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!


Legislation I can get behind!

Here's something fun:

California state Rep. Anna G. Eshoo ... introduced H.R. 6209, otherwise known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission to "prescribe a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program they accompany."

In doing so, she has tapped into an issue that often rankles TV viewers: Why do TV ads seem to shout like a ringmaster at the top of his lungs, when the TV shows they interrupt often speak in modulated tones?

This woman is my new hero. Or heroine, I suppose.

Ms. Eshoo's bill, however, has sparked reaction among the people who count on TV commercials to help generate sales and purchases. Marketers themselves would prefer to devise a solution on their own rather than getting a government mandate on how loud Billy Mays can talk about OxiClean. What's more, major media companies such as CBS Corp. and NBC Universal have been working to address the issue.

Billy Mays does crack me up. Especially those ESPN commercials he does. They're awesome.

Some concern exists whether such a volume-moderation law could be enforced. The typical TV-ad buy often doesn't include information on the level of sound or the plotline of the program in which a commercial will air. "From the advertiser point of view, obviously they don't want to violate a law, but they may not have control over where the ad shows up," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP-government relations, Association of National Advertisers.

Ms. Eshoo doesn't seem to buy that line of thinking. "They haven't chosen to do a darn thing about it all of these years, and I believe it remains the top complaint to the FCC," she said.

I have one message for advertisers: Fuck 'em.

[S]ome ads are just loud because they're designed that way. Rock music has become a more common element in some TV commercials. Likewise, some commercials of the direct-response variety employ pitchmen who speak in booming fashion. Other loudness might simply be due to a viewer's perception [Yeah, right]. Ads often play at the higher end of broadcast volume, but the TV shows they support typically have noisy moments and quiet ones.

Once again: Fuck 'em.

There's more at the link. I miss most commercials, as I DVR most of the television I watch and can therefore fast-forward through the ads, but man! they're really loud. Occasionally I won't hit the FF button soon enough or I won't time it right and catch the very end of the block of ads and I can't believe how loud they are. A lot of television shows are doing what movies do these days - having really, really quiet dialogue and louder action scenes, which is annoying enough, but then, when the commercials come on, the volume is even louder. It's extremely annoying.

Yes, I know we have more important things to worry about. But this is still awesome legislation. Good for Ms. Eshoo!

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What I've been reading

Sacrament by Clive Barker. 1996, 447 pages, HarperCollins.

I just learned that this book is out of print. The link at the title takes you to Powell's, where they have one copy. You know, in a world where a lot of shit stays in print forever, it's kind of weird that this is no longer in print. At least I think it's weird.

Anyway, prior to this, I had only read two Clive Barker books: Imajica, which I loved, and a collection of short stories, which weren't bad. What I like about a lot of Barker creations is that he's good at pure horror, but I'm not a huge fan of horror, so the fact that he's good at blending horror into more fantastical and even real-life scenarios is neat. Sacrament is more a fantasy book than a horror book, but Barker does bring in some elements of horror, even though they're more disturbing than truly horrific. It's a pretty good mix.

The book centers on Will Rabjohns, a nature photographer whose specialty is capturing endangered animals on film. At the beginning of the novel, he visits a strange recluse in Canada (on his way to photographing polar bears) who once knew two people Will knew, Jacob Steep and Rosa McGee. We get a sense that Steep and McGee are somehow very strange, but before we learn anything more, Will is attacked by a wounded bear and lapses into a deep coma. While he's out, he revisits a time thirty years earlier in Yorkshire, where he grew up, and his first and only meeting with Steep and McGee. They are obviously mystical beings in some way, and Steep, especially, leaves a lasting impression on Will. His centuries-old mission is to kill the last of any species, and he tries to indoctrinate Will into this quest. Before he can, though, many horrible things occur, and Will is left alone without Steep. He spends the next three decades looking for him.

The theme of extinction is present throughout the book. Will is gay, and Barker takes him to San Francisco, where he experiences the AIDS epidemic first hand. He's haunted by the plague and by Steep's desire to slaughter species, and when he has to return to England, it all comes back to him. Steep is drawn to him just as he is drawn to Steep, and as he learns more about Steep and McGee's true nature, he has to enter a magnificent and dangerous place, the Domus Mundi, to understand everything. Barker does a nice job, for the most part, with these themes: Will's anxiety about his friends becoming "extinct," the reason Steep feels driven to do what he does, and why Steep and McGee are so tied to each other but can't really stand each other. It's a disturbing book in many ways, mostly because Barker shows how wonderful yet painful raw emotions can be. Steep and McGee's relationship is bad for both of them, but they can't get away from each other. Will has similar - if less intense - relationships, and one in particular puts him beyond even a marginalized culture like that of the homosexuals among whom he lives.

