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!


My wife thinks I'm odd

Now, this isn't news, of course, but it's why she said that I'm odd recently. Over the past few months I've been biting the inside of my lip. It's kind of a compulsion. This happens to me every once in a while - the inside of my lip becomes dryer and, well, biteable. I don't know why it happens; it doesn't seem to coincide with any kind of temperature, but it happens occasionally. When it does, I feel the need to bite my lip. I don't like to do it, but like I said, it's kind of a compulsion. It doesn't hurt at all, and it doesn't seem to cause any long-term damage to the inside of my lip. Then, last week, something happened and the inside of my lip is no longer that dry and therefore no longer biteable. In fact, I doubt if I could bite it without doing some damage. Again, I have no idea why this happens. Does my body chemistry change? Is it because of the weather? The temperature rose last week to triple digits, but then it went back down. It's still hot, but not the ridiculous heat we'll get later in the summer. Anyway, I'm not biting the inside of my lip anymore. Any ideas what happened?

This isn't a big physiological problem, but I find it interesting. I made the mistake of mentioning it to my lovely wife, who called me "odd." This is why my wife and I never speak to each other. It's best if we don't know what's going on in each others' minds.

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No naked hiking in Switzerland? It's an outrage!

Yes, a tiny canton in Switzerland has banned nude hiking, which has become popular among German nudists roaming the land. I don't really have a problem with banning it, but of course I don't really have a problem with people hiking naked either. I just wonder - wouldn't it hurt? I mean, you're out their on the trail, and even though you have hiking boots on, there are branches and bushes and whatnot all over the place. That can't be fun!

The citizens objected to coming across naked hikers unawares. I'd object to coming across Europeans who don't use deodorant and European women who don't shave their armpits. But I'm shallow that way!

So, if you were planning a naked hiking trip to the Swiss Alps ... DENIED! It appears the French don't yet have a problem with it, though, so hike away!

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Damned revisionist history!

Here's an interesting article about the Boston Tea Party and how it was different from what the modern-day Tea Party people (who were called "Teabaggers" by several newspeople who are apparently blissfully ignorant of what teabagging is) think it was. This is why conservatives bitching about "revisionist" history bugs me. I don't know if you subscribe to this dude's interpretation, but the fact is that he has a document that sheds new light on the protest, so people who think we know everything about the Boston Tea Party (to use just one example) are idiots. That's why we have "revisionist" history - it's ALL revisionist!

Anyway, that's a soapbox for another day. Go read the article. It's pretty keen.

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Why I ignore the news

I've been trying to keep my anger about certain things off the blog, because once I've gone over what makes me angry and what makes me happy, it's kind of pointless to keep bringing it up, right? Plus, it's not like I ignore the news, I just wish I could sometime. This week, unfortunately, has been kind of annoying.

1. Why are so many people more bent out of shape by the administration releasing memos acknowledging that we tortured than by the torture itself? I was arguing with Mia's PT this week about this (he's relatively conservative). He made the very good point that if Obama wants to release all the information that says we tortured, then he should be willing to release all the information that indicates what information we actually extracted from those we tortured. It's ironic that Chaney and Rove, the Masters of Misinformation, are calling for exactly that, probably so they can cover their asses by claiming that at least we thwarted some plots. That's perfectly reasonable. It still doesn't explain why conservatives, who claim to be for "freedom" and not necessarily "equality," don't think it's reprehensible that we did this. As I pointed out to Mia's PT, the hard core Al Qaida types have goals that are so beyond the realm of reality (like remaking the entire planet as a backward-looking Caliphate) that they don't really care if they get tortured. All it does, ultimately, is make our so-called ideals look foolish. Mia's PT pointed out that we had Founders who believed in the freedom of individuals, which is a good thing, because most people today would trade freedom for security in a heartbeat. At least we could have the guts to admit it.

2. Why was there such a kerfuffle over Miss California's answer to the question about gay marriage? The last time I checked, we had something in this country called freedom of speech, so why are people jumping all over her for answering something truthfully? From what I've read about it, Ms. Prejean didn't say she wanted to slaughter all homosexuals or that they are an abomination or they should be rounded up and kept in camps, she simply said that she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. The pageant people foolishly let out that it was the reason she didn't win, which is idiotic, as it's a beauty pageant. You can think Ms. Prejean was misguided all you want, but she doesn't make policy, so who cares what she thinks? Why is no one bagging on Perez Hilton, who asked a person who attends San Diego Christian College such a loaded question?

Ms. Prejean, by the way, is a wholesome young lady who happens to like posing in bikinis:

Let's not hold that against her!

