Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Millet v. Miro!

Jean-François Millet
1814 - 1875


Joan Miró
1893 - 1983


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

Friday, April 24, 2015

At the Movies: "Inception"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Christopher Nolan, 2010.

imbd score: 8.8 (imdb 250: #14)
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% Fresh

Inception is a movie made to be a middlebrow summer blockbuster. It's got the requisite gunplay, explosions, and computer-generated effects to pack in the crowds, but it also brings an intelligent script, strong acting, and strong art design to the table. Like Chistopher Nolan's earlier movie Memento, it has a nicely crafted non-linear narrative form. Both movies are a bit like puzzles, in that while watching them we have to perform a bit of mental work to figure out what is going on. Nolan has a gift for making the work involved just challenging enough to make the viewer feel pretty darn clever for being able to keep up, but simple enough that pretty much any dunce can follow along.

Among other virtues, Inception has a great beginning and a great ending. There are no opening titles; the action -- quite puzzling, at first -- simply begins. The opening few minutes establish that the lead characters are doing something, it's not clear quite what, in an exotic and highly ambiguous setting. Now, a couple of times later in the film, characters will distinguish between dreaming and waking life by saying that in waking life, you always know how you came to be where you are, but in dreams, you simply emerge into a situation. And the structure of Inception is such that, if you were to stop the film and bring up the lights at some random point, most viewers would probably have a tough time remembering how the movie started. So that's a neat trick. According to Inception's own definition, you emerge into it as into a dream.

The ending uses a striking visual device to create a simple but clever ambiguity, showing you that there are at least two ways to interpret all that has gone before. It's another neat trick.

Plot: So there's this technology that creates a virtual reality dreamspace, and guys who control it have apparently decided that its best and highest use is as a tool for industrial espionage. Their game is to, for instance, kidnap a powerful corporate dude, interact with him in a customized virtual reality environment, and trick his subconscious mind into spilling important corporate beans. Well, whatever. It is a premise that gives the filmmakers a great deal of latitude to create plot-friendly rules about how things work, and to knock themselves out with visual design, and they have cheerfully jumped at the opportunity. A few critics have attacked Inception for not creating an atmosphere that was more realistically dreamlike, but that's absurd. You can't say "no way, a virtual reality dreamspace wouldn't work like that," because there's no such thing as a virtual reality dreamspace.

Anyway, the plot of Inception involves an attempt to insert an new idea into a very rich young man's pretty little head. To do this, they hook him up to their dream machine and take off on adventures that involve complicated gun battles on city streets, complicated gun battles in a luxury hotel, and complicated gun battles in an isolated winter fortress. None of it really makes a heap of sense, but it holds together pretty well while you're watching it, and it's a lot of fun to look at.

Visuals: Inception is a real showcase of computer-generated special effects, in a good way. The scene where Paris is folded over on itself, the film's trademark image, is completely gratuitous. But it is also very impressive! It's a movie that is fun to watch.

Dialogue: Most of the dialog consists of characters rationing out the information we need to make sense of the special effects. But that's OK; the movie is stylish enough, and the actors strong enough, that it's easy to go along for the ride.

Prognosis: My opinion of Inception is necessarily dampened by the fact that, after watching it in 2010, I forgot all about it. When she saw that I had checked it out from the library a few weeks ago, Mrs.5000 told me we had watched it in the theater. "Really?" I said. Watching it now, in 2015, I knew that I had seen it before, but couldn't tell what was coming next. I think it may have blurred in my memory with two earlier movies that also experimented with narrative form and surrealist imagery, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York.

So, I've been nicely entertained by Inception twice, but I can't help think that if it was a truly great movie, I'd remember it a little better. Therefore:

Michael 5000's imdb rating: 7.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Third-Round Elimination: El Greco v. van der Goes!

This was not the match scheduled for today, but when Ghiberti v. Hunt ended in a 6-6 tie, it opened up the opportunity for a detour into Third Round Elmination.

El Greco and Hugo van der Goes have been rubbing elbows with household names all through this tournament. It was losing to the two of them, for instance, that shot Paul Gauguin to his surprisingly speedy exit. On the other hand, both of them have lost badly to Mr. Vincent Van Gogh. Now they face each other for a shot at the big time. Will van der Goes pull off another hairsbreadth win against a major opponent? Or will El Greco prevail? Let's find out!

