Thursday, October 30, 2008

Almost Bay Along It, We'll be Out of the Earth Special

From time to time there will be a fad here in the United States of America to plaster characters from Asian languages all over our leisure clothing. By tradition, the wearer will neither know nor care what the characters mean; the point is only that they look exotic and more or less stylin' upon one's chest or thigh. A few of us will fret about the intellectual vacuity of this sartorial choice, but nobody cares what we think.

Well, it goes both ways. All over the world, people express their contempt for the Anglo-American cultural hegemony by sporting T-shirts on which our beloved mother tongue is contorted into strange and surreal forms. These shirts embody a postmodernist's contempt of the simplistic notion that language can convey precise "meaning." The sole message they bear is rather that coherence is an illusion -- that concepts and states of mind can at most only be extracted from the medium of written language in the form of vague gestures and allusions. Or, as the shirt of a young Russian gentleman I met recently had it,

Almost bay along it
We'll be out of the Earth special

Occasional L&TM5K Commenter Heatherbee has of late been sojourning in the countries of Asia, and took time out from studying traditional Korean drumming techniques to investigate the T-shirt phenomenon. Here, brought to you with the kind help of her mother, is a sampling of her collection.

In conclusion, if you only remember one piece of T-shirt wisdom, it might well be this one:

Brighten the corner where you are
Water is Life
Every Drops of Water are Value

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Thursday Quiz LIX

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 moral authority of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will be unclean until morning.
This Week's Category will smite you but good!

Big Names of the Old Testament

Which of the following are more or less accurate profiles of figures from the Hebrew Bible? And which are entirely apocryphal -- in the sense of, I made them up?

1. Basaam -- Second-in-command to Moses. Leads Israelites to victory in several battles during the flight from Egypt, but blows it by talking Israelites into worshipping a Golden Calf while Moses is away.

2. Cain -- First son of Adam, he is murdered by his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy.

3. David -- Military prodigy, composer, bandit warlord, serial adulterer, and King of Israel, bane to Philistines and the husbands of his lovers, he receives special favor from God for his devotion and piety.

4. Elijah -- King of Babel. Conquers the whole world in the time when there is still only a single language. Commands the construction of a great tower, for which he and his kingdom are punished.

5. Elisha -- Eldest son of the king of Edom. Sacrifices old, sick goats to God so he can keep his healthy, valuable cattle. Is punished by blindness and by the conquest of the Edomites by the Assyrians.

6. Esau -- The grandson of Adam and Grandfather of Abraham. God promises him that his descendents will be the Chosen People.

7. Isaac -- Tricks his elder brother into surrendering his birthright, and tricks his dad into making him heir. But then gets tricked by his father in law, who makes him work for seven years and then gives him the less attractive daughter. Father of Joseph.

8. Jezebel -- The Queen of Sheba. Visits King David and exchanges lavish gifts with him. A romantic liaison between the two of them is hinted at, but never spelled out.

9. Joseph -- Sold into slavery in Egypt by his older brothers, he works his way up the ladder from slave to high government official. Has the whole family move down to Egypt, from where they will have to escape a few generations later.

10. Sarah -- An Israelite leader during the time of the Judges. Allows herself to be "lured into" a Moabite general's tent, then bludgeons him to death with his own idol of Baal.

11. Saul -- First king of the Israelites. Successful on the battlefield, but angers God by ignoring details of religious practice. Falls on his sword when it all goes wrong.

12. Solomon -- Father of King David. Unites the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Receives the code of religious and civil laws from God. Killed in battle against the Philistines.

Post your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Reading List: Dominion

What? "The Reading List"?

Newcomers to the blog may not know about The Reading List. Compiled in a frenzy of Internet-based democracy, it is my eclectic program of self-betterment through reading, as prescribed by the L&TM5K readers. I read the books, I think about 'em, I write 'em up here for you to read about or not, as is your pleasure. It is just like college, except better.

The reason that newcomers to the blog may not know about The Reading List is that it has been awhile since I last wrote about a Reading List book. The reason is largely that I kind of stink at reading non-fiction. I've always had trouble with that. And if it's downer non-fiction, that's even worse; I grew up thinking of reading as the finest form of entertainment, which can make it hard to buckle down and read a sustained argument on a depressing topic.

But I have persevered, and herewith is my coverage of Dominion. It was nominated to the list by Blog Dork Rex Parker, who said of it "This book literally changed my life.... Changed the way I see the entire world.... The most original and convincing argument for the humane treatment of animals I've ever read."

Now, you have already figured out that a book about the humane treatment of animals necessarily talks a lot about the inhumane treatment of animals. If that's not a subject you want to engage with today, stop right here and come back when you're in more of a mood for it.


The most arresting single thing about Dominion is probably the person who wrote it. Matthew Scully is what you would call a "died-in-the-wool Conservative." He writes for National Review and similar right-wing publications, and served a stint as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Well, Conservatives write books. But they don't usually write books on animal welfare, and they especially don't usually write scathing critiques of human treatment of animals, rooting the critique more or less in their religious convictions. So whatever else you might say about Matthew Scully, you have to admire his individuality and his complete disinclination to go along with his own crowd.

In Dominion, Scully takes us into grim territory. He gives us a tour of the world of trophy hunting, shows us around a hog farm, takes us to a conference on marine mammals, and introduces us to some of the personalities and attitudes that have made the misery of our fellow creatures a commonplace over the last quarter of a century. Yet his fieldwork is the least of it; from interviews, secondary sources, and even statistics, Dominion abounds with horrors. It is tough going; Scully is a fine writer, but it took me months to get through this book simply because it is difficult to steel oneself for what you know you are going to learn when you pick it up.

Thinking Too Much

In between the gore, Scully takes aim at the twin banalities that underlie systematic abuse of animals: first, that they just don't mind the torture, and second, that there is no moral problem with mistreating them. Both sets of ideas are firmly ingrained in corporate, legal, and academic thinking, and both are fairly obvious rubbish. There are actual learned debates conducted on whether or not, since they can not use language, animals can think. Scholars argue endlessly over whether, since an animal does not understand the long-term implications of pain, it really experiences "pain" in a meaningful way.

Scully skewers this nonsense with a certain flair, but it is hard to give him too much credit for accurate aim in this fishbarrel. The idea that cognition requires formal language is anywhere from decades to centuries out of date, depending on your academic tradition, and the idea that we experience pain primarily in terms of its future implications clearly refers to some creature other than the humanity I know and love. Any marginally introspective person who has ever paid attention to an animal can recognize how much we share in common with our fellow travellers, and as Scully exposes bizarre (but apparently quite common) attempts to deny the obvious with obtuse learnedness it’s enough to make you grind your teeth.