Will's quest to find Steep and find out why the man has such a hold over him is intense reading. When he and another victim of Steep and McGee's violence find the Domus Mundi, the book becomes even more fantastical, but Barker does a nice job keeping the story grounded. However, the ending is a bit weak. Barker wants to have it both ways with regard to Will's fate, and it somewhat cheapens his experience. I won't give it away, but Barker explicitly sets up some ground rules and then breaks them. It makes a strangely unsatisfying ending, especially because he did the same thing with regard to Will's relationship with Steep, introducing an element late in the book that seemed to be important, but isn't really, in the final analysis. It's disappointing because Barker has done such a good job building to the climax. Even though what actually happens at the end of the book is fine in terms of exciting reading, the fact that Barker appears to cop out is vaguely annoying.

Despite this, Sacrament is an impressive book about extinction, emotion, obsession, and what it means to worship. If the ending falters, much of what Barker brings up before that is powerful and devastatingly honest. It's not quite as good as a novel like Imajica, but it's still quite a good book. If, you know, you can find a copy.

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The first day of ... spring?

I think we need to rename the seasons in the Basin of Hell here. It's been in the 90s all week, and who knows when (or if) the heat will break. So here's what I propose:

Today (21 March) begins First Summer.
21 June begins Really Super-Hot Oh My God What Kind Of Crap Is This Summer.
21 September begins Second Summer.
21 December begins Fall/Spring. "Falling"? "Sprautumn"?

That works.

You know, I lord it over people during December, January, and February, because the weather here is so darned nice compared to the rest of the country. Well, now the tables are turned! You may tell me about the cooling rain you get where you are, and the chilly sunny days with a hint of storm behind them, or those blustery partly sunny/partly cloudy days where the clouds just pile up and it seems like all the forces of nature are arrayed against the puny humans. God, I love those days.

Seriously. In the 90s. All week.

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A "sporting" event we can all enjoy!

The US Pole Dancing Championship was held this past weekend. Yes, you read that right.

I'm fairly sure I've mentioned that pole dancing has become a "sport" and that in some countries (Australia, for instance, but as that was founded by deviants, I don't know if it counts) you can sign your children up for pole dancing lessons. Well, in "sports," you have to have a championship, right? Oh, wait a minute - don't read that line, Division 1 college football.

Wherever there's a "sport," Sports Illustrated is there! Here's their report.

While most sports fans eagerly awaited the NCAA Tournament bracket on Sunday, I headed over to the Bleeker Street Theatre in New York City for a very different sort of Selection Sunday.

The US Pole Dance Federation, better known to acronym lovers as the USPDF, was hosting the first annual US Pole Dance Championship. Twelve female contestants, chosen from more than 50 applicants, would be competing for the honor of representing the United States at Miss Pole Dance Australia 2009 [See? Deviants.] and for a spot on the cover of next month's Pole2Pole Magazine.

Pole2Pole Magazine? That can't exist, can it? Oh, wait, of course it can.

The dress code from the USPDF rulebook states, "No nudity, no G-strings or thongs. Violation of this requirement leads to immediate disqualification."

And yet it's still popular??????

As contestant Denise Brown a happily married mother of two from Tennessee said, "We are not strippers and it is not a stripper pole unless someone is taking off their clothes. Sure, a form of pole dancing is exotic, but that's not all there is to it. Pole dancing is really about fitness, athleticism and artistic design."

Yep, that's what it's about.

"It is certainly a great workout," said Carmit Bachar, one of the three judges and an original member of The Pussycat Dolls. "But there is a performance aspect to pole dancing as well and that involves sexy."

You know you're a legitimate "sport" when an original member of the Pussycat Dolls is judging you! No knock-offs for this competition!

The favorite entering Sunday's championship, at least according to the contestants, seemed to be Jenyne Butterfly, a petite blonde from Eastern Washington. Despite her diminutive stature, Butterfly had already won pole dance competitions across the nation, including the highly regarded Pole-a-palooza in Las Vegas, which she has won three years in a row.

If you aren't strippers, you should probably drop the stripper names. If Joe and Jane Butterfly are the proud parents, well, I apologize.

But a younger generation of pole dancers hoped to clip Butterfly's wings. Alethea Austin, a photographer from Los Angeles, and Sarah Cretul, a paranormal investigator who lives in Florida, each had the aerial skills and pole prowess to overtake Butterfly.

Pole dancing: For when paranormal investigating isn't fulfilling enough! (I looked her up at the official site, and she's only 21, so maybe she hasn't quite gotten the hang of ghost hunting yet.)

