Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Severini v. Siberechts!

Gino Severini
1883 - 1966
Italian; worked in France

Lost to Georges Seurat in Round 1.
Walloped American George Segal in First Round Elimination.

Jan Siberechts
1627 - 1703
Dutch; worked in Britain

Defeated Walter Sickert in Round 1.
Lost to Charles Sheeler 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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Monday Quiz Raises Daily Awareness

Don't panic, there's a theme!  However, if you can't find the theme, or it doesn't help, then you can panic.

1. What is albumen?

2. What was the popular name for the elaborate grounds of Chicago's famous 1893 World's Columbian Exposition?

3. Aside from being anti-communist, and not even that was ironclad, members of this movement had no single ideological bent.  Some members were monarchist and some were against the monarchy, and most wanted to avoid taking a position on the issue so as to not alienate anybody. Its most effective leader, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, succeeded in creating a temporary government in 1918, but it fell apart in 1920. Even then, many of the movement's local leaders recognized no authority above their own.

What was this troubled movement called?

4. Its third side starts with "Birthday," "Yer Blues," and "Mother Nature's Son"

5. Southeast of London, there is a famous place "composed primarily of coccoliths, plates of calcium carbonate formed by coccolithophores, single-celled planktonic algae whose skeletal remains sank to the bottom of the ocean during the Cretaceous and, together with the remains of bottom-living creatures, formed sediments." What's it called?

6. The tallest mountain in the Alps is on the border of France and Italy. What's it called?

7. "...when I am Black I win because I am Bogolyubov," said grandmaster Efim Bogolyubov. What do you suppose was the first half of the quote, and what did he mean by it?

8. One of these objects packs mass comparable to the Sun's into a volume comparable to that of Earth. Although it doesn't generate energy, it glows with stored thermal energy. Enough stored thermal energy, in fact, to it to keep glowing for billions of year. What's it called?

9. "When [Alice] thought it over afterwards," we read in the third paragraph, "it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural." What, I ask you, is "this"?

10. Today, February 27th, is annual awareness-raising day for a marine mammal with limbs and feet so well developed that it can walk and run on land for extended distances. Name that animal!

Answers go in the comments!

Two weeks ago, The New Monday Quiz celebrated Valentines Day.  The answers were:
1. Discovered Radium.  Incidentally: we all know that the Curies discovered Radium and radiation, that they didn't realize what they were messing with, and that it killed 'em dead.  But actually, Pierre Curie was run down by a horse and carriage, in a crude early version of our modern automobile accidents.  Marie, who received Nobel prizes in 1903 and 1911, died of almost-certainly-radiation-induced leukemia, but it wasn't until 1934, at age 66.  I had always imagined them perishing in their early thirties or something.
2. Shelley, the poet
3. Antony and Cleopatra
4. Abelard and Heloise
5. The Taj Mahal
6. Queen Victoria
7. Yoko Ono and John Lennon
8. Sartre and Beauvoir
9. Edward Windsor and Wallis Simpson
10. Catherine the Great
Incurable romantics Christine, Elder Moore, and Susan all produced a perfect slate of answers.  Love was in the air, or something.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Tintoretto v. Tissot!

Jacopo Tintoretto
1518 - 1594


James Tissot
1836 - 1902


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, February 24, 2017

The Game of Reading, Redux

Last June, I introduced my plan to embark on a “Game of Reading” that would structure my reading and audiobook listening by limiting my choices to a “hand” of ten cards. To start reading a book, I would have to play an appropriate card; having done so, I would draw a new card from the “deck” in order to have ten new cards available the next time I started a book. The game was set up to encourage rereading, with the deck heavily seeded with books I had read in the past.

After I introduced the idea I checked in twice in July to tell you how it was going, but since then haven’t said a word. So, you might be a little surprised to hear I am still playing the Game of Reading. I like it a lot! It’s fun!

People give me two types of reaction when I explain the Game. A polite, mild statement to the effect that “that’s a neat idea” is the norm, indicating that the listener is hoping that I will stop talking about the Game of Reading now. The other reaction is a gleeful prediction that I will be forced into a miserable reading experience, followed by outrage that I haven’t created an actual physical deck of cards (I manage the deck in an Excel spreadsheet). This latter reaction shows that someone “gets it.”