The proposition that cruelty to animals is just not much of a big deal is a more complex one to deal with. There are a million different ways to dismiss someone who brings up the topic of animal welfare, and the most common -- outside of mocking them with an exaggerated show of enjoyment of meat -- is probably to scold them for being worried about animals when there are so many people suffering in the world. Scully believes, and I would agree, that this is an absurd stance. He happily concedes a belief that the welfare of humans is more important than the welfare of animals, and proceeds to ask: "so what?" In no other area, he points out, do we say it is inappropriate to worry about the lesser problem because of the larger problem, and perhaps we should not here, either. And the lesser problem is perhaps not a small problem, either:

Factory farming isn't just killing: It is negation, a complete denial of the animal as a living being with his or her own needs and nature. It is not the worst evil we can do, but it is the worst evil we can do to them. It confronts us with the animal equivalent of Abraham Lincoln's condemnation of human slavery: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."
Scully resists formulating a specific theory of animal welfare. He suggests a number of policy solutions in a final chapter, but in terms of an overall approach he pleads only for mercy: the respect shown to the weak by the powerful, the decency shown to the captive by the free. It is an idea of appealing simplicity:

...animal welfare is not just a moral problem to be solved in statutes, but a moral opportunity to fill our own lives with acts of compassion. Kindness to animals is not our most important duty as human beings, nor is it our least important. How we treat our fellow creatures is only one more way in which each one of us, every day, writes our own epitaph -- bearing into the world a message of light and life or just more darkness and death, adding to the world's joy or to its despair.
Scully argues from a religious perspective, specifically a conservative Catholic perspective, and much of the critique in Dominion is rooted in ideas formulated by saints, popes, and other Catholic and Christian thinkers. It is a tricky business, as the Christian tradition is far from clear on the matter of the relationship between humanity and its fellow creatures; however, Scully ultimately presents a convincing accretive argument that Christian virtue does not consist in bullying the animals who are, truly, forever at our mercy.

Morality in a Consumer’s World

Scully has a tough row to hoe. The people he would really like to talk to are the people who do not want to know how animals are treated, because this would diminish their enjoyment of their food. For Scully, this prioritization of a personal appetite over the welfare of a fellow creature is shameful behavior. More, to Scully, it is sinful behavior. (He also refers to it in a few places as unmanly behavior). He may have a point. My refusal to think about what an animal had to endure on the way to becoming my meal is a negation of its sacrifice; it is to act as if there were no meaningful suffering involved. Since it is unlikely that I actually believe that, if pressed to the point, then I am by definition a hypocrite. But if this is an issue for me, it is awfully unlikely that I am reading Scully's book. I'm probably not even reading this review.

My own assessment of Scully is that his book has two flaws: it is too long, and it is unnecessarily steeped in a specific religious stance. Even as he rightly demolishes the torturous arguments of those who deny animal sentience, and even though his call to mercy is a not a complex one, by invoking theology he still makes a very simple moral problem one step more complex than it needs to be.

Most people, whatever their religious background, reveal the way they honestly think and feel about animals in the way they introduce them to children. A knowledge of animals is, after all, among the very first things we teach kids. Before a child can even talk, he or she has often been trained to mimic the sounds of dozens of animals. Many parents adopt pets or take their children to zoos from a very young age, in order to teach them the kind of respect and gentleness towards their fellow creatures that will serve them well in life. Exposure to animals is by unspoken but universal consensus a way of instilling and affirming a child's humanity. A boy or girl who loves cats, dogs, horses, or whatever creature is thought to be a happy child.

Now, imagine your neighbor has a child who locks a dog in a sealed box that is slightly smaller than its body, so that the animal is literally pinned in place by metal bars. The child locks the dog into this pen when it is a puppy and it is kept there, held in place over a bare concrete floor smeared with its own filth, for its entire life. It is not, of course, allowed to go outside. It is not allowed to move. It is not allowed to lay down. Would you object?

Well, of course you would. In fact, the scenario makes no sense, because you would have objected on the first day; no one would be allow a dog to be tortured like this. Aside from our commendable pity for the animal in question, we would rightly read the way that the child is treating animals as indicative of his or her mental health. This child would immediately and rightly be seen as deeply, horribly disturbed. Your neighbors would, at a minimum be facing visits from the police and from child welfare agencies. There would unquestionably be psychologists in this child's future, if not institutionalization.

Now, let's say that an entire society treated its livestock in this fashion. Pigs, for instance, a social animal generally thought to be slightly smarter than dogs; let's say that they were treated this way. That, of course, we call factory farming, and it or something much like it is the source of most meat products in the United States.

So, it's not like this is an issue of great moral ambiguity. It's just that it is just damned hard to behave as well in a complex corporate society as we do naturally in person.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Great Movies: "L'Avventura"

Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1960

More mid-century European existentialism, about more rich people suffering from zee ennui. Filmed beautifully but without a trace of wit or humor, L'Avventura is the worst of the parade of like-minded movies we have seen in this project. From its flat emotional affect to its shallow, insufferable characters; from its smirking refusal to offer a plot to its implication that the boredom of rich twits is the major problem facing humanity, this is exactly the kind of movie that has trained generations of Americans to hate foreign film.

Ebert tells us that the film was booed at Cannes before being given an award, and that its status in the United States was largely due to its being championed by the great film critic Pauline Kael. He admits that he disliked the movie for decades before finally warming to its depiction of loneliness and alienation. I think he was right the first decades. Depicting loneliness and alienation is shooting fish in a barrel; all you need to do is frame expressionless people in a spartan landscape and put windy noises at the soundtrack. Antonioni does this well enough, but so what? It's directors who can provide a story with real, believable characters who are earning their keep, and it's providing insight into the human experience that is a worthy achievement. L'Avventura does none of the above. It is well-filmed twaddle.

Plot: Some rich people experience ennui while yachting in the Mediterranean. One of them disappears. This is no biggie for the viewer, since the characters are all interchangeable anyway, and it doesn't seem to be too much of a concern for them either. The remainder in the movie deals with them reacting to the loss of their comrade in assorted highly improbable but very photogenic ways.

The title, incidently, means "The Adventure." But there is no adventure. Deep, dude.

Visuals: Impeccably filmed in black and white.

Dialogue: Melodramatic ham for disaffected intellectuals.

Prognosis: I watched this movie so you wouldn't have to. You're welcome.

Update: Mrs.5000 points out that Antonioni also directed Blow-Up, which I disliked. But it sure looks good next to L'Avventura.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Monday Quiz IL

DorkFest badges available on yesterday's post.

National Flags!
Time to get all vexillogical on you again. From the flag and the clue, can you identify the country? Why or why not?

