Monday, August 31, 2009

The Great Movies: "City Lights"

City Lights
Charlie Chaplin, 1931

Charlie Chaplin is one of those important entertainers that all Americans know about. But in my case, I just know about him from books; I don't know if it's the same way for other people, or if he is or was a regular fixture on off-hours television. Seeing him in a film for the first time was, well, much as I had imagined it might be, which is encouraging evidence that books sometimes get it right.

You could look at City Lights in one of two ways. On one hand, it is a social commentary delivered through silent film. The main supporting characters, a virtuous blind woman and a dissolute young millionaire, fail to respond to the visible markings of the shabby tramp's inferior social status, the blind woman because she literally can not see them and the millionaire because he is usually too drunk to notice. Chaplin achieves humor through this disabling of class semiotics, but he also confronts us with our own reactions to material social markers.

Or, you can see City Lights as a long sequence of sight gags and slapstick physical routines connected and justified by a thin tissue of random and rather hackneyed plotting. Happily, the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.

Plot: So, he's smitten with the blind girl, and wants to help with her financial problems. The millionaire is his best friend when drunk, but always has the servants run him off the premises once he sobers up. He is able to milk his drunken pal for a while, but then has to turn to legitimate work, then to less legitimate work. I won't give away the ending, but I'll reassure you that they didn't have the virtuous disabled romantic heroine die horribly of starvation in the gutter.

Visuals: The content of the visuals is often terrific; the sets are cleverly and lovingly crafted, and the physical gags are immaculately choreographed. A boxing match (see "random plotting," above) in which Chaplin synchronizes his footwork to keep the referee in between him and his opponent is particularly brilliant. Maybe I'll see if I can find it on the YouTubes for ya. Here it is!

The visuals do not seem especially stunning from a technical standpoint, but then that's usually the case with comedy.

Dialog: Silence!

Prognosis: This is an easy film to watch for its technical mastery and as an representative of its period and genre. As an entertainment for today's viewer, however, its silent charms are rather on the thin side. The fact that it has a little meat on its bones, unfortunately, actually renders it a bit less accessible today, when we feel some need for actual dialogue to clarify movie relationships. The most immediately entertaining silent movie in this project was The General, Buster Keaton's long and thrilling train chase, which still works because train chases aren't real chatty. Whereas miming the concept of "I'm nervous about my deteriorating relationship with the millionaire in that it will impact my ability to keep the blind girl I have a crush on in rent money," although impressive if you are a Charlie Chaplin and can pull it off, is just not especially interesting when there are dramatic alternatives.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXVI

Great Lakes!
1. It's the biggest lake in South America! And, uh, the world's "highest navigable lake." Seriously, it's at 12,500 feet, and has commercial boat traffic.

2. It's in the United States....

3. Name 'em. All five of 'em. Go.

4. It's the deepest freshwater lake in the world and has by far the greatest water volume -- something like a fifth of the world's fresh surface water, deep in the heart of Eurasia.

5. It's the second deepest and has the second greatest water volume. Somebody's got to be Number Two.

Submit your answers in the comments.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Reading List: "The Golden Ass"

The last time we hit one of the great books it was Gilgamesh, often held up as the world’s oldest extant tale. This time, we’ve got The Golden Ass, which is sometimes described as the world’s oldest extant novel. It’s tricky, though, because the definition of “novel” is a sticky wicket and the last thing you want is for all of the Cervantes, Mallory, or Dafoe people to come at you seeking their terrible vengeance. So let’s just say that The Golden Ass is the only complete book-length work of fiction that we’ve inherited from the Roman Empire.

Notes on the Translation

First of all, every translation and copy comes from a single version that was copied out in an Italian monestery sometime in the eleventh century, before photocopy machines were widely available. There have been literally oodles of translations into English, as I discovered at Powell’s when I went to purchase my very own copy. I was confronted by a plethora of Golden Asses, all of which I examined diligently, and I was quite surprised by the considerable differences in tone and editorial choices. Since it is an old, old, old, old, old text, some of the translations are now a bit long in the tooth themselves, including the one most available online. That one is by William Addington, from 1566, and begins

As I fortuned to take my voyage into Thessaly, about certaine affaires which I had to doe ( for there myne auncestry by my mothers side inhabiteth, descended of the line of that most excellent person Plutarch, and of Sextus the Philosopher his Nephew, which is to us a great honour)…
But the modern translations diverge quite a bit too. Here’s one from 1999.

