Monday, August 31, 2015

Through History with The Monday Quiz: the 1100s

The eleventh century became the twelfth century, and things would never be the same again!  Of course, that's always true.

1. Its glory days as a prosperous center of trade in salt, gold, ivory, and slaves was still centuries in the future, but somewhere around 1100 a seasonal camp of Tuareg nomads became a permanent settlement. Today, it’s the best-known city in Mali.  What's it called?

2. In about 1100, probably in the south of France, the game of Alquerque was adapted to a new form that used backgammon pieces on a chessboard. This was the invention of what?

3. People from the Killke culture in highland Peru built this fortress, called Sacsayhuamán, in around 1100. A few centuries later, a city would grow nearby that would be the capital of a vast empire. What was the name of that city?

4. Properly called "Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress," it has housed many prisoners over the centuries. The first was Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, who was imprisoned for a while by Henry I in 1100, more of less on charges of having been an effective tax administrator during the previous reign. What is the common name of this old and once-feared building?

5. On December 25, 1100, Baldwin of Boulogne was crowned as Baldwin I of a brand new kingdom that had just been created the previous year. Of what was Baldwin king?

Construction of the Arsenal began around 1104…. It became the largest industrial complex in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution…. With high walls shielding the Arsenal from public view and guards protecting its perimeter, different areas of the Arsenal each produced a particular prefabricated ship part or other maritime implement, such as munitions, rope, and rigging. These parts could then be assembled into a ship in as little as one day.

The Arsenal produced the majority of [the city's] maritime trading vessels, which generated much of [its] economic wealth and power, lasting until… Napoleon's conquest of the area in 1797.
Where was the Arsenal?

7. In the fall of 1104, Hekla erupted explosively. Settlements as far as 70 km away were abandoned. Others, including the now-reconstructed farm compound at Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng, were completely buried in ash. Where did all this happen?

8. In February and March of 1106, X/1106 C1 was noticed and recorded in in Wales, England, mainland Europe, Japan, Korea, and China. After a while, it seemed to break into two or more pieces. What was X/1106 C1?

9. King Jayavarman VI (ជ័យវរ្ម័នទី៦), ruling the Khmer Empire from its capital city, Angkor, died in 1107. What modern country occupies the territory that was the heart of the medieval Khmer Empire?

10. The Norwegian Crusade: in 1108, Sigurd I’s seaborne army stopped on their way to the Holy Land to raid and plunder this “half Christian, half heathen” city. What city was it?

The Grudge Match Week Quiz

1. The bypassing of the Maginot Line kicked off World War II.
2. Bogart and Bacall were costars a second time in The Big Sleep.
3. Rome won the First Punic War. Rome also won the Second and Third Punic Wars.
4. Gatsby was breathless, was, somehow, betrayed when they met again.
5. The Return of the King is the only sequel to win an Oscar without the original movie having done so.
6. Conrad, Gordon, and Bean were, yes, astronauts. They were the Apollo 12 astronauts, and won humanity's rematch with the Moon. (The Moon would subsequently win Apollo 13.)
7. The Filioque controversy is, at least ostensibly, a major reason for the Great Schism of Christianity.
8. After the Hundred Days Napoleon lost Waterloo.
9. The quasi-riot was the exciting debut of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It was probably more about the goofy dancing then the music, actually, but that doesn't make nearly as good of a history-music story.
10. After the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics, the Soviets and most of their allies boycotted the L.A. Olympics.

Bonus: Italy and Yugoslavia always had issues over who ended up with Trieste. Italy has pretty much ended up with Trieste, as least for now.

I believe the winningest slate of answers belonged to gS49, a venerable name (number? character sequence?) in Michael5000 quizzes!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Nolde v. O'Keeffe!

Emil Nolde
1867 - 1956


Georgia O'Keeffe
1887 - 1986


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, August 28, 2015

At the Movies: Michael5000 vs. "Headhunters" -- GRUDGE MATCH

At the Movies with Michael5000

Headhunters (Hodejegerne)
Morten Tyldum, 2011.

imbd: 7.6 (down from 8.8 in June 2012)
Ebert: Three and a half Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (93%) Fresh

Movie adaptations of books are a tricky business. A picture is not, as any thoughtful reader knows, worth anything near a thousand words, so even though movies can hurl 1440 images a minute at us with speech, music, and sound effects thrown in for good measure, a film adaptation must still make deep cuts into the depth and complexity of all but the shallowest novel.