1. By some measures, it's the largest country in Africa.

2. By some measures, it's the largest country in Europe.

3. The world's 23rd largest economy.

4. It has failed to function as a country for more than 15 years.

5. In its own language, it is the Eesti Vabariik.

Submit your answers in the comments.

DorkFest: The Hangover

In response to actual reader requests, I have created badges for those who placed in DorkFest 2008. The first, second, and third place winners have had their special badges -- gold, silver, and blue, per L&TM5K tradition -- hand delivered, but since I don't have emails for all of the finalists and semifinalists I will just post them here for you to cut and paste into your website, letterhead, business card, wedding invitation, or wherever you want to put it.

Badges! We Need Stinkin' Badges!

The SemiFinalists -- Sandy, la gringissima, d, Mrs.5000, boo, and Morgan -- have rightfully earned the right to the Red Badge of DorkFest.

And the Finalists -- Phineas, MJ, Jennifer, Rhetorical Twist, Blythe, and Yankee in England -- win the right to the Green Badge!

Those of you who are developing a taste for Interobangin', as Boo put it, might be interested in this item of jewelry I noticed while searching for the Interobang image:

Their creator sells them for $20 on Etsy. Tell her michael5000 sent you! She won't know what the hell you're talking about, but that's just part of the fun.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The 5000s Ogle Some Art

One of my birthday presents from Mrs.5000 this year was a pass to Portland Open Studios, a yearly event where artists around Portland open their studios (hence the name) so you can come, watch them work, ask questions, and ideally hand them suitcases full of money in exchange for their art. It's a hoot.

We must have gone to more than twenty studios all told. Among the most fabulous of the art on offer was that by the Honorable Vice Dork Emeritus Fingerstothebone and by regular L&TM5K reader Margaret, but they are both pretty shy and I wouldn't want to embarass them by gushing about their work.

So instead, I'll just mention two of our other favorites on the tour.

Erin Leichty

Highly textured, layered pieces with bits of ambiguous text sometimes visible in fragments, Erin Leichty's work was arresting, evocative, and lovely.

"Three Point Landing" 36" x 48" mixed media

The process of creating these involves lots of layering, applying media and then scraping a lot of media off. As we were watching a demo, she scrubbed vigorously at the piece she was working on, saying that after you apply a certain substance you have to "burnish it off." I misheard, and asked what she was referring to when she said you had to "burn the shit off." The little group watching busted up laughing, but I'm pretty sure that they were laughing at me, not with me.

"Meaning from Mayhem" 30" x 15" acrylic/oil pastel/transfer

It's kind of hard to show you just how cool these are in little blog pictures, because you lose a lot of the detail and a lot of the texture. But I guess that's true of all art photography.

"Buoyant Reflections" (4 panels) 16" x 16" x 4 acrylic/oil pastel

I took these images off of the "Erin Leichty Modern Art" website,, with my usual bad manners about asking or anything.

Maggie Casey

Maggie Casey makes really cool things, mostly out of string. Her studio was filled with fascinating, delicate, wistful little constructions and mobiles, some so subtle as to be almost invisible until inspected closely.

Among these smaller works were a few large, solid-seeming, and fascinating examples of what she calls "boxes."

"Hanging Angle" is just cool. Just cool, cool, cool. It takes the kind of geometries I associate will Sol LeWitt, but realizes them with a precise craftsmanship using folklike materials. You could stare at this sucker for hours, I'll tell you what.

Maggie Casey's website,, is pretty damn fine as well. I got these images from it, except I actually asked permission this time!

Oh, fine....

Here's what Fingers' latest piece, Martha, looks like. It's the first of what will hopefully be a long series based on her work with seniors with dementia.

...and here's a random sample of the output from Ma Nao Books, Margaret's bookarts studio.

Aren't they awesome?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Thursday Quiz LVIII

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 final authority on all matters of law:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will be denied their writ of mandamus.
This Week's Category is all, like, "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez"!

Current Justices of the Supreme Court

Yes, it's the topic that everybody hated when I used it in one of the early Monday Quizzes! Which of the following are current Justices of the United States (sorry, MJ) Supreme Court? And which are not?

1. Madeleine Albright
2. Samuel Alito
3. Hugo Black
4. Harry Blackmun
5. William J. Brennan
6. Stephen Breyer
7. Alberto Gonzalez
8. Anthony Kennedy
9. Sandra Day O'Connor
10. John Roberts
11. David Souter
12. John Paul Stephens

Post your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Michael5000 Tells You What to Think!

[right: "Rock the Goat" by the Honorable Vice Dork Emeritus Fingerstothebone, used without so much as a how-do-you-do]

If you live here in the Beaver State, no doubt you are wondering what to do with those ballot thingies that came in the mail the other day. Well, you're in luck! Here are the official L&TM5K endorsements for the Oregon ballot measures!!! I recommend just blindly following them without question.

YES on 54 (eligibility for school board elections) -- This is an uncontroversial housekeeping measure, an obvious yes.

YES on 55 (changes operative date of redistricting plans) -- Another uncontroversial housekeeping item.

YES on 56 (property tax elections are decided by majority of voters voting) -- This measure repeal's Oregon's recent "double-majority" law, which requires property tax measures to win a majority of votes in an election in which a majority of registered voters cast ballots. The double-majority law has been a grotesque perversion of democracy, forcing "no" votes into the mouth of every person who is out of town, isn't paying attention, loses their ballot, or decides to to sit out an election. It never should have been passed, and it stinks, and it really needs to go.

YES on 57 (increases sentences for repeat criminal offenders) -- Not really an especially great plan, but it needs to pass to rule out Measure 61, below. Isn't democracy fun?

NO on 58 (prohibits teaching public school student in language other than English for more than two years) -- Here's an idea: maybe people who have trained for years to be teachers and then spent years in the classroom, teaching, know more about education than other taxpayers. Maybe we could back off and let them figure out what works best? Just a thought.

NO on 59 (creates an unlimited deduction for federal income taxes on individual taxpayers' Oregon income-tax returns) -- I am in general opposed to special tax cuts for the wealthy. They have so many already.

NO on 60 (teacher "classroom performance," not seniority, determines pay raises; "most qualified" teachers retained, regardless of seniority) -- Another attempt to micromanage school administration by a committee of the entire citizenry. Offensive to common sense.

NO on 61 (creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, identity theft, forgery, drug, and burglary crimes) -- Crime is, contrary to public opinion, way down in the Beaver State. I would prefer my tax money to be spent on education, libraries, and proactive policing, rather than to warehousing the additional 5000 prisoner wards of the state this measure would create. But that's just me. Lamentably, this measure really appeals to kneejerk tax-and-spend Conservatives, which is why we are pretty much forced to vote yes on the more moderate 57.

