Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Thirteen: 2 Samuel

I decided to take the holidays off from dealing with any of that religion stuff. You know, just like Americans do. Not that I really care. Anyway, here's the second half of the story of David, one of the more interesting and dynamic heroes of the Old Testament. We left off with Saul and Jonathan getting killed in a battle with the Amalekites.

Chapter One
So, Saul’s dead. A survivor of the battle tells David about it, and he mourns, composing a funeral song.

Chapter Two
God sends David to Hebron, where he is anointed King of Judah. Some guy named Abner proclaims Ishbaal, another of Saul’s sons, King of Israel. There’s some kind of bizarre, odd, too convoluted to describe sword ritual, and Abner flees, pursued by Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, who serve David. Abner kills Asahel.

Chapter Three
War, of course, with David’s side winning. David has six children by six different women in Hebron. After a confrontation with Ishbaal, Abner decides to defect to David. David demands that Abner bring him his first wife, Michal, and he does. But Joab convinces David that Abner is a spy, so Joab murders Abner and David proclaims his kingdom “guiltless” in the treachery. But he does denounce Joab to God in private.

Chapter Four
As is typical for this sort of legend, some guys behead Ishbaal in his sleep and David has them put to death for their betrayal. Try to help some people…

Chapter Five
At 30 years old, David is now the King of Israel and Judah. He celebrates by taking even more wives and concubines, fucking up a storm, and having a ton more children. Dude knows how to celebrate, I must say. David then defeats the Philistines. Again.

Chapter Six
David takes the Ark of the Covenant back, and God gets all kill-crazy because a priest called Uzzah touches the Ark (because it almost fell off an ox’s back—I’m sure the falling would’ve pissed God off, too; you can’t win with this guy, I think he just loves to kill). God murders the guy, and David actually gets pissed off at God for doing it. He doesn’t actually do anything about it, but at least David’s the first guy since Moses to actually get upset over God’s murderous tendencies. Michal is pissed, too, because she and all of Israel see David dancing naked in celebration of the return of the Ark to Jerusalem. David is affronted enough to stop fucking her, and she never has any children (and is never mentioned again, actually).

Chapter Seven
God promises David greatness; you know, the standard descendents, nation, etc. deal that God’s been selling since the beginning of time.

Chapter Eight
More war; David becomes the king of everything and a day.

Chapter Nine
To honor Jonathan, David restores Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, to the house of Saul, giving him all of Saul’s land and shit. David’s just the ginchiest.

Chapter Ten
King Nahash of the Ammonites dies, and David honors him with envoys of mourning. Nahash’s son, Hanun, attacks the envoys, assuming they’re spies. There’s a battle, natch.

Chapter Eleven
More war, simply because it’s spring, “the time when kings go out to battle,” and there’s nothing else to do. Actually, David does find something else to do; he stays in Jerusalem and voyeuristically watches this hot babe bathe herself on her rooftop (she was obviously begging for some peeping action). She’s the beautiful Bathsheba; he can’t resist her because she looks just like Monica Bellucci (hey, I’m interpreting, just like fundamentalists do), and they have a tryst that leaves her all knocked up. The Bible considers this adultery, but I’m not sure what that word even means when applied to a guy with so many other wives and concubines and private nurses and executive secretaries and such. Bathsheba’s really the adulteress here, it seems to me. When David discovers the pregnancy, he sends Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to war, placing him on the front lines so he’s killed pretty quickly. Then David and Bathsheba wed.

Chapter Twelve
As you can imagine, God’s pretty fucking pissed about this. He sends a prophet, Nathan, to convey this via a non-poetic, uninvolving, needlessly complex riddle (it seems to me that two words, “God’s pissed,” would’ve done…then again, he’s pissed so often, maybe clarifying helps). God lets David off with an apology, but to make up for it he stoically murders David and Bathsheba’s infant son. God’s such a badass, he’ll kill babies just to make things right on his fucked up moral scale. David has just enough time to re-impregnate the wife (with Solomon) before heading out for some nice relaxing battle.

Chapter Thirteen
David’s son Amnon falls in love with his virginal half-sister Tamar. Amnon goes through this elaborate ruse (including a fake illness) just to seduce his sister, and the whole thing ends up in rape. Typical guy, afterwards Amnon can’t stand the sight of Tamar and runs her out of his house. She goes to her full brother, Absalom, who complains to David. Typical father, David can’t see Amnon as anything other than completely wonderful and faultless, so Absalom stops talking to the rapist and plots his revenge. He manages to wait a full two years before murdering Amnon at a picnic. Then, just to teach his dad a lesson and be a dick, Absalom sends word back that all of David’s sons are dead. David is horror-struck, but the news that only Amnon died seems to calm him down (hey, it could have been worse). Absalom smartly goes into exile for three years, giving David time to calm down and get over his grief so that Absalom can come back.