Often, that means that the book was better than that movie. It’s a cliché, because it’s true. But not always. A fairly long-winded business by Mario Puzo, to take one example, might be condensed into a masterpiece. The Big Sleep, a pretty good piece of detective pulp by Raymond Chandler, might get its plot reduced to incomprehensibility, but escape with its best qualities not only preserved but enhanced. E.M. Forster’s Room With a View might be shifted from its native minor key to a lighter C Major, and come out as a charming crowd-pleaser. All sorts of things can happen!

Here is a case study of a book and its adaptation, as experienced by one guy, Michael5000, who has a blog.

#1: The Movie. In 2012, I watched Headhunters, the biggest hit of all time from the Norwegian film industry, of which I am fond. I thought it was great fun. I reviewed it here.

#2: The Book. A few weeks ago, I read Jo Nesbo’s novel Headhunters, on which the film was based. Well, I read the English translation of Nesbo’s Hodejegerne, of course, as my Norwegian is really rather rusty. (I watched the film with subtitles, too. I don’t speak a word of Norwegian.) And, to get more specific, I “ear-read” the novel, which is to say I listened to it on an audiobook.

I enjoyed the book very much. It had the same mood of antic, comic menace that I remember from the film. The characters were vividly written and familiar from my earlier viewing, and all of the key episodes I remembered from the film were present, but written in the sardonic deadpan of Scandinavian noir fiction. It was not an especially profound text, mind you, but it was a very satisfying thriller, and in retrospect the film seemed like it had been a highly successful adaptation, capturing both the spirit and the essential action of the book.

#3: The Movie: GRUDGE MATCH. Then, fired up by all of this nutty Headhunters entertainment, I decided it would be fun to watch the film again. And that, dear reader, was probably pushing things too far. Headhunters, the film, was still entertaining on rewatching, but in the immediate shadow of the novel it also felt a lot less smart than it had the first time around. Parts of the book that I liked were missing, and this time around I knew to miss them. In their condensed film versions, supporting characters – the mistress, for instance, and everyone in law enforcement – no longer seemed to make any sense. The ending seemed less well constructed. The film had changed: it wasn’t as good as it had been before I read the book.

(The film also suffered from an unrelated peril of rewatching: one of my favorite scenes mysteriously changed from the way it was in my memory. In my original review, I wrote
At one point in the movie, the protagonist is naked but covered in a thick layer of human shit, desperately trying to outrace an ominous black SUV down a forest road, at night, driving an antique farm tractor on the front forks of which an enormous white dog has recently been impaled. That's a really bad day. The dog glows luminously in the Scandinavian night, and the lights of the SUV play through the steam coming off of his smear of filth.
In fact, the character is fully clothed at that point beneath the thick layer of shit, and there isn’t nearly as much steam as I had remembered. I apologize for misleading you in my earlier review.)

Prognosis: When you watched something on the big screen and found it delightful, is it fair to come back and reassess it after reading some source material and rewatching it on DVD? Sure it is! Good movies only need to reward you the first time around. A great movie is one that continues to reward you every time you watch it.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 7 (down from 8).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Second-Round Elimination GRUDGE MATCH: Lippi v. Lippi!

What better climax to Grudge Match Week than that most brutal of conflicts: the conflict between father and son.

Fra Filippo Lippi beat his son Filippino in Round 1, but a loss to El Lissitzky landed him in the Left Brackets and now, well, here we are.  By the Grudge Match Rule, Little Phil has to win outright to stay in the Tournament; a tie goes to Papa Phil on the strength of his original win.  Either way, the proud Lippi name will progress to the Third Round, so that's a consolation.

Fra Filippo Lippi
1406ish - 1469

Filippino Lippi
1457 - 1504

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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Wednesday Post

Boring Postcards: A Re-Introduction
You vs. Six Boring Postcards -- GRUDGE MATCH
the attraction is something that is common as dirt

Back at the beginning of time, I gave this blog its first heady exposure to Boring Postcards.  I even formulated a not-quite-definition of the genre that, if memory serves, has actually been picked up and cited by somebody, somewhere:

Although there are no universal rules, common characteristics of the properly boring postcard might be:
  • it shows an "attraction" that no one would ever actually want to visit
  • the attraction lacks visual interest
  • the attraction is something that is common as dirt
  • a genuinely interesting attraction is made to look uninteresting
  • the image is poorly photographed or framed
  • text on the postcard carries an unintentional pathos or irony
Let's take another look at those first six cards -- the cards that set the standard for all of the many tedious, tedious postcards I've shared with you in the eight years since!  Maybe they'll have grown on you.

