Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Monday Quiz VIII

Historical Events in Paintings

The last quiz of 2007!

1. What river? And why?

2. Where?

3. What's going on? (serious extra credit for the name of the painting.)

4. What just happened to this dude? What's the historical context?

5. Who's the painter? What historical event is the painting about? (and, for another shot at extra credit, what is the name of the painting?)

Submit your answers in the comments.

And then check out my quilt, if you didn't already.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

And What Have YOU Been Doing for the Last Three Years?

I finished a pretty big quilt project last week. It's called Ice and Fire. If you for some reason want the excruciating details, they are over on the quilt blog, here. If you just want to tell me how bitchin' it looks, that's fine too.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Thursday Quiz XVII

But soft! What light in yonder window breaks? It's

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is, as always, a "Is It or Isn't It" game. From the list of twelve items, your job is to determine whether each IS or ISN'T a true example of the week's category.

Remember always that which befalleth the unrighteous:
No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will owe a pound of flesh.
This Week's Category requires you to distinguish between a hawk and a handsaw! So to speak!

Shakespearean Quotation

Some of these are quotations from the plays of Shakespeare. Since having the "wrong" answers be quotations from "The Simpsons" turned out to be too easy, they will actually be from the King James Bible. So: the Bard, or the Bible?

1. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

2. Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

3. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

4. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

5. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof; now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.

6. If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me.

7. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.

8. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.

9. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it soon cut off, and we fly away.

10. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.

11. What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

12. Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.

Submit thee thine answers in the form of a comment.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Break 2007

As the snow drifts down, gently burying the City of Roses in deep blankets of white, with the clop-clop-clopping of horses' hooves and the merry laughter of children drifting up from the street outside Castle5000; as each and every one of us looks deep within our hearts and find that we believe in Santa Claus after all -- unless we happen to be over the age of five -- it is time for the L&TM5K to put its feet up and start enjoying the winter holidays.

No Monday Quiz this week; we'll be back for the last Thursday Quiz of 2007 on the 27th.

In the meantime, have safe travels and an extremely Merry Christmas. Those of you who are afficianados of "the Sweet Science," have a lovely Boxing Day. If you happen to play football for Arizona State University, I will be in the unusual position of rooting for you during the Holiday Bowl, as you are both representin' the Pac-10 and playing Texas. To a lesser extent, Go Boise State and Purdue as well.

Those of you who, for reasons of religious conviction or lack thereof, or problematic family dynamics, or personal protest against the juggernaut of late capitalism, or sheer apathy, are "not into the Christmas thing" -- you guys all have a Very Merry Tuesday!

One thing we can all agree on. Today has six seconds more daylight than did yesterday (at 46 degrees North Latitude -- adjust as necessary per your locality). That is a fine thing. A fine, fine thing. Anyone reading this in the Southern Hemisphere: go ahead, laugh. Laugh to your heart's content. We'll see who's crying in three months.

Friday, December 21, 2007

An Open Letter to ChuckDaddy

December 21, 2007

Dear ChuckDaddy,

Greetings and best wishes to you this holiday season. I hope that you and Mrs. ChuckDaddy are enjoying your first Christmastime with the adoreable BabyChuckDaddy, and that all is happy and peaceful in your lovely home.

Speaking of BabyChuckDaddy, it has now been three months since the joyful occasion of your son's birth. Now, I am sure you still feel quite "busy," maybe even "overwhelmed," by the various things that a new parent has to learn and do in order to keep a baby safe, healthy, and happy. Doubtless, you aren't getting the kind of sleep you used to!

However, it is also important to remember that parenthood is no excuse for foregoing one's responsibility to the larger community. Think of Julius Caeser, George Washington, Thomas Edison -- where would we be today if these great men of history had said, "no, I can't make my contribution, I'm too exhausted by my parenting?" Likely we would all be speaking Russian.

Back when you started the ChuckDaddyXpress, remember, you weren't just writing whatever popped into your head about random things that struck your interest. You were also making a pact with a readership. A pact that said that you would provide quirky observations and opinions for them to read, in return for which they would shoot off their mouths in your comments.

ChuckDaddy, the time has come for me to remind you of that commitment. You've taken some time to get your child off to a good start, and we all understand that. But three months have gone by. Your paternity leave is over. It is time to return to your duties.

All of us here at The Life & Times of Michael5000 look forward to hearing your accumulated thoughts, opinions, anecdotes, and (with any luck) statistical analyses of your new life as a father. We stand ready to welcome you back to the blogosphere. ChuckDaddy, your readers await you. We know you will not let us down.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

In which michael5000 dishes some hate on "Hooters."

I was delighted to notice last week that the "Hooters" on my route to work has gone out of business. Business failure doesn't usually give me that warm, happy rush of schadenfreude, but for Hooters I'm glad to make an exception.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no puritan. I've got no problem with people strutting their sexuality. Regarding the Hooters namesake, I've got no problem with large breasts, or the appreciation of large breasts. Like, whatever.

