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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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Monday, July 31, 2006

Stabbed in the Back

As this article is from Harper's, it's predictably left. I normally read things from Harper's with a stronger bullshit filter on, because it's a given that they're likely to be closer to my worldview than the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. Affirmation bias is dangerous. My passions are easily fired, and I need to be on guard to stay intellectually honest. (That said, Harper's is often quite a bit to the left of me.)

The article, for all its predictable politics -- not saying I disagree, mind -- is also a perspicacious analysis wrapped around a fascinating bit of history that I mostly didn't know. The whole post-WWI narrative history is riveting stuff, to me. And anyone who believes the current acrimony in US politics is unprecedented will revise their thinking.

(The photo shows German Field Marshalls Paul Ludwig Hindenburg and Eric von Ludendorf. See the article to figure out why I'd illustrate this entry with their pointy heads.)


Sunday, July 30, 2006

If you ever want to be as good at anything as she already is at this, you better get moving

One recent morning at the House of Flame:

WhiteBoy: "Honey! Come have a look at this!"

Flame-Haired Angel: "Why?"

WB: See her? She's eleven."

FHA: So?

3 minutes later.

FHA: Holy shit.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

More zoom. Less vroom.

The Tesla roadster.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The next evolution of the music genome

I watch this and listen, and what I hear is an epiphany. Tunrtablists have been professing apologias for their "art" for a long time. I have often enjoyed their craft, but rarely been swayed by the conceit to art. They were remixers, collage artists, skilled puppeteers of pastiche. The best, like Moby and Fatboy Slim, were on the verge of a genuinely new form of expression, but still, in the end, most were stew makers.

This is the first time I've been convinced otherwise. It's beautiful, hypnotic, exciting and uniquely its own musical art form.

Do these guys strike you as having more in common with dance music producers or string quartets?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Andrew Wyeth and memory

I spent part of growing up a few miles down the road from Andrew Wyeth’s farm. Between my house and his, there was a converted mill on the banks of the Brandywine river. It housed the world’s largest collection of the remarkable crop that flowed downstream from that farm: the output of the first family of American painting: Andrew Wyeth, his father NC, his son Jamie, and others.

In that museum were paintings I would go back to again and again over the dozens of visits my family made in the years we lived there. We would walk through the museum, escorting some visiting friend, and I would dawdle impatiently waiting for the good paintings. The ones that had become mine, somehow: pictures that pressed deep, vivid memories into me that stayed for years after, and that are with me still.

Could early exposure to art be any better? The museum was simple and rustic, not some lofty, far-away temple. The art was intimate, figurative, and familiar, not historical, abstract or conceptual. It depicted the recognizable, even to a seven year-old: people, places, pigs.

Perhaps second only to the picture books of my childhood, Wyeth’s art in that museum coloured in an early, unconscious aesthetic that would eventually become my view of what art -- and, more particularly, my notion of what good art -- was. And if that view has gained supposed sophistication with years, I don’t think it has drifted far from those early lessons learned down the road from his farm.

Years later, I lived nearby, again. Completing my senior year of high school in Delaware, I lived across the border in Pennsylvania. Our daily commute took me and my dad right past the driveway of the Wyeth farmhouse, smoke sneaking out its chimney on frost-laden mornings. That, too, was familiar. The palette of his paintings had always been the palette of that farm in winter: muted, but still crisp, somehow.

It’s a palette that has gone in and out of fashion more than once during my lifetime, but he’s rarely strayed from it, even in his nudes. He paints, still, in his eighties and, although he’s that rare beast –- almost oxymoronic -– the multi-millionaire painter, his works selling for more than those of any other living American artist, he still lives on that farm.

This is a lovely piece on Andrew Wyeth from the June Smithsonian Magazine.

Click on any of the images to see a larger version.

Oil, gas, predictable cynicism

I don't drive, much. Almost not at all. I don't have to. I live in a geographically compact city with a great public transport system -- arguably the best in the world.

So, for me to say that I see certain benefits to the current "crisis" of high gas/petrol prices, which I do, is to cut an unsympathetic figure. There are so many people suffering, financially, because of the situation. And that's bad. But so is all the damage done by cheap gas/petrol.

But before we go all "Middle East crisis" on the whole thing, let's make sure we remember that there is more than one choke point in the value chain between hole-in-the-ground and gas-tank.

The article at the link, below, points out that the refiners in the United States have extraordinary market power and can control prices -- read "make them higher" -- without even having to collude. They can just do nothing, and prices will rise because, well, they're doing nothing.

The article also happens to be written by a guy who dated not one, but two of my exes back in college.

