Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXV

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is an "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 you should never clap until the whole piece is finished. Also:
No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will find themselves on the cutting room floor.
This Week's Category will hit you like the crash of symbols and the blare of trumpets!

Famous Symphonies

Some of the following are genuine pieces of classical music. Some of them are not. Which are which?

1. Beethoven's 6th ("Pastoral")
2. Beethoven's 8th ("Eroica")
3. Beethoven's 12th ("Tragic")
4. Brahm's 9th ("Eternal")
5. Dvorak's 3rd ("New World")
6. Haydn's 94th ("Surprise")
7. Mahler's 1st ("Titan")
8. Mendelsohn's 28th ("Dutch")
9. Mozart's 6th ("Prague")
10. Mozart's 41st ("Jupiter")
11. Schumann's 3rd ("Unfinished")
12. Tchaikovsky's 6th ("Pathetique")

Express the sublime and glorious by posting your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ten Reckless Claims

1. I was the youngest person to ever serve as chairman of the Oregon Association of Fruit Growers.

2. I competed in "skeleton" at the Lillihammer Olympics, but failed to place.

3. I coined the word "twofer."

4. The Oregon State Court of Appeals has blocked my petition to have my last name legally changed to "5000."

5. I created the original version of "PowerPoint" for my own personal use, but lost the code to Bill Gates in a poker game.

6. I knew Julia Roberts when I was twelve at summer camp.

7. I cribbed my PhD dissertation word for word from a dissertation submitted a few years earlier at a different university -- and no one was ever the wiser.

8. I was going to be placed by the Peace Corps as Kim Jong-il's private English tutor, but the plan fell through three days before I was to arrive in Pyongyang.

9. I am good friends with Kevin Bacon's daughter.

10. I am in possession of several shockingly frank love letters that Abraham Lincoln sent my great-great-great-grandmother during his years in the White House. I see no point, however, in sullying the great man's reputation by selling or publishing them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kind of Seeing Mike Doughty

I'm not good with certain kinds of conflict. Most things I can let roll off my back pretty easily, but when someone is pointlessly rude to me, it bums me out for a long time. And so it is that, after an overzealous staffperson accused me and Mrs.5000 of trying to break into the Wonder Ballroom, I was completely unable to enjoy the show afterwards. Which really sucks, as I had been looking forward to seeing Mike Doughty for months.

I can provide some objective data. Doughty is touring with a highly talented band, of whom drummer Pete McNeal stood out as a dazzling and intrepid performer. Doughty is, as I have often heard, witty and charming with his stage banter, albeit oddly hostile to song requests. Most individual songs were performed with a harder edge than their studio versions and, oddly, were often pitched lower. On a couple of occasions, he stuck himself in a key so low that he clearly wasn't comfortable singing in it. How does that happen, I wonder.

All in all, though, the performances were strong and certainly sufficiently rocking. I'm sure I would have had a great time, if I could take conflict less seriously, or if the beligerant staffer dude had stayed on his meds.

The opening act, also featuring McNeil, was The Panderers, a very skilled trio in the general MidWestern school of John Mellencamp. They played fairly unremarkable songs about boys meeting, wanting, loving, losing, and/or resenting girls. Their main schtick -- pandering -- was a bit lost on the crowd, since we in the City of Roses are used to performers telling us we are lucky to live in the most beautiful city in the world, and most of us more or less agree with them. I think they might have been a little disconcerted when their over-the-top praise was met with a roar of approval instead of laughter.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Monday Quiz XXV

Critically-Acclaimed American Movies

These images come from movies that rank near the top of many "best-ever" lists. For each image, identify the movie. Witty, erudite, or otherwise self-aggrandizing remarks demonstrating your comprehensive knowledge of the film in question won't do you any good, but are of course nevertheless encouraged.






Submit your answers in the comments.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

michael5000 gets trained

I: The Ride

I meet my carpool in the Trader Joes parking lot so we can go to a training out in the burbclaves. As we merge into traffic, we get dramatically cut off by a minivan sliding casually right into the lane that we are already occupying, thank you very much, but thanks to my crys of "Oh! Look! There! Hey! Oh!" disaster is averted.

"Look at that," says my coworker, knowingly. "It's an Asian driver."

"Um, a what?" I ask, regaining my composure.

"Asian driver," she says. "They are the worst." I laugh uncomfortably. "It's true!" she says.

Later, on the freeway, we get stuck behind a car that is inexplicably driving at about 45 miles per hour. My coworker is frustrated. "Maybe it's one of those Asian drivers," I tease her, but she takes me seriously. "Yeah!" she says. "It could be!"

After a while the road clears a bit, and we get a chance to blow by the slowpoke. My coworker cranes her neck to get a good look at the perpetrator. "It is!" she shouts, delighted. "It's an old Asian lady! Look at her, she's driving like this!" She exagerates the posture of an overcautious, intimidated driver. She is laughing uproariously.

My coworker, by the way, is a highly successful social worker and former small businessperson with children in college and medical school. Oh, and she's Vietnamese.

