Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Recently Acquired in the Michael5000 Bookarts Collection

As has been occasionally noted in this here forum, one of the (many) benefits of being married to Mrs.5000 is the occasional groovy art gifts. For my birthday earlier this month, for instance, she gave me an original art box -- Mrs.5000, I have often remarked, is influenced by, albeit better than, art box pioneer Joseph Cornell.

Here is my birthday gift hanging, for perfectly sensible reasons, off of a tree at 42° 34' 34.7 N, 121° 50' 2.4" W:

And here it is, rather bleached out from the flashbulb, in a more permanent location on the wall of my Castle5000 lair.

Mrs.5000 is fab.


Occasional L&TM5K commenter Bridget B. ain't too shabby herself. Mrs.5K and I rode up recently to a show she had going on oh-so-groovy Alberta Street, some few miles north of here. Now if you are like me, when you think Bridget B. you think encaustic, but this time around she had some collage pieces mixed in that were not only pretty evocative, but also capable of being photographed by my ancient and crappy little digital camera.

Bridget B., I might mention, signed off on my posting these images after seeing them on her phone. She may be sorry when she sees them at larger-than-thumbnail size.

Spare but rather poignant, I thought. Any of these would be fine choices for anyone wracked with guilt for having missed my birthday.

For more of Mrs.5000: www.susancollard.com

For more of Bridget B.: www.eyesaflame.com

For more of Michael5000, set this blog as your home page.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Castle5000 Mailbag

As important public figures, we bloggers naturally get a lot of mail. Some recent examples will give you an idea of the kinds of information networking that goes on here at the Castle5000 home office.

Does Peter Joseph von Lindpainter's Bassoon Concerto really exist? Do you have a whereabouts, or recording, or anything?

Regards, [an actual professional bassoon player]

Hello, [actual professional bassoon player] --

This is not the kind of question I get every day! ...but yes, the Peter Joseph von Lindpaintner Bassoon Concerto in F Major exists, and I am listening to it as we speak. It's the highlight piece on the 1996 Naxos recording "Bassoon Concertos from the Courts of Baden and Wurttemburg," with Albrecht Holder on the Bassoon and the Stuttgart Philharmonic under Nicolas Pasquet. The recording also includes pieces by Molter, Kreutzer, and Kalliwoda, whoever they all are. I think you'll find that it's a pleasant, charming CD, but I bet you'll also agree that it's no mistake that we talk more about Mozart and Haydn than we do about Lindpaintner and Kalliwoda. Enjoy!


Wow, what a surprise. It's almost like a joke. It's staggering sometimes who pops up from history, given the resurgence of period music. Now we'll see if the music is published as well. Thanks again for getting back with me. Appreciated.

All the best, [an actual professional bassoon player]


The next letter refers to a recent Element of the Month, which I will call 5000um here because the writer obviously has an internet spider that alerts him when anyone blogs about, um, 5000um.

Hi Michael,

Thanks for writing about 5000um. I joined the 5000um Corporation in 1981, right out of engineering school. It's been a great place to work, many very cool applications as you note, and still a relatively unknown material. It gets a lot more press now days with the use in Flat Panel Displays, but still not as known as well as copper, tin,...

I noted in your article that there is a use of 5000um in ball bearings. I am not aware of the ball bearing application, but I am familiar with its use in sleeve bearings, over all a slight nuance. This application found its original use in aircraft engines during World War II. There are still high performance applications that require these bearings and happily they still use an 5000um coating. The coating improves the life of the bearing. By chance was the application you were referring to? If not I wonder if you can provide any further information on the application. Being the 5000um Corporation, we like to learn about all the uses of the element from which we take our name.

Thanks for your time.
Regards, [a actual materials engineer]

Hi, [actual materials engineer] --

Thanks for your note! As far as knowing about any specialized applications for 5000um, I honestly wouldn't know a ball bearing from a sleeve bearing from a compass bearing. The lion's share of the information for my monthly posts on the elements is nothing more than what I dredge from wikipedia and similar sources. I'm just giving myself a crude education on the periodic table, and trying to jazz it up a little bit to amuse my friends. I should probably label it "for entertainment purposes only!"

Thanks again for writing,

The most frequent source of letters from strangers, though, is the symbol that I designed with all y'all's help in the Democracy Assisted Design (DAD) process a few years back. Generally, I suspect that people who write me about the symbol have not read the posts, which talk about how I am trying to create an arbitrary symbol ~that has no meaning~. Hence:

Hello Michale,

My sister and I are looking for a symbol to share as a tattoo. When i googled "symbol meaning sister" your artwork came up. Can you tell me a little bit more about your inspiration for this piece.

Sincerly, [someone's actual sister]

Hi, [someone's actual sister],

Well, it doesn't "mean sister" unless you decide it does, in which case it does!

What I was trying to do with the design is come up with something that looks like a symbol, but has no actual meaning. If you are curious about the design process, you can trace it from this blog post:

Happy Tattooing,


Have a question about what you've read on the L&TM5K? Feel free to write -- although, now that I think about it, how these people are getting my email address is mildly puzzling. But anyway, I am more than egotistical enough to answer anything that could be remotely described as "fan mail!"

...well, almost anything. I didn't answer this one.

Wwhat does that symbol stand for the ur putting on that rug? What is da meaning of it? Please respond asap.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Connecticut is famous for Shade Leaf Tobacco

Provenance: Sent by occasional L&TM5K commenter Heatherbee, July 2010.

