Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: Nova Hibernia

Nova Hibernia

Capital: N'koutou (formerly St. Patrick, Karlsburg)
Population: 1,443,000 (2007 estimate)
Area: 27,350 km2
Independence: 1963

Economy: Produces cashews, cotton, sugar, citrus, timber, and fish. Imports include machinery and equipment, metals, staple foodstuffs, and textiles. Subsistence agriculture is practiced by a significant portion of the population.
Per Capita Income: US$10,875
Languages: English, Fang, Bulu
Literacy Rate: 82%

The country of Nova Hibernia came into being in 1882 as the colony of German Central Africa. Like most other territories created by the Treaty of Berlin, the new colony contained a heterogeneous population of disparate peoples with no common language, culture, or history. The Germans established a port at Karlsberg, but in their 30 years of rule did not manage to extend practical authority past its hinterlands. Stripped from Germany along with its other colonial possessions after World War I, the now nameless colony existed for a time as a League of Nations protectorate. After several years in which the British and French blocked each other’s moves to absorb the little territory, administration was finally handed over in 1924 to the fledgling Irish Free State.

Absorbed in their own lengthy struggle for full independence, the Irish devoted little attention to their "overseas empire." As a result, Irish administration had an even lighter footstep than had the German. Although adopting some Western innovations, most inhabitants of the newly renamed Nova Hibernia continued to live and govern themselves according to well-established indigenous systems. When a provisional government set up by schoolteacher Brian Ktombe petitioned for and was granted independence by the Irish Parliament in 1963, the event failed to make the front page of the Irish Times.

Since independence, Nova Hibernia has suffered two periods of military rule, for three months in 1969 and again from 1978 to 1984. Ktombe's nephew, Brian Ktombe III, became president in 1985 in elections that restored democratic rule. Since that time, he has been re-elected every six years in elections that, by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa, have been relatively free and fairly contested. Nova Hibernia is also unusual in Africa in that it never acquired a large international debt. Instead, the country's political elite has long pursued a policy of small-scale local development and grassroots education. Perhaps not coincidentally, Nova Hibernia entered the third millennium with one of the continent's highest standards of living.

Flag: The highly distinctive design is clearly inspired by the flag of the United States, the country on which Nova Hibernia's federal system was modeled. The ten colored stripes represent the ten federal districts, and the blue field represents the common blood* of all Nova Hibernia's people. Some have speculated that the lack of green, orange, or white in the flag suggests a subtle rejection of all things Irish by the newly independent colony.

National Anthem: “Hail, Nova Hibernia!”

*In local tradition, blue is the color of "living blood" (as it is seen in the vein). Red represents "dead blood," and is generally avoided in decoration.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Element of the Month: Neon!

November's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 20.1797 amu
Melting Point: -248.59 °C
Boiling Point: -246.08 °C

Pop Quiz: Is the November Element of the month written, as usual, by Michael5000? Or is it another post by guest chemist Cait? Or is authorship even relevant?

So in 1898 two bored Brits capture bits of our atmosphere, because I mean what ELSE could they
capture at this point and like anything worth saving it was frozen for later use. Whaddaya know,
reheated, our atmosphere blazes a brilliant red. Bottle recycled breath and freeze it, liquefy the air, capitalize the letters like in our ubiquitous EAT AT JOE’S. Inert and unmoving like the bodies eternally plastered into grey barroom chairs, noble neon glows forth from foggy windows in the form of a shamrock greener than any natural grass creeping up in-between cracks in city streets. Chemical bonds lure able bodies out of factories homes schools and down memory darkened alleys to places where

The Centerfold!

the sun might always shine indoors, for this we thank Earle C. Anthony and by proxy the French, two signs sent to Packard Auto from gay Paris now number in the trillions. Supply, Demand, Construct, Consume. Images run underground underneath flowerbeds; this, our least reactive element sticks bodies to couches in front of flatscreens and glues thumbs to remotes. The potato chip crumbs will continue to stick stubbornly to openmouthed patrons staring at nothing; the LED revolution will still be televised (what won’t, these days?) but like those old bodies coughing spasmodically into hazy neon evening, nothing stays forever bright, sorry just business, nothing personal.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Cullaby Lake Park, Clatsop County

Traditional Finnish style cabin of hand-hewn cedar. Maintained by the Finnish-American Historical Society of the West.