II: The Training

It was in a splendidly bland cubicle farm, and conducted by the numbers. We introduced ourselves, said where we worked, and identified our favorite ice cream flavors. The trainer told us what he was gong to tell us, he told us, and then he told us what he had told us. Questions were encouraged, even though the answer was always "we'll get to that in a few minutes."

The second-best moment was when, after I cheerfully mentioned that a big knot of acronyms "look kind of mysterious," the trainer actually chastised me. Well, you SHOULD know about that," he scolded, radiating indignation. "It's part of your JOB." The intended reaction of guilt and shame never really kicked in, though, since he had made an unwarrented and quite incorrect assumption about what my job actually is. Those acronyms have nothing to do with my job. I just smiled. (He later figured out his mistake and apologized.)

The best moment was when he referred, without the tiniest glimmer of irony, to (and I quote) "repetitious, repeating, repetitious work that you do over and over and over again." Fortunately, I was able to disguise my snort as a professional-sounding cough. I'm all about the professionalism.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXIV

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is an "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 the strength of the whole depends on the right and proper functioning of the parts:
No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will find themselves on the cutting room floor.
This Week's Category was the fifth Thursday Quiz to be written, but has been kept on the back burner for its sheer obviousness.

American State Capitals

With apologies to the non-UnitedStatesians.....

1. Birmingham, Alabama
2. Boise, Idaho
3. Detroit, Michigan
4. Dover, Delaware
5. Flagstaff, Arizona
6. Helena, Montana
7. Jackson, Mississippi
8. Lincoln, South Dakota
9. Missoula, Montana
10. Portland, Oregon
11. Richmond, Virginia
12. Trenton, New Jersey

Submit your answers to the legislatures of the several states by posting them in the comments.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Forgotten Lands: New Bretton & Gurye

(These "Forgotten Lands" seem kind of obscure...)

New Bretton
Population: 12,493 (2001 Census)

Economy: Fish, Optical Equipment

When Newfoundland voted to join the Canadian Federation in 1949, the local vote on the fishing island of New Bretton was strongly against union. One week later, the island’s local government invoked an unusual provision in its original royal charter – dated 1678 – guaranteeing it the right to dissociate from any colonie, or other lands of ye king, or any conjoining to these at will. Initially dismissed as an anachronism, the clause was ultimately found legally binding by the Newfoundland courts. New Bretton thus became one of the world’s smallest independent entities.

Although they rely on Great Britain for defense and representation in world bodies, New Brettons are a fiercely nationalistic people. “Never call a New Bretton a Canadian,” goes the local joke – “and the bigger he is, the more important that you don’t.” Though to the outsider there might seem to be little cultural distinction between New Bretton and the Atlantic provinces around it, to the natives there is much substance in small differences.

New Bretton is spared many of the Northwest Atlantic region’s economic woes due to the presence of New Bretton Scientific, a leading world manufacturer of precision optical equipment. Occupying a bluff overlooking the capital and only real town, the company’s production facility employs one of every five New Brettons, many in highly skilled and well-paid positions. Local entrepreneur Brian Redham founded the company in his basement in 1962, and is now thought to be comfortably among the world’s richest 100 people.

Flag: A red St. George’s cross is evidence of the English ancestry of most islanders. The white background of the English flag is replaced by blue, however, on New Bretton’s banner. No symbolism is attached to the blue; a typically pragmatic New Bretton once told the author that “they had to pick something besides white, else it would still be the flag of England.”

Kingdom of Gurye
Capital: Baracet
Population: 16,550,000 (2001 est.)

Economy: A relatively underdeveloped industrial sector produces mostly for the domestic market; major exports include bicycles, agricultural equipment, and solid wood furniture. Agricultural exports include pears, almonds, oats, and hay.

At its peak in the Seventh Century, the ancient Guryean Empire stretched nearly 1000 miles from the An Pûr River on the western border to the Arkravian Mountains on the east. Modern Gurye, unusually, shares no land in common with its classical ancestor state. Weakened by infighting among aristocratic clans, each with ambitions to the imperial throne, the Empire contracted and finally dissolved during the Eighth and Ninth Centuries. Beset by the nomadic horsemen of the expansionist Empire of Tyr, the Guryeans migrated westward across the An Pûr to their modern homeland on the Ailandian Plan.

Ratash, the language of Gurye, has changed so little over the centuries that modern Guryens are able to read the epic poems describing these events in their original form. Most citizens are deeply invested in their national past; Ghandi, who studied law in Gurye as a young man, held that “in a Guryen you find a man who knows more about the events of the Ninth Century than of his own.”

A lack of either geopolitical ambitions or strategic importance allowed Gurye to escape the upheavals of the 20th Century with only minor changes to its borders. The capital and largest city, Baracet, boast a quietly thriving tourist district in the beautifully preserved mediaeval town center. Halberd-wielding soldiers in full regalia still walk a vigil on the walls of the massive castle, now the national museum, around which Baracet was originally built. Potential visitors are warned, however, that the city offers little resembling night life, and after sundown the streets have a distinctively abandoned feel to them.

