Thursday, April 30, 2009

Decathlon: Event #4 / The Thursday Quiz LXXXI

Deadline for Event #2: Saturday 5/2, Noon PST.
Deadline for Event #3: Thursday, 4/30, Noon PST.
Deadline for Event #4: Friday 5/1, Noon PST.

The Eighty-First running of The Thursday Quiz is all about

Chemical Compounds II

The Thursday Quiz is, as always, a closed-book Is It or Isn't It Quiz. Below, you'll see twelve common substances, each with a chemical formula. But: is it, or isn't it, the correct formula?

For Thursday Quiz scoring, the usual rules are in place.

For Decathlon scoring, each correct answer is worth two Decathlon points; however, note also the second section of the Quiz, below.

Answers must be in by Noon Pacific Daylight time, Friday, May 1.

Is it or ain't it the correct formula?

For Decathlon scoring only: One point apiece, up to a maximum of twenty-five points for the event, will be awarded for any of the following substances you can identify by their common names.

Submit your answers either in the comments or at

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Decathlon: Event #3!

Deadline for Event #2: Saturday 5/2, Noon PST.
Deadline for Event #3: Thursday 4/30, Noon PST.

In Celebration of Day Three, it’s

the Third Place Quiz!

a brutally challenging set of general knowledge questions about things, people, and places who are, one way or another, in third place!

There are twenty questions. Your first five correct answers are each worth three Decathlon points. Each subsequent answer is worth a single point. [Example: if you get any ten questions right, you will score (5 * 3) + 5 = 20 Decathlon points.] 25 points maximum, which means that if you get 15 right you've already maxed out. I honestly doubt it will be an issue.

No research please. Partial credit may be awarded for answers that miss the mark but show good reasoning. Answers may be posted in the comments or, if you are worried about your answers being poached, sent to Answers must be in by Noon Pacific Daylight time, Thursday, April 30.

Did I mention, brutally difficult? Enjoy the challenge! It's all downhill from here...

The Questions

1. Dry air from the Earth’s atmosphere consists largely of nitrogen, with most of the rest taken up by oxygen. What is the third most common element in the air you breathe?

2. The most common element in the universe as a whole is Hydrogen, with most of the rest of all matter being Helium. What is the third most common element in the universe?

3. China is easily the world’s most populous country, followed by India. What is the third most populous country?

4. Germany is easily the most populous country of the European Union, followed by France. What is the third most populous country in the European Union?

5. Russia is easily the world’s largest country in terms of land area, followed by Canada. What is the third largest country?

6. The first Pillar of Islam is the profession of faith in monotheism and Mohammed’s role as the prophet (Shahadah). The second is the requirement of daily prayers (Salah). What is the third Pillar of Islam?

7. In the creation story of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Adam and Eve are the first and second humans. Who is (apparently) the third human?

8. What is the third book of the Hebrew Bible?

9. What is the Third Commandment?

10. What is the Third Amendment of the United States Constitution?

11. What is the Third Estate?

12. What is the third book of John Updike’s “Rabbit” series?

13. What is the third book of the Harry Potter series?

14. What is the nickname of the third Beethoven Symphony?

15. “The Three Tenors” of the 1990s and early 2000s were Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and what third opera singer?

16. “I take one, one, one ‘cause you left me and
Two, two, two for my family and
Three, three, three for _________________”

17. The first James Bond movie was Dr. No. The second was From Russia With Love. What was the third?

18. The largest cities in Australia are Sydney and Melbourne. What is the third largest Australian city?

19. In 1900, New York and Chicago were the two largest cities in the United States; Los Angeles was 36th, just behind St. Joseph, Missouri. What was the third largest American city in 1900?

20. Most measures of world economies, like Gross Domestic Product, rank the United States of America as by far the world’s largest single-country economy. Japan is nearly always ranked second. What is one of the two likely candidates for third place?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Decathlon: Event #2!

It’s Event #2! Time for the category of:

Visual Creativity

You have until Saturday noon PDT to enter this event.

Use one of the following formats:

• Flowchart
• Venn Diagram
• Graph or Chart
• Allegorical Map
• Political Cartoon
• Altered Fine Arts Imagery

…to express an original and/or amusing idea about one of the following:

• The relative merits of food, shelter, security, and art
• How the world is going to hell in a handbasket and things just aren't like how they used to be
• The role of technology in contemporary relationships
• Rock Music, Then and Now
• Fruits and Vegetables
• How culture shapes language, or maybe language shapes culture, or whatever

You can create your entry by hand and then scan or photograph it, or you can prepare it using whatever computer software you have around the house. You are free to, shall we say, borrow and/or alter any imagery you can get your hands in the creation of your entry -- as long as you are of course putting your own personal creative stamp on things. The important thing is, you need to send a .jpg or a .gif file to
The deadline is Noon Pacific Daylight Time, Saturday, May 2.

Entries will be judged by a jury of two, michael5000 and an actual professional artist who has been recruited for the occasion. They will judge entries according to their humorousness and/or originality, as well as their overall awesomeness, in a highly subjective fashion. The top entries will be posted on the blog during the halftime show, of course.

Multiple entries are allowable, if you really have that kind of time on your hands, in which case we'll just score your highest-ranked entry.

The overall winner will be awarded 25 Decathlon points. The second-place winner will receive 23 points, the third-place winner 22 points, the fourth place winner 21 points, and so on. At fifth place and below, entries may be grouped in ties.

Sample Entry
Created by michael5000 using MS Paint (the accessory installed on all PCs) and two discrete uses of Google Images. Elapsed time of creation: 6.5 minutes. Neither especially amusing nor especially original, but just a little something to set the tone.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Decathlon, Day 1 / The Monday Quiz LXXI

Movies of 2001!

During the Decathlon, the Monday Quiz will have nine (9) images. Also, answers may be submitted until Noon Pacific Daylight Time Tuesday.

Monday Quiz Scoring: Having the most correct answers OR having at least seven correct answers will win you the MQLXXI EP.

Decathlon Scoring: The first seven correct answers will be worth 3 Decathlon Points apiece. The eighth and ninth correct answers will be worth 2 Decathlon Points apiece.

For each image, identify the 2001 movie that it came from!









