Monday, September 26, 2011

So...

...how about we call it a September holiday, and we'll kick off again this weekend for the first of October.  Life in the biospace has been rich, is all.  Hope you're having fun too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Absence of the Wednesday Quiz as Explained in the Mythic Tradition

Night-dark Caliban the HouseCat knew that man-Michael was gone.  He saw Sue, fair-haired book-crafting Sue without Michael, and watched her meet her friends who had other lifestyles, who had different priorities and different values than those of the house of Caliban, and Michael, and Sue.   He knew too that there were many places in the city, places like pool halls and wine bars and all manner of gathering places, that would welcome Sue’s custom in Michael’s absence.  But Sue seemed untempted by these other possibilities, and returned every night to her studio to pursue her craft.

Caliban the HouseCat, loud-yowling, looked where he could for far-roaming Michael, but did not find him in the back garden, nor in the neighbor’s (in back and diagonal) yard through the gap in the fence, nor in front of the house by the great glossy-green rhododendron.  Therefore went he to ever-patient Sue to ask her where he might find the absent wayfarer of the macadam.  “Mrao?” he asked.  “Good boy,” said Sue.

Michael, road-weary, white-truck-driving, wandered through the lands of the east in strange patterns.  He had gone to make contest with the swift-limbed people of Idaho on racing fields, but after that, pursued himself by odd fancies, had found it difficult to return.  For many hours he wandered through the Saw-Toothed Mountains of Idaho, on roads that seemed direct on maps but in fact proved indirect and meandering, a maze for the sun-weary traveler.  Weary and hungry from travel, he was told by the woman at the inn that there was no room for him there, that there had been “overbooking,” but that she could arrange other lodgings for him.  In calculating spirit, innkeeper, she made to send him to inns of great price, in locations yet farther from his home, but crafty Michael, road-cunning, eluded her trickeries and found a cheap place by the freeway.

Auguries and strange adventures continually lured home-faring Michael from his true course.  In the county of Malheur, a man of Denmark blocked his way through the hills.  In the county of Grant three old women, eyes hidden behind smoke-dark glass, bade him render a picture of them.  In the county of Crook, he was startled by the deer and the owl and a strange maiden of the deep forest, dog-walking.  Truth: One night he was drawn from his inn by a strange desire, and found himself in a silent, ink-black forest, utterly alone.  On the day following, his journey home was blocked by a strange but powerful river across the desert, which to swim or ford would be certain peril.  In a strange land roamed Michael of many roads.

Yet after seven days of wandering, the Goddess of Wisdom guided Michael home to his house and lands in the county of Multnomah, in Portland, in Oregon, the City of Roses, where he was master of the heart and hearth, or at least wise co-signatee to the mortgage thereto.  And there he met, with surging heart, ebon Caliban, faithful feline, and picked him up, and told him he was a Good Boy.  And there too he saw Sue, working at her studio, and they embraced, and Michael said to her “Is not our lifestyle a good one?  Better, for us, than those of your friends?  Better than those available, at a price, from the merchants of the city?”  And far-walking, plan-drafting Sue, artisan of books, agreed that it was a lifestyle of much merit, and she welcomed the homecoming of road-dusty Michael, enthusiast of exploration.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is tall, tapered, four-sided, and has a little pyramid on top.

It's:



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!!  With a minor twist that will probably make it rather difficult at first!  


Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

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

1. Most of its population lives in a long, narrow strip at the base of the Wasatch Mountains.

2. Perhaps the largest India-based company is an enormously diversified, privately-held, family-controlled firm. Its motor vehicles division owns the Jaguar and Land Rover brands as well as producing its own "Nano," the least expensive road car in the world. What is the name of this economic giant?

3. The Babylonians looked back at him as the man who
had neither rival nor equal. His splendor, over the lands it diffused. He crossed the sea in the east. In the eleventh year he conquered the western land to its farthest point. He brought it under one authority. He set up his statues there and ferried the west's booty across on barges. He stationed his court officials at intervals of five double hours and ruled in unity the tribes of the lands.
After establishing himself as the king of Kish, he went on to conquer the city-states of Sumeria and found the Akkadian Empire, possibly the first large, multi-ethnic, centrally controlled political entity in history. Who was this remarkable guy?

4. This Wikipedia entry on a noted British rock band of the 1960s is written in what language?



5. What's the name of the state shown here in orange?



6. What opera contributed two of its arias, "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So," to the list of American jazz standards?

7. It's tall, tapered, four-sided, and has a little pyramid on top. That makes it a classic ____________.



8. It begins after Moses receives the law, but ends before the Israelites are allowed to enter the Promised Land.

9. He didn't really "invent radio," but he was the first guy to make the technology usable and useful. Close enough.

10. The Canadian province that people call "Newfoundland" isn't just the island of Newfoundland; it also includes a big chunk of the North American mainland. This mainland area has two-thirds of the province's area, but only about a twentieth of its population. What's it called?