Flag: Two lions menace each other on a yellow field framed top and bottom with a horizontal stripe of maroon red. The banner dates to the Twelfth Century; the lions represent two competing families that, after decades of contending for the throne, unified themselves in a political marriage in 1184. It was originally the private banner of the emperor whose accession was made possible by this event, but gradually came to represent the nation as a whole over the course of his long and successful reign.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Two Popular Novels I Liked a Lot

Versions of these reviews appeared previously on the Facebooks.

The Egyptologist
Arthur Phillips, 2004

Deception and deceit in 1920s Egypt. A ripping good tale about the unreliability of documents, told through documents. The story is told largely in the writings of two men. Each, for very different reasons, is completely incapable of understanding what is really happening. Since reality takes shape in the gaps between their narratives, however, we readers are never really in the dark about what is happening. Ideas about text, in addition to providing the book's structure, also inform and propel the plot. It's an impressive feat of construction.

The primary events of the story take place in the first decade of the 1900s, 1918, and especially 1922. But, there is also a largely implied story line in the 1950s, and indeed a wholely implied story line in the undefined "present" when the book was put together. This, too, is a neat trick.

Phillips occupies his characters' heads with apparent ease, and as far as I can tell, the historical setting of the story is rendered very nicely. This leads to my only complaint -- because much of the story is written through the fictional protagonist, who is fussy and snobbish and, to say the least, pretentious, and because the style is spot-on, some of the longer passages can get a bit tiresome.

On the whole, though, The Egyptologist is a terrific story, compelling, exciting, and very sad. And it is beautifully crafted.

A Deepness in the Sky
Vernor Vinge, 1999

If you read science fiction, you probably already know that Vernor Vinge is to space opera what Mozart is to, well, opera.

If you don't read science fiction, you might consider giving Vinge a try. It is not for everyone, and that's OK. A Deepness in the Sky had me at the edge of my seat, wondering if the spider kingdom was going to pull through in the end, and I can understand if you can't or don't want to get to that level of suspension of disbelief.

It's your loss, though. You won't find many other people who are giving more thought than Vinge to the ways that technology affects our humanity, and vice versa. Nor will you find many more provocative ideas about what happens when cultures collide. If one of the cultures in this case happens to be intelligent giant spiders, well, that's analogy for ya. It's a very powerful tool.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Monday Quiz XXIV

The 1950s in the United States of America

1. You could hang out with them here....

...or read about them here....

They were the ______________.

2. What's this thing?

3. These men are kicking off one of the largest engineering projects of all time. What's the project?

4. Who is this guy? And what's a title of one of his works?

5. These two pictures show one of the most influential places ever built in the United States. Where were they taken?

Submit your answers in the comments, Daddy-O!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Excuses and Other Filler

Man, I fell off of my Blogging schedule last night! I never posted the Thursday Quiz results! Unforgiveable lapse.

Current Excuses

I've been working pretty hard on non-blog things for the last few weeks, which makes me feel all grown up. And by "all grown up," I mean productive, engaged, useful, and kind of stressed out and tired.

Not that I'm out there washing the feet of the poor, mind you. The most grueling item has been the bathroom remodeling project. Do you have any idea how long it takes to remodel a bathroom from scratch, if you've never done it before? No, of course you don't. You are either a dynamic young person who has the good sense to rent and not worry about plumbing, wiring, and the application of ceramic tile, or a successful middle-aged person who was smart enough to choose a career path that now allows you to hire contractors -- professionals who, like you, know what they are doing. But really, I feel sorry for you, for you may never know the mysteries of grout and mastic.

Then, there's a major gonzo quilting project chewing up some time. And, last week I had to go pick up Nieces #3 and #4, be a dynamic uncle figure for a week, and then return them to Sister5000. I co-organized a small 70th birthday party for Ma & Pa5000. We have been trying to keep the yard and garden from degenerating into a state of explosive feral chaos. The truck broke down and had to be towed to the shop after attempts at home repair (opening the hood, trying to look knowledgeable, checking the wiper fluid level, trying not to look emasculated) failed. There is an employment-related matter (yawn...) that has been requiring lengthy stretches of my leisure time. And finally, last night, there was an almost unbelieveably large backload of laundry to be taken care of. Really, I didn't know we owned so many clothes.

So there they are, some of the leading reasons why I've fallen behind on my blogging. I hope no one is too upset that the launch of the "Classical Fridays" six-part series will have to be delayed until next Friday. What, no one's upset? Not at all? Aww....

Future Excuses

Well, the main future excuse is that it will be summer. Although it has been an oddly cold spring here in the City of Roses, with temperatures still dipping literally into the thirties, I remain confident that consistent glorious splendor is right around the corner.

The other thing I want to mention is that I've joined the Board of our local Friends of the Library organization. It's a big ol' volunteer commitment, but local readers will understand. The Multnomah County Libraries are AMAZING!

