Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Boucher v. Boudin

François Boucher
1703 - 1770


Eugène Boudin
1824 - 1898


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, March 30, 2012

The Final Finite Flag Friday

...and by fair, free, and open vote, we single out Fiji as having a flag that is not especially good, as national flags go.  In our humble collective opinion.

...and by the will of the people...

The Flag of Canada emerges the victor of March Madness 2012!!

(They also have an awesome national anthem.  Seldom is a country so blessed with patriotic symbolism, or boreal forests.)

We hope you have enjoyed Flag Friday and the Finite Flag Tournament.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Month to Month Resolutions: April 2012

Once again hath the celestial satellite sped on her rounds, and thus is it time for the month-to-month business!

Categories and Goals for April 2012

This month saw the first real lapse in the Categories and Goals discipline, especially in week three. There are certain reasons I could cite, but I think also that most programs lose their momentum after a couple of months. Well, that’s why it’s month-to-month, innit! We rededicate ourselves to the task.

Weighing-in: IAt the beginning of the month, I indicated that there would be a financial penalty for every day I remained above 200 pounds. A few days into the penalty, I am already a few bucks in default. This is somewhat to my surprise, as I have been for the most part “doing things right.” We shall continue to do things right, and trust that eventually there will be payoff.
  • April Goal: I will continue to weigh myself every morning in the established manner, and the late-March financial penalty of 10 cents per tenth of a pound over 200 pounds, daily, will continue through April.

  • BELOVED READERS! On what should this money be spent? Mrs.5000 has suggested “extra treats,” thinking it would be interesting to set up a runaway cycle of explosive weight gain, but I don’t think she really wants that in her heart of hearts. I feel that the money should go either to something reflecting the goal of weight loss and fitness, or to some direct or indirect benefit to you, the blog readership. I am eager to entertain options.

Push-ups: My February goal of doing two sets of push-ups equal to the date was no problem.
  • April Goal: I wish to perform 60 push-ups a day. This can be in two sets of 30 or three of 20, or whatever. Mrs.5000 may still bark “give me ten!” if she wants, but she has tended to forget that she has this privilege.

Pull-ups: This is a new category.
  • April Goal: I have purchased a pull-up thingy. My goal is to assemble it during the first week of the month, and then to try to work towards a state of being where I am capable of doing pull-ups. It doesn’t really make sense to put a numerical value on this, as I’m far from sure I am able to do a single pull-up at this point. If I’m able to use this piece of equipment to do that exercise where you pull your knees up, I’ll try to do, oh, ten of those a day.

Cola: I will formally implement a concept that proved efficacious in March.
  • March Goal: Again, to consume no more than twelve units of cola per week.

  • April Goal: Steady – no fewer than five units per week.

Paper Mail Sent: This continues to be an easy one for me.
  • April Goal: Steady: an average of at least one item per day over the course of the month.

Writing Projects:
  • April Goal: A minimum of six hours a fortnight.

Garden: I found that my March goal of “At least two days of sustained (2+ hours) yardwork” was problematic, tending to discourage me from taking opportunities to do, say, 45 minutes of yardwork, since it “wouldn’t count.”
  • April Goal: At least three hours of yardwork per fortnight!

Music: Music Goals will be removed for the time being.

Quilting: I scorched the quilting goals in March! It was pretty cool.
  • April Goal: Steady Three hours per fortnight spent on quilting tasks. Quilting handwork performed in a multitasking context counted at 50%.

By the way, after quite a bit of puzzling about what I would do to replace the old “run every street” map that I finished last month...

...I’ve decided to do a new “run every street” map.

For some reason that I can’t even begin to explain, this seems like great fun, whereas running the same map a second time seems like it would be pointless tedium.

Footnote 1: For weekly goals, the first week of April begins Monday, April 2.
Footnote 2: For fortnightly goals, the first fortnight of March begins Monday, April 2.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Wednesday Post

"The Stamp Collectors Stockbook": Page 2
From the Estate of Grandpa5000

Page two:

At a guess, I'd say that these stamps are Belgian, from about 1897!