Submit your answers either in the comments or at

Saturday, April 25, 2009

L&TM5K Decathlon 2009: Opening Ceremonies

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
It’s time for…

The L&TM5K Decathlon 2009!!!

Beginning Monday, it’s The Life and Times of michael5000’s second annual marathon celebration of skills, creativity, knowledge, and stamina, with 10 contests spread over two weeks in a festival atmosphere of feel-good bloggy merriment! And there are relatively sweet prizes!

The Relatively Sweet Prizes!

This year, the prizes include:

1: One of michael5000’s series of “StormQuilts,” a lap-blanket handmade from 100% scrap, salvage, and recycled materials!

2: A $30 Gift Certificate to the City of Roses’ own Powell’s Books, usable either at actual Powell’s locations or online at!

3: A $20 Gift Card to corporate coffee juggernaut Starbucks!

4: A large batch of michael5000’s signature oatmeal-almond-chocolate chip cookies, mailed straight to your home!

The Gold Medal (first prize) Winner will receive first pick of the prizes, plus bragging rights on a humungous scale! Plus, in responding to any comments you leave until July 31, 2009, I will address you "Hail, Victor!"

The Silver Medal (second prize) Winner will receive second choice of the prizes, plus bragging rights on a massive scale!

The Blue Medal (third prize) Winner will receive third choice of the prizes, plus bragging rights on an impressive scale!

The Green Medal (fourth prize) Winner will receive the remaining prize, plus bragging rights on a largish scale!

The Red Medal (fifth prize) Winner might still get one of the prizes, if one of the first four decline to take one! Plus, bragging rights!

Plus, each of the above will receive exclusive rights to display a little graphic of their medal on their own blog, home page, or what have you. [NOTE: tattooing of medals is allowable but is at the winner’s expense.]

The Games!

• Six challenging tests of knowledge on traditional L&TM5K themes like history, geography, literature, and popular culture!
• Three provocative contests of creativity!
• One test of athletic prowess, kind of!
The Messy Details….

A new event will be announced on every weekday, April 27 through May 9. Some events may allow more than one day for completion; a deadline will be given for each event. The Monday Quiz LXXI & LXXII and The Thursday Quiz LXXXI & LXXXII will be incorporated as Decathlon events, with some changes to their usual format.

Creative entries will be judged with obvious and lighthearted subjectivity by michael5000 and/or independent outside observers.

The Scoring system has been totally revamped since last year. In the 2009 Decathlon, each event is worth up to 25 points. Knowledge events will offer a given number of points per question, while in the creative and athletic events points will be on a ranking system. This should make for a more competitive and exciting 10 days – but you’ll still pretty much have to show up every day to stay in the running.

The awards ceremony will be held Saturday, May 9.

Questions can be sent to M5Kdecathlon(at)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The michael5000 kitchen #11: Dad5000’s Almond Bread

Provenance: This recipe is scribbled on the back of a credit card receipt from the Phillips 66 station on the north side of Emporia, Kansas, where I taught from 1996 to 1999. I bought 11.43 gallons of unleaded at $1.09 a gallon. It was November 30, 1997, and I might have been coming back from Thanksgiving with Amy and Bob, who were housesitting a place in Lawrence. Or maybe that was 1998. Hardly seems important now.

Bread machines tend to be a guy thing, I’ve been told, and after my dad got his in the mid-90s he used it regularly for several years. I was impressed, and asked for and received my own as a machine as a Christmas present. This bread was his best recipe, and he must have read it out for me on the phone as I wrote it on the closest scrap of paper to come to hand, the credit card receipt.

The Recipe:

If you do not own a bread machine, purchase a bread machine.

Put the following in your bread machine:

1 1/8 cups Buttermilk
2 cups White Flour
¼ cup Oatmeal
¼ cup Oat Bran
1 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 ½ Tsp Butter
1 tsp Yeast
½ cup Slivered Almonds
The Results:

This is surely one of my favorite breads ever. It’s a little bit sweet, a little bit oaty, and – from the almonds – a little bit crunchy. Plus, it reminds me of my dad. And it’s great for PBJ!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Thursday Quiz at 80

The Eighth Season Champions!

Ever since we've had Season champions on the Thursday Quiz (a concept that exactly no one has ever expressed the slightest interest in, which I suppose speaks well of y'all) I've determined the champion just by counting up the total number of Stars people have won, and breaking ties by looking at which color the Stars are. Which is why Kadonkadonk is about to get totally shafted. On the other hand, she just had an amazing helicopter ride, so hopefully she won't be too bitter about the way things turned out.*

Here Goes

For it has come to pass that the Eighth Season Champion, with six -- count 'em, six!! -- Stars is none other than my very own brilliant, lovely, and erudite Mrs.5000! She takes the Season title with a Blue Star and five Green ones. Yes, she just won the MQ Season, too. She's wicked smart.

In Second Place, with five Stars -- the brilliant, lovely**, and erudite Kadonkadonk! Her one Gold, two Silver, and single Blue and Green Stars put her solidly into the runner-up position!

Right behind her in Third Place, also with five Stars, is the brilliant, lovely***, and erudite d! He got a Silver and four Greens.

Extremely Honorable Mention goes to The Calico Cat, Cartophiliac, and DrSchnell, all who earned four Stars. Calico took three Golds, the only person to take more than one this season.

Also Kicking Major Butt was Critical Bill, who took a Gold and two Greens.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the antepenultimate season of the Thursday Quiz!

* She will presumably continue to be bitter about my insufficient Harry Potter enthusiasm, but that's all part of the fun.

** I've never actually seen Kadonkadonk, but she seems like she must be lovely, doesn't she?

*** Same with d.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (the second one)

The second leg of the Harry Potter marathon is a well-made sequel, offering readers who enjoyed the first book more of the same while introducing enough variation and development so that it doesn’t feel like a total rehash. As in the first installment, I continue to greatly admire the seemingly effortless grace of J.K. Rowling’s writing at the sentence level, but to find her lack of any variation in emotional pitch a bit anesthetizing.