TQXXXIII: The Disaster Quiz

Judging by the poor turnout and low scores, this week's Thursday Quiz was the worst yet in terms of my inability to distinguish between general and specialist knowledge. Apparently, other people do not share my familiarity with the annals of disasters and catastrophes. This raises the disturbing question of why I am interested in terrible events in which many people die in often horrible ways. I will have to talk about it with my analyst.

Ha! Just kidding, of course. I don't have an "analyst." I've never even been to New York.

Anyway, here are the winners:

Elizabeth, who seems well-versed in Grim Studies, takes the Gold Star. It's her first Gold.

Mrs. 5000 takes the Silver, her fourth.

Three additional contestents got 6 of 12, and proving the dictum that "half the battle is showing up," that earns them Stars this week. d got there first, to claim his first Blue; Karin and karmasartre take the Green. It's Karin's eighth Star but her first Green, which rounds out her collection of Star colors; she's only the sixth quizzer to complete a set!

As long as we're talking about unpopular quizes

In the unlikely event you enjoy last Monday's Quiz, you'll be happy to hear that there were a second set of maps that I had prepared and lost, but have now found again. So, for those of you who can't get enough of map identification with the convention of North=up thrown to the wind, here's a few more to play with.

Meanwhile, over on the reading list...

The next book has been selected through the now-traditional semi-random process. It is Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, a book that I know absolutely nothing about. It has an evocative cover, though, and it's a Mrs.5000 favorite, so that's a good sign. I'll start it sometime next week.

Until then, see you Monday for MQXXIV!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXIII

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is an "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 what keeps catastrophe at bay:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will have to make it on their own.
This Week's Category is frankly kind of depressing.

Really Terrible Disasters

Some of the following are actual tragedies that unfolded more or less as described. Others have been garbled or fabricated in the now-familiar Michael5000 fashion. Can you sort out the truly grim from the falsely grim?

1. 1138. Aleppo, Syria. In one of the first major disasters about which we have anything resembling reliable records, a major earthquake or series of earthquakes devastates the Middle East. Stone castles and fortifications, common in the region because of the Crusades, are especially vulnerable to the quake and especially unforgiving to people caught inside. Authorities of the time estimate a death toll of 230,000.

2. 1865. The Mississippi River. The Sultana, a steamboat transporting Union soldiers recently freed from Confederate POW camps, explodes and burns. Passengers are unable to escape the severely overcrowded boat, and 1700 people perish -- more than will later die on the Titanic.

3. 1889. Johnstown, Pennsylvania. With the Conemaugh River already flooded, Johnstown is defenseless when a dam fourteen miles upstream collapses. 2200 people die when a debris-laden wall of water 60 feet high hits the town at around forty miles per hour.

4. 1903. St. Joseph, Missouri. A series of four massive tornados strike the then-important industrial center over the course of a single long night. When the smoke clears, the city is in ruins and 782 of its citizens have died in collapsed or burning buildings. The city's site is subsequently abandoned.

5. 1931. Yellow River Valley, China. A massive rise of the great Chinese river overwhelms crude flood-control measures and submerges vast areas of land that has been undergoing rapid population growth. Somewhere between one and four million people die either directly or in the subsequent pandemics and famines. This makes the event even worse than the 1887 Yellow River Flood, which killed somewhere between one and two million.

6. 1936. New Jersey. Nearly 1400 people with the misfortunate to be aboard or below the massive airship Hindenburg perish in an explosion and crash that remains today the worst aviation disaster of all time (excepting only the terrorist attacks of 2001).

7. 1942. Los Angeles, California. In February 1942, a accidental explosion at a gas station sparks fast-spreading hysteria in a city afraid that it will be the next Pearl Harbor. Panic and stampeding in crowded public places, gradually degenerating into three days of rioting, arson, and anarchy, leave around 350 dead before President Roosevelt calls in the Army to restore order.

8. 1947. Texas City, Texas. The U.S. Grandcamp, a ship loaded with nitrogen fertilizer, explodes catastrophically, killing at least 581 people in the harbor and nearby neighborhoods. It is the worst industrial accident in U.S. history.

9. 1970. East Pakistan. The Bhola Cyclone flattens and submerges many coastal areas and offshore islands in one of the most densely populated parts of the world. Anemic government response exacerbates the death toll; this soon becomes a leading impetus for Bangladesh's succession from Pakistan. Somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people lose their lives in the floods.

10. 1982. Washington state. Mt. St. Helens erupts explosively. Nearly 3200 people near or downstream from the mountain die in the resultant avalanches, flooding, and fire, or from asphyxiation or the direct force of the explosion. It is the most devastating volcanic eruption in American history.

11. 1984. Bhopal, India. Sloppy maintenance and lax procedures (or possibly sabotage) allow a heavier-than air pesticide to escape from an urban chemical plant and settle over the densely-populated surrounding area. 3800 die immediately; the total, longer-term death toll from the event is around 20,000 and still rising today.

12. 2002. Lagos, Nigeria. A fire in a marketplace spreads into an urban military base. The weapons depot explodes, raining fire and ammunition over much of the city. At least 1100, but probably many more, die from the explosion, building collapses, secondary fires, and from being trampled or drowned in the civic canal during the ensuing panic.

