Thursday, July 30, 2009

Paperback 269a: Three-Dollar Mile / Ian Banyon (Challenge Books 203)

Paperback 269a: Challenge Books 203 (PBO, 1966)

Title: Three-Dollar Mile
Author: Ian Banyon
Cover artist: uncredited

Yours for: oh, I don't know. $5?

Best Things About This Cover:
  • "I appreciate the courtesy of this house call, Dr. Abrams. Now, as we discussed on the phone, the growth is right here on my left buttock."
  • It's technically possible to extend one's right arm around a friend in that position, but it'll be agonizing if he holds the pose very long.
  • There really ought to be some trace of the dame's lower half visible beside or under the cushy chair. Unless we're seeing her caught in mid-leap as she hikes up her leopardskin pants.
  • Leopardskin pants.
  • The painting is quite competant, with hasty but not terrible brushwork.
  • Damn kids these days can't even be bothered to capitalize the title of their own books, what with all the texting.

Best Things About This Back Cover:

  • Who can say "no" to a vast field of burnt orange?
  • Dave "aspired"? He "sought"? Is this teaser copy, or the man's goddam resume?
  • Hmm, she had "very different plans," eh? "SOYLENT BURNT ORANGE.... IS.... STARLETS!!!!"
Page 123~

For a half a second, McGann expected to smell or see booze in the room. Then he realized the pair were in the middle of a beef.

"Hey, where did you find that beef?" blustered McGann. "All I could find down at the store was Soylent Burnt Orange."

~un hommage a Rex Parker
Book found by chance at the Goodwill "Bins," Sellwood.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Thursday Quiz XCII

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is a twelve item is-it-or-isn't-it test of your knowledge, reasoning, stamina, and moxie!

Remember always the Fundamental Rules of the Thursday Quiz:

1. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. Violators will never be able to look at themselves in the mirror again.

2. Don't get all stressed out about it! It's supposed to be fun!
Stodgy Old American Books!
They've stood the test of time to become Beloved American Classics -- by which I mean, their titles sound vaguely familiar to many educated Americans! Which ones are matched with the correct author?

1. The Courtship of Miles Standish, Mark Twain

2. Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

3. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

4. Life of an American Slave, Ralph Waldo Emerson

5. The Life on the Frontier, Joshua Matthieson

6. Looking Backward: 2000-1887, Edward Bellamy

7. Ragged Dick, Horatio Alger

8. The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

9. The Scarlet Letter, Harriet Beecher Stowe

10. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

11. Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana

12. Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Submit your stodgy old answers in the comments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Renaissance Man Grand Opening Crosspost

The Life & Times is very proud to welcome the newest member of the michael5000 family of bloggage!!! That's right -- in addition to adventures in quilting, Bible study, and, um, whatever happens on this one, michael5000 is now taking on one of the greatest names in English Literature!! You won't want to miss the grand opening of...

Renaissance Man

michael5000 Reads Shakespeare

...or, maybe you will. I dunno.

Anyway, here's the link.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How Well Do You Know Me?

See, I don't really like signing up for Facebook applications. But if everyone else gets to have a "How Well Do You Know Me?" Quiz, I want one too. Mine's True/False.

Note: You are not allowed to take this quiz if you are married to me.

1. I have read Marcel Proust's "Rememberance of Things Past" -- although, regretably, only in translation -- from start to finish. Three times.

2. When I was 20, I wanted to join the local symphony so badly that I copied commercial recordings and submitted them as my audition tapes. I was accepted but was instantly found out at my first practice -- one of the most humiliating moments of my life -- and politely but firmly asked to leave.

3. My high school girlfriend is now married to Bill Gates' nephew.

4. I was nuts about ATVs until I flipped one several years back and broke my leg. I sold it the next day and haven't been back on an ATV since.

5. Unlike most kids raised on a farm, I never got used to the idea of slaughtering animals; this is why I'm a vegetarian today.

6. I was arrested, though never charged, for aggressively heckling then candidate George Bush Sr. at a University of Oregon campus campaign stop in 1988.

7. During my three-year career as a college professor, I was voted campus teacher of the year twice.

8. I applied for and was offered a position at the Naval Academy; however, having discovered pacifism during my senior year of high school, I then declined to attend.

9. I am fascinated by diplomacy and usually spend a couple of hours every week on the State Department website, checking out communiques and policy statements.

10. I am the "dungeon master" for a large group of (mostly closeted) role game enthusiasts; we meet twice a month, and play until well after midnight.

Monday Night Weigh-In!

Fitness-Type Activities Engaged in this week: none, really, although I rode my bike to work every day. Still slowly mulling whether I want to join a gym.

Diet-Type Activities: PRO: In general, I've been eating slightly smaller portions, without much snacking. The heat, which discourages exercise, also suppresses appetite. Also, good veggie intake this week. Including tomatos! CON: Mrs.5000 feels, correctly, that I'm taking in too many coffee sugarbombs.