NO on 62 (allocates 15% of lottery proceeds to public safety fund for crime prevention, investigation, prosecution) -- Whenever you allocate lottery proceeds to anything, you make government dependent on the promotion of gambling. I've always felt that it is unjust to put a special tax on the mathematically unsophisticated.

NO on 63 (exempts specified property owners from building permit requirements for improvements valued at/under 35,000 dollars) -- Much as people like to yak about the restrictions placed on what they can do with their homes by building codes, they are really among the most progressive laws we have. Building codes recognize that your house is likely going to be around longer than you are. They are not, as people sometimes complain, "the city protecting your from yourself," but rather the city protecting the future inhabitants of your house (not to mention your neighbors) from you. Or, if you prefer, protecting you from the former inhabitants of your house, not to mention your neighbors. It's a good thing.

If 63 passes, houses are going to get pretty ugly. It would be a boon for the fly-by-night contractors and a big green light for the kind of Sunday carpenters who don't realize how complicated a project is until they are halfway through it. It wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would make life a little shabbier for everyone.

NO on 64 (penalizes person, entity for using funds collected with "public resource" for "political purpose") -- A crude, heavy-handed union-busting measure.

I HAVE NO IDEA on 65 (changes general election nomination processes) -- I don't know what to think of this one. It sounds daft, but it has some smart people signed on as supporters. Anybody have ideas on this one?

Au Contraire, Mon Frere!

I haven't filled the ballot out yet. If you want to tell michael5000 what to think, the comment button is down yonder.

But I Don't Live in Oregon. Any Advice for Me?

Well, for the national Presidential election, I am inclined to a candidate who, although young and not as experienced as I would love, has nonetheless shown himself to possess remarkable skills of leadership, administration, and policy development. He has had the good judgement to choose for a Vice Presidential candidate a seasoned, highly competant politician who can complement his strengths and remedy his weaknesses.

Which is to say....

Obamarama, baby! Barack the House!!
Wednesday Weigh-In: Still 213, which is now four over plan. May have to step this whole thing up.
On a positive note, I forgot to drink any diet cola last Sunday...

Monday, October 20, 2008

DorkFest 2008: Results

Hi! Welcome to Michael5000's world-famous regionally recognized award-winning long-standing daily internet entertainment!

Since you're here anyway, why not vote in the Infinite Art Tournament?

There are quizzes every Monday if that's more to your taste.

Or, let's talk about movies!

At the Movies with Michael5000

C'mon! It'll be fun!!

...or, you can just read this post from seven or eight years ago:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus Dorkam!

But first....

It was a rigorous and exhausting conclave for the Honorable Dork Emeritus G and I. From the no fewer than 27 people who submitted some form of dorky credentials, we had to choose the very dorkiest. It was no mean feat. And yet, in the end, we were in considerable accord. The spreadsheet sent back to me from New York City -- yes, it was a spreadsheet, but we all knew she leaves very, very dorky shoes to fill -- was not far from my own thoughts on the matter.


We salute, first of all, the semifinalists. Their dorky credentials are impeccable. They should be proud of their achievements this DorkFest, and are only a few odd hobbies, tastes, compulsions, skills, or obsessions away from making a run on the title next year. They are the DorkFest 2008 Semifinalists, and may proudly announce themselves as such on their resumes, letterhead, or Facebook profile.
Sandy - Cries "I've tried all my life to be cool" in a desparate, shrill voice.
la gringissima - Dressed up as Salvador Dalai Lama, twice.
d - Dangerously into fonts.
Mrs.5000 - Eggs me on.
boo - Has a puppet and uses it.
Morgan - Morgan would likely have been among the finalists had he not submitted his strongest evidence after the conclave had wrapped up. The youngest entrant by several years, Morgan is definitely a man to watch in future competitive dorkiness.


We celebrate now those who rose out of the pack to Strut their Dork with remarkable convinction and aplomb!

Phineas - The conclave agonized over this choice, as Phineas seems so... there's no nice way to say it... well-adjusted. What finally tipped him over the line was his reading regimen and, moreso, his badgering his daughter to attest to his dorkiness. That was pretty dorky!

MJ - Here's someone who says she (?) had to force herself to stop collecting stamps. Think about that for a minute. Someone who learned English in order to read "Hagar the Horrible." Awesome. Plus, the whole mismatched sock thing. A very solid contribution to the 'Fest!

Jennifer - If I may just quote from my notes: "Reads encrypted text-based adventure games fluently. Has memorized some but not all Presidents. Wonders if DorkFest is her birthday present. Believes in justice. Schedules wardrobe. Throws secret holidays. Can't take the suspense." Wow! Winner of two special awards, too. Special Commendation from G: "Specialized Dork." Also: "Runner-Up, Most Improved Dork."

Rhetorical Twist - With an apparent crush on a Latin American educational theorist and a penchant for revealing hidden ideology behind animated filmed entertainment, Rhetorical Twist posted a solid entry. She reads critical theory for fun. Dorky! Special commendation for academic dorkiness.

Blythe - A last-possible-second entry revealed exciting new intel about Oklahoma's most self-deprecating dork. The Victorian doily-making phase made a big impression on the judges, an impression of that mingled sense of admiration and pity one feels for the very greatest dorks. The best thing about Blythe's entry is that one feels she hasn't yet peaked in competitive dorkiness.

Yankee in England - Compulsive behavior and science fiction are many a dork's close companions, and both were woven through Yank's multiple contributions to DorkFest. Quirky as can be, her transatlantic entries were a real asset to the occasion.

The Second Runner-Up

After a year of flawless service as Vice Dork, Fingerstothebone put together another powerful and credible entry. From her elaborate algorythms for the organization of everyday life to her impeccable record-keeping, to her presentation of all of the above in a menu format, Fingers is always a force to be reckoned with on the field of Dork. Also, she has her sister's vote. And I'm still blushing about that whole St. Teresa thing. Hats off for the Honorable Vice Dork Emeritus Fingerstothebone!

Vice Dork

The runner up of DorkFest 2007 refers to herself as the "dorkiest dang dork" in Thailand! She cross stitches as an alternative to alcohol and marijuana use, does fan fiction, respects square dancing, and gets pretty worked up about a good flag contest. Parades, she says, make her "cry for joy." Wow! She's dorky, and flies her dork flag in style. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you: Vice Dork Rebel!
Rebel says: I am too busy seething in resentment of the as yet unnamed Dork of the year - who is clearly not nearly as qualified for the position as I am, and will not do nearly as good a job as I would have done - to comment on this announcement.

I am already very pleased with her performance.

Rebel also wins first place in the "Most Improved Dork" category, for which she will be awarded a special prize: a Velcro Desk Organizer Kit donated by L&TM5K reader Margaret!!

Habemus Dorkam!