Want a boring postcard from Michael5000? Just ask -- he's got plenty!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ulysses Chapter by Chapter: The Michael5000 Guide, part I

With notes on some of the stuff that went over my head provided by the Wiki.

Chapter 1

Style: A more or less straightforward narrative. If you are wondering if Ulysses is for you, the first chapter is a fairly welcoming introduction, but getting through it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find the rest of the book smooth sailing.

What Happens: We meet Stephen Dedalus, who lives in an obsolete naval tower with the charismatic but manipulative Buck Mulligan. They eat breakfast and have an argument.

Stuff I missed: That we’re supposed to think of Steve not only as a guy who thinks a lot about Hamlet, but kind of as a Hamlet in his own right. He’s Telemachus from the Odyssey, AND he’s Hamlet from Hamlet.

Chapter 2

Style: Dialogue, interspersed with Stephen’s thoughts.

What Happens: Stephen teaches a history class, poorly. Afterwards, he talks with his boss, a terrible blowhard who wants him to get a letter to the editor published by his friends in the newspapers.

Stuff I missed: Nothing big, apparently.

Chapter 3

Style: Stream of Consciousness -- Stephen Dedalus. This is where things start to get a bit challenging. [This is as far as I got twenty years ago, in my first attempt at Ulysses.] Stephen is “all in his head,” as they say, and his train of thought is constantly careening off on abstract tangents, many or most of which are pretty opaque. He thinks things like this:
They came down the steps from Leahy’s terrace prudently, Frauenzim-
mer : and down the shelving shore flabbily their splayed feet sinking in the
silted sand. Like me, like Algy, coming down to our mighty mother. Number
one swung lourdily her midwife’s bag, the other’s gamp poked in the beach.
From the liberties, out for the day. Mrs Florence Mac Cabe, relict of the late
Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented, of Bride Street. One of her sisterhood lugged
me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A
misbirth with a trailing navelcord, hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all
link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will
you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to
Edenville. Aleph, alpha : nought, nought, one.
Now, it so happens that I actually understand this passage, but that’s only because it’s broken down nicely in the superb David Lodge book The Art of Fiction. (To wit: Stephen sees two midwifes coming down to the beach – “our mighty mother” is the ocean – and daydreams with dark humor about one of them carrying a stillborn fetus in her back, which gets him thinking about umbilical cords connecting everyone back to Eve and thus God through their mothers, so maybe he could use that cord to make a phone call to God.) So yeah, Stephen Dedalus! There’s only fourteen pages of this chapter, but they are quite dense.

What Happens: Stephen hangs out on the beach.

Stuff I missed: Probably almost everything.

Chapter 4

Style: Stream of Consciousness -- Leopold Bloom. Bloom is a much more straightforward thinker than Stephen. Either Joyce came closest to getting the stream of consciousness right with Bloom, or Bloom just happens to be the character I think most like. Either way, it’s his relatively simple, concrete chains and cul-de-sacs of thought that seem most like “real” thinking -- ie., my own – to me. Chapter 4 is one of my favorites.

What Happens: Bloom makes breakfast. He ducks out to buy a kidney, brings his wife the morning mail and breakfast in bed, reads a letter from his daughter away at camp, and goes out to poop in the outhouse.

Stuff I missed: It’s interesting – I didn’t really MISS anything per se, but as I glance back over the chapter now, I see that almost every line has new resonance. Like I said in the original review, Ulysses might be a book that you have to read more than once to really get the most of.

Chapter 5

Style: More Stream of Consciousness, Leopold Bloom Style. There’s not a dramatic shift between Chapters 4 and 5. As Bloom moves out of the simple routines and associations of home into the city, though, his thoughts become wider ranging and a little more difficult to follow.

What Happens: Bloom picks up a letter from a mistress at the post office. He chats with a friend He reads the letter, tears it up, then ducks into a Catholic church and hangs out through the service. He buys soap. Then he meets another acquaintance, then heads out to a public bath.

Stuff I missed: Bloom is Jewish, so the whole bit in the Catholic church confused me mightily. Then, towards the end of the chapter, he apparently gives a guy “a racing tip for the horse Throwaway.” Stuff about horse racing kept cropping up for the rest of the book, always confusing me like anything.

Chapter 6

Style: Yet More Stream of Consciousness, Leopold Bloom Style, with a fair amount of dialogue and even – gasp! -- exposition.

What Happens: Bloom rides in a procession to the funeral of a friend. Here, as whenever he's in public for the rest of the book, he endures a continuous low-key heckling for being Jewish and kind of eccentric.

Stuff I missed: No more than in any other chapter.

Chapter 7

Style: The Headlines. It is dialogue-heavy, and broken into chunks by old-style newspaper headlines. This seems like it should be a hoot, but I actually find it a bit impenetrable. [This is as far as I got ten years ago, in my second attempt at Ulysses.]

What Happens: Bloom attempts to do some business at a newspaper office. Stephen also shows up at the office to deliver his employer’s letter to the editor.

Stuff I missed: Quite a lot, I think. There are suddenly a lot of characters, and it is hard to keep track of who’s who, who’s talking, and what they are talking about – if I’m not mistaken, a lot of the conversation is about things specific to the time and place.

Chapter 8

Style: Centered on Bloom’s stream of consciousness, but occasionally peeling away from him.