What I do have a problem with is disingenuity, and the whole Hooters concept is nothing if not disingenuous. The basic business model -- hiring friendly young women on the intensity of their smiles and the volume of their boobs, and having them serve food in, basically, underwear -- has always attracted notice from people with the crazy notion that this sort of thing might somehow reduce women to a crude sexualized cartoon. The Hooters response has remained quite consistent over the years: their critics are killjoy fuddy-duddies who just don't get the joke. Too serious! Lighten up!

It's amazing how effective this line of defense has been, considering the obvious flaw in its reasoning: there's no joke to not get. I mean, sure, the IDEA of a restaurant staffed exclusively by big-boobed young women might have been kinda funny; there was a Seinfeld episode that explored the concept if memory serves. But when you take that idea and start writing a business plan, the laughter dies down a few sentences into the first paragraph. A restaurant chain is a money-making enterprise. To claim that the hundreds of thousands of hours of work put in by executives, financial professionals, attorneys, graphic designers, managerial staff, kitchen staff, and of course the attractive young female shock troops -- to claim that all of that maintains the spirit of a "joke" is absurd on the face of it. Defending the enterprise as some sort of elaborate performance art installation, a revolutionary comment on the place of boobs in modern society, is just asinine. It's radically disingenuous.

Moreover, it's OBVIOUSLY disingenuous. Whether or not you buy the idea that the Hooters business plan is demeaning to women, for its owners to respond by saying "you just don't get the joke" is not addressing the critique. It is merely insulting the critics. It is a gloating sneer of a reply from people in power who feel no responsibility to respond to or even really acknowledge the concerns of the community in which they operate.

And really, that's no way to behave. Their parents should have taught them better. To laugh in the face of those who criticize you corrodes the basic civility that holds a culture together. So it's this that has always pissed me off about Hooters, much more than the two-bit T & A reality of the place, which is just kind of adolescent and tacky.

So farewell, Montavilla neighborhood Hooters! It makes me happy that you couldn't turn a profit here. Wouldn't it be grand to see a more socially valuable enterprise taking your place between Stark and Washington? But who am I kidding. Doubtless we'll get another payday loansharkery, or maybe a strip club. Still, even that would be an improvement in my book. I’m not crazy about strip clubs, but they are usually pretty honest about what they are.

The Thursday Quiz XVI

Always at the forefront of the advance of culture, it's

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is, as always, a "Is It or Isn't It" game. From the list of twelve items, your job is to determine whether each IS or ISN'T a true example of the week's category.

Remember always the limitation placed on your power by the Magna Carta:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will be sent to the Inquisition.
This Week's Category will make you feel all sophisticated and European!

Great Events in Western Civilization

All of these sound like pretty major events. The question is, which ones actually happened?

1. The Fourth Crusade (1381) -- Heeding the call of Pope Charles III, a motley band of European knights and their feudal armies brutally sack the "infidel" city of Carthage, then make the destruction permanent by ploughing salt into its fields so that crops can never grow there again.

2. The Apex of Lithuanian Might (1410) -- The Grand Dutchy of Lithuania reaches its greatest extent. Stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, it is one of the largest empires in the contemporary world and the dominant power in Eastern Europe.

3. Henry the Navigator (reigned 1490-1533) -- Intrigued by fishermen's tales of lands to the west, Henry directs a program of colonization of the new world. His vision of a Portuguese empire in the West is largely realized in his lifetime, with Sao Paulo the capital of a small but thriving Brazil colony.

4. The Diet of Wurms (1521) -- Martin Luther is taken to task by the Holy Roman Emperor for rocking the religious boat. He sneaks off afterwards, and the Emperor loses interest and turns his attention to other matters, confident that this Protestantism thing will never really catch on.

5. The Unification of Italy (1555) -- Lorenzo de Medici defeats the Kingdom of Naples to finally unite the Italian peninsula (except for the Vatican) under a single crown. The ensuing political stability leads to the Renaissance, with its massive advances in science, art, and engineering.

6. King of Night Vision, King of Insight (c. 1610) -- Galileo uses the newly-invented telescope, excellent note taking skills, and outside-the-box thinking to overturn Ptolemy's conception of an Earth-centered universe. Copernicus and Kepler will go on to finish the job.

7. The Defenestration of Prague (1618) -- Protestant officials hurl two visiting Catholic dignitaries out of an upstairs window into a pile of manure. They survive the fall, but the event triggers the Thirty Year's War, which would directly or indirectly kill about a fifth of the German population.

8. The Battle of London (1666) -- Cannon are used for the first time in European warfare. They level the great city walls, sparking the Great Fire of London and winning the War of the Roses for the Lancastrians.

9. The Glorious Revolution (1688) -- The English Parliament invites the chief executive of the Dutch Republic to replace King James II, who is just too darn Catholic for their taste. The result of this coup is basically decades of peace and prosperity for the English, except of course for the Catholic English. The Irish get a raw deal too.

10. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire (1721) -- After surviving for centuries after the sack of Rome, the eastern half of the Roman empire finally collapses in the wake of the catastrophic Crimean War. The brave but foolhardy "Charge of the Light Brigade" completely fails to avert defeat.

11. The War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) -- Every country in Europe, pretty much, takes up arms in a grinding series of campaigns and battles, ostensibly over the question of whether a woman can be Holy Roman Emporer. After eight years of abundant bloodshed, the status quo is more or less upheld.