Chapter Fourteen
Absalom and David make up with poorly-written, overlong dialogue.

Chapter Fifteen
Absalom makes himself popular in Israel, and ends up forging a conspiracy to usurp his father. David gets wind of it and evacuates Jerusalem along with his household.

Chapters Sixteen through Twenty-Four
David and his household flee while Absalom enters Jerusalem, is declared king, and then tries to decide whether or not to send assassins to murder his father. There is almost a battle, then Joab’s men find Absalom and kill him. David mourns his son for a number of verses. Then there’s a rebellion in Sheba, lots of war, a very long song of thanksgiving, and a roll call of David’s troops that seems a little excessive. God gets pissed about something or other; David begs forgiveness. God decides there’s just too many damn people milling about, and indulges in a little population control. Which, since this is God, means a mass murder of 70,000 with a pestilence. David builds an altar to appease God and sing him back to sleep.

That's not really an interesting ending for the story of David, is it? You know what you should read? Kyle Baker's excellent graphic novel King David, which is beautifully drawn and tells a much more exciting and emotional story than 1 Samuel does. And why is this 2 Samuel, anyway? Samuel's been dead a long time. Shouldn't this be the Book of Nathan or the Book of David, or seomthing? Anyway, be here next week as the story of Solomon begins in the First Book of Kings.

My New Year's Resolutions

Guided by the hand of Yasamin, I started playing with this random resolution generator. I thought it was funny because the first one sounded like something I would actually want to do.

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Reunite the Spice Girls.

Get your resolution here.

What, you're surprised I liked the Spice Girls?

Just for the hell of it, I decided to refresh the page and see what else I got.

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Bang the girl who lives next door.

Get your resolution here.

Change that to the married woman that lives one floor down on the opposite side, and I so already want to do that. Damn, this thing knows me! So, what the hell, I decided to refresh again, and here's what came out:

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Be more gangster than Snoop Dogg.

Get your resolution here.

Easily done. And then I got one more:

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Become a slut.

Get your resolution here.

Already on my way, my friend. Nicely done. Anything else?

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Make as many people hate me as I possibly can.

Get your resolution here.

Already on my way there, too.

After a few minutes, I looked at the code and realized that I could come up with all kinds of things, so here's what I made for myself:

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Reunite the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Get your resolution here.

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Win Anne Hathaway's hand in marriage.

Get your resolution here.

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Raise Cthulhu from his deep slumber.

Get your resolution here.

And just a little nod to Van Hammer from Lucifer Von Blackenstein:

In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Blow cigar smoke in the faces of babies.

Get your resolution here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Shh, It's a Secret

People getting drunk at New Year's parties? Yeah, never seen a drunk celebrity before. Tara Reid can't count? Yeah, like that's news. The Democrats in Congress? Still too early to call. Lindsay Lohan has appendicitis? Remember, honey, that excuse only gets you out of work once. No, I don't think I'll be doing a Throwdown this week what with the news being so slow and, well, average. I'll leave the celebrity gossip to other blogs, some who revel in that kind of thing more than I do, some who are merely pale imitations of my own. Besides, if you want more celebrity gossip than you know what to do with, you can look here.

As for me, I'm taking the day off from bitching about famous, rich assholes.

Fuck You Very Much for Linking Me

Well, we're still not done retrospecting over last year's crappiness, so here's some more lists for you. Cracked has a list of the 10 Most Dead People of 2006 by the great Peter Lynn (though, if I may say so, disappointed by the crack at Tori's just so easy and obvious). PopMatters considers the best of 2006 television. Tomthedog gives us his Year in Movies. The Last Visible Blog also has a best of 2006 post, and it's all stuff I want to see (pity about the Stephen Fry script). Deus Ex Malcontent give us a surprisingly accurate compilation of last year's biggest douchebags. The Onion A.V. Club has the annual list of the Least Essential Albums of the Year. Empire looks back on the best movies of the year. retroCRUSH focuses on the 100 Most Annoying Things About 2006. Sadly, the Pajiba picks for the worst movies of 2006 are predictably easy targets; no one has the balls to say Superman Returns and The Da Vinci Code sucked, I guess, but hey, calling Little Man bad sure is a safe opinion, isn't it? And finally (and most fun), No Smoking in the Skull Cave has up her list of the 100 Sexiest Women of 2006 (with pictures).