I also complained last time of the paper-thin main characters, and this continues to be a problem in the second book. Harry himself, it must be said, shows some modest improvement with his little impulse-control problem. He occasionally makes an effort this time around not to respond to provocations, and from time to time he physically restrains his buddy Ron, who continues to operate on an emotional hair-trigger. But more often they just egg each other on. Typical hijinx: having missed the train to school, these two lads do what any other sensible 13 year old would do – steal dad’s car for the eight-hour drive and crash it into a tree on the school grounds. For this, they are punished with a stern warning.

Meanwhile, there is a new character in the person of a craven media whore who becomes a professor at the Hogwarts school. He is a one-note character whose single personality trait is beaten entirely to death. I’m inclined to forgive this, though, in that the concept of “media whore” is probably a bit subtle for the younger Harry Potter readers.

The plot of Chamber of Secrets relies on the principal characters showing an almost pathological refusal to discuss obvious crises with the adults who have the power to make things better. At first blush, this comes off as kind of extreme and unbelievable, but in the light of the school-shooting horror of your choice, it is perhaps not so unrealistic. Hogwarts is unfortunately not the only school where the silence of students has led to catastrophe.

The Plot Thickens

With the basic setup already established, Chamber of Secrets has to live more on the strength of its plot than did Sorcerer’s Stone. And in many ways, it turns out, the plotting of Chamber is rather deft. It is a well-shaped whodunit that misleads you with a number of likely suspects before unveiling a solution that is genuinely surprising without being completely random. The plot is also technically elegant, in that every character, incident, and episode in the book is sooner or later tied back into it.

The plot is unfortunately also inelegant, in the sense that things too often happen merely because the plot requires them to. Rowland lets her magical milieu make her lazy about establishing a reasonable logic of cause and effect. At one point, Harry and Ron are saved from certain death by the unexpected reappearance of that car that they stole earlier in the book. Why? How? I dunno. It's Magic. At the book’s climax, all sorts of weird stuff happens to save Harry’s bacon, apparently because he is “loyal.” What? Why? How? I dunno. It's Magic.

I hope I didn't give away too much in that last paragraph by implying that Harry's bacon gets saved. You know this is a seven-part trilogy, right?

Next: The Reading List will continue with the Harry Potter series. Eventually. But not for a season or two. In the meantime, we’ll be taking on the prototype of the modern novel, Don Quixote! It’s the warm and enchanting tale of a minor Spanish aristocrat who discovers that he is actually a powerful wizard, and is whisked away to a school of magic to develop his talents! Or something like that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Great Movies: "Taxi Driver"

Taxi DriverMartin Scorsese, 1976.

Taxi Driver is a beautifully filmed and enormously evocative portrait of the decline and decay of one man in the midst of what seemed, from a certain point of view, to be the decline and decay of a city and maybe of all of civilization as well.

Despite an all-star cast, Taxi Driver is really a one-character movie. Travis drives a cab 72 hours a week because he can’t sleep at night. He professes to be shocked and revolted by the crime and squalor he sees in the slums of New York, but every choice he makes is to expose himself to more of the same. A marine veteran with enormous scars on his back, he is presumably suffering from some kind of PTSD. His inability to interact with others in a rational, coherent sort of way suggests he may also be mildly mentally retarded.

The view of life we get through Travis’ eyes and taxi windows is unremittingly grim. We never see him take a well-adjusted family to the airport or a young person across town for a date. What we see is sleazy passengers who make out with prostitutes along the ride, abusive nutjobs, and a man who describes in alarming detail his plan to murder his wife. Pretty much every street he drives down is thronged with thugs and hookers. Pretty much every manhole he drives over is belching ominous steam.

It’s a beautifully made movie, very moody and quite engrossing as it burrows deeper and deeper into the worst-case scenarios of urban life. It struck me while watching, though, that there’s something a little weird about seeking entertainment in extremes of grit. It feels powerful, and it feels real, but this is an illusion; this kind of tale has no more monopoly on reality than the giddiest of romances. Nor could Taxi Driver pass as an expose or as a sociological study (to its credit, it doesn’t try to). There was a time when I would think a movie like Taxi Driver as well on the read to greatness just for its elegant negativity. As I get older, though, I find myself wondering – not convinced, but wondering – whether it’s not generally wiser to dwell on hope, optimism, and celebration in our filmed entertainment.

Plot: Travis, the eponymous taxi driver, attempts to woo an ivy league political campaign worker in a series of encounters so bizarre as to stretch the bounds of realism. She rebuffs him, very gently considering the circumstances, but he develops a persecution complex and, apparently, a plan to assassinate the candidate whom she works for. In the meantime, he also becomes obsessed with a very young prostitute and, although she shows no particular interest in being saved from her lifestyle, he becomes obsessed with helping her escape. These obsessions give form to his otherwise shapeless life, but one wishes that he could join a bowling league or a book group or something, instead.

I don’t think it is giving away too much to warn you that after the sullen suspense that runs through the bulk of the movie, there eventually comes a spasm of brutal, gory, highly explicit violence. It’s entertaining, ‘cause it’s gritty.

Visuals: Gorgeously filmed squalor throughout. Very simple shots, like long passages where we see only blurred city lights passing by outside of a wet windshield, or Travis’ eyes following the movement of life of the streets – there’s no reason that these scenes should be magnificent, but somehow they are.

Dialog: Every line in the film is intentionally stilted. The central character is incapable of interacting meaningfully with others, but the secondary characters are no better at interacting with each other. Two awesomely empty soliloquies stand out, the first a sublime political speech that uses many words to say nothing at all, and the second a flowery profession of adoration used with gruesome skill by a pimp to keep one of his capital assets profitable.

Prognosis: It’s all about the alienation. Not recommended to those who are troubled by explicit violence, or who are trying to hang onto a good mood. Highly recommended to everybody else as a tour de force of filmmaking craftsmanship, for its importance in the modern history of film, and for its general impact on popular culture.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Even a Quiz Needs a Week Off Now and Then

Well, with the Seventh Season of the Monday Quiz having come to its end, it's time now to salute the champions.

But First!

Don't forget that next week is the beginning of the 2009 M5K Decathlon! The relatively sweet prizes this year will include:

1: One of michael5000’s series of “StormQuilts,” a lap-blanket handmade from 100% scrap, salvage, and recycled materials!
2: A $30 Gift Certificate to the City of Roses’ own Powell’s Books, usable either at actual Powell’s locations or online at!
3: A $20 Gift Card to corporate coffee juggernaut Starbucks!
4: A large batch of michael5000’s signature oatmeal-almond-chocolate chip cookies, mailed straight to your home!