Weight: 210.2 lbs, which is -.4 lbs from last week. I can't tell you where it is relative to plan, because I haven't redone my plan yet. NOTE: Yes, having a "plan" is silly. But it's how I roll.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXII

Looking Down on World Landmarks

This one could be tough, so you have six chances to make five. Name the famous landmarks shown in these aerial images. Three of them are European, and only one is American. If at first you don't succeed, try close inspection.







Submit your answers in the comments.

Reader Response Theory

Bad News for Eversaved

In the comments following last Thursday's Quiz, Eversaved asked:

I'm going to fail the GRE, again, just like I almost failed every math class I
ever took since kindergarten, aren't I?
Well, Ms. Saved, I don't have any particular talent for prognostication, so I turned to the traditional fortune-telling method of my people. I refer of course to a Magic Eight Ball. Except, I don't really have a Magic Eight Ball, so I used an online version. And here's the answer that came back.

Hey! I'm just the messenger!! Also, if it's any comfort, you can't really "fail" the GRE per se. It's not a pass/fail test, and you should remember that. It's simply a crude diagnostic tool. One that has the power to crush your hopes and dreams. Ha! Ha! Just kidding, of course. No pressure!

Calico Eyes Her Swag

It's only natural that anyone who has accumulated a huge pile of loot would want to enjoy rolling around in it. Look at Smaug the Dragon! Or Scrooge McDuck! Or the late Sam Walton!

The Calico Cat, who this week became the 18th person to become a Quiz Legend by winning at least one of each color of Star, is feeling a similar impulse:

Oh & I want to "see" these stars, now that I have collected them all!
Very well, Calico. Here are your Stars.

And to all of you who have had concerns about your virtual Stars and Exclamation Points, I just want you to be aware that here at the L&TM5K we take virtual Bling security very seriously indeed. The Stars are kept in a totally tamperproof system with encrypted password protection, and strict policies are in place to ensure that no outside parties ever have access to your virtual trophy case. It's just another service that we are proud to offer our readers. And remember, under the FDIC the Federal Government insures up to 20 Stars and Exclamation Points per contestant!

The Tomato Update

Everyone and their dog has been asking me about the tomato thing. Elaine has been the most aggressive, but it was DrSchnell who felt compelled to send me this photograph, which he apparently took last year after a tomato-pickin' session in the gardens at Schnell Manor:

Well thanks, DrSchnell. I guess. Although, just because I'm trying to acquire a taste for tomatoes doesn't necessarily mean I need to see your sick, sick tomato porn. But whatever. I don't judge.

So, as of this writing it's what, Day Six I guess. It's been rather unremarkable. I certainly don't look forward to the daily tomato(es), but it does seem like they are maybe slightly less disgusting then they were at first. Oh, and on Day Four I arbitrarily stepped it up from one to two grape tomatoes per day, and that's gone fine. So, there you go. The tomato report. Riveting.

Dug Has Some Boring Postcard Questions

The Lloyd Center covers 56 blocks? asks Doug. Who knew? Well, ~I~ sure didn't! And, I note that the Lloyd Center proper extends from NE 9th to NE 16th between Multnomah and Halsey, which are 3 blocks apart, thereby "covering," if you include its parking lots -- let's see -- 21 blocks. Toss in the Lloyd Cinemas, and you'd have at least another 6. Surrounding commercial development would bump it up to around 56 blocks, I suppose, but that's getting a little dodgey.

A more interesting question in my mind would have been "is it really still the world's largest?!" The answer, of course, is "Of course not, fool!" although I guess it's technically still the largest in Oregon. Also, Wiki says that it was really only the third largest even when it opened, because New Jersey and L.A. already had bigger malls, but anybody can put anything on Wikipedia you know and ALL of us old Portland types know that the Lloyd Center was the biggest mall in the world.

To the question Does a postcard need to be really old to be boring? Was there a boring era for postcards? the answer is technically, no. But postcards were a lot more common in the past, which I think both increased the overall volume and made for looser quality control. And, it was harder work to cobble together an unboring image, what with the absence of Photoshop and what-not. But also, a "vintage" boring postcard is a hell of a lot more charming, because you can pretend it's a relic from a naive past that our culture has collectively outgrown. Whereas the newer ones tend to just be depressing; we put 'em in the collection, but they usually aren't the showhorses.

Do you have a question that wasn't answered in this post? Put it in the comments. I'll answer it to the very best of my ability!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Selections from the michael and Mrs. 5000 Boring Postcard Collection

"Holman's Funeral Service, Since 1854"
(City of Roses)

"The Lloyd Center, Portland Oregon. Spiral Staircase in East Mall leading to upper level in the world's largest shopping centre, covering 56 blocks."