What Happens: Bloom gets hungry and has lunch in a nice pub after ducking into and right back out of a grubbier place. After he leaves, the men in the pub badmouth him behind his back.

Stuff I missed: At the end of the chapter, Bloom sees a man on the street and goes into a panic. I had no idea why.

Chapter 9

Style: Mostly dialog, which becomes increasingly abstracted and surreal as the chapter goes on.

What Happens: Stephen and some other brainy types talk about Shakespeare. Stephen airily outlines a theory that Shakespeare’s work is all informed by Anne Hathaway’s (ie. Mrs. Shakespeare’s) supposed infidelities. Buck Mulligan slouches about making dirty jokes. As he's leaving, Stephen passes by Bloom without realizing it.

Stuff I missed: Probably quite a bit, but I think I got the gist of it.

Chapter 10

Style: Vignettes!

What happens: Various secondary characters wander around Dublin, having minor adventures and encountering each other. There are apparently nineteen of these little scenes, and many little episodes are described from several different points of view. This is all kind of fun and, by Ulysses standards, told in very straightforward prose.

Stuff I missed: It didn’t strike me at the time, but neither Bloom nor Steven appear in this chapter.

Part II will cover Chapters 11 - 18. If you are using this to write a term paper, please send me twenty dollars.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Movies: The Dark Knight

At the Movies with Michael5000

The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan, 2008

Ebert: 4 Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

My Official Preconception: "This is, I think, an installment of the Batman franchise, which was all the rage when I was in college. Ho hum. "

The Dark Knight is indeed another movie adaptation of the Batman comics character. The cool kids (among whom I like to think of myself, no matter what you say) like Batman best among the pantheon of Superheros because he is considered "dark." Nolan (who directed the excellent 2000 Memento) takes the darkness quite literally in this case, and although heaps and heaps and heaps of money were obviously lavished on production and effects, it's a pity that a little more wasn't spent on lighting so that one could consistently see what's going on.

As an action-adventure movie, Dark Night is the expected fiesta of chases, fights, explosions, amazing luck, and violations of physical law. That's all fine and good; that's what action-adventure is, for better or worse. Knight is badly marred, unfortunately, by a stern air of solumnity and import that is completely unsupported by what is, even for the genre, a dumber-than-usual plot.

There are some amusing scenes involving Morgan Freeman as Bond's Q -- oops, as Batman's provider of high-tech vigilante solutions -- but all of the other actors seem to have been instructed to utter their lines, a bizarre proportion of which are gobbledygook about "what kind of hero Gotham City deserves," with the most preposterous earnestness at their command. Somewhere along the line, somebody forgot that the purpose of a comic book character is to entertain. It is a sort of achievement that a movie this noisy could also be so boring.

Prognosis: * 1/2 -- Two and a half hours that aren't coming back.

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


From Read the Picture, Know the Word: 30 Flash Postcards.

Provenance: Purchased from frequent L&TM5K commenter nichim at moving sale, July 2010.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We Come Not to Praise the Wednesday Quiz

...but to bury that sucker. I have, from time to time, found myself feeling more stressed out than joyful in the creation of this here blog of late, and at the same time found myself drawn back to some of my interests in the meatspace -- quilting, music, and the garden are all perfectly respectable pursuits that have lost much ground to the L&TM5K in recent years. Oh, and Civ V comes out this fall.

So will I stop blogging? Ha! Surely you jest! But I am going to, for the time being at least, give up the WQ. Now, long-time readers will remember that I given up quizzes before, and couldn't keep myself away. And it also must be said that when I looked at the topics that had been lined up for the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons, it filled me with a absurdly poignant sense of loss. But whatever. I am going to, for the time being at least, give up the WQ.

And on THAT Upbeat Note:

Congratulations to DrSchnell, who came from behind to win the third season. The Unwise Owl was second, and la gringissima was third, and they all took their pick from the fabulous prizes; I note that the UnWise Owl has so little faith in my ability to not write quizzes that he picked the half-credit towards a quilt, despite the seeming lack of opportunity to ever win the other half-credit.

Rounding out the Top Ten were brainiacs cum good sports Mrs.5000, Aviatrix, Phineas, Cartophiliac, nichim, Elizabeth, and Elaine.

Update: What Should I Do to Feed My Quiz Jones?

Well, you could take this literary quiz prepared recently by frequent commenter Jennifer, in which you are very likely to do better than I did. Or, you can proceed to:

This Is Not a Wednesday Quiz Per Se:

But, to help cushion the blow, here's a completely fair and balanced quiz for you: The topic is Parts of an Airplane! The winner gets two tickets to anywhere Bahar Air flies!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: Coregos

Republic of Coregos

Capital: San Esteban
Population: 1,591,862 (1996)
Area: 9,900 km2
Independence: 1971

Economy: Corn and other foods are no longer imported since a national self-sufficiency program was launched in the early 1990s; however, most durable and electronic goods must still be imported.
Per Capita Income: US$6,600
Languages: Spanish
Literacy Rate: 86%

Coregos is best known to most Americans as being the country that, according to a high-profile 1994 study by the National Geographic Society, less than five percent of high school students were able to locate on a world map. This notoriety is a strange fate for a country that, less than a century before, President William McKinley described as “absolutely fundamental, absolutely crucial, to the future of the United States in this hemisphere” (Brotherton: McKinley and American Foreign Policy).