Plus, the scoring system has been completely revamped to render it less crappy! So it should be fun. In theory.

Monday Quiz Seventh Season Champions

Taking the Seventh Season title, with 6 out of the 10 possible Exclamation Points, was frequent L&TM5K commenter Mrs.5000! She tied for the Second Season championship spot, but wins this one outright.

In the second spot is Cartophiliac, who took EPs in half of the Seventh Season Quizzes.

Hats off also for la gringissima and karmasartre, who both took 4 EPs this season, and to DrSchnell, Critical Bill, and Kadonkadonk, who took 3 apiece.

And, you know, thanks for playing the Quiz.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Harry Potter: the Sequel

So, I did my Reading List review of Harry Potter I on Wednesday. Naturally I hoped people would be all freaked out that I dared call the beloved children's classic out on any particulars, but by and large people were just like, yeah, whatever. It's tough being a blogger.

I called HPI by its American name, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. It is well known that the publishers decided to change the original title (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) for the U.S. market because they felt that Americans were too slackjawed and ignorant to be able to pronounce "philosopher." Or something. It was all very flattering.

Less well known is that J.K. Rowling agonized for months over the title of the second book in the series (the review of which is coming up on Wednesday or thereabouts). However, due to my special access to the author -- what? you didn't know that J.K. Rowling and I both attended the University of Exeter? Well, we did! But no, I'm not going to tell you whether we ever dated. Or if she's a good kisser. It wouldn't be gentlemanly of me, so don't even ask.

Anyway, due to my special access to the author, I am able to produce for you here, for the first time ever in print:

J.K. Rowling's Top Twelve Rejected Titles for the Second Harry Potter Book!

12. Harry Potter, Run

11. Harry Potter and the Pot Au Feu

10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Wizardry

9. Potter, P.I.

8. If On a Winter's Night Harry Potter

7. The Importance of being Harry

6. P is for Potter

5. Harry Potter 2: Electric Bugaloo *

4. The Autobiography of Harry P.

3. The Wand in the Willows

2. Harry Potter, Superstar

1. Are You There, God? It's Me, Harry Potter.
*This one's for you, DrSchnell.

Happy Weekend!

Only a week until the Decathlon. Better rest up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The michael5000 Kitchen #10: Irish Cream

Provenance: The recipe card is in the handwriting of Mrs. DrSchnell, which places it from the later Lawrence years, 1994-1996. I have very vague memories of perhaps making this when I was rooming with occasional L&TM5K commenter Dug, which would mean in or around the spring of 1994. I could not have made it very often, however, or I would weigh 500 pounds.

The Recipe: “Bruidhean Irish Crème Liquer”

1 ¾ cup Brandy
14 ounce can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup Cream or Half & Half
4 Eggs
2 tsp Instant Coffee
1 tsp Vanilla
4 Tbsp Chocolate Syrup
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Keeps refrigerated for 1 month.

The Results: All you have to do is glance at the ingredients to comprehend that this will taste good. Indeed, it tastes freaking wonderful. Hell, it would probably be a good way to wash down the Better Than Robert Redford Dessert, had you requested it as your last meal and were done worrying about consequences.

It did strike me as I left the liquor store with the brandy that I could have bought a bottle of commercially blended Irish Cream for roughly the same price and been done with. But if you are tired of drinking the same old brandy night after night from the dozens of barrels you have stashed away in your brandy vault, and you want to “jazz it up” a little, this might be a good way to do it!

The word “Bruidhean” makes the recipe sound all authentic and ethnic, but since the indigenous cultures of the Emerald Isle did not really have access to chocolate syrup, vanilla, or instant coffee, I’m thinking this recipe is a fairly recent invention in the grand scheme of things.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Thursday Quiz LXXX

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!

Wicked Clever Inventor Dudes

Here are twelve legends of science and technology, along with the devices they invented. Or shall we say, history being the murky business that it is, the devices for which they have a defensible claim for being described as the inventor. Except a few of the pairings are, of course, totally bogus. Which of the following IS and which ISN'T an accurate pairing of inventor and invention?

1. Alexander Graham Bell -- the telephone

2. Thomas Edison -- the phonograph, the commercially practical light bulb, and the motion picture projector

3. Enrico Fermi -- the nuclear reactor

4. Benjamin Franklin -- the magnifying glass and the gas oven

5. Paul von Hindenburg -- the Zeppelin

6. Thomas Jefferson -- the theodolite (a surveying tool)

7. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek -- the microscope

8. Samuel Morse -- the telegraph

9. Alfred Nobel -- dynamite

10. Igor Sikorsky -- the helicopter

11. Alessandro Volta -- the battery

12. Frank Lloyd Wright -- reinforced concrete

Submit your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Reading List: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (the first one)


Orphan boy from abusive home discovers that he is a powerful wizard and is taken away to a special school for magic, yadda yadda yadda.

The Prose

I have mentioned before in this series my homegrown concept of “viscosity,” the extent to which writing puts up a fight against the reader. Viscous prose, regardless of its merit, is hard to read. J.K. Rowling’s great gift, in this opening salvo of the Harry Potter fusillade, is that she writes a virtually frictionless prose. The story and setting are jolly enough, and often rather engaging, but what compels you forward is less a sense of “I must read another chapter!” than “Why not read another chapter?” In Sorcerer’s Stone, reading is so effortless as to require no real investment.

This ultralow viscosity goes a long way toward explaining why the Potter books have been so often lugged about by children who weigh less than they do. What I have not figured out – the most magical aspect of the books, for sure – is how Rowlings does it. I hope that there are teams of applied linguists, rhetoriticians, grammarians, and what? epistomologists? studying her work. Her mastery of language at the sentence level is something to behold.

I would also concur with literary critic Dad5000, however, that “there’s something jumpy about the style.” Rowling’s pacing is in fact all over the map. Critical episodes are often dispensed with in a few short sentences, while kid-friendly banalities (odd candies, quidditch) get a disproportionate share of attention. After the opening chapters – the best written of the book – there is seldom time for anything like suspense or description, as the characters merely careen from crisis to crisis.

