David Lynch Does Music
Published on August 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

Director David Lynch has an electro-pop album called "Crazy Clown Time" coming out in November. It even features Karen O of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs on a song called "Pink Dream."

Anyway, here's the first video from the albumb, titled "Good Day Today."

The Museum of Broken Relationships
Published on August 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

Good Magazine reports on a traveling museum that collects mementoes from failed relationships. The items are currently on display at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London, and although I'm hard-pressed to think of anything I'd be willing to donate to the Musem of Broken Relationships, I think it's a fascinating project.

The Museum's website provides instructions on how to donate to the Museum. "Would you also like to become a donor?" he website asks. "Recently ended a relationship? Wish to unburden the emotional load by erasing everything that reminds you of that painful experience? Don’t do it – one day you will be sorry.

Instead, donate the objects to the Museum while recovering and take part in the creation of collective emotional history."

Collective emotional history - now that's an interesting concept. I think of relationships as fairly private, but the museum seems to be suggesting that they're part of a larger, shared experience. And perhaps they are.

Rupert Murdoch is In Trouble
Published on August 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

The British phone hacking scandal just gets worse and worse, and although I haven't followed every single twist and turn, it seems clear that Rupert Murdoch is in a bunch of trouble, and deservedly so. The latest revelations "implicate everyone," as Salon wrote, and it's becoming increasingly evident that this scandal isn't the work of a few bad apples, but rather a symptom of a corrupt and repugnant business culture.

The one thing that amazes me is the level of shock being expressed in certain quarters over how far-reaching the scandal is. Were people under the illusion that Rupert Murdoch is a principled businessman? And if so, why? There's never been any reason to believe Rupert Murdoch is a good person, and the fact that he built a corrupt and morally bankrupt corporate enterprise should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

The government of David Cameron is also looking pretty compromised, and although I'm hardly an expert on British politics, I don't find this particularly shocking, either. Governments throughout the world ally themselves with powerful yet unprincipled people, and I don't see any reason why the Cameron government would be any different.

So far, the scandal has largely been framed as a British issue, but this month Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson makes the case that all of the dirty tricks exposed in England - hacking, political payoffs, hush money settlements - are also happening here in the U.S.

Here's an excerpt:

"Indeed, an examination of Murdoch's corporate history reveals that each of the elements of the scandal in London – hacking, thuggish reporting tactics, unethical entanglements with police, hush-money settlements and efforts to corrupt officials at the highest levels of government – extend far beyond Fleet Street. Over the past decade, News Corp. has systematically employed such tactics in its U.S. operations, exhibiting what a recent lawsuit filed against the firm calls a 'culture run amok.' As a former high-ranking News Corp. executive tells Rolling Stone: 'It's the same shit, different day.'"


It Isn't Getting Better
Published on August 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over on his blog Bank Talk, my friend Adam Rust explains why the housing market is going to continue to struggle.

The piece is a bit wonkish, but what Adam seems to be saying is that whether you decide to buy a house or rent is determined by economics, and that when people don't have a lot of money, they opt to rent instead of buy. This seems fairly obvious, but since economists throughout the land failed to foresee the collapse of the housing market, and remain somewhat baffled by the lackluster pace of the recovery, I think it bears mentioning.

Of course, I am not particularly bothered by low housing prices, or being a renter, as I wrote in a column titled "In Praise of Renting" earlier this year at the DG.

Watching "Beats, Rhymes & Life"
Published on August 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the amateurish yet engaging new documentary about the influential hip-hop band A Tribe Called Quest, "Beats, Rhymes & Life."

Here's an excerpt:

"Filmed by actor Michael Rapaport, 'Beats, Rhymes & Life' adheres to the basic structure of most music documentaries. It documents that band’s rise, and unlikely stardom, as well as the band’s falling out and the lingering resentments that its various members harbor. Luminaries explain why the band is so important, and why its music means so much, while providing insight into the flaws of its members and the sources of conflict. This material is engaging, but also a bit cliched, but in its final third 'Beats, Rhymes & Life' actually surprised me by presenting two things I wasn’t expecting: a harrowing medical story, and a satisfying redemption narrative."

And here's a video of A Tribe Called Quest performing the "Can I Kick It?" and "Excursions" during the Rock the Bells tour in 2010.



Leaving the Clothes On the Line
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

In her column this week at the DG, my colleague Maggie Hartley writes about the benefits of hanging the wash out to dry.