Provenance: Unsure.

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flag Friday XVIII

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it an "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: The first of three vertical tricolors today, the flag of Ireland is -- hoo boy.  It's certainly one of the most symbolically explicit of the tricolors, with Catholic green and Protestant orange unified by peaceful white.  It was originally conceived as the flag of the island of Ireland, but functions as the flag of the Republic of Ireland.  And, it's distinctive and attractive!

It's a 2:1 flag, but those seem to work pretty well with vertical tricolors, where things don't look all stretchy.

Grade: A-


Parsons: Again without comment, he gives it an "A", 85/100.

Michael5000: Last Flag Friday, I conceded that I might not be too crazy about the flag of Iran if I were a religious minority in that country.  Too, I probably wouldn't love the flag of Israel if I were a religious minority in that country.
As things stand, though, I think the two-color framing of a distinct but simple nationalist symbol realized on the ol' Degel Yisrael to be among the real triumphs of Twentieth Century flag design.  There are few sharper-looking flags.

Grade: A+


Parsons:Again, no comment.  Just a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: This isn't just a tricolor, it's il Tricolore!  It seems to have a nutty, complex history, which boils down to it being the compromise version of a bunch of far more complex predecessor flags.  It can be confused with the flag of Ireland under certain light conditions.

Grade: A-

Ivory Coast

Parsons: With an accusation of "plagiarism" and calling it a "bad tricolor," Parsons gives it a B, 70/100.

Michael5000: Now some people say that the flag of the Ivory Coast is just the flag of Ireland backwards, but that's just crazy talk.  Ireland's a 2:1 flag!  Ivory Coast is 3:2!  So, We've busted that myth.

Apparently back in the days of independence there were hopes that Ivory Coast and Niger might be able to unify or at least be very good pals, and this got reflected in the green/white/orange motifs of their respective flags.  I have to say, though, that as much as I don't like calling a national symbol "plagiarised," and as unlikely as it is that the similarity would ever cause much trouble, the Ivory Coast flag committee of 1959 really probably should have avoided adopting a banner quite so close to that of another recently independent country.

Grade: B+


Parsons: It has "good colours," but still gets only a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Now that, my friends, is NOT a tricolor.  Well, except in the sense that it has three colors, I suppose.  Jamaica became independent at the same time as many of the African countries (three years, in fact, after the Ivory Coast), and as a country with a population largely of African descent, it employed some of the colors of pan-Africanism that we've talked about before.  Instead of green, gold, and red, Jamaica went with green, gold, and black

It is not, to my eye, the most attractive banner ever, but it is certainly very recognizable and distinctive.  As a symbol, it is somewhat compromised (here in the North American home of the L&TM5K, anyway) by a common application of this formula:
Jamaican flag = Jamaica = Rastafarians = Pot = Groooooovy
Which is kind of a shame.  Mon.

Grade: B

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving (U.S.)!!!

Happy American Thanksgiving 2010!!

...and to the rest of you, a very merry November 25!

Image: The InLaws5000 Vintage Family Postcard Collection.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: Northern Antarctica

Republic of Northern Antarctica

Capital: New Bristol
Population: 34,881 (2008)
Area: borders undefined
Independence: 1982

Economy: Based on tourism, supplemented by modest mineral exports and seasonal commercial fishing. Visiting scientific missions are a significant source of revenue. Heavily dependant on imports for manufactured goods and foodstuffs.
Per Capita Income: US$52,080
Languages: English
Literacy Rate: 100%

When Disraeli made his famous remark that “the Frenchman yearns for glory as the Northern Antarctican yearns for summer,” he revealed as much about the latter nationality as the former. While the long, dark, and of course extremely cold winters make life on “the Underside” challenging, natives can look forward to the relatively mild summer, with its influx of tourists from all over the world and its frequent days of 24-hour sunshine.