Every crisis, moreover, is presented with a uniform emotional weight, regardless of whether it is a matter of jockeying for adolescent social status, a matter of life and death, or part of an epic struggle between good and evil. Doubtless this kid’s-eye-view lack of perspective is part of what has made the series so popular among children. But is it writing that is well crafted for its intended audience, or is it just pandering? You be the judge.

The Characters (such as they are)

Characterization is easily the greatest weakness in Sorcerer’s Stone, to the extent that it exists at all. There are basically five characters who are anything more than scenery or plot machinery. We are shown very little about any of them through their decisions or dialogue, and what we are shown often contradicts what we are told about them.

Malfoy : A petty bully, Malfoy is a child who makes mocking comments to his schoolfellows, may or may not indulge in petty theft, and occasionally shoves someone. You are familiar with the type – indeed, you may well have been the type, as this is the profile of an extremely common sort of unhappy child. The text, however, treats the lad as an embodiment of malice and evil. Rowlings is, moreover, at pains that we should dislike him because of his family background: he is, unforgivably, well off.

Hermione: What we are shown in Hermione is a child who is hard-working, intelligent, outgoing, respectful, and charitable. What we are told, for the first half of the book anyway, is that she is an insufferable prig. The other characters treat her with unabashed resentment. Then they stop. It’s weird.

Hagrid: We are meant to see Hagrid, a employee of the school of magic, as a bumbling but essentially virtuous and trustworthy adult who is especially good with kids. He is certainly bumbling. He is in fact so guileless around children, whose lives he routinely jeopardizes through egregiously foolish actions and by spouting highly sensitive information to them, as to suggest a fairly serious IQ deficit. He seems oblivious to the need for even the most basic rules in an institution entrusted with the lives of children. Parents: if your local school employs a warm, avuncular figure of Hagrid’s type, have your attorney contact the school board and keep the kids home until everyone connected with the hiring decision has been sacked.

Ron/Harry: Certainly the weirdest thing about this first “Harry Potter” book is the lack of any meaningful Harry Potter. He is the cipher at the center of the story, a boy with no apparent personality whatsoever. Again, I don’t know if this is an intentional aspect of this piece of children’s literature – a point-of-view character left essentially blank so that the child reader can project him or herself into the void? If so, it’s nicely done. If not, it’s a rather glaring missing piece of the story.

In so much as he exists at all, Harry is crafted of the same basic stuff as his pal Ron. A great deal of emphasis is put on their poverty and humble home lives, which is clearly meant to ennoble them. They also frequently exhibit the virtues of cleverness and bravery. On the other hand, they are also shown to have the emotional self-control of toddlers. Prideful and subject to hair-trigger sensitivity, they let Malfoy play them like a pair of fiddles, frequently returning words with blows like the worst kind of fool. They have a casual contempt for the rules of their school and the instructions of their elders that borders on the pathological. They are, finally, indifferent students, wanting the power and pleasure of magic but sullen about having to work for it. It is in a sense fortunate that these young men are not better realized as characters, as the little we are shown about them is far from flattering.


Everything negative that I have pointed out above could be said to come from the same source: the need to set up an alternative reality and set a complex plot in motion, all in a shorthand form that renders it compact enough for a child reader. A simpler plot would have left room for better pacing and characterization. The alternative, a longer book, would not have been realistic for a children’s book by a first time author at the time Sorcerer’s Stone was written. What I am curious to see, as I venture towards the thicker books of the series, is this: do the chapter-level elements of the writing improve as Rowling is given more room to work with and is relieved of the need to establish first principles? Or, does she expand the complexity of the plot to fit the available real estate? No doubt you, gentle reader, already know the answer to this question. I, eventually, will find out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Great Movies: "Singin' in the Rain"

Singin' in the Rain
Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952.

Singin' in the Rain is a 1952 movie set in the late 1920s that has maintained a surprising freshness into 2008. In vivid color (I had expected black and white for some reason), it feels like it could have been made... well, not exactly yesterday, but perhaps in the 1970s or something. It is a spoof of the song-and-dance spectaculars of the early talkies that manages to have its cake and eat it too, effectively skewering the nonsensicality and cheesiness of the genre while wallowing in the same sort of stuff in a highly entertaining fashion. It's ironic, so it's cool.

Plot: Not much, really. The plot is a thin contrivance on which to hang singing and dancing numbers. It goes like this: as the silents give way to the talkies, what will be the fate of the glamerous but squeaky-voiced leading lady? Why, she'll be replaced by the leading man's new girlfriend, of course! The conclusion teaches us the timeless lesson that if an uppity dame tries to inconvenience you by asserting her contractual rights, you can always humiliate her into submission. Like a lot of cinematic misogyny, it's made worse by being portrayed as jolly fun.

Visuals: It's a dancing variety show, and man oh man can those suckers dance. I don't even care for dance, personally, but I still found this stuff pretty entertaining. You also get a sense that the cast was enjoying themselves -- everything has that happy glow to it. But maybe they were just acting. [UPDATE: Apparently they were just acting. Sez here that the leads didn't get along at all, and that production was something of a nightmare.]

Dialog: Some pretty funny lines, and some real groaners. Fewer startling moments once you realize that they are saying "hoofer," meaning "professional dancer," and not "hooker."

Prognosis: This should be a fun movie for anyone who can tolerate a certain amount of cheese. It might also be interesting to drink five or six shots of cheap liquor and then watch it with the sound off and the great Tom Waits album "Frank's Wild Years" turned way up on the hi-fi. But that is strictly conjectural.

In other news...

This is the 500th post!

Big whup.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXX

The Monday Quiz Goes to ___________!

Six to make five, this week....

1. Part of what body of water is shown on the bottom quarter of this aerial image?

2. What is the name of this famous monument?

3. What is this body of water?

4. So, what famous structure must THIS be?

5. What is this place?

6. This building represents an ambitious attempt to restore a legacy. What is it?

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

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Reading List: Bridge on the Drina

Back in graduate school, when our idea of a really good time was studying abstruse social theory, there was one or another -ism that purported to explore the linkages between the large-scale forces of Big History and the local lived experience of individuals. I remember it as a very compelling piece of theorizing with gobs of intellectual merit, lacking only in any kind of applicability to empirical research. And so Big History and lived experience remained sadly disconnected, as least on my watch.