Not enough lists for you? Well, here's some random ones for you. Faded Youth lists the greatest gay icons ever, Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict counts off the lamest superheroes, and FilmJunk talks out the worst superhero costumes in the movies. In his discussion of The Fantastic Four, he somehow doesn't mention the fact that the maligned Roger Corman version is superior to the asinine Jessica Alba movie in every way (at least Corman understood the characters instead of making them assholes).

Speaking of movie stuff, Premiere has Guillermo del Toro's sketchbook for Pan's Labyrinth. My New Plaid Pants has a self-professed buttload of images from The Golden Compass, a book I haven't read, but I'm always in line for a fantasy movie (provided it doesn't look as shitty as Eragon, anyway). Fametracker has a funny post about the extras working on Apocalypto. Starpulse lets Ben Stiller talk just enough to prove, as if there was any doubt, that he's a fucking idiot. Turning Paramount's firing of Tom Cruise into a moral equation? Why is this talentless dick still famous, anyway? Especially when there's people like Claudia Christian being criminally underused. She's interviewed on retroCRUSH without making an idiot of herself. But she has class. I met her once and she was incredibly sweet. Even posed for a picture with me. If I weren't in it, it would be a great picture of Claudia. Ivanova is God!

The Messy Gourmet has some recipes up by my favorite celebrity cook, the Swedish Chef. The Gilded Moose takes the red pen to Courtney Love's list of New Year's resolutions (apparently learning to spell wasn't one of them). I Don't Like You in That Way says what must be said about Cameron Diaz, using words I will quote for years to come. Postmodern Barney has some examples of how men subtly create an image of woman in comic books. The Last Visible Blog has some info on the upcoming Doctor Who spin-off, Sarah Jane Adventures.

A year or so ago, I started putting David Bowie videos on my blog; now, thanks to Zaius Nation's handy post, I don't have to.

And the world is changing rapidly, I hope, since the Democratic Congress was sworn in. Darth Dubya has a sad and pathetic editorial directed at the Dems, and the Dems have a direct and long-hoped-for answer. Of course, The Rude Pundit has some good words about the whole debate, as well as an observation on Bush's shitting all over Europe's attempts to remain civilized. And Yahoo! News has a story about an objector who speaks for a lot of us (and may see prison because of it).

Need some videos to cheer you up? Well, Bosomania! has a gloriously NSFW video featuring a teddy bear getting the ride of his life from a girl for whom sexy doesn't begin to cover it, and No Smoking in the Skull Cave has a video of my pet rabbit.

Political commentary from Eric Idle: FUCK THE FCC.

Action Is My Reward

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

You are intelligent, witty, a bit geeky and have great power and responsibility.

Spider-Man: 85%; Green Lantern: 85%; Superman: 80%; Hulk: 70%; Batman: 65%; The Flash: 60%; Iron Man: 40%

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Thursday, January 04, 2007

TV Report: The Knights of Prosperity and Others

It’s hard to believe it’s just a few days after New Year’s and TV has already started up again. I guess since the winter holidays felt like a real non-event it’s nice to have regular viewing back as an option. I’ve been hitting the TV on DVD a lot lately, finishing up The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., starting up Dungeons & Dragons, and finally getting to see all 17 episodes of The Prisoner. Honestly, it could have been 10 or 12 of them, but most of the episodes were absolutely brilliant. Unlike, say, Lost, the mystery is enticing, and even if you never find out anything, the show works so well on its own premise that you really don’t care. It’s just utterly fascinating. I compare it to Lost not because I like to take any opportunity to mention how badly Lost disappoints me (although I do), but because it’s obvious going back to the classic 1966 British series that Lost rips it off pretty heavily. Seriously, at this point they should just have Patrick McGoohan show up as a crazed Number 6, living in the wilderness since, somehow, the Village collapsed and the Others are the only ones left.

I caught last night’s new sitcom, The Knights of Prosperity, mostly because I really like Donal Logue (I watched Grounded for Life through its entire run when it was originally on) and Sofia Vergara. But hey, can you blame me?
I enjoyed the hell out of it. Donal Logue plays Eugene Gurkin, a night janitor who is sick of the shitty cards life’s been dealing to him, so he gets together with a couple of his friends and decides he’s going to rob Mick Jagger’s New York City apartment. He doesn’t even struggle with the decision; the universe just parts and it all becomes crystal clear: “Let’s rob Mick Jagger.” I love the audacity and sheer stupidity of that right off. Rather than struggling to justify the over-the-top premise, it just dives right into it. And it’s actually very funny. Rather than the slickness of an Ocean’s Eleven, the Knights are an inept bunch who have no idea how to rob Mick Jagger, and no idea what kind of security they’re going up against. The first episode dealt with merely stealing the key to his apartment (which involved copying every key in the building), only for the viewer to discover that the key seems to be the most inessential part of Jagger’s security (which involves codes, guards, and a thumbprint ID scanner).