McKinley spoke with an eye toward the Torreños Depression, a wide valley amid Coregos’ mostly mountainous terrain, as a likely route across the Central American isthmus. When a populist government headed by León Garcia, a former peasant, offered a German engineering firm the contract to build an ocean-to-ocean canal, the U.S. responded by sending two divisions of Marines to occupy San Esteban. This military presence continued until well after the construction of the Panama Canal, which follows a route most modern observers feel is much inferior to that of the Coregos route.

Today, the United States has surprisingly little involvement in Coregos. American-owned agricultural corporations own relatively little land in Coregos compared to many of its Central American neighbors, and have exerted little influence over its national politics. This does not mean that foreign ownership is not a concern, however. As of 2005, a startling 47% of Corego’s banana-producing farmland was held by the Brazilian conglomerate Tropoa.

Flag: A golden chevron interrupts horizontal fields of red and blue. The symbolism of this design, if any, is unclear. An unofficial flag of Coregos, featuring a stylized coral snake on a field of deep blue, is seen at least as often as the official flag once outside of San Esteban’s government district. Coregaños often refer to themselves as serpientes – “snakes” – for reasons that remain unclear.

National Anthem: “From the Mountains to the Sea.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Most Comprehensive Coverage You are Likely to See of the Flag Controversy in Malawi!

Cross-posted from Vexillophilia.

There's been quite a bit of flag controversy recently in Malawi, the small and cartographically skinny country tucked up northwest of Mozambique and on the eastern edge of Zambia. You may recognize the current flag, which has been in use since the country became independent of the British Empire in 1964:

Last month, the government began using a new banner, like so:

Why the change? And why, as it turns out, are a lot of people in Malawi not delighted with this change? I did some skimming of the Nyasa Times online to dredge up the basics.

Malawi appears to be one of many African countries that have come a long way toward political stability in the last 20 years. The current President, Bingu wa Mutharika, has been accused of election fraud by the opposition, but he seems to have participated in something more or less resembling a free election twice. The Mutharika government decided a new flag was in order to represent the improved civic climate, as well as an apparent rise in the country's overall standard of living. From the Times:
Government spokesman, Reckford Thotho said authorities proposed to change the national flag replacing the rising sun with a full sun and change some colours “symbolising the development that has taken place.”

Said the Information Minister: “The essence of changing the national flag is that times have changed since 1964 when Malawi adopted the flag on attaining its independence.

“The symbol of the rising sun that time made a lot of sense because it was dawn for freedom and hope. But there has been a lot of development that has taken place since and we cannot still be at dawn.”
Opposition figures are not pleased. They question whether the country has really made such meaningful progress, and claim that a change to the national flag is destructive to the country's unity and identity. Although the new flag was officially put into use earlier this month, there is a case pending at the Supreme Court on whether the change was legal under the Malawian Constitution. (Comments on the Nyasa Times website seem generally irritable and anti-change, but I'm going to assume that comments on African newspaper websites are like comments on American newspaper websites -- that is, disproportionately made by the grouchiest one percent of the population, and not really reflective of what the average person might be thinking.)

In this political climate, Mutharika's language at the ceremony that officially unveiled the flag was kind of interesting. Instead of emphasizing the change to the flag, he stressed the continuity in the two designs:
“We are not necessarily changing the flag as it has been reported by other quarters but we were modifying it to reflect the modern Malawi,” he said.
Is he making an attempt at reconciliation? Is he floating a strategy for the Supreme Court case? Kind of hard to tell from this distance, of course.

Now of course, this whole debate is nobody's business but the Malawians'. But -- as a complete outsider (presumably), what do you think? Do you like the new design better, or would you stick with the old?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

the DORIC Surf Rider Inn

Overlooking the beach in Santa Monica. 115 De Luxe units, TV, Private Patios, coffee shop and dining room, nightly dancing and extertainment.
1700 Ocean Ave. EXbrook 3-0331
Recommended by AAA and Duncan Hines.

Provenance: Purchased at Yard Sale, July 3, 2010.

Want a boring postcard from Michael5000? Just ask -- he's got plenty!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Reading List: Ulysses

So yeah, I finished Ulysses. It took about three and a half weeks, although of course I was doing (although not reading) other things during that time as well. As a snap judgement, I would describe it as not quite as difficult as I had expected, but maybe not quite as amazing as I had hoped, either. I suspect to get the most out of it you might need to read it multiple times, but although a re-reading might be a jolly project for some unspecified future date I am not going to leap to put it on the late 2010 to-do list.

For the uninitiated: Ulysses is 600 pages of small type by James Joyce. Written in the 1910s and published in 1920, it concerns the actions of a few middle-class Dubliners on an ostensibly normal day in 1904. It is structurally linked to the Odyssey, although literary scholar Mrs.5000 contends that "it would be easy to make too much of this" and I am firmly inclined to agree. Each of the 17-some chapters is also linked with its own color, organ of the body, and set of symbols. I followed along with these using a handy chart in the early chapters, but I ultimately found that this was completely distracting and rendered the book more artificial than artful. I therefore recommend ditching the chart. (There are, I believe, plenty of interpretive guides to Ulysses that you can keep at your side while you read. I didn’t use one, so I can’t say whether those are helpful).