In accordance with the ancient rituals, G has been struck three times on the forehead with a small silver hammer while I called out her real name, not just "G," and she failed to respond or giggle. And thus the way is clear for the new Dork to assume his title.

Yes, "his."

For if publishing a daily critical analysis of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle weren't enough; if publishing comic deconstructions of pulp paperback covers weren't enough; if making his wife compete and then heckling her entry (albeit gently) weren't enough; as if that picture of his desk weren't enough... I've lost track of where I was going with this. But c'mon, people -- he's writing a werewolf novel! He's still griping about DorkFest '07! He ran a private tournament of the Shakespeare plays!

He's got the depth, he's got the breadth, and now he's got the Mr. Shain Memorial $16.40 Starbucks Giftcard!

Gentle Readers, I present the Winner of DorkFest 2008, the new L&TM5K Dork, Rex Parker!
Rex says: I'd like to take this occasion to announce my official retirement from competitive dorking. I love being a dork, but, well, It's just gotten so commercial.
Thanks for the honor. I'll try to live up to whatever standards there might be for a post such as the one I now occupy.
One notes, of course, that this is the second time Rex has claimed to be above the fray in competitive dorkiness in a week. And look what happened last time.

And Thanks

To all of you who contributed to making DorkFest 2008 the best DorkFest ever! See you next year!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Monday Quiz XLVIII

DorkFest '08 results 9 p.m. PDT Monday

Name That Theme!
1. What's happening here? Where?

2. Who are these guys? What are they up to?

3. What incident is portrayed here?

4. This is the plan for what operation?

5. Why did this helicopter crash in the Iranian desert?

Submit your answers in the comments.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

DorkFest: The Conclave

Michael5000 and G have removed to chambers to review materials and debate the relative merits of the various contestants.

Any further submissions will only be accepted if accompanied by big-time flattery.

Watch for the white smoke!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

DorkFest Friday

This Post Was Written on my New Laptop Computer

My new laptop computer arrived on Wednesday. It is superior to the 1999 laptop that I have been using hitherto in a number of ways:
  • it exceeds the older machine in memory, speed, and processing power by roughly the same factor by which the older machine exceeds a toaster.

  • its screen is still securely attached to its keypad.

  • it was not manufactured during the three-day period when people thought that computers of the future might connect to the internet through an infrared beam.

  • its battery will hold a charge significantly longer than my older laptop's 2 to 4 seconds.

  • it is capable of using those newfangled flash drives.

  • it is connectable to the internet by means other than dial-up (or, theoretically, infrared).

  • it is lighter, yet has a larger screen.

  • it is blue.
So of course I am very excited. With this kind of portability, I will be able to create top-quality content for you and yours at coffeeshops throughout the City of Roses! I will be able to maintain the L&TM5K not just from anywhere in Castle5000, not just from anywhere in the city, but from anywhere in the world! I will never need to be away from the blog again! So I am very pleased, and so of course is Mrs.5000.

The Obvious Question

The obvious question, though, is: what should I name my new machine? Being a deeply traditional man, I like to consult the calandar of saints when I name my computers. The old laptop, for instance, is Vincent, as it was St.Vincent's Day (I forget which day, or even which St. Vincent) in 1999 when it arrived in my home. It's tricky, though, because October 15 is a bit of a saint's day bonanza! Here are the choices:
  • Agileus

  • Antiochus

  • Aurelia of Strasbourg

  • Bruno of Quefort

  • Callistus

  • Cannatus

  • Fortunatus

  • Gaius of Korea

  • Leonard Vandoeuvre

  • Lucian of Antioch

  • Odilo

  • Sabinus

  • Severus

  • Teresa of Avila

  • Thecla of Kitzengen

  • Wulfram of Sens

Now, I'm going to stick with first names only, because having a computer named "Bruno of Quefort" would be pretty damn silly (unless I lived in Quefort, but I don't). Having a computer named "Bruno" might be kind of tight, though. "Gaius" is right out though, as it would remind me of Caligula. And I don't want my computer to be named "Teresa," because that's too close to Tereza, so that name is taken.

What do you think? Me and my little blue, nameless machine await your input....

But what does all of this have to do with DorkFest?

Why, nothing at all. Why do you ask?

DorkFest Related Material!!

As the great yearly celebration of DorkFest continues, Rebel wrote in to rectify what she refers to as a "gross oversight": the lack of a DorkFest flag. She offers two prospective designs, which I shall present here without further comment:

And la gringissima sends this in, with the question "does past dorkiness count?"

My answer is that yes, past dorkyness certainly counts -- but I would also want to see some contemporary material from the Brothers Gringissima.

Anyway, to get yourself caught up, here's

The Complete DorkFest Material to Date!

DorkFest 2008 -- the Original Post
DorkFest 2008 -- the Tuesday Post
Rebel's DorkPost
d's DorkPost
Yankee in England's DorkPost
la gringissima's DorkPost
Bridget B's Old Oregon Flag Contest Post, Dorkily Submitted as a DorkPost
Phineas' DorkPost
Fingerstothebone's DorkPost

update: Dan's post which may be an intentional DorkPost, or may just be fortuitously named

update: MJ's DorkPost

update: Blythe's DorkPost

There's one more day to Flaunt your Dork! The rigorous evaluation process will begin sometime on Saturday! And then, the world will hold its breath and wait.... for the next Dork to be announced!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Thursday Quiz LVII

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 enduring values:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will emerge almost entirely intact at the bottom of a glacier, centuries hence.
This Week's Category will seem like it lasts forever!

Periods of Geologic Time

Some of the following are genuine periods of time recognized by geologists and other brainy science types everywhere. Others I just made up. Which is which?

1. Saurian. 720 to 542 million years ago

2. Cambrian. 542 to 288 million years ago

3. Silurian. 444 to 416 million years ago

4. Essexian. 416 to 360 million years ago

5. Carboniferous. 360 to 300 million years ago

6. Triassic. 250 to 200 million years ago

7. Jurassic. 200 to 145 million years ago

8. Cretaceous. 145 to 65 million years ago

9. Paleogene. 65 to 23 million years ago

10. Verdinian. 23 to 12 million years ago

11. Oleolithic. 12 to 2.6 million years ago

12. Quaternary. 2.6 million years ago to right now

Post your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dork Flag: Flying

Here for DorkFest?

Good for you. Explanation here. Commentary on Day One below. Feel free to let fly in the comments.

But First: They Clearly Read My Saturday Post!!!

Holy crap, look what I saw in the 'gonian!

I quote: "On the cusp of the state's susquicentenntial, Oregon needs a flag as distinctive as the place and its people. We invite Oregonians of all ages and backgrounds to tap your creative juices, grab a pencil -- and draw a new flag."