Now, it’s true that I haven’t always been thrilled by my available choices in the moment, so far I have been uniformly delighted in retrospect about what the Game has forced me to read. Not only have I never “cheated,” I have so far never even been tempted. I got trained pretty quickly to the idea that since starting a book means playing a card, and since playing a card means drawing a card, and since drawing a card is quite fun – somewhere between opening a Christmas present and making a bet – starting a book, even a formidable book, has become quite an event.

I tinkered with and “reshuffled” the deck at the new year, when all the books I read in 2012 entered play. The individual titles now make up 331 cards. The other half, more or less, of the now 650 cards are like so:
65 Unrestricted New Book Cards
67 Genre Cards ("Science Fiction," "Western," "History," etc)
34 “International” Cards ("From the German," "From the Italian," "African," "Indian," etc)
33 Challenge Cards (a real grab-bag of categories of books that I would find difficult)
39 “Ask” Cards (In which I ask people to assign me a book.)
40 “Game” cards (Which allow or compel me to do game-like things with the cards in my hand.)
For a sample of the action, here’s what’s in my hand right now and how I’m thinking of playing the cards I’ve been dealt.

Card 263 [2016 Deck]: The Bridge on the Drina
This is a really fine novel, but it is by no means easygoing, so this card has been sitting in my hand for quite a while. I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d buy my own copy. In fact, there. I just did.
Card 498 [2016 Deck]: Ask J***
I’ve drawn six other “Ask” cards, and they’ve all been interesting and fun one way or the other. My favorite moment was when Nichim assigned me a title that wasn’t available at the library, and I asked if I could read a different book by the same author. “No,” she said. “You know how to use interlibrary loan.” She gets The Game of Reading!
I’m not sure, however, that J*** gets the Game of Reading. She assigned me Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II, I think because she was trying to force herself to read it at the time. I’ve got a library copy upstairs right now! I’ve had it for quite some time. I’ve been hoping that one of the “Game” cards would come along and let me discard it – but see Card 320, below.
Card 273 [2016 Deck]: The Time Traveler's Wife
I listened to this one the first time through, so I thought I’d eye-read it this time. I had it out from the library for a while, but didn’t get around to playing the card.
Card 78 [2016 Deck]: Rabbit Redux
One of the rules of the Game is that for serial fiction, a card can be used for any entry in the series. My logical choices for Card 78 would be to try again with Rabbit is Rich, which I abandoned halfway through the first time around, or to go back to the original, Rabbit, Run. I broke for the latter option, and have an audio version ready to go.
Christmas Free Book!
To facilitate Deck maintenance and allow for the possibility of incoming gift books, I gave myself two unrestricted free books for Christmas. I used one of them on Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton, which incidentally I found pretty darn interesting. This second one is still in my hand – you don’t want to be careless with your unrestricted cards!
Card 457: Other Non-Fiction
Yeah, I wasn’t sure what “Other Non-Fiction” meant either. From context, I figured out that I meant “Non-Fiction Other Than History.” My plan was to use this card to listen to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (which, despite the title, is not really history in the conventional sense). Then, oddly, I drew Card 331, A Short History of Nearly Everything, so I’m currently using that card to listen to the Bryson. That freed up this card, for which I’ve downloaded a well-reviewed book about materials science.
Card 497: Unrestricted New Book
I drew this card ten days ago. Who knows what I’ll do with it!
Card 320: Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
I really can’t see myself reading this book a second time. It replaces Munich, 1938 as the book that I’ll pitch overboard first if one of the Game cards gives me the option. That means that drawing this card puts more pressure on me to actually read J***’s selection. Maybe that’s a good thing!
Card 321: Resurrection Men (Inspector Rebus, #13)
Yay, serial detective fiction! I’ve downloaded Standing in Another Man’s Grave, the 18th Inspector Rebus novel, and am looking forward to a fresh installment of Scottish gloom.
Card 396: Unrestricted New Book
I drew this a few hours ago, when I played the Timon of Athens card that I’d been sitting on for a few months. It felt like virtue rewarded to decide on the difficult text and receive the reward of being able to read whatever I want sometime in the near future. Of course, if I wasn’t playing the Game of Reading, I could always read whatever I wanted. But if I wasn’t playing the Game of Reading, it wouldn’t be such a treat!

And that’s the state of play. What are you reading, lately?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Smith v. Sodoma!

David Smith
1906 - 1965

Beat Frans Snyders by a single vote in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi)
1477 - 1549

Defeated living French artist Pierre Soulages 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, February 22, 2017

Disillusionment of Wednesday II

Today, we continue our odd project of writing bad criticism of Wallace Stevens's perfectly respectable poem "The Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock."  No one knows why.

