Saturday, May 31, 2008

Weekend Edition

Oregon's State Flag: the Governor responds!

After much waiting, a few weeks ago I finally received a response from the governor regarding the packet of new designs we sent him for the Oregon state flag! Because I know this will be important to all of you, I will print his message here in its entirety.

Theodore R. Kulongoski

Thank you for sharing your opinion and comments. I appreciate hearing from Oregonians who are concerned about their communities and state. I believe citizen input is vital to a strong and healthy society and I urge your continued involvement.

[fake signature]

Frankly, I was a little disappointed by this response. Not only did he not designate one of your flags as the new official Oregon banner, but he failed to even indicate which one was his favorite. I was feeling a little dissed by that, but my mood improved a little when I got a second, identical postcard in the mail again yesterday. That he took the time to send TWO postcards shows a certain level of caring.

Still, the State of Oregon is clearly not in Estonia's league when it comes to responding to flag criticism.


So, I put up a graphic masthead the week before last. My main motivation was that the image – it's a mediaeval illustration called "the Chariot of Venus" what I found on BibliOdyssey – cracks me the hell up. But I'll admit it: it was also a half-hearted attempt at making the blog more attractive, so as to... you know... attract more readers.

I am conflicted about trying to "grow" the blog. In general, I consider myself damned lucky to have the number and stripe of readers I already have. Yet, who among us does not want more readers, more attention, more publishers falling all over each other trying to bid high enough to secure a deal for the book tie-in?

To this end, I have wrestled with trying to come up with a sub-title that is snappy and witty and yet communicates what the actual CONTENT of the blog is. If I had one of those, the potential audience member out there who is jonesin' for this kind of content could find us and pull up a chair. Unfortunately, this line of thought leads me to the problem that this blog doesn't really have coherent content, other than "stuff that happens to be interesting to michael5000." And any marketing professional would tell me that the market segment of "people who share michael5000's interests" is a very, very difficult group to target. They would tell me this, just to get me out of their office.

But I digress. The new masthead's approval rating is down around 55%, which is far too low for the standards of this operation. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I am open to extreme measures.

Vatican Update

Although the Pope has more or less reacted to the recent decision by the California Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage – he's agin' it – the Church is apparently liberalizing with respects to some other theological issues. According to an AP article that caught my eye in a recent edition of the 'Gonian, the Vatican's chief astronomer (awesome job!) Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes feels that a belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life does not contradict church teaching.

"Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like 'putting limits' on God's creative freedom, he said. 'How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?' Funes said. 'Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'?"

Personally, I am disappointed that Rev. Funes apparently did not address Orson Scott Card's hierarchy of alienness in his remarks. Nevertheless, I applaud this step towards peace and genuine friendship among the galaxy's sentient beings.

Quilts, Baby!

Finally, I would be remiss in not letting you know that my quilts Labyrinth and Ice & Fire will be on display here in the City of Roses next weekend. It's Labyrinth's public debut. Here's the details:
Northwest Quilters 34th Annual Quilt Show
University Place Hotel
310 SW Lincoln Street

Friday, June 6, 2008, 10 am - 7 pm
Saturday, June 7, 2008, 10 am - 4 pm
Sunday, June 8, 2008, 10 am - 4 pm

Admission is six bucks and no, I'm not able to "put you on the list."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Forgotten Lands: Tours de Sur & Gokura

(What do you mean, "Forgotten Lands?")


This just in: In an intrepid contribution to the study of the Forgotten Lands, L&TM5K regular Cartophiliac has announced his intention to remedy the sad unavailability of internet cartography for some of these all-too-often overlooked countries. Working with state-of-the-art satellite imagery and the most recent available government documents, he has completed maps for the Asian Pacific nation of Kim'chin do and posted them on his own blog, Cartophilia.

I will naturally keep L&TM5K readers abreast of developments in this exciting new branch of Forgotten Land Studies.


Tours de Sur
Tours de Sur
Population: 642,000 (2000 estimate)

Economy: An export base of plantation agriculture drives Tours de Sur’s economy, with cotton and soybeans the leading products. Light industries are well developed, with shoes being an especially important export to other South American countries. Tours de Sur enjoys a free trade zone status with Brazil, and there is support in both countries for the idea of a common currency.

When Pope Alexander VI so arbitrarily divided the newly discovered Americas between Spain and Portugal, he shaped the destiny of an entire continent. What is less well-known about the Treaty of Tordesillas, however, is that it called upon a third European power, France, to govern a buffer zone between the lands of the two Iberian crowns. The word “Tordesillas,” in fact, is but a Spanish rendering of the name of the proposed French colony, Tours de Sur.

The long, narrow buffer colony envisioned by the Pope was obviously unworkable, and it is no surprise that it never materialized in the form that was originally intended. An erstwhile capital city was established in the Paraná Valley in the 1620s, but its governors never controlled much more than the area within 50 kilometers of the town – the same area that constitutes the territory of Tours de Sur today.

What Tours de Sur lacks in size or geopolitical significance, it makes up for in bucolic charm. Tidy plantation landscapes unfold in geometric splendor across some of the best agricultural land in all of South America. In the plazas of the capital city and its outlying villages, workers gather in the warm semitropical evenings to dance to the local argutoi band and drink górta, a sweet. Here, as everywhere on the continent, soccer is an almost spiritual force in daily life. At any time of night or day, one might hear from a nearby field a spirited discussion of the finer points of play being conducted in the local dialect, a linguistically promiscuous blend of Spanish, French, Portuguese, and an extinct local indigenous tongue.

