop drinking for a very long time. This was the last time I got drunk, because by the time I might have been ready for it again, we had the kids and I just wasn't interested. I haven't had Jägermeister since, and I doubt if I would feel sick when I smell it, but I don't know. I have no interest in drinking that much these days, but this was a fun evening (until the puking). I miss those guys, and I miss Portland. I'm a bit sad that I couldn't find a good job there. Oh well.

That's Picture Day for today. Next time: Seattle! Who doesn't love Seattle? Commies, that's who!

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Civilization continues to circle the drain

In Thursday's Arizona Republic, Krys found this story (which was published in the Republic, even though the link takes you to the Chicago Tribune). I'll quote copious amounts because I have no idea how long the story will be on the web site.

Passing notes in study hall or getting your best friend to ask a boy if he likes you or, you know, LIKES you, is so last century. Nowadays, teenagers are snapping naked pictures of themselves on their cell phones and sending them to their boyfriends and girlfriends.

Boy, you knew it couldn't be a good story, what with the title of this post and all. I wonder, could sending naked pictures of yourself to others go wrong in any way?

Many of these pictures are falling into the wrong hands -- or worse, everyone's hands, via the Internet -- and leading to criminal charges.


Some parents are aghast.

"I just don't understand why kids would do a stupid thing like that," said Rochelle Hoins of Castle Rock, Colo., where 18 students in her twin sons' middle school sent around nude pictures of themselves last year. "We did dumb things when we were kids, but not like that," said Hoins, whose sons were not involved.

I bet her sons are disappointed that no girls thought highly enough of them to send them naked pictures.

School administrators in Santa Fe, Texas, confiscated dozens of cell phones from students in May after nude photos of two junior high girls began circulating. The girls had sent the photos to their boyfriends, who forwarded them to others, officials said.

And yet, those girls probably won't dump the boys for doing that. I mean, they need someone to take them to the prom!

In La Crosse, Wis., a 17-year-old boy recently was charged with child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child and defamation for allegedly posting nude photos of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend on his MySpace page. The girl had taken the pictures with her cell phone at her mother's home and e-mailed them to the boyfriend, authorities said.

"They were pretty graphic," said sheriff's Sgt. Mark Yehle. "I think they just do it to impress their boyfriends. When he breaks up, he 'vents,' in his words, by posting them. He apparently didn't think there was anything wrong with it. He didn't know it was illegal."

If the boy is under 18, is he being charged as an adult? I get that it's pretty heinous, but can we really call it "sexual exploitation" when she, under no apparent duress, provided him with the pictures? I mean, can't we charge them both with stupidity?

Psychologists said the phenomenon reflects typical teenage hormones and lack of judgment, with technology multiplying the potential for mischief. It also may reflect a teenage penchant for exhibitionism, as demonstrated on MySpace and countless other Web sites and blogs.

Good thing the parents are around to stop this. Oh, wait - they're probably not around.

In suburban Syracuse, N.Y., several teenage girls sent naked pictures on their phones to their boyfriends, only to learn that another boy had collected them from the Web and was trying to sell a DVD of them.

We can't punish him for that, can we? That's American chutzpah, man!

Some boys are photographing themselves, too. In Utah, a 16-year-old boy was charged with a felony for sending nude photos of himself over a cell phone to several girls. Four middle school students -- two boys and two girls -- in Daphne, Ala., took photos of themselves on their cell phones and traded the images back and forth, authorities said.

Equal-opportunity stupidity!

Some nude photos have even turned up in parents' e-mail inboxes.

Where they chuckled at those rascally kids and went back to getting tattoos and wearing baseball caps and dressing like whores. I mean, they can't stop the kids, so why try?

Oh, I'm sure that the parents are all very concerned about this and have never done anything to convince their kids that the only way to get ahead in this world is to flash some skin. So many adults have no respect for their bodies, so why should we expect children to have any?

I don't want to get all Republican on anyone, because conservatives, it seems, would want to lock kids up in their rooms until they reached 21 as a method to stop this. As usual with kids, you need to start early. We're already concerned about our daughters and the way they act. I have nothing against nudity. I want the kids to be comfortable with their bodies. But there's a difference between being comfortable and having no self-respect. These kids are going to see enough imagery that tells them that sex is the only way to get ahead and that boys will only like you if you take off their clothes for them, and it's our job to teach them differently. Even if I was like these teenagers and turned into that kind of young adult (I wasn't, as I was kind of a nerd), at some point you have to grow up. As I usually think, so many parents don't grow up, and so their kids see immature behavior right in the home. Nothing counteracts the way society presents people, so they don't think there's anything particularly wrong with sending naked pictures of themselves on a cell phone. Even if you have no self-respect, don't you have some idea that these pictures will show up on-line? Aren't kids on the Internet all the time these days? Don't they know all about these stupid celebrities who keep showing up naked on-line? Why should they be any different?

I'm moving to the Australian outback. Or maybe the mountains of Nepal. Or maybe the Amazon rain forest. That might keep the kids out of trouble.

This is a depressing story. I hate reading about stupid things that kids do. All I can do is hope our kids aren't stupid. You never know!!!!!

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Man, the week went by fast

Roger pointed out that it's been quite some time since I posted anything. Damn, this has been a weird week. I've been somewhat busy, but I've also been feeling rather blah. I have a couple of posts that I'm working on, but whenever I started working on them, I just gave up quickly. I think it also has something to do with the weather, which has climbed into the triple digits consistently, and that just brings me down. I apologize to my gigantic audience for ditching you. I'll have some longer posts up soon, but until then, enjoy this picture:

This is a awfully horrific story about a drunk driver running into a bunch of cyclists. Despite the awfulness, you have to love the lede: "Mexican police say 29-year-old Jesse Campos allegedly drove into a group of people participating in a bicycle race over the weekend." There's a picture of the guy, man! What's this "allegedly" crap?

See a bigger picture here, which is where I first saw the story. It's an amazing photograph, even if it's a horrible tragedy.

And yes, I'll pull out of my funk. When do I ever stay in one?

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