Here's an excerpt:

"We are committed to our clothes line. There’s no reason to use energy to dry clothes when we have the sun to do it for us. It saves money and electricity, reduces pollution and it’s easy.

By most estimates, you’ll save about $100 a year in energy costs by line-drying your laundry. Electric dryers contribute to CO2 emissions in a big way, around 5 pounds per load. There’s no such thing as an Energy Star dryer because they all use about the same amount of energy — too much. Line drying also will make your clothes last longer, they’ll smell nice, and you won’t need to buy dryer sheets.

And you can make your kids hang out the wash.

It’s getting them to take it in that’s the problem."

Yes, Dennis Rodman is in the Hall of Fame
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

Somewhat amazingly, Dennis Rodman has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

I liked Rodman better when he played for the Pistons, rebounded like mad, and was such a force on defense that his limited offensive skill set didn't much matter. Of course, then he went to the Bulls and transformed himself into an larger-than-life athlete-entertainer. My friend Geoff always defended this version of Rodman, saying that he brought an element of unpredictability and creative expression to the somewhat bland world of professional sports. Now that I'm older, I've come to agree with Geoff. Rodman was something special, something we'll never see again. And in an era when athletes do little more than utter cautious sound bites, we miss him more than ever.

This piece, by sportswriter Michael Silver, who co-wrote a book with Rodman titled "Walk On the Wild Side," paints a vibrant portrait of the man known as the Worm. Here's an excerpt:

"I consider Worm a special friend in the way that you have blind and guttural love for your best buddies in elementary school, feelings stemming not solely from the fact that he twice stuck up for me to David Letterman on national TV, when I was a young Sports Illustrated writer and we’d just emerged from a four-day, three-state bender that would change both of our lives for the crazier.

When Rodman, in the midst of that jaunt, talked about gay sex fantasies, his ex-girlfriend Madonna’s ability to make him 'feel like King Tut' and his desire to play his final NBA game au naturale – and posed for an iconic SI cover in a zip-up tank top, tight metallic hot pants, a rhinestone dog collar, with an exotic bird on his shoulder – the mainstream sports world wasn’t ready for the fallout."

Silver adds: "He wasn’t always the life of the party. Rodman didn’t have a drink until he was 30. (Certainly, he has made up for it in the two decades since.) He also, until the mid-’90s, lived a repressed, stultified existence that kept his inner freak in a secret cage. He was scared to show the world the real him, or to even explore it, because he assumed the reaction from his peers, and from the public, would be overwhelmingly negative and reproachful.

Eventually, Rodman relented and began to reveal strands of strangeness, and when I met him in the spring of 1995, he was in the process of letting the dragon out of the dungeon. What he’d discovered, to his utter surprise, was that for all the straitlaced folks who scoffed at his deviant tendencies, there were hordes of others – many not even basketball fans – who embraced him for his unabashed honesty and willingness to take the risk."

Poetic Interlude
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

I was flipping through an old high school literacy magazine today, and it made me feel a little bit like writing poetry, or at least reading poetry.

During college, I pretty much gave up poetry. I felt like I couldn't really understand it, and that prose was really my medium. Perhaps I lost something when I made this decision, because poetry does things that prose simply cannot do. As I was pondering poetry, someone mentioned the poet Russell Edson, described as the foremost prose poet in America, and I thought I'd post his poem "The Reason Why the Closet-Man is Never Sad."

This is the house of the closet-man. There are no rooms, just hallways and closets.
      Things happen in rooms. He does not like things to happen. . . . Closets, you take things out of closets, you put things into closets, and nothing happens . . .

      Why do you have such a strange house?

      I am the closet-man, I am either going or coming, and I am never sad.

      But why do you have such a strange house?

      I am never sad . . .


The New Tech Bubble?
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm not an economist, nor do I play one on TV, but I wasn't at all surprised by recent reports, such as this one, suggesting that Groupon, the wildly popular deal-of-the-day website, is bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars. I had never heard of Groupon when the site filed paperwork to go public back in June, and I was shocked to learn that the company was valued at $30 billion. I don't know, that figure just didn't sound right to me, maybe because I don't know a single person who actually uses Groupon.

Of course, there are a lot of websites that nobody I know uses, such as LinkedIn, the business/social networking site that saw its shares rise by as much as 171 percent on the company's first day of public trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The Groupon news, coming so soon after the LinkedIn news, made me suspect that we were about to experience another tech boom, and so I feel somewhat vindicated by the more sober reports about Groupon's finances.