It turns out that we might have done better to just read Bridge on the Drina. Apparently the best known novel to have been written in the Serbo-Croatian language, Bridge is the story of a bridge, and of the town by the bridge, and of the people who live in the town, all through dozens of generations of Balkan history. Always in the background are the intricate ethnic relations of Bosnia and the destinies of larger kingdoms, through the long decline of the Ottoman Empire, the apex of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the crises of the early 20th Century. Seldom discussed directly, the big political picture nevertheless underlies everything that happens in the lives of the peasants, merchants, tradesmen, students, and soldiers who populate the novel. Ivo Andric, whose day job was in the diplomatic corps of the late Yugoslavia, is masterful at showing how decisions from faraway capitals alter the tenor of life for the people who live near his bridge, and also how forces of local tradition and isolation, and not incidentally the force of accumulated local lore, render the town and the lives of its people idiosyncratic and unique.

It is, I discovered after I’d read most of the novel, a real bridge! And the town, Visegrad, is a real town! Yet despite that, and despite the highly specific local setting, Visegrad serves as a kind of everytown, and Balkin history to an extent a stand-in for any history. Bridge on the Drina has a real universal quality, in one sense “about” a certain time and place but equally “about” what it is like to be a human in a town that is shaped and shocked by events from the world beyond its outskirts.

The writing style – I read the translation by Lovett Edwards – has a formal, measured Central European solemnity to it. It is not a book to get through in one sitting, but it is also a highly compelling read which kept me up too late more than one night, trying to get through “just one more chapter.” Violence and sexuality are, as in real life, driving forces throughout, but are discussed and described with a great deal of dignity and discretion. However, I will also warn you of a lengthy and detailed description of a torture-execution early in the book that ranks among the most ghastly, horrifying passages I have ever read.

Plot: A bridge is built. The centuries pass. Life goes on.

The narrative unfolds as a series of short stories and anecdotes. Most chapters include more than one distinct story within them, and many stories overlap the chapter breaks, yet the chapters provide a pacing and a rhythm that seem exactly right. Characters, families, buildings, large and small modifications of the bridge itself, and the enduring habits of the townspeople appear and reappear, weaving the book loosely together through time.

The book ends in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. The bridge itself, however, has continued its journey through history. It was the site of horrific events during the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Today, though, it is a World Heritage Site, and bookish people from all over apparently make the pilgrimage to integrate the bridge into their own life stories. Having read this book, I understand why they would.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The michael5000 Kitchen#9: Potato-Cheese-Chili Soup

Provenance: This recipe is slightly adapted from a very popular cookbook that you may have heard of. Since I have never been in the habit of going out and, like, buying cookbooks, I would guess that my copy of this book comes from the time when the Quality Paperback Book Club would offer you “Four books, four bucks, no commitment, no kidding,” and then beg you to do it all over again once you had used them for your four books and then unceremoniously dumped them. I never figured out how that business model worked, but I sure did have a lot of Quality Paperback Books in the early 90s.

My copy of the cookbook falls open naturally to this recipe, which I’m sure I have used many more times than all of the rest of the recipes together. Unlike most of the recipes in this series, this is not one I am recovering from the mists of time; I always make this one at least a couple of times a year. I’ve made it for parties and to feed couples with newborns, and it is a winter perennial here at the Castle.

The Recipe:
4 Potatoes
3 cups Water
Cut the potatoes into cubes of about 2 centimeters to a side. Don’t peel them, because that’s a silly waste of time, texture, and, to a lesser extent, nutrients. Boil the potatoes in the water in a large soup pot for twenty minutes or thereabouts.

1 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Olive Oil
1½ cups chopped Onion (more or less one medium Onion, as it turns out)
Start the Onions sautéing in the Butter and Olive Oil. And they start to soften, add:

1¾ tsp Salt
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp dried Basil
2 large cloves Garlic, minced or crushed or whatever
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
Then, dice up:

1½ cups Red Bell Pepper (or green or yellow, but red looks best)
And sauté for a few more minutes.

By this time, you have probably taken the Potatoes off of the heat and let them cool a bit. Set a third or so of the potato cubes aside, and pour the rest of the potatoes and the potato water into your blender. Blend them into a mash, and pour back in with the unblended potato cubes. Add the sauté, stir the whole mess up, and put back over a low flame.

Then add:

1 cup Diced Green Chilies (the larger of the two sizes of cans they are typically sold in)
¾ cup Sour Cream
1 cup Milk
¾ cup grated Jack Cheese, packed.
Let it simmer for a while, and you’ve got yourself a tureen of soup!

The Results: Yummy yummy. This is a very rich and satisfying winter soup.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Thursday Quiz LXXIX

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!


We've got some true facts about boardgames, and some much less true facts. Which is which?

1. New York Avenue, Tennessee Avenue, and St. James Place are the green-colored properties in Monopoly.

2. Although many players of Monopoly customarily pay all fees and fines into a special fund that is collected by any player who lands on the “Free Parking” space, this practice is not actually found in the official rules.

3. Although Chutes and Ladders is often played “naively” by children, there is a community of adult players who apply complex strategic thinking to the game.

4. Outside of North America, the game Clue is called Cluedo and the character of “Mr. Green” is called “Reverend Green.”

5. In the classic version of Clue, it would be possible for the murderer to have “killed Miss Scarlet, in the Library, with a Wrench.”

6. In this position in the game of Chess, is it possible for white to move once and cause a checkmate.

7. And in THIS position, it is possible for white to move once and cause a checkmate.

8. Because they can jump over other pieces, Knights are generally considered more powerful chess pieces than Bishops or Rooks.

9. Territories on the classic Risk board include Madagascar, Yakutsk, Ural, and Ukraine.

10. The highest scoring letters in Scrabble are Q, X, and J.

11. If the first word played in a Scrabble game was “aioli,” it could be worth either 10 or 12 points.

12. The rules of Life – the board game by Milton Bradley – have been modified several times in the last twenty years to make the game more “realistic” and to instill more positive values in children.