3. Recently in Arizona there's been a huge debate over speed cameras, which snap photographs of speeding cars. People have reacted antagonistically, leading to several people (including me) to think, "Maybe you shouldn't speed." Mia's PT, ironically (or perhaps not) enough, believes the speed cameras are a violation of the law because the tickets are not given by a lawfully appointed officer, but that's neither here nor there. Obviously they're in place to collect money for the state, and with the state in the financial difficulties it's in, I don't have a big problem with what is essentially a tax on people who speed. Some people have taken axes to the cameras and placed Post-It notes over the aperture in protest, but earlier this week, some dude pulled up next to an officer who was checking the cameras and shot him three times, killing him. As horrible as that is, people on the Arizona Republic's web site defended the killing, wondering why they should feel bad for some fascist. These are, presumably, the same people who want to round up every swarthy person and ship them to Guatemala when one illegal immigrant kills a cop, but they were defending some guy murdering someone in cold blood just because they might have to pay $200 for going 77 mph in a 65 mph-zone. I know the Internet is all about the freedom of anonymity, but that still disgusts me. It's one of the reasons why I am so open about everything on the Internet. I will never register for a web site under a pseudonym. You know who I am! The murder saddens me, but the reaction of some disgusts me.

4. Not really newsworthy, but we had our first 100-degree (Fahrenheit) day here on Tuesday. GOOD FUCKING TIMES!!!! Of course, the only thing that makes summer bearable, the pool, isn't quite warm enough to swim in. But it's getting there! So for now, I'm trapped in the house until the temperature falls (which it's supposed to do this weekend). 102 degrees in April. People wonder why I hate it here.

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What I've been reading

There's a perfectly good reason I haven't been blogging recently - I've been reading! Yes, I've been caught up in some very good and very readable novels, and now I'm going to write about those novels! The two I've read in the past week are both set in the same time period and place (the first decade of the twentieth century, mostly in London), so I decided to review them together!

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes. 2005, Alfred A. Knopf, 388 pages.

Julian Barnes is a favorite writer of mine, so I tore into Arthur & George eagerly when I reached it in my queue. Barnes does a very good job creating interesting characters and excellent dialogue, and this book is no exception. The fact that he uses real characters doesn't mean he stops doing that!

Yes, Arthur and George in the book are real people. What's interesting about the book is that Barnes simply begins writing what appears to be two discrete biographies, one of Arthur, the other of George. He rarely uses dates early on the book, but we understand that both men are living in Victorian England, even if the dates don't match up perfectly. Early on, we start to realize that there's something off about George. His father, the vicar in Great Wyrley, teaches him strict Anglican morality, and George becomes a shy but respectful and intelligent young man. The first sign that things are not well with his family is when George discovers a small crime and is suspected of it by the police. Then the family begins to receive threatening letters, and the police believe George himself is writing them. We learn why this is so when a policeman makes George tell him his last name, even though he already knows it. George answers "Edalji," which is a Parsi name. George's father immigrated to England from Bombay and married a Scottish woman, making George a "half-caste." From that point in the book, it becomes obvious that the cops are targeting George because they're racist. It's fascinating how Barnes builds up to this moment, mainly because George considered himself an Englishman and never believed he was being discriminated against because of his race. The threatening letters stop, and George becomes a solicitor, because his belief in English law is so strong that he thinks it will overcome ugly prejudice. Years later, someone begins slashing horses, usually bleeding them out, and George falls under suspicion. Despite his innocence, he is convicted and spends three years in prison (1903-06). He's released early, but only through the efforts of the other character in the book is his sentence overturned.

The other character, Arthur, is slowly revealed to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his story is also interesting, although different in many ways from George's. Obviously, Arthur becomes famous for his fictional detective, but Barnes does a nice job showing how trapped he became by Holmes, which leads to him "killing him off" in the 1890s. Of course, he could never escape the detective, so he brought him back, but Barnes makes sure we understand that Arthur is bound by his creation, just as he's bound by his marriage, which becomes a burden to him as his wife slowly - very slowly - dies of consumption and Arthur falls in love but never allows the affair to progress out of respect for his wife. The love story between Arthur and Jean Leckie is famous because of Conan Doyle's fame, and Barnes does a good job showing that Arthur is as trapped, in many ways, as George is. The joint biography begins to blend as Arthur learns about George's case and becomes incensed that English justice was so badly mishandled, and the similarities between the two men become more evident. It also allows Barnes to show their differences as well - Arthur is convinced that racism lies at the heart of the case, while George refuses to admit it; Arthur's new interest in spiritualism (which would influence the rest of his life) clashes first with George's Anglicanism and then his atheism (he loses faith over the years); Arthur is, despite his protestations, a true English gentleman, in that he believes in a muscular "Christianity" (he's not a Christian, but his spiritualism takes its place), while George remains introverted. The two men don't exactly become bosom buddies, but the relationship is an interesting one, with respect on both sides.