Northern Antarctica has the unusual distinction of being the only country to span all 24 time zones – although some of these are home only to two or three isolated settlers. Eighty-seven percent of Northern Antarcticans live in the country’s four “cities” – of which the largest, Queen Maud, has a population of only 9,400. None of the cities are connected by road, due to the difficulty of building and maintaining highways in the harsh local environment. AntarticAir, the national airline, is the cities’ primary connection to each other and to the outside world. With hubs in Santiago and Auckland as well as New Bristol, it is also the country’s largest employer.

Few issues are more hotly debated among Northern Antarcticans than petroleum exploration. Exploiting Antarctic oil reserves would undoubtedly lead to enormous growth and economic development, but many fear that such rapid growth would destroy the existing Northern Antarctic way of life.

Cold-weather sports enthusiasts often remark at the failure of the R.N.A. to field a team for the Winter Olympics, which might reasonably be expected to enjoy considerable success. The small and dispersed population of the Republic has prevented the organization of a nation Olympic committee to date, but a movement is afoot to field a small team for the 2014 Games.

Flag: Three horizontal stripes of light blue, deep blue, and white. The design is pictographic, representing the typical view seen daily by the North Antarctican: ice in the foreground, the polar sea stretching to the horizon, and the pale Antarctic sky overhead.

National Anthem: “Land of Long Winters.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Reading List: The Stranger

The Stranger
Albert Camus, 1942

The Stranger is a book I’ve known a lot about without ever reading it. It is often thought of as more of a philosophical tract than a novel in and of itself, and indeed I recently listened to a lecture series on existentialism that was more or less centered around it. The Wiki, which can generally be relied on for the conventional view of such things, teaches us that
Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of existentialism, though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist; in fact, its content explores various philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism.
Now given all that, it is a remarkably approachable and readable book. It’s also a brisk little thing, which I barreled through in less time than it takes to get through an installment of Harry Potter. The style – at least in my translation (by Matthew Ward) – is terse, unadorned, and bears a recognizably American influence; if I had been told that this was a book by Earnest Hemingway, or for that matter Raymond Chandler, I wouldn’t have objected. Although it doesn’t have the structure of either a detective novel or a thriller, it has a similar sort of narrative arc. Unpleasant situations develop, and our curiosity about how they will be resolved keeps us engaged and turning the pages through to the end.

With this kind of readability, it wouldn’t necessarily be obvious that this is a book that “explores various philosophical schools of thought.” Frankly, I doubt I would have caught on if I hadn’t been coached. Much of what Camus intends as absurdism can also be read as psychological malady.

Take Meursault, the central character of the book. His most notable characteristic is his emotional flatness. He reports the events of his life with a vacant blandness, from a Sunday spent alone in his apartment to the death of his mother. He takes up with a mistress, the guy upstairs beats up his own mistress – these events are all pretty much the same to him. He furthermore conceives of life as something that happens to him rather than something he is really an active participant in, up to and including the famous murder that is the central event of the book. His subsequent imprisonment doesn’t bother him much because nothing bothers him much. His emotional life is completely empty.

Now, a character like this can be categorized as absurd, and his complete estrangement from the emotional world can be viewed as an exaggerated picture of existential alienation. A reader today, however, is more likely to see someone suffering from a pathological inability to process emotion. From this point of view, The Stranger becomes a rather hard-edged The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Meursault representing not the universal difficulties built into the human condition but merely a certain type of mental illness.

None of the above is meant to contradict or minimize the philosophical content that so many have found in the book, and that Camus clearly intended to put into it. What I’m saying is only that The Stranger works as a novel with or without the intellectual superstructure. You can read it and think deep thoughts, or you can do like Michael5000 and read it and think shallow thoughts. It’s a good book either way!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Wright Brothers National Memorial
Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, N.C.

The life history and accomplishments of Wilber and Orville Wright are portrayed through exhibits in this attractive visitor center. A full-scale reproduction of their 1903 powered machine is displayed in the room under the dome.