I was on my way to Thessaly to transact some business. My family on my mother's side hails from that region, and the prominence lent to it by the famous philosopher Plutarch, and later by his nephew Sextus, lends us esteem.
And another, from 2007:

I was going to Thessaly on business. Why? Because it was from there that the root and stock of my ancestry, on my mother's side, was first made known to the world; passing through the great Plutarch and then through his nephew, the philosopher Sextus, it created our name and fame.
And here’s mine, E.J. Kenney’s 1998 translation for Penguin:

I was on my way to Thessaly – for on my mother’s side our family goes back there, being proud to number among our ancestors the distinguished philopher Plutarch and his nephew Sextus – I was on my way, I say, to Thessaly on particular business.
Since the original apparently involves heaps of wordplay and plenty of offhand references to things that are no longer common knowledge, and since it was written without the modern (Carolingian, actually) niceties like spaces between words, and paragraphs, and chapters, the whole thing seems like rich terrain for the fine craft of the editor. I found all of these subtle and obvious differences quite fascinating, and felt the same call that Stephen Mitchell did with Gilgamesh – “Hey! I could compile the ur-translation by cross-referencing these! Without learning a classical language!” In this instance, though, cooler heads prevailed.

Picaresque Means, In This Case, Lots of Sex and Violence!

Sure, it takes a few pages to get used to the tone of a 2000 year old book. The greater hurdle is getting used to the structure. There is a single overall story, but it is interspersed willy-nilly with tangential stories that the narrator witnesses, hears, or recalls in his various journeys. These range from quick paragraph-length anecdotes to a telling of the legend of Cupid and Psyche that occupies a good sixth of the book. Everything is told at a fairly manic pace, and until you are a few chapters in it’s hard to keep track of which details are going to be important later and what is an entertaining tangent.

Because it’s old and it’s episodic, you might assume that The Golden Ass is akin to those romances of the middle ages in which knights and heroes are always charging around whacking on monsters and other knights and encountering beautiful maidens and strange monks, all with a perfect vagueness that renders the whole thing meaningless and impossibly tedious to the modern reader. Not so! The Golden Ass is rich with colorful detail and full of surprises. It is also rich with the eternal crowd-pleasers, sex and violence. The narrator spends plenty of time rolling in the hay, as it were, and at least half of the tales he reports second hand are, one way or another, about -- to put it delicately -- doin’ it. As a kind of grand finale to the tale, we are treated to the second most explicit description of human/equine passion I have yet encountered. (For the MOST explicit, see Stephen Fry’s The Hippopotamus, if you dare.) As for violence, did I mention that this is a Roman book? Theirs was not a society to go easy on the punishments.

Once you get into the rhythm, in other words, The Golden Ass is a perfectly accessible and enjoyable book. It’s a little like being a kid awake when all the adults think you’ve drifted off, and your aunts and uncles start gossiping and telling dirty jokes. You learn a lot about adult life that way, in passing. With this book, you learn a lot about life in antiquity in passing. The narrator encounters people from all levels of society, and quite offhandedly describes common Roman stuff – clothes, tools, towns, ways of getting around, the justice system, and so on. To the original readers, it was just the setting, but for us, it’s an accidental window on another world.

The Plot

The narrator is an overly curious young man with a particular interest in magic. Trying to turn into an owl for the evening, he grabs the wrong potion and turns into a donkey for a full year. It’s a tough life, but he has all sorts of amazing adventures along the way, and overhears even more amazing stories with his big, long, pointy donkey ears. In the end, he resumes his natural form and has a powerful religious conversion. Apparently nobody knows whether the last chapter, which is all about how totally jazzed he is to have joined the cult of Isis, is supposed to be the moral of the story, is supposed to be hilarious satire of holy rollers, or was even tacked on later by somebody else.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Thursday Quiz XCVI

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!


Here are twelve quotes that are arguably kind of famous, in that I dug them up in "famous quotes" collections. Some of them are from the Bible! And some are not!

