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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Hoop Dreams

Okay. I admit it. I teared up.

If you're reading this from the US, you already know the story. If not, click on the picture to have your feel-good moment of the month.

This happened some time back, now, but it kept slipping my mind to blog it. Enjoy.

Every Interest Rate

Geek fun, courtesy of Scootergrrl.

From the Columbia Business School (CBS) Follies Student Comedy Review. The Dean of CBS was widely thought a leading candidate to replace Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan, before Ben Bernanke was tapped for the job.

As Flame Haired Angel notes, the best thing about this video is the unironic complete lack of style, even among the three backup singers, who must be what pass for hotties in the MBA crowd.

That said, satire is hip. And that means these guys are pretty damn hip. The ex-McKinsey proteins woven into my DNA love this stuff.

I have well and truly spent too much of my life around consultants and engineers.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mesmerizing and beautiful

Update: Since posting this, several folks in China have reported they can't play it from there, even though other video content from this blog works fine. It's a bit mesmerizing what the Central Government filters out.

My New 'net Hero

Ladies and Gentlemen:

zefrank, and the show.

Check out the archives.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

On His Extremis

...lest we forget that there's a backstory to every important work, it was on this date in 1667 that John Milton, blind and impoverished, sold the copyright to his recently-completed PARADISE LOST for £10.

I have a soft spot for Milton. I've never read Paradise Lost, but "On His Blindness" is a deeply affecting old favorite.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Hat tip to Lawrence Wilkinson.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Indefensible, but fun, and right

Two things that jumped out at me, recently:

Atheists are the least trusted minority in America.


A priest admitted to strangling and dismembering his pregnant lover after Easter mass.

Juxtaposition isn't a defensible strategy for a purist logician, like me, but it's like ice cream: really yummy as long as you don't eat enough to make you sick or obese.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oliver. Every day.

May the Dog-goD bless Dooce for introducing me to The Daily Oliver.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Irons in the Embers: Still burning after all these years

Our anniversary weekend trip to Venice was the first time in ten weeks Flame-Haired Angel hadn’t awoken at 4:30am to take the Eurostar from Paris to London. She had been doing a course in costume design at Central St Martin’s, near Red Lion Square.

The last weekend she had her course, we made a junket of it together. She didn’t know when she’d next return to London, and, conveniently, I had to be there for a conference the following week.

We had a ball just hanging in London -- going to pubs, seeing friends, bingeing on the National Portrait Gallery -- but one of the really remarkable doings was a rainy Saturday afternoon spent at a play at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End.

Flame-Haired Angel had bought the tickets on a whim for our getaway weekend. It wasn’t entirely unselfish. She has a thing for Jeremy Irons. And so it came to pass that we got to watch him for two hours, from four rows back, in a play called Embers, and both of us were awed. I’ve since read reviews that placed the production anywhere from rotgut to not bad, but we came away distinctly more impressed and thoroughly sated.

The play is notable for a single attribute more than any other: It’s virtually a soliloquy. Irons, who has apparently been off the stage for some years, chose for his return a showcase of virtuosic solo skill. There are two other actors, but one has less than five minutes work and the other, while on stage much of the play, spends most of it listening to Irons’ character give voice to decades of struggle.

Watching and listening to Irons, I was struck by two things. First, there are few other actors who wouldn’t have hypnotized me into a soporific stupor in this role. Yet, Irons’ intensity, dynamic range and crackling restrained energy kept both Flame-Haired Angel and I riveted. It was like watching a skilled gymnast.

And that’s where the second thing comes in. His performance was very, very British, and very un-method. Stanislavsky and Lee Strasberg would have hated it. “The method,” as taught by Strasberg in The Actors Studio, building on principles set out by Stanislavsky, aims to make the performance and the actor completely transparent, so all that is left is the character, present with such verisimilitude that you forget there is a performance at all. Folks like De Niro, Brando, Keitel, Julia Roberts are all method actors.

The approach of British-trained stage actors has always been different. It is often (and often disparagingly) called more theatrical. While I’m never quite sure what “more theatrical” means, British actors on stage seem less to disappear inside their characters, and more to present them to the audience. Given the audience has limited time to grasp the character aspects that are fundamental to the plot and relationships of the play, a British actor will take essential bits of the character’s personality and behavior and amplify them. Sometimes, these amplifications are so striking, they don’t look all that much like day-to-day behavior, and it is in these moments that the performance, and therefore the presence of the actor, is obvious.