"Bel-Aire Diner, U.S. Route 1, Newburyport Turnpike, Peabody, Mass."

"Calais, Maine. U.S. Customs and Immigration Building and the International Bridge that spans the St. Croix River between Calais and St. Stephen, N.B."

"'NYCE' Quality Colored Landscape Locals"

"Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, Louisiana. View shows the Red Buds in Bloom, and the famous Headquarters and Tower landmarks."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Thursday Quiz XCI

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is a twelve item is-it-or-isn't-it test of your knowledge, reasoning, stamina, and moxie!

Remember always the Fundamental Rules of the Thursday Quiz:

1. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. Violators will never be able to look at themselves in the mirror again.

2. Don't get all stressed out about it! It's supposed to be fun!

Math Lingo!

You knew it in high school... but have you retained your knowledge? Which of the following terms are defined with both precision and accuracy? And which are but a load of crap?

1. Abscissa -- The horizontal or "x" value in any pair of "x,y" coordinates.

2. Coefficient -- A number or symbol multiplied with a variable or an unknown quantity in algebra. Examples: 7 in the term 7x; x in the term x(a + b)

3. Commutative Property -- A characteristic of addition and multiplication, that the same result is yielded regardless of the order the numbers being added or multiplied. Examples: ab = ba; a + b = b + a

4. Denominator -- The answer yielded when dividing one number by another.

5. Fibonacci Sequence -- The sequence of numbers that are the squares of integers. 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81, 100, 121, etc.

6. Imaginary Numbers -- Any multiple of the square root of negative one.

7. Irrational Number -- A number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers. Examples: pi; the square root of two

8. Isosceles Triangle -- Any triangle in which the hypotenuse is the longest of its three sides.

9. Median -- The average; the sum of a set of values divided by the number of values in the set.

10. Quotient -- The bottom of the two numbers in a fraction.

11. Tangent -- In a right-angled triangle, the length of the side opposite to an angle divided by the length of the adjacent side.

12. Tangent -- A line that touches an arc or circle at a single point, but does not intersect it.

Submit your answers in the comments. Show your work.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Weekly Rates, Family Units

The LeMaster Motel is a modest establishment off of North Avenue in Grand Junction, Colorado. At first glance, its sign simply projects the vintage charm marking many of the small motels on American highways, locally-owned places that offer the mildly adventurous traveller an inexpensive alternative to the blandness of the franchises and megachains.

But a closer look at the sign -- particularly, at the faint shadows to the left of the word "motel" -- can't help but provoke speculation. I mean, you can see what they were getting at; they wanted to imply both the luxury of a hotel and the convenience of a motel, and perhaps the comforts of home as well. But was there really a time when it seemed like the word "homotel" could be used with a straight face? And was "LeMaster," as in "The LeMaster Homotel," really the right name to try it out with? And in point of fact, how long was the "Ho" actually up there? And when was it painted over? I would love to know.


I ate the first tomato tonight. It was, I understand, a vine-ripened grape tomato, for those of you keeping score. From Mexico I believe. I washed it off in the sink, and then I took it and I stood out on the back porch for a while, looking around the lush green of the trees and the gardens and the grass, relishing the oppressive beauty of a hot summer night. I walked down the steps and out into the back yard in my bare feet, kicking pine cones out of the lawn, and I remembered being a child at swimming lessons, paralized out on the low diving board, too scared to jump and too scared to inch back the way I'd come, frozen, and just standing there abject and miserable and small until eventually I did jump, or at least kind of lurched off the board, and then the water was hard on impact and then kind of cold too but I survived, and I floated up to the surface, and life went on. And so I put the tomato into my mouth and bit down into it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Thin Man vs. Tomatoes

Doubtless, dear reader, you are a little out of breath, having rushed straight to the internets upon waking, knowing that today is Tuesday! It's Great Movies day!

Well, you know I hate to disappoint. But, it's summer! Who wants to watch movies in summer!? Hmm. Come to think of it, a lot of people must, what with the whole "Summer Blockbuster" concept. But not me. So during the coming dog days, we'll take a little breather from the Great Movies. I know, I know. But you'll just have to be patient.

Blog as Self-Improvement Platform

Last fall, I announced I was going to be posting about (1) my weight loss program and (2) my attempt to give up delicious, delicious diet cola. You haven't seen anything on either of those topics for a while, though. The first was stymied by... well, like most weight loss programs, it just kind of petered out, and things weren't helped by my inability to remember week to week whether "Wednesday Weigh-In" meant that I was supposed to weigh myself Tuesday and report Wednesday, or weigh myself Wednesday and report Thursday. No, really, I found that really confusing. I'm kind of an idiot.

Right: michael5000 turns down an offer of diet cola at a local eatery.