Provenance: Purchased from Alberta Street "Last Thursday" vendor, July 2010.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bear Chronicles

"Cinnamon Bear Encamped at Ukiah-Dale"
Watercolor on blank postcard.
Mrs.5000, June 2002

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Chthonic Mrs.5000

A Guest Dispatch from the Underworld, by Legendary Blogwife Mrs.5000!

Maybe you’re not a person who spends a lot of time thinking about Combined Sewer Overflows, but here in Portland they’re actually kind of a big deal. When it rains heavily (i.e. fall, winter and spring), the sewer system can’t handle the influx of stormwater added to the sewage, and untreated wastewater is dumped directly into the Willamette River. This was standard practice when the sewer lines first started going in eighty or ninety years ago. Today it is considered icky. For the last twenty years or so, The City That Works has been doing a number of things to keep stormwater out of the system in the first place, disconnecting downspouts and requiring new buildings to handle run-off on-site with techniques like stormwater planters and dry wells. The big expensive piece of the solution involves two massive underground pipes, one on each side of the Willamette, to transport the remaining overflow to a pumping station and thence to a treatment plant before it’s allowed to join the Columbia.

A few weeks ago I read in The Oregonian that the East Side Big Pipe was nearing completion, and anyone interested could enter a lottery to get a tour. Of course I liked the idea of standing inside the new Great Bowel that will soon be carrying away our diluted sewage. So I entered my name. And, lo and behold, I was one of a hundred lucky citizens chosen to take the tour!

Last Friday morning found me checking in under a small blue tent near the Opera Shaft, where I was issued a hard hat, reflective vest, gloves and safety glasses. I was part of a group of eighteen citizen-tourists who ushered into a large construction trailer, where we got a safety briefing and an overview of the East Side Big Pipe project. The pipe is about six miles long, and its inside diameter is 22 feet. You’ll be happy to know it’s ahead of schedule and under budget! We also saw a scale model of the TBM, or tunnel boring machine (not a boring tunnel machine, I hope you agree).

It was good to see the model, since the TBM was at the end of the tunnel about two miles away, and we wouldn’t be visiting it. The working end of the TBM really was painted the cheery yellow, red and blue you see on the model, at least when first delivered, but as the project manager pointed out, digging underground for mile after mile really plays havoc with a paint job. You can note it’s not pointy like some giant drill bit to dig through rock, but more like a rotary disc sander. The tunnel goes through wet gravel, about a hundred feet below the water table, and every aspect of its construction is designed to keep that water out. Tunneling through wet is a big deal (think catastrophic failure of sandcastles), and this is one of the first projects of this kind in the United States. Much of the technology comes from Germany. The front end of the TBM grinds away in a pressurized slurry, while its human operators guide its progress via computers, and the extracted material slurps and rattles through two pipes to the tunnel entrance.

This is what that tunnel entrance looks like when you are leaning down over the side railing making sure your hardhat doesn’t slip off:

It’s called the Opera Shaft, not because it would be a cool place to stage the Ring of the Nibelung, but because it’s right next to the headquarters of the Portland Opera. We didn’t take the stairs, luckily, but squished into a ten-person elevator that reminded me a little of an autoclave.

Now here’s a photo showing what it’s like for a surface-dweller at the bottom of a cylinder 70 feet in diameter and 120 feet underground:

It’s not unlike one of the artist James Turrell’s skyspaces. As industrial-era humans, most of us don’t spend a lot of time in cylindrical spaces, and they strike me as inherently ceremonial. Except in this case it’s a very noisy worksite, with people and heavy objects moving about, so it’s not conducive to meditation.