In addition to having its own set of symbols, each chapter is also written in its own stylistic medium. The most famous of these are probably the stream-of-conciousness chapters, one each for the major characters of Stephen, Leopold, and Molly. A few others are more or less straightforward narrative styles, but there is also odd stuff like a surrealist playscript and (my favorite) a catechism (an FAQ, we might style it today) thrown in there for good measure. I am sure there is an argument to be made that this variety of stylistic approaches lends Ulysses an overall artistic unity, but for a newbie like myself the novel comes off as a sort of scrapbook of literary approaches built around a central theme.

So What's It About?

...as MDIC asks, in response to my Facebook gloating over finishing the thing. Well, the commentary in my edition says it's all about "love." Much like the collected works of Mariah Carey then, I suppose. “Ulysses is all about love” is an not a difficult case to make, but it is also such an astoundingly banal thing to say that it’s a little hard to see how it got past the goalies at Random House. Maybe they assumed we’d be too exhausted to read the commentary, which was placed after rather than before the main text.

My guess is that Ulysses is largely "about" James Joyce experimenting with fictional form, which is cool. It was interesting to listen to genre fiction audiobooks while I was reading The Big U, and wondering how much of the fluid points-of-view, fractured experiences of time, and subjective rendering of reality that we accept easily today even in popular fiction might trace its roots to Joyce. I dunno, of course -- I ain't no literary historian. Just speculating.

But there is a narrative thread of sorts, too, so I'll now declare the presence of spoilers while at the same time suggesting that this is the kind of book where knowing the plot -- the “plot,” really -- in advance won't hurt your enjoyment, and might even help. I'll say, too, that I'm not 100% sure that my description of the “plot” is ~accurate~, as it is not always entirely clear what's going on in Ulysses, and whether you can believe that what's going on in the characters' heads is an accurate take on the in-book reality.

The "Plot"

Anyway. As in the Odyssey, the first chunk of the book is about the secondary character. In this case, it’s Stephen Daedalus, a smart but naive recent graduate (think The Graduate, maybe) who is being taken advantage of by his insufferable but charismatic roommate, stately, plump Buck Mulligan. Stephen has an argument with Buck, then goes to his work at a boy's school, then, because it's a half-day, he gets off early and takes a walk down the beach. That's, like, the first 70 pages or so.

Then we shift to Leopold Bloom, a smart, earnest, crankish, and fairly ineffectual guy who we will spend the bulk of the book with. He is well-meaning and essentially good-natured, and he has survived a great deal of grief -- the death of his son, the suicide of his father -- and still keeps his chin up. His wife and all his friends, however, all hold him in various degrees of contempt, which is kind of depressing. His home life is pretty dysfunctional, too. All in all, it's not an especially cheerful book.

Over the course of the day Leopold makes breakfast, goes to a funeral, makes a token gesture towards his job as a newspaper advertising salesman, goes for lunch, has an afternoon drink, goes for a walk on the beach and ogles girls, hangs out with some medical students, and eventually runs into Stephen at a highly seedy establishment where that young man may or may not have been drugged by Buck Mulligan, who is always looking to bum money off of him. Bloom sobers Stephen up and takes him home, where they have a late night conversation before taking a leak together in the back yard (one of the best scenes in the book, I thought), and parting. Then he goes to bed, and the final chapter is his wife Molly's drowsy thoughts about him and how he fits into her life and her richer-than-average love life.

Richer-Than-Average Love Life?

Oh, sure, Ulysses was banned for being sexually explicit and all that, which is probably the best thing that ever happened to James Joyce’s legacy. Having a big scandal erupt about the sexual content of your book isn’t generally going to hurt sales, and if your literary fans get to position themselves as Defenders of Intellectual Freedom, that’s not a bad bonus either. It’s certainly true that the book is very sexually explicit, and covers what must have seemed at the time a shockingly broad array of sexual topics. But it's not the least bit titillating, which is why its obscenity case was eventually thrown out of court, allowing it to be sold to the curious and, you would have to think, probably often quite disappointed general public.

So That’s It? Three People Having an Ordinary Day?

Well, I’m guessing that Ulysses is probably also "about" trying to craft a novel that represents the lived experience of relatively normal people rather than artificially plot-driven narratives about extraordinary people, or about simplified, stripped-down representations of people. I would imagine that this was a democratic impulse on the part of Joyce, an attempt to do to or with literature the same kinds of things that social historians tried to do in order to cure classical history of its exclusive focus on the decision-making of powerful men.

This democratic ideal did not, however, yield a novel that is particularly accessible to the dude on the street. Now, I've read that the descendant who currently controls the Joyce estate thinks that Ulysses can and should be enjoyed just like any other novel, and likes to blast the academic industry surrounding the novel as having obscured its simple message and made it more difficult to connect with. This is just so much sillybuggers. As a well-educated and passably well-read native speaker of English, it took a great deal of effort for me on this, my third attempt, to merely make it through the book. The text has plenty of rewards, but you must work for them and work for them pretty hard. There is much that would have been utterly opaque to me if I wasn't fairly well-versed in Shakespeare and knew the rough outline of Irish history, literary movements of the early 20th Century, classical literature, and the nature of everyday life in Europe in the early 1900s. And I am aware that I missed much, much more by not having a mastery of these subjects, plus a working knowledge of Irish popular culture 1870-1904, a command of Greek, Latin, and Italian, and a firm grip on the Irish political scene of the day. It's a tough book, no two ways about it, and for readers with a steady diet of mainstream popular fiction I would suggest working up to Ulysses through an increasingly challenging series of other classic novels. I'm glad I read the Odyssey first; Hamlet would be another must-preread if you don't already have it under your belt.