On the other hand, you don't read about diet cola because there's nothing to say except maybe "Mission Accomplished, Suckas!" I haven't had a sip of the cool, refreshing stuff since December. So, that went well. Of course, there's kind of a coffee problem now, but at least that seems a little more grown-up.

What Now?

I'll tell you what now.

1) Weight Loss 2.0: I'm going to try again. Starting now, I weigh in on Monday night and report immediately. You will be able to watch my excess weight just melt away. I'm going to be so freaking svelte you'll hardly be able to stand it. By midwinter or so, I'm going to take a special trip out to Colorado, find the extremely fit d (who is, obnoxiously, a decade or so younger than me), and kick his ass! Just to show how incredibly in shape I am! He'll respect that, I think.

OK, I exaggerate. It will probably take until next summer before I really qualify as a living lethal weapon. But the main thing is, I'll be posting my progress so that you, my extremely attractive readers, can say encouraging things like "Still quite a ways to go, Captain Flab!"

2) Tomatoes. I have read that if you eat something 13 times, you will develop a taste for it. This sounds like a promising area for self-improvement! However, I have also read that if you eat something 6 times, you will develop a taste for it. Also, 20 times. Also, 5 and 15 and 12 and 18 times. So, it would appear that no one really knows what the hell they are talking about.

Nevertheless, over the next month I will be, for the third time in my life, attempting to develop a taste for that most noxious of God's fruits, the tomato. That's right: every day, starting tomorrow, for at least four weeks, I shall put a small tomato in my mouth, chew it thoroughly, and swallow it, giving a good faith effort all the while not to pitch my cookies.

Please don't think this is masochism! It's not like I've decided to try to eat brie or caviar or cat poop or anything like that. Tomatoes are known to have real nutritional value! And they are often thrown into an otherwise perfectly appealing sandwich or salad! So it's not like my decision is completely random; there would be real practical benefits to becoming one of the legions of tomato pod people. I'll let you know how it's going. Please wish me luck. I'll need it.

the most noxious of God's fruits.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXI

The Monday Quiz goes to the Movies -- in the year 2002!

2002! A delightful year of overwrought patriotism and paranoia! Here we have scenes from some of its hit films. Identify the movies.

1. (be specific!)





Submit your answers in the comments.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Coffee Table Book Party: "Boring Postcards"

Martin Parr, Boring Postcards. Phaidon Press, 2004.

The book Boring Postcards has a special place on the coffee table for Mrs.5000 and me. Not only do we find it strangely, sublimely hilarious in its own right, but it is also the book that inspired us to start our own collection (which has come up before, for instance here and here).

There is no text or interpretation in Boring Postcards. It is simply pictures of postcards -- boring ones.

It is difficult to articulate why this makes interesting coffee table browsing. Perhaps it is just a specialized form of the fun of calling an "epic fail." Postcards, after all, are supposed to be interesting. They are supposed to be a product that the traveller can use to share or boast of his or her experience on the road. A boring postcard represents a breakdown in the system. Whoever sent it off to the printer, either through poor design skills, lack of interest in the project, or naive optimism about what constitutes a "place of interest," created a postcard that stands in parody of itself. Often, in their mingled hopefullness and wrongness there is a real pathos; you mourn for, say, the little town that seemed to think its bank would be a memorable site for the traveler passing through. But you are usually laughing, too. At least if you are me or Mrs.5000.

The postcards in Boring Postcards are British. You will also want to find Parr's two sequels: American cards are collected in Boring Postcards USA and German cards in Langweilige Postkarten.
More postcard action coming at you for the next few weekends!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Thursday Quiz Ninth Season Wrap-Up!

But first! I was highly negligent after TQLXXXIX not to introduce two new Quiz Legends! That was the Opera Plots Quiz, in which fingerstothebone took the Blue and Elaine took a Green. In both cases, they assembled a complete set of TQ Stars, thus becoming the 16th and 17th contestants to reach that pinacle of achievement. There accomplishment is forever inscribed in HTML upon the Quiz Leaderboard.

Ninth Season Champions!

Taking her second consecutive season title, it's Mrs.5000. With a Gold, two Silvers, a Blue, and a Green, she put in one of two Legendary performances in this season alone.

Also with five Stars spread across the entire spectrum -- she had a pair of Greens -- la gringissima put in a powerful performance for the season's second spot.

In third place, with three Blues and a Green, its the irrepressible Eversaved!

Honorable mention to Elaine and d, with three Stars apiece, and also to Cartophiliac and Rex Parker, both of whom only collected two Stars this penultimate season -- but made sure they were both Gold ones.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Field Report: The Denver Art Museum

So Mrs.5000 and I found ourselves with a few spare hours in downtown Denver and drifted towards the art museum. It has recently had a major new addition designed in the highly tasteful "Materials Science Allows Us to Cobble Together Any Damn Thing We Want to Now" Style, yielding a building that is kind of Imperial Star Destroyer on the outside....