Here's one of mine!  Send yours to me, Michael5000, at Michael5000 \at\ gmail!

The Disillusionment of Wallace Stevens

The Wallace Stevens poem "Disillusionment of Ten o'Clock” is a howl of protest against negation, a condemnation of an aspect of reality that is not. Why, Stevens demands, are we not clad in colorful garments; why do we not, in the “houses” of our worldly existence, display ourselves in a manner that befits our status as individuals, wearing bright tones with contrasting stripes? Instead, we haunt our own passages wearing lifeless white, which is of course the color of that most conformist of animals, the sheep. Whereas, who is dressed in the vivid stripes of individuality? The predatory Tiger, of course, his orange and black stripes bathed gruesomely in the “red weather” of his rampage through the flock. And, if we have here Blake’s tyger “burning bright” against the vapid uniformity of the flock, then who is it that captures the beast, who beseeches of himself – one pictures him holding up the great cat by the scruff of its neck to make eye contact – “did I who made the lamb make thee?” It is God, of course, dismissed by Stevens as a sodden, worn-down sailor, drunk and unconscious. His creation devolved into dull drudgery on one hand and savagery on the other, the creator abandons the middle ground lamented by Stevens and drifts off into an alcoholic stupor – which was, perhaps not coincidentally, often Wallace’s own escape from the contradictions of his business life (sheep-like, or perhaps tyger-like) and his literary career (tyger-like, or perhaps sheep like).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Popova v. Rego!

We had two tiebreakers going -- they do come in pairs, after all -- in Second Round Elimination.  The top one, with Ghiberti going up against Raeburn, has ended in a tie, leaving poor Bouguereau drumming his fingers as he has been since 'aught fourteen.  In the lower tiebreaker, however, Ljubov Popova pulled away from William Holman Hunt in late voting and moves on to the Left Bracket Third.  She'll take on Portugal's Paula Rego, who was racking up votes in her early outings until she ran into Rafael, and we'll see who survives!

Ljubov Popova
1889 - 1924

Paula Rego
Born 1935
  • Demolished Ad Reinhardt in Round 1.
  • Nicked Odilon Redon by a single vote in Round 2. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Stomped by Raphael in Round 3.


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, February 20, 2017

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1380s

This quiz about the 1380s doesn't have a single question about hit movies or popular music.  However, it does take us to within a decade of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg.  It's not too too long now until the texture of history, or at least our access to it, begins to take on a new shape.

In the meantime, things are really settling down now that the Mongols made their point!

1. The Genoese thought they had beaten their rival sea empire into submission in the late 1370s, but on June 24, 1380, they lost almost their entire war fleet of 23 galleys at the Battle of Chioggia. This left a power vacuum into which the rivals expanded aggressively, becoming one of the major players of the late middle ages. Who did Genoa lose out to at Chioggia?

2. In exceedingly rough terms, it seems to be about now – the 1380s, more or less – that the last small habitable areas of the planet were discovered and settled, thus more or less completing the human occupation of the planet. Where, generally speaking, were these last pieces of land to receive the human footprint?

3. On June 13 and 14, 1381, a group of English peasants led by Wat Tyler, disgruntled by what they saw as corrupt rule, a restrictive social order, and unfair taxes, stormed London. They killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor, opened prisons, and destroyed public records. Young King Richard II, age 14, calmly and courageously met with the rebels and agreed to a slate of reforms including fair rents and the abolition of serfdom.
What happened on June 15?

4. In 1382, the city of Sofia fell to the Ottomans. The locals wouldn’t really get it back until they reestablished their national identity in the 1870s. Of what modern country is Sofia the capital?

5. A firm supposedly began operation in Munich in in 1383 that would eventually, after many commercial twists and turns, become an important asset of Anheuser-Busch InBev! Its product is currently sold under this logo:
What well-known product is still made in the Munich city center?

6. I wouldn’t have guessed that John Wycliffe died a natural death, but he did! He passed away after a stroke on the last day of 1384, aged 64. His body was later dug up and ritually desecrated, mind you, but there’s a school of thought that holds that torture loses most of its effectiveness after death.
Who was John Wycliffe?

7. On August 14, 1385, a Castillian army of more than 30,000 was routed by a well-led force of less than 7000 at the Battle of Aljubarrota. This watershed event goes a long way towards explaining why there are two modern countries on a piece of land where you might expect there to only be one. What country put the kibosh on Castille’s claim to its throne on that hot August day?