Flag: Never a focus of attention in Bourbon France, Tours de Sur was essentially forgotten in the French Revolution and has pursued a de facto path of political independence ever since. Perhaps a lack of any feeling of attachment to France allowed the pragmatic Suriens, as they call themselves, to continue using the flags they already had after the loss of other ties to their putative mother country. In any event, the national banner is identical to the French tricolor of red, white, and blue.

Islamic Republic of Gokura
Capital: Gokura
Population: 542,486 (2000 census)

Economy: Shipping, finance, and light industry dominate an internationally oriented economy. Agricultural production is exclusively for local production. Gokura prints no money of its own; the local merchants and cashiers are willing and uncannily able to accept, calculate a rate for, and make change in virtually any significant world currency.

If the impossibly rugged and remote island of New Guinea is to a certain extent a world of its own, then this prosperous little country occupying the lower valley of the Five Bats River is the least typical part of that world. Where Papua New Guinea is one of the least technologically developed countries on Earth, Gokura is a gleaming oasis of modernity. Where Papua New Guinea is loosely governed by a weak central government, in Gokura the state is deeply involved in the lives of its citizens. Papua New Guinea is overwhelmingly Christian and largely off the beaten track; Gokura is Muslim and, at nearly the eastern tip of the island, sits on a natural bottleneck for oceangoing traffic.

Gokura, converted by traders in missionaries in the 13th Century, represents the easternmost spread of traditional Islam. Held by the Portuguese during the colonial era, it was incorporated into Japan’s military empire in the 1930s, gaining independence after liberation by Australian troops during the Second World War. Though much smaller and of a lower profile than other Asian city-states, it has developed a similar prosperity over the last half-century through success in shipping, manufacturing, financial services, and technology. A rare high-profile moment was a 1998 cover story on “Asia’s Other Tiger” in the business magazine The Economist.

Gokura is a self-avowed Islamic state. Non-observance is tacitly tolerated, but public practice of faiths other than Islam is strictly prohibited. The city and its surrounding farms convey an impression of immaculate order, tidiness, and cleanliness. The government ascribes the extremely low crime rate to a faith-based public education system and strict enforcement of traditional Islamic law.

Flag: Intersecting green diagonals, trimmed with gold on official banners (but not on the less expensive flags seen on many schools and public buildings), against a black background. No official account of the flag’s design is known, but the green is assumed to have been chosen to represent Islam.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXIX

This Thursday Quiz has been spell-checked for your protection.

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 Obligations With Regards to Others:
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 end the fighting, once and for all.


Is it is, or is it ain't, a truthy description of an actual treaty?

1. Treaty of Verdun, 843. Charlemagne's grandsons partition his empire into a Western Realm, which will eventually become France, an Eastern Realm, which will much later become Germany, and a Middle Realm, which fragments almost immediately.

2. Treaty of Constantinople, 1011. Establishes the Ottoman Empire as the successor state to the Byzantine Empire, and gives it authority over modern Turkey, Egypt, and the area we now call the Middle East.

3. Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494. Spain and Portugal divide ownership rights to the non-Christian world between themselves along a vaguely defined north-south meridian. The non-Christian world is not consulted.

4. Peace of Westphalia, 1648. A pair of treaties ending both the Thirty Years' War in Germany and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands. These settlements imply that it is countries, rather than monarchs, that are sovereign, and are therefore an important step in the creation of the international order we know and love today.

5. Treaty of Paris, 1783. Some guys meet in a hotel in Paris to sign a treaty formally ending the American Revolutionary War.

6. Treaty of Madrid, 1817. Newly powerful in the wake of the War of 1812, the United States of America forces the European powers to renounce all current and future colonial claims in the Western Hemisphere. Also known as the "Monroe Doctrine," after the American President James Monroe, this is the oldest international treaty still considered to still be in force.

7. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848. Under military occupation after the Mexican-American War, Mexican officials know that the U.S. government is considering total annexation of their country. The only option available to them is to swallow hard and sign this treaty, ceding the less-populated northern half of their territory to the victors.

8. First Geneva Convention, 1864. Tired of seeing wounded soldiers die horribly after battles from thirst, exposure, or bayonet thrust, sixteen countries get together to create rules for truces and the provision of medical assistance to enemy combatants. Later conventions will establish protocols for the treatment of prisoners of war and for the treatment of civilians during wartime.

9. Treaty of Bonn, 1887. Ends the Franco-Prussian War, but creates long-term European tensions by forcing Germany to pay enormous reparations and cede three provinces to the victorious French.

10. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 1918. The newly-created Soviet Union pulls out of World War I under humiliating circumstances, ceding huge chunks of Eastern Europe to Germany and the Axis powers. Although the treaty remains in effect for less than a year, it catastrophically sours the new country's relationships with Western Europe and the U.S. as well as with the population in the ceded territories, who must be essentially reconquered in the vicious Russian Civil War.

11. Treaty of Rome, 1957. Six European countries establish the European Economic Community, an independent organization for economic cooperation and one of the predecessors of the European Union.