Barnes does a fine job with the detective work, as Arthur takes up George's case after he's released but not exonerated. This gives Barnes a chance to contrast the two men even more, as Arthur believes he can find all the answers to the case, because that's the English way! As he investigates, he comes up with answers, enough to get George's conviction overturned, but not enough to get the Home Office to compensate him for wrongful conviction. However, he believes he has found all the answers, but George understands that the world is not as cut and dried as Arthur, or his fictional detective, thinks it is. It's nicely done - Arthur always looks for scientific proof for everything (including the existence of spirits who communicate with the living), while George has come to understand that some parts of life remain unexplained. It's a nice contrast.

The Edalji case led to the establishment of a Court of Appeals in England, so it has a great deal of importance in English jurisprudence. Barnes ends his book with Arthur's death in 1930 (George died in 1953), which gives him a perfect opportunity to contrast the two men one more time. It's a fine novel, full of wonderful insight into how people live and why they believe the things they do, as well as a good yarn about a miscarriage of justice. It's a perfect example of why Barnes is such a good writer. He never goes bombastic on us, but the themes he explores speak to the heart of what it means to be human. That's pretty handy!

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes. 2007, HarperCollins, 353 pages.

The other book I finished last week takes place during the same time as Arthur & George, but it's much more fantastical. The Somnambulist begins with a bizarre murder, as a man is lured into an anachronistic tower in one of London's slum neighborhoods and then falls out of a window at the top when a strange creature approaches him. When another man dies in the same way, the police call on Edward Moon, a illusionist of some fame in the past who now has a smaller following and a more cynical view of life. He is accompanied in his show by the title character, a mute giant whose big part in the act is taking swords through his body without bleeding. A police inspector wants Moon to take the case, but Moon resists for some time, until he realizes something very strange is going on, and only he can puzzle it out. He and the Somnambulist begin to investigate.

The story takes a while to get going, as it reads early on like a litany of odd supernatural clichés that the author finds cool. There's a weird brothel with unusual prostitutes, there's a group of gypsies, among whom hides a key to the mystery, and there's Moon and the Somnambulist themselves, conjurers who also solve crimes. Barnes eventually gets on the right track and the mystery itself takes off, but he takes a while to find his footing. If you haven't become inured to such clichés, the early parts of the book might work for you. As a comic book reader, however, the first 100 pages or so, while quite gripping, also had a "been-there-done-that" feel to them. But the book gets more interesting as it goes along.

Moon uncovers an insidious plot to, well, destroy London. I really can't go into it too much, because the plot is rather interesting and comes from an odd set of ideas which are fun to read about. Moon gets recruited by a shadowy government organization (aren't they all?), while he tries to get his semi-estranged sister to snoop around and find out what she can. As the plot thickens, new players show up, each more bizarre than the rest. Harker and Boon, for instance, are wonderfully depraved characters who show up late but have an important role to play. Moon meets Thomas Cribb, who lives backward through time and can never leave the city limits. Cribb tries to warn him of the impending disaster (he's not allowed to come right out and tell him what it is), but Moon often ignores him. Finally, the cataclysm arrives, and Barnes does a nice job with the resolution of the story, bringing together several plot threads rather logically.

The biggest problem with the book is that Barnes leaves several ancillary things unanswered. One could argue that such is the nature of life, where we pass by odd things but receive no answers because we have more important things to worry about. That's certainly true, but The Somnambulist bears little resemblance to real life. It's a penny dreadful, and while it's entertaining, Barnes manipulates the events so that they are completely unrealistic. So why does he leave us with so many unanswered questions? The title character, for instance, never sleepwalks, so why does he have the name? There's a hint of a different world that the Somnambulist inhabits, and it's actually an interesting idea, but it comes very late in the book and is developed not at all, so it seems pointless. Moon's career as a detective came to halt, people inform us, after an incident at Clapham. Barnes, however, never tells us what that incident was. Thomas Cribb speaks of "rules" about his presence, but he remains a secondary character, and we never understand why he's living backward or who set up the rules. Nor do we ever learn the significance of the bust of Lud, the first king of London, which is dug up by archaeologists at one point in the narrative. I get that this is a book with very little time or interest in character development, but Barnes breaks Chekhov's rule about showing a gun in the first act so often it becomes a bit annoying. One skein unexamined I could live with, but Barnes does it quite often, and it's vexing. I haven't read Barnes' latest novel, The Domino Men, but I hope he's sorted that writing tic out, because the main story of The Somnambulist is quite entertaining.

All right, I'll try to stop reading so much and blog more. But isn't reading fundamental?

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A night out in Cardiff, Wales

This is a nifty little photo set. Yes, it's often vulgar, with plenty of people mooning the camera, but it has a seedy charm to it. Check it out!

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What I've been reading

Abarat by Clive Barker. 2002, 419 pages, Joanna Cotler Books.