8. “Timur's armies were inclusively multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid waste by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population.” Who was Timur?

9. It begins
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour...

And it was probably begun in 1387. As far as we know, it was never even close to finished, yet it is still in print today. Name that work!

10. General Yi Seong-gye, commanded in 1388 to lead the armies of Goryeo on what he regarded a pointless and reckless invasion to the north, instead “turned back the army from Wihwa Island” (it’s a bit of a proverb) and led them right into the capital. He demanded, and got, the abdication of the very succinctly named King U. This was the beginning of the end for the 475 year reign of the Goryeo Dynasty. When General Yi took the throne himself four years later, he renamed his country the Kingdom of Great Joseon. What do we call it today?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1370s

1. Oldest Treaty: England and Portugal
2. New city for the Khmer: Phnom Penh
3. Father and Son tension: the Byzantines
4. Important civil servant: Chaucer
5. the failing Marinids: Morocco
6. Catherine and Gregory: Gregory returned the Papal Court to Rome
7. John of Gaunt: Major British power broker and kingmaker, and not coincidentally father of a future king.
8. The art: (1) Italy, (2) England -- which was probably more 1390s than 1370s, actually, (3) China, (4) Egypt
9. Ayutthaya + Sukhothai = Thailand
10. knock the schnozz off of the Sphinx.

Out of the three overt quiz-takers, I do believe the title for Lord Emperor of the 1370s goes to Morgan!  Look on his answers, ye mortals, and despair.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Tiepolo v. Tinguely!

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
1696 - 1770


Jean Tinguely
1928 - 1991


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, February 17, 2017

Saint of the Month: St. Fortchern of Trim!

St. Fortchern as portrayed by Eala Enamels, an artisanal enameling 
workshop in Bagenalstown, County Carlow, Ireland.

St. Fortchern of Trim

AKA: Foirtchern son of Feidhlimidh, son of Laoghaire, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages; also St Fortchearn, St. Fortiarnán, St. Foirtchernn
Feast Day: February 17, or perhaps October 11.

Really Existed? It seems fairly likely.
Timeframe: The fifth and perhaps early sixth centuries.
Place: Ireland.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: bell-founders.
Symbolism: "A bishop standing among bell-founders," says one site, although I have not been able to find such an image.

St. Fortchern of Trim really was of Trim, a town northwest of Dublin in County Meath. Tradition has it that in the 430s, when the famously industrious St. Patrick arrived in Ireland, he left his buddy St. Loman at the mouth of the Boyne river to watch over the boat. When Patrick hadn’t reported back after 80 days, Loman took the boat upstream as far as the ford at Trim. There he found Fortchern, the son of the local strongman, who immediately took to the gospel like a fish to water. By the time Patrick caught up, the whole Trim metro area was sold on Christianity, and everybody pitched in on the construction of a church, or possibly a monastery, or possibly a cathedral, or perhaps all three.

Patrick and Loman, so the tale goes, took on Fortchern’s education, trained him into the priesthood, and gave him positions of increasing responsibility in Ireland’s growing ecclesiastical infrastructure. Eventually he was abbot at a monastery founded by Loman, and seemed to be the logical successor when the latter's health began to fail in later life. Indeed, at Loman’s death Fortchearn became the Second Bishop of Meath. He only remained in the post for three days, however, until leaving to become a hermit.

That’s where the story ends in some tellings. There is an important coda, however, that sees the “hermit” Fortchern living for up to 70 more years and setting up a monastery and school of his own, where he would oversee the early training of St. Finnian. St. Finnian is a big deal in Irish history – he’s the founder of the important monastery and school at Clonard – so having him as a student is a big feather in Fortchern’s cap.

Why would Fortchern abandon his bishop’s miter after three days, and then start a whole religious complex of his own elsewhere? For that matter, how could he possibly have the means to do such a thing? Well, the key might be his parentage: he was apparently the grandson of the King of Ireland on his father’s side, and of the King of the Britons on his mother's. “King of Ireland” and “King of the Britons” are fairly problematic concepts in the 430s, but we get it: he was one of the beautiful people of the time and place. 