So, yeah, they are totally stealing my idea. But that's cool. We small media outlets are just happy to see our ideas get "out there," no matter what bloated journalistic juggernaut gets all the glory and credit!

But needless to say, I will be submitting all of the winners of last January's Beaver State Flag Makeover contest to this new effort. Maybe NOW the Governor will have to pay some attention. In the meantime, I encourage you apply individually, and to send copies of your entries in to the L&TM5K as well.

"To Enter: Flag designs must be rectangular, on a 3 x 5 card or one of that proportion, and one side only. They can be any color or combination of colors, but no gradated colors. Designs must be original. On the back of your entry, print your name, address, and phone number. Mail to Joan Carlin, 1320 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97201."

Yeah Yeah Yeah, But What About DorkFest?

Well, DorkFest has certainly kicked into high gear! Quite a few contestants have been impressive in the first day of action:
  • Morgan not only checked in first, but revealed through a flurry of messages that he was actually sitting there watching the countdown in the final minutes before the 'Fest began. Seriously dorky behavior.

  • Sitting Vice-Dork Fingerstothebone has demonstrated that she doesn't mind throwing a few elbows. That's good!

  • Yankee in England got all scatological on us.

  • Jennifer let her vulnerabilities show, sharing some of her insecurities -- her feelings of both excitement and dread of potential disappointment -- regarding DorkFest. Very dorky!

  • Rex Parker announced that he would not be competing, then failed to not submit his lack of non-evidence over six comments before emailing in such visual evidence as this picture of his desk:

  • Rebel, who if memory serves thought that DorkFest '07 was just kind of weird, strutted her Dork in impressively comprehensive fashion on her blog, Work in Progress. [About which, without reference to the contest, can I just say: have you all been following her adventures in Thailand?!? Gooood stuff.]

  • ...and then Rex and Rebel got in a little bit of a scuffle, which I thought was excellent form. As was gl.'s abuse of the host.

  • d got in the second known dedicated DorkPost on his Mishaps, Mayhem, and Merriment.

  • ...and it just keeps coming: MJ, Sandy, karma, Boo -- I mean, BOO, the woman who brought you Fillup Monkee! We've got Dork in strength here, people! Even Blythe messaged me, complaining that there hadn't been a DorkFest Evite -- a gambit that put her right there in the running, I thought.

One thing is very, very clear. Sitting Dork G and I are not going to have an easy time of this.

Are the Judges for This Thing Really Qualified?

Here's the opening paragraph of G's current post:

Oh my god. After I emailed the professor [of my class on African masquerade subtitled: "Rhetoric, Theory, Practice")] a few sections from books I'd read recently, she suggested and approved a research topic on the trope of masks/ masquerade/ masking in contemporary romance fiction. She thinks it might be publishable. You know what this means, right? I’m going to read romance novels FOR A RESEARCH PAPER. OH MY GOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD. I almost just jumped around the campus screaming with glee. Seriously.
Me? Well, when I read online yesterday that Paul Krugman, my very favorite economist, had been awarded the Nobel Prize, I leapt out of my office chair, pumped my fist, and shouted "YESSS!" And then -- this is the good part -- I tried to explain to my co-workers why I was excited.

The Dorky "Wednesday Weigh-In" Feature

+2 to 213, 3 over plan. And where I started. Which sucks! But, I nevertheless think that I am in some ways on the right track. Just wait 'til next week....

Monday, October 13, 2008

DorkFest '08 is Here!!!

Gentle Readers, the cycle of the seasons has gone once round, and we find ourselves again in October. This means that it is once again time for DorkFest, the grand annual celebration of personal dorkitude and the mechanism by which this Blog selects its high officers:

The L&TM5K Dork provides a range of ceremonial functions within the L&TM5K community, most of which are fulfilled merely by existing as the Blog Dork. The Dork must also be prepared to take on occasional practical tasks, such as picking a random number to determine the next book on the Reading List and so on. During one's tenure as Dork, one is expected always to act in a dorky manner befitting the high intellectual and moral standards of the L&TM5K readership and the larger dork community.

The L&TM5K Vice-Dork must stand ready to assume all the responsibilities of the L&TM5K Dork in the event of the Dork's incapacitation, decapitation, or defenestration. The Vice-Dork may also be asked to pitch in with the practical tasks as well. During one's tenure as Vice-Dork, one is expected always to seethe in resentment of the Dork, who is clearly not nearly as qualified for the position and is not doing nearly as good a job as one would have done oneself.
But before we proceed, many thanks to the 2007-08 officers. We will have a very difficult time filling the shoes of '07-'08 Dork g, and '07-'08 Vice-Dork Fingerstothebone. They have served honorably and well.

By the bylaws of the blog, the sitting Dork (if you will) is not eligible to run again for the year immediately after her tenure, but will rather assist me, michael5000, in the selection of her successor. The Vice-Dork, however, is free to put her proverbial hat back in the proverbial ring. Seething with resentment that she does not automatically ascend to Dork is also allowed, and in fact would be seen as qualifying as solid evidence of dorkiness.

Let Your Dork Flag Fly!

For the remainder of the week, we will be accepting submissions of evidence. These may be in any of the following formats:

  • DorkFest Classic: In DorkFest'07, the typical pattern was to mention a dorky thing or two about oneself in the comments, then to compulsively return later to disparage other peoples' entries and puff up one's own dork credentials. This form of entry is quite acceptable.

  • The Dork Resume: A resume laying out your training, experience, and special skills in the field of dorkiness may be sent in .doc or .pdf format to M5KDecathlon {at} (No, I'm not going to get ANOTHER Email address just for DorkFest. A man has to have his limits.)

  • The Dorky Post: You may make a case for your own dorky qualifications on your own blog, or any other publically available website. Just don't forget to post a link in the comments, to make sure it gets seen by the committee.

  • The Drunken Late-Night Phone Call: This format is actually kind of discouraged. By me, anyway. I don't want to put words in g's mouth.

  • The Multimedia Extravaganza: Songs, videos, photoessays... Post a link, or send 'em to M5KDecathlon {at} But don't you think you might be going a little overboard?

Fair Notices

Don't get all excited about trying to maximize your score on last year's algorithm. That's ancient history, Daddy-o.

Anything you submit to the M5KDecathlon address might get posted.

The L&TM5K is not responsible to any damage to reputation, self-esteem, or social "pull" you may incur due to participation in DorkFest '08.

The decisions of the Dork selection committee are final. Dorky as it might be to have a long, running battle about who is really dorkiest, it would distract from other, more important issues that we will need to address, such as my opinion of obscure old movies that nobody cares about.

Oh, and I Almost Forgot!

Per tradition, the winner of DorkFest will be awarded the Mr. Shain Memorial $16.40 Starbucks Prize!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Monday Quiz XLVII

On the eve of DorkFest '08, it's a Monday Quiz on


It's been a while since we visited this topic, and I don't think we ever have on a Monday.