The circular form is also of course a strong sensible way to put tunnels together. As a pipe it will prove ideal for the conveyance of future smelly liquids. Right now it is doing a capital job of keeping all the groundwater out. In the picture above, we are standing on a catwalk inside the Big Pipe itself, looking north. (You can see the two smallish pipes that carry extracted earth up out of the tunnel.) Over three years ago, the TBM was lowered in sections down the Opera Shaft and began digging its four-mile route north. Every five feet, gasketed concrete segments were put in place to extend the tunnel while keeping it watertight. When the northern route was finished, the TBM was hauled out of the northernmost shaft, barged down the Willamette, and lowered back down the Opera Shaft again to dig two miles south. Here’s the beginning of the south part of the tunnel, showing the temporary construction railway and, at the top, a big ventilation duct. It looks like a train tunnel now, but think of it as a culvert 22 feet wide:

And that was pretty much the end of the tour. Far more explanation of the project and its construction than I have room for, plenty of time to gawk, take photos, and be just slightly in the way of people trying to work. We got to hear the airhorn warning that heavy objects were in motion overhead, and took appropriate measures. We went back up in the elevator and returned our safety gear for the next group to use.

In coming weeks, now that digging is complete, the TBM and all the rails, conduits, ducts and other machinery inside the Big Pipe will be removed. The small shrine to St. Barbara (patron saint of miners)....

...will be removed from above the tunnel’s south entrance, everything will be taken out of the shaft, and the top of the last short section of pipe now open to the sky will be closed in. The Opera Shaft itself will then be filled in, since it was designed to provide access only during construction.

Goodbye Opera Shaft! It was a pleasure to tour you. Good luck to the Big Pipe, which will be carrying our stormwater surges and effluent for decades to come. It was lovely to see you when you were clean and dry.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More Movies: Up In the Air

Up in the Air
Jason Reitman, 2009

Well, this is a hell of a way to end a career in movie criticism.  We've marched through Roger Ebert's 100 great movies -- his first hundred great movies, anyway -- and then through the supplementary movies that you, the L&TM5K readers nominated from the last few years.  And the last one I got to, because it had the longest queue at the library, was Up in the Air.

Roger Ebert gives Up in the Air four stars.  It is rated "90% Fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes.  Smarter people than me mostly think it's great.  I've provided links for you, because I kind of doubt my judgement on this one.  I found it dull, painfully unpleasant to watch, and as soulless as the bland corporate settings it purports to satire.  Maybe I missed something.

See you at the movies!  I'll be the one not taking notes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Dorky Links

The first is gleaned from the Facebook wall of newly-appointed L&TM5K Dork Morgan, so you can get a sense of what kind of mind we're dealing with here:

The Scale of the Universe

The second arrived over the transom from longtimer KarmaSartre, as if to suggest that he could probably own Dorkfest -- if he chose to.

Save the Words

There.  That ought to keep you entertained for a while.

Your Wednesday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Beckman Mill, Corner of County H and Mill Pond Road, Beloit, Wisconsin. This historic mill is one of the last remaining grist mills in Rock County. It has been converted into a living, working museum designed to teach vistors how the mill operated in the early 1920's.

Provenance: Purchased at garage sale of L&TM5K reader nichim, June 2010.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: New Bretton

New Bretton

Capital: Ipswich
Population: 14,493 (2001 census)
Area: 350 km2
Independence: 1949

Economy: Based on exports of fish and optical equipment. Local currency is pegged to the British pound; Canadian and American dollars are generally accepted as well, albeit not usually without some good-natured remarks at the purchaser’s expense.
Per Capita Income: US$43,700
Languages: English
Literacy Rate: 100%

When Newfoundland held its plebiscite on joining the Canadian Federation in 1949, the local vote on the fishing island of New Bretton was strongly against union. One week later, the island’s local government invoked an unusual provision in its original royal charter – dated 1678 – guaranteeing it the right to dissociate itself from any colonie, or other lands of ye king, or any conjoining to these at will. Initially dismissed as an anachronism, the clause was ultimately found legally binding by the Newfoundland courts. With the British showing no interest in maintaining a claim on this tiny fragment of their former colony, New Bretton thus became more or less by accident one of the world’s smallest independent entities.

Although they lack both a military and representation in most world bodies, New Brettons are a fiercely nationalistic people. “Never call a New Bretton a Canadian,” goes the local joke – “and the bigger he is, the more important that you don’t.” Though to the outsider there might seem to be little cultural distinction between the people of New Bretton and the Maritime Provinces, to the natives there is much substance in small differences.