The supporting cast is just fucking funny. I love Kevin Michael Richardson (who will always be the voice of Lando on the animated Clerks to me), but the funniest guy on the show so far is Maz Jobrani. I’ve been noticing him in TV and film for a while now, and he finally has a role that can just show off how good he can be. After only one episode, I’ve already enjoyed The Knights of Prosperity more than entire seasons of some sitcoms. I hope they can keep up that level. And when it comes to making fun of oneself, Mick Jagger is (all evidence to the contrary) very, very good at it. I’m going to keep watching this one.

Favorite line: “I liked the bridges, and I thought Madison was a very good county.”

A month or so ago, I tried to watch Big Day, also on ABC. The premise of the show is actually a potentially good one: the entire series takes place on a young couple’s wedding day. The problem is, this show isn’t very good at squeezing anything but clich├ęs out of the premise: the bride’s father doesn’t like the groom, the bride’s parents are secretly unhappy, the groom has idiotic friends who don’t want him to get married, the bride’s ex-boyfriend shows up, etc. What the show really is, is a great advertisement for not getting married. Because the wedding really is kind of a shrill mess, isn’t it? Kids, don’t have a wedding, just go to City Hall and sign something. And don’t compromise on what you want, like these two assholes do. Actors I like that are wasted on the show: Kurt Fuller and Wendie Malick. And did Marla Sokoloff get a nose job, or is that just me? Because she looked cute, and now she looks…less cute.

And what the fuck was that game show Identity? I’m not really sick of the blue-lit, fake-pressure, overdramatic, no-stakes game shows, because I don’t watch any of them. I did watch this one because Penn Jilette hosted it, and he’s up there with Harlan Ellison and James Randi for me in the league of Great Skeptics. I love the guy. But I didn’t make it through the second episode of this very, very dumb series. It’s all based on judging people by their looks, but they made it so damn simple. “Hmm, could the guy in the yellow slicker and red helmet be a fireman?” Fucking stupid.

I’ve been hitting the TiVo to take advantage of the marathon season. I’ve been watching (finally) the 2005 series of Doctor Who. I just didn’t want to watch it on SCIFI (Farscape-cancelling bastards), so I’ve waited for it to come to BBC America. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was that interested in new adventures for the Doctor. But now I know that I was wrong, because this series has been great so far. This is honestly about as perfect a reimagining of Doctor Who as I could’ve asked for: some of the silliness is still there, true, but it is actually coming into the world aware that other modern science fiction series have changed the levels. People expect different things out of an SF series than they expected in the eighties, when Who was last on the air. It’s smart, it’s exciting, and it’s actually sexy.

The only pall over the whole thing is Christopher Eccleston. Not because he’s a bad Doctor. Actually, he’s bloody perfect as the Doctor. He’s sexy, he’s whimsical, he’s smart, and he’s brave. But there’s also more humanity to him; he can be desperate and angry, and he has an alien loneliness to him (much like Superman does) that makes him a character you can actually sympathize with. Not all the way, though. This Doctor really does feel like an alien you’ll never quite understand. More than ever, the companion is the entry point; Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler is the best companion in a long time (I was never an Ace fan), and it’s through her eyes that the strange adventures are experienced. Anyway, the problem with Eccleston’s ninth Doctor is that I know he only played the Doctor for one series. In the second series, it’s David Tennant, who doesn’t seem like my cup of tea, but I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see the damn thing. For now, I’m enjoying this. I love Eccleston’s portrayal, and I’m going to miss it. My favorite Doctor is William Hartnell (no one ever says that anymore, do they?), but Eccleston comes in at a nearly overlapping second. And the sixth episode, “Dalek,” is some of the best science fiction I have ever seen. It moved me to tears. No Dalek story ever needs to be told again.

The problem is the absolutely shitty schedule of BBC America. They’ve shown the first 6 of 13 episodes of this “first” series, and I can’t figure out when they’re going to show the other seven. This feels like what they did over the summer with Hex, just arbitrarily stopping it and claiming that’s an entire season. Thankfully, the series is out on DVD, so I’m just going to Netflix them and watch the whole thing. That way, I can get to the entire second series, which I already have waiting for me on TiVo thanks to SCIFI’s recent marathon.