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Contribute your answers to the list of American jazz standards.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Henry IV part 2 (OSF, 2011)


The Play: Henry IV part 2.
Directed by: Lisa Peterson, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Genre & Setting: Have we even done a history yet? This is one of the histories. It was set in period costume, except for the allegorical character of “rumor,” who dressed in a Rolling Stones concert shirt. You know, with the mouth and tongue logo.  Not a choice I would have made, but you can see what they were driving at.

This performance was in the OSF’s open-air Elizabethan theater, which on a warm summer night is probably the best place on the planet to watch a play. As as the sun sets over the Bear Creek Valley and the stars start to come out, you could enjoy just about anything that happened onstage. Seriously. We watched Henry VIII there in ’09 and had a great time, that’s what an awesome setting it is. Anyway: the nature of the theater tends to demand a spare, abstract set.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: King Henry IV came to the throne through a series of dubious successions and untimely deaths. It would be great if the Prince of Wales could step up and show some promise of giving England some continuity and strong leadership when the time for the next succession rolls around.  Unfortunately, young Hal is spending his youth slumming with bawds, drunks, hookers, and other lowlife. In particular, he spends a lot of time with Sir John Falstaff, a fat, lazy, corrupt, cynical, worthless, and highly witty and charismatic ruffian. Someday, you think, someday Prince Hal is going to have to make a tough choice between his royal responsibilities and his lowbrow lifestyle.

Henry IV, part 2 is, as the name suggests, part of a series. Henry IV, part 1 comes before it! Henry V comes after it. The plays would be more sensibly be named Henry V parts 1, 2, & 3, since Henry IV is only a supporting character throughout, and the attention is always firmly fixed on (Hal/Henry V).  But whatevs. The OSF, which understands the concept of “repeat business,” is putting the three plays on in three consecutive years, and we saw part 1 last summer and are looking forward to the thrilling conclusion next year, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

A note on the relationship between part I and part II: they are the same play. Sure, there are different speeches, different key scenes, different wrinkles in the resolution of armed conflict, but – at the plot level, at least – if you have seen the one, you have seen the both. Indeed, since Hal most follow the same arc from bad boy to noble prince in both plays, one is left wondering about the missing but interesting chapter in-between, the bit where he relapsed. I’d like to hear more about that!

Why would Shakespeare write the same play twice? Well, duh, why did they make Jaws II? The original must have been a hit. A reasonable guess is that the jolly character of Falstaff must have stolen the show. Indeed, I believe that after his tenure in the Henry IVs Shakespeare trotted him out again, in a different setting and century, for Merry Wives of Windsor. On the other hand, he addresses the audience directly at the end of part II to say “See all y'all in Henry V,” but doesn’t end up appearing in that play after all. So who knows.

The Adaptation: Good! The comic bits were funny, the serious bits were serious, the climaxes were climactic, and the abstract bits were pulled off nicely. I could always understand what was going on, and keep track of who was whom. It made me reflect a little on the nature of authority and responsibility. What more could you ask from a history play?

Prognosis: Hie thee to the Elizabethan Theater some summer night.  It's pretty sweet.  And as before, I highly recommend having a brother in Ashland, as it makes seeing plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival both convenient and affordable!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Agasse v. Albers

Jacques-Laurent Agasse
1767-1848
Swiss; worked in England




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Josef Albers
1888-1976
German; worked in the United States




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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.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is used to come down from recreational use of stimulants

It's:



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!!  With a minor twist that will probably make it rather difficult at first!  


Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

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

1. This 1965 ballad has been voted the best pop song of all time on numerous occasions. It is often credited, including by several editions of the Guiness Book of World Records, as being the most-covered song of all time (It obviously isn't -- "Summertime" probably beats it by a factor of ten, for instance -- but still: lots of covers). Although it was written and performed by a single man (with a string backing), it is officially and legally credited to a songwriting duo. Name that tune.

2. Alprazolam is a medication primarily used to treat anxiety and panic disorders.  Out on the street, it is used to come down from recreational use of stimulants. What's its more commonly known trade name?

3. It has been claimed that she is the most influential woman in the world. It has also been claimed that she is the richest African American. No less an authority than Vanity Fair opined that she "arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope." Who are we talked about here?

4. Who is it that decides whether or not you die in battle, and then -- if it is to be -- leads you to Valhalla?

5. It is almost impossible to spell the name of this staple instrument of Irish folk music, but give it a shot just the same.



6. It's that word that means "the belief that purpose and design are a part of or are apparent in nature." (e.g. "human eyes evolved so that we can have good depth perception," so stated, is a ____________ical argument.)