Submit your answers in the comments while you still can.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rock My Vote

I don't remember ever voting in a Presidential primary before.

I have voted in primaries, of course -- I've voted in every election I've ever been eligible to vote in. But since the Beaver State's primary typically happens long, long after the candidates for both parties have been signed, sealed, and delivered, the Presidential portion of the spring ballot is always a bit of a dead letter. It has apparently been quite unmemorable.

This year, however, is different. This year, the party with which I am affiliated -- I am, for my sins, a registered Democrat -- still has an actual choice of candidates in the running. Zowie! My vote will count! In theory!

But here's the thing: in this year, of all years, I do not have a strong preference between the candidates. It's not that I'm apathetic, and it's not that I'm dazzled, but just that I think either of my choices would make a perfectly adequate executive.

Gentle Readers, I stand before you an undecided voter!

Well, undecided but leaning to Clinton, who has articulated a potentially workable healthcare policy. But essentially undecided.

So, here's your big chance to influence an actual voter whose actual vote is still in actual play! As well as literally dozen of his local readers! Let me know why I should vote for the candidate of your choice!

A few clarifications:

1) No, I will not automatically vote for the candidate who gets the most or best comments here. That would be illegal, not to mention unethical, not to mention dumb.

2) I will not necessarily announce who I end up voting for. Sanctity of the ballot box and all that.

3) I may ask pointed follow-up questions.

4) If this subject turns out to be popular, interesting, and/or amusing, we'll revisit it on Saturday. Otherwise, we'll just let it fade away like another Forgotten Land....

Monday, April 14, 2008

Forgotten Lands: Kim'chin do & Coregos

(What are these "Forgotten Lands" you speak of?)

A little bit of the fun I've had in making up these mildly surreal little countries evaporated last week when the Channel Island of Sark abolished the last vestige of feudalism in Europe. Yes. Sark. Feudalism. Demonstrating yet again that you can't out-weird reality.

Kim’chin do
Population: 161,000 (2001 estimate)

Economy: Fishing, forestry, zinc, electronic goods.

If you look at the area northeast of Hokkaido on any world map, chances are you will see only open ocean. It is not entirely clear how an island as large as Kim'chindo came to be forgotten by the world's cartographers. As the site of major Soviet naval and air bases, it was regularly omitted from that country's maps for security purposes. While it is difficult to imagine the Western publishing companies taking their cue from the USSR, no other explanation has ever been put forward for the island nation's widespread omission from our maps and atlases.

The natives of Kim'chindo had tales of their ancestors arriving from the south on a city of rafts. Modern archaeologists have established only that a large migration arrived from the Korean penninsula, in the 12th Century A.D. A great capital of wood buildings was built on the southern tip of the island on a sophisticated plan of broad boulevards and great open plazas. This city, Kim'sol, was destroyed by a tidal wave in around 1620:

My city
floats out to sea
in jumbled sticks.

-- Ko Tae-Li, 17th Century
As much as half the island's population perished in the disaster.

In the modern era, the island was handed from empire to empire: the British (1710) were followed by the Dutch (1770), the Japanese (1906), and the Soviets (1945). Kim'chindo stumbled into independence after the breakup of the USSR with a small but polyglot population (34% Japanese, 32% Kim'chin Korean, 12% Russian, 12% Chinese, 10% European) and no tradition of self-government. A parliamentary system has been established and elections held, but the real power in Kim'chindo is held by the large corporations (mostly Japanese and Dutch) that have acquired its mills, mines, and factories. Nearly 40% of working citizens, a 2002 study found, are in the employ of a foreign corporation. Wages and investment in national infrastructure remain well below world averages.

Flag: The Kim'chin, like many Asian cultures, associated colors with direction. The modern flag, designed in 1993, is thus a sort of traditional map. Red, in the center, represents the people. Black is to the north, white to the south, yellow is to the west, and green to the east. Blue and purple were considered the colors of danger in classical Kim'chin symbology, and are rarely seen in traditional decoration.

Republic of Coregos
Capital: San Esteban
Population: 591,862 (1996)

Economy: Export sector is dominated by bananas, cattle, and some coffee. Corn and other foods are no longer imported since a government self-sufficiency program was launched in the early 1990s; however, most durable and electronic goods must still be imported.

Coregos is best known to most Americans as being the country that, according to a high-profile 1984 study by the National Geographic Society, less than five percent of high school students are able to locate on a world map. This notoriety is a strange fate for a country that, less than a century before, President William McKinley proclaimed “absolutely fundamental, absolutely crucial, to the future of the United States in this hemisphere.”

McKinley spoke with an eye toward the broad Torrenos Depression, a wide valley amid Coregos’ mostly mountainous terrain, as a likely route across the Central American isthmus. When a populist government headed by a former peasant, León Garcia, offered the contract to construct an ocean-to-ocean canal to a German engineering firm, the U.S. responded by sending two divisions of Marines to occupy San Esteban. This military presence continued until well after the construction of the Panama Canal, which follows a route most modern observers feel is much inferior to that of the Coregos passage.