In the second round, the competition heated up. Cretul, the little-known newcomer, dazzled the crowed with a sequence of aerial moves while hanging five feet off the ground. Never one to be shown up, Austin then took the stage and, with Guns N' Roses blasting from the speakers, blew the crowd away with a passionate performance that utilized the entire pole and all 640 muscles in her body.

But catching a butterfly is a tricky task. The favorite took the stage as the night's second to last performance and showed why she truly is "The Pole Queen." Dressed in a white two-piece outfit and veil, Butterfly lived up to her name. She defied gravity. At times, one arm supported the entire weight of her outstretched body. Her moves were elegant, her transitions seamless. By the time Butterfly capped off her performance with her signature "flag move" -- think of her as the flag on a flagpole -- the capacity crowd was on its feet.

And while the judges took 10 minutes to give the appearance of a formal debate, everyone knew the winner had already been decided. Jenyne Butterfly was the 2009 US Pole Dance Champion.

Yay, Jenyne!

In case you're interested in more, you can always check out the US Pole Dance official web site. It might not be safe for work, although everyone keeps their clothing on.

You know, it's great that these ladies are doing something they like, keeping fit, and competing for something. I still think that this is playing into the hands of men, who like to watch women dance with hardly any clothing on and have convinced women that it's "empowering." But if the women like it, more power to them. The woman who won "Miss Sexy," Alethea Austin, teaches pole dancing at this gym, where you can watch some videos like this one (again, this might not be safe for work, although there's no nudity):

So all's right in the world - we have a new pole dancing champion, and life is good! I wonder if Krys would mind if I installed a stripper pole in our living room ...

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Happy Birthday, Erik Estrada!

Erik Estrada turns 60 today. In a perfect world, Estrada would be the host of Estrada Or Nada, the fictional game show that showed up on My Name Is Earl recently. But I guess we'll have to do with this:

What, Officer Poncherello? A strip search? Are you sure?

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Naked bicycling!

If you're in Australia this weekend (and why wouldn't you be?), why not join the Australian leg of the World Naked Bike Ride? I mean, you don't have anything better to do, right?

There's a lot of information out there about the World Naked Bike Ride. The best page is probably the FAQ page, which includes such important ones such as "Isn't riding naked uncomfortable," "Is it legal to be naked in public," "Won't it hurt my genitals," and the all-important "What if I'm not conventionally attractive?" Of course, most of the people riding in this aren't "conventionally attractive," as a quick glance at some of the photos at the site will attest. Brad Pitt and supermodels don't ride their bikes naked, people. You've been warned!

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are no naked rides near me (Arizona is fairly conservative). There's one in Eugene this weekend, however, so if you're in the Pacific Northwest, head there! Maybe there will be cute coeds! Probably not, though. I'm not sure why the only people who want to get naked in public probably shouldn't. This is known as "That Seinfeld episode on the train" phenomenon, when the fat dude stripped down on the way to Coney Island. Nobody wants to see that!

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Lumberjack cuties!

A few days ago, the few all-sports blogs I read all ran with this story:

Beauty pageant contestants are also members of the University of New Hampshire woodsmen team.

Christiann and Arielle Unger, 21 and 18 respectively, chop wood and compete in pageants. Christiann has actually won one. Of course, there's a picture:

That's Arielle on the left. I'm not sure which is more awesome: the fact that the sisters are beauty pageant contestants who also chop wood, or that the University of New Hampshire has a woodsmen team. That means they compete with other universities that also have woodsmen teams.

And, of course, you might not want to dump one of these ladies in a bad break-up. You just know they'll come after you with an ax!

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Fifty years of Chinese rule in Tibet

Technically, today is the 50th anniversary of China's invasion of Tibet that brought that country under Communist rule. Of course, for several years prior to that, Tibet had been dominated by the Chinese, and 10 March 1959 was just the beginning of active rule after the Tibetans got a bit peeved by the fact that the Chinese were encroaching on their affairs. The fact that the United States, which went to war in Korea and Vietnam to stop tiny Communist countries from expanding, ignored this breach of international boundaries is somewhat disconcerting. It's not like we "learned" our lesson in Korea - we went to war in Vietnam after this. The Americans believed that Tibet was Commie, too, although they didn't do much research into it, which is probably why they ignored the invasion. I don't mind realpolitik at all, because it's all that states really practice, but I do mind when it's dressed up as ideological concerns, which it usually is. The U. S. should have said, "Tibet is of absolutely no strategic use to us, so what do we care if the Chinese take it over?" At least that would have been honest.

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It's Barbie's birthday!