12. The Construction of Versailles (1916) -- German forces, triumphant in the early years of World War I, humiliate and bankrupt France by constructing this incredibly opulent headquarters for their occupying forces.

Submit your answers in the form of a comment. Du kannst nicht anders.

Monday, December 17, 2007

How to Be Knowledgeable

People often say to me, "Gosh, michael5000, you are so knowledgeable! What is your secret?"

Well, I'll tell you: It's the "random article" button on Wikipedia. That's my secret.

You see, the problem with most educational systems like "books" and "schools" is that they want you to concentrate on one specific subject for an extended period of time. Why, that's practically a recipe for narrow-mindedness! By using the random article button, on the other hand, you glean a completely unbiased sample of information from the whole of human knowledge. The lush fields of learning are yours to graze, free from fences or walls or so-called "teachers."

No wonkish overspecialization for you. Not with the random article button. Nope, with the button you are guaranteed the most wide-ranging of liberal educations.

Here, I'll show you! Come with me on my daily tour of ten random gems of knowledge! Who knows what we'll learn!! It's an intellectual treasure hunt, but we need no map. The random button will guide us. We'll list our discoveries below.

Here goes!!!

1. There is some local politician in India.
2. There's a town in Germany.
3. The Dutch are really organized about their recycling. They have different color collection boxes for different materials.
4. There's a little town in Norway.
5. There's a little town in Pennsylvania.
6. There's a big cruise ship.
7. When it was a British colony, Kuwait used British stamps overprinted with the word "Kuwait" and local postage rates. Since independence, it has printed its own stamps, except for the year when it was occupied by Iraq.
8. "The telecom sector in bangladesh is emerging fast."
9. There's some British sit-com that has holiday specials.
10. There's this incredibly minor actor guy.

OK, that really sucked. It's usually more interesting than that. Let's try again!

1. The German Euro coins don't look different enough from each other for my taste. But I didn't even know that the European countries all mint their own Euros. I guess I just thought they would all gush forth from some featureless building in Brussels or something. So look, I learned something interesting!
2. There's a language called "Baraposi" on the Indonesian part of New Guinea. It has about 1000 speakers.
3. Uruguay stopped fielding a national cricket team after World War II, but they are thinking about getting back into it now.
4. There's this Phillipino soap opera.
5. There are various people named "George Buckley"
6. The unfortunately acronymed "SSS," or State Security Service, is Nigeria's federal police. They are perhaps not as much of a spooky instrument of repression as their predecessor organization was, but you wouldn't necessarily want to run into them in a dark alley. Particularly if you had been writing material critical of the Nigerian government. (Just kidding, guys! Love ya!)
7. "Gee-Bee," a 1978 videogame, was designed by the same guy who would later produce "Pac-Man." It's incredible how crude those old games look now, when you remember how ultra-sleek they looked back in the day.
8. There's this Canadian actress.
9. There was a minor British movie.
10. "The Scunthorpe Problem" is a droll term for the tendency of computer filters to disallow legitimate documents containing sequences of letters that spell out, or are similar to, naughty words. The term comes from the British town of Scunthorpe, which is frequently nailed by Email and internet filters due to the unfortunate word lurking within its first syllable. There are many other amusing examples as well.

See, now wasn't that better? So, by just following that link ten times a day, you can harness this deep well of learning for yourself! Me, I do it during boring phone calls at work! Or you could play Random Wikipedia Poker -- each player "draws" ten articles, and the one with the more interesting hand wins. The possibilities are limitless. And in no time you'll be as knowledgeable as michael5000.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Monday Quiz VII -- a Beethoven-Free Post

The Monday Quiz VII

Movie Images

All five questions are the same this week: What movie is this image from? Witty remarks or in-jokes demonstrating your familiarity and appreciation of the movies in question will not help your case. They are nevertheless encouraged.




5. Note: If more than three people are able to identify all five films, exclamation points will be issued only to those who give the full, complete name of this last one.

Submit your answers in the comments.

"Special" Holiday Offer!

All of the big-name blogs I read are shilling books culled from their content this season, so I says to myself, I says, "Michael5000, it's time to cash in on your success!"

Just kidding. Actually, I thought it would be fun to print out the quizzes in a crude book format as a stocking gift for Dad5000, who likes a good quiz but who as far as I know steers clear of The Life and Times. I'm calling it, uh, Michael5000’s Big Book of Quizzes. And you can get your hands on a copy of this fine volume for the low, low price of.... heh, just kidding again, of course. It's free if anybody wants it. Just let me know, I'll Email you the file.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Beethoven's Birthday!!

Sunday -- Beethoven's Birthday!!
Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
"Few musicians would assert that the Ninth is the greatest of all symphonies, that it is the summit of Beethoven's achievement, perhaps not even that it is his finest symphony or, in any altogether personal way, their own favorite. Yet we treat it as though we did in fact believe all these things." -- Michael Steinberg, The Symphony
The Ninth is a towering achievement of the human musical literature. That being said, you are not necessarily gonna like it. If you are a new classical listener, and have dragged yourself all the way to the finish line of this Beethoven's Birthday celebration, you are going to be treated to a whole new set of sounds at the end of the titanic Ninth.