Leaving us after very strong performances are Giulio Romano (3-2; 26 vf, 27 va) and Alberto Giacometti (2-2; 27 vf, 19 va). The latter's "batting average" of .587 ranks him 5th among the 153 artists whom have now been voted out of the Tournament.

El Greco
1541 - 1614
Greek; worked in Italy and Spain
  • Defeated Florentine master Benozzo Gozzoli in Round 1 in a contest that went down to the last vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Tied with Francisco Goya in Round 2. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
  • Stunned Paul Gauguin in a lopsided Round 2 tiebreaker.
  • Lost to somebody called Vincent van Gogh in Round 3.
  • Easily beat Giulio Romano in the Left Bracket Third Round.

Hugo van der Goes
1440 - 1482


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Element of the Month: Rutherfordium!

April's Real Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 267ish amu
Melting Point: possibly around 2100 °C
Boiling Point: possibly around 5500 °C

A few weeks ago, I published a post saying that the Element of the Month was Element #104, Londinium. That post was made in error. Element #104 is, in fact, Rutherfordium.

In the earlier post, I said that the first synthesis of Element #104 was contested between a Roman team led by G. Suetonius Paulinus and a Welsh team led by Boudica Iceni. Actually, first synthesis of Rutherfordium was contested between scientists at the USSR's Joint Institute of Nuclear Research and a team from the University of California. Seutonius Paulinus and Boudica's conflict was for control of the settlement of Londinium, in Roman Britain. I apologize for any confusion my mistake may have caused.

In the next paragraph, I noted that according to a major internet authority, Londinium is the first transactinide element and the first member of the 6d series of transition metals. This statement is actually true of Rutherfordium. We really are told by the Wiki that Rutherfordium's ionization potentials, atomic radius, as well as radii, orbital energies, and ground levels of its ionized states are similar to that of hafnium and very different from that of lead. That "very different from that of lead" part cracks me up. It's like saying "a zebra is shaped kind of like a horse, but not at all like a snake."

The Centerfold!
The Soviet team proposed the name Kurchatovium (Ku) for Element #104, in
honor of Igor Kurchatov (second from left), one-time chief of
Soviet nuclear research. Rutherfordium, the name that
was ultimately selected, was proposed by the American team.
In my previous post, I indicated that so-called Londinium was "widely used in cosmetics, paints, lotions, and food additives." I apologize for any confusion or harm that may have resulted from this misstatement. The synthetic Elements are subject to rapid radioactive decay, which gives consumer products made from them such a short shelf life as to be commercially unpractical.

A final error in the earlier piece was my citation of incorrect names for Elements #96 (Curium), #100 (Fermium), and #103 (Lawrencium). "Miraculum," "Militarium," and "Drumrolium" are in fact names of late Hadyn symphonies, or close enough. Despite pushing back on the theoretical frontiers of physics, modern science has not yet been able to produce a Haydn symphony numbered higher than #104, the "Londinium."  I can only apologize once more to any descendents and enthusiasts of Josef "Papa" Haydn and/or the great physicist Ernest Rutherford, in whose honor Rutherfordium was named, for any pain or anxiety that has resulted from my carelessness.

It is true, as I stated in the original article, that Element #104 is not generally found in nature. It seems very unlikely that it would really show up in the Oregon Vortex, but who really knows what goes on in that crazy place.

In a fiasco brought about by shoddy fact-checking in the Treasury Ministry, New Zealand placed the physicist Ernest
Rutherford on its new 100 dollar note.  Element 100, Fermium, is of course named not for Rutherford, but in honor of
the physicist Enrico Fermi.  Debate over whether to replace Rutherford's portrait with Fermi's, or even to create
an  unorthodox but scientifically accurate 104 dollar note, paralyzed the New Zealand parliament in 2004; public
disgust over the currency debacle led to sweeping landslides for the opposition in the next election.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Second-Round Elimination: Kiefer v. Cartier-Bresson!

Henri Cartier-Bresson and Anselm Kiefer both enter this contest with two wins and one loss.  Oddly, they have beaten the same two artists: Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Parkes Bonington.  Kelly and Bonington, of course, leave the Tournament this week on their second loss. 

It's a risky business, predicting future Tournament success from past performance.  But it's worth noticing that Cartier beat Kelly and Bonington by a lot, and Kiefer beat them, just barely.  We'll see if that means anything when the voting settles.