Yes, Barbie turns 50 today. You know how you can celebrate? By picking up a Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie. It's awesome:

This isn't the first time Barbie has gotten a tattoo, interestingly enough. She had one in 1999, and people freaked out, as it was permanent. These are temporary, and the doll comes with its own tattoo gun. That's even more awesome.

This is causing much consternation among parents, mainly because parents obviously have no control over their children and can't say, "Guess what? You're not getting one, because that's horrible." If you have a problem with it, don't buy it. Jeez, people, you control the purse strings, don't you?

The doll is selling like hot cakes, apparently, and Mattel has no plans to pull it. So somebody likes the damned things! And why do hot cakes sell so well, anyway?

Happy Birthday, Barbie!

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The quality of friendship

I'm not sure why I thought of this. A friend of mine just had a birthday, and two others' are coming up, so maybe that's it. Or maybe it's something else!

I don't hang out with friends very often. I moved away from Pennsylvania in 1993, leaving behind my childhood and/or college friends. I lived in Oregon for eight years, during which I made many friends, but then I moved away from there as well. Since I have lived in Arizona, I've made some more friends, but once you have children, it's far more difficult to hang out with anyone. But I still love my friends, even though I hardly ever see them. But then there's Facebook, which I don't really like but allows me to see what's up with some people I rarely see.

But what makes a friend? I have some friends with whom I have been close for decades. These are childhood friends and high school friends. Obviously, none of them live in Phoenix, so I don't see them that often. I would love to see them more often, but of course I'm probably not moving back to Pennsylvania anytime soon in this economy. Back in June, when I visited my parents, I saw some friends from high school who I hadn't seen since graduation. I loved seeing them, and I feel like we reconnected with them. Do they still count as friends? I consider them so, even if I've missed the past 20 years. Seeing them, however, made the years fall away, and it was like no time had passed. I'm sure that's not a unique sensation, but there it is. These are the people you can say absolutely anything to, because you've known them for so long and shared so much with them. I can send some of my friends an e-mail with the subject line "Have some!" and a body of "I sang with Aqueduct Pocket!" and they'll laugh and know exactly what I'm talking about. These are people that I did school projects with and made drunken videotapes with (well, I wasn't drunk, but someone may have been). They are people I will love forever.

Then, of course, there are the people I met once I left high school. Some are college friends, but I really didn't make a lot of friends in college. There's only three, actually, that I still keep in touch with, and I married one of those. I still correspond with one person I met in Australia, and I'm glad I still count her among my friends. When we moved to Portland, I met more people, and still consider many of them friends. Some of them were co-workers, but there were also people I met in conjunction with graduate school. I don't share the intimacy of a long-time friend with some of those friends, but I still think of them as dear friends. One, in particular, became friends with both Krys and I, and we miss her terribly (especially as she moved to England recently). Then, we moved to Arizona. I still have friends from when I worked, but it's been a while since I had a job, so I simply don't have as many people as I'm close to here. I consider Mia's home therapists friends, which again might sound odd, but they've been so intimately connected to our lives for so long that I don't think that's too much of a stretch. Perhaps they don't feel the same way, but that's okay.

In today's connected world, there are people on-line that, weirdly enough, I consider friends, even if we've never met. I know more about Roger, for instance, than many people I've met, because he updates his blog every day (man, I couldn't do that even when I first started blogging!) and shares a great deal about his life. I've actually met Tom and Tim and even eaten meals with both gentlemen, but I know them largely through their blogs. Are these people "friends"? Maybe they don't think so, but I think of them as such. Maybe that makes me strange. But I think of people I haven't seen in years and years as friends (the longest I've gone without seeing a friend, currently, is 17 years), so why not people I know only through the Internet?

My point is that friends appear very weirdly in life. Perhaps I consider more people friends than most and ought to think in terms of acquaintances (I have those, too). But I also love having friends. Krys has fewer than I do, and she has always said that she doesn't need as many as I do. I suppose that's true, but it's not like I need friends around me all the time, as I would think the fact that I live 2000 miles away from most of them proves. In today's world, it's even difficult to be friends with people even if you live close to them - so much takes precedent in life, and children really do take up a great deal of time. I don't know how often I'd see my friends if I lived near them - more than I do now, of course, but definitely not as often as I might expect. But that doesn't matter too much. What matters is that when I get the opportunities, I can reach out to a great many people and share my life, and they can share theirs without either of us worrying about embarrassment. I've gotten more sentimental in my dotage, but I've always been a bit that way when it comes to my friends. I love them all, and although I wish I could see them more often, I'm happy that we're still connected, even after all these years and across all these miles.

