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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, April 30, 2007

Michiel Dutre: Colleague, Advisor and Gentleman

Michiel Dutre was the rarest of gentlemen. The world I live in sometimes seems to have so few gentlemen, anymore. And, now, one fewer.

My last conversation with Michiel was not long before Christmas. A colleague was trying to recruit me to the division for which he and Michiel both worked. He asked Michiel to help his case. To talk me around to the idea. He knew my respect for Michiel was profound, that I considered Michiel wise, that I would listen carefully to anything Michiel said.

We got each other on the phone, and Michiel asked me why we were talking. He would do that. He’d ask why even when he knew the reason. Even when he was the reason. His questions were often simple, always asked with gentleness. But answering Michiel was rarely simple. Confronting his questions usually required confronting oneself.

Why were we talking? I summed up, best as I could. Michiel drew back, over the phone line, and said to me, “You know, when they asked me to talk with you about this, I asked them if they were sure they wanted me to. Because I work for the company first, and for them second. And what’s really important here, is what’s best for you.” Michiel then undid each piece of the case his colleague was trying to build. He considered it his duty to me.

Like all great teachers, Michiel probably never knew how influential he was. I imagine there are scores, like me, who regularly bring Michiel to mind to keep ourselves honest, to keep ourselves grounded in the face of decisions that seem momentarily great. His specter invoked, I would always be reminded that, however important the decision, more life was happening outside the windows of the office building than within it.

I am grateful to have known him. I am proud to have learned from him. I am humbled to have received his counsel. I am lucky to have been touched by his generous, sandpaper laugh.

We were all blessed to have him as an example. My tribute to him will be to try to follow it. And to be the gentleman he invariably was.

Michiel Dutre, colleague and gentleman, died over the weekend, having lost his battle with cancer.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jump in and go for a ride

...and, hey, it's an ad for a French car. And I live in France. So, it's frickin' topical.

(Click on the pic, below, to take you to the vid.)


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Canadian professor barred from entering US, today, for dropping acid 40 years ago

Inanity like this just gets me so steamed. Doesn't the US understand how idiotic, pin-headed and narrow-minded this makes them look? Not to mention judgemental and unforgiving. Who was that historical figure who made a career out of telling people to forgive more and warning that we shouldn't judge, lest god judge us? Can't place the name, but I think he had a beard and wore sandals.

The full story is here: link. Lengthy, but fascinating. You know, in a horrifying, embarrassing, unjust way.

Tip to BoingBoing.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Yeah, we were just foolin' about purgatory, too

From BoingBoing.

Vatican decides not to believe in limbo any longer

A Vatican panel has issued a report that concludes that unbaptized babies go to Heaven, not limbo, as the Catholic church has been claiming for centuries.

In the 5th century, St. Augustine declared that all unbaptized babies went to hell upon death. By the Middle Ages, the idea was softened to suggest a less severe fate, limbo.

In his Divine Comedy, Dante characterized limbo as the first circle of hell and populated it with the great thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as leading Islamic philosophers.

The document published Friday said the question of limbo had become a "matter of pastoral urgency" because of the growing number of babies who do not receive the baptismal rite. Especially in Africa and other parts of the world where Catholicism is growing but has competition from other faiths such as Islam, high infant mortality rates mean many families live with a church teaching them that their babies could not go to heaven.

Father Thomas Weinandy, executive director for doctrine at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the document "addresses the issue from a whole new perspective — if we are now hoping these children get to heaven, there is no longer any point in worrying about limbo."

Sadly, the LA Times article the BoingBoing report relied on is only available to registered users.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My latest musical addiction

Just a few weeks ago, I was complaining to Flame-Haired Angel that music had faded from my life as any kind of moving force. I'm sure that's unremarkable for the vast majority of 40-year-old tie-wearers, but the absence of music for me seemed a sign of a creepingly insidious malady of the spirit. I'm a former DJ and a former (and still sometimes) musician, after all. But I hadn't bought but the occasional CD since leaving China. (CDs, still, yes. iTunes DRM can bite my pasty white butt. I'd rather pay ransom to the RIAA.)

Some small number of days after I'd been whingeing, the music gods reached out and touched me with a skin-blistering revelation. I discovered bastard pop.

Bastard pop is either a synonym or a sub-genre of music mash-ups, depending on whom you ask. "Mash-up" has quickly become a generic term for taking various bits of any existing content -- mostly video, music, and computer code -- and "mashing" them together in new ways, to create entirely new stuff.