...and features a vast, asymetrical, pointless atrium within. The galleries and public areas are fine, though, except for the cramped, underlit, and glacier-slow ticket area. Seriously, you might want to bring something to read while you wait in line for your ticket. In a big friendly Colorado-style "Welcome to Denver," non-residents pay extra.

The Denver Art Museum permanent collection has two main foci. One is regional art of the American West, which makes excellent sense. Denver is the biggest cow town in the world, and it makes sense for its art museum to house the premium collection of cowboy art. I can dig it. But, you know, Zzzzzz.* It also has an apparently important of Native American art. Again, admirable and appropriate, but not exactly my cup of Night Train.**

Instead, I headed up into the upper reaches of the star destroyer to find out what the Centennial State has to offer in the way of mainstream art history. And although it's not exactly the Rijksmuseum, it's got some reeeeal purty paintings in the collection. It was awesome, for instance, to see one of the Arcimboldo Summers.

Surprised? I was. But apparently Arcimboldo made a BUNCH of versions, so it's not like this is the only Summer around.

In the early American department, here's Benjamin West's Mrs. Benjamin West and Son Raphael from about ten years before the Revolution.

I think you can see here that it is a lovely painting; in person there is a gentleness and a softness to it that is really quite captivating. If you'll forgive me talking like this.

I don't think I had ever seen a Mondrian original before. It was cool:

...and some of you may be able to guess what will happen now that I have seen it.***

The more contemporary "Modern" collection was firmly focused on pieces from, and issues of, the 1980s, which are at the period of the aging process where they look more "dated" than "vintage." Of the newer contemporary stuff, my runaway favorite was "Fatherhood" by somebody named Wes Hempel. Couldn't find a great image of it, unfortunately:

Finally, in the category of I Don't Usually Go For This Kind of Thing, But Here's an Exception, it's William-Adolphe Bouguereau's 1900 Childhood Idyll. It's sentimental and verging on the frou-frou, but the personalities of the two girls are captured so vividly, and the color balance and composition work so well, that it totally busted out of the limitations of its genre.

So! Denver Art Museum! Denver, Colorado! Not bad!

* Unless you are sister jen, in which case please pretend you didn't see this sentence.

** There was also a special exhibit**** on Psychodelia in the 1960s, which we skipped but apparently nichim checked out. Maybe she'll give us a quick review if we all look encouraging and make no sudden movements.

*** Here's a hint.

**** Also, there was a pretty cool exhibit of vintage quilts, which totally WAS my cup of Night Train, but I don't want this post to go on forever.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Great Movies: "Pinocchio"

Walt Disney (Producer), 1940

In his review of Pinocchio, Roger Ebert praises the famous children's cartoon both for its groundbreaking animation and for its enchanting storyline. I'm willing to stipulate the former, although as someone born after mid-century the "classic" Disney animation is to me merely the baseline, the ordinary animation that anything else must exceed in order to be any good. That is arguably a pretty strong tribute to its achievement, though.

As far as the storyline, it is just fairytale pablum with no distinction or edge. Ebert praises it for employing archetypes, but how hard is it to employ archetypes? They're archetypes! They're what will pop into our head naturally when we can't be bothered to come up with an original story! And the storytelling here is very slapdash, with the random behavior of the good fairy, the strange role of the narrator cricket, and the plot-generating "father-son" relationship based on an acquaintance of a couple of hours. Pinocchio's real claim to the Lazy Plotting Hall of Fame, though, is in the sequence when the boy-puppet returns to his "father's" home to find it abandoned. At this point, a bird flies by and drops a scroll informing our hero that the old woodworker has been swallowed by a notorious whale. What the hell?

Also, let the record show that the title character is vapid and annoying. As is the very idea of a Hollywood film for children that piously warns against the corrupt lifestyle of show-biz types.

Now no doubt you are thinking that little kids just don't care about this kind of thing, and that Pinocchio and the other similarly lousy Disney animated features have enchanted whole generations of children, and obviously you would be right on both counts. However, it is important to remember that children are not famous for their powers of discrimination. They'll be enchanted by any bright moving object you park them in front of. Starting them off with the classic Disney product isn't likely to do them any harm, but it's setting the bar pretty low.

On an unrelated but noteworthy topic: the Disney studio appears to have had an almost obsessive fascination with the buttocks. There are literally dozens of ass-related gags in Pinocchio -- they come at a rate of almost one per minute in the early scenes -- and it seems like every second shot features one or another character's rear end in an abnormally high, prominent, thrusting position. Once you notice it, it's kind of creepy.

Plot: Italian woodworker, unsatisfied with his prosperous lifestyle, fulfilling work, and hyperintelligent animal companions, whinges about his childlessness until a fairy appears to transform one of his handcrafted puppets into a "real boy." After the blank slate of a child has accumulated two or three hours of world experience, the woodworker sends him out into the world on his own, and the predictable dire consequences ensue. These problems are resolved through supernatural intervention, but then somehow (?) the woodworker gets swallowed by a whale. Whatever.