12. Treaty of Beijing, 1972. At a summit skillfully orchestrated by U.S. President Richard Nixon, the Western powers finally recognize China as an independent country and extend full diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 500 years.

Submit your answers to the court of world opinion in the comments.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Classical Wednesday I: Why Like Classical Music?

There are a lot of good aesthetic reasons to listen to classical music, but let's start with the semiotic ones. After all, most of us develop our musical taste as a way of situating ourselves within the social dynamics of adolescence, and then more or less cling to whatever we picked for the rest of our lives. We are proud to like classic rock, or country, or free jazz, whatever, because of what it signifies about our selves and our attachment -- sincere, ironic, or surprising -- to a particular pop-cultural ethos.

In this sense, classical music has a lot to offer you. Long gone are the days when it suggested a conservative, effite priggishness. No. Classical music signifies smart, and if you haven't noticed yet, smart is sexy. [For you readers under the age of 17, it is true that smart isn't especially sexy yet, but I assure you it will be, and you might as well begin positioning yourself now.] Particularly in conjunction with a healthy interest in your rock, pop, world, or electronica of choice, an enthusiasm for classical music is going to position you as a quirky, freethinking intellectual, and you are going to have to fend off the high-quality babes and/or dudes with a stick. Really. You are.

Secondly, classical music is dirt cheap. You can spend as much as you want for premium recordings, if you are so driven, but budget labels abound. The excellent Naxos label, for instance, sells excellent recordings at half or less of standard CD price. And, they have their entire catalog on Emusic, where music is only around twenty cents a track -- and consider, classical music tracks are often 10 or 12 minutes long. 'Nuff said.

Thirdly -- and I hesitate to bring this one up, as it reintroduces some serious dork factor -- classical music has a certain collectibility to it. Hear a couple of Mozart symphonies you like? Well, there's 41 of them, so you've got your listening cut out and lined up for you. Love Bach? Why not collect everything he ever wrote! ....well, because even at classical music prices you would bankrupt yourself trying, that's why not. Dude was mad prolific. But you get my point.

Then, there is the notion that classical music is often a set of sounds strung together in an interesting, stirring, or beautiful fashion. In other words, that it is great music to listen to. Now, I know some of y'all are hostile to "canons" of artistic "excellence" passed down by "cultural elites," especially when they consist of works by "men" who hailed from the countries of "Europe." And yeah, there's obviously some issues there. But to throw out the cultural heritage with the bathwater is to miss out on a lot of rich experiences. Really, the fact that Beethoven is still a household name 200 years later really ought to make you sit up and pay attention. An awful lot of people have to enjoy your work if you are going to have that kind of staying power.

Finally, classical music is a highly versitile genre. There are classical pieces that fit any mood or setting. It sounds great blasting through the speakers at nosebleed volume, and it works nicely to fill up some space playing softly in the background. It can pump you up, or chill you out. There's a palette of sounds available in classical music that allows it to reach a lot of places that other forms of music can't. It's good.

So, that's why to like classical music. Next week on Classical Wednesday, I'll give you some helpful tips on how to like classical music. After that, I'll suggest some specific highly likeable pieces to get started with. We'll cover four broad time periods, and if lucky, get some good input from readers who already like classical music (I recently picked up some boss Mozart tips from Becky). At the end of this six part course, you, the classical music newbie, should be well on your way to your sophisticated new enthusiasm. It's gonna be great.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Great Movies: "Apocalypse Now "

At the Movies with Michael5000

Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola, 1979.

I have seen Apocalypse Now twice before, once when I was in college and again about ten years ago. The first time, I found its very dark depiction of the ironies of war nothing less than emotionally gutting. I wasn’t quite so traumatized the second time around, but still found the viewing experience to be pretty grim going. So this time, I was surprised and maybe a little unsettled to find Apocalypse Now, sure, still disturbing, but also.... well, often quite funny.

This may not speak well of me. In fact, I’m concerned enough with the state of my soul on this point that I’ve come up with a set of hypotheses to explain the change in my outlook.
  • Living in a violent society, I have become accustomed and desensitized to violence.
  • I’ve read enough history by now to not be shocked by war and its casual atrocities – which is just another way of being accustomed to violence, I suppose,
  • Before, I took the movie as more of a literal document; now, I’m recognizing that it exaggerates its absurdities for effect. Exaggerated absurdities are funny.
  • The movie isn’t as shocking anymore just because I’ve seen it before.
Or maybe it's a heady mix of all four. Further research on this question is clearly needed.

The second thing that struck me in this viewing is the conspicuous absence of Southeast Asian characters. The enemy is by and large just an anonymous fusillade of bullets, and when Vietnamese or Hmong people make it onto the screen, as in the final sequences, they are basically scenery. Now, that’s absolutely fine, in that this is about an American (and the American) experience of the Vietnam War. But, this is also a movie that is often treated as the definitive document on the War -- comparing it to other American films about the war, as well as to Vietnamese treatments, Ebert simply calls it "the best Vietnam film." I'm not so sure, though, that you can make a "best Vietnam film" without the perspective of the people through whose country and villages the war was fought. I'd like to see Coppola make a companion film from a second perspective, like Clint Eastwood did with his two movies about the Battle of Iwo Jima, or see a response to Apocalypse Now from a Vietnamese director.