It is even reasonable to assume that these stamps are part of the hype surrounding the Brussels Expo '97, a big confab that showcased the best of the art deco movement and the worst of King Leopold's rapine colonial excesses.  From a paper ephemera point of view, I am fascinated by the little tabs on the bottom that say "Don't Deliver on Sunday."  The idea of these seems to be that if you, the sender, felt strongly that mailmen should keep the Sabbath, you would keep the tab intact and your letter would be put aside for delivery on Monday.  If you didn't mind the idea of mailmen working on Sunday, you would remove the tab, and the postal carrier would set out on the Sabbath with your letter in his slightly lighter-than-usual mailbag.  It's an idea utterly charming in its unabashedly impractical practicality.

Hmm, what can we find out about these surprisingly similar "Service" stamps from Indore and Holkar States?

Alrighty, it would appear that Indore State was one of the patchwork of puppet monarchies that made up much of British colonial India, and that Holkar was the name of its ruling dynasty.  Thus, Indore State and Holkar State were perhaps more or less synonymous?  Part of modern Madhya Pradesh, anyway, smack in the middle of the country.  And the "SERVICE" overprint was apparently common South Asian practice for stamps that would be used in guvment work, presumably in an attempt to prevent the petty use of postage bought on the public anna for personal use or, say, the massive resale for personal profit of boxes and boxes of postage bought on the public anna.  I speculate.

Hmm, here's an item that seems to suggest a certain instability of political conditions in the Azores.  Have the Azores ever even been independent, much less a Republica?

OK, it turns out that the Azores have been part of Portugal for as far back as we need to worry about.  There was a 62-year period that Portugal overprinted stamps with "Azores," presumably to prevent the theft of box after box of postage out in the isles and their subsequent fencing back in the mainland.  Three issues, including this here Vasco de Gama stamp, were actually custom-designed for the Azores.  The "Republica" overprint suggests that this stamp was around in or after 1910, when the Portuguese monarchy was overthrown and the unstable, sixteen year First Republic was eager to announce its arrival in town.

Footnote: the Wiki says that Portugal started printing separate stamps for the Azores again in 1980.  "The stamps have no special purpose beyond the expression of local pride," it says.  Can anyone here think of any other possible special purpose for this decision of the Portuguese postal authorities?!?
Aside: I find myself startled by what a great entry point into modern history stamps are.  I can't pretend that this is the source of my interest -- I think I just like colorful old paper things -- but it's turning into a mildly fabulous side effect.  It helps, in a way, that stamps are still difficult to research directly, since the internet as a whole is much more interested in selling them to you than explaining them to you.  So, you kind of have to do the footwork yourself, which is a pretty cool history homework assignment.

Then too, intermixed with all of these older stamps of uncertain origin are whatever happened across my grandfather's field of vision.  It would appear that he got a letter from Australia.

Australia is a large island nation located north of Antarctica.

Venezia Giulia?  Hmmm....

Aw, man!  "Venezia Giulia" means the "Julian March!"  It's a term made up in the 19th Century to designate a stretch of terrain encompassing what's now northeastern Italy and bits of Croatia and Slovenia.  At the end of World War I, this chunk of the Hapsburg Empire was granted to Italy, with the usual attendant wave of ethnic cleansings and human miseries.  But the mail kept running, and for the next seven years local postage was provided with either Italian or leftover Austro-Hungarian stamps with this overprint.

This here is a stamp from the Kingdom of Montenegro:

L. Harrald Kjellstedt, writing in 1911, proclaimed that "The courage and bravery, and intense patriotism of the people of Montenegro displayed during a struggle for independence covering 400 years have secured them the respect and admiration of every liberty-loving nation in Europe."  Well, that's as may be.  When he wrote, Montenegro had been kinda-sorta independent since 1878; this 1910 stamp was part of the celebration of their finally installing a king (as was then still thought proper) and really getting their act together as a country.  Nicolas I would preside over the Kingdom of Montenegro for six years, at which point geopolitical events would snuff out Montenegran independence until 2006.  Last year, the Montenegran parliament created a ceremonial role for Nicolas I's great-grandson, Nicolas II, as a sort of bid for historical continuity.  Knowing nothing of Montenegro's internal affairs, I nevertheless find this gesture kind of... I dunno... hearty.  I wish the Montenegrans success and joy in their constitutional-monarchical scheme!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 2: Bernini v. Bierstadt

Gianlorenzo Bernini
1598 - 1680
Trounced German conceptual installation artist Josef Beuys in Round 1


Albert Bierstadt
1830 - 1902
German-born American
Defeated fellow 19th Century American in a powerhouse Round 1 match-up.