Visuals: A somewhat more complex version of Saturday cartoon animation, with the exception of the good fairy, who seems to drift in from a different cartoon altogether. A poorly-drawn one.

Dialog: Many gags, little wit, bad music.

Prognosis: My particular DVD copy happened to end with the video for a dance-pop version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" featuring some teenybopper chanteuse and that electronic pitch correction that will soon mark so much current pop music as being contemptibly late aughts. This had the effect of suddenly making the film itself seem like an intellectual masterpiece. But it isn't, really. It's just a kiddie cartoon, and it's not even in the same league with the many far superior kiddie cartoons that have made in the last few decades. Be my guest and let it rest.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Monday Quiz: Eighth Season Wrap-Up

But first: in all the excitement of the Quiz's trip to the Netherlands last Monday, I never even said who got MQLXXX Exclamation Points! The list includes Mrs.5000 and la gringissima in a fierce battle for the top of the leaderboard, with Cartophiliac not far back in fourth place. Other winners were fingerstothebone, The Calico Cat, Eversaved, mhwitt, and Balaywho. Elaine, who has done a lot of winning on Thursday, broke the Monday barrier to become the 66th human to win an Exclamation Point! And Rebel took the last MQLXXX EP, which was the 400th Monday Quiz Exclamation Point.

Even more exciting than that, if such a thing is possible, is that la gringissima's MQLXXX EP breaks the record for consecutive Monday Quiz wins! The previous record was five in a row, a feat DrSchnell achieved twice (MQXXIV - MQXXVIII; MQLI - MQLV) and la gringa herself matched once (MQLII - MQLVI). With her current run from MQLXXV to MQLXXX, la gringissima pushes the bar up to SIX in a row. Will she push it to seven? We'll have to wait until next week to find out!

Eighth Season Champions

Given the above, it's not surprising that la gringissima is the Eighth Season Champ; she took EPs in an amazing 8 out of 10 Quizzes to dominate "the 70s."

Usually, 6 of 10 would be enough to win; Eversaved will just have to settle for second place and the respect and admiration of all.

Scoring 4 of 10 are four Quiz long-timers: Mrs.5000, DrSchnell, Rebel, and Cartophiliac. They get the respect and admiration of all, as well.

As does everyone who plays the Monday Quiz! See you next week for the 9th Season kick-off!

The Reading List Index!

The Reading List consists of 63 books and book series from a variety of genres, and was compiled for me by this blog's readership in the late summer of 2007. Until I finish these books, barring any premature and unfortunate demise on my part, I will be doggedly reading my way through them and posting my findings.

Books Completed (as of February 2014)
In Progress
  • Ishiguro, The Unconsoled.
Books Remaining
  • None!
Removed from List
  • Rossi, What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World.  Skimmed November, 2010.
  • Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing ConsentSkimmed February, 2010.
  • Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
  • Rivoli, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy
  • Rowling, Harry Potter books 5-7
  • Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
  • Singer and Mason, The Way We Eat and Why Our Food Choices Matter
  • McCall, Makes Me Want To Holler
  • Updike, Rabbit is Rich
  • Updike, the final Rabbit book
  • Davis, One River

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Reading List: "The End of the Affair"

Grahm Greene's The End of the Affair is a book that is unabashedly, almost didactically, about faith and religion. There are really only five characters, one of whom fills a plot function and provides some comic relief; the other four each represent a stance towards religious faith.

  • The narrator is scornful of religion.
  • The narrator’s girlfriend resists religion, but eventually has a powerful conversion experience.
  • A rationalist with a crush on the narrator’s girlfriend is so passionately anti-religious that his life is effectively shaped by religion.
  • The narrator’s girlfriend’s husband couldn’t really care less about religion, and is thus the only character in the novel whose life is not dictated by religion.
The essential idea of the novel seems to be that you can run from faith, but you can’t hide – unless you are like the husband character, a weak, passionless workaholic who, Greene seems to suggest, is barely living in any meaningful sense anyway. The rationalist, who spends his days publicly preaching the absurdity of Christianity, is depicted as someone with a deep, complicated, but obvious relationship with God. Someone who simply didn’t believe in God, in the logic of the novel, couldn’t possibly care enough to spend his life in this way.

The girlfriend, who is the central figure of the book, resists her own religious belief until an experience that she interprets as a miracle, after which she has a religious conversion and breaks off her relationship with the narrator. And as for the narrator, he keeps up an air of sophisticated dismissal of faith throughout, but ultimately we have to judge him the same way we judge the rationalist – after all, he as a character is obsessed enough with his relationship with God to be, within the fictional frame, writing the novel that we are reading.

