Wednesday, November 30, 2011

After this one, there will be ten more Wednesday Quizzes


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. Roughly 90% of its native speakers live in Latin America, about 5% in Europe, and about 5% in Africa.

2. The weather gets all screwy when he argues with his wife Titania.

3. Given the title Warden of the Royal Mint, which was intended as a sinecure, he leapt into the role with dazzling fervor, crushing widespread counterfeiting and helping to stabilize British currency. Oh, and he formulated the basic laws of physics and calculus.

4. So who is this here painting by?

5. Who are these guys?

6. Before and during the U.S. Civil War, there was ongoing gang violence to determine whether it would be a "slave state" or a "free state."

7. He is said to have met Elijah and Moses on a mountain.

8. It's the autobiography of a Roman Emporer, except written in 1934 by Robert Graves.

9. It was that family that held the thrones of Spain, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire for all those years.

10. What country is this?


Put your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Biscuits of Mongolia: #5

The biscuits of Mongolia project is an endeavor of L&TM5K Ambassador to the Post-Soviet Fringe Meaghan. It is republished here by permission.

Country of origin: Turkey.

Packaging languages: Turkish, English (GB/USA/Canada!), Polish, Russian, Czech, Romanian, Spanish, Albanian, French, Italian, Arabic, Macedonian, Portuguese.

Biscuit type: sandwich.

Mouthfeel: velvet, lard, & quinine.

Price: 580 tugrug.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The 2011 Library Book Sale CD Trove I

A new series of CD finds from the Friends of the Multnomah County Library Annual Booksale.

François Couperin: Messe à l'usage des Paroisses

Michel Chapuis, organ

I don't really know much about the French Baroque composer François Couperin, so I included this in my stack of thirteen Book Sale CDs with the idea of getting to know a new composer. When I was showing the stack to Mrs.5000, she said "But isn't that organ music?"

"Oh crap," I said.

Five seconds of playing time confirmed that this is, indeed, organ music. In fact it's apparently considered something of a landmark organ piece.

Yeah, we don't do organ music.

Decision: Discard.  This CD is available for the asking.

Random Record Review 3: Matthew Sweet, "Blue Skies on Mars"

The Record: Matthew Sweet, Blue Sky on Mars.
Format: CD
Year of Release: 1997
Genre: Rock

In 1997, I had completed graduate school and thought it was important to get in touch with The Music That Was Happening Now (ie. Then).  Of course, if one is consciously making this kind of decision, the train has by definition already left the station, but I did not realize that yet.

I purchased Blue Skies on Mars after hearing two of its songs on a nationally syndicated public radio interview show, because as everyone knows, public radio invariably has its finger on the pulse of cutting-edge music trends.  And I still like those two songs ("Behind the Smile" and "Over It"), which are excellent pieces of catchy power pop, although perhaps a bit too similar one to the other to co-exist on the same album with only one song between them.  The rest of the record is, to my mind, formula songwriting fleshed out with merely competent arrangement and musicianship.

Decision: Discard.  This CD is available for the asking, pending ratification of my decision by legal co-owner Mrs.5000.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Avercamp v. Bacon

Hendrick Avercamp
1585 - 1634


Francis Bacon
1909 - 1992


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Rise and Fall of an American Reading List

It's been more than four years since I browbeat the readership, as it was then, into providing me with a long long reading list. And, once I got over the hurdle of Dosteovsky, working my way through that list has been one of the great joys of the late aughts and early teens. And behold! I have read and reported back on a whopping 45 books! Many of them quite thick!

Yet, here in the late going, cracks have appeared in the ediface. I have run into a series of books that I have simply not been interested in reading, and even my mania for project completion has begun to flag.

Unread Books

The signal text was probably Fast Food Nation, a perfectly respectable piece of journalism about the fast food industry and American agribusiness. I understand why this is seen as an important book. Yet, to me, it embodys a perfect storm of barriers to produce reading. First, it is about food, and except in the way of every animal, I do not find food interesting. Secondly, it is about fast food, which is not really part of my life. Thirdly, it is about a vast social problem that I can do nothing about. And fourthly, worstly, it is polemical. I hate polemic, especially when I agree with it.

Then there's Amusing Ourselves to Death, a dated treatment of television. I could literally not care less about television, except as a medium for the broadcast of bowl games. Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy turned out to be a book length itteration of a good magazine article I read a long time ago. The Way We Eat and Why Our Food Choices Matter is, once again, about food; I feel like I've done yeoman's duty on the topic of food ethics with Matthew Scully's Dominion (read in October 2008), and feel no need to linger in the preached-at choir.