Which of the following are from the Christian Bible?
1. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

2. Beware of entrance to a quarrel; but being in, bear't that the opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice; take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, but not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; for the apparel oft proclaims the man.

3. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

4. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

5. Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

6. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

7. Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place, for where we are is hell, and where hell is there must we ever be.

8. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

9. Princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a prince as soon as his groom.

10. The quality of mercy is not strain'd, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

11. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

12. Your neck is like a tower of ivory, Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rabbim; Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon, which faces toward Damascus.

Submit thy answers in the comments.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Obligatory Tuesday

Tuesday is of course Great Movies day, but the Great Movies have been taking August off. In the unlikely event that you miss my ramblings about scripted narrative productions, you can mosey on over to the Shakespeare blog today and thrill to my very first write-up of a live Shakespeare experience. We saw Henry VIII at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I shoot my mouth off about it at considerable length, here.

Monday Night Weigh-In!

Fitness-Type Activities Engaged in this week: I've been running a lot, getting up to four and five miles in relative comfort, so that's good. I've been looking on maps for parks and little landmarks about two miles from home, and then running out to "discover" them. It's surprising how many places there are fairly close that I didn't know about. Not incredibly exciting places or anything, just... places.

Diet-Type Activities: Smaller portions! And not a single coffeesugarbomb since last we met!

Tomatoes: I think the tomato experiment is over. And a failure. Maybe I'll try to eat slugs next.

Weight: 206.0 lbs, which is -0.2 lbs from a week ago. Not a dramatic drop, but it's nice to see that last week's drop wasn't a total fluke.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXVI

Art of the Nineteenth Century

It's Art History time again, people! Once again, you've got seven shots to make five. It'll be tough. The painter or the correct title will get you full marks; anything else you can dredge up or speculate might get you partial credit.








Paint your answers in the comments.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Coffee Table Book Party: "Marc Chagall"

Marc Chagall. Henry Abrams, 2003.

I got more and better birthday presents this year than is entirely seemly for someone ostensibly out of childhood. Mrs.5000 being a dame of excellent and discriminating taste, the haul included more than one contribution to the ongoing Coffee Table Book Party.

I always kind of liked Chagall, but I got more interested when I was poaching his many paintings on Biblical themes over at the Bible blog.

Chagall is not a tough "modern artist" to like -- his paintings have trippy but recognizable narrative elements that are often sweet or even sentimental, his colors are bright and cheery, and his shapes and compositions are rounded, soft, and inviting.

I mean, I defy you to dislike this sweet kittycat:

It's not always 100% clear what's going on, of course. This one, which seems to feature a goat attacking a harliquin, is called Mauve Nude. Cool.

It is, to be sure, a lovely and lavish book, sure to be a coffee table hit for some time to come.

If you are jealous -- and I know you are -- Amazon has insanely cheap copies. Join the party!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Thursday Quiz XCV

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!

Compositions and Composers

Here we have twelve well-known compositions of classical and jazz music. And, for a change, I didn't make any of them up! Not all of them are matched with the right composer, however.

Which pieces are matched with the correct composer?
1. 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky

2. Flemenco Sketches, Mozart

3. Grand Canyon Suite, Ferde Grofe

4. Peer Gynt Suite, Grieg

5. The Pines of Rome, Respighi

6. the Planets, Holst

7. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn, Vivaldi

8. Rhapsody in Blue, Miles Davis

9. The Rite of Spring, Beethoven

10. ‘Round Midnight, Thelonius Monk

11. Scheherazade, Rimsky-Korsakov

12. The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jiveass Slippers, Duke Ellington
Submit your answers to michael5000 in the comments.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

michael5000 minus michael5000

I believe I've gone on record with the opinion that Garfield Minus Garfield is among the strangest and most amusing of the many delights that greet us here in the metaverse. Having some time to kill a few weeks ago, I decided to find out just how much work goes into removing the beloved overweight feline from his eponymous strip. Loading that day's installment into Microsoft Paint (a sophisticated graphic design program in the use of which my skillz are legend) I found out: Not much work at all!
I'd be willing to concede, though, that there might be some creative work involved in selecting the strips that will actually turn out to be funny.

