The Gate        A Few Tiny Errors, Part II
Tuesday, January 4, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

In which we continue our corrections and commentary on the 1999 Xmas quiz, proving once again that to err is divine:

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, IT was not Fred Astaire who sang ``Do the Yam,'' it was Ginger Rogers, although both danced like crazy to this curious tune for what seemed like hours, inside and out, upstairs and down.

I was always taken with the image of a passel of screenwriters sitting around creating the scenario of ``Carefree,'' trying to come up with a new dance that would, with luck, sweep the nation. And one guy stands up and say: ``I know! We'll call it `the Yam'!''

And the rest of them slap him on the back, and they all go drink their lunches. And later on, someone has to break it to Astaire. ``And, uh, Fred, right here you'll do the Yam. It's a dance we made up. Kind of a kicky thing. The Yam. Have fun with it.''

Much later: Karen Finley. Thus does culture advance.

I have in hand a letter from Dr. Jean DeMouthe (avoid the temptation to repeat that surname in an Inspector Clouseau accent) of the California Academy of Sciences.

``I was surprised to find an error in one of your answers this morning. A lahar is a mudflow that occurs in volcanic materials. Heavy rain or melting snow and ice can saturate layers of volcanic ash and loose debris. This wet goo can quickly lose what little cohesion it has and can flow quickly down slope, often in old stream channels. Very nasty things they can be, too. A lahar on Mount Rainier could indeed put a large dent in anything situated on or near its slopes. A collapsing or collapsed volcano is called a caldera.''

READER KEITH HERTZER made extensive inquiries into the whole parachute thing. My apparently fallible World Almanac and Book of Facts listed French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard as the inventor of the parachute, but alas, that fact is not a fact.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of parachutes but never made one. In 1783, one Sebastian Lenormand successfully jumped from a tower using a parachute. And Barnard? According to the Grolier Encyclopedia: ``In 1785, he lowered small animals from balloons via parachutes.'' So my guy was the first to return a squirrel safely to earth. BFD. Imagine my humiliation.

Also: I asked what Innocent did to John, thinking of Pope Innocent III's excommunication of King John of England. An anonymous e-mail correspondent pointed out that Pope Innocent I reinstated Patriarch St. John Chrysostum of Constantinople, so that answer is also correct. And reader Mike Allen pointed out that, in addition to working in the insurance industry, both Charles Ives and Wallace Stevens won Pulitzer Prizes.

THERE WAS MUCH correspondence regarding the theory, first proposed by writer Henry Littlefield, that ``The Wizard of Oz'' is a parable about the bimetallism movement (the dollar backed by both silver and gold instead of just gold), which was a major campaign issue in the presidential elections of 1896 and 1900.

I emphasize that there is not a shred of evidence to support this theory. It's one of those zany coincidences, like what happens when you play Pink Floyd's ``Dark Side of the Moon'' while watching the movie of ``The Wizard of Oz'' with the sound down.

In this formulation, Oz stands for ``ounce,'' which stands for silver because the ratio of ounces to pounds is 16:1 just as the ratio of silver to gold was 16:1. (What does that mean exactly? I have no idea.)

So the Scarecrow is the American farmer and the Tin Woodman is the American factory worker and the Cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan, hero of bimetallism, and they are walking down the yellow brick road (gold) with Dorothy (everyman) to the Emerald City (greenbacks). Not exactly ``Pilgrim's Progress,'' coherency-wise. The Wicked Witch of the East represents bankers; the Wicked Witch of the West is drought; the Munchkins are . . . say, isn't it about time for bed?

Particular thanks to readers Elizabeth Payne, and Mike Allen too.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the

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