What languages are the following bits of text in?






Submit your answers in the comments.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Weekend Edition, Dorky

With DorkFest '08 fast approaching, what could make for a dorkier warm-up post topic than our old standby, state flags?

But First

Speaking of DorkFest: Rebel complained last Thursday "why is there no link for Dorkfest 2007???" I thought this was rather well played, especially with the triple question marks.

DorkFest '07 can be relived here and here.


A few weeks ago, Cartophiliac forwarded me a link to this quiz, in which you are given ten minutes to identify the flags of the fifty states. Ten minutes sounds like a long time, and I assure you it feels like it too, as you sit there guessing wildly at the indistinguishable bottom half of the state flag designs.

Now if you want to take that quiz, run off and do it now, as there will be spoilers in the discussion below. Bon chance!

Dorky Literary Filler

I learned recently that the minimalist composer Michael Nyman is writing an opera based on the classic Laurence Sterne novel Tristram Shandy!

He's been working on it since 1981.

True story.

. . .

OK, you literary types should be either chuckling knowingly or rolling on the floor at this point, depending on how that hit you. If you did not find the above information amusing, go read Tristram Shandy -- which may, I should mention, take a while -- and then try again.

Back to State Flags

OK, the thing about that quiz that interested me is that, at the end, it breaks down how people who have taken the test have done on each individual flag. Here's the whole list:

This U.S. State Flags Quiz has been taken 6,741 times.
State % Guessed Right

California 90.8% *
Montana 87.6% *
Kansas 87.3% *
Arkansas 86.5% *
Oregon 86.4% *
Texas 85.2%
Oklahoma 84.7% *
Wisconsin 84.2% *
Iowa 82.5% *
North Carolina 80.6%
Washington 72.2%
Alaska 68.3%
Colorado 66.6%
Mississippi 65.6%
Arizona 63.2%
Illinois 62.5% *
Wyoming 62.5%
New Mexico 62.1%
Maryland 61.3%
South Dakota 57.7% *
South Carolina 57.4%
Alabama 49.1%
Hawaii 46.3%
Ohio 45.2%
Rhode Island 43.8%
Florida 41.5%
Louisiana 37.9%
Tennessee 37.9%
New York 37.9%
Georgia 33.3%
Indiana 33.3%
Delaware 29.8%
Maine 29.2%
North Dakota 28.9%
New Jersey 28.7%
Vermont 28.5%
Michigan 28.1%
Massachusetts 27.8%
Virginia 27.7%
Connecticut 26.6%
Pennsylvania 26.4%
Nevada 25.5%
Missouri 25.5%
Utah 25.5%
Kentucky 24.9%
New Hampshire 24.9%
Idaho 24.4%
I of course wondered WHY there was such great variability here. It's not too hard to figure out, though. Most of the most recognizable state flags -- the ones I marked with an asterisk above -- have their names written in big honkin' letters on their design. I actually think this is pretty poor form vexillogically, but it sure makes a flag easily identifiable on a quiz. [also: North Carolina has the letters "N C" on the design, which is kind of a giveaway. On Illinois and South Dakota, the words are too small to read easily on the little images used in the quiz.]

In the next tier of recognizability, we have the distinctive and meaningful designs that I like to see on a flag. Washington's homage to its namesake (and distinctive use of green); the bold graphics of New Mexico, Alaska, Colorado, South Carolina, and Maryland; the local color of Wyoming, Hawaii, and Rhode Island -- people remember these because they are interesting and reflective of the state's history or identity. The corporate logos of Ohio and Tennessee, although less evocative, still manage to stand out from the state-seal-on-blue crowd.

The state-seal-on-blue crowd? Well, the data speaks pretty loudly on this point. Here are nine of the eleven least-recognized flags of the American states:

THAT's what I'm talking about! So I just think that in this election year, instead of nattering on about tax policy or health care or foreign policy or the so-called "national debt," we should be focusing our energy on something really important: bringing our state flags to the standards of a 21st Century nation.

See ya next week at DorkFest '08!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Great Movies: "Le Samouraï"

Le Samourai 
Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967

This movie reminds me of a lot of the other movies I have watched in the Great Movies project. It fits into the noir tradition of The Big Sleep. It shares a post-war European milieu and sensibility with La Dolce Vida. Like last week's M, it has a character who is hunted by both police and criminals, and uses clever imagery and editing to point out ironic similarities between the cops and the robbers. Like Blow-Up, or 8 1/2, or even Ikiru, it is drenched in the chic alienation of mid-century existentialism.

Many IAT readers will have seen Jim Jarmush's Ghost Dog, a movie which must have been conceived as a sort of remake of Le Samouraï. Both films are about introverted hit men who adopts a rigorous personal code of honor that, for them, adds structure and meaning to their lives and work. This is patently ironic, of course, because of what they are: hit men. They kill strangers for money. By definition, their lives are wholly devoid of honor. But both movies mess with us, making their protagonists sleek and compelling (in Ghost Dog, affable; in Le Samouraï, grimly sexy). Whereas the Jarmush film is dark comedy, however, Le Samouraï is all about the alienation. At the movies, existentialism comes across as a kind of emotional constipation, with glamorous, world-weary characters doing what they must do despite their constant battle with zee ennui.

Plot: A professional killer struggles against the police and other forces in order to retain his precious freedom -- "Freedom," in this case, consisting of smoking cigarettes in a drab apartment. In the end, the killer must choose between living on his own squalid terms, or not at all.

Dialog: The protagonist can't have more than a few dozen lines in the whole film. Between this and his failure to register an emotion of any kind, the role might as well have been cast with a wax statue. The first lines are spoken perhaps six or seven minutes into the film, and there are lots of long passages with only ambient noises on the soundtrack.

Visuals: Melville uses a drab, drab palette for his drab, drab subject matter. In the long opening shot of the killer's nasty apartment, you initially think you are watching a black and white film. You gradually become aware that no, everything in the apartment is grey and dirty white. His walls, curtains, furniture, and bedding are all grey. He has no apparent possessions, other than a shelf of dozens and dozens of bottles of mineral water. He wears a white shirt, a black tie, a grey coat and hat. He has a grey bird in a grey cage that chirps unpleasantly and constantly. But, he has his freedom!

Prognosis: If you like mid-century European cinema, you'll like Le Samouraï. If you don't, you won't.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Thursday Quiz LVI

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 Uniform Code of Military Justice:

No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. Violators will be put on K.P.
This Week's Category will attempt to turn your vulnerable right flank!


We did peace treaties a while back; this week, it's time to Give War a Chance. Which summaries are reasonably accurate descriptions of historic battles? And which ones represent michael5000's total war on truth and historicity?