New Bretton is spared many of the Northwest Atlantic region’s economic woes due to the presence of New Bretton Scientific, a leading world manufacturer of precision optical equipment. Occupying a bluff overlooking the capital and only real town, Ipswich, the company’s production facility employs one of every five adult New Brettons, many in highly skilled and well-paid positions. Local entrepreneur Brian Redham founded the company in his basement in 1962 while recovering from a work injury he sustained on a fishing trawler. He is now thought to be comfortably among the world’s richest 100 people.

Flag: A red St. George’s cross is evidence of the English ancestry of most islanders. The white background of the English flag is replaced by blue, however, on New Bretton’s banner. No symbolism is attached to the blue; a typically pragmatic New Bretton once told the author that “they had to pick something besides white; else it would still be the flag of England.”

National Anthem: “New Brettons, Proud and Free.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Four Seasons

Well, I just dashed off another quilt.  It's called Four Seasons because its color scheme attempts to replicate the colors associated with, you know, the four seasons.

Gosh, isn't it lovely?  To read more about how proud I am of it, you can check out its story and specs on the quilt blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Provenance: Unsure.

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Flag Friday XVII

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it a "B+", 75/100.

Michael5000: The flag of Iceland is more or less the opposite of the flag of Norway.  And both of them are awesome.

Grade: A


Parsons: Complaining that it is "too busy," he gives it a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: Not so fast, Dr. Parsons!  That device in the center of India's orange, white, and green tricolor -- it has the satisfyingly South Asian name of the "Ashoka Chakra" -- is really just a complicated blue geometric shape.  The Indians have managed to get a national symbol on their flag without requiring anything more than good scissors and applique skills from their flagmakers.  More power to them.

I am told, too, that the Indian flag is a successful one in that, wherever you go in the immense diversity of the world's largest democracy, you will find copious use of the orange/white/green motif.  Can't attest to it personally, though.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Saying that it's "simple" -- a good thing?  a bad thing? -- he assigns a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: The Eurocentric among us look at the flag of Indonesia and see either the flag of Poland flying upside down, or the flag of little Monaco flaying right-side up.  But the Indonesian banner has local roots going back several hundred years, and was used by the resistance to Dutch colonial rule in the first half of the Twentieth Century, so it's the real deal.   Still, it's simple -- a bit too simple to inspire out-of-town admiration, I think -- and a little too similar to too many other national banners to hold its own in a plaza of international flags.

Grade: B-


Parsons: It's busy, apparently WAY too busy, and Parsons slaps it with a D+, 45/100.

Michael5000: OK, to explain what's going on here, I think we need to go right to the Wiki:
The red emblem in the centre of the flag, designed by Hamid Nadimi, is a highly stylized composite of various Islamic elements: a geometrically symmetric form of the word Allah ("God") and overlapping parts of the phrase La ilaha illa Allah ("There is no god but Allah"), forming a monogram in the form of a tulip. Written in white on the inner edges of the green and red bands is the repeated phrase Allahu Akbar ("God is great") in a stylized version of the Kufic script used for the Qur'an. This writing renders the flag non-reversible.
Now I'm not a big fan of theocracy, and all of the verbiage might get on my nerves if it were legible to me, or if I were, say, a member of a religious minority in Iran.  Those things not being true, I think the flag of Iran is pretty sweet.  The script merely modifies the border of what is essentially a basic horizontal tricolor, and the central symbol is graphically simple and direct.  Handsome and immediately recognizable, it is a fine banner for that great, if troubled, nation.

Grade: A-


Parsons: Complaining that the "Best features of this flag [were] stolen from Syria, he charges the Iraqi  flag with "plagiarism" and is irritated by "writing."  Liking the "good colours," he settles on a "C," 55/100.

Michael5000: You may have heard that the country of Iraq has been in considerable flux in recent years, and the same is true of their flag.  From 2004 to 2008, the design that Parsons reviewed had a font change:

And then, in 2008, it had a star-ectomy.

