1. Living as far north as you do, how do you cope with the short winter days?
Most of my life I've actually lived higher up than I do now. I was born and raised a few hours' drive away from the Arctic Rim, in what Andrew Zimmern graciously chose to call a "picturesque little port town". So I'm used to the lack of light during winter and its side effects. What does bother me is that these days I've moved just south enough for summer nights not to be light anymore. That's a different matter entirely. Long dark winters are okay, but I kinda miss the Midnight Sun.
2. Did Fernand Braudel have a "theory of history"?
That depends on what you mean by theory of history, but yes.
I can't really do justice to the man in a couple of paragraphs, so what I'm going to do is give you an example of the sort of thing he did. If you read about Braudel on Wikipedia, you get a similar story to what I might say: He's one of the many people who pushed broad-based socio-economic inquiry into historiography. He likes to talk about history in terms of layers: From the almost imperceptible ebb and flow of geographical time, to the conjunctures of broad historical forces, and finally to the frantic world of incidence and surface event. Each shapes the world, but the last category is the least fundamental, and less interesting to Braudel than the... well, let's call it the Long Haul, because I'm feeling cheeky. Now, the basic idea that you shouldn't fixate on events or biography -- such as what this or that pope or king did (although boy, does he ever do that too) -- wasn't actually a revolutionary notion when he was writing. Even among the Annalistes he was a second-generation thinker; he says his own particular approach in some sense goes back to a 1900 book by a guy called Henri Berr. As he points out, this kind of thinking was imposed on historians by economists and sociologists &c. from a very early point on. So, if you just go by my Cliffs Notes version here, I'm going to forgive you for not being too impressed.
If you then go and read his stuff on the Mediterranean -- he deals a lot with the Mediterranean, much like Lucien Febvre has a thing for medieval France -- you start getting a glimpse of how truly clever his shticks actually are. And here's the example: I'm fairly sure you've all heard the really basic story of how economies become more sophisticated over time. In stages you move from gifts and barter all the way to modern credit-based industrial and commercial enterprises. Braudel stirred the pot a little on this story. He looked at his sources, and found himself compelled to take this graph, and turn it from a horizontal arrow pointing from left to right, forwards in time, to a graph pointing (in a loose sense) vertically up across early modern society. That gave him a more helpful metaphor: 16th century Mediterranean societies were actually complicated meshes of different economic approaches and mentalities -- as you indeed might expect from a work in progress. Various patterns of economic arrangement and activity coexisted and competed for long periods of time, with both peasants and lords still doling out traditional offerings of X number of sheep to each other within this age-old gift-and-barter economy framework... at the same time as they were coming up with new kinds of letters of credit, and selling shares in merchant ships, and doing cool stuff like that elsewhere. I don't know if this basic observation impresses you now, but in the 1940s it was epic win.
Now, obviously Braudel does get some things dead wrong, as people do. The theory he draws on can be pretty dated or off-beat (these days people don't really talk about Kondratiev cycles), and he writes like a French academician because he is one. But he is really neat. Do give him a read.
3. Of all the books that have been "lost" over the centuries which would you most like to be rediscovered?
I don't really read much about the classical world nowadays, but there's oodles of cool Greek and Roman stuff that we simply don't have anymore. (It's the old archivist's lament, I suppose: We have lots more than people generally assume, but not nearly as much as we'd like.) Whether poetry, philosophy, history, or just random agricultural manuals, a lot of these lost works have a special shine to them, so I figure why not pick one of these? Even the unhallowed triad of Roman historians which every monocle-wearing gentleman ruin-robber was once supposed to have on his shelf -- i.e. Suetonius, Livy and Tacitus -- does not survive to us as a complete set. Since I like historical trivia, I guess I'd be obliged to say "the collected works of Polybius". However, I'm actually tempted to go with the elegies of Cornelius Gallus, purely in the schadenfreude-driven hope that he actually turns out to be complete crap.
But no, if I had to pick just one, I think I could come up with a better one with a little time. Byron's memoirs would be kinda neat.
4. Are there any belief systems that you find particularly irritating?
Oh yes, and as some of you know, I can be very sarcastic and mean-spirited about it. On the other hand, you'll notice that my Friends list seems to be full of people who often have diametrically opposed philosophical and political views in regards to each other. I'm not always quite sure how that state of affairs has come to be, but it does give me perspective I might not otherwise have.
5. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck? Show your working.
If a wood-chuck could not chuck wood, then a wood-chuck would chuck no wood. If a wood-chuck could chuck wood, but would not chuck wood, then a woodchuck would chuck no wood. If a wood-chuck could chuck wood, and would chuck wood, a wood-chuck would chuck as much wood as that wood-chuck would chuck; of course, a wood-chuck that would chuck wood, and could chuck wood, and chucked wood, would ever chuck only as much wood as that wood-chucking wood-chuck could chuck, even if that wood-chucking wood-chuck would chuck more wood if that wood-chucking wood-chuck could chuck more wood.
And there you go. If you want to perpetuate the meme lunacy, ask me for five questions in the comments.