Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Gentile da Fabriano v. Hockney!

Gentile da Fabriano
c.1370 - 1427

Clobbered by Artemisia Gentileschi in Round 1.
Got by the 20th Century's Mark Gertler in an amazing comeback in First Round Elimination. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

David Hockney
Born 1937
British; works in United States
  • Beat Howard Hodgkin in Round 1.  YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
  • Tied with Switzerland's Ferdinand Hodler in Round 2.
  • Lost to Jacques-Louis David in the Round 2 tiebreaker.

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, September 29, 2014

Michael5000 vs. Dickens: "A Child's History of England"

2012 Assessment: None -- it's not on the novels list.

Current Reading: Eye-read in a cheapish ~80 year old edition.

Dickens’ A Child’s History of England isn’t a novel, but just what the title claims: a history of England, pitched at the level of a bright child, often with the kind of jolly bluster you might aim at a somewhat dim child. My copy, an orphan from a complete hardcover set of Dickens – undated, but I’ll guess 1930ish – has a strikingly tepid introduction. “Forster remarks that he ‘cannot be said to have quite hit the mark with it,’” reports the anonymous editor, “yet it seems that to demand anything much better of its kind and for its purpose would be to demand more than is humanly possible.” Right on! Something hardly worth reading, that even Dickens’ buddy and biographer John Forster found mediocre! Way to sell the book, anonymous editor!

A review I noticed online said that the vocabulary was way too tough for any child, and that you better have your dictionary beside you when you read it. This is simply not true. The vocabulary would never challenge any middle school student who would choose to read the book. Dickens does not seem to have put much effort into simplifying sentence structure, however, and I reckon that this is what makes the text seem difficult to some readers.

I actually found it surprisingly entertaining reading. I kept it as bedside reading for a couple of weeks, and it fit that niche beautifully. It was pleasant enough to look forward to, and just dull enough to facilitate the drifting-off process. Dickens’ patent anti-Catholicism is unseemly, but mitigated by his honest disgust at the strain of anti-Catholicism in English history. We are full of contradictions, all of us.

I said at the beginning that A Child’s History of England is a history of England, but that’s not quite right. It is a history of the people who held and contended for the English crown. That’s the way that history used to be conceived, of course, and the most interesting thing about reading Dickens’ take is seeing a prime example of how blinkered the traditional school of “Great Man History” really was. A chapter with a title like “England Under Henry the Third,” for instance, says absolutely nothing about what was happening in England during the reign of Henry III – only what happened to Henry III. England itself – its population, economy, laws, culture, towns, transportation network, crops, the whole green and pleasant land – does not really make an appearance in this book. Here is the English intellectual tradition:
That reign (of Elizabeth I) had been a glorious one, and is made forever memorable by the distinguished men who flourished in it. Apart from the great voyagers, statesmen, and scholars, whom it produced, the names of Bacon, Spenser, and Shakespeare, will always be remembered with pride and veneration by the civilized world, and will always impart (though with no great reason, perhaps) some portion of their lustre to the name of Elizabeth herself.
That’s it. Really, that is the sum total that Dickens dedicates to the arts and sciences. And along with an occasional mention that a king’s reign was troubled by the plague or the Great Fire of London, it’s as close as the book ever gets to the history of England as a country, as opposed to England as a crown. It seems like a bit of a train wreck if you’ve never been exposed to seriously old school historiography, but in the 1850s the monomaniacal focus probably didn’t raise an eyebrow. That’s just what history was.

Despite that Dickens only took history up to the Cromwell years, which were as remote in time to him as the American Civil War is to us today, we have it (although not on terrific authority) that his Child’s History of England was widely used in British schools for 90 years, right up to the second world war. Today, it is hardly read at all, except by myself.

Plot: Various powerful people struggle for even more power, but even when they get it, it doesn't usually make them happy.  The ones that you'd want to hang out with aren't necessarily the most effective, but on the other hand the real bastards are always big trouble.

Prognosis: More interesting as historical artifact than as history.

Current Dickens Score: Unchanged, as this was not on the novels list. I have still read 9/14.5 of the non-Christmassy Dickens novels.

Second Opinion: There are abundant editions available in every conceivable online format, because it is a public-domain work by a popular author.  Since no one actually reads it, however, there's not much online conversation about it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Lippi v. Lippi!

Filippino Lippi
1457 - 1504


Fra Filippo Lippi
1406ish - 1469


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, September 26, 2014

Element of the Month: Lutetium!