There's a choir.

Actually, it's not the choir that's gonna get you; it's the soprano soloists. People of "our age group," by which I mean people currently living, have a deeply ingrained bias against the sound of the female classical voice, so you shouldn't necessarily expect to groove on it the first time through.

But no worries, there is a LOT of the Ninth before you ever get to the choir. Most of it is big, crashing, stormy Beethoven at his grandest scale. Current or former fans of German heavy metal, take note: this is where the blast, volume, and frankly the pomposity of your chosen genre was born.

There are all sorts of narratives about what each section of the Ninth "means," and what Beethoven "meant" by opening the final movement with a pastiche of themes from the earlier movements, before trotting the famous "Ode to Joy" theme. All of these narrative serve mostly to dampen one's enjoyment of the music, and I suggest you ignore them. Beethoven's personal convictions about fate, freedom, and the heroic struggle of the individual are all fine and good, but they are very much early 19th Century ideas. Passe. Never mind all that. Just listen.

I hope you have enjoyed this musical odyssey. We now return to our usual programing. Have a safe and sane Beethoven's Birthday!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Party Like it's Beethoven's Birthday Eve!

Rating The Beethoven
An Arguably Vacuous but Kinda Fun Exercise in Classical Music Appreciation

In yesterday's comments, Rex Parker volunteered his personal ranking of the Beethoven Symphonies: 3, 6, 7, 5, 9, 1, 8, 4, 2.

Well, it doesn't take much to set me off, and I ended up spending far too much of Friday afternoon considering this very weighty issue. It didn't take me too long just to rank the symphonies. What got me thinking, though, was how my favorite symphonies by other composers compare to my Beethoven rankings. It's a way of illustrating what I've always kind of suspected: although other individual symphonies can certainly hold their own among the Beethoven works, no other composer can really compete across the board. Not in the symphony department, anyway.

Here's how my rankings go. The comparisons, by the way, are only with other 19th Century symphonists. 20th Century music is kind of a different deal.

Beethoven's Sixth (Pastorale)
The Sixth is basically in a three-way tie for my favorite symphony, along with Mahler's First (the "Titan") and Sibelius' Second. If I could never hear any of these three symphonies again, it would be a tangible blow to my quality of life.

Beethoven's Seventh.
There's a three-way tie for second, too. The Seventh is tied with Dvorak's Seventh and Sibelius' Fifth. I do like Sibelius awfully much, but after running even with Beethoven in the top two, my third-favorite Sibelius, the Sixth, won't even crack this list.

Beethoven's Ninth

After the Ninth comes my favorite Mozart symphony, the 40th, and my favorite Tchaikovsky, the 5th. Also probably my second-favorite Dvorak, the 9th or "New World." But again, my third-favorite Dvorak won't make this list.

Beethoven's Fourth

My favorite Haydn, the 82nd ("The Bear") goes about here. Schubert's 9th ("the Great") too.

Beethoven's Third ("Eroica")

Mendelsohn's Fourth

Beethoven's Eighth

Brahms' Second

Beethoven's Fifth

My second favorite Mahler, the Fourth.

Beethoven's First

Beethoven's Second

Schumann's Third ("Rhenish")

Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."

Alright, that's more than enough of that game. You see my point: Beethoven's B-game is as good or better than the A-game of most of the great masters. If any of y'all want to throw in your own Beethoven rankings, it would provide some amusement for this numbers-oriented blogger. No pressure.


Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday
Beethoven's Eighth Symphony

There's an olde tradition that the odd-numbered Beethoven symphonies are the serious, stormy ones, and the even-numbered symphonies are the more lighthearted ones. This idea has survived generations of students of the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th saying "no, no, they're ALL very serious!" for the simple reason that, well, it's obviously true.

Where the Second was just generally good-natured, the Fourth wove joyfulness out of chaos, and the Sixth was a sun-soaked (if briefly rain-drenched) romp in the country, the eighth is a happy evening at the town dance. From its happy opening theme through to the end, it has a strong pulse and infectious melodies.

I used to dislike the Eighth. It didn't sound Beethoven-y enough for me; its brilliant, pleasing sounds seem a little more in the Mozart/Haydn spectrum. Well, I wasn't alone. The story goes that a contemporary asked Beethoven why the Seventh was so much more popular than the Eighth. Beethoven's typically contrarian response: "Because the Eighth is so much better."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Bachelor Vignette / Beethoven, Day 7

Ten years ago in The Life and Times of Michael5000....

So, it's late 1997, and I'm teaching at a small Midwestern university, and I'm dating a brooding, neurotic colleague from over in Modern Languages. Neither of us are very happy. We do not communicate well.

On this particular night, however, things have been reasonably pleasant. We've had a nice dinner, and we are moving on to the only available nightlife in this city where our careers have landed us, a city which, despite being very small, is still quite dull for its size. It's going to be a great night. We are going to rent a video.

Now it just so happens that most of the employees of the video store have taken classes from Dr.5000, and they have been, shall we say, underachievers. The quality of their work has not allowed me to give them the grades they had hoped for. So as we enter the store, I quietly share a confidence with my girlfriend. "I've flunked everybody who works here," I warn her, "so we might catch some glares."