I'm not really sure what the point of this post was. Except that my friends should read my damned blog and leave comments. Sheesh, like they have lives or something!

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Dr. Seuss's birthday reminds of something

Theodor Geisel was born on 2 March 1904, so I missed it by a day. Mia's school is celebrating by decorating the halls with all sorts of Seussian propaganda. It's kind of neat. Anyway, Dr. Seuss's birthday reminded me of this, which I wrote on this blog three years ago. Man, remember when this blog didn't suck? Good times.

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What I've been reading

Dreamland by Kevin Baker. 1999, 519 pages, HarperCollins.

This sprawling book is magnificent, even though Baker doesn't quite pull it off as well as he could have. It's set in the early 20th century (1910, although Sigmund Freud's visit to New York, which is in the book, occurred in 1909), and tells the story of several people, both real and fictional, who cruised Manhattan and Coney Island that summer. Baker's eyes might be bigger than his stomach, but this is a marvelous ride, for the most part, and although it's a bloated book, it's never boring.

Baker wants to do several things in this book. He begins with Trick the Dwarf, a "freak" at Dreamland in Coney Island, telling a story. From there he delves into the past, and the framing device becomes the most problematic part of the book at the end. Trick tells a story about Esther and Kid Twist, the lovers at the heart of the book. Esther is a factory girl whose father, a rabbi, disapproves of women and who is bitter about much in life, including the fact that his congregation threw him out and he relies on his wife and daughter for income as well as the fact that his only son left to become a gangster. Kid Twist is a gangster, one who works, coincidentally, with Gyp the Blood, Esther's brother. Early on in the book Kid gets on Gyp's bad side and flees to Coney Island to hide out, which is where Trick comes to know him and where he spots Esther and falls in love with her.

Another story in the book deals with Tim Sullivan, a Tammany Hall politician, who attempts to navigate the halls of corruption at City Hall and the newly-empowered unions, which are trying to gain recognition. Meanwhile, Trick himself falls in love with a crazed woman who believes she is an empress, and he gets an entire city built to scale for her at Dreamland. Finally, Freud and Jung show up for Freud's only American visit. Baker weaves all of these plots together - Sullivan needs Gyp and Kid to take care of some dirty business for him; Esther's father begs his son to find out what Esther is up to, which dovetails with Gyp's search for Kid; Esther joins the union and spends some time in a horrid prison for daring to go out on strike. It's a seamless book, and it keeps you on your toes, pushing forward to somewhere tragic, you're sure, but you don't want to stop reading, such is the mastery Baker has with the prose itself.

The two main plotlines are Sullivan's and the love story of Esther and Kid. The others get resolved, of course, but those two are the focus. Sullivan wrestles with his conscience over a murder he and his boss want committed (the one that Gyp and Kid are supposed to effect), and when the union goes out and Sullivan is faced with the reality of the sweatshops and what it does to his innocent constituents, his mind starts to fracture. He begins to make amends, but as he does, we're wondering if it's too late. Meanwhile, the specter of Gyp the Blood hangs over Esther and Kid Twist, for different reasons. Esther fears her brother and finds out that her father is having her followed, while Kid Twist fears Gyp because of the rift between them. As they cling to summer at Coney Island, they realize that they can't live in suspended animation forever, and that sooner or later they'll be found. When they are, it doesn't turn into an action movie, but Baker does manage to build plenty of suspense as Gyp stalks them through Dreamland and everyone's dreams, including Trick's, come crashing down - in vastly different ways.

The ending is problematic for one reason, and that's the lack of a resolution. Trick narrates from a time in the future, and Baker uses the framing device to distance us from the principals, and it becomes more and more ambiguous as he speaks. This is frustrating on one level, because we've invested so much with these characters that we want to know how their stories end, but that's the point - we're hearing these stories through Trick, and therefore should realize that he's an unreliable narrator. Therefore, he allows us to create an ending, which ties back into the only somewhat superfluous part of the book - Freud's visit. Freud's dreams are ambiguous, subject only to his (and Jung's) interpretation, and nothing is resolved when they are brought out into the open. Baker doesn't need this section because the entire book is like that - dreams that the characters have cannot stand up to the scrutiny of reality, and therefore the ambiguous ending is Baker's way of forcing that brutal reality back into "dreamland," as it were, and therefore it becomes pregnant with possibilities once again and could morph into anything. While the ending might be frustrating, it's also hopeful, despite appearing bleak on the surface.

Dreamland is a marvelously dense novel, full of wonderful characters and fascinating plots. Baker evokes the time period beautifully, putting us right into the middle of New York, with all its glory and squalor. It's a gripping read, but a challenging one as well, and that's what we all want out of our fiction, isn't it?

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