7. The Czech composer known for his jolly opera The Bartered Bride, the concert staple "The Moldau," and his awesome first name, Bedřich.

8. Here are some previews of upcoming events, according to ____________.





9. First compiled in the 630s, it is divided into 114 suras.

10. It's the director and stars of _____________!


--

Put your answers in the comments (with a string backing).  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cartographic Stamps

Being a miscellany of map-related postage stamps from the recently rediscovered collection of my late grandfather.

















Monday, September 5, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Measure for Measure (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2011)

The Play: Measure for Measure.

Directed by: Bill Rauch, Artistic Director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Genre & Setting: When we last encountered Measure for Measure – in the BBC version, which of course sucked – I described it as “One of the comedies, but more in the old-fashioned sense of “giving away that there’s a happy ending” than in the modern sense of “funny.” This time around, I’m upgrading it to a “serious comedy,” a play that blends plentiful comic elements with dark dramatic situations and a reasonably brisk critique of the idea of legislating morality.

The OSF’s production was set in “The City of Venice,” a modern American town with a sizeable Hispanic population. And a duke. It is framed by a set of songs, in Spanish, by a remarkably talented female mariachi trio. Shakespeare didn’t exactly specify this treatment in the stage directions, but they didn’t really have mariachi back then, and anyway Shakespeare’s stage directions are notoriously minimalist.

The Gist: The Duke heads out of town, or so he says, leaving an inexperienced but morally impeccable assistant, Antonio, in charge. Antonio is a big believer in the rule of law, and quickly sets about enforcing statutes that, though still on the books, have been ignored for decades. As a case in point, he condemns a young dude named Claudio to death for having got a young woman with child, despite that the young woman enjoyed the process and is making no complaints.

Claudio’s sister Isabella, a… novitiate, is it? No, apparently novice is the word. Apprentice nun sort of thing. Anyway, she goes to Angelo to plead on her brother’s behalf. She’s sharp as a tack, Isabella is, but her various arguments all break against Angelo’s the-law-is-the-law obstinacy. Except!  As they argue Angelo starts to find this lovely, intelligent woman rather alluring. He wrestles with temptation for a while, but not all that long really, before radically compromising his commitment to morality, law, and chastity all in one fell swoop, offering Isabella a pardon that will spare her brother’s life if she will get horizontal with him.

Isabella decides that she’d rather have her virtue than her brother, a decision that both she and Claudio understandably have mixed feelings about. Fortunately -- I guess -- the Duke has snuck back into town disguised as a friar to check up on how Angelo is doing. And it’s at this point that Measure for Measure, like a lot of Shakespeare’s plays, makes the leap from an interesting set-up into sheer creepy weirdness. For the Duke doesn’t just undisguise himself in order to impress on Angelo the concept of precedent, the virtues of moderation, or the quality of mercy [hint: it isn't strained].  No, he sets into motion a batshit scheme that involves (1) executing random prisoners so that people, seeing a corpse, will think their loved ones have been killed; (2) pulling a switcheroo so that somebody has sex with person A thinking that they are having sex with person B; and (3) letting several people believe they have been condemned to death in order to teach them a lesson. Or maybe just for a laugh. It’s hard to tell. One wonders what period audiences would have made of the Duke; to a modern crowd, he’s somewhere between eerily capricious and certifiable.

The Adaptation: I don’t know if they talk about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival out your way, but here in the Beaver State we think of it as quite the deal. It is a most-of-the-year festival in the charming little tourist/college town of Ashland, down near the California border, one of a medium sized cluster of towns but very remote indeed from major population centers. They keep eight or nine plays going a day during the high season, and they are always pretty top notch as far as I can tell. With this caveat: I grew up in a town of 2200 and was under the impression for much of my early life that Coos Bay, Oregon, was a “big city.” I think it stands to reason that anything I might have to say about live theater can be dismissed out of hand.

The OSF’s present-day framing of the play was idiosyncratic, but it worked in part just because of the strength of the musicians. It also opened the door to other weirdnesses, like an executioner who resembled a sinister, taciturn Michael Jackson, and a slate of minor characters including a drag queen, a pimp, and sundry other pop culture stereotypes. All were played for laughs with plenty of physical humor and sight gags, which helped keep things appropriately comic.  We were entertained.