Lake Claremore, Claremore, Okla.

Dear Folks; We have a cabin in Amarillo tonight.  Weather is cool & we are really enjoying the trip with Jim.  More later - Dollie



Gigantic Kentucky Dam, erected by the Tennessee Valley Authority at a cost of $115,000,000 is 8,412 feet long and 206 feet high.  Built across the Tennessee River, the gigantic dam, created Kentucky Lake 184 miles long with a shoreline of 2,400 miles.   Beautiful Kentucky Lake provides a wonderful recreation area and excellent fishing.

Mon Eve.

Traveled this far.  Going on to Memphis in the Morning.



The Rolling Surf

Pheasant Grill Drive-In, Arlington, Oregon

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Second-Round Elimination GRUDGE MATCH: Lewis v. LeWitt!

Why, you might ask, is it Grudge Match Week?  Because the vagaries of the Tournament gave us not one but two Grudge Matches to work through this week.  Here's the first one.

Wyndham Lewis made short work of Sol LeWitt in Round 1, but who knows?  Since then, I for one have been to the epic Sol Le Witt exhibit at DIA-Beacon, in New York, maybe that will tilt my vote in his favor.  Except, I voted for him the first time around.  WHATEVER!!  The point is, Mr. Lewis must ratify his earlier win.  And remember the Grudge Match Rule: to survive, LeWitt needs an outright majority.  A tie would go to Lewis on the strength of his original win.

Here we go!

Wyndham Lewis
1882 - 1957

Sol LeWitt
1928 - 2007

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, August 24, 2015

The New Monday Quiz: Grudge Match Week Begins!

We've made it through a whole century!  And learned a lot about the High Middle Ages, and of course had a lot of good clean fun.

Let's take a break before plunging into the twelfth century.  Here's a Very Special New Monday Quiz to kick off Grudge Match Weektm!

1. What was the very large grudge match that started with a bypassing of the Maginot Line?

2. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall played the leading roles in the 1944 film To Have and Have Not. What was the next project they starred in together?

3. Rome won the First Punic War. Who won the Second and Third Punic Wars?

When they met again, two days later, it was ________ who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed. Her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star-shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionably as she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth. She had caught a cold, and it made her voice huskier and more charming than ever, and _________ was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.

Who was breathless, was, somehow, betrayed when they met again?

5. The Godfather, Part II won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but then so did the original Godfather. Only one other sequel has won Best Picture -- in 2004 -- and its predecessors had not. What is this movie that won its makers' grudge match, so to speak, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

6. Who were Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., Richard F. Gordon, Jr., and Alan L. Bean?

7. The Latin word Filioque, meaning "and (from) the Son", is included in some later forms of the Nicene Creed but not in others. This discrepancy is considered an important element of what major world grudge?

8. He was defeated and deposed in the War of the Sixth Coalition, but after the Hundred Days he was able to provoke a grudge match.  Who was he, what was the name of the battle, and did he win it?

9. The composer wrote
that the derisive laughter that greeted the first bars of the Introduction disgusted him.... The demonstrations grew into "a terrific uproar" which, along with the on-stage noises, drowned out the voice of Nijinsky who was shouting the step numbers to the dancers. The journalist and photographer Carl Van Vechten recorded that the person behind him got carried away with excitement, and "began to beat rhythmically on top of my head," though Van Vechten failed to notice this at first, his own emotion being so great.

The conductor, meanwhile
believed that the trouble began when the two factions in the audience began attacking each other, but their mutual anger was soon diverted towards the orchestra: "Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on."

That was its famous premiere, but the piece being performed won its grudge match with history and became a canonical piece of classical music. What's it called?

10. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the United States boycotted the 1980s Moscow Olympics. This set up what grudge lack-of-match?

BONUS: The whole world is festering with unhappy souls, sang the Kingston Trio:
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs. South Africans hate the Dutch.
And I don't like anybody very much.

Why, in the 1950s, did Italians and Yugoslavs have a grudge against each other?