Having created my very own "G - G," I decided to try out the concept on other strips and see if it had universally hilarious comic potential. Here, for instance, is the classic first installment of "Doonesbury" -- minus Mike Doonesbury!

Verdict: NOT FUNNY

Next up: Two day's worth of Dilbert -- minus Dilbert!

VERDICT: No better than the original.

I thought sure that The Family Circus would offer up some surreal laffs, minus The Family:

VERDICT: Not funny!

Finally, I turned to that most beloved of classic comic strips, Peanuts -- minus the Peanuts! Except, that didn't make sense. So I went with the classic Charlie Brown and Lucy scenario -- minus Lucy!

VERDICT: When I finished this one, I remember feeling that I had made something not only hilarious, but with a certain psychological depth to it. In retrospect, this was probably just a side effect of too much time spent messing around with Microsoft Paint.

Note: If Garfield Minus Garfield is not to your liking, perhaps you will enjoy the machine-translator surrealism of Garfield: Lost in Translation.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dorky Night Weigh In

Occasional L&TM5K commenter gl. had a very brisk birthday party last week -- 36 minutes -- at which Honorable Vice Dork Emeritus Fingerstothebone was kind enough to slip me this item. I show it here because I believe that she was not really giving it to me alone so much as to the entire L&TM5K community. Alone, we are nothing; together, we are Dork.

Hey, speaking of birthdays and dorkiness, check it out! I got a European-style boardgame for my birthday!

I've never played it, but I've seen other people playing it, and it's so... mappy. And pretty.

I bring this up because it's a 3-4 person game, and there are only two of Mrs.5000 & me, unless you count Caliban, and frankly he stinks at strategy games. So, any of you City of Rose people feel like throwing down?

Monday Night Weigh-In!

Fitness-Type Activities Engaged in this week: Eleven days ago, I did something that always gives me much joy: I created a spreadsheet. In this case, it is a spreadsheet of exercise. And, I think it's working: I've entered a value for distance run or biked for 10 of the last 11 days.

Diet-Type Activities: There were lots of celebrations over the last few weeks, but in general I think I've been doing a reasonable job of eating relatively sensibly.

Tomatoes: Mrs.5000's garden tomatoes have been ripening!

Now, of course I was curious to find out whether every tomato person on the planet was right, and garden-fresh tomatoes are just that much better! And you know, despite my bluster, it certainly seemed likely that such common knowledge would turn out to be correct. Verdict? Well... I will allow that the intensely flavorful garden tomatoes seem not to be, as I had feared, much worse than the store-bought variety.
Only a little worse.

Weight: 206.2 lbs, which is -2.2 lbs from two weeks ago. But, I think I might be a little dehydrated.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXV

It's the time of the season for...

Name That Country!






Submit your answers in the comments.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Reading List: "Gilgamesh"

Gilgamesh, an epic recovered from a zillion fragments found in sites through Mesopotamia, is often billed as the world’s oldest extant story. This is seriously ancient stuff, a good millennia older than the Hebrew Bible, and as you might expect there are plenty of gaps where the clay tablets in question are cracked, damaged, or just plain missing. The sections that remain often contain divergent versions from different regions or time periods, and to cap it all off the whole thing is written in ancient languages that don’t exactly come with, for instance, a complete Akkadian-English English-Akkadian dictionary. Translating all this into a coherent story necessarily involves a ton of guesswork.

Note on the Translation

Having said this, the Stephen Mitchell edition of Gilgamesh, definitely the hot ticket Gilgamesh of the moment, is less an actual translation than a creative collage of other peoples’ translations. Mitchell (whose oeuvre includes such ghostwritten classics as Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life and Real Power: Business Lessons from the Tao Te Ching) admits right up front that he doesn’t know a lick of Akkadian, but has rather compiled what he sees as an artistic retelling of the epic from among all the existing English translations. He is “particularly indebted” to a translation by A.R. George, which he says “far excels all previous scholarship,” though how he could possibly be in a position to evaluate this is not spelled out. He streamlines the story to make it, he hopes, accessible to modern readers, shaving off the repetition, number games, and other idiosyncrasies that apparently sounded really cool to Mesopotamians but would drive us bonkers today.