Flag: A golden pendant interrupts horizontal fields of red and blue. The symbolism of this design, if any, is unclear.

An unofficial flag of Coregos, featuring a stylized coral snake on a field of deep blue, is seen at least as often as the official flag once outside of San Esteban’s government district. Coregaños often refer to themselves as serpientes – “snakes” – for reasons that remain unclear.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Monday Quiz XXIII

States and Provinces

Maps in which the traditional but arbitrary convention of "North is up" has been done away with. For all five, the question is the same: what is the state or province?






Submit your answers in the comments!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Vignette: Multicultural Living

I: On the Bus.

Michael5000 (age 39) and Niece#3 (age 12) take a seat. Asian-American kid (age 19ish, fidgity and/or stoned) comes back from his seat in the front of the bus to talk to them.

AAK: Hey, how you doing?

M5K: Fine.

AAK: Where are you going this morning?

N#3: To the Zoo.

AAK: That sounds fun... (a moment passes) Is he your father? (a moment passes) Are you her father?

M5K: Heh. Am I your father, Bug?

N#3 (confused):

M5K: No.

AAK: Are you, like, friends then?

M5K (losing patience): Umm...

AAK: Because --

M5K: I'm her uncle.

AAK: Oh. Oh. Cool. (to N#3) Is that true? Is he really your uncle?

N#3 (baffled): Uh, ~yeah~...

AAK: OK, cool. It's just that, I'm Asian too, and I thought, uh, uh....

M5K: Yeah, I know what you were getting at. It's OK.

AAK laughs nervously, looks around, and gets off at the next stop.

II: On the Bus, moments later.

M5K: Do you understand what that was about, Bug?

N#3 (emphatic): Not really!

M5K: Well, he was confused about why we were together.

N#3: Uh-huh....

M5K: You're a young girl, and I'm an adult guy, and we don't look like each other, so he wanted to make sure I wasn't kidnapping you or something.

N#3: Oh, I see.

M5K: So, he was kind of a busybody, but his heart was in the right place.

N#3 (laughing, pointing out the bus window): Oh! Look at that squirrel!


Added 4/12/08: After this post appeared, fingerstothebone posted a story that is kind of like this one, only more so. It's great, and it's here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXII

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is an "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 Your Fundamental Beliefs:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will have to make it on their own.
This Week's Category will give you something to believe in!

Religion by the Numbers

True, or just so much Claptrap5000?

1. A little more than half the people in the world adhere to one of the three "Abrahamic" religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

2. Only about 7% of the world's population practices Judaism.

3. There are way more Moslems in the world than there are Christians.

4. There are way more Hindus in the world than there are Buddhists.

5. Shinto and Buddhism have roughly the same number of adherents.

6. There are a lot more Roman Catholic Christians in the world than there are Eastern Orthodox Christians.

7. There are a lot more Sunni Moslems in the world than there are Shi'ite Moslems.

8. Despite the demise of the ancient Persian Empire, there are still actual Zoroastrians in the world.

9. Behind all the hype, there are really only two or three thousand actual religious Rastafarians.

10. There are roughly as many people in the world practicing Scientology as there are practicing Judaism.

11. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans constitute four roughly equal populations in the United States.

12. The Northwestern U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska are among the highest in both religious diversity and in the number of people who claim no religious affiliation.

Submit your answers in the comments.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Joshua Judges Ruth

I don't usually cross-market my blogs -- I'm all too aware that many L&TM5K readers are not going to get all fired up about the "QuiltStorm" project, for instance -- but today I'm making an exception.

You might know that I have been gradually reading the Christian Bible and shooting my mouth off about the experience in the "Michael Reads the Bible" blog. Between the free-thinking approach to difficult religious subject matter and my own, um, quick wit and sparkling prose stylings, it is not surprising that it is regularly mentioned in lists of the internet's least-visited weblogs. But enough about my problems.

Having finished up with Numbers last year, one of my New Blog Year Resolutions was to get through Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth by the end of this summer. Yet, thanks in part to my hard work and determination, but thanks more to the fact that the books keep getting shorter and easier to read -- the Book of Ruth is only three pages long, for crying out loud -- I managed to reach my goal last week, a good five months ahead of schedule!

Now, you may be thinking, "Michael5000, you've been working on the Bible since summer 2006! You've only read eight Books? That's pathetic!" Well, I'll have you know that although finishing Ruth only puts me 12.1% of the way through the Bible by books, it puts me 19.8% of the way through the Bible by chapters, and a whopping 23.2% of the way through the Bible by verses! So there. Nothing pathetic about it, unless you you count the dorkish enthusiasm for pointless statistics.

I'll just roll on ahead into I Samuel, I think it is, next weekend, but in the meantime I thought I'd commemorate the event by inviting you, the readership of my flagship blog, to join in the good times. Check it out! Michael Reads the Bible has something for everyone!
  • If you are a devout Christian, you will likely be offended by its often irreverant tone!