I wanted to find out what my Hmong friend thinks of the film, but he hasn’t seen it. He sounded curious, though, so I’ll let you know if he reports back. Here's the key question I’d ask him: would the Hmong of his parents’ generation really be likely to adopt a clearly psychotic American military officer as their leader and God? Because it kind of seems like that's a logical flaw in the story, don’t you think?

Finally, I should say that the movie remains brilliant. Its pacing, composition, acting, and direction are all amazingly strong. It’s thoroughly engrossing.

Plot: Apocalypse Now is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set in the Vietnam War. A man travels down a river into a lawless wilderness, having episodic adventures that force him to confront the primal brutalities of human nature seething below the thin veil of civilized restraint. The horror! The horror! See also: Aguire; the Wrath of God.

Visuals: Quite lovely. Apocalypse Now is among other things a special effects spectacular. The images and landscapes, whether lovely or horrific, are beautifully framed and stick with you once you've seen them.

Dialogue: It is an image-driven movie, but the writing and strong performances mesh to create very vivid characters. This is not a war movie where soldiers are interchangeable, or where they all represent an identifiable "type." Everyone on the boat seems like a real person.

Prognosis: You've probably already seen Apocalypse Now. If you haven't, you need to weigh the benefits of watching a truly great movie against, well, the horror! That line (for the uninitiated: a character gasps "the horror! the horror!" a direct quotation from Heart of Darkness, at a key point in the film) is easy to have fun with after the lights come back up, but while you are watching you are forced to confront in a small way some of the horror of the worst in human nature.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Monday Quiz XXIX

World Leaders of the 20th Century: the Portraits

Each of these men had an important role in the events of the 20th Century. Who were they?






Submit your answers in the comments.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Reading List: Housekeeping

I didn't know anything about this book and so had no particular expectations of it, but if I did have expectations they probably would have been wrong. Housekeeping has a quietly eerie tone that, although not necessarily a radical departure from mainstream modern literature, is nevertheless decisively and confidently unique. It is often called "haunting"; I don't feel that is quite the right word, but I'm not sure I can offer a better one. Maybe we haven't invented the word yet that describes this book exactly right.

Published in 1980, Housekeeping has a spare and timeless feel. For all I knew before I looked it up, it could have been written in the 1950s of its setting, or yesterday. The novel is noteworthy, first and foremost, for its subdued, elegaic emotional tenor. It tells of a childhood abundant with sorrows and family disfunction, yet it relates all of these events with the restrained poker face of the child who has grown up much too quickly. Small joys are dwelt on, and great tragedies are spoken of matter-of-factly, with emphasis on the sorts of random details that tend to stick in the mind of a child. The effect is disturbing and, I think, psychologically accurate and revealing.

Several key characters are "drifters" of one sort or another, and their life within and in conflict with the staid middle-class establishment is a major theme of the book. Robinson leans rather too easily towards the advantages of the drifting life, I think, but keep in mind that it's the poster boy of the staid middle-class establishment talking, here. Too, the critique of American social norms in Housekeeping is subtle, and kind, and largely on target.

It is worth mentioning that this book is a very easy read, and also that I loved it. It is exquisitely written. Robinson's descriptions of the imposing physical and human landscapes of her setting, the fictional northwestern town of "Fingerbone" (likely her hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho, under a thin fictional veil) have a truly forlorn majesty. My only reservation is that it doesn't seem quite plausible that the character of the narrator would ever write a book like this. But, who knows. And in any event, this is probably an issue with the great bulk of books written in the first person.

The Plot: Two orphaned sisters are raised by a succession of increasingly problematic female relatives in an isolated mountain community in the American Northwest. Their lives get shaped by mountains, winters, family history, a very large, cold lake, and loneliness, and they ultimately react in equal but opposite ways.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Thursday Quiz XXXVIII

michael5000 is on the road. Scoring may not take place until as late as Sunday, depending on the availability of tolerent small-town librarians. If the formatting is screwed up, apologies. Persevere!

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 these eternal phrases:
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 still be cherished by readers two hundred years from now!

Classic Novels of the English Language

Some of the following are proper matches of text and writer. Others have been run through the mill on the Floss. For each, tell me whether it IS or ISN'T a correct match of the novel and its author.
1. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
2. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
3. Gulliver's Travels, by Henry Fielding
4. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
5. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
6. Middlemarch, by George Elliot
7. Northanger Abbey, by Emily Bronte
8. Pilgrim's Progress, by Daniel Defoe
9. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
10. Tess of the D’Ubervilles, by Charlotte Bronte
11. Tristram Shandy, by Jonathan Swift
12. Vanity Fair, by Thomas Hardy

Overcome adversity, restore the social order, and gain insight into your own humanity in the process -- by posting your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Forgotten Lands: San Jesus & Nova Hibernia

("Forgotten Lands?" What?)

San Jesús
San Jesús
Population: 48,441 (2002, government database)

Economy: A uniquely dual economy, with a modest import and export trade of information technology and services coexisting with a low-tech, subsistence-style agriculture.

“It is fortunate that the world has forgotten San Jesús,” wrote Margaret Mead in 1954. “If we remembered, we would be unable to face the reality we have constructed.” While it was easy for Mead to romanticize pre-contact indigenous life on San Jesús, however , the largely ignored island nation has actually fared better than many of its neighbors in the Caribbean. A relatively small population, mostly descendents of the slaves who worked a French sugar plantation that operated from 1762 to 1814, lived for decades in an environment of unparalleled natural abundance. “On San Jesús,” according to a florid 1923 article in American Anthropologist, “fruit and gourds rise as if invoked by the farmer’s neat fields, and ocean fish all but throw themselves into the waiting nets of the fishermen.”