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1080s

1. Kyansittha and the Pagan Empare -- the beginning of Burma.
2. Captured by the Seljuks in 1084: Antioch.
3. Robert Guiscard was from Normandy, and had led the Norman Conquest... of southern Italy. They were on a roll.
4. The Domesday Book was an extensive census, recording who lived where in England, and what they owned.
5. The Almoravids came from Morocco.
6. The Tripitaka Koreana is a treasure of Korea, of course; Hanja script is basically the Korean language written in Chinese characters.
7. William the Conquerer's younger son got England; his older one got Normandy, of course.  Whether that reflects priority, or his dad's conviction that England was the family future and his numbskull oldest son would bungle it, is not clear.
8. Shen Kuo thought that the petrified bamboo in an area that didn't have bamboo was evidence of climate change.
9. The oldest U is the U of Bologna.  Go Bologna!  Beat Bologna State!
10. David the Builder's reign was the beginning of the golden age for Georgia.

The winner is immersive baptism!  No, wait, that was someone hijacking my blog to advance their theory of Christian practice.  It was unusually interesting spam!  But actually, the most winnerest is pfly, although the Owl gave him a fine run for his money!

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1090s

1. The islands occupied by the Normans are Malta.
2. An Occitan singer-songwriter is a Troubador.
3. Malcolm III was king of Scotland.
4. Pope Urban II, the Council of Clermont, Deus Vult! -- The First Crusade was underway.  So were The Crusades generally, I suppose.
5. The oldest English U is the U of Oxford.  Go Oxford!  Beat Cambridge State!
6. Tanguts, Khitans, and Song -- China in the 1090s.
7. The later Ghaznavid Empire was centered about where Pakistan is now.  I'm giving some love for Iran, although that part of the early Ghaznavid Empire pretty much got taken away back at mid-century by the Seljuks, as they headed south and west.
8. Chaco Canyon is, and Anasazi civilization was, in the Southwestern United States of America..
9. Seljuks, Fatamids, Latins: Not a great time to live in Jerusalem.
10. King Magnus Barefoot - an odd story of the last real Viking king.  Of Norway.

It was a mighty set of answers!  By a mighty set of answerers!  I'm going to declare an almost-perfect tie between Christine M., Unwise Owl, and pfly.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Nolan v. Noland!

Sir Sidney Nolan
1917 - 1992


Kenneth Noland
1924 - 2010


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, August 21, 2015

At the Movies: "Downfall"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Downfall (Der Untergang)
Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004.

imbd: 8.3 (imdb 250: #117)
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% Fresh

Downfall is a dramatization of the last days of Adolph Hitler. It is mostly played out in the famous bunker underneath Berlin, with some subplots taking place up on the surface as the city is shelled, bombed, and eventually claimed by the advancing Soviet army.

If you spend much time on the internet, you have seen one scene of Downfall many times – this is the source of the much-parodied scene where Hitler is given some bad news (Twitter is down, the Patriots have won the Super Bowl, what have you), asks everyone but the generals to leave the room, and then explodes in an epic rant. My assumption going in was that this scene would be the climax, the culminating madness erupting after an hour or two of building tension. But that was underrating the film’s verisimilitude. Hitler was delusional and volatile by any definition well before his last descent into the bunker, and that famous scene is actually quite near the beginning of the film. What the rest of the movie is “about,” maybe, is what life is like in a tightly confined place under threat of imminent destruction and under the absolute authority of someone who is barking mad. Not surprisingly, life under those conditions is not much fun.

As historical reconstruction, Downfall is about as well-made as a film could possibly be. Bruno Ganz, the actor tasked with playing one of the strangest yet most recognizable figures in history, comes through with flying colors; I’ve read that if you know German well his imitation of Hitler’s accent and speaking style is kind of chilling. The strange world of the bunker is rendered almost exactly according to the historical record. Here’s my evidence: there is a whole world of history buffs out there who wouldn’t be able to stop themselves going over this film with a fine-tooth comb, and, per the imdb “goofs” page, here’s the level of things they’ve been able to come up with:
When Hitler is pinning medals on the Hitler Youth tank busters he moves right to left. In real life this was the last time Hitler was seen on video and he moved left to right.

Thomas Kretschmann portrayed SS Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, but his collar insignia is that of an SS Brigadeführer. Fegelein attained the rank of SS Obergruppenführer before being executed. His collar insignia should have a diamond below the leaves.

If that’s the worst that the history buffs can do, we have here a film of really impressive verisimilitude.

Downfall was criticized, inevitably, for humanizing or even glorifying Adolph Hitler, showing him in moments of kindness to his secretaries, complementing the cook, petting his dog, and so on. Worrying about this sort of thing is probably a healthy instinct, but if you are going to create an accurate document about Adolph Hitler, you can’t get around that he was a human being, that he had a nice touch with the staff, was good with kids, liked his dog, and so on. As a historical interpretation, this is another thing that the film gets right.