Maybe. The problem is that although Fortchern’s background might explain how he had the means to become such an influential person, it is also very possible that, as an influential person, he had an aristocratic background tacked on to his backstory in order to give it a little more pizzazz and prestige. This kind of thing is after all common as dirt in history and other forms of human storytelling. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) article on the Saints of Meath discusses how the biographies of St. Loman and other saints were “negotiated” in subsequent centuries by secular and ecclesiastic leaders in order to bolster their various claims to authority. Unfortunately, I don’t have a subscription to the ODNB, so our application of this general phenomenon to the specific case of St. Fortchern must remain conjectural.

I haven't quite figured out how it fits into all of the above, but there 
is also a tradition that St. Fortchen was a crack metalsmith, particularly 
adept at forging bells. This church window in County Carlow illustrates 
this aspect of his story.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Third Thursday Semi-Finals: Hals v. Hammershoi!

Third Thursday: Bringing big names to your mid-month!

"Semifinals" designates the Fourth to Seventh Rounds of the Infinite Art Tournament.  This is a Left Bracket Fourth Round Elimination Match.  It's the first pairing at this level to witness a GRUDGE MATCH, as Franz Hals (4-1, 35-24, .593) and Wilhelm Hammershoi (6-1, 59-27, .686) meet again three years, one month, and two days after their initial encounter.  Hals won the first time, so under the Grudge Match Rule Hammershoi needs to win outright to stay in the Tournament.  A tie would revert to Hals by virtue of the previous win.

Leaving the Tournament at their hands are two very well known artists, El Greco (4-2-1, 44-38, .537) and Giotto (3-2, 27-28, .491).  It's a rough business, this Tournament.

Frans Hals
1581 - 1666
  • Outpaced American Philip Guston Round 1.
  • Edged out the great Dane Wilhelm Hammershoi in Round 2 by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Laid a beating on Childe Hassam, even though everybody LIKES Childe Hassam, in Round 3.
  • Upset by Atkinson Grimshaw in Round 4.
  • Beat El Greco in the Left Bracket Fourth Round by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Wilhelm Hammershoi
1864 - 1916

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Disillusionment of Wednesday I

The Blog's Shakespearean, who is a real live professor of English literature, recently mentioned that she was working on some examples of bad poetry criticism.  For, you know, pedagogical purposes.  I asked for a peek, and as someone who has read a lot of bad student and academic writing, I'm afraid I thought they were a lot of fun, and my immediate thought was "Ooh!  Ooh!  I, too, want to write bad poetry criticism!"  And so I did.

The poem to which we are applying our inept exegesis is Wallace Stevens's perfectly respectable "The Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock."  The Shakespearean's critiques were rather restrained, since they needed to seem like plausible and, um, non-insulting examples of typical student work.  Mine were a little more flamboyant.  What approach will you take?  Send your analysis to me, Michael5000, at Michael5000 \at\ gmail!

Color is Important in this Poem

Color is important in this poem. It starts off by saying that, “The houses are haunted by white night-gowns.” This suggests ghosts to me because of “haunted” and because we think of ghosts as being like white sheets or as being people wearing white sheets, which we often see in the movies where people dress up like ghosts to scare away people from houses for various reasons. “Haunted” has negative connotations. The speaker doesn’t say that there are people inside the nightgowns, which adds to the idea that they are ghosts. Bright colors have positive connotations because they are cheery. In this case they might be too bright since purple and green clash. They wouldn’t be good for ghosts, though, which is a good thing since ghosts are negative. Socks of lace and beaded ceintures don’t really have any positive or negative connotations that I can think of. They don’t sound comfortable to sleep in. I don’t know how the speaker knows that people aren’t going to dream of baboons and periwinkles. Periwinkle is a color, so that may connect to the bright colors earlier. The old sailor is associated with a color, too, since he catches tigers in red weather, but he is drunk and sleeps in his boots, which has negative connotations. Color is very important in this poem.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, First Elimination Round #55/64

Faceoff #1: Riley v. Signorelli

Bridget Riley
Born 1931

Tied with Canada's Jean-Paul Riopelle in her first try at Round One.
Lost to Paula Modersohn-Becker in Round 1.


Luca Signorelli
1450ish - 1523

Lost badly to Paul Signac in Round 1.

Faceoff #2: Siqueiros v. Sluter

David Alfaro Siqueiros
1896 - 1974

Lost to Alfred Sisley in Round 1.


Claus Sluter
1380ish - 1405
Dutch; worked in France.

Pounded by Michiel Sittow in Round 1.

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 face-off.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two face-offs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same face-off is not permissible.