There is a strong tradition of schooling and literacy on San Jesús, and the most talented students have often found scholarships to top universities in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The odd result has been the blossoming of an active software and information technology sector in a country that has virtually no “hard” industrial technology. Indeed, Jesúsiens seem immune to many of the siren calls of modern life; in 2002, for instance, it remained one of only three independent countries with no domestic television broadcasting. Tourism is virtually nonexistent, but the rare returning visitor speaks of beautiful cites with many libraries but no cars, or villages with many farmers but no policemen.

Flag: A white circle on a field of blue. This banner, seldom seen except at regional political summits, apparently represents the island of San Jesús in the blue Caribbean. White is sometimes taken to represent the purity of Christ, from whom the island, predominantly (92%) Catholic, takes its name. More prosaically, a second tradition holds that the newly independent slaves of 1814 had access only to white sailcloth, and indigo dyes with which it could be colored.

Nova Hibernia
Capital: N'koutou (formerly St. Patrick, Karlsburg)
Population: 1,443,000 (2000 estimate)

Economy: Produces cashews, cotton, sugar, citrus, timber, and fish. Imports include machinery and equipment, metals, staple foodstuffs, and textiles. Subsistence agricultural is practiced by a significant portion of the population.

The country of Nova Hibernia came into being in 1882 as the colony of German Central Africa. Like other colonies created by the Treaty of Berlin, German Central Africa contained a heterogeneous population with no common language, culture, or history. The Germans established a headquarters at Karlsberg, but in their 30 years of rule did not manage to extend practical authority past this port city's hinterlands.

Stripped from Germany along with its other colonial possessions after World War I, the colony existed for several years as a League of Nations Mandate. Finally, in 1924, the colony was essentially handed over as a gift to the fledgling Irish Free State. Absorbed in their own lengthy struggle for full independence, the Irish devoted little attention to their "overseas empire." As a result, the Irish administration had an even lighter footstep than had the German.

Although adopting some Western innovations, most inhabitants of the newly-renamed Nova Hibernia tended to continue to live and govern themselves according to well-established indigenous systems. When a provisional government set up by native schoolteacher Brian Ktombe petitioned for and was granted independence by the Irish Parliament in 1963, the event failed to make the front page of the Irish Times. Since independence, Nova Hibernia has suffered two periods of military rule, once for three months in 1969 and again from 1978 to 1984. Ktombe's nephew, Brian Ktombe III, became president in 1985 in elections that restored democratic rule. He has been re-elected every six years since in elections that, by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa, have been relatively free and fairly contested.

Nova Hibernia is also unusual in Africa in that it never acquired a large international debt. Instead, the country's political elite have long pursued a policy of small-scale local development and grassroots education. The country, perhaps not coincidentally, enters the third millennium with one of the continent's highest standards of living.

Flag: Older colonial banners, like the capital city's name, were replaced at independence. The new design was clearly inspired by the flag of the United States, the country on which Nova Hibernia's federal system was modeled. The ten colored stripes represent the ten federal districts, and the blue field represents the common blood* of all Nova Hibernia's people. Some have speculated that the lack of green, orange, or white in the flag suggests a rejection of all things Irish by the newly independant colony.

*In local tradition, blue is the color of "living blood" (as it is seen in the vein). Red represents "dead blood," and is generally avoided in decoration.

Monday, May 19, 2008

In which michael5000 attends three concerts

Three concerts in three days! A regular triathlon it was, back in those heady days as the M5K Decathlon was getting underway.

The Rock Music

The first was Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy at the Wonder Ballroom. I went to the Wonder with slight trepidition after the incident of the week earlier, and particularly after the not entirely cheerful letter I had sent to the management afterward. I half expected some sort of chilly "discussion" to break out after my ticket was scanned, but of course nothing of the sort happened. It turned out to be a fun night with a good vibe. Maybe I can fall back in love with the Wonder Ballroom.

I would expect that most people who can stomach the dry, stuffy, silly tone of this here blog would enjoy Colin Meloy -- dry, stuffy, silly -- in concert. He's very droll. We were treated to a wide range of Decemberists favorites, some pre-Decemberists stuff, and a suite of five songs he hopes will be on the next Decemberists album (to be recorded this summer) "if they make the cut" with his bandmates. These were a highly proggy cycle of songs "that draw from folk tale tropes," as Meloy noted, then winced at having said such a thing in front of an audience. It sounds pretty dreadful, yes, I concur, but they managed to pull it off brilliantly on The Crane Wife, and these new songs had a lot of promise too.

The opening act was Laura Gibson, a waifish singer-songwriter who, amazingly, turns out to have grown up one little, tiny town over from little, tiny HomeTown5000. She served up a quiet music, short on groove but long on wistful sincerity; I was initially skeptical but was a fan by the end of the set. You can listen to her NPR "Desk Concert" here.

Take Home Lesson: michael & Mrs.5000s' love affair with The Decemberists isn't going away anytime soon.