In short, I've decided that I could -- well, take your pick: "choose what I want to read for myself, like a norm," or "break faith with my readers." Very liberating! It allowed me, for instance, to throw Harry Potters V, VI, and VII into the out-box, manfully sacrificing my curiosity as to who the next three Defense Against the Dark Arts professors will be as well as the yearly updates in Quiddich broom technology. I'll try to roll with it.

Running From Rabbit

The big surprise, though, has been Rabbit is Rich, the third installment of John Updike's biography of the unloveable Harry Angstrom. I thought that Rabbit, Run was a tremendous book, and gave the second book, Rabbit Redux, a glowing review earlier this year. Yet Rabbit is Rich has completely failed to engage me. I don't know why. Maybe these are not books to read in the autumn, when the relentless negativity of their world view tends to claw at one more than it might in spring. It's genuinely puzzling to me. I checked out the critical response, more or less hoping that there might be a general consensus that Rabbit is Rich was the dog of the series. But that's not the case. And so I sat, nearly halfway through the book, feeling no motivation to continue: no curiosity as to what happens next, and no desire to remain immersed in the fictional world. I passed the first climax, a spectacular, emotional event that made me roll my eyes, and stopped.

Maybe I'm just over Rabbit.

Remaining Books

That leaves the following books on the Reading List, along with my intentions towards them, now that I've broken the seal on intentions:

Hansen, Motoring With Mohammed -- Judging from blurbs, this might be interesting. I'll give it a whirl.

McCall, Makes Me Want To Holler -- Judging from blurbs, this doesn't look very interesting. But I'll start it.

Donaldson, the first Thomas Covenant trilogy -- Oh sure. I'm curious about how it reads, 30 years on.

Davis, One River -- I don't know what this is.

Byatt, Possession -- I'm looking forward to this one.

Stegner, Angle of Repose -- I'm looking forward to this one, too.

Moore/Gibbons, Watchmen -- This is a comic book, I think? No reason not to read it.

Rawicz, The Long Walk -- A Mrs.5000 favorite, if I recall. What's good for the goose...

Levin, How the Universe Got its Spots -- Sounds like it has potentional.

Campbell & Campbell, The China Study -- It's about food. But I'll look at it, at least.

Tolstoy, War and Peace -- This one wasn't even on the original list; I smuggled it on because I want to read it.

LeGuin, Earthsea trilogy -- Definitely

Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country -- Sounds good.

Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas -- Sounds good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is but mad north-north-west


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. What's the capital of the second largest country in the world?

2. Who also wrote The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, Transparent Things, and Look at the Harelequins!

3. Who is shown in this... wait! no! What extremely important world figure was born in 570 and lived until 632?

4. Hydrogen is Element #1, and Helium is Element #2. What is Element #3?

5. It is made with one part vodka, one part triple sec, and one part lemon juice.

6. As the President of the most populous country in the world, as well as General Secretary of its dominant political party and Chairman of its Military Commission, he is arguably far and away the most important person in the world.

But what's his name?

7. Mizoram, Kerala, Sikkim, and Uttar Pradesh are parts of _____________.

8. Who claimed to be but mad north-north-west, and, when the wind was southerly to know a hawk from a handsaw?

9. You've grooved to his operas Galileo Galilei, Akhnaten, and Einstein on the Beach, to his symphonies, and to his often performed violin concerto, but did you know he won a Golden Globe for his music for The Truman Show?

10. What is this a map of?


Put your answers in the comments, then reward yourself with a nice mixture of one part vodka, one part triple sec, and one part lemon juice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Biscuits of Mongolia: #4

The biscuits of Mongolia project is an endeavor of L&TM5K Ambassador to the Post-Soviet Fringe Meaghan. It is republished here by permission.

The biscuits of Mongolia project, #4.

Country of origin: Mongolia.

Packaging languages: Mongolian.

Biscuit type: butter biscuit.

Mouthfeel: cotton and copper.

Price: 200 tugrug.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Richard II (BBC, 1978)

The Play: Richard II.
Directed by: David Giles, for the notorious BBC Series, 1978.