September's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 174.9668 amu
Melting Point: 1652°C
Boiling Point: 3402°C

Lutetium is one of those rare earth elements that are rare enough, and reactive enough, that they are darned tough to find. If you want to mine Lutetium, do you look for a Lutetium outcrop? No. A Lutetium seam? No. No veins. No nuggets. The best you are going to be able to do is find a good source of the mineral Monazite, which may turn out to be as much as 0.0001% Lutetium. This goes a long way towards explaining why a kilo of Lutetium has a street value of around $10,000.

Lutetium is so hard to find, in fact, that even the cleverest humans with very large books didn't figure it out until 1907. In that year, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and an American walked into a bar. No, that's not right. Rather, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and an American, each of them in their own chemistry lab, were worrying about impurities in their Ytterbium. More or less at the same time, they realized they had found a new element: Cassiopeium! Except, after the years bitter incriminations that always follow from this kind of story of scientific discovery, the French guy finally prevailed.  He had to compromise only on having the C in his proposed name of "Lutecium" changed to a T. Lutetia, by the by, was the name of the Roman-era town that would become Paris, so Lutetium is a sneaky entry on the list of elements named after towns, like Yttrium, Berkeylium, Darmstadtium, and equally sneaky Holmium.

The Centerfold!

It's a sample of Lutetium, or it might as well be.

Lutetium is of course a silvery-white metal like pretty much everything else. It is used by humans for this and that, but really not for all that much. After all, it is really freaking rare and expensive. For most things that you want to use matter for, wood or steel is just going to be a more practical choice.

The folks at Avalon Rare Metals tell us that
Lutetium is the densest and hardest of the rare earths, lacks a magnetic moment, and has the highest melting point of the rare earths. These attributes may be due to the property of lanthanide contraction, which gives it the smallest atomic radius of the rare earths.
If you can remember that much about Lutetium, you are probably well ahead of the curve.

Lutetium, by Charles Yates, as offered for sale in a
number of formats at fineartamerica.com.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Landseer v. La Tour!

Sir Edwin Landseer
1802 - 1873

Beat French genre guy Nicolas Lancret by a single vote in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!

Georges de La Tour
1593 - 1652

Trounced Peter Lanyon in Round 1.

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, September 24, 2014

The Wednesday Post

Greetings from Lusk, Wyoming!
The Avatar makes it to another town!

Last weekend the Avatar, running again after being out of action earlier in the month, reached the community of Lusk, a High Plains village with the somehow discouraging motto "The Little Town With Big Possibilities."

He did not stay at Smith's Tourist Court.

Nor did he put up at the Pioneer Court.

He did run down Main Street, though...

...wondering about what it used to look like, in the old days.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Amador v. Kupka!

Andres Amador
b. 1971

Tied for Second place in Phase 1, Flight 7, of the Play-In Tournament with a voting score of .688.
Placed Second in Phase 2, Flight 6 of the Play-In Tournament with a voting score of .455.
Beat established American painter Thomas Cole in Round 1.

Frantisek Kupka
1871 - 1957
Czech; worked in France

Defeated Wilfredo Lam in an unusual Cuban/Czech IAT Round 1 pairing.

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, September 22, 2014

The Fall Road Trip 2014

Mrs.5000 & I went to British Columbia!

We spent four days in Vancouver, an energetic and cosmopolitan city with a lovely setting and an extravagant real estate bubble that is shooting up vast towers of condominiums like bamboo.  We spent the days wandering around various energetic and cosmopolitan urban attractions, and evenings checking out the city's dynamic night life!  Just kidding.  Mrs.5000 and I are not "night life" people.  We spent evenings in our hotel room, honing our Agricola skillz.

Were there new counties?  No.  It's Canada.  They don't do counties.

Was there ogling of art?  Of course.  We went to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is a terrific building with little of interest inside it.  For a North American city of its size, Vankers -- my personal nickname for the place, but feel free to use it, maybe it will catch on! -- seems to have been pretty unlucky in terms of public access to the visual arts tradition.

Was there running?  Actually, there wasn't.  I was all gimped up, and missed the opportunity to get some British Columbia miles into my spreadsheets.

After several days in the metropolis, we headed inland, so there were also some additions (in purple) to the Atlas of All Roads Traveled:

At the crossroads town of Merritt, we were as far north as I had ever been in Canada, and north of the vast majority of Canadians who don't live in Edmonton or Calgary.  Of course, British Columbia continues for a long ways north from there.  Really, you could drive north through British Columbia for pretty much as long as you wanted to.  Instead, we headed to the cheerful fruit, wine, 'n' tourism oasis of the Okanogan Valley and had some really amazingly good Indian food in Penticton.