So we go in the store, and we start looking at movies, but I quickly realize that the emotional temperature has dropped. Precipitously. I'm getting one-word answers to questions. She's avoiding eye contact, she's tight-lipped, she's standing a careful four feet from me, and if I suggest a title she spits out "Sure. Whatever." Clearly, I'm in trouble for some damned thing or other, but I have no idea of what it is.

We come to some sort of tense agreement about what we're going to watch, and get in line to pay. The hostility is palpable, but in a fit of optimism I decide I'll try one last time for a pretense of normal, cheerful conversation. Gesturing towards one of the cashiers, I confide "To be fair, that one is actually really smart. She just never turned in her term paper."

"Oh!" exclaims my girlfriend. There is a sudden thaw. A broad smile dawns across her face. "Oh!" she says. "You FLUNKED them!!!"


Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday
Beethoven's Seventh Symphony

The Seventh is another favorite. It has a very distinctive beginning that, I'm told, is very difficult for an orchestra to get right. Everybody has to hit that first note hard, together, and then get right off of it so that the quiet little woodwind line is clear. After a minute or so, this alternation between crashing all-orchestra punctuation and lilting song-line morphs into an aggressive Beethoven melody of rising arpeggios, and we're off to the races.

It stays good all the way through. I won't beat it to death with description, not on a Friday. Drschnell says that there's a great cello duet in there somewhere, so that's what I'll be listening for.

Have a great Beethoven's Weekend!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Thursday Quiz XV / Beethoven, Day 6

Run for your life! It's

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is, as always, a "Is It or Isn't It" game. From the list of twelve items, your job is to determine whether each IS or ISN'T a true example of the week's category.

Remember always the Spirit of Christmas:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will lose their power of speech.
This Week's Category will be the talk around town!

Languages With the Greatest Numbers of Speakers

OK, here's how this one works: All of the following are major world languages. Some of them, though, are in the ten languages with the greatest number of native speakers. The others aren't even in the top twenty-five. Which are the ones in the top ten?

1. Afrikaans
2. Amharic
3. Bengali
4. German
5. Indonesian
6. Japanese
7. Persian
8. Portuguese
9. Serbo-Croatian
10. Somali
11. Spanish
12. Zulu

Submit your answers in a linguistic form.


Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's Sixth Symphony ("Pastorale")

Borssom, Landscape with Cows and Sheep Mmm... Beethoven's Sixth. The "Pastorale." For me, listening to Beethoven's Sixth is as refreshing and comforting as the spring day out in the country that it is intended to recreate.

The happiest and most joyful of Beethoven's works (the turbulance of the profound depression he was feeling around this time must have been channeled into the Fifth), the Sixth is also one of the most revolutionary. It breaks the rigid frame of the Classical symphony in two ways. First, it has five movements! Whoa. Since a Classical audience knew exactly what to expect from each of the four traditional divisions of a symphony -- theme & development, a slow bit, a dance, a rousing conclusion -- tacking on a fifth was really messing with their heads. Secondly, the music is programatic, setting out to describe specific events and moods in music. Most symphonies have movements with titles like "Allegro Moderato"; Beethoven's Sixth has movements with titles like "Upon the Arrival of Pleasant Thoughts While A'Riding in the Fields."

What's not to love? Well, the usual criticism of the Sixth would likely be that it is twee, intellectually lightweight, pretty. Well, I'm an intellectual lightweight who likes purty things. And I do love me some Beethoven's Sixth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Beethoven, Day F - F - F - Fiiiiive!

Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

Now we come to the Fifth, of which michael5000 makes the following sober assessment: "Overrated! Overrated!" Don't get me wrong, it's a fine piece of music, and I'm usually surprised by how much I like it when I give it a chance. But it hardly deserves to be the best known piece of classical music in the entire literature, the only one that any third grader (and many college graduates) can da-da-da-dum as their solitary scrap of knowledge about their musical heritage.

Well. That da-da-da-dum hammers out the Morse Code for V, and that stands for Victory, and that rhymes with.... Sorry, lost my chain of thought. The British thought it would be jolly to subvert the great German composer against his own people during World War II -- which was fair enough, as his people had empowered a expansionist totalitarian terror-state -- and in so doing burned the first few bars of this symphony into our collective consciousness for the next several generations.

The Fifth is, to my ears, more conservative than either the Third or the Fourth, but it does have its share of yummy treats. The first movement is a good place to observe how Beethoven does his most characteristic trick, the spinning out vast swathes of music from little, tiny germinal ideas. That da-da-da-dum isn't much in and of itself, but almost everything that goes on in the first movement sprouts out of it, which is a neat trick. This is also, if memory serves, one of the first symphonies in which the different movements start talkin' to each other -- where material from earlier movements is quoted and developed in later movements. The effect is to tie the piece more tightly together into a coherent whole.

The Fifth is good music. It's got a lot of thunder and expressive energy. It's not my favorite Beethoven, but that's like saying burritos aren't my favorite Mexican food. It doesn't mean I'm going to say no to a burrito.