Yay! I Read the Entire Review of Ulysses!

Not so fast, Gentle Reader. I’m also hoping to do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More Movies: Ratatouille

Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava, 2007

Roger Ebert: 4 Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

My Official Preconception: I believe this is an animated feature about a rat who wants to cook. Sounds dreadful.


I am pleased to report that Ratatouille, despite being an animated feature about a rat who wants to cook, is not dreadful. If you have a child who requires to be taken out to a certain number of animated features as part of the socialization process, or who can be effectively incapacitated by the in-home viewing of such features, this is exactly the kind of product you need, carefully crafted to amuse the adult mind while absolutely blowing their childrens'.

Now, the last few decades have given us a number of animated movies that transcend the bearable-to-parents concept to become worth seeing even to unencumbered types such as myself and Mrs.5000. I hardly need to list them: Shrek, The Incredibles, WALL-E, Up, and the quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox, and probably Toy Story, although it's been so long since that one came down the pike that I don't really remember it very well. Ratatouille thinks it is in this class, but it ain't. It lacks the elegance, wit, panache, and/or verve of all of the above. Its plot is a grab-bag contrivance for linking together scenes, rather than a coherent story in its own right, and -- amazingly, for a movie about a rat in a restaurant kitchen -- it fails to sound the slightest subversive note, feeding us instead the approved Disney platitudes about friendship, family, following one's dream, and how shocking acts of vindictiveness towards your loved ones can always be patched up a while later with a big hug, once you've all learned your lessons. Yawn.

To be sure, there are plenty of nice moments, the best of which is when the eponymous ratatouille triggers in a mean old food critic a Proustian memory of his forgotten happy childhood. The love story, or at least the growing sexual attraction, between the two leading humans is kind of fun. But the go-to gag, the jerks and ticks of a human being driven like a backhoe by a rat pulling on his hair, is pretty weak. Humans don't actually jerk around involuntarily in response to tugs on their scalp, so the situation is a little too artificial, even for a cartoon, to be very funny. That the animators clearly think it's the best gag since the pratfall doesn't help matters any.

It would not be a lukewarm Michael5000 review without a list of annoyances, and indeed I wish to mention three. The most egregious is the movie's smug stand against crass commercialism -- the new, bad chef is using the late, good chef's image to market a line of frozen and convenience foods. This is presented as a self-evidently evil and reprehensible act. Now, I'm as against crass commercialism as the next guy, but to be lectured on this topic by the Walt Disney Corporation is like sitting through an anger management class taught by Yosemite Sam. It's quite disgusting, actually.

Secondly, the evil food critic. Give him one tasty dinner and he renounces his foul deeds, writing
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
This is horseshit, of course, and to present it as a gem of wisdom achieved in a revelatory moment after a lifetime of experience does nothing but flatter that part of us that wants to be pandered to, that wants to watch or read or listen to the least challenging crap available without being bothered by the potentially challenging opinions of others. That's the kind of thinking that torpedoes whatever dialog we might hope to get going about our culture.

My third annoyance is that the 1986 UB40 hit "Rat in Mi Kitchen" was nowhere in evidence on the soundtrack. I consider this a sadly missed opportunity, and can only imagine that something went terribly wrong in the relevant negotiations.

Prognosis: * * 1/2. A flawed but moderately entertaining example of the cartoonist's craft.

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Gingerbread Village Restaurant

On your next trip to or from the Oregon Coast, stop in and experience the Gingerbread Village, enjoy a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner in a pleasant atmosphere. In the heart of the forest on Highway 126, just 15 miles from the beautiful Oregon Coast.

Provenance: Purchased on location, December 2009.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Wednesday Quiz III:12 -- Country Outlines

The Wednesday Quiz -- Season III -- Quiz 12

Country Outlines!

The Wednesday Quiz is a "closed-book" test of knowledge and intuition; please do not look up answers, ask others for help, or answer as a team.

Questions about the rules and the ~Fabulous Prizes~ are answered here.


This week's Quiz features the cartographic outlines of some of the world's countries. But, you may have to tilt your head a bit.

For those of you who are all competitive, DrSchnell has snuck to within less than two points of Unwise Owl, and even a perfect score may not be able to keep the Pennsylvanian from walking off with the title. Meanwhile, Mrs.5000 trails la gringissima by one measly point for third point in a wide-open sprint for the finish. Aviatrix could conceivably pass them into prize position, but she'd probably have to play dirty.

Also, this is the last Wednesday Quiz, so savor it to its upmost.

Name That Country!

Ten points apiece.











Submit your answers in the comments!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Now We Are 42

It was recently my birthday.

Yes. Thank you. I turned 42!

We celebrated with a trip down to BigBrother5000's place in beautiful Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is a fabulous little town for the passer-through, and home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where we watched 1 Henry IV (pretty good!) and something called Hamlet (pretty freaking awesome!). (As long as I'm plugging, we also bought a book at Bloomsbury Books and had dinner at Señor Sam's, both fine experiences.)