Genre & Setting: Richard II is one of the history plays, set in the fun-loving frolic of English dynastic politics leading up to the War of the Roses.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: We start with King Richard II trying to mediate between a couple of hothead nobles, Bolingbroke and Mawbray, who are robustly accusing each other of treason. “You’re a traitor!” “No, you’re a traitor!” “No, YOU’re a traitor!” “Am not!” “Am so!” The King fails to reconcile them, the first of a number of important failures, and agrees to let them duel it out.

Next, we see the dueling ground, and about three hours is spent reciting all of the proper formulae for a proper, legally-binding fight to the death. Except, just at the last moment Richard interrupts the proceedings with a Solomonic decree that instead of dueling, the parties must go into exile. By “Solomonic,” however, I don’t mean “wise” but “intolerable to all involved parties.” It’s not immediately obvious, but King Rick has already screwed himself royally (as we used to say in HomeTown5000).

John of Gaunt, who has been one of the leading nobles of England for the past several decades, warns Richard that he is not living up to the expectations of his job description and then keels over. Richard uses the pretext of treason to confiscate all of Gaunt’s estate, which he uses to fund a military expedition to Ireland.

While King Rick is swashbuckling in Ireland, his nobles – furious about the Gaunt business and about the generally shoddy state of royal administration – bring Bolingbroke (Gaunt’s son) home from exile and begin tinkering with the idea of regime change. When Richard returns, he finds that he has about three friends left in the world and will be forced to abdicate. There follows much dialog and speechifying on the nature of kingship: Richard feels that the divine prerogative of hereditary succession is sacred and inviolable, but then he would, wouldn’t he. Others, although a little uncomfortable about what God might be thinking about all of this, wonder if there might oughtn’t be a results-based aspect to a king’s tenure.

With Bolingbroke now on the throne as Henry IV, old King Richard is stashed away in prison. A plot emerges to reinstate him; we see this as an awful family drama in which one of the conspirators’ fathers pleads with Henry to execute his son as a traitor, while the conspirator’s mom pleads for her boy’s life. The upshot, of course, is that it’s dangerous to have Richard hanging around in mothballs, and the end of the play will not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the history of monarchical succession struggles.

The Adaptation: This is one of the best of the BBC series adaptations I’ve seen. This is to say, although it had pre-Star Trek effects, sets, and editing (despite being made ten years after Star Trek), it was however very effectively acted and performed. I never had any trouble figuring out what was going on, assuming that the above synopsis is not riddled with errors.

Clocks In At: About two and a half hours.

Pros: As a play, its strength is some mild but sincere contemplation of the nature of leadership. There’s a nice scene that didn’t make the synopsis up there where the palace gardeners talk about the nature of gardening in a conversation that is 100% allegorical: it’s all about the nature of governance.

It was interesting that this is a serious Shakespeare play with no comic relief bits – not a single punning yokel in sight. Or, if there were comic relief bits, they were played as serious in this adaptation (I have this theory that many of the traditionally “comic” bits of Shakespeare plays could be equally if not more effective if staged as sincere.) With no disrespect to the comic relief aspect of Shakespeare, it was nice to watch a play that kept to its dominant key all the way through.

Cons: Not a whole ton actually happens in Richard II. There’s a lot of meditating and arguing, but watching (for instance) a guy agonizing about whether to semi-voluntarily abdicate the kingship – it’s a choice between two flavors of humiliation, with important ramifications for the future of the country – is not the most gripping of entertainments. There is hardly any violence, and there’s no sex at all.

Prognosis: I wonder if this is a play where the value added of seeing it performed over reading off the page is unusually low.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Audubon v. Auerbach

John James Audubon
1785 - 1851


Frank Auerbach
Born 1931
German; works in the UK


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Flag Friday XXXVII

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: "More effort needed here."  He makes a "plagiarism" charge and gives it a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: Tonga's flag is a distinctive, one-of-a-kind design that nevertheless falls well within the constraints of traditional flag vocabulary, so I've got no idea what Parsons is on about here.  Maybe he thinks there's too much gesturing towards Switzerland, but that's a bit of stretch.

So yeah, I have no problem with design integrity.  I do, however, find the design kind of boring.

Grade: B

Trinidad and Tobago

Parsons: With "bad colours," it gets a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: Sharp!

Grade: A-


Parsons: "Nice design," says Parsons, "but this star and crescent features a particularly bad astronomical impossibility."  There's also a "plagiarism" charge tacked on, but it nevertheless gets a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Yeah, those are symbols, not a pictorial representation of an astronomical event.  I think the central device could stand to be a little bigger relative to the flag as a whole, but all in all this is one of the more handsome banners in the region.