I also found a June essay by David Sirota arguing that social media sites such as Groupon and LinkedIn are creating a new tech bubble fairly persuasive. Here's an excerpt:

"We all remember the infamous tech boom and then bust of the late 1990s. As long as a stock had an 'e' pre-fix and a '.com' suffix, it was considered a triple-A rated investment by financial advisers -- something you couldn't afford not to bet your IRA and your kids' college education fund on. Then came the revelation that -- whoops! -- a lot of these stocks represented companies in website-name only, not actual revenue-producing businesses, and down went the market... and a lot of portfolios with it.

Despite the losses, this cycle of investing in companies whose value was a matter of pure speculation and hype nonetheless pressed on, subsequently creating the Enron debacle and, later, the Wall Street collapse. Only at that point, after more than a decade of financial rape and speculative pillaging, did we finally seem ready to reject an economy built on Bubblenomics. As bailouts drained the treasury, our righteous anger could have been summed up by that famous Bushism: 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me [twice]... can't get fooled again.'

And yet, somehow, here we are again, watching the speculative class now using the hype around social media technology to try to reinflate the ol' dot-com bubble that started the whole debacle. To know it's a bubble is to look at the difference between what speculators are doing and what advertisers are saying."

If the recession and the recent swings of the stock market have taught me anything, it's that hardly anybody knows what they're talking about. Just remember: Many of our so-called experts were shocked by the collapse of the housing market, and then shocked by the severity of the recession. Now they're surprised that growth is really slow, and that unemployment is high.

Again, I am not an economist. Or a trader. And maybe I'm wrong about Groupon and LinkedIn. But until there's more evidence that these companies really are as valuable as people say they are, I'm happy to be a naysayer.

No Leeches: Hiking Crane Mountain
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my lovely hike up Crane Mountain in Johnsburg, N.Y., last weekend.

Here's an excerpt:

"The ascent to the summit of Crane is fairly short, but steep, and my hiking guide had me expecting the worst. (Or was it the best?) 'After an easy stroll for a few minutes, the trail makes an abrupt change,' explained the hiking guide, titled '100 Classic Hikes of the Northeast.' 'For the next half-mile it powers 700’ up the steep south face of Crane — one of the steeper trails in this book. The clambering ascent up through the smooth, gray boulders — call them elephantine — is so steep that it’s amusing.'

Crane is steep, but I’m not sure it deserves the book’s breathless description. It certainly isn’t as steep as the Tripyramids in New Hampshire, which I hiked on July 4th and subsequently lost four toenails. And I’m not sure it’s any more steep and challenging than New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock, which I hiked a few weeks ago. But it is steep, and we did find ourselves making our way up and over rocks and ledges. 'This is so amusing,' we said, whenever we got to a steep section. 'Don’t you find this amusing?'"




I'll Drink Whatever I Want
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Last week The Awl posted a list titled "Drinks That You Should Be Ashamed to Order in Public," and although I caution against taking this list too seriously (it's obviously meant to be funny), I would say that I disagree with a lot of it. As Matthew Yglesias wrote, "Nobody should be ashamed to order drinks they enjoy in public. Many people could perhaps benefit from trying some new things, but the idea that people should be feeling shame over their tastes strikes me as wrongheaded." Yes, exactly. Although I'm not sure people need to order body shots and Jagerbombs in public.

I am mostly a beer drinker, but Yglesias rightly notes "a prejudice against 'girlie' (i.e. sweet) cocktails. One of the greatest tricks the devil ever pulled was to persuade the world that there’s something inherently superior about the bitter flavors that men (on average) tend to prefer. This is some real science according to real scientist Marcia Pelchat. Preferences along the sweet/bitter spectrum are a biological construct, one where women tend to be positioned more in favor of sweetness and men more in favor of bitterness. Which is all fine. But a lot of people then go around and socially privilege the bitter flavor, which is not fine."

From time to time, I've been known to enjoy a good 'girlie' drink. On a trip to New Orleans in college, my friends and I made sure to enjoy a tasty sweet cocktail every afternoon, and during the summer I've often marveled at the thirst-quenching powers of Mike's Hard Lemonade. I'll also defend the screwdriver, which has its time and place. It was one of the first cocktails I ever really drank, and I'll always have fond memories of that night during my freshman year when my friends Ed, Melissa and I obtained a bottle of vodka and mixed it with orange juice from the vending machine in our dorm. But I've been known to drink screwdrivers when I have a cold, because they contain orange juice and go down pretty smoothly. I wouldn't say they're good for you, but they're better than a lot of things. Also, there's nothing wrong with pinot grigio, white russians or hard cider. Especially hard cider.