This brings us to another, more interesting question: why make a film that recapitulates the last days of Hitler in the first place? I have an instinct to say that it’s an unhealthy, unwholesome thing to put the mad dictator on the big screen as an entertainment product. How on Earth could it be wholesome for me to watch a careful reconstruction of Frau Goebbels systematically murdering her own six children, since life after the Third Reich would not be worth living?

And yet. And yet, I did find Downfall entertaining. Not entertaining in the hearty, jolly, rollicking fashion of a Fury Road, for instance – a movie which, just incidentally, probably has a much higher on-screen body count then does Downfall – but entertaining in the sense of being gripping. Downfall offers us the undeniable fascination of playing voyeur to almost unimaginably strange events, and seems to invite us to consider why fellow humans who presumably share some of our own basic life experiences can act in what seem to be very outlandish ways.

For instance: when everybody in the room knows that Hitler is literally delusional, and everyone knows that everyone else knows the same thing, what social forces keep them from acting on the knowledge? Does some form of this bizarre dynamic ever occur in more everyday settings? I think it does, and that’s something very interesting to think about. When Maria Goebbels poisons her children, does she wholly believe that it is a righteous act? Or, is she dismissing her moral qualms (which is to say, some dazzlingly obvious moral truths) as weaknesses, and suppressing them, and if so why? Does she, in that moment, feel like she must act in a way that is consistent with earlier decisions no matter what the cost? And if so why? Big questions about what it is to be human is one thing that you can reasonably ask of an artistic production, and the bizarre scenario relived in Downfall offers plenty of them.

Prognosis: Masterfully made, no fun at all, but terribly engrossing, Downfall is a serious film that needs to be approached with a serious frame of mind. It is closer in spirit to a popular history text than a novel. Poor choice for a “date movie.”

Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 2 TIEBREAK: Marc v. Martini!

We started tiebreakers earlier this week to resolve ties in the Haeckel/Marc and Martin/Martini matches.  This is the second of the two tiebreak matches.

Franz Marc
1880 - 1916

Defeated American John Marin easily in Round 1.
Tied with Ernst Haeckel in his first try at Round 2.

Simone Martini
c.1284 - 1344

Defeated Masaccio in Round 1.
Tied with John Martin in his first attempt 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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Wednesday Post

The Gingerbread Village, six years later
New Ownership Now Open

Six years ago today, back when everybody got a boring postcard twice weekly, Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000 was this one:

Gingerbread Village Restaurant

On your next trip to or from the Oregon Coast, stop in and experience the Gingerbread Village, enjoy a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner in a pleasant atmosphere. In the heart of the forest on Highway 126, just 15 miles from the beautiful Oregon Coast.

I didn't mention it at the time, but The Gingerbread Village is a restaurant that I have been shooting past occasionally at 55 mph, and occasionally stopping to dine at, since before I can remember.

The Gingerbread Village is still there.  Kind of.  But it was a bit unsettling to see this when I shot past the other day at 55 mph:

Yes, the Gingerbread Village Restaurant has become Pop's Gingerbread Smokehouse. 

At first I thought it was a horrible betrayal of the very fabric of my childhood.  After further reflection, I decided it was somebody changing the name and focus of their restaurant, and it doesn't really affect me or the fabric of my childhood at all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 2 TIEBREAK: Haeckel v. Martin!

Ernst Haeckel and Franz Marc tied in their Second Round contest.  With no previous tie waiting, that put them on hold, but only for as long as it took for me to check the other contest in their bracket pair.  With Martin and Martini locking up 4-4 in a ballot marked by alarmingly low voter turnout, the stage was set for a close-knit tiebreaker.  Instead of the winner of Haeckel/Marc going up against the winner of Martin/Martini, now we'll pair off the winners of Haeckel/Martin and Marc/Martini.  Unless there are more ties, of course.

Ernst Haeckel
1834 - 1919

Finished Second in Phase 1, Flight 1 of the Play-In Tournament, with a voting score of .800.
Finished Second in Phase 2, Flight 4 of the Play-In Tournament, with a voting score of .500.
Slaughtered Theo Van Doesburg in Round 1
Tied with Franz Marc in his first try at Round 2.

John Martin
1789 - 1854

Beat Italian sculptor Marino Marini in Round 1.
Tied with Simone Martini in his first attempt 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.