State your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where Once I Might Weep, Now I Might Laugh: Two Vignettes

I: Hell

I'm at the library on Saturday morning, checking the catalog from one of many computers on a long table. At the computer next to me is a more than usually bland man of about thirty with a somewhat meaty build. He is dressed and groomed in an unremarkable fashion and, indeed, makes no impression other than that of a slight thickness. He is intent on his computer screen and is wearing a set of headphones. I barely notice him as I sit down.

I spend a few moments searching through the library catalog.

After a time, I notice as my neighbor fidgets, sighs heavily, and removes his headphones. He doesn't take his eyes from his computer screen. For no apparent reason, he speaks a single sentence in a low, mild, matter-of-fact, almost weary tone.

"The homosexuals are going to burn in hell," he says.

Then, he puts his headphones back on.

I glance over at his screen. He is watching some sort of Japanese animation that is not, but is very much like, "Hello Kitty."

I get the giggles.

2: Refugee Work

I am helping a man who comes from a distant country, a place where life is often very hard, prepare his resume. He tells me about jobs he has had as a teacher and as a clerk, and then mentions that he also worked for a few years as a security guard. This is useful work experience, so I am very interested. I ask him about the details of this job. Since his comprehension of English is stronger than his speaking ability, I ask a lot of yes-or-no questions.

michael5000: Did you walk around the buildings to make sure that no one was there who was not supposed to be?

man: Yes, I did that.

m5k: Were you an armed guard?

[clarifying] That means, did you have a gun?

man: No, no, we did not have guns.

m5k [thinking]: Did you... did you...

man: I was by... the doors. When people came...

m5k: I see. So people would come into the factory, and you would check to make sure they were allowed to be there?

man: Yes, I did that.

m5k: Was there a metal detector?

man: [puzzled]

m5k: [mimes using a metal dectector wand]

man: Yes! We had this, and I used it.

m5k: [writing notes] Good! Did you watch, um, TV screens that showed different parts of the...

man: Yes! "Security Cameras."

m5k: Excellent!

man: Also, sometimes if a thief came and stole something, the supervisor would make us beat him.

[long pause]

m5k: OK, we are NOT going to put that part on your resume.


m5k and the man both crack up.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Great Movies: "The Seven Samurai"

The Seven Samurai
Akiro Kurasawa, 1954

This film is the epic tale of how a group of farmers threatened by bandits hires a group of seven cowboys -- oops, I mean samurais -- to defend their village. It is a big, sprawling adventure movie, entertaining and pleasant to look at.

By "sprawling," I mean "more than three hours long." More than an hour is spent just on the recruitment of the motley team of cut-rate warriors that will defend the town. Once the action starts, it's not just one fight scene, but a series of battles fought over several days of screen time. No, ha! ha! Just kidding. The battles take place over several days of time in the story, but only take an hour and a half of screen time.

By "entertaining" I mean that this is a film that deploys the elements of good old fashioned spectacle to good effect. There are good guys and bad guys, but with enough personality and ambiguity that you don't feel talked down to. There are elaborately choreographed fight scenes. There is a romantic subplot, occasional yucks, and a basically happy ending tempered by enough sacrifice and loss that you feel like you've earned it. And for those who like some thinkin' with their action-adventure, there are some nice bits about the relationship between the farmers and the warrior caste which could be read as an analysis of the workings of power in a class-based society. I mean, if you are into that sort of thing.

Now, you know how much I hate to be persnickety. And really, The Seven Samurai is an awesome movie. But, I feel compelled to enter a quick rhetorical question into the record here. Let's say you are the leader of a gang of ruthless, battle-hardened, heavily armed bandits. You make your living by sacking defenseless villages and pillaging their food stores. Now one day, you find that one particular village has been armed and trained to defend itself by a cadre of professional soldiers. Would you (a) continue to launch attack after attack on this fortified village, losing a tenth or so of your troops every time? Or would you (b) ride a few miles over to sack some other, more vulnerable village?

Yeah. Me too.

Plot: Knowing they will be attacked once the barley harvest is in, a village in medieval Japan enlists an eccentric group of samurai who are willing to defend them for no pay. Then they harvest the barley, and all hell breaks loose.

Visuals: Quite nicely choreographed and shot. Like in The Seventh Seal last week, in The Seven Samurai the life of a medieval village is brought to life with plausible realism.

In a movie with battle scenes, the trick is always to help the viewer understand the terrain: where everyone is, who is in danger, who is attacking from where, and generally what the hell is going on. Samorai does a good job with this, spending some time establishing the layout of the village so we'll know what's happening once the chaos starts.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, a movie about people killing each other. Yet although we see a lot of on-screen death, it is not of the grizzly variety. When a bandit is killed by the repeated spear thrusts of a dozen villagers, for instance, we mostly see the dozen villagers thrusting their spears, not the gore or agony of the bandit. Through image, music, and script, the international cinematic formula for the worth of human life is strictly adhered to: the death of a samurai is a tragedy, the death of a villager with a speaking role is a bummer, the death of a village extra is scenery, and the death of a bandit is fun.

Dialog: In Japanese. Dialog serves the purpose of establishing the samurais’ various personalities, and of demonstrating the distinctiveness of their profession and their way of life. As with most movies about professional warriors, this film is at pains to imbue its characters with a stoic, world-weary sense of honor. Whether mercenaries in real life are so brimming with silent wisdom, I really couldn't say.

Prognosis: For anyone who can handle black and white, subtitles, and 207 minutes of running time, this movie will be both interesting and quite enjoyable.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXIX

Thematic Maps

1. What demographic pattern does this map show?

2. What pattern does this map from late 2008 show?

3. What social statistic is mapped here?

4. What does this map show the "prevalance" of?

5. What demographic pattern is shown here?

Extra Bonus Question: What does this map show the "Density" of? This is a very esoteric one, so if anybody gets it I'll be regarding them with a great deal of awe.

"Map out" your answers, if you will, in the comments.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Weekend Miscellany

Poll Results!

I recently changed the official subtitle of this blog to "A Daily Online Omnibus of Dork Culture." This is the third subtitle we've had. It started out as "My Life. Like You Care." And then, for a year or so, it was... crap, I've already forgotten what it was. Which I suppose shows how critical the subtitle is.