Nothing unusual about an old refinery. From the New Yorker.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Internet is not a dumptruck

It's a good day when one of my favorite comedians intersects with a topic about which I actually have to pontificate in my professional life.

John Hodgeman, from the Daily Show, on Net Neutrality.

For those of you who don't get the big laugh from "I'm a PC", go here.


Predictably fascinating

A Life That Is Beginning To Add Up


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Why have a blog if you don't occasionally post something you'll probably regret someday?

I still haven't decided whether I think this is sophomoric, brilliant, or both.

So, should we hold a caption contest?


Monday, July 17, 2006

A small box for God

Saw this in an interview with Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church of the USA.

Q: Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?

A: We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.


How to know how special you are

Just got back from the US. Flying closer to the front of the plane than usual, I noticed a semiotic code of status I'd not previously seen:

Those flying Business Class are so important that every single one has a Blackberry.

Those flying First Class are so important that none of them do.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Representing, but not keeping it real

(Title hat-tip to Dooce.)

A couple of things about representative democracy, at least as practised in the US, have stuck in my craw recently. I haven't blogged about them because, frankly, I don't have anything substantive to add to the non-debate. But maybe I do. And, if not, well, I need an outlet that’s more civilized than head-butting some Italians.

The minimum wage: Do as I say, not as I do

Some weeks back, in the latest delivery on George Bush's promise of "compassionate conservatism", the Republican-dominated Senate refused to raise the minimum wage. It’s been $5.15 per hour for the last nine years. Republicans refused to raise it on principal, and also because of what a drag it would be on the economy, what with adding to the cost of doing business in the US, and all.

Also on principal, or something, the Senate has voted to raise it’s own members' salaries almost $32,000.00 in the same nine-year period, presumably because the cost to the US tax-payer is less consequential. But they represent the people, mind.

One prominent Republican was startled at negative reaction to the vote, asking, "When we said 'compassionate conservatism', did they think we meant compassionate towards others?"

I suppose they had better hope that American voters don’t start putting two and two together. The recent efforts to fire-up the pre-election Republican hype machine over illegal Mexican immigration came uncomfortably close to this minimum-wage vote. A few days closer together and folks might have realized that the poverty-level minimum wage is what keeps Americans out of the market for low-end jobs. That crappy kind of take-home pay only looks good if you’re from somewhere that pays even worse. Mexico, for instance.

Take the minimum wage up a few bucks and you might have a crisis of actual citizens applying for the jobs. But, instead, let’s keep wages at poverty-level and spend tax-payer money to militarize the border to keep out those greasy wetbacks. Yeah. That’ll work. Good idea!

Gerrymandering: What would TJ do*?

In another stroke of representative democracy, state legislatures are busy re-drawing their electoral boundaries to make it easier for the dominant party to stay in power. Both parties are guilty, but the Republicans turned it into both a science and an official party strategy under the leadership of ex-House Majority Leader and recent criminal indictee, Tom Delay.

It’s all perfectly legal, according to a June Supreme Court decision. Only problem is, it subverts democracy by trying to pre-determine the outcome of elections. This article provides a very good explanation, if a biased one.

This issue is the half brother of “campaign finance reform” in that it’s pretty obvious how to fix it, but it’s never in the interest of the party in power to do so. (For Republicans, it also works nicely as a one-two punch with legislative measures to keep likely Democratic voters from voting at all.)

So let’s all laud the righteousness of democracy. Let’s hold democracy aloft like the obvious beacon of perfection it is. Let’s export democracy to every dark, despotic corner of the globe.

But let’s squash it like a bug at home.

*Credit to Slate.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Fiesta del Slosho!

Saturday night was the second time in as many years that Flame-Haired Angel and I hosted the Paris Margarita Festival. This year's tequila-and-triple-sec fueled extravaganza, under the banner "Fiesta del Slosho", transformed Chez Spencer into the burrito-infested Casa del Slosho.

There are many tales, but most of them I've promised not to tell. If you believe, however, that a picture's worth some large number of words, click on any of those below.

All over for Les Bleus

Italy was out-played by a dominant French side, but deserved to win, anyway:

...because they survived through two bouts of extended time.

...because there is nothing more even than a tie-breaker shoot-out.

...because Zinedine Zidane behaved disgracefully to leave France un-anchored.

For those who didn't follow the world cup final, the unrivaled star of the French side, Zidane -- the Michael Jordan of French soccer, and retiring after tonight's match -- got himself ejected in disgrace after powerfully head-butting an Italian player. The ball, nowhere near them at the time of the incident, wasn't even in play. It was one of the biggest jerk performances I've ever seen, and it left France to play without their star.