The Classical Music

Over the next two days, I saw two local orchestra concerts. The Willamette Falls Symphony is an amateur group out of Oregon City, where they were playing in what seemed to be a church gymanasium, but I later figured out was actually the sanctuary. Now, I like going to amateur classical performances. The performances and sound are nowhere near as polished as in a professional band -- no one has any illusions about this, I think -- but too, I think we lose something important when we are only willing to listen to music performed at the highest standard of perfection. Listening to a symphony of real people with real jobs is enriching for you and for them both, and is probably an experience more akin to what classical music was like back in the day, what with the fussy children, doors opening and closing, and all. And, of course it's dirt cheap ($10). The WFS acquited themselves well in a program of American music. The standout was a bustling, gritty reading of Gershwin's "An American in Paris," a piece I've always found a bit of a snooze in the past but which really sprang to life in this performance.

[Jean Sibelius: friggin' awesome -->]

The Portland Columbia Symphony, a pro-am group, turns out to sound a hell of a lot more "pro" than "am." They had borrowed the new concertmaster from the Beaver State's main band, the Oregon Symphony, as the soloist in the Sibelius violin concerto, and ohmygod, it was freaking sublime, people! They've got terrific sound and terrific balance, nipping at the OSO's heels in some departments. And, whereas it takes about 50 bucks to get close enough to the OSO to make out individual human beings, for 25 bucks we were six rows back from the PCS in a small venue, with all of that warm, rich sound washing right over us. They did Brahms after the break, and I usually find Brahms kind of stodgy, but in this performance (the First Symphony) he rocked my socks off. I'm thinking season tickets, next year.

Take Home Lesson: Support your second- and third-string local bands! It's good for them, it's good for you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Monday Quiz XXVIII


What countries issued the following postage stamps?






Submit your answers in the comments.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The M5K Decathlon: the Afterparty

Wow! It was a competition of truly epic proportions! No less than thirty athletes took to the field (if you include me and Phineas' boss), contending mightily for the Gold!

Props to everyone who put their best foot forward on any of the contests.

Runners Up

Looking first at the brilliant, creative, and drop-dead gorgeous decathletes rounding out the top ten! Let's give a big round of blogplause to:

#10 -- Elizabeth,

#9 -- dan,

#8 -- Fingerstothebone,

#7 -- Karmasartre, and

#6 -- Rebel.

Awesome performances all!

And the Medals!

With first place wins in Events iii & ix, and solid placing across the whole decathlon, the Red Medal goes to Cartophiliac!

Representin' the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the highest-placing contestent to miss a first place in any one event, drschnell puts together the points to bring home the Green Medal!

Placing in almost every contest she entered, la gringissima put in a scorching performance on just eight events, and still came out triumphantly holding the Blue Medal!

With no fewer than three first-place finishes, not placing any lower than third place for all of the final six events, it was very hard indeed to top Phineas. Missing the top spot only by a whisker, he brings home the Silver Medal.

That noise you hear is my teeth grinding as I prepare to say "Hail, Victor" to the woman down the hall, the City of Roses' own Mrs.5000. She won it fair and square*, and has been certified by Ernst & Ernst & Ernst & Ernst as the Gold Medal winner of the 2008 M5K Decathlon!


I want to thank everybody, for reals, for the time put into this thing. It was a lot to ask of you, and I truly appreciate everybody who took part. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

I've always been kind of fascinated with the Decathlon idea, for some reason. I thought about hosting one with really odd events (bakeoff, formal wear, treasure hunt) for my upcoming 40th birthday, but when I thought about what hell that would be for all concerned, I dropped the idea. This was the alternative, and it worked pretty well.

Lessons Learned:

1. If I was to do it again.... well, I'd only do it again at a really slow time of the year. Even at this scale, it's a hell of a lot of work to keep up with.

2. If I was to do it again, I would arrange the scoring on a more gradual curve. People who didn't score in the top few slots during the first few events felt a bit blown off the track this way, which made it less fun for them.

3. I'd have to think harder about how to encourage people to share their personal creativity (which I loved) without feeling quite so judged (which wasn't much fun for anyone). I know a few feelings were hurt a little, and I sincerely hope that there weren't more that I don't know about.

4. Well, I guess I only learned three things.

Thanks again, everybody! We now return to our regular programming.

* For all of the remarks about points going to the person who was sleeping with the judge, I don't remember getting any other offers. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying.

The Weekend Funnies: Event #8 Results


I'd been looking forward to seeing what y'all came up for these captions. Here are the ones that made me chuckle or, in some cases, guffaw the most. (Excepting my own submissions, of course, which I thought were a scream. I have a little problem with laughing at my own jokes.)

[Warning: Your sense of humor may differ from my own. We can't help that.]

I certainly appreciated the two pandering entries that looked ahead (3 months, 11 days!) to college football season:

Art historians confirmed the recent discovery of a medieval manuscript that describes the tradition that apparently goes back hundreds of years -- the Ducks parading their cheerleaders to rile up the crowds into a pre-game frenzy. (fingers)

Ducks Walk Away with Orange Bowl. (Mrs.5000)

DrSchnell's entry was in the classic New Yorker style:
"Sure beats migrating!"

Critical Bill put a political spin on it:
The newly released pictorial display of the Bush Administration's food pyramid for the 21st century.

And Cartophiliac got mediaeval on its... well, maybe just Pythonesque, actually:
"OK, so if they float they are witches... wait! What does that make us?"