We also geohashed three graticules at 42 degrees north latitude
This was all especially jolly since the first two of these had never been geohashed before, so when geohashing goes mainstream we'll be looked to as the regional pioneers. (Someone -- I will not say who -- beat us to Grants Pass)

The birthday festivities conclude tomorrow with a running of 42nd Avenue -- those fragments of it that exist, anyway -- within my running "box." If you are in the City of Roses and wish to line the sidewalks to cheer me on, that would be fine. I'll be coming through sometime between 6 p.m. and the end of time. Or, you can line the spiritual sidewalks too, if you'd rather. [[Update: how caddish of me not to mention that this idea was ripped off directly from L&TM5K reader gl., who recently rode the entire length of a certain street here on the beautiful East Side to celebrate a certain birthday.]]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Provenance: Gift of L&TM5K reader Thom J.

Want a boring postcard from Michael5000? Just ask -- he's got plenty!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Song of the American Road -- See the American West!

The County Hospital, costing 13 million dollars, is one of the largest and best equipped in the world. There are 123 buildings on 56 acres of ground. An average of 4 thousand patients are treated daily.

Dear Anna & Nick. Jean and I are very happy and are sure enjoying ourselves. The game was wonderful. Of course, we were sure N.D. would win. Hope all are well. Leaving here to-nite for Oakland. Love, LaViva.

EXCEPTIONAL OVERALL LOOK shows the expanse of Expo '74 Fairgrounds and exhibits. "Celebrating tomorrow's fresh new environment." Glistening islands and riverbanks of the Spokane River, open spaces with colorful plazas, dancing fountains, gardens and greenery, and many world-wide pavilions and exhibits. All created to illustrate that Man can live, work and play in harmony with his environment.

Hi -- It is prettey hot the day we got here 100 degrees. Arrived at 1:30 P.M. - Driving time 7 HRS @ 393 miles. Seems cooler today. Spent 4 HRS at fair yesterday - & maybe 10-12 HRS today. - Ray, Irene, & Marlene.

You will enjoy your stay with us. Our up-to-date rooms are equipped with Simmons Beds and springs. Hot and cold private showers in each room. Electric light, natural gas for heating and cooking, sanitary toilets and free garage. Gas and hot running water in all rooms. Lunch stand on ground. Approved by the Board of Health of La. Have your mail addressed to us, P.O. Box 253, FRANKLIN, LA. Tel. 157.

Stayed here last Tues night, really did sleep and up at 6:30 to get started. - Miznon (?)


Monday Morning - June 30, 1969.
Dear Mom: We were at the Mormon Tabernacle yesterday -- weather is very fine. Not hot like at home. Leaving for Teton National Park. Love, Evelyn & Wayne.

Provenance: Estate Sale Purchase, July 2010; #3 Gift of Bridget B, 2010; #4 Gift of Heatherbee, 2009.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Movies: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

At the Movies with Michael5000

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Julian Schnabel, 2007

Ebert: 4 Stars
Rotten Tomatos: 93%

My Official Preconception: I don't have a clue what this is, or is about. It sounds like the title of an Oliver Sacks book. Plenty of library copies available.


One of the most fascinating characteristics of the human mind, as described by any introductory psychology textbook and elaborated in delightfully eerie case studies by people like Oliver Sacks, is its ability to know stuff without realizing it knows stuff. Case in point: somewhere in my brain, there clearly lurked the information that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about a man in an extreme psychological state. I just didn't know I knew that. Very interesting.

But enough about me. Let's talk about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the famous fashion rag Elle who suffered a massive stroke in 1995 that left him with "shut-in syndrome." Completely paralyzed, Bauby was fully conscious but unable to interact with the world except by blinking his left eye. Over the next year and a half, Bauby worked with very patient therapists and transcribers to literally blink out a book describing the experience. That book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, received strong critical praise and became a runaway European bestseller, but sadly Mr. Bauby died a few days after its publication.

Now this is an amazing story, no two ways about it, but you might think that it would be difficult to make a compelling film out of a paralyzed man blinking out a memoir. But this is apparently not true. Observe the above stats: an impressive 93% of movie critics found Diving Bell, um, "fresh," including the dean of American movie critics, Roger Ebert. Mrs.5000 found it deeply moving, and of course so did Ann Piper, who was kind enough to recommend the film to this list of movie reviews.

So, it may be only a deficiency in my own character that I found this film about as exciting as you would expect to find a film about a blinking man. I thought it was a crashing bore. A beautifully acted, expertly filmed, well-edited, and entirely stylish crashing bore, to be sure, but a bore nonetheless.

There are only so many things you can do in a movie about a character who is inert. Tick them off on your fingers: you can show his initial despair, his resolution to make the best of the situation, the awkwardness and difficulties experienced by his loved ones, flashbacks to happier times... and here, I am running out of ideas. The movie marched gamely through this sequence, but that's pretty much all it could think of too.

Too, offsetting the excellent crafting of the movie -- in my own unusual subjective experience, that is -- were three specific annoyances. Firstly, the method of communication devised by Bauby's therapist is insanely cumbersome, requiring a full recitation of the alphabet for every letter. Now, this is in fact the method that Bauby used -- I looked it up -- so there must have been a good reason for it. But the movie never makes clear why such a clumsy process is necessary, which leaves one free to devise all sorts of more efficient systems during the interminable scenes of pretty women reciting the French alphabet. I made Mrs.5000 promise, in the event that I develop locked-in syndrome, to teach me Morse Code.