And, because I’m just this side of gay (and believe me, once or twice I’ve been on that side), I TiVo’ed Oxygen’s marathon of The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency. I got involved in watching it on Monday morning, and I knew that Becca wouldn’t want to watch it all day (and we were going to finish off The Prisoner anyway), so I TiVo’ed the rest of it. It’s silly and irrelevant, but sometimes I end up watching these kinds of things with interest. I actually watched the series of The Surreal Life with Janice Dickinson on it (as well as the one after—is it weird that I’m sexually attracted to the pre-op Alexis Arquette?), and I like her. I know, I know, everyone’s supposed to hate her and shit, but I think she’s awesome. She’s one of those loud, strong, shit-kicking women who just does not give a fuck. Why would I not love that? I look at her with nothing less than total adoration. The second series starts on Wednesday, and I’m going to TiVo the whole thing so I can watch it all at once.

The coming weeks bring some more things I’m interested in. Living with Ed, the reality series about Ed Begley Jr., looks interesting to me (and having just watched the first season of St. Elsewhere and all of Arrested Development, a Christmas gift, I’m in the mood for some more Begley). Tonight, all of my NBC shows come back, plus Shark and my beloved Ugly Betty (Daniel and Sofia just HAVE to get together, dammit, as do Betty and Henry!). King of the Hill is coming back on the 28th. I skipped the new Beauty and the Geek, but I’m sure I’ll get hooked back into American Idol when it starts up on the 16th. The second series of Extras starts this month, as does Rome; it’s only two more months until Entourage returns, and barely a month to Real Time with Bill Maher. I’m kind of on pins and needles for Heroes to come back on the 22nd. The new season of South Park hits in March, and Penn & Teller: Bullshit! starts up again in April.

And Lost comes back in February. If it must… *sigh*

All this and the fucking O.C. finally got cancelled. See, who needs a life when you have good television?

The History of the Middle East

Part 8 in a series.

The Generals of Alexander

Alexander had no successor. All he left behind were a pregnant Bactrian wife, a mother who might have been crazy, and a half-brother who definitely was. He also left behind many generals, but that in itself was a problem—there were too many of them, each with their own strength and ambition.

Perdiccas took up the legitimist cause. He and others felt that the next ruler should be from the Macedonian royal family. He agreed to help Roxana rule as regent until Alexander’s unborn son could take the throne. Some of the generals saw this as an attempt by Perdiccas to make himself ruler. One of them, Ptolemy, declared Egypt independent and successfully defended it from Perdiccas. The failure to regain Egypt made Perdiccas unpopular, and in 321 BC he was assassinated by a conspiracy of officers led by the general Seleucus.

War ensued, and the empire crumbled under it. No one really wanted Babylonia, and in 312 BC they let Seleucus have it. The generals were Greeks; they wanted the territories in the west, prizing the Greek culture above the Persian. Even Ptolemy turned his capital, Alexandria, into a Greek city. The generals fought over Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece itself. But some of them shared Alexander’s dream. At the age of 75, in 306 BC, Antigonus took the title of king. The other generals immediately followed suit. The fact that the empire had broken up could no longer be ignored.

Seleucus’s realm encompassed Babylonia, the Aryan (Iranian) provinces, and Asia to the east as far as Alexander had gone. Seleucus also believed in Alexander’s dream of a united mankind. He encouraged colonization and actually remained popular with his subjects. He was sympathetic to the Babylonians and liked them; of all of Alexander’s generals, he was the only one who stayed married to the Persian wife he had been given. He and his successors tried to keep the Babylonian culture strong, once again making Uruk a major cultural center. Aramaic language was encouraged. But the Babylonians saw the appeal of Greek culture, and the Greek language became popular. Zoroastrianism went into decline. Tablet writing became obsolete as the Babylonians followed the Greeks in using papyrus. The world’s first written language, cuneiform, became functionally extinct. Even the city of Babylon faded into decline as a new capital, Seleucia, was built a mere 40 miles away. Like Alexandria, the new city was Greek. The last major event in Babylon’s history was the entry of Seleucus in 312 BC. The city would soon die. A priest of Marduk, called Berossus in Greek, wrote a history of Babylon in the Greek language. His three-volume work, like the city of which it tells, has been lost from history.

The Seleucid Empire

Seleucus himself began to look to the west. Perhaps if he had strengthened the east, he would have built up a functioning, powerful empire. But he, too, prized the rich western territories. He allied himself with the other kings for a military push that finally killed Antigonus at Ipsus in 301 BC. Seleucus won Syria; his realm finally touched the Mediterranean. He founded a western capital, Antiochea (or Antioch), named for his father Antiochus. With the taste for victory in his mouth, Seleucus pressed on. In 281 he defeated his fellow former general Lysimachus, killing him. He took all of Asia Minor and, now 71, was the only one of Alexander’s generals still living, a fact he took pleasure in. But a year later, marching to Macedonia, he was assassinated.