We'll see a lot of these red, white, and black tri-colors in the Middle East, as we did in Egypt.  They are not entirely to my taste, but it's hard to fault the essential design.  For Iraq, I think ditching the stars was a good move.  The writing is again the phrase Allahu Akbar -- it's nice to see Iran and Iraq agreeing on something -- and, as it's in Arabic, the flag is flown from the right-hand side rather than the more common left.  See how that works?

Grade (for the current flag): B

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Movies: The Hurt Locker

At the Movies with Michael5000

The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow, 2008

The Hurt Locker is a better-than-average war movie. It is gripping and has a strangely beautiful quality; but, it also lacks both a narrative arc and much in the way of developed characters.

Let’s start with the good. The Hurt Locker really nails you to your seat. This is a movie about men defusing explosive devices in occupied Baghdad. And the thing about explosive devices is, when you are trying to defuse them there is the risk that they will go off and cause spectacular death and damage. So there are lots of drawn-out scenes where characters try to figure out which wire to cut and what-not, and guess what: it creates suspense. Lots of it.

The camera work in and the editing of The Hurt Locker is superb. Everything that happens, even the explosions, even the gun battles, has a harsh, stark beauty to it. Baghdad and the surrounding countryside is shown as a sort of straight-edged impressionist landscape, all whites and browns and bleached skies. Bigelow also wins big points for filming combat scenes in such a way that we always understand where the combatants are relative to each other, what tactics they are using, and why. That’s pretty key stuff in a war film.

It’s good that the visceral, documentary qualities of the film are so strong, though, because there’s not much else to it. It is a highly episodic picture: the men defuse a bomb. Then they defuse another bomb. Then another bomb. And so on. The supposed point of the exercise is that certain men find the danger of war addictive, but that’s a simple idea that is spelled out perfectly plainly in the epigram that opens the movie.

As far as characters go, well, there are three of them. One finds the danger of war addictive. One is cautious and wise but determined, and one is scared of dying in combat. That’s about as much as we get, as we generally see them engaged in expertly disciplined military activity, a field of endeavor which does not really lend itself to in-depth exploration of personality. One of them begins to develop into something resembling a point-of-view character before being whisked suddenly out of the movie, leaving us a little puzzled to be left watching the wrong half of the story.

None of the above is especially problematic. There is a place for war movies – war is a lamentably a well-established part of the human experience, and recounting tales of war for our enlightenment, but really mostly just for our entertainment, is surely a practice much, much older than the Iliad. The Hurt Locker is a series of well-told war stories.

Prognosis: * * * The blurb on the DVD box proclaims that The Hurt Locker is the “definitive movie of the decade.” That is too-generous praise. What we’ve got here is a good war movie, very probably the definitive movie about defusing bombs in occupied Baghdad of the decade.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Song of My City

Seen on the notice board of the local cafe where Mrs.5000 and I became engaged:

Wanted: Female Guitarist
for Ecofeminist Doom
Metal Band

Your Wednesday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Comfort INN

Provenance: Sent by L&TM5K Reader Aviatrix, September 2010.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: Kim' chin do

Kim’chin do

Capital: Namju
Population: 161,000 (2001 estimate)
Area: 8,990 km2
Independence: 1993

Economy: Fishing, forestry, zinc, electronic goods.
Per Capita Income: US$14,800
Languages: Kim’chin Korean, Japanese, Russian, Dutch
Literacy Rate: 92%

If you look at the area northeast of Hokkaido on any world map, chances are you will see only open ocean. It is not entirely clear how an island as large as Kim'chin do came to be forgotten by the world's cartographers. As the site of major Soviet naval and air bases, to be sure, it was regularly omitted from that country's maps for security purposes. While it is difficult to imagine the Western publishing companies taking their cue from the USSR, no other explanation has ever been put forward for the island nation's widespread omission from our maps and atlases.