And really, people who stage this Measure for Measure must really wrestle with how to leave people feeling amused at the end of it. After all, up until the last few minutes the Duke allows Isabella to believe that her brother has been beheaded because she wouldn’t put out for Angelo.  That isn't funny. Neither is the endgame, in which the Duke suddenly unveils a relieved Claudio – surprise! – scolds Angelo, wraps up a subplot (I'm talking about Lucio, for those of you following along in the text) with another draconian bit of despotism, and then gives Isabella the happy news that he has been so impressed with her that she gets to marry him! Here are the final lines of the play as written:
Dear Isabel,
I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto if you'll a willing ear incline,
What's mine is yours and what is yours is mine.
So, bring us to our palace; where we'll show
What's yet behind, that's meet you all should know.
What the OSF did with this, quite brilliantly I thought, was to have the Duke stop after “what is yours is mine,” leaving it hanging in the air as a proposal rather than a command. Isabella, portrayed very reasonably as more stunned than delighted by the Duke’s offer, slowly moved to mid-stage, where a podium and microphone had been set up for the Duke’s earlier welcome-home speech. She bent to the microphone, drew breath to give her answer, and the theater cut immediately to black. It was a surprising and very funny way to end the play without compromising Isabella for a modern audience, at the cost only of what is in any event a pretty weak closing couplet.

Prognosis: Nice! I highly recommend having a brother in Ashland, as it makes seeing plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival both convenient and affordable!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


THE BUCCANEER RED CARPET INN
Naples, Florida 33939

A Resort Motel on U.S. 41 at North city limits -- 2 Heated pools -- Parsley Sage Dining room and Cocktail Lounge -- One half mile to the Gulf of Mexico -- AAA approved.
Phone: 813-261-1148
P.O. Box 1616

Provenance: Purchased at a postcard dork trade show, April 2011.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Flag Friday XXXIII


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.


Singapore


Parsons: With "Too many stars," it earns a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: Singapore stumbled into national existence a little less deliberately than most countries, and the flag was apparently come up with on the quick.  In a country with mixed Chinese and Muslim citizenry, you could do worse than to join the five stars of the Chinese flag and the crescent of Islam.  However, you could do better than to go with the red and white horizontals, especially being only one country over from enormous Indonesia.
Grade: B



Slovakia


Parsons: "Quite a nice flag. Definitely beats Solvenia [sic] and Czech Republic, both of which are much nicer places to visit." This rates it a "B+", 79/100.

Michael5000: We come to the first of two consecutive entries in the New Eastern Europe Axis of Sameness.  Slovakia has a solid historical claim to its white, blue, red horizontal tricolor, having first used it back in the heady year of 1848.  But then, a LOT of Eastern European countries use red, white, and blue in their flags; the blend is sometimes called the "pan-Slavic" colors in the same what that red, gold, and green are called the "pan-African" colors.  (Note: some non-Slavic countries also use a combination of red, white, and blue in their flags).

The private-school crest on Slovokia's flag is moderne.  I think I like it, even though it kind of looks like something a Boy Scout might get for having installed signposts along a trail network.  The new flag, with its seal, was adopted in 1992.

Grade: B+


Slovenia




Parsons: It's "too busy," and garners only a "C," 55/100.

Michael5000: We come to the second of two consecutive entries in the New Eastern Europe Axis of Sameness.  Slovenia has a solid historical claim to its white, blue, red horizontal tricolor, having first used it back in the heady year of 1848.  But then, a LOT of Eastern European countries use red, white, and blue in their flags; the blend is sometimes called the "pan-Slavic" colors in the same what that red, gold, and green are called the "pan-African" colors.  (Note: some non-Slavic countries also use a combination of red, white, and blue in their flags).

The private-school crest on Slovenia's flag -- made all the more private-school looking by having it smaller, closer to the flagpole, and higher -- is moderneand I can't decide if I like it.   It kind of looks like something a Boy Scout might get for exhibiting expertise in orienteering.  The new flag, with its seal, was adopted in 1991 "following a long and controversial dispute about the coat of arms of the new Republic."  Gosh, that must have been fun!

Grade: B



Solomon Islands


Parsons: Also "Too busy" and with "Too many stars," the flag of the Solomon Islands gets a "B," 70/100.

Michael5000:   Not wildly imaginative, but gets points for coming up with a new way of combining simple geometric elements into a distinctive, quickly recognizable whole quite late (1977) in the flag-design game.  You aren't going to confuse it with Slovenia, that's for sure.  Five stars, incidentally, for five main island chains.

Grade: A-


Somalia


Parsons: "I think this one beats Vietname [sic] by just a little," writes Parsons, "owing to superior colour choice and a smaller star." With "Good Colours," a "Good Shape," and being "Simple," it gets an "A", 86/100.

Michael5000: I want to like the Somali flag, and indeed it makes a terrific indoor flag.  At any gathering of African folks, you can always find the Somalis right away; nobody else on the continent is rocking a color even close to baby blue.  But flags, like butterflies, are made to fly, and the photograph here shows why a sky-blue and white flag loses some of its oomph in situ.  Some red or black trim could really make this sucker pop!  But alas.

Grade: B