From here on out, the history of the Middle East devolves into a series of wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies of Egypt. In 246 BC, Ptolemy III occupied Seleucia, but did not try to keep it, not wanting to weaken his hold on Egypt. The war was enough to loosen the Seleucid hold on the far east. Not that the Seleucids cared; they wanted the Mediterranean. The furthest eastern province, Bactria (roughly modern Afghanistan, where Alexander’s wife had come from), declared itself independent under Diodotus. Parthia (modern northeastern Iran) proclaimed itself a kingdom under its governor Arshak (Greek Arsaces), who claimed descent from the old Achaemenid kings, specifically Artaxerxes II.

The Seleucids did not act on this challenge until 217 BC. Antiochus III was defeated in war by Ptolemy IV, and the furious king turned his eye eastward instead. He forced Bactria and Parthia back under Seleucid rule and suppressed other eastern rebellions, bringing the realm back together. By 204 BC, Antiochus returned to Seleucia as Antiochus the Great. In 200 BC, Ptolemy IV died; his son, Ptolemy V, was a child. Antiochus simply took Judea and parts of Asia Minor from Egypt, winning the entire Fertile Crescent for the Seleucid Empire.

But instead of strengthening the east, Antiochus made the same mistake his predecessors had made and got greedy for the west. The Seleucid kings simply could not see the potential greatness of their empire without conquering the west. Antiochus decided that the next prize would be Rome. It was a relatively new kingdom that had flourished quickly. Rome was already great in warfare; it had just completed the utter destruction of Carthage and was beginning to fight the Macedonian kingdoms. Antiochus marched against them, suffered major defeats, lost Asia Minor and was forced to pay Rome a huge indemnity. It was the end of Seleucid pretensions to greatness. Antiochus was killed in Elam by a mob, incensed at his attempt to loot temple gold to pay his debt to Rome.

Antiochus IV came to the throne in 175 BC and made it his mission to Hellenize his realm. The Jews were resistant, and Antiochus was only too willing to use force against them. This led to the Maccabean rebellion, and lost Judea for the Seleucid Empire. He successfully invaded Egypt and defeated Ptolemy VI, but when the Romans ordered him out he was forced to obey. The Jewish rebellion was too costly to put down. So Antiochus went east, intending to put down revolts there. But he died of tuberculosis in the Zagros Mountains. Bactria and Parthia were now permanently independent of the Seleucid Empire.

That empire itself was in a swift and total decline. Bactria was the last remaining center of Greek culture in Asia, pushing their influence even to India. But their influence wouldn’t last; they were too far away from the other Greek centers to survive. They soon succumbed to the sea of barbarism around them.

The future of the Middle East now lay with Parthia.

To be continued.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Scarlett Johansson can do no wrong for me. And in this movie, she does this:

Otherwise, it’s a * star movie. But I do love you, ScarJo.

I thought Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was genius. This movie doesn’t even come close. It has a couple of very funny moments, but most of them go on for far too long. Great supporting cast, though, and I think I’m in love with Amy Adams. Will Ferrell is very brave to put Sacha Baron Cohen in the movie, because Cohen is funnier than him by far. I was disappointed Cohen wasn’t in more of the film. Nice try, but no cigar. **1/2 stars. Tedious.

This one got turned off early. I can’t believe people are defending this piece of shit. No stars. Unwatchable and embarrassing and, as I predicted, the kind of movie that tries to make dumb people feel smart by making smart people feel dumb. Even National Treasure was better.

Terrible, but * star for the excellent soundtrack. It worked better as an album.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. It was produced by Dean Devlin, which I found fitting because it reminded me of StarGate: a movie I thought I was going to hate but was actually a lot of fun. Noah Wylie plays Flynn Carson, a perpetual graduate student who gets hired as the Librarian, a modern Indiana Jones type. It’s in the vein of The Mummy and The Phantom, and if that sounds good to you (and it should), this is a really neat movie. And Bob Newhart gets to kick some ass! ***1/2 stars. I’m glad someone still makes fun movies.

Great sequel to the first film, with an even better love interest for Flynn, Gabrielle Anwar as an archaeology grad student. The timing is great and the direction is pretty sharp, thanks to the underrated Jonathan Frakes (what can I say, I liked Thunderbirds). These are fun as hell, and they make nice bookends. I would have no problem seeing about four more of these. ***1/2 stars. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Health Report: Week 3

This was not a good week for me and my diet.

I was sick for nearly the entire week with a bad cold. Last Tuesday, I said I was craving Wendy's. And I had it, I totally caved on that one. I had a double cheeseburger with fries and a Coke. And it was fucking great, to have all that fat and grease again. It made me feel incredibly good. After that, you'd better believe I felt much, much better.

