News Quiz

No. 468: “Acceptable Behavior”

Fill in the blank on this remark from Al Gore’s acceptance speech at Thursday night’s Democratic convention: “I say to you tonight, millions of Americans will live better lives for a long time to come because of __________________.”

Send your answer by 6 p.m. ET Sunday to

Wednesday’s Question (No. 467)—”Mystic and Avalon”:

There are two in the United States right now, both in San Diego. Mystic is being certified for a return to action; Avalon is ready to go anywhere in the world immediately. Who do they work for, and what do they do?

“Just curious: When did we start letting Barbara Cartland name our pandas?”—Tim Carvell

“They are ‘The Lord’s World of the Sea’ performing dolphins, who ‘praise the glory of Jesus Christ’ through ‘aquatic high jinks and antics.’ “—Charlie Glassenberg

“I see the Navy has finally followed up on my suggestion to use bomb-sniffing seals. Or are they sea lions?”—Evan Brady (Beth Sherman had a nasal similar answer.)

“My God! They’re the Dennison twins from college! And you say they’re in San Diego?! Do you have their number?!”—Sean Carman

“They’re ladies of the night, with a bag of tricks to make your wildest dreams come true; they’re single moms doing the best they know how; and they’re a COP.”—Ellis Weiner

Click for more answers.

Randy’s Wrap-Up

While “Mystic” is familiar as the root of “mysterious” and as an aptly inexplicable Connecticut tourist trap where actors dressed as whalers sell tasty baleen-on-a-stick, “Avalon” is less well known when not appended to “Frankie.” It is, of course, the island to which King Arthur was sent to heal his wounds after his final battle. (Historian’s notebook: By inserting the words “of course” into a sentence, you create a sense of having known for years that which you looked up in Britannica just moments ago. Try it along with me: In the first century A.D., the Romans crushed a revolt of Celtic peoples led by Boadicea who was, of course, queen of the Iceni.)

Avalon was first mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (circa 1136). Geoffrey was the medieval English chronicler and, of course, bishop of St. Asaph (1152). He alleged that the Historia was translated from a “very old book in the British tongue,” but historians now agree that it was almost certainly a fabrication. It is likely that Geoffrey himself wrote the Historia but thought that people would prefer the authentic ancient to the synthetic contemporary, a quaint idea we moderns reject, as you can confirm with a quick glance at Cher’s ass.

Avalon was ruled by the enchantress Morgan le Fay and her eight sisters, all skilled in the healing arts. (I have a cousin who is a dermatologist.) Geoffrey may have been attempting to connect his “island of apples” with Celtic mythology’s traditions of an Elysium; and the name Avalon is certainly close to the Welsh word for apple, afal. It is also close to the Hebrew for “embarrassing wedding dance,” Hava Nagila, if you swallow the last to syllables, but that may be what linguists call “a coincidence” and “not really close at all.”

The 19th-century scholar Sir John Rhys argued that Avalon should be associated with Aballach, a dark Celtic divinity, but it was not an argument anyone wanted to take up, so things calmed down pretty quickly. Avalon has been identified with Glastonbury in Somerset, but that may have been just an attempt by the monks of Glastonbury to exploit the Arthurian legend for the benefit of their own community, perhaps through the sale of T-shirts and overpriced snacks like baleen-on-a-stick, which, if I read the nonexistent tourist brochure correctly, was a great favorite of Sir Eatsalot. Of course.

Not So Funny If All 118 Guys Die Answer

Mystic and Avalon are the U.S. Navy’s two minisubs designed to rescue the crews of submarines.

Built in 1963, following the sinking of the nuclear submarine Thresher, in an emergency they’d be flown to the nearest port and ferried to the scene on one of eight specially configured mother ships. The minisubs can dive to 2,000 feet, dock with a stricken submarine, and ferry 24 men at a time to the surface.

It is not known if the Mystic and the Avalon could link up with the hatch of disabled Russian sub Kursk, and in any case the Russians declined offers of American assistance. Russia’s northern fleet has its own minisubs, but they’ve not been operational since around 1990 when the Russian navy, starved for funds, began falling into disrepair. Late Thursday, the Russians did accept an offer of help from the British who are expected to arrive just after everyone on the Kursk has died.

Today’s New York Times reports that once Mystic is certified for action, Avalon will be retired. The Navy plans to build new rescue vehicles over the next five years, noting that while the Avalon can operate to depths of 2,000 feet, in most areas of the ocean a stricken submarine could plunge tens of thousands of feet, as the Times puts it, “disintegrating along the way.”

Running Total of Roxy Music References Since News Quiz No. 1 Counting Today Extra


Actual Products Mentioned in Al Gore’s Acceptance Speech Extra

  1. PalmPilot.
  2. Diet Coke.
  3. Lemon Fresh Pledge—it’s like a summer day in your kitchen!

(I’m not entirely certain about that third one. It was either Lemon Fresh Pledge or “the silent rising tide of global warming.” I ran to the refrigerator for another beer and may have misheard.)

Common Denominator