Wikipedia's definition is characteristically succinct:

"Mashup, or bootleg, is a musical genre which, in its purest form, consists of the combination (usually by digital means) of the music from one song with the a cappella from another. Typically, the music and vocals belong to completely different genres. At their best, bastard pop songs strive for musical epiphanies that add up to considerably more than the sum of their parts."

I had been aware of both the mash-up revolution and remix culture, of course, but I had rarely been inspired by it. Most of the mash-ups I was familiar with were web applications (see this for an example, which mashes up Google Maps with the Chicago crime database) In music, I'd heard plenty of remixes of existing songs, but most left me cold. Of course they were explicitly derivative, but often they seemed to subtract from the original, rather than add anything special. At best, re-mixes rarely seemed worth the effort, and at worst they just screwed up the original song.

But that view is to type for me. I'm not into novelty for novelty's sake. I'm not so much a minimalist or a purist, but I'm certainly a simplist. In photography, for example, I'm attracted to simple uncomplicated images more than to wildly theatrical set-ups or dramatically manipulated Photoshop productions. In music, it's rare that gimmickery overcomes boring songwriting and uninspired playing, but a great song -- or even just a great hook -- performed in a way that distills the essence of the song's intended impact is always a pleasure.

Remixes don't really appeal to the simplist. Plus, DJs remixing lots of songs that all go "psshh-thump psshh-thump psshh-thump" never struck me as the height of any kind of musical experience. It certainly never hit my ear as a genuinely new art-form. I'm sure it takes talent and practice to do it well, but then so does auto-fellatio.

There have been big exceptions to this generally yawning reaction to remixing. Fatboy Slim. Moby. The occasional dance re-mix of an already-great song would sometimes equal the original while, at the same time bending it into something new. Admirable. Fun. But these were exceptions for me.

Then I discovered bastard pop.

Like work in every art form, the vast majority of bastard pop is mediocrity masquerading as more. Most of it is little more than bits of two songs played over top of each other. But the real masters of this stuff can just floor you with profound nonsummativity. Sometimes it's the simple discovery of how two songs work together. Sometimes it arises from novel ways of combining the source songs. Sometimes the effect derives from elision as much as from combination.

Whatever. It's making me dance. And dancing makes the mid-life crisis go down easier.

I like the term "bastard pop" better than its supposed synonyms. "Mash-ups" can refer to the product of several different kinds of combinative work, like video splicing and web 2.0 applications, as mentioned before. "Bootlegs" is also used, but that just appropriates a word that's referred to illegal or "unofficial" recordings for decades. Makes me think of Dylan or The Grateful Dead. The term "bastard pop" distinguishes mash-ups from both simple remixes even though the line between the two kinds of mixes is grey and wide.

I also like that the term implies the use of pop music, rather than just dance music or rap/hip-hop/R&B. Speaking as a total ignorant, never having attempted to mix a damn thing, it still strikes me that a whole lot less talent and skill is required to layer a rap vocal over a dance track. I'm sure that making it sound half decent is tricky, but both tracks are principally rhythmic. Putting together two tracks that have complex melodies and harmonies is, by contrast, frought with complexity.

Plus, I've got a natural bias. You might be able to lay Snoop Dogg or the Beastie Boys over Daft Punk and get a decent dance-floor mover. But you smash Annie Lennox headlong into Rush and you're putting my high-school experience in the spin cycle, and forcing a mating ritual between two entirely different species.

I don't dislike dance music, I just find the non-dance/non-rap mash-ups more surprising. They don't work well very often but, when they do, they're transcendant.

They're also freaking funny. Bastard pop DJs and bootleggers tend to mix a fair measure of humour into their choices. One of my favourites, a DJ named aggro1, seems a little obsessed with Kelly Clarkson, having mashed her up with Led Zeppelin, Depeche Mode, Van Halen, The Eagles, and Earth Wind & Fire. I know, I know. But they just flat out ROCK. Part of the pleasure in combinations like these is that you find yourself grooving despite knowing that, by all rights, they should be unlistenable.

And for mashed-up songs, you get mashed-up titles. Say you combine Mousse T's "Horny" with a Dandy Warhols track. Of course you have to call it "Horny as a Dandy". And it doesn't take much imagination to figure out which AC/DC and Smokey Robinson songs were bloodied to create "For Those About To Clown" It's fantastic. No, really.

"Talking about music," David Byrne once said, "is like dancing about architecture." So, enough with the words. To find out if you share even a little of my converted zealot's enthusiasm, have a gander below at a list of favorites. Wherever possible, I've supplied web links to the mp3s and, in a couple of cases, videos. I've depended heavily on the fantastic goodblimey.com, which is the best compilation of downloadable bastard pop I've found on the web. There are lots and lots of others, of course. A Google search will send an avalanche down your broadband pipe.