I tried to be good for the rest of the week, but when I get sick I don't feel like eating, and then I get voraciously hungry, which isn't a great way to live. On Wednesday, I ate too many tortillas, because the only other thing that I could really stomach was yogurt. I drank a lot of water and, on Thursday, tried to get back to eating on my schedule. By that point, I just ended up blowing off the week. I was not good about it at all. I didn't eat a lot of junk, but I didn't eat as often as I should have. I didn't have many vegetables, like I'm supposed to. I started to feel fuller than I was hoping I would. I started eating far too late in the day.

I felt bad about it, but when I'm sick, I just don't care. Actually, I'm still sick now, but I made it a point yesterday to get back on schedule. Not only that, but I started using my step machine again, so I could walk and work out. I always feel better after I do that, and thanks to that and eating right my energy level is back up. Now it's just a matter of not falling off the path again.

Becca decided to get me a good one yesterday. I was on this step machine for a while, and during that time I was seven feet tall. When I stepped off and walked around to cool down, I felt shorter. When I told Becca, she said: "You are shorter." I admit, I freaked out for a second. Why do I fall for that so easily?

Well, anyways, now I'm back on board and adding more walking to it, which helps a lot. I noticed that my sixe 2X shirts are hanging a little looser on me these days. I admit, though, I'm a little jealous of Becca, because she's been obviously losing weight faster than I have. She says I look like I've lost weight, but I'm still incredibly fat, and I wish I were losing it faster. I've read that every dieter reaches a level where they feel discouraged because they think they're not losing anything. And I guess I do feel like chucking it and just having a pizza. But I don't want to do that to myself. I'm resolved to see this through. I want to stick with it and get healthy.

Well, as healthy as a man with high blood pressure, acid reflux, and a hiatal hernia can get.

Because I believe that a man who looks like this...
...can look like this...

The History of the Middle East

Part 7 in a series.

Alexander the Great

The civil war between Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxes II revealed the inner weakness of the outwardly fearsome Persian Empire. Egypt revolted and regained a brief half-century of independence. The Greeks looked at the victorious march of the Ten Thousand and no longer feared Persia. For the next eight decades, Greek orators like Isocrates openly called for Greeks to unite against Persia; he and others hoped that such an undertaking would stop the city-states from warring against each other. But the Greeks missed their chance, and when Artaxerxes III peacefully ascended the throne in 358 BC, he was cruel about pulling the satrapies closer and brought Egypt back under direct rule. But he lasted only 20 years before being assassinated in 338 BC. Anarchy reigned for two years before Darius III could claim his throne. He was mild and had no interest in war. Unfortunately for him, others did.

Philip II had taken the throne of Macedonia in 359 BC. Macedonia was a highland Greek kingdom, looked down on and seen as unimportant by the major city-states. Philip would change that. He reorganized the finances and the army of Macedonia, making the chief industry of his kingdom warfare. His army was remarkably efficient, and by 338 BC he had forced all of the Greek cities under his single rule. In 336 BC, as Darius III was taking his throne, Philip was preparing an expedition to conquer the Persian Empire. And then Philip was assassinated.

The Greek cities rebelled. But Philip’s son, Alexander III, proved to be an even better leader and a more strategic warrior than his father. Alexander forced them to accept Macedonian rule once again, then marched his army to Asia Minor in 334 BC. His victories were immediate and absolute. He met Darius in battle at Issus, where the Persian army was so soundly defeated that Darius fled the field. From then on, Alexander despised Darius for such cowardice.

Alexander did not stop. He took Syria. He became the first person to successfully besiege and conquer Tyre. Judea submitted without a fight. So did Egypt. In 331 BC, Alexander had reached the Tigris and was marching towards the heart of Persia. Macedonia had pioneered the phalanx as a military maneuver, and it was proving to be unbeatable. Even with lesser numbers, the Greeks won battle after battle. Alexander’s strategy was superior. On 1 October 331 BC, Greeks and Persians met at Gaugamela, 18 miles northeast of the mound of Nineveh. Darius used chariots with scythed wheels. Alexander brushed them aside with arrows. He knew he was dealing with a coward and concentrated on breaking the center, where Darius was cowering. The gambit worked; the Persian emperor turned and fled. The Persians lost their morale and surrendered. Just as the Assyrian Empire had died at Nineveh, so the Persian Empire died just 18 miles to the southwest.

Alexander was welcomed as a hero at Babylon; they threw open the gates and cheered him in the streets. Babylon had been disheartened since the days of Xerxes; the Temple of Marduk still lay in ruins. Alexander, like Cyrus the Great before him, knew that the best way to win an empire was through making people happy and friendly. In Judea, he had shown great respect to the High Priest of Jerusalem, winning the love of the Jews. In Egypt, he had visited the Temple of Ammon, even though it was far out in the desert. Here, he ordered the Temple of Marduk rebuilt and put an end to the oppression of the Zoroastrians. He would brook no intolerance.