Grade: A-


Parsons: It's "simple," and gets an "A", 85/100.

Michael5000:  The similarity to Tunisia's flag is obvious.  Tunisia's is better.

Grade: B+


Parsons: It is "eyewatering," has "too many stars," is "too busy," and "makes [him] nauseous."   "Flag actually includes a Persian (sorry, Turkman) carpet," he adds.  "Only flag to both make eyes water and induce vomiting."  He assigns a "D-", 37/100.

Michael5000: By the letter of the fussiness law, the frimframery of the Turkmen and other Central Asian flags ought to bug me.  They fail the Betsy Ross Test with too many flying colors.  Except, that stripe represents the kind of fiber arts that the local Betsy Ross set actually practice.  This kind of flag merges an indigenous tradition with the European flag concept and comes up with something that I actually find kind of cool.  How does it look on a pole?

Pretty good!

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Element of the Month: Terbium!

November's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 158.925  amu
Melting Point: 1356 °C
Boiling Point: 3230 °C

With October Element of the Month Ytterbium fresh in your mind, you of course recall the little Swedish village of Ytterby and its prolific quarry o' elements.  Well, we return to the same stomping this month with Terbium, yet another element that was discovered by a brainy Swede (Carl Gustaf Mosander) sifting through the rocks from the self same hole in the ground.

Now, just because you can't say "Ytterbium" without saying "Terbium" doesn't mean that the one is a component of the other.  It doesn't work that way.  They are Elements!  The fundamental building blocks of matter!  And so are as different as Iron and Oxygen!  Except, you would never know it from looking at their characteristics.  Terbium really seems an awful lot like Ytterbium.  It is, for instance, a rare silvery element that never occurs in isolation, but only as a trace element in minerals that are themselves pretty unusual.  At one part per million of the Earth's crust, it's not incredibly rare -- there's a hell of a lot more of it around than, say, gold, silver, or platinum -- but since it is always diffused through agglomerations of other Elements it has never attracted much attention.

The Centerfold!

Like Ytterbium, Terbium is used as a dopant (devoted readers will recall the analogy of the peppier.)  The biggest use of Terbium in the human community is in its oxide form, which is used in fluorescent lighting technologies.

Here's something weird: looking at commodities charts, it seems that the price of Terbium has increased six-fold over the course of 2011.  Aside from a few mild news articles to the effect that China has an essential monopoly on rare earths and can therefore charge whatever it likes, there doesn't seem to have been much comment on this astronomical rise.  We may well be in the grips of a Terbium crisis, but nor am I entirely sure that the numbers aren't cooked for the benefit of stock scammers.  Regardless, if you have been hording raw Terbium, this might be a good moment to cash in.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is become Death, the destroyer of worlds.


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. If you saw this flag flying on a public building, you would probably be where?

2. The Punjab is its most densely populated region. Balochistan is its largest province in area, but it is very sparsely inhabited.

3. Having led a major scientific effort during World War II, he was subsequently denounced (inaccurately) as a communist during the McCarthy era and stripped of his security clearance. Who is the guy who, seeing the fruition of his most important work, famously recalled the Bhagavad Gita: 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'

4. As King of Babylon, he oversaw great building programs. He failed to invade Egypt, but he had no problem at all destroying the little kingdom of Judah, destroying its capital and dispersing its leading citizens.

5. He is the founder and Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the world's second-largest corporate media juggernaut. And it says here his wife is 38 years his junior!

6. In the Book of John, who is miraculously raised from the dead by Jesus of Nazereth?

7. In this map of the solar system, what is the green region called?

8. In a very famous story, his oxen, donkeys, and camels are all stolen, his 7000 sheep die in a mysterious fire, his children all die when their home collapses in a storm, and he is afflicted with serious dermatological problems. What's his name?

9. It has almost a dozen languages spoken by more than 10 million people, including Assamese, Gujarati, Kannada, Maithili, Malayam, Marthi, Oriya, and Telugu.

10. What country did this stamp come from?


Record your answers in the comments as your first step towards building the world's second-largest corporate media juggernaut.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 2: Altdorfer v. Andre

Albrecht Altdorfer
Defeated Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema by a single vote in a thrilling come-from-behind victory in Round 1.  YOUR VOTE COUNTS.