The natives of Kim'chin do told tales about their distant ancestors who traveled over the ocean from the south on a city of rafts. Modern archeologists have established only that a large migration arrived from the Korean peninsula, in the 12th Century A.D. A great capital of wood buildings was built on the southern tip of the island on a sophisticated plan of broad boulevards and great open plazas. This city, Kim'sol, was destroyed by a tidal wave sometime around 1620:
My city
floats out to sea
in jumbled sticks
Ko Tae-Li, 17th Century
As much as half the island's population perished in the disaster.

Scholars once considered Kim’sol a mythical creation of 17th and 18th Century storytellers, but archeological excavations in the 1970s uncovered foundation stones for a city of the same size and form suggested by old woodcuts. The Kim’sol ruins, on the island’s southern peninsula, are now a World Heritage Site.

The modern era was not kind to Kim’chin do, as the island was handed from empire to empire: the British (1710) were followed by the Dutch (1770), the Japanese (1906), and the Soviets (1945). Kim'chindo stumbled into independence after the breakup of the USSR with a small but ethnically diverse population (34% Japanese, 32% Kim'chin Korean, 12% Russian, 12% Chinese, 10% European) and no tradition of self-government. A parliamentary system has been established and elections held, but the real power in Kim'chindo is held by the large corporations (mostly Japanese and Dutch) that have acquired its mills, mines, and factories. Nearly 40% of working citizens, a 2007 study found, are in the employ of a foreign corporation. Wages and investment in national infrastructure remain well below world averages.

Flag: The Kim'chin, like many Asian cultures, associated colors with direction. The modern flag, designed in 1993, is thus a sort of traditional map of the universe. Red, in the center, represents the people. Black is to the north, white to the south, yellow is to the west, and green to the east. Blue and purple were considered the colors of danger in classical Kim'chin symbology, and are rarely seen in traditional decoration.

National Anthem: “A Wind Blows From the Sea.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Habemus Dork!

The serious throwers-down at this year's DorkFest were seven in number. It has been no easy thing, sifting through the often quite spectacular submissions. In solution of which, I present the expanded slate of final dorky dignitaries:

Most Improved Dork: Mm mud deserves respect and recognition for beginning the journey of embracing her dorkhood, and for typing the sentence: "3hrs ago: I discovered goats are dorks." I can't wait to read the novel of which that is the opening line.

Yankee in England is hereby appointed Dorky Envoy Plenipotentiary to the people of the British Isles, and also Patron Dork of Pregnant People.

Phineas does not really require a title because he has discovered geohashing, which is its own reward. Also, bringing geohashing to DorkFest is like cutting butter with a chain saw -- it's hardly a fair fight.

Special commendation to Elaine, who brought some powerful dorkiness to the table, only to have it immediately plagiarized by fingerstothebone. Unfortunately, it is almost axiomatic that a plagiarized entry to a dork contest is dorkier that the original entry.  Which brings us to:

Fingerstothebone is hereby awarded the Michael5000 Dorkiness Lifetime Achievement Award, which she is invited to view as far superior to any measly one-year stint as Dork. The binary numbering was key here.

So, who is the Dork?

Morgan: Hitting first and hitting hard, Morgan presented an impressive dossier of material that was going to be hard to beat, even before I looked up "Dwarf Fortress." I hereby appoint him the L&TM5K Dork, with all of the (rather limited) rights and privileges thereof.

nichim: She had me at "Chinuk Wawa (Chinuk Jargon) Etymologies." The sentence "I'm concerned that I will not be able to effectively complete my DorkFest 2010 CV and portfolio, for my copy of Lichens of North America has arrived in the mail" was merely icing on the cake. I hereby appoint her the L&TM5K Vice-Dork, with all of the (even more limited) rights and privileges thereof.

So, Now What?

Feel that you were robbed? I've got one word for you. Just one word: "Seethe."

Congratulations to the contestants, and abuse for me, in the comments!

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

More Than Just A Bread Store
Wonder Hostess Retail Outlet
115 N. Cook St., Portland, Oregon

Abracadabra Series #1
A building I wager will vanish.

Photo by Vanessa Renwick, May 2010
Oregon Department of Kick Ass

Provenance: Sent by "Anon." [very probably L&TM5K Reader fingerstothebone], September 2010.