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.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare at the Movies: The Tempest (Taymor, 2011)

The Play: The Tempest.
Directed by: Julie Taymor, 2011.

Ebert: Two and a half stars*

I had been looking forward to Julie Taymor’s adaptation of The Tempest for more than a year, both because I had seen an awesome awesome trailer and because Taymor’s 1999 Titus is one of the awesomest awesomest adaptations of ol’ Bill Shakespeare to have ever hit the silver screen. But then it didn't seem to hit the local theaters, or at least not for long, and then there were worrying insinuations from Shakespearean sources close to this blog that this Tempest, well, sucked.

So, I ended up watching with quite a bit of anxiety. And when the first few minutes turned out to be rather weak, my anxiety deepened. The initial scene of the imperiled ship was just a bunch of unintelligible shouting and crashing waves and what-not, and then the actual sinking of the ship was an acutely cringeworthy six or seven seconds of screen time. At this point, I was afraid I was in for a dreadful couple of hours.

But I wasn’t! After the ship sinks and its passengers stumble onto dry land, Tempest suddenly gets very good, and it stays very good for the duration.

Genre & Setting: As discussed in previous takes on the Tempest, the play is filed under the meaning-deficient label of “Romance.” The movie is what you’d call an “art-house flick.”

Tempest was filmed in Hawaii, which allows “the island” to contain hyperbolic extremes of spectacularly barren and spectacularly lush and verdant land. Costuming and visual design has a kind of contemporary-Rennaisancey-steampunk edge to it. It looks great. Having said this, the special effects, especially those involving Ariel, have a decisions-had-to-be-made-within-an-arthouse-budget CGI feel to them, and don’t always look great.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: Post-shipwreck, The Tempest basically runs on four parallel tracks.
1) The Lords: You’ve got the king of Naples, who thinks he’s just lost his son to drowning; Gonzalo, a good-natured chatterbox a la Polonius; Prospero’s – or in this version, Prospera’s – brother and deposer, Antonio; and Sebastian, the King’s younger brother. Unlike in all previous versions of The Tempest I’ve seen, Taymor actually manages to keep these four guys easily distinguishable from each other. Not only can you tell them apart, but their verbal interplay, in which Antonio and Sebastian keep up a running sarcastic commentary on Gonzalo’s garrulous attempts at conversation, is rendered so that it actually seems plausibly natural. Gonzalo comes off as a sympathetic guy, but we can also tell why the younger guys think he’s a joke and why, now that they are cast up on a desert island and seem to have nothing to lose, they feel like they can get away with insulting him more or less to his face. And when two of this foursome decide to do away with the other two, you can actually tell why. The clarity of this branch of the story counts as a big win in my book. 
2) Caliban and the Rustics: Caliban, everybody’s favorite monster, is terrifically acted (by Djimon Hounsou) in a performance that seems to take the voluminous post-colonial school of Tempest criticism in stride without becoming slave to it. Stephano and Trinculo, members of the King’s household staff who stumble upon Caliban and are recruited by him to supplant Prospero ('Ban, 'Ban, Ca-caliban! Has a new master! Get a new man!) are not only differentiated one from the other, but rendered with individual personalities that explain why Stephano ends up as the titular boss of the triumvirate. 
3) Ferdinand and Miranda. The King’s son meets Prospero’s daughter. He’s the first dude her own age she has ever seen, and he thinks she’s pretty hot, and they are immediately coming on to each other like a house afire. All that’s really required of them is that they be young, pretty, and able to render Shakespearean language, and these qualities are more than adequately taken care of here. In addition, the dude (Reeve Carney) can sing – sez here he’s in production in the lead roll of a biopic about the late Jeff Buckley – and he scorches up a rendition of “O Mistress Mine Where are you Roaming?” (which song however I believe was smuggled in from Twelfth Night. But what the hell. It works).
4) Prospero and Ariel. Well, Prospero is a woman, Prospera, in this one. Why? Not really sure. But the father-daughter relationship, as Mrs.5000 observed afterwards, survived the transition to a mother-daughter relationship without too much trouble. The flawed old wizard is handled nicely (by Helen Mirren, a very good brand-name actress) as a curmudgeon in possession of more power than wisdom – which is, I think, the most reasonable interpretation of Shakespeare’s text. 
Ariel, the good boy of the wizard’s two slaves, is generally the weak link of the Tempest in my modest viewing experience. That is true here too, although I will say that Ariel in Taymor’s staging is easily the least obtrusively annoying Ariel I’ve yet seen!
The Adaptation: I guess I kind of folded my adaptation notes into my gist notes.