  • If you are a devout non-Christian, you will likely be annoyed by its implicit Christianity!

  • If you are a non-religious person, you will likely be put off by all the references to God!

  • If you are Mrs.5000, you will likely be appalled by my laisez-faire attitude towards spelling!

But again, enough about my problems.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Monday Quiz XXII

Extremely Tall Buildings

1. This was the tallest buiding in the world from 1931 to 1967. What's it called?

2. This was the tallest building in the world from 1930 to 1931. What's it called?

3. These two buildings were, by some measures -- this stuff can get pretty arcane -- the first and second tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. What city are they in?

4. This building was, by some measures, the tallest in the world from 2004 to 2007. What city is it located in?

5. The building in the first picture, though still unfinished, is by most measures already the tallest in the world as of this posting. It is in a city that is also home to the extremely tall hotel shown in the second picture. What is that city?

Submit your answers in the comments.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Reading List: Huckleberry Finn

Huckleberry Finn
The Vulgar Boatman

I feel a little nervous here, stepping up the the plate to comment on Huckleberry Finn. I'm apparently the last English speaker on the planet to have read it, and many of you have read it repeatedly and know a hell of a lot more about it than I do. So, maybe it's best to think of this as an experiment. Imagine someone who had somehow been kept from reading Huckleberry Finn until he was virtually 40! How would this strange hermit react to the famous novel that everyone else knows so well?

Well, here's how.

It's Quite Good
On the whole, I'm pretty impressed with Huckleberry Finn. It's an ambitious novel, taking on a lot and succeeding handsomely with most of it. First and foremost, Twain seems to be making a conscious effort to raise the bar for American children's literature. Now, I don't know a lot about nineteenth-century juvenile fiction, but what I do know suggests that Huckleberry Finn soars magnificently above everything that came before it. It's a superb adolescent adventure story with well-paced suspenseful situations and resolutions, constant lampooning of adult pieties and hypocrasies, and an appealing fantasy of life with neither the arbitrary restrictions of childhood nor the dull responsibilities of adulthood.

As a document describing social relations in the United States of the 1850s, Huckleberry Finn is quite striking. Twain is an incisive observer of class behaviors and relations, and his often very funny commentary on how social hierarchies operate, among both kids and adults, are the real meat of the book. For an adult reader, this is where most of the action is, and where the laughs are as well.

The best thing about Huckleberry Finn is Huckleberry Finn. A marvelously rounded and consistent point-of-view character, he confides the entire story to us in a convincing backwoods diction and brogue. There are a lot of situations where he doesn't really understand what the other characters are up to, but Twain handles his naive narrator with great skill, letting the reader know what is happening while not allowing Huck any knowledge that he wouldn't naturally possess. But Huck is by no means dumb; he's more than capable of fooling adults and thinking his way out of a jam. Like most people, too, he struggles with general moral principles but is usually generous and kind in actual application. This makes him loveable, but also interesting to watch as he encounters moral dilemmas.

The worst thing about Huckleberry Finn is Tom Sawyer. A one-note character -- he wants to live out the romantic notions he has read about in adventure stories -- he plays all too large a role in this, his pal's book. Not only are his scenes tedious, his single joke getting beat to death and then some, but they are implausible as well. He is shown as a charismatic figure commanding the respect of children and adults alike, whereas in real life boy of his single-mindedness would be considered, at best, very strange indeed.

Jim, the runaway slave who is Huck's companion, is more a collection of mannerisms than a character in his own right. He is essentially a prop, there in the novel so that Huck can wrestle with his feelings about the inhumanity of slavery. Twain certainly has his heart in the right place, and Huckleberry Finn can be read as a still-shocking expose of how thoroughly and intricately an institution like slavery can warp a society. And, from a nineteenth-century novel, it is probably unfair to ask for more. If I ~could~ ask for more, though, I would have two requests on the wish list: 1) a full-fledged treatment of the African-American character, and 2) less of a cop-out of an ending.

Now I'm Going to Talk About the Ending! those of you who have shared my cave, push off.

Here's why I hate at least half of American movies (I'll get back to Huck in a minute): they set up a major moral dilemma for their characters, then render it pointless by contriving things so that no one has to make a choice. Random Example: Pearl Harbor. Woman falls in love with two separate guys. Interesting problem! She'll have to make a tough choice! Except, of course, she won't; the script will bump one of them off in a suitably heroic fashion exactly so that she won't have to make that decision. So why am I supposed to be interested, again?

Similarly, Huckleberry Finn. The most persistent issue of the book is Huck's wrestling with the ethics of slavery, whether his own affection and respect for Jim will override his respect for the laws of property in a slave system. But just as the problem reaches the boiling point, half-wit Tom Sawyer pipes up to announce that Jim has already been freed. Instead of being subjected to a public torture-execution, he can instead be unshackled and treated to a few nice meals. In the end, Huck never has to figure out how he really feels about slavery, after all.