Mitchell’s Gilgamesh, then, is an especially high-profile example of a man walking into a room with {x} books and leaving it with {x+1}. Moreover, since he has edited and selected from the texts in order to please the modern English speaker’s ear, he has necessarily edited and selected out much of what made the story distinctively Mesopotamian, or whatever, which seems to me to defeat the whole purpose of reading something ancient. The upside, happily, is that this Gilgamesh is indeed a palatable, even an easy, read. And that’s good, of course.

My confidence that Mitchell had managed to convey the essence of the original, however, was not helped by a prelude asserting that his version of Gilgamesh is, like the text he works from, a piece of original art. It’s not that I have a problem with the idea that Mitchell’s work is an original piece of artistry, but the idea that the ancient Gilgamesh was conceived in a spirit anything like that of “artistic creation” -- a culturally embedded concept if ever there was one -- seems awfully naïve. There’s no way we’ll ever understand what Gilgamesh really meant as a narrative to its original writers, performers, and participants, but we can at least safely assume that it did not occupy the cultural position of 21st Century art poetry.

Then, there is a very long essay about how relevant Gilgamesh is to various current events and concerns, in which Mitchell says things like “one can’t help hearing this statement of an ancient Mesopotamian king in eerie counterpoint to the recent American invasion of Iraq.” This is such a dumb way to talk about ancient literature that it was frankly kind of embarrassing just to skim through. Bottom line: despite pages of excited blurbs from high-profile publications, I am left with serious doubts that Stephen Mitchell is the right guy to be leading our tour of Gilgamesh.

Those Nutty Mesopotamians!

Even through this especially distorted cultural lens, however, you still get a vertiginous sense of vast cultural difference between the people who wrote Gilgamesh and the people you see on the bus on your way to work. Their beliefs and cosmology are radically different, of course, the Mesopotamians living in a world of merry polytheism in which gods are plentiful and prone to involvement in human affairs. Their deities conduct the kinds of turbulent interpersonal – interdeital? -- relationships that you would expect from a Mexican soap opera. For men to, as part of their religious practice, have sex with women employed by the temple for just this purpose, seems to have been a commonplace part of everyday life. Uruk, a city of leisure time where “every day is a holiday” and people have time to make music and sing, is clearly thought of as a pretty amazing place. Its massive, well-built walls are dwelt on with great pride, and seem to represent the proud high-tech achievement of the day.

As in another ancient text that I am wrestling with, the Bible, the logic of people’s decisions is not always easy to parse. King Gilgamesh begins by fearing Enkidu, the second character of the book, and attacks him on sight; when he is unable to kill the newcomer, however, the two immediately and for no particular reason become the closest of friends. A while later, Gilgamesh announces that he is going to attack a great monster that the gods have placed as guardian of a forest. Why? No reason, or more likely the reasoning was so obvious or so irrelevant to the original audience that it didn’t bear going into.

Gilgamesh also has some resonances with another old story I read for the Reading List project last summer, Beowulf. Both feature a regional leader of exceptional size and strength who goes out in the world more or less randomly to beat up on grotesque monsters. One gets the impression, too, that there are many other similar stories out there as well in the literature of many peoples. Pre-modern humans were perhaps more fixated than ourselves about the ever present dangers posed by the wilderness lurking always just outside the town walls, as if – and this may well be true, I suppose – they all had cousins who were devoured by wolves when they were kids and they never really got over it. It’s understandable, really.


King Gilgamesh, who is strangely enough one-third god and two-thirds mortal, is seen by his people as overbearing and arrogant, and accordingly the gods create Enkidu, someone just as big and powerful as he is. Enkidu grows up wild in the woods, but when he comes to the attention of the city-dwellers they send out the very best temple prostitute to lure him to civilization with the charms of awesome sex. This works, and after he and King Gilgamesh fight to a stalemate, they become good friends. Like, suspiciously good friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just saying.

After a while, Gilgamesh suddenly decides that they need to kill the monster, which they argue about, but Gilgamesh prevails and they take off on a road trip. They eventually kill the monster, but this pisses off a faction of the gods and they kill Enkidu with a lingering disease. Gilgamesh is absolutely devastated by this. After much wailing and mourning, he sets off on a journey into a sort of underworld to find the only man who ever overcame death, hoping to get some tips.