Now, you can't get from the Beaver State to British Columbia without going through Washington, unless you're really bent on proving the point.

Were there new counties?  Nope.  I finished Washington back in '99, if memory serves.

Was there ogling of art?  We thought about visiting Maryhill on the last day, but didn't.
Was there running?  Nope.

Were there at least some new roads driven?  Why yes!  We followed U.S. 97 all the way through the state north to south on the way home, and the bits in red were new-to-me. 

Was there geohashing?  We looked for opportunities to go geohashing all week, and didn't find one until we were ten miles from home.

And then we went home.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament Round 1: Benton v. Cozens!

Thomas Hart Benton
1889 - 1975

Finished First in Phase 1, Flight 10, with a voting score of .818.
Tied for Second in Phase 2, Flight 2, with a voting score of .364.
Survived the Phase 2 Tiebreaker.

John Robert Cozens
1752 - 1797

Tied with Tony Cragg in his initial Round 1 outing, in September 2012.

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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saint of the Month: St. Theodore of Tarsus

St. Theodore of Tarsus

AKA: Theodore of Canterbury
Not to be Confused With: St. Theodore of Bologna, St. Theodore of Chotep, St. Theodore of Cyrene, St. Theodore of Egypt, St. Theodore of Emesa, St. Theodore of Pavia, St. Theodore of Pelusium, St. Theodore of Stratelates, St. Theodore of Studites, St. Theodore of Studium, St. Theodore of Sykeon, St. Theodore of Tabenna, or St. Theodore of Trichinas

Feast Day: September 19.

Really Existed? Definitely.
Timeframe: 602-690.
Place: England, ultimately.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: the Antiochian Orthodox Church in United Kingdom and Ireland.
Symbolism: None found.

I had never heard of Theodore of Tarsus, but it turns out he's a pretty big deal in the ecclesiastical history of Great Britain. You wouldn't expect that from a Tarsus boy. Tarsus is in Turkey, after all. It's where St. Paul hailed from. Yes, THE St. Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus.

VOICEOVER: England. The 7th Century. Generations have passed since the Anglo-Saxons drove the Roman Empire out of Great Britain. Missionaries from both Celtic Britain and from the kingdoms of the continent have converted these warlike peoples to Christianity, but it is a restless, disorganized faith, lacking leadership, vision, and clear doctrine. From the chaos, one man rose up to claim the title of Archbishop of Cantebury and bring order to English Christianity. That man's name was... Wighard.

Unfortunately, he died of the plague in Rome before Pope Vitalian got around to consecrating him.

That's where Theodore of Tarsus comes in. He was a monk, not a priest, but he had the reputation of a sharp, educated guy in an era when sharp, educated guys were hard to come by. Already 65 in 668, he was nevertheless quite spry. Pope Vitalian appointed him to the Cantebury outpost and sent him off to do what he could do.

It turns out, he could do quite a bit, and he had more than two decades left in him. During his tenure, he established personal authority over the Church in England, bringing it fully in alignment with Rome for the first time.  This would last more than eight and a half centuries, until Henry VIII got the itch. He instituted a system of canon law and divided up the territory of the British dioceses, and both innovations stuck so well that they are largely intact within today's Anglican Church. He started a cathedral school at Canterbury that the Venerable Bede considered the Harvard of its day, although not of course in those words.

Peacemaker, scholar, and administrator extraordinaire, this Byzantine Greek from Turkey probably did as much as anyone to chart the course of British history. Unusually for a historical figure, no one seems to have a bad word to say about the man. He's revered within Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism alike. And today is his feast day!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Hofmann v. Hicks!

Hans Hofmann
1880 - 1966
German; worked internationally

Beaten by Ferdinand Hodler in Round 1.
Beat fellow worker in bright abstractions Howard Hodgkin in First Round Elimination.

Edward Hicks
1780 - 1849

Beat Nicholas Hilliard in Round 1.
Lost badly to Andō Hiroshige in Round 2.

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Hiroshige v. Hodler!

Andō Hiroshige
1797 - 1858

Defeated Meindert Hobbema in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
Thumped on American folk painter Edward Hicks in Round 2.

Ferdinand Hodler
1853 - 1918

Defeated Hans Hofmann in Round 1.
Tied with David Hockney in Round 2. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
Outpolled big name Francisco Goya in a second try at Round 2.

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.