Anyway, I ran it by y'all, and here are the results:

Proper! 1 (3%)
It will do for now. 5 (18%)
Blows. 6 (22%)
How come we didn't get to vote?!? 3 (11%)
How do you say that in Estonian?!? 12 (44%)
The implications are clear. First, my underlying assumptions about my readership are confirmed. But secondly, and more troubling, only one person thought my subtitle was "Proper!" Sometimes I feel like I will wander the Earth forever, always unsatisfied, always searching for that subtitle that will explain to the world and to me just what it is that I am blogging about here.

The M5K Decathlon 2009!

Spring is in the air... which means it's almost time for the M5K Decathlon 2009! From April 30 to May 11, the L&TM5K will serve up ten straight days of rigorous tests of your intellect, knowledge, creativity, and physical prowess, not to mention your moxie, mojo, poise, and je ne sais quoi. We are totally revamping the scoring system this year, to make the whole thing more evenhanded and decathlon-like. And, there will almost certainly be fabulous prizes of some sort. The details haven't all been hashed out. But you should definitely be getting all worked up!

Great News for Great Movies Haterz!

My M.O. on the Great Movies has been to go through the list in alphabetical order, skipping over the ones I've already seen. Well, this week I put library holds on the last movies on the list.

Those of you who don't like my movie review in general can celebrate this landmark on the way to the end of the project. Those of you who don't like my movie reviews because so many of them are of ancient films of interest only to film historians can look forward to coverage of movies I've already seen in the course of my semi-normal existence -- ie., movies you yourself may have seen as well!

Mind you, it will be a few months before this all kicks in. I'm just saying.


To spiritual blogmother MyDogIsChelsea, who has achieved what so many bloggers yearn for and so few achieve -- a modicum of recognition! MyDog, who is a bit of a foodie, has been blogging at a site called "Culinate," and through a combination of good writing and Obamaesque mobilization of her grassroots support won their award for Best Foodie Blogger. Or something like that. Genuinely fabulous prizes were involved. She's totally famous!

If You Live in the City of Roses...

The Central Library has a bookarts show on the third floor lobby that features work by some people who have been mentioned on the L&T before, such as Tim Ely, and even by our emeritus Blog Vice Dork, fingerstothebone. Here's some details.

The Weekend WTF!

Just in time for Holy Week!

The more you think about it, the weirder it gets.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The michael5000 Kitchen #8: Strawberry Nut Loaf

Provenance: I had a friend during my college years who was clinically obese. Dealt a hard hand in many ways, she was nevertheless funny, kind, and often quite charming. She was obsessed with food, and quite literally so I think. We corresponded for several years, and every letter would include two or three recipe cards, almost none of which I ever used. They were just her way of caring, I think. Most of these recipes I discarded over time, but I hung on to three of four of the most promising, presumably thinking that maybe someday I would give them a try. Well, that day is now.

The Recipe:

1 cup Strawberry Jam
1 cup Butter
1½ cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla
½ cup Sour Cream
1 cup Nuts
¼ teaspoon Lemon Extract
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
½ teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 teaspoon Salt
3 cups Flour
Cream Butter and Sugar. Add the rest of the ingredients, first the wet and then the dry. Bake at 350 F for about an hour. Makes two loaves.

The Results

This turns out to be really yummy. It’s basically a PBJ cake, very moist and kind of hard to keep your hands off of. I made it with peanuts, which I (after the great Brazil nut chopping debacle of ’09) ran very briefly through the blender. Almonds and walnuts would probably both work as well, although it seems like they would substantially change the nature of the beast. Maybe I’ll try it with almonds next time.

Though I didn't notice this so much myself, you see, it seems that the taste of the peanuts ran a bit riot. I had dropped part of a loaf by for Mr. and Mrs. ChuckDaddy, and told them of course that it was "Strawberry Nut Bread." The next day, I heard back from Mrs. ChuckDaddy, who wrote:

For some reason (?) I thought you said "strawberry" bread so my taste buds were confused when I bit into something that tasted very much NOT like strawberry. Surprising, but really yummy. :)
When informed of her ghastly faux pas, she began to rant:

So now that the village is busy analyzing the true taste sensation of this so-called Strawberry Nut Bread, I really must say that IMHO it should be called Peanutbutter Bread. It definitely tastes like a healthier version of our beloved Peanut Butter cookie. This strawberry thing is just craziness!!
Probably she'd been drinking. It totally tasted like strawberries to me.

The only thing I’d add to this recipe is that you should probably butter the loaf pans. I didn’t, and had a little bit of a hard time getting the loaves out in one piece.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Thursday Quiz LXXVIII

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!

Real and Bogus in the History of South America

Which of the following statements are true? And which ones are appalling lies?

1. It is now generally believed that the indiginous South Americans were descended from ancient peoples who were separated from early human populations in Africa when the two continents were divided by continental drift.

2. Potatoes, beans, and peanuts were all domesticated by prehistoric South American people.

3. The Inca Empire had its origins, apex of power, and decline at about the same time as Europe's Roman Empire; by the time of European contact, the empire had long since vanished.

4. The 1555 Treaty of Tordesillas shaped the future development of South America by dividing the Americas between a British North and a Spanish South.

5. Brazil, South America's most populous country, achieved independence peacefully in the 1820s.

6. Simon Bolivar, the famous South American revolutionary leader, was the son of a British aristocrat, and was never able to speak more than a few sentences of Spanish.

7. The Spanish-American War of the 1850s dramatically weakened Spain to such an extent that its South American colonies were finally able to achieve full political independence.

8. From 1864 to 1870, Paraguay fought the "War of the Triple Alliance" against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. The war devastated Paraguay, resulting in the death of roughly half of its national population and utterly destroying its economy.

9. During the 1960s and 1970s the civilian governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were all overthrown by military dictatorships sponsored by the United States.

10. Ecuador and Peru went to war over a border dispute three times in the 20th Century, in 1941, 1981, and 1995.

11. Brazil, as you would expect, has about 1/3 of South America's people; more surprisingly, small but highly urban Uruguay has the second-largest population.

12. Ethnicity varies a lot in South America. In countries like Argentina, more than 4/5 of the population is of European descent, whereas in countries like Bolivia, more than 4/5 of the population is of full or partial Native American descent.

State your answers in the comments.