After various episodes of daring-do and surreal conversations with underworld types, he finds the guy, who tells him an interesting story. It goes like this: the gods decided to destroy the world through a massive flood, but one of them tipped him off and had him build a huge ark and stock it with two of each kind of animal. After a week of flood, the ark went ashore and he started sending out birds until one day the bird didn’t come back, and that way they knew the floodwaters were receding, and they could come out of the ark and live happily ever after. And this is, you have to think, a very interesting story to find in a text that predates the Hebrew Bible by hundreds of years, no?

Anyway, Gilgamesh gets told that if he can stay awake for a full week, he’ll be allowed to defy death. He falls asleep immediately. As a sort of consolation prize, he’s told how to dig up a plant that grants eternal youth. But, a snake nicks it from him on the way home. He arrives back at Uruk, sadder but wiser, and the tale abruptly ends.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Thursday Quiz XCIV

Stainless Steel is 96 years old today!

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!

August 13th Through History!

Some of the following are actual events that happened on August 13ths of the past, while others are base confabulations of the lowest sort. Which is which?

Now, I know what you're thinking. But no, the wrong answers aren't otherwise accurate historical events that actually happened on, say, August 12th. It hurts me, in fact, that you even thought me capable of such a thing. No, the wrong answers have been carefully crafted to yield their wrongitude to the careful investigator. So go get 'em, Tiger.

327 - Julius Caeser completes the conquest of Britain, decisively defeating the Pictish army of Boudica at the Battle of Londinium.

1222 – Newton publishes “On Mathematics,” an important predecessor of his later invention of calculus. This work established the use of zero and negative numbers in European mathematics.

1521 – Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire and one of the largest cities in the world, falls to a group of Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés after a siege of several months.

1704 – At the Battle of Blenheim, an important turning point in the War of the Spanish Succession, the Duke of Marlborough leads his British troops and their Austrian allies to victory over the formerly invincible French and the Bavarians. Contemporaries consider that this defeat prevented Louis XIV's France from becoming the sole superpower of Europe.

1774 – The Battle of Valley Forge. British troops under Lord Grenville attack George Washington army’s encampment in Southeastern Pennsylvania in an attempt to permanently cripple the American revolution. The British withdraw after a hard-fought battle with roughly equal losses on both sides, giving the colonial forces their first tactical victory of the conflict.

1792 – King Louis XVI of France, his powers already having been stripped, is formally arrested by the National Tribunal and declared an enemy of the people. Over the next five months he will be imprisoned, indicted, tried, convicted, and publically executed.

1831 – Nat Turner's Rebellion begins. Over the next few days, rebel slaves will kill approximately 55 white people in Southampton County, Virginia, the highest number of fatalities ever caused by an American slave uprising. The rebellion is crushed within a few days, however, and thousands of slaves are brutally killed over the next several weeks as hysterical rumors and paranoia circulates throughout the South.

1899 – The RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sinks within minutes. More than 5000 passengers die, most of them women and children – the concept of “women and children first,” here as in most naval disasters, having gone out the window in the general panic.

1918 – Opha Mae Johnson and 304 other women become the first to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. The women will fill functions such as secretary, cook, or military nurse in domestic facilities; female Marines will not be sent anywhere near war zones until the 1940s.

1960 – The French colony of Ubangi-Chari, part of French Equatorial Africa, declares independence as the Central African Republic.

1988 - George H.W. Bush, a former director of the FBI and Senator from Texas, takes office as the President of the United States.

2008 – American swimmer Michael Phelps takes his eighth gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, breaking the record for most gold medals ever taken at a single Olympics and tying the record for most medals of any type taken at a single Olympics.

Submit your answers to michael5000, who was born on this date in 1981, in the comments.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Name That Baby!

It's a very special edition of the L&TM5K this week, as you the reader have been invited to participate in the naming of an actual human child!!!

Longtime readers will remember the former blogger ChuckDaddy, and may also remember that he left blogging two years ago shortly after the birth of his son, Elliott (AKA "Easy E.")