It probably goes without saying that the book on balance – although it is not without subtlety – argues for the rationality, or at least the reasonableness, of Christian belief, and for the inevitability of some sort of religious faith. From this, you might reasonably guess that it presents Christian belief as key to a happy life. However, your guess would be wrong. Powerful religious experience is, for every character, a painful and heartbreaking force. They are happiest when they have the least faith, and it is only the husband, bland and shallow as he is, who makes his way through the days with anything like equanimity. As for the others, they experience less the “Peace of Christ” than the metaphorical pain of the crucifixion. The girlfriend’s religious experiences are so overblown as to suggest neurosis more than piety, and a series of miracles late in the book – it is implied that the girlfriend is, either symbolically or literally, a saint – seem to cause more suffering than solace to their supposed beneficiaries.

The novel is told in a highly fractured narrative than weaves freely backward and forward through time, mixing straight first-person retelling of events, the narrator’s ruminations, and textual material read by the narrator. Key events are often given away long before they are described in full, so that you know basically how the book will end after just a few pages. The effect is fairly engrossing and entirely natural; it is much like hearing a friend tell a long and complex story in the typically shuffled way that stories are told.

Did I like the novel? Well, I admire its craftsmanship and am sympathetic to its attempt to plumb the nature of faith. It is also a fascinating look at the texture of life in London during the 1940s. The characters, unfortunately, are all in their separate ways rather shallow and unlikable. This made it hard for me to get too concerned about the state of their souls, which in turn rendered the book rather academic. The narrator, in particular, is self-absorbed to the point of obsession, in a manner which made me fear that this had more to do with Graham Greene’s own personality than with his intention to create an unsympathetic first-person character (although, I know nothing about Graham Greene, so take this with a grain of salt). On balance, then, I found The End of the Affair a reasonably engrossing novel of average interest, but one that perhaps falls short of its reputation.

Plot: After a chance encounter with his former lover’s husband, a British novelist decides to investigate why his lover left him. To his surprise, he finds that she has not been carrying on with a third man at all, but has instead been carrying on with God. Several possibly mystical events occur which bring peace, joy, and contentment to no one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Thursday Quiz XC

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is a twelve item is-it-or-isn't-it test of your knowledge, reasoning, stamina, and moxie!

Remember always the Fundamental Rules of the Thursday Quiz:
1. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. Violators will never be able to look at themselves in the mirror again.

2. Don't get all stressed out about it! It's supposed to be fun!


Automobile sales figures are tough to compare because a single design may have several different names and variants, or several different generations of a design may all have the same name. That hasn't stopped those energetic amateurs who contribute to Wikipedia from trying, though! Some of the following cars are on the Wiki's list of the 15 best-selling vehicles of all time! But in other cases, I am lying right to your face. Which is which?

1. Chevrolet Xpress (1950-present) - Almost unheard of in the United States, the Chevy Xpress is marketed only in South Asia -- until 1990, more than half of the cars in India were Xpresses -- and in Brazil. Over 11 million of them have been sold.

2. Ford "F-Series" Trucks (1948–present) — These big trucks were the bestselling vehicle in the United States every year from 1983 to 2005. Ford has built about 32 million of the F-series Trucks over eleven design generations.

3. Ford Fiesta (1976–present) — Selling over 12 million units in seven design generations, the sub-compact Fiesta is among the Ford Motor Company's leading products. It has not until very recently been sold in the United States, however, because of that country's well known proclivity for very large vehicles.

4. Ford Model T (1908–27) — In one long design generation, the Model T became the first car to have 5 million units produced... and then the first car to have 10 million units produced... and then the first car to have 15 million units produced.

5. Honda Civic (1972–present) — Popular in the United States and a chronic best-seller in Canada, the Civic has sold over 16 million units over eight generations.

6. Lada Riva (1980–present) — Basically a copy of a 1960s-era Fiat, the Lada Riva sold around 21 million units in its native Russia and throughout Europe. Most of these cars were made before exports to Western Europe were discontinued in 1997, but smaller scale production continues in both Russia and Egypt.

7. Lamborghini Gallardo (1984–present) — Americans think of Lamborghini as a company that makes sports cars, but the Gallardo, a budget compact sedan sold throughout Southern Europe, is the Italian company's bread-and-butter product. It has made over 12 million of them.

8. Oldsmobile Cutlass (1961-81; 1997-99) - Originally designating a sporty compact, then a popular large car during the 1970s, then retired in favor of the "Cutlass Ciera," then slapped on a slightly modified Chevy Malibu for a year or two in the late nineties, the Cutlass name covered a variety of cars. Taken together, it was the name of almost 12 million individual vehicles.

9. Toyota Corolla (1966–present) — With around 35 million cars sold over ten design generations, the Corolla is the bestselling car model in the history of the world.