If you think you might like any of the stuff below, you might want to download now. Publishing mash-ups of copyrighted material isn't exactly, uh, legal. So, links go dead pretty often.


* * *

Pink vs ELO: Don’t Start Me Down
Good Blimey Vol 2

Eve & Alicia Keys vs Joan Jett: Rock ‘n’ Roll
Good Blimey Vol 1

Kylie Minogue vs New Order: Can't Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head
This is one of the most famous bastard pop mash-ups, which became a hit in its own right. The mp3 was recorded live when Kylie paid the original mash-up DJs, Soulwax/2manyDJs, the ultimate compliment of performing the track as they had mashed it.
Link to mp3

Kelly Clarkson vs Led Zep: Behind These Immigrant Eyes
Link to video
Link to mp3
This track, by the aforementioned aggro1, is one of the most laughed-about mash-ups on the net, and has garnered the fantastic "cover art" at right.

Kelly Clarkson vs The Eagles: Gone Since One of These Nights
Good Blimey Vol 6
Link to mp3

Dandy Warhols vs Beastie Boys: Intergalactic Friends
Good Blimey Vol 1

Yaz vs Veruca Salt: Don’t Seether
Good Blimey Vol 5

Jet vs The Beatles vs Joe Walsh: Jet Lady
Good Blimey Vol 1

Dandy Warhols vs Mousse T: Horny as a Dandy
Good Blimey Vol 3

Cure vs Black Box: Everybody In Between
Good Blimey Vol 1

DJ Riko: For Those About To Clown
Link to mp3

Diana King vs Paul Simon: Ain’t No Lovers
Good Blimey Vol 2

Kool & The Gang vs Kelly Clarkson: Since You Been Gone
Link to mp3 download page
This is one of my faves. Another aggro1/Kelly Clarkson mash, it's oddly mis-labeled, as the instrumental behind Clarkson isn't Kool & The Gang at all, but Earth Wind & Fire.

Fefe Dobson vs Macy Gray: I Try Everything
Good Blimey Vol 1

Who vs Whitney Houston: Can’t Explain, OK
Good Blimey Vol 1

Destiny’s Child vs 10CC: Dreadlock Child
Good Blimey Vol 4

Queen vs Annie Lennox: No More Pressure
Good Blimey Vol 7

Beyonce vs Jimi Hendrix: Work it out with a Foxy Lady
Good Blimey Vol 1

Destiny’s Child vs The Cure: Close To A Bug
Can't find source

Benny King vs The Police: Stand By Me
Can't find source

Beyonce vs Ernest Ranglin: Work Out My Number
Good Blimey Vol 1

Christina Aquilera vs Extreme: More Than A True Genie
Good Blimey Vol 7

Pilchard: The Doors Take a Walk Down Sesame Street
Link to mp3

Nirvana vs Michael Jackson: Billie Spirit
Good Blimey Vol 3

Doobie Brothers vs Montell Jordan: This is How We Doobie
Good Blimey Vol 1
Link to mp3

Kelly Clarkson vs Depeche Mode: Since You Been Gahan
Link to mp3

Rush vs Annie Lennox: Annie Rush
Good Blimey Vol 1

The Police vs Snow Patrol (The Snow Police): Every Car You Chase
Link to mp3

Gwen Stefani vs Amerie: Bareback Amerie
Good Blimey Vol 6

Human League vs Kylie Minogue: Slow
Good Blimey Vol 1


Saturday, April 21, 2007

George Lange's beautiful work

Whenever I imagined a career in photography, I talked myself out of it. So few photogs actually get paid to do the kind of work that I'm passionate about. I didn't want to end up just another wannabe portraitist making ends meet by doing weddings and catalogs, which is the fate of most.

The career I fantasized about, George Lange has. Good for him. Click on the pic at right to see his absolutely beautiful flip-book. (Hat tip to Dooce.)

If his surfeit of gorgeous work makes you think, even for an instant, that what he does is easy, have a look at the video below. It's a time-lapse record of a single celebrity photo shoot. In this case, the subject was Martin Scorsese. And this wasn't a particularly involved shoot.


Friday, April 20, 2007

44-foot circle

I agree with Necromanc:

"I know that this is just a picture, but ... you don't see a picture like this everyday."


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Alanis's lovely lady lumps

One of the funniest send-ups I've ever seen.


Going fast

I don't even like cars, much. Transportation from A to B. That's pretty much all they represent to me.

But this is just flat-out cool.

The Bugatti Veyron at 407kmh