Carl Andre
b. 1935
Defeated eighteenth-century European Jacobo Amigoni in Round 1 by two votes -- a one-vote swing would have resulted in a draw.  YOUR VOTE COUNTS!


[In the M5K personal tourney, this round pits Altdorfer v. Amigoni.]


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Random Record Review 2: Rilo Kiley, "More Adventurous"

The Record: Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous.
Format: CD
Year of Release: 2005
Genre: Rock

It's funny how you, or maybe it's just me, can develop an aversion to the music of a few years back.  I listened to this record, a Christmas gift from Mrs.5000, a lot during 2006, and saw much of it performed live a year or so later.  Having not listened to it lately, though, I had to reluctantly brush off the conceptual dust and cobwebs in order to give it a listen for purposes of this project.  And hey, isn't part of the point of this project to ferret out musical dead wood, to avoid getting trapped in the past?  Maybe Rilo Kiley would be the first to fall.

But no.  Revisiting the album with fresh ears, I recognized it for a sly and fiercely intelligent collection of power pop.  Not every song is a masterpiece, of course, and personally I find a certain smugness in the opening track, "It's a Hit," a snall hurdle to get over.  But then you land in "Does He Love You?" which is essentially an extremely compact modern epistolary novel, not a half bad one, that scans well when sung.  Beyond that is the dark, infectious "Portions for Foxes," and you've already recouped the price of your ticket.

Most of the songs on "More Adventurous" are extremely dark.  Take "The Absence of God," a very pretty pop tune sung by Jenny Lewis at her most girl-next-door angelic.  These are songs that you can bop along happily until the time you pay attention, at which point you have one of those intellectual insights into the nature of existence that I, anyway, am so fond of.

There's a little bit of a cult of Jenny Lewis out there, and I have always thought she was a talented singer and performer.  Taking a closer look at the album credits, I realized that she is the songwriter for this stuff, which really makes me stand up and salute.  I don't know why I figured she wasn't.  I think maybe I was thrown off by the dumb band name.

Decision: Strong Keep.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Archimboldo v. Arp

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
1527 - 1593
Italian (Milanese)


Jean Arp
1886 - 1966


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Reading List: Phantoms in the Brain

Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
Vilayanur S. Ramachandran with Sandra Blakeslee, 1998

Phantoms in the Brain is a collection of essays about the more exotic kinds of abnormal psychology, the kinds of bizarre behaviors that can sometimes result from strokes and traumatic brain injuries. If you are thinking “Oh, Oliver Sacks,” then you are correct: this book covers very similar ground to many of Dr. Sacks’ essays (collected in popular books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) and he is mentioned frequently in its pages.

Dr. Ramachandran (probably second author Blakeslee from Ramachadran’s instructions, of course, but we’ll follow the conventions here) begins the book by talking about his research in phantom limbs. Working with the kinds of patients who feel excruciating pain in a leg that was amputated years ago, or who baffle people by pointing and gesturing with an arm that was lost in a long-ago accident, Ramachandran pursues two parallel lines of thinking. First, of course, he tries to come up with ideas that will give his patients relief. Second, he wonders what is happening neurologically to give people with phantom limbs a contradictory internal body map.

What we learn is that an individual’s conception of his or her own body is in fact a complicated business. We get a sense of this as we move past phantom limbs to much stranger phenomena like, for instance, the inability of some stroke victims to realize that they are paralyzed, or the inability to recognize the left half of one’s body as one’s own (“That must be my brother’s arm,” says an otherwise perfectly intelligent and sane person, looking at her left arm. “I have no idea how it got here.”).

Ramachandran comes across as a pretty gung-ho sort of guy. To probe the details of patients’ misconceptions about their own bodies, he devises all sorts of ingenious tests and therapies. He keeps it real, low-budget, and actively experimental: his therapies involve lots of cardboard boxes, mirrors, pencils, insightful questions, and on more than one occasion graduate students hiding under the table.

What he is able to demonstrate is that our grasp of our own bodies, like everything else in our experience, relies on a brain that is a much messier organ than scientists used to realize, and a much, much messier organ than most people are entirely comfortable to find out about. In case you missed the memo: Nothing like a single unified entity, your brain is an evolutionarily cobbled-together contraption of a zillion or so overlapping, often mutually antagonistic, systems, the vast majority cranking along and doing their own esoteric business without us ever being aware of them. Our brain is like the most complicated of modern jet aircraft, except exponentially more complicated, and consciousness, the alert little ghost we usually think of as our “self,” is at best one of the pilots – although a coach-class passenger, a flight attendant, or the aircraft controller on the ground might all be more accurate analogies. The data is still coming in.