Anselm Kiefer
Born 1945
  • Defeated Ellsworth Kelly by a single vote in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Lost to fellow living artist Anish Kapoor in Round 2.
  • Snuck past Richard Parkes Bonington in the Left Bracket Second Round by a single flipped vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Henri Cartier-Bresson
1908 - 2004

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Saint of the Month: St. Agnes of Montepulciano!

Tiepolo painted this trio of Dominican saints with the
Virgin Mary.  St. Agnus of Montepulciano is on the lower
right, St.Rose of Lima is on the left, and St. Catherine
of Siena is in the middle.

St. Agnes of Montepulciano

Not to be confused with: St. Agnes, St. Agnes De, Blessed Agnes Galand, Blessed Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (AKA Mother Teresa), St. Agnes of Assisi, St. Agnes of Bohemia, St. Agnes of Jesus, St. Agnes of Langeac, St. Agnes of Poitiers, St. Agnes of Prague, St. Agnes of Rome, or Blessed Josepha Maria of Saint Agnus.

Feast Day: April 20.

Really Existed? Yes.
Timeframe: 1268-1713.
Place: Tuscany.

Credentials: Canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII.

Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: No known patronage.
Symbolism: "In art, Saint Agnes is a Dominican abbess (white habit, black mantle) with a lamb, lily, and book. She might also be portrayed (1) gazing at the Cross, a lily at her feet, (2) with the Virgin and Child appearing to her; (3) with the sick healed at her tomb; (4) with Saint Catherine of Siena; or (5) as patroness of Montepulciano, of which she holds a model in her hand."

To be quite honest, I chose St. Agnes of Montepulciano for today because "Montepulciano" is such a delightful placename. I figured she must be a really obscure saint. I was wrong! She's definitely up in the major-minors, mentioned in almost any list of saints with designs on inclusiveness.

There is a fair degree of agreement on the facts of her life, although the conditions under which she returned to her hometown of Montepulciano to become the prioress there are told differently in different places. More sober references tend to shy away from talking about her miracle stories, but there are plenty of them, and the less scholarly sources really pile 'em on.

Here, then, is a summary of St. Angnes' life as told in ten different sources.  Almost everyone agrees that she entered the convent at about age nine, and most sources have her becoming abbess at age 15; it's often claimed that this required special papal dispensation.  At some point, she goes back to Montepulciano to become the Prioress of a new institution there.  Some say that the people of Montepulciano built the priory to lure her back, and others say that she returned in order to found the priory, but this is a modest contradiction and it is easy to imagine a scenario in which both statements would be true.  There is unanimity on the date of her death, and the main difference between accounts really boils down to how many miracles, or folk tales, are thrown into the mix.

The account at the St. Patrick Catholic Church website is snaffled wholesale from Marie Jean Dorcy's St. Dominic's Family, but I paid 'em back in kind by borrowing their text for "symbolism," above.

Happy Feast of St. Agnes of Montepulciano!  Sorry there's no Monday Quiz -- I compiled the chart before realizing that I had picked a Monday saint, and by then there was no turning back.

New Monday Quiz Answers, in a timely fashion

Due to a clerical error, there will be no Monday Quiz Today.  But here's a pretty good one from 2008 that you can take or re-take instead, if you like.

The New Monday Quiz Celebrates April 13th

1. Henry V became Holy Roman Emperor on April 13, 1111.
2. The Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople starting on April 13, 1204.
3. April 13th, 1570, was Guy Fawkes' Birthday!
4. Handel's Messiah debuted on April 13, 1742. It is after all an Easter cantata.
5. Hungary became a republic on April 13, 1849. It didn't last long until it was absorbed back into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
6. April 13th, 1860, was James Ensor's Birthday!
7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was founded on April 13, 1870.
8. Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky Competition -- "Competitive piano-ing," as DrSchnell notes -- on April 13, 1958. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
9. The Apollo 13 incident began with an oxygen tank rupturing on April 13, 1970. The money line is apparently "Houston, we have had a problem," but Lovell, Swigert, and Haise would continue to experience the problem over the next several days.
10. On April 13, 1987, Portugal and China (PRC) decided that Macao would transfer from one to the other in 1999. "That will never happen," I was still saying, several years later.

I haven't satisfied myself that this is a true story, necessarily, but it's often said that when they heard Van Cliburn, the Soviet judges put a nervous call through to Nikita Krushchev, who asked "Is he the best? Then give him the prize."

Was Christine M. the best on this quiz of events that occurred on April 13th? Yes she was!! Then give her the prize!