But my three favorites were:

3. Girl 2: "The key to a good rolling orgy is to be pulled very slowly." (Phineas)

2. “Early pizza delivery didn’t work as expected.” (Phineas’ Boss)

and 1. "It doesn't mean they're going to sleep with us, idiot. They're just using us because we got our licenses." (dan)

For the Van Eyck masterpiece, I enjoyed Phinea's take:

“Oh no, no, no. I’m not buying the Immaculate Conception story this time.”

But I can only put three in my top three, and I had to pick:

3. "Dost this gown maketh me look fat?" "Talketh to the hand, woman" (Rebel) (It's a lot like my own idea, but the "eth"s make it better.)

2. "Beam us up, Scotty...Maartje, Toto, me, Jan's slippers...Jan's slippers! Scotty, where's Jan?!" (fingers)

and 1. "I'm just saying: I'm not walking it, I'm not feeding it, and I will lock it in the East Tower if it starts barking. This is YOUR dog." (Dan)

I like karmasatre's surrealist "Lucy's strategy helps Charlie come within three inches of his goal of devouring his left foot," and Cartophiliac's political "But you told me that the football was Weapon of Mass Destruction!"

Also, I always appreciate a nod to the classics: "At least Sisyphus didn't have a choice..." (dan) and “Charlie, you fucked [expletive undeleted] up. You trusted me.” (Phineas)

But two stood out for me here. Rebel's caption seems like something that the great Schultz might have put in there himself in his later years, when he started getting kind of random and trippy:

It's the negative energy that you're putting out into the universe, Charles. If you really believe in the power of the universe to provide you with a football, the football will be there.

And my favorite, dripping with acid, from DrSchnell:


[DrSchnell's opinions are not necessarily those of the L&TM5K, the michael5000 family of blogs, or the staff and management of Castle5000. Of course, they might be.]

Grinding this all through a nonsensical algorhythm in the classical michael5000 fashion, we find FingerstotheBone with 5th place honors, Rebel and Phineas tied at 3rd, and DrSchnell in 2nd.

dan walks away with Event #10 top honors. This perhaps is not surprising from a guy who, I just learned, has just published his first (I assume) graphic novel. It's a dark comedy about life in a cubicle farm; think of a surreal Dilbert but with wit, depth, and actual graphic art. He tells you how to download it here -- it's slightly complicated, but free. I did, and read it late last night thinking "oh, just one more chapter..." all the way through.

[The above paragraph is a voluntary unsolicited testamonial. It has not been compensated in any way by dan, the Von Trapper Keeper blog, or the online book distribution system. What's up with that?]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Decathlon Event #10, Thank God

Decathlon Event #10: Linguistics

The final event of the M5K Decathlon does not involve flags (although that was a reasonable prediction, Phineas) but rather language recognition. Below, you will find the Christian Lord's Prayer -- the traditional text used for this kind of thing -- in fourteen different languages. Your mission is of course to identify the language for each.

What makes this difficult is that I am not going to tell you which languages you have to choose from. I will, however, give you these hints:
  • Three of the languages are archaic forms of modern languages that are still spoken.
  • One of the languages is still spoken, but would generally be thought endangered.
  • The languages in non-Latin alphabets are the most common languages that use those alphabets. If you saw the Arabic script, for instance, you could safely assume that it was Arabic and not Urdu (which uses a slightly different alphabet, but you get my point).

Answers may be posted in the comments or Emailed to

Judging: Nothing fancy. Each correct identification is a point. Ties are ties.

Deadline: Due by 10 p.m. Friday, May 16 (Pacific Daylight Time).











Event #10 and Event #8 are both due Friday, 10 p.m. (PDT)
Results will be posted on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Decathlon Event #9 / Thursday Quiz XXXVII

Event #4: World History, Knowledge and Reasoning

Note: As a Decathlon Event, the Thursday Quiz will again remain at twelve questions, but with some tweaks to its format.

Warning: This Quiz is rated Extra Hard.

For each century indicated below, there is a list of four significant events. In some cases, those events actually happened during that century. In others, they did not. Determine which lists ARE accurate, and which ARE NOT.

For lists that ARE NOT accurate, you may also indicate the reasons why they aren't accurate. This might be 1) that the list belongs to a different century; 2) that the list combines events from four different centuries, or 3) that I just made the list up.

You may submit your answers either in the comments, or by email to

Judging: The scoring will, like last week, be somewhat different for Quiz and Decathlon purposes. As the Thursday Quiz, you will be scored as always, with one point for each correct "is" or "isn't" identification and ties broken by the order in which answers were submitted.

For Decathlon scoring, you will get one point for each correct "is" or "isn't" identification, one additional point for each correct explanation of why the incorrect lists are incorrect, and one additional point if, in the case where the events belong to a different century, you can correctly specify the correct century. Kind of complicated, but I think it will work.

Deadline: Answers must be submitted no later than 10 p.m. Thursday, May 15th (Pacific Daylight Time).

1. The Fourth Century B.C. (400 B.C. to 300 B.C.)

Alexander the Great conquers the Persian Empire, and lots of other people as well.
Plato creates a body of work that basically kicks off the Western intellectual tradition.
The Gauls sack Rome, which still at the time the capital of a small, relatively unimportant kingdom.
Mencius, the great Chinese philosopher and interpreter of Confucianism, lives and works.