See you tommorow, for my very favorite Beethoven symphony, and my very favorite weekly quiz of general knowledge.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Beethoven, Day Four

Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's Fourth Symphony

[The"Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday" concept.]
Except for the first two symphonies, which are generally considered something of a warm-up exercise, the Fourth is the one that gets the least airplay. I think that's too bad. I like the Fourth. My favorite part is the introduction, which gradually assembles itself out of a sort of musical mist until, several minutes in, a full-fledged theme finally presents itself. It's rollicking and joyful and worth the wait.

Beethoven's Fourth certainly isn't the only piece of music to gradually coalesce out of a quiet, murky beginning, but it's the earliest I can think of by several decades (except for one of the piano concertos -- number four, maybe? -- by, well, Beethoven). Mahler's First Symphony has a similar game plan, and it's interesting to listen to the openings of B-4 and M-1 back to back, as the one clearly informs the other. But Mahler is writing, what, 75 years later? That's a measure of how far Beethoven is ahead of the curve. (Copland's Appalachian Spring, a different kind of piece but one that assembles itself in the same general way, was written in the 1930s.)

Here's a side note for you first-time classical listeners -- do you put on a symphony, attend for the first 30 seconds, and then find your mind wandering and eventually just get on with your day with the music playing in the background? It's nothing to feel bad about. I could probably count on one hand the times I've really, truly attended to a symphony all the way through, and I've been listening to this stuff for 30 years. If you're just starting out, best to just let the sounds sink in for a while. If you are struggling but determined, just listen to the first movements and call it a day. That's where an awful lot of the action is anyway.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Monday Quiz VI / Beethoven, Day Three

The Monday Quiz VI
Album Covers of the 1980s

1. This record (with the band name blocked out) has two distinctions: it is the first rock album I ever owned, and it has one of the worst covers of all time. Where did the band who recorded this album come from?

2. The band, the album name, and at least two radio hits.

3. Three great albums. Who is the band?

4. What is the band and the name of the album?

5. Both of these album covers were painted by the same American folk artist. Who was it?

Either record your answers in the form of a pop song and send them to me as an .mp3, or leave them in the comments.

I'm Famous!! I'm Famous!!!

Many thanks to frequent commentor "d" for the shout-out in his "mishaps, mayhem and merriment." Made my weekend, it did.

This is as Dark as it Gets, in a Way

I'm happy to inform you that today, Monday the 10th, has the earliest sunset of the year! From here on out, you are only going to have more light after work.
Now, some of you are saying, like "Dude! No way! Solstice is on the 21st." And indeed you are correct. As the sunset starts getting a tiny bit later every day, the sunrise is still getting a minute or two later for a few more weeks. The later sunrise will outpace the later sunset until the 21st, after which the sunrise will be getting later faster than the sunset, and the net length of daylight will start to grow again. By around New Year's Day, we'll have the latest sunrise, after which the day will get longer on both ends.

Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's Third Symphony (The "Eroica")

OK, think of Beethoven like you think of the Beatles. Both were producing their music during a period of extremely rapid social change. The body of work left by both shows an incredibly rapid evolution, reflecting the pace of that change. Both were of course highly influential, as well, helping to push forward the changes that were happening in contemporary music.

If you've been following along with this project, you've still got the sounds of the First and Second bouncing around in your head. You're going to immediately notice that the Third is bigger, louder, much longer, and with much more extreme contrasts of tone and mood. The famous opening melody seems straightforward for a few seconds, and then wanders off in an odd direction that no one at the time would have expected. These quirks will probably seem quite noticeable to you; to the listeners of 1804, it simply blew their classical Vienese minds. Some of 'em loved it, some hated it, but everybody recognized it as really crazy stuff. This music was radically new. If the Second was Beethoven's "I Want to Hold Your Hand" -- a successful but reasonably conservative incarnation of contemporary music trends -- the Third is more of an Abbey Road sort of deal.

Think of when the Third was written. The French Revolution has overthrown the ancien regime. You've had the Terror with its mass executions, and then a charismatic Napolean Bonaparte seemed to have ushered in a post-monarchist utopia, but then he crowned himself emporer and things got ugly. Politically and socially, Europe is writhing through the most extreme kind of social change. That's what it behind these crazy new sounds.

Apparently Beethoven originally dedicated the Third to Napolean, but then tore up the title page in a rage when he declared himself emporer. The old order is falling apart; Beethoven's Third ushers in the new.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Beethoven, Day Two / Cloud Atlas

Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's Second Symphony

Like Beethoven's First, the Second is reasonably standard classicism -- but again, it's got some edge to it that you're not going to find in Mozart and Haydn. The Second is probably Beethoven's least listened to symphony, so they are only going to get more familiar -- and memorable -- from here.

This brings up an interesting thing about Beethoven, though. All the other famous composers wrote their share of hits, but plenty of competant-but-unremarkable stuff as well -- album-filler, basically -- to keep themselves in chamberpots, waistcoats, and pianoforte strings. Beethoven pretty much just wrote hits. Just a tiny fraction of Bach's vast output receives regular attention today, and even Mozart only wrote about 10 really interesting symphonies among his 41. Almost everything Beethoven ever wrote, by contrast, is still in the classical music equivalent of heavy rotation. Kind of amazing, if you think about it.