There's one thing that's really annoying about Abarat: Barker has planned it as a series of FIVE books, only the first two of which have actually appeared. I'm not a big fan of long series (trilogies are about all I can deal with), unless the author is concentrating solely on the books (like J. K. Rowling did). Barker isn't, so who knows when this will ever be continued.

That's too bad, because this is a fine fantasy novel, although I'm not sure that it's too appropriate for children (it's published by HarperCollins' children's imprint). For the most part, it's fine, but there are some really disturbing parts. Teenagers will be fine with this, but I'm not sure how much younger kids should be when they read this. But it's a good book nevertheless, as Barker gives us a standard set-up, a Minnesota girl who is out of place in the world, so she runs away and finds another one. Candy Quackenbush feels trapped in Chickentown, and one day she finds out that the town has a stranger history than she thought. Because everyone in town is focused on chickens (the town's claim to fame), they aren't interested in the secret history, so Candy runs away. Out on the prairie, she meets John Mischief and his brothers (who are heads on his antlers), who are on the run from a man called Mendelson Shape. Mischief implores Candy to activate an ancient lighthouse (which, incongruously, was built in the middle of the waterless plain), and when she does, an ocean appears. Candy and John Mischief jump into the water, and Candy is swept away to the Abarat.

The Abarat is an archipelago of 25 main islands, 24 of which are a different hour of the day (and always that hour). The 25th is a mysterious place that no one ever visits. Candy becomes embroiled in an adventure that sees her visit different islands while trying to escape Shape, who is working for Christopher Carrion, the Lord of Midnight. As she meets the odd characters who inhabit the Abarat, it becomes clear that she's far more important than she realized. Eventually, she makes her way to the 25th Hour, where she learns some important facts about her predicament. Of course, this comes near the end of the book, and the implications of what she learns will be felt throughout the rest of the series.

Barker takes a rather simplistic framework and populates it with wonderful characters, from the John brothers (each of the heads is also named John), Shape, and Carrion to Samuel Klepp, who produces an "almenak," Kaspar Wolfswinkel, who lives in a dome surrounded by intelligent cat-like creatures, Malingo, who lives in Wolfswinkel's house, and Jimothi, the leader of the tarrie-cats. There's also Rojo Pixler, the ultimate entrepreneur of the Abarat. These characters are vibrant and alive, and Barker does a fantastic job making their weirdness a strength, as Candy quickly realizes that she's the outsider despite being the most "normal." In stories like this, that's often the most difficult thing - making the outsider seem truly like an outsider, because as the human, we identify with her. The bizarre creatures that live in the Abarat become the "normal" ones, and we feel as off-kilter as Candy.

The basic premise of the book is simply to introduce Candy and the reader to the Abarat, even though Barker does give us the beginnings of more than one complex plot. The underlying theme seems to be a critique of rampant capitalism, which would disappoint me, given that it's a time-worn theme and Barker, after all, publishes books for a major publishing house. He does a nice job contrasting the two main villains in the book, however (Carrion, obviously, is one, but there's another one, too). He sets up a situation where Carrion may or may not be the biggest threat to Candy, and it's an intriguing idea. Of course, we'll have to wait for the rest of the series to find out where he's going with this.

I wish I could recommend Abarat unequivocally. It's a nice book, filled with odd paintings (by Barker himself) that bring the weird world to life. It's a frustrating reading experience, however, because of the fact that it's incomplete. I can recommend it if you don't mind waiting for years until Barker finishes the series, however. If that's your thing. I'll probably go get the second book just to see if the quality has kept up. It would be nice to see this finish before too long. That's not too much to ask, right?

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Legislation I can't get behind!

It's not American legislation, thankfully. It still turns my stomach.

A new Afghan law makes it legal for me to rape their wives. Yes, you read that right.

The law - which some lawmakers say was never debated in parliament - is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shiite community, which makes up about 20 percent of this country of 30 million people. The law does not affect Afghan Sunnis.

Well, that's nice. I guess Sunnis have no desire to rape their wives. Or maybe it's already legal for them to do so!

One of the most controversial articles stipulates the wife "is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires."

"As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," Article 132 of the law says. "Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."

That seems fair, right?

Sayed Hossain Alemi Balkhi, a Shiite lawmaker involved in drafting it, defended the legislation saying it gives more rights to women than even Britain or the United States does. He said the law makes women safer and ensures the husband is obliged to provide for her.


Egads, this is just sad. I know that there are cultures like this, but it just upsets me whenever I think about it. I know that the U. S. can't necessarily throw stones too much, but legislating rape is just disgusting. And even the lawmaker who was involved in drafting it just doesn't get it. He sounds like the kind of guy who, in this country 150 years ago, would have said that the slave laws "ensure the owner is obliged to protect his property."

I very much doubt if any of this will change in my lifetime. But we can hope, right?

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