Specifically, Ramachandran shows pretty convincingly that phenomena like phantom limb syndrome are a product of two different body-awareness systems, both pre-conscious, falling out of alignment with each other. And by “pretty convincingly” I mean that he is actually able to use his theory to cure people – he’s able to make phantom limbs go away. He also gives step-by-step instructions for how you too can give yourself a phantom limb, or become momentarily convinced that your nose is several feet long, or – under the right circumstances – how you can briefly give yourself the very strong impression that a table is part of your body. It’s crazy stuff, and I say that very admiringly.

Ramachandran is a slightly less elegant writer than Sacks, and he sprinkles the book with jokes and gags that are probably gold from the lectern but are a little corny on the page. I like him, though, for his more aggressive pursuit of what the findings of abnormal psychology imply for normal psychology and the workings of the brain. It’s bracing stuff right up to the final chapter, in which he attempts to address head on the whole question of consciousness and what makes it tick. This, unfortunately, is a bridge too far. His empirical work has done a lot to explain certain specific aspects of how brains work and what that means for those of us who live inside them, but his leap from there to The Big Question is pretty tenuous. You can understand why he would want to give it a shot, but it’s a minor shame that it has to come at the end of the book, where it takes some of the glow from everything that came before.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's the Book Arts!

"The Recombinant Alice"
Mrs.5000, 2011

Limited edition in tripartite "exquisite corpse" format with photocopied illustrations and text from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

I have shown "you," the hypothetical blog reader, this one before, but not since 2008.  Each "page" of this book is a text from Alice and Wonderland set opposite the original engraving of the character that it describes.

However, each page is cut into thirds, and the whole is cleverly engineered so that, by flipping the little page-thirds, you can create weird new characters with weird new texts to describe them.

It is like an elaborate game of "Exquisite Corpse," with the surreal setting of Alice and Wonderland serving as a natural jumping-off point into further absurdities.

We have noticed a remarkable tendency of many readers to carefully turn all three page sections together, in order to reconstruct each original character from its three parts.  It is an entirely logical thing to do, but at the same time is a quietly hilarious defeating of the whole point.

This is I believe the only book that Mrs.5000 has made an "edition" of.  There's more than one!  In fact, I believe it is possible to purchase one from the very terrific 23Sandy gallery, located quite near the intersection of 23rd and Sandy here on the beautiful East Side.  Oh hey, it's almost time for holiday shopping!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz recognizes the Taijitu.


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. It's why ambulances sound different once they've gone by, and it's the concept that allows our very brainiest physicists to infer the age and size of the universe. What is this property of light and sound waves?

2. What 1974 film noir follows the mishaps of a private detective who finds himself embroiled in violent struggles over water use in 1930s Los Angeles?

3. This fellow lost three U.S. Presidential elections, resigned as U.S. Secretary of State because he thought that Woodrow Wilson was too hard on Imperial Germany about the Lusitania, championed Prohibition, and ended his career trying to discredit evolution.

What's his name?

4. This painting of Carolina parrots is characteristic of what American artist?

5. Theodor Herzl was an influential leader in the 1890s, but he was never able to reach a strong accord with the Ottomans, and it was Chaim Weizmann who got the U.K. to enact the Balfour Declaration in 1917. We're talking about the __________ Movement.

6. Sure, you recognize the Taijitu.

But do you know what principle it represents?

7. Only ruins and the remnants of a city wall remain at Kublai Khan's summer capital. As far as Alph, the sacred river, Coleridge just made it up. Still, it was apparently a pretty hopping town back in the day. What was its name?

8. It happened for the first time in Chamonix, France, in 1924. It happened in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, in 1956, in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1964 and 1976, and in Salt Lake City in 2002. What is it?

9. Because we live on a magnetized planet, we are surrounded by zones of radioactive particles that can be tough on high-orbit satellites or passing astronauts. What are they called?

10. In Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "The Remains of the Day," we are meant to understand the novel's narrative as clearly distorted by the political, emotional, and occupational prejudices of the first-person character. This makes Stevens the butler, along with Lolita's Humbert Humbert and The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, classic examples of the "________ __________."


Record your answers, clearly distorted by political, emotional, and occupational prejudices.