There are whole books on this, and it’s not a topic that interests me all that much. Never mind the debate about genres of theatre and which types of play are better suited to which type of acting. The reason I bring up the trans-Atlantic debate surrounding acting craft is that Irons’ performance was a tour de force example of the British school. You never for a moment forgot you were in a theatre watching a play. Irons drew his character in sharp outlines, so as to create a bas relief of the protagonists’ humanity: more than 2-dimensional, but not fully 3-dimensional. I found the approach freeing and honest. In a strange way, the clarity of the performance, and the lack of conceit about the presence of the actor dispenses with the notion that all the production’s energies should be focused on helping the audience suspend disbelief. Instead, energy is given over to pointing our attention at other -- perhaps bigger -- things: for example, the themes, questions and particular world-view the play exists to explore.

To put it plainly: I don’t have to believe that a person on stage has *actually* died in order to understand the impact of the death on the other characters. So, why should the actors’ craft be poured into achieving completely transparent reality when I’m not going to believe the death, anyway? I am, after all, sitting in the Duke of York’s Theatre, next to my wife, on a rainy Saturday afternoon. That’s a stage. That’s an actor. He is not dead. What I want, as an audience member, is for the death to be believable enough that its fallacy doesn’t distract me from its impact, its effect.

As it happens, Irons’ character doesn’t die in the play. Nor does anyone else. And, I’m glad to say that no actors died on stage. What these actors did do was present their characters boldly, exaggerating each mannerism just enough for us to see what we were being told with the semiotics of gesture and posture and movement and timbre and every other tool the actor has at his disposal. Irons, specifically, used his voice like a bouncer’s arm to lift the audience, as a whole, bodily from our seats. (Even as someone who’s often complimented on my voice, I listened envious of his.)

And, of course, as he carries 95% of the lines, his lifting is impressive, indeed. I left the theatre baffled that I could have hung so on his every word for so long in a darkened room. A marvelous performance.

I should mention, before closing this theatrical note, that our week was also full of Shakespeare, but Shakespeare of the sexy Kentuckian (!) variety. We crashed at her place on Saturday night, and met up again to approve her new boy mid-week. She was just fucking glowing. And it hain’t nothing to do with seeing so much of us. It was one of those un-hide-able projections of joy that comes from finding something you’ve been looking for a long, long time.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Surfing in Venice: Of Cootchy and Kitchens

If you're up late channel surfing in Italy, you get an eye full.

After 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, two adjacent channels offer you non-stop soft-core jiggling. Neither actually has an uninterrupted bounty of boobaciousness. As you'd expect, each has plenty of advertising breaks. Why else broadcast such a slathering of slippery skin if not to sell ad space?

But as the two stations' flesh fests run concurrently, they appear to have worked out a rather thoughtful arrangement: they never take ad breaks at the same time. So, even the half-awake channel surfer quickly works out that when there are ads on one channel, there's definitely tits on the other one.

I suppose the programmers have to be realistic about the likelihood of their orb-obsessed viewers sitting through commercials. All the ads this reporter saw were for kitchen cabinetry. While I'm definitely down with my insomniac Italian brothers' breast fixation, the association with purveyors of fine counter tops eluded me. Maybe the advertisers are betting on guilt: that you might want to do something nice for your wife after watching all the 19-year-old nipply nubility?

The Italians have imported two familiar soft-core brands: one channel pushes Playboy while the other pimps Penthouse. But for some reason they've felt the need to re-name the programs for the local audience. I missed the name of one channel, but the other is imprinted on my brain for ever, a wonder of porn globalization. You can look for it by name the next time you're in Italy and up late. Just tune into Super Sexy Blob.

Come to think of it, maybe I should re-name this space. Stay tuned.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Four Years of Flame

Flame-Haired Angel told me, for some time, not to plan anything for our anniversary weekend. As last Friday approached, she told me I'd be leaving work early.

So it was that I found myself in her arms in Venice on Friday night, and in a gondola not much later. We simply wandered and, in these days before Easter, but after spring had brought jacket weather and late dusk, found a city that still wanted our feet.

In a mere month, perhaps, there will be too many, and the sun will squeeze pong from the canals. But not this weekend.

So, we wandered, held hands, kissed in front of all the monuments and generally proved me wrong about never having been that interested in visiting Venice.

Happy Anniversary, indeed.

* * *

A nuance to the luck: Because I was so firmly committed to being out of town and out of touch over the weekend, my boss was moved not to drag me into the tail-end fury of preparation to announce my company's big news, which was released on Sunday. But because I wasn't around, a colleague of mine spent the weekend at his desk polishing French translations of merger-speak. I owe him a very nice bottle of wine.