One of the gentlest moments of the match happened after two time extensions had failed to resolve the 1-1 tie, forcing a spot-kick shootout. The two goalies, who would each in a moment face the best kickers in the world alone, met at mid-field and embraced each other. They, uniquely, could understand each other just then, carrying millions of people's emotions in their taxed reflexes, so they threw their arms around each other, then walked, each alone, back to their respective nets. After an otherwise violent match, by soccer standards, that embrace was a tender thing. As it happened, neither was a hero; neither blocked any of the missiles fired at them. Italy was rescued by the cross-bar of the goal deflecting a French kick just two inches from brilliance.

But it is Zidane, adored by a nation under the nick-name Zizou, who will be remembered for his untempered idiocy in the final match of his career: a man who couldn't lead his team through some heat-of-the-moment name-calling.

You might think the local result, here in the 17th arrondissement, would be a quiet night hung with a doleful silence. But when you're already drunk, and you've got fireworks and airhorns that have no alternate uses, well...

I've no doubt, however, it's louder in Rome.


The World Cup final in our neighborhood

One of the reasons Flame-Haired Angel and I love living in our little neighborhood in Paris is that it has the intimate feel of a village within the city.

Tonight, watching the final of La Coupe du Monde, is no exception. Below, the scene at our local, neighborhood bar, it's doors and windows open onto the street, and so much of the neighborhood gathered to watch, together.

Gotta scoot. I'm blogging this at half-time -- France and Italy tied at 1 all -- and we've gotta get back!


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Internet? It's huuuuuge!

A very big web page.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Needle, ink, skin, nature, and the supernatural

Beautiful neo-traditional Japanese tattoo work.

It's striking that the artist chose to present the work in black and white, as the colour in Japanese tattoo is subtle and inviting and visually tactile. But these photographs are perfect as they are. Without wanting to sound like a total wanker, I have to admit that these pictures feel to me like meditations on the intersection of human experience with nature and the supernatural, braiding the human impulse to imitate the natural world in artistic expression with the implicit nature of the human experience as inseparable from the natural world (in this case, as canvas) it aims to capture in art. The photographs are wonderful on the superficial level of their graphic impact and immediate beauty, but they also present visual invitations to react on a more visceral, almost spiritual level.

Allez Les Bleus!

Most of this blog's 9 and a half readers live either in the US or Australia. So, they can be forgiven for not realizing that the world ended last night, and that the dreams of a nation were born high on the buff shoulders of improbability.

Had you been in Paris, last night, however, you would not have been able to sleep. If the excitement hadn't kept you up, the noise -- the shouts, the car horns, the crackling electricity of fantasies fulfilled -- would have kept you not only out of bed, but at your window, shouting to the heavens. And that's only if you weren't wearing pants.

The pants-clad were not at home; they were all, to a person, out and about, howling with the delight of those who've just had their first sexual experience and aren't afraid to shout to the world of their new-found explosion of rapturous self: victory, ecstasy, identity, communion. But last night, it was an entire nation. And it wasn't sex. It was soccer.

For last night, France beat Brazil in quarter finals of the World Cup.

If you're Australian, this news may have escaped you, as you stopped watching last week, when the virgin World Cup campaign of the brave Socceroos (yes, my non-Aussie brethren and sistren, they really do call them that) came to its end.

And if you're American, well, you may still be wondering what this World Cup thing is, and whether it has anything to do with Nascar.

If you're from almost anywhere else in the world, however, you already know that the idea of France upsetting the tournament favorites, Brazil -- a nation whose only passion greater than Amazon deforestation (to say nothing of deflowering Amazons) is THE GAME -- was so fanciful as to make even Frenchmen modest.

That France might play with discipline... That France might play with heart and skill intertwined, beyond just its stars... That France might actually even score was in doubt.

But win?

Flame-Haired Angel and I didn't even watch the match. We just left all our French doors open to the hot Paris night and kept tabs on the match by the tenor, cadence and pitch of the shouts emerging from the streets below. The spectator sound of a foul is easily distinguished from the sound of a free kick. And the sound of a French goal, well, I can't even begin to describe.

As soon as the match ended -- with FHA and I keeping tabs on the closing minutes via the web, while we listened to the rising din come through the open windows -- we put our shoes on and made for the Champs Elysees.

And this is what we saw.

(First pic courtesy of Le Monde, looking up from the Louvre toward the Arc de Triomphe -- fitting -- and the second courtesy of FHA, looking down the Champs the other way.) Among shouts everywhere of "Allez les Bleus!" and under the watchful eye of many, many riot police, it was a throng comprised of all ages, all races, all walks of life. But definitely one nation.

The semi-finals and the finals are still mountains to climb, but Brazil seemed to everyone the Everest. And just for the moment, France is a naked, dancing, sherpa.