So although the Second is the least listened-to Beethoven symphony, it's not exactly OBSCURE either. It shouldn't be. It's good. Beethoven continued to push the envelope with the length of the Second, the size of its orchestra, the "violence" of his sounds (much remarked in his day), and the contrasts between the loud and quiet bits. Pay attention to the third movement in particular. In historically accurate readings it's all fine and good, but some less finicky conductors will really let it rock out. Hopefully you'll get one of those.

Book News

As certain readers occasionally see fit to remind me, I am working on an extremely rigorous self-assigned reading list. Except only in theory.

What is really happening is that I've been stalled about halfway through the first book on the list for, oh, months. Which is why it was particularly painful last night when Mrs.5000, with a triumphant expression on her face, put down her book and announced that Molly Bloom had finally got to sleep. Yep. Mrs.5000 finished Ulysses. And congratulations to her.

Why, you might ask, is Mrs.5000 quietly ploughing her way through grueling literature when I, after all the noisy fanfare, am not? Well for one thing, I'm sure that regular readers will have figured out that Mrs.5000 is basically the brains of the outfit. My role in our partnership is largely to lift heavy things and to handle the long-distance driving. (Not that we are slaves to gender roles. I also do the mending.) But other things have got in the way too. This blog, for instance. A big family reunion. The advent of quilting season. The college football season. The competing "Great Movies" project. The Christmas Season. And of course the pernicious time-suck that is "Scrabulous."

One other thing, though, is that when I launched the reading list project I had eight or nine books already on reserve at the library, and they didn't stop coming just because I was trying to get a purchase in Dostievsky. And a library book, you know, has to be read on deadline. So, to a certain extent I've spent the last four months clearing the decks.

The last of this series of Books From the Time Before arrived two weeks ago, and I am close to finished with it. Now, I know that it is irresponsibly risky to recommend a book before you've finished it -- what if it has a crap ending? -- but I have to say, I've been loving David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. And I think that you -- that's right, dear reader, you -- would like it too. It's a modern novel, told in a unique voice through chapters that vary their form in an intricate pattern, the parts cohering through a system that is not apparent until you have seen the whole. OK, until you have seen much of the whole. Basically, it's Ulysses. Except it's a great read.

I can't tell you more than that. Also, you shouldn't read anything about it, not even the blurb on the back. Just grab it next time you're at the library, and read it raw. It's really good.

See you tomorrow for the Eroica!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Beethoven, Day One / The Stupidly Difficult Map Quiz

Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's First Symphony

To our ears, Beethoven's freshman effort sounds like a better-than-average but fairly typical example of standard Classical-era (late 18th Century, more or less) fare. To hear it now, it could be late Mozart, who Beethoven admired. Or it could be Haydn, who was briefly Beethoven's composition tutor until he found out that young Ludwig was turning in pieces that he had written years earlier as his homework.

But even here at the beginning, Beethoven shows us his sassy side. That sequence of chords that opens the first movement sounds pretty tame to us, but apparently their lack of an obvious tonal center was pretty edgy stuff in 1800 Vienna. Also, this symphony is quite a bit longer than most Haydn/Mozart fare. Eventually, Beethoven is going to stretch the symphonic form to as much as three times its traditional length, and he's creeping in that direction right from the get-go. He's self-indulgent, but he's also got a lot of musical ideas to develop. In Beethoven, you'll never find much that feels like filler.

Happy Listening!

michael5000 presents:
The Stupidly Difficult Map Quiz

Sure, anybody can look at an outline map and identify the popular and distinctively-shaped countries like Chile, Sweden, the United States of America, and Uzbekistan. But it takes a real map stud to identify the obscure, shapeless nations. Are you up to the challenge? Come on! Let's see what you've got!










As should be obvious, this falls more under the category of malicious prank than bona fide quiz. I'm just messin' with ya. If anybody could get a significant number of these, with or without an atlas, I'd be pretty damned impressed. But surely you have better things to do?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Holiday Event Involving Ludwig van Beethoven

[Right: Castle5000 in
its holiday splendor]

The L&TM5K invites you to join in an annual holiday tradition -- the Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday! That's right, in the nine days leading up to birthday of the great musical prophet of romanticism and individualism, we'll be listening to his nine symphonies in order. We'll be celebrating art, music, freedom, passion, innovation, tradition, and the really cool noises that can be made by several dozen professional musicians all jamming out simultaneously.

C'mon! It'll be fun! And it all starts on Saturday.


Q: But I have no interest in classical music.
A: Well, that's fair. But maybe you could cultivate an interest? You're an educated person, you're clearly capable of appreciating things that require some attention and patience. It's not like you are going to be lying there on your deathbed thinking, "man, I sure wish I hadn't ever given classical music a chance."

Q: Beethoven is just another dead white European male representative of an exploitative, oppressive cultural hegemony. We should throw off our chains!
A: Indisputably. On the other hand, there's a reason some of this stuff still attracts attention 200 years later. It's incredibly well crafted. It's got a lot of emotional power for a lot of people. It sounds really cool. Might just rock your world.

Q: I don't have time for this sort of thing.
A: And yet you read blogs?

Q: This is stupid.
A: Arguably.

Q: Why symphonies?
A: Well, we're way too late to count down the 32 piano sonatas. Some years I do the five piano concerti. But this year I'm in a symphony mood.