Now I'm Done Talking About the Ending

Summary: Huckleberry Finn, minimally educated but sharp as a tack, is a rough-and-tumble kid growing up in the semi-civilized Mississippi River bottoms in the 1850s. Escaping his abusive father, he joins forces with a runaway slave, Jim, and they raft down the Mississippi together, having a variety of trials and adventures. The idea is to get Jim to the Ohio River, which he can then follow to the free states; after they pass the Ohio by accident, however, they inexplicably keep heading south.

Twain is a near-contemporary of Charles Dickens, and the two authors have much in common. Both have a light comic touch that they apply to extremely keen sociological insights. Twain paints on a smaller canvas -- Huckleberry Finn is a shorter book with only a single plot line, and has a much smaller cast than most Dickens -- but he manages to pack in the same level of observational detail. Twain is more streamlined, easier to read, perhaps funnier. But, the orgy of coincidences that concludes Huck's long raft ride will seem plentifully familiar to anyone who has read Dickens.

Thanks, in conclusion, to those of you who supported me in overcoming my fear of Twain by encouraging me to take on Huckleberry Finn. It's a fine read.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXI

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is an "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 Very Framework of Who We Are:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday
Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will have to make it on their own.
This Week's Category will form a scaffolding for your musculature!


Ah, bones. Where would we be without them? Which of the following are actual human bones, correctly described?

1. Antilles: the heels
2. Clavicle: the collarbone
3. Coccyx: the tailbone
4. Fatulum: the "top plate" of the cranium
5. Femillia: the smaller of the two bones of the lower leg
6. Hyoid: a free-floating bone in the neck that supports the base of the tongue
7. Mandible: the lower jaw
8. Ortial Plate: the back of the skull, attached to the top of the spinal column
9. Phalanges: bones of the fingers and toes
10. Sacrum: the back of the pelvis, attached to the spine and to the hip bones
11. Tibia: the larger of the two bones of the lower leg
12. Ulna: the bone of the upper arm

Submit your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Forgotten Lands: Beny-sur-Thames and Northern Antarctica

("Forgotten Lands?" What?)

Dutchy of Beńy-sur-Thames
Population: 3,811 (2000 census)

Economy: Retail; tourism; banking.

Of the handful of tiny microstates that are footnotes to any list of countries in Europe, only San Marino, Vatican City, and Beńy-sur-Thames lie entirely within the borders of a larger country. Like the better-known microstates – Lichtenstein, Andorra, Monaco -- Beńy-sur-Thames is an anachronism, a relic of the thousand squalling fiefdoms of the Middle Ages. Ceded in 1112 as a private estate to Duke William du Bois, nephew to Henry I, the tiny enclave began a path of political independence that would persist through at least the next nine centuries.

More striking even than Beńy’s political autonomy is its cultural integrity. Made inward-looking and culturally conservative by their distinctiveness and isolation, Beńisiens hung tenaciously to a mediaeval French that, while perplexing to visitors from modern France, has provided dissertation fodder for generations of historical linguists. While most young Beńisiens today are educated in both English and their native tongue, they maintain a spirit of quiet differentness from their British neighbors.

The tiny shops on the cobblestone streets that wind about this tiny city state sell computers, confidential banking services, and tourist T-shirts. All business ceases on Sundays, however, when virtually all Beńisiens attend a Mass that, while celebrated in the local vernacular – a nod to the reforms of Vatican II – if of rigorously authentic mediaeval length, in some cases six hours or more.

Flag: A simple blue canton against a red field, the flag of Beńy-sur-Thames was instituted by the fourth Duke Henry, in 1215. Some especially nationalistic Beńisiens delight in describing the event as “the most important thing that happened in Europe during that year.”

Republic of Northern Antarctica
Capital: New Bristol
Population: 34,881 (1998)

Economy: Based on tourism, supplemented by modest mineral exports and seasonal commercial fishing. Seabird guano, valued for use in fertilizer production, is a significant secondary export. Heavily dependant on imports for food staples and manufactured goods.

When Disraeli made his famous remark that “the Frenchman yearns for glory as the Northern Antarctican yearns for summer,” he revealed as much about the latter nationality as the former. While the long, dark, and of course extremely cold winters make life on “the Underside” challenging, natives can look forward to the relatively mild summer, with its influx of tourists from all over the world and its frequent days of 24-hour sunshine.

Northern Antarctica has the unusual distinction of being the only country to span all 24 time zones – although a few of these are home only to two or three isolated settlers. Eighty-seven percent of North Antarcticans live in the country’s four “cities” – of which the largest, Queen Maud, has a population of only 9400. None of the cities are connected to each other by road, due to the difficulty of building and maintaining highways in the harsh local environment. AntarcticAir, the national airline which is the cities’ primary connection to each other and to the outside world, is the country’s largest employer.

Flag: Three horizontal stripes of light blue, deep blue, and white. The design is pictographic, representing the typical view seen daily by the North Antarctican: ice in the foreground, the polar sea stretching to the horizon, and the pale Antarctic sky overhead.