1. Battle of the Bulge -- With Allied forces moving rapidly across Europe in 1944, the German army launches a major offensive through the Ardennes Forest to try to turn the tide of the war. Although the Germans advance rapidly at first, over several weeks the battle grinds to, basically, a draw. The Allies, in a much better position to absorb losses, resume their drive toward Berlin.

2. Battle of the Coral Sea -- An American/Australian fleet engages the Japanese navy in 1942 to try to head off an invasion of New Guinea and the Solomon islands. Although the Japanese sink a large American aircraft carrier at the cost only of a very small carrier of their own, they are forced to call off their planned invasions. After months of humiliating defeats, the indecisive battle feels like a victory in the U.S. and Australia.

3. Battle of Dien Bien Phu -- Blocked by the Great Wall and its garrisons, Genghis Khan's hearty Mongol warriors simply ride around it. After a grueling crossing of the Gobi Desert, they stun a completely unprepared army at the village of Dien Bien Phu, slaughtering tens of thousands of soldiers caught without their swords and armor. The fear and awe inspired by this total victory takes a heavy toll on China's ability to continue resisting the Mongol invasion.

4. Battle of Gallipoli -- The Roman Empire makes its first big land grab off of the Italian Peninsula in 430 B.C., as Emperor Marcus Aurelius personally leads troops into what is today Greece. At the hill village of Gallipoli, an Athenian army proves helpless against the innovative "phalanx" formations of the Romans. Subsequently, Roman culture will be strongly influenced by Greek ideas.

5. Battle of Hastings -- During a succession crisis for the throne of England, Duke William of Normandy goes after the de facto king, Harold II. Harold's troops, exhausted from fighting off the army of yet a third aspirant to the throne, defend against one of the largest amphibious invasion forces in history to that point. The battle is a hard fought one, but the Normans prevail.

6. Battle of Iwo Jima -- After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Empire conquers Southeast Asia and the Pacific with incredible speed. The first hint that Japan was not invincible comes at Iwo Jima, where the American flag is famously kept flying for two long weeks above Mt. Suribachi before the Marines are forced off the island. "I shall return," says General McArthur, and he does; Iwo Jima is to be the last major American defeat in the Pacific.

7. Battle of New Orleans -- With American forces converging toward the Mexican heartland in early 1848, Santa Ana conceives a desperate assault on the lower Mississippi. Unfortunately for Mexico, the invading troops immediately run into a large American reserve force en route to the front lines. Led by Andrew Jackson, the Americans triumph in a battle fought, ironically, several hours after a formal peace treaty is signed in Mexico City.

8. Battle of the Somme -- In 1916, with the Front Line of WWI bogged down in trench warfare, the French and British devise a plan to break through the German lines. With around 625,000 Allied soldiers killed in the months-long operation, their tiny territorial gains can be accounted at roughly two lives per centimeter. The 465,000 dead German soldiers prove more difficult to replace, however, so the battle of attrition is in a sense a strategic success for the Allies.

9. Battle of Thermopylae -- In 480 B.C., the vastly outnumbered army of a coalition of Greek city-states, led by the Spartans, hold off the advancing forces of the mighty Persian Empire at a narrow mountain pass. Although the Persians eventually secure the pass, the delay and losses they sustain at Thermopylae stall their offensive; shortly after, they are pushed back out of Greece and Europe for good.

10. Battle of Trafalgar -- In 1805, as the French Empire gobbles up great swathes of Central Europe, the British desperately retain the naval superiority that prevents an invasion of their island country. Admiral Nelson, outnumbered but with better ships and crews, capitalizes on his advantages with unconventional tactics and achieves an almost total victory over a combined French/Spanish fleet.

11. Battle of Vicksburg -- The French advance rapidly eastward in the opening months of the Franco-Prussian War, but their offensive grinds to a halt at the Rhine River. When the Germans abandon a bridge at the small river port of Vicksburg, falsely believing it unusable, the French are able to get 35,000 men across the river literally overnight. The subsequent battle shatters German resistance; surrender follows six weeks later.

12. Battle of Waterloo -- Napoleon, defeated and exiled the year before, returns to France in 1815 and attempts to resume his imperial rule where it left off. Surrounding European states begin mobilizing their armies to prevent a repeat of French expansionism. Napoleon attempts to take the offensive, but his armies are beaten in Southern Belgium. Some 50,000 young men are killed. Napoleon is sent back into exile.

Crush all opposition to the sheer might of your intellect, by posting your answers in the comments.

Driving Around with Refugees

Two Vignettes from Behind the Wheel


I am driving with a young man from Africa. We're on our way back from a job interview, and have been explaining that it's OK that he wasn't hired on the spot, that there is an abstract hiring process here, that it takes time.

Young Man: It's very hard here.

michael5000: Yes, America can be a hard place in some ways.

YM: When I was in the camp, my friends who were already here would call me and say "Come to the United States as soon as you can! It's easy to get work, there's a lot of money, it is going to be great, come and join us!" But now that I'm here, yes, it's a rich country, there's a lot of money, but you have to work very, very hard, and it is so hard to get a job.

long pause

m5k: Do you have friends that are still in the camp?

YM: Yes.

m5k: Are you ever able to talk with them?

YM: Sometimes.

m5k: What do you tell them?


YM (laughing): I tell them, "Come to the United States as soon as you can! It's easy to get work, there's a lot of money!"


I am driving with a man from Southeast Asia. We are going to pick up a teenager who, having lived his whole life in a refugee camp, has tried to travel across the city after only two weeks in the United States and has become hopelessly lost.

michael5000: I'm surprised this kind of thing doesn't happen more often.

Man from Southeast Asia: It happens sometimes, though. I have a friend from camp who got lost one day after he got here.

m5k: How did he get home?

MfSA: Well, that's the funny part. The morning after he arrived, he decided to go to Safeway to get cigarettes. And the Safeway, it was just across the street from his apartment, so he walked over and bought the cigarettes. But then, I think he walked out a different entrance than he had come in.

m5k: Uh-oh.

MfSA: Yeah. So he was completely lost, and didn't know what to do, and he didn't speak any English at all. He was totally upset, and started crying. So he did what they had told him to do in an emergency, and dialed 9-1-1.

m5k: Oh no.

MfSA: Three police cars came! Their lights are flashing, sirens going.... He's there crying, and he shows them his address. The police start laughing, because, well, there's his apartment right there across the street. They can see it from where they are standing. He gets very upset and starts shouting in his language, "Why are you laughing at me! Why are you laughing at me!"

m5K: That's a really bad first day in a new country.

MfSA: Yeah. After he told me that story, I gave him a new nickname.

m5k: A new nickname?

MfSA: Now I call him "9-1-1."