Secondly, the secondary characters act like movie characters instead of actual humans, which is unfortunate in a biopic. The most egregious case in point is when Bauby, getting the hang of the blink system, "says" that he wants to die. His therapist freaks out, has a snit-fit, yells at him, calls him "obscene," and stalks out of the room. Uh huh. Whereas, in real life, anyone who works in a hospital, or for that matter anyone who has ever been around a very sick person, or for that matter anyone who has mused with their junior high school friends about what it might be like to be very seriously ill, might, you know, expect a man who suddenly finds himself paralyzed from the bridge of the nose down to have a period of despondency. Might even be prepared to deal with it gracefully. I assume that they train their therapists in France?

Thirdly, and then I'll shut up, Schnabel creates space between the blinking scenes with various montages over rock music. It is, to be sure, pretty good rock music, but in general (and specifically in Diving Bell) I find the ol' musical montage a pretty weak gambit in a film, especially when repeated several times. The director is trying to lift you up on the emotive power of image and sound, but they are generally also trying to maneuver past a stretch of plot exposition that the medium of film is poorly suited for. Too, when confronted with a rock montage, I am always immediately conscious that a soundtrack album is being marketed to me, which is distracting.

Prognosis: * * 1/2, which is as low as I'm willing to go for a movie so well-crafted and well-intended. And I'd be an idiot to recommend you not see it: against my personal indifference is mustered the collective enthusiasm of Roger Ebert, 93% of all critics, Mrs.5000, and Ann Piper! Oh, and it was named "Best Picture of the Year" by the L.A. Times and New York Magazine! Besides which, I want you to watch it. I want you to watch it and report back and tell whether I'm just a soulless curmudgeon. Or, who knows? Maybe you'll be bored too!

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Juneau, capital of Alaska, and her thriving harbor protected by a breakwater 80 feet high, offers docking facilities to large and small boats. Gold mining, fishing and fur farming are principal industries.

Provenance: Purchased at Yard Sale 7/2/2010, for sending to Juneau resident Niece #1.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Wednesday Quiz III:11 -- Vaguely Recalled Math Concepts!

The Wednesday Quiz -- Season III -- Quiz 11

Vaguely Recalled Math Concepts!

The Wednesday Quiz is a "closed-book" test of knowledge and intuition; please do not look up answers, ask others for help, or answer as a team.

Questions about the rules and the ~Fabulous Prizes~ are answered here.


Having dragged you through the Math, and the Physics, the Wednesday Quiz now drags you back through the Math. Don't worry, it will all be over soon. Ten questions worth ten points apiece, to keep the math simple. Enjoy!

1. What's the difference between a mean and a median?

2. What's the formula for the volume of a cylinder?

3. What's a hypotenuse?

4. Simply, what would the formula x = 5y-15 look like on a graph?

5. Express x^7 using only the "x" and shift keys of your keyboard.

6. What are significant digits? Give a clever example.

7. Pi, e, and the square root of six are "irrational" numbers. What does that mean?

8. In an imaginary number like 77i, what is the value of "i"?

9. I hate to do this to you, but what is the sine of an angle?

10. Also, what's the asymptote of a curve?

Submit your answers in the comments!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: Bény-sur-Thames

Note: Thanks to diligent research by frequent L&TM5K commenter Cartophiliac, a map of Bahar has been uncovered and is now included on that country's write-up.

Duchy of Bény-sur-Thames

Capital: Bény-sur-Thames
Population: 5,811 (2000 census)
Area: 17 km2
Independence: 1112

Economy: Retail; tourism; banking.
Per Capita Income: US$47,750
Languages: Bénisian French, English
Literacy Rate: 100%

Of the handful of tiny microstates that are footnotes to any list of countries in Europe, only San Marino, the Vatican, and Bény-sur-Thames lie entirely within the borders of a larger country. Along with better-known microstates like Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Monaco, Bény-sur-Thames is an anachronism, a relic of the thousand squalling fiefdoms of the Middle Ages. Ceded in 1112 as a private estate to Duke William du Bois, nephew to Henry I, the tiny enclave began a path of political independence that would persist through at least the next nine centuries.

More striking even than Bény’s political autonomy is its cultural integrity. Made inward-looking and culturally conservative by their distinctiveness and isolation, Bénisiens clung tenaciously to a mediaeval French that, while perplexing to visitors from modern France, has provided dissertation fodder for generations of historical linguists. While most young Beńisiens today are educated in both English and their native tongue, they maintain a spirit of quiet differentness from their British neighbors. Most young citizens leave for a post-secondary education in the “outside world,” not a few at nearby Oxford University. A surprisingly large majority, however, return to their native village – and therefore to their native country – after their student years.

The tiny shops on the cobblestone streets that wind about this little city-state sell computers, confidential banking services, and tourist T-shirts. All business ceases on Sundays, however, when virtually all Beńisiens attend a Mass that, while celebrated in the local vernacular – a nod to the reforms of Vatican II – is of rigorously authentic mediaeval length, in some cases six hours or more.

Bény-sur-Thames made a rare splash on the international scene in 1988 when its rowing team placed fourth at the Summer Olympics. Coxswain Bernend DuChamp was the captain of that team, the only that the little country has ever fielded at the Olympic Games. “We’re all still treated like heroes around here,” he reports, “but I think there was also a sense of relief that we didn’t do any better. The exposure that an actual Olympic medal would have brought to Bény might have been our undoing.”

Flag: A four-pointed star centered in a blue canton against a red field. The flag of Bény-sur-Thames was instituted by the fourth Duke Henry, in 1215. Especially nationalistic Bénisiens delight in describing the event to their British neighbors as “the most important thing that happened in Europe during that year.”

National Anthem: “We of the Duchy Eternal.”