Q: I don't happen to have copies of the Beethoven symphonies on hand.
A: A common problem! Fortunately, our modern age offers many solutions. Unfortunately, an easy-to-find and legal place to download or stream the symphonies for free does not appear to be one of them. I tried.
  • Most readers live in cities with many RECORD STORES. There are many discount classical labels, and you usually get two symphonies on a CD, so this would not be at all exorbitant. I particularly recommend the NAXOS label, on which you could probably get all of the symphonies for around $25.
  • Your local LIBRARY will let you borrow 'em for free.
  • I'm sure ITUNES could hook you up. Or,
  • You could do like michael5000 and join EMUSIC. In fact, you could take advantage of the Emusic "50 free downloads" trial offer, download the 37 movements of the nine symphonies, and have enough tracks left over to snag an old Mountain Goats album. (In fact you could do this, tell them michael5000 sent you, and score me 50 free downloads too. But that's not what this is all about.)
  • You could use devious internet trickses that kind of defy intellectual property laws.
However you're going to do it, you better get on it. We're starting with Beethoven's First tomorrow!

Q: Do you really think anyone's going to do this?
A: Oh, probably not. Maybe a few people will do a few of the days?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Thursday Quiz XIV

From beautiful Portland, Oregon, City of Roses, it's the internet's most debonair weekly quiz of general knowledge! It's

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is, as always, a "Is It or Isn't It" game. From the list of twelve items, your job is to determine whether each IS or ISN'T a true example of the week's category.

Remember always the one thing that you are not licenced to do:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will be dispatched in a highly creative fashion after a long, gloating, expository speech.
This Week's Category is by Her Majesty's special request!

James Bond Movies

1. From Russia with Love
2. The Killing Touch
3. Live and Let Die
4. The Living Daylights
5. The Purloined Letter
6. Thunderball
7. To Have and Have Not
8. A Touch of Evil
9. Up the Down Staircase
10. A View to a Kill
11. What Happened at Midnight
12. You Only Live Twice

Submit your answers in the form of a comment, in a suave, urbane, and unruffled -- but deadly -- fashion.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Holiday Story Involving Robyn Hitchcock

The holiday season has arrived, and it's time to get merry for the great annual celebrations of family, friendship, and consumer excess. Saturday evening found Mrs.5000 and myself decking the proverbial halls. Holding off on the exterior lights because of the predicted Great Storm of 2007 (a bit of a disappointment, frankly) we were otherwise wholeheartedly getting our yule on, assembling and then trimming the "tree" to a lovely soundtrack of carols and seasonal songs. Nice.
[Right: The "Tree"]

I'm not sure what made me think to check the calendar, but after I did I came back downstairs to herald, as it were, an abrupt change of mood. "Remember how we got tickets to Robyn Hitchcock?" I asked. "Well, that show is coming right up. In fact, it's in half an hour." Nimble and spontaneous despite our advanced years, we promptly started down the aging hipster's pre-show checklist, finding shoes with the best possible arch support and so on. Then, off to the Doug Fir.

Robyn Hitchcock is the elder statesman of a whole genre of punkish, folkish, absurdist rock music, and he clearly relishes that role. Now, it can't really be said that he brought his "A" game on Saturday. He ran into trouble with each of his first three songs, then stopped the show to scold somebody in front for talking. Still, Robyn Hitchcock's "B" game is better than many a lesser band's perfect execution, and when he followed the rocky start with an absolutely glowing rendition of the lovely "No, I Don't Remember Guildford," he would have won me back even if he had lost me in the first place.

[Right: We Had Fun]

For most of the show, Hitchcock -- whose stage persona and musical muse are equal measures Bob Dylan and Zaphod Beeblebrox -- was backed by his alt-80s supergroup, the Venus 3. I'm not sure if any of these guys really need the money; even if they do, it is clear that they thoroughly enjoy playing music for an appreciative small-club audience. When I grow up, I want to be just like that. The surreal encore medley took the cake: a transition from a rave-up reading of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" to, of all things, the Doors' "The End," the latter performed absolutely straight-faced even in its most ridiculous aspects ("The killer woke before dawn.... and he put his boots on!").

We were by the stairs, and Peter Buck (of R.E.M., also one of the Venus 3), who I regarded as a figure of nearly divine status during my undergraduate years, kept brushing by us as he came and went during the opening act (one Sean Nelson, who was quite good). Towards the end of the show, I noticed that Decemberist Colin Meloy was standing immediately behind Mrs.5000. In younger life, all of this rock and roll made physically incarnate would have sent me into a swoon. Now, it just made me think, "Wow, I'll have to put this in the blog."

Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Monday Quiz V

Scientific Processes

1. What is this a model of?
(a very short answer will suffice.)

2. What process is represented in this diagram?
(the single-word term is worth a full point; without that term, a narrative description is worth half a point.)

3. What process is represented in this diagram?
(the single-word term is worth a full point; without that term, a narrative description is worth half a point.)

4. How will the right-hand side of this mountain be different from the left-hand side?

5. What process is represented in this diagram?
(the single-word term is worth a full point; without that term, a narrative description is worth half a point.)