Well, once again the late summer finds Mrs. ChuckDaddy great with child. This time, however, there is a crisis: the happy couple find themselves completely unable to settle on a name for their imminent bundle of joy. (Despite, I might add, any number of suggestions from me, all of which were awesome. But whatever.) In their moment of need, they turn to the greatest concentration of brainpower known to humanity: the L&T readership.


1) If you believe children should be labeled from birth with a marker that perpetuates the subtle tyranny of gender expectations, you will want to know that this is going to be a girl baby. That's right: a sweet, beautiful daughter, gentle and good.

2) "These," says Mrs. ChuckDaddy, "are our top five names":

Fiona --347
Norah --476
Penelope --358
Sophia --7
Stella --186
The numbers are the current ranking of the names among baby girls. No doubt they got this info from the Baby Name Voyager, which is absolutely the killerest app on all the internet for looking at 20th Century American cultural history. It may also be useful for baby naming.

3) Mrs. ChuckDaddy further asks us to attend to the following criteria:
  • The name should go well with the baby's last name, which has already been settled on: Boone.

  • The name should go well with her brother's name, Elliott. Because... you know how kids get picked on when their names lack resonance with those of their siblings? I guess?

  • It should "suggest intelligence, confidence, and maybe even some sauciness thrown in for good measure."

4) Finally, the ChuckDaddies ask that "If your readers have reasons for liking or disliking the names, perhaps they might say why? If your readers have other suggestions perhaps they might want to share them?"

Editorial Interjection

Although she didn't specifically ask me to mention this, you will want to know that Mrs. ChuckDaddy goes by a "street name" -- Marsha -- that is not only quite lovely and charming, but has been represented in her family for the last six generations. Oddly, I do not see it on the list above, despite that Mrs. Chuckdaddy is an only child and thus the only person capable of continuing this wonderful and venerable tradition.

Now, I would certainly never want to imply that Mrs. ChuckDaddy has a "duty" or a "responsibility" to honor this precious tie with the past, and I'm not implying by any means that she is "betraying both her ancestors and her offspring" by breaking the sacred chain. By no means. I just feel that you, the L&T reader, should have all the facts available when making your recommendations.

Having Said That...

It's time to Name That Baby!

Leave your suggestions and comments in the, well, comments.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXIV

The 1910s in the United States of America

...with the usual apologies to those readers who do not happen to live in the United States of America. This one might be kind of tough, so it's six-to-make-five again.

1. What's this hit song about?

2. These guys work in a factory that has just implemented a big innovation in industrial technology. Who is their employer?

3. In the 1920s, this guy would become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In the 1910s, though, he was already quite well known. Who is he?

4. Keeping in mind that the Titanic went down without much in the way of smoke and flames, what is going on in this period artist's reconstruction?

5. Why do these gentlemen have a poor reputation?

6. OK, the kid is carrying a paper labelled "statehood appeal" and his big lizard is labelled "Judiciary Recall." The well-dressed man, who might look vaguely familiar, is saying "You'll have to abandon your pet, Sonny." You don't have to be well-versed in the local politics of the day to realize that the kid represents ___________.

Submit your answers in the comments.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Vintage Boredom: the In-Law Collection

So, the In-Laws 5000 have some awesome old postcard albums, including this one.

This used to be a common thing people did, back when postcards were very common and photographs were very rare. This one is about a hundred years old, with cards from the aughts to as late as the forties.

Now, pretty much anything made of paper that's a hundred years old is inherently cool. But a significant proportion of the postcards in this album reach a greater plateau of awesomeness by virtue of a more or less spectacular boringness! So, grab a strong cup of coffee, and take a look at some of these beauties!

Greetings from Adair, Iowa!

Point Loma, near San Diego, California

Sunset on Great Salt Lake, Utah

Tenderfoot Mountain, Salida, Colorado

Rio Grande Bridge, Del Norte, Colorado

Feeding Livestock at Sugar Plant, Grand Junction, Colorado

Building-Assylum, Osawatomie, Kansas

Public Libary, Salida, Colorado

Sunset Behind Pike's Peak, Colorado

So! Which one did you find the most boring?