Alexander had won the people, but did not stay in Babylon long enough to see his work carried out. He moved on to Susa, and then Persepolis, where legend says he burned the palaces in revenge for Xerxes’s burning of Athens. He went to see the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae, then headed for Ecbatana, where Darius III was hiding. Darius fled again, but this time his courtiers decided they were done with his foolishness and murdered him, leaving him by the side of the road. Alexander was furious at this treachery towards a fellow king, but it was the last remnant of the Persian Empire. It was 330 BC, and what had once been the Persian Empire was now only a section of Alexander’s great realm.

Still, Alexander did not stop. He spent four years fighting barbarian tribes in the north and far east, winning every battle, though they were much harder (no coward kings there). He marched into the Indus River Valley, farther than any Persian had ever gone, and defeated the Indians there. He meant to keep going, to conquer the world, but his men had finally had enough. They refused to move on, so Alexander agreed to go back home. His generals hoped he meant Macedonia, but he returned to Babylon and chose to make that the seat of his empire.

It was 324 BC, and once again Babylon was the most important city in the world. Alexander chose it because it represented his vision of the world. It was neither Greek nor Persian, but something in between. It was exactly 1500 miles from the eastern border of his empire, and exactly 1500 miles from the west. Alexander wanted to unite all of mankind in such a way. He had married Roshanak (Greek Roxana), the daughter of a powerful chieftain of the eastern province of Bactria (the people were Aryan, that is Iranian), and forced his generals to also marry Persian women. He adopted Persian dress. He hoped to transplant entire populations, mixing the cultures and the people to make everyone a member of a single nation. There was to be no mastery of one people over another. Alexander hoped to make the entire world one; Babylon was near the Persian Gulf, and Alexander planned to sail to conquer Arabia, India, and whatever lay beyond.

It was bound to fail. Mankind was not ready for something so idealistic. Alexander himself grew ill and died in the early summer of 323 BC. He died on 13 June, only 33 years old. Alexandros Magnus; Alexander the Great.

The work of his life, his mighty empire, fell apart in an instant.

To be continued.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

This isn't a real holiday, I'm sorry. You played no part in the planet's odometer turning over again. Tomorrow: back to work. But for now, I hope your 2007 wishes come true. Enjoy your day off, America. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Second Annual Hot 50 List

Salma Hayek in her very sexy calendar. Posted by Picasa

It's kind of funny how I do these lists, actually. The Hot 50 list is the one that changes the most from year to year, just because I go by how much somebody has actually affected me in a calendar year rather than just ranking them from year to year. Here's the second year-ending objectification. The numbers in parantheses are the lady's rank from the year before.

1. Salma Hayek
2. Anne Hathaway (4)
3. Scarlett Johansson (24)
4. Charisma Carpenter
5. America Ferrera
6. Ashley Tisdale
7. Michelle Marsh (7)
8. Rosario Dawson (36)
9. Christina Aguilera (2)
10. Dita Von Teese (9)
11. Jennifer Hudson
12. Anneliese Van Der Pol (3)
13. Jessica Simpson (1)
14. Keeley Hazell
15. Aria Giovanni (19)
16. Gretchen Mol
17. Katie Price (6)
18. Diora Baird
19. Sophie Howard
20. Brenda Song
21. Jessica Biel
22. Ainett Stephens
23. Lucy Pinder (22)
24. Carla Gugino (41)
25. Heidi Klum
26. Katherine McPhee
27. Youko Matsugane
28. Sara Evans
29. Britney Spears (44)
30. Amanda Seyfried
31. Chloe Sevigny
32. Liv Tyler (12)
33. JoAnna Garcia (31)
34. Amanda Bynes
35. Nicole Sheridan
36. Saskia Howard
37. Kate Winslet (34)
38. Gwen Stefani (10)
39. Stormy Daniels
40. Michelle Rodriguez (42)
41. Milla Jovovich
42. Misty Mundae (33)
43. Jenny McCarthy (14)
44. Donna Feldman
45. Melyssa Ford
46. Vida Guerra
47. Yunjin Kim
48. Bai Ling (17)
49. Jennifer Ellison
50. Michelle Williams

If anyone's got an opinion, they're welcome to share it.

Song of the Week: "In the Future When All's Well"

There have been some real downs this year, so this seemed like an appropriate song for New Year's Eve. This is Morrissey, from his most recent album, Ringleader of the Tormentors. I thought it was underrated; come on, Tony Visconti doesn't produce bad albums. Best wishes for 2007, for all of us.