Clocks In At: About two hours.

Pros: Lovely to look, at and possessed of unusual clarity: you always know what is happening and why. The action bits are exciting, the funny bits are funny, and the otherworldly vibe of the mysterious, magical island is kept up throughout.

Cons: Starts off on the wrong foot, and doesn’t establish itself until the second act. Nor was I especially impressed with the ending, where Prospero’s farewell speech is sung very, very slowly over the end credits. I was hoping for a quirkier send-off then that.

Prognosis: Knowing that it’s good – pay no attention to that Rotten Tomatoes score, those people are all Philistines and half-wits – I’m looking forward to watching it again with more confidence in a few months. I think it will be fun to re-watch without the lurking fear that it’s all going to fall apart in the final reel.

*It is not one of Ebert's better reviews. He states as fact the rather antique notion that “The only way to read Shakespeare's “The Tempest” is as a farewell; a play written, if you will, for his retirement banquet…” and his main complaint is that the tone of the adaptation doesn’t match this dubious reading of the play.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Botero v. Botticelli

Fernando Botero
born 1932
Colombian; works in France


Sandro Botticelli
1445 - 1510


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, March 23, 2012

Finite Flag Tournament: The Finals

Well!  I was certainly relieved when I saw that that Fair and Balanced seeding process of this March Madness tournament had placed Israel and Canada in separate brackets.  Obviously, everybody has their personal favorites -- and let me give a shout-out here to the Kazakh sun-and-eagle, yo!  But when you look at flag designs that most people admire (and, perhaps importantly, that they can articulate a reason for admiring), there are almost two categories: Canada and Israel, and all of the other ones.  

Was I right?  Let's count the votes!
  • Israel 14, Japan 6.
  • Canada 14, Albania 5.
For the curious, I would have voted with the winners in both.

Which brings us to 

The Finals!!

Israel v. Canada

The Sideshow!

Including the play-in round, we've gone through the best 43 flags in the world according to the 5000/Parsons combined scores.  But what about the worst?  It turns out that there are two flags tied for the worst score, both having received a "D" from each crabby critic.  Which is the worst flag of all?  Let's decide it once and for all right here, right now.

Belize v. Fiji

Votes go in the comments, or however you like getting them to me.  As always on this interactive online entertainment, purely anonymous votes are not counted.  Specific votes that are explicitly based on extravexillogical factors are cheerfully tossed out as well.  In the Belize v. Fiji action, you'll probably want to clarify whether you are saying that one is BETTER or WORSE than the other.

Next Week: On the last Flag Friday -- unless! some brave soul takes up the eternal quest on their own, to follow the brave trail forged by Parsons and 5000, and contributes a third voice to the important business of critiquing the flags of the world!  But as I was saying, next week we will be able to establish with all due confidence the BEST flag in the world, the WORST flag in the world, and the BEST statement to the effect that "the so-called worst ones are just as good as the so-called best ones," or "I'd choose (Belize/Fiji) over (Canada/Israel) any day," or "there were a lot of bad calls in that game," etc.  It'll be quite a week!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Odyssey: Another Perspective

Found in a notebook dating from when I was student teaching.  Author unknown.

The Odyssey was last reviewed on these pages in June, 2010.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Loser's Bracket First Round #2/125

Faceoff #1: Andrea del Sarto v. Antonello da Messina

Andrea del Sarto


Antonello da Messina
unknown - 1479


Faceoff #2: Appel v. Arp

Karel Appel
1921 - 2006
Dutch; worked internationally


Jean Arp
1886 - 1966


Vote for the two artists of your choice!  Votes generally go in the comments, but have been known to arrive by email, by postcard, or in a sealed envelope.  

Please note that you may vote only once in each faceoff.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two faceoffs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same faceoff is not permissible.