2. The First Century (1 to 100 A.D.)

The Roman Empire conquers Nigerium, or West Africa, but is only able to hold it for three decades.
Han China falls to invasion by Japanese armies; the Jin dynasty is established by the victors.
The last indigenous Australian urbanized society collapses, probably because of ecological degradation.
Smallpox kills at least 25% of the population of the British Isles.

3. The Second Century (100 to 200 A.D.)

The Byzantine Empire reaches the height of its power.
The classic lowland Mayan Civilization declines and collapses (although aspects of Mayan culture survive).
Erik the Red founds a European Greenland colony; it will survive for centuries before abruptly disappearing sometime in the 15th Century.
The Chinese make the first use of gunpowder in battle.

4. The Third Century (200 to 300 A.D.)

With its western and eastern provinces both in rebellion, the Roman Empire fragments into three separate states for more than fifteen years.
China, similarly, endures the "Three Kingdoms Period," split into Wei, Shu, and Wu.
Under the Sassanid dynasty, Persia resumes its role as a major world power.
Maize cultivation spreads into North America.

5. The Fifth Century (400 to 500 A.D.)

Rome becomes the dominant power in the western Mediterranian after the First and Second Punic Wars.
Ashoka amasses a mighty empire in modern-day India, spreading Buddhism throughout South Asia.
The Han Dynasty in founded in China.
Archimedes does all sorts of clever things in the fields of mathematics and engineering.

6. The Seventh Century (600 to 700 A.D.)

Islam is founded on the Arabian Peninsula.
The Sassanids sack Jerusalem and take off with the Relic of the True Cross.
In what is now modern Ethiopia, the kingdom of Axum reaches the height of its influence and power.
Arab Muslims conquer Persia, Egypt, North Africa, and plenty of other places too.

7. The Tenth Century (900 to 1000 A.D.)

Spain is conquered by Moors, Muslim invaders from North Africa.
The Normans invade and conquer England.
Marco Polo visits China.
Charlemagne brings a huge section of Europe under his control and establishes the Holy Roman Empire.

8. The Twelfth Century (1100 to 1200 A.D.)

The Anasazi civilization, in what is now the American Southwest, collapses.
Portugal gains its independence from the Kingdom of Leon.
Richard the Lionhearted leads the Third Crusade against Saladin.
England begins the conquest of Ireland.

9. The Thirteenth Century (1200 to 1300 A.D.)

The Conquests of Genghis Khan and his descendents. Many, many countries in Asia and Europe fall to the Mongols.
English nobles force the king to sign the Magna Carta, a document limiting royal power.
The Fourth Crusade, intended to battle Muslims in Palestine, gets distracted and ends up brutally sacking the Christian city of Constantinople instead.
The Latin Empire of Constantinople supplants the Byzantine Empire for several decades, but the Byzantines eventually reestablish their empire.

10. The Fourteenth Century (1300 to 1400 A.D.)

The English, under King John II, are expelled from France following the Battle of Rennes.
Victory over the Bulgarians in the War of Attrition marks the rise of Russia as a world power.
Emperor Khemmer the Great wins independence from the Mogul Empire for what is now Southeast Asia.
Siltification makes it impossible for oceangoing ships to penetrate the Nile Delta, thus ending Egypt's history as a world power.

11. The Fifteenth Century (1400 to 1500 A.D.)

The Inca Empire, weakened by an unfortunately timed civil war, is conquered by the Spanish.
Isaac Newton publishes his "Principia."
The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Crusades all fail to a greater or lesser extent.
Europe is ravaged by the early decades of the Hundred Years War.

12. The Seventeenth Century (1600 to 1700 A.D.)

Europe is ravaged by the Thirty Years War.
European Settlement of the Atlantic Coast of North America begins.
The Manchu establish the Qing Dynasty, which will rule China for more than 300 years.
The Battle of Vienna ends Ottoman expansion into Central Europe.

You may submit your answers either in the comments, or by email to

Deadlines: 10 p.m. Thursday (PDT) for this event.
10 p.m. Friday (PDT) for Event #8.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Decathlon Event #8

Event #8: Creative, Embellishment

OK, this third and final creative event is inspired by the New Yorker's Cartoon Caption Contest, which has been running on the last page of that excellent magazine for the past few years.

Below are three images. Your task is to render them highly amusing by adding text. There are a number of different ways you could do this, including:

  • a standard explanatory caption, of the kind you might see under a newspaper photograph.
  • a dialog caption, as in a classic New Yorker-style cartoon.
  • speech or thought balloons to indicate dialog, as in most comic books.
  • labels that turn the image into some kind of allegory, as in a political cartoon.

Mixing and matching is fine; e.g., you could give a newspaper caption to one image, give one speech balloons, and turn the other one into a political cartoon.

Now, you could get all fancy with your image-processing software if you wanted too, but lord knows I've asked you guys to jump through enough hoops already these last few weeks. So, if you want to use labels, thought balloons, or whatever, you can just describe them in words.

Submit your entry in the comments or email it to

Judging: Making the judge laugh will get you a long way. Profundity, innuendo, unexpected insights, classical and/or literary references, and dazzling wordplay are all good too, but only if they don't get in the way of the funniness.

Deadline: Your captions should be in by 10 p.m. Friday, May 16.

Image #1

Image #2

Image #3