10. Volkswagen Beetle (1938–2003) — With more than 21 million cars hitting the road in one single, long design generation, the original Beetle was the bestselling single design in history and the first car to reach twenty million sales.

11. Volkswagen Golf (1974–present) — Including varients like the American "Rabbit," "Cabrio," and "Jetta" and the Mexican "Caribe," 25 million Golfs have been sold over six design generations, making it the third most popular automobile of all time.

12. The Yugo (1980-1992) - The sporty, inexpensive Yugo was among the best-selling cars in both Europe and North America for most of its production run, and around 14 million were sold. Its Yugoslavian designers had increasing problems meeting the demand for their product, however, and after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s were put out of business by a supply-chain breakdown.

Submit your answers in the comments.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Great Movies: "Trouble in Paradise"

Trouble in Paradise
Ernst Lubitsch, 1932.

Trouble in Paradise was made in 1932, and it’s striking how many of the conventions of a modern movie are already in place by that time. 1932 was only five years after the first talkie, only six and four years respectively after relatively ancient-seeming films like The General and The Passion of Joan of Arc, but from the background music to the suave, camera-savvy sophistication of the acting to the easy integration of visual gags into a dialog driven comedy of manners, it is not terribly unlike movies that would be made twenty-five years later. Indeed, it has the same basic arc as any romantic comedy today. It’s interesting to remember that although the late 20s and early 30s were a period of economic catastrophe (something that characters in Trouble in Paradise make frequent reference to) they were also a time of dizzying social and technological change. Going to the movies in those days must have been an amazing experience, as the very form literally developed before your eyes.

A nice thing about films of this era is that the Puritanical backlash against sexuality that would inhibit later decades hadn’t really set in yet. Trouble in Paradise isn’t by any means graphic, of course, but like most comedies it is all about who is sleeping with whom. It’s nice to see this theme addressed the way most grown-ups address such stuff in real life, not crassly but not especially prudishly either.

Trouble is set in European high society, and there is an elegant ennui to the characters that would be immediately insufferable if not for strong, intelligent direction and spot-on comic acting. There is a lightness of touch here, with the characters portrayed as smart, confident people who seem to understand that they are acting out a comedy. Since most of us are also acting out a comedy, on our good days, it all works pretty well.

Plot: A con man gets hired by an heiress as her personal secretary. His scam may or may not run into trouble, though, when he discovers that he is genuinely fond of her – a discovery that is not welcomed by his girlfriend accomplice. Who will end up with whom’s heart? And what of the 100,000 francs? Unlike with most movies with this kind of plot, you really aren’t sure until it’s all over.

Visuals: Trouble in Paradise is a basically verbal comedy. The camerawork is competent and functional, but is not the main point of the picture.

Dialog: Very clever, with lots of good comic gags and good use of dialog to develop strong characters. There’s a long and slightly embarrassing bit of Italian-baiting early on, but once you get past that the humor is pretty sophisticated and, more importantly, funny.

Prognosis: I hope I look as good as Trouble in Paradise when ~I’m~ 77 years old. Obviously, if you don’t care for old movies in general, this one will give you a struggle. Otherwise, it’s very likeable comedy for grownups.

Cripes, I shoulda been doing this all along:

Roger Ebert's Trouble in Paradise review.

Trouble in Paradise at IMDB.

michael5000's The Great Movies index.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXX

The Monday Quiz Goes to ___________!

Six to make five, this week....

1. Tall canal-side buildings are iconic of this capital city, _____________.

2. The remarkable thing about the purple area on this map is that it's ______________.

3. Have you heard of the painter of this winter landscape? He loved color and he let it show. He's ___________________.

4. What function did this machine serve, traditionally?

5. It's not Las Vegas Housing prices, but rather __________________.

6. It's the town of __________ and its famous eponymous product!

Submit your answers, and the Quiz's travel plans, in the comments.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

County Clerking, Summer 2009

So, the Colorado jaunt was mostly just a visit to Mrs.5000's family this time, so it's not like it was abundant in road tripping or anything. But we did get off the beaten track on our return trip from InLawLand to Denver.

A lovely, narrow, twisting road took us from wealthy Aspen over Independence Pass to not-so-wealthy Leadville. On the way, we got to frolic in the high alpine scenery, like so:

By "frolic," of course, I mean "walk slowly down a level footpath, gasping desperately for oxygen." 12,000 feet of altitude is pretty brutal for those of us who live at 180 feet.

So, that yielded me Lake County, for 47 out of the 64 Colorado counties. Now 73.4% complete, Colorado remains behind only Utah (75%) and the five finished states (Oregon, Washington, Kansas, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts) in its "completeness." Not too exciting, if not that it's the first new county in almost exactly two years. The whole county collection business has kind of been on hold. But there will be another trip into uncharted lands before the end of the year, so stay tuned for more such excitement! Yeah!