As Erik Loomis writes on Lawyers, Guns & Money, "What is so wrong with hard cider? Now, most of the hard cider I’ve had is not particularly enjoyable to me. But this is an American heritage drink. This was the low-alcohol drink of choice in early America (as opposed to rum for the hard stuff). Americans grew hundreds of kinds of apples. And they weren’t going in mom’s pie. Most of them were being processed into cider.

I would guess that we will see a renaissance in cider distillers over the next decade. It seems like the next frontier in craft alcohol, both because it is underrepresented in the market and because of its historical importance in America. I know there is a little bit of this already happening.

And even if you order a Woodchuck, who cares? I didn’t know that was a drink to make fun of."

Read "The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan for more information on how Johnny Appleseed sold apple seeds to settlers as they moved west, which allowed them to make some of the country's first homegrown alcohol.

Overall, the list of drinks you should never order in public is a fairly mild example of an annoying subgenre I'll call What People Should and Shouldn't Do. I tend not to believe in hard and fast rules about what people should and shouldn't do, and so I tend to get irritated when someone tells me that I shouldn't drink a hot toddy in public. I mean, what if it's December and it's cold and a bar has some kind of winter special on hot toddies? And maybe, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn't get into the habit of drinking vodka redbull. But someday there could be a perfectly good occasion for doing just that.

If you're interested, I've been drinking a lot of Sam Adams Summer Ale lately. Not a very bold or adventurous choice, but who cares?

New Hampshire's Most Wanted
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Being from New Hampshire, I was interested to read this Boston Globe article about the state's most wanted criminal.

Named John William McGrath, the Newport native was sentenced to life in a mental hospital after murdering his family, but vanished 37 years ago, after gaining a reputation as a math whiz, painter and avid writer at New Hampshire Hospital.

Here's an excerpt from the article, which is pretty interesting:

“'He could be in a pauper’s grave in Cleveland, Ohio, or a popular businessman in California, or anywhere in between,’ said Lieutenant Barry Hunter of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department, who as a state trooper in 1984 embarked on a quest to capture McGrath. 'The fact of the matter is, we don’t have any idea where John is.'

The search for McGrath has stretched from coast to coast, to spots as far flung as Delmar, N.Y., Sacramento, and London, Ky. Hunter has investigated unidentified bodies in morgues, but the hunt continues because something is always off - dental records don’t match; the age, weight, or height is wrong; the hair color a shade off.

Since he walked off the hospital grounds, there has not been a single, solid lead about the location of McGrath, who has remained on the run longer than any other escapee in New Hampshire history. And because his crime and escape happened long before DNA analysis became a standard feature of police work - and because no close kin remain - investigators say they do not have tools that would aid a modern-day investigation."

Thoughts on "Stand by Me"
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

I have certainly seen better movies than the 1986 film "Stand by Me," but I still list the beloved coming-of-age film as one of my favorite movies. It is funny and heartbreaking, sensitive and adventurous, and contains great dialogue and classic scenes. Just last weekend, I found myself recalling the leeches scene while hiking to a pond with friends; we had heard that this pond was filled with leeches, and were debating whether we really wanted to go swimming. (In the end, we did, but we were still haunted by the image of poor Gordie fainting after pulling a leech out of his underwear.)

Last week Slant Magazine ran two essays on "Stand By Me," which you can find here and here.

"Stand By Me" is about boys, but I think almost anybody can relate to it; the film's portrait of childhood - of that dreamy period of early adolescence when you're still a kid, but beginning to experience more adult feelings - resonates long after the film is over.

Also, in this 2009 column I remember one of "Stand By Me's" great moments.

Why I Write
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my print column this week at the DG, I write about why I write. Here's an excerpt:

"When I’m asked how I became interested in writing or newspapers in the first place, I usually start talking about the second grade.

Our teacher gave us a lot of time to write on our own, about anything we wanted, and I tended to spend this time writing mystery stories that borrowed a lot of inspiration from Scooby-Doo, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. My friends and I were the characters, and in each book we solved a mystery; the books became popular, and soon the majority of my classmates were also writing mystery books. Somewhat amazingly, writing became a classroom fad.

Writing is generally considered a solitary activity, and it often is, but when I was a kid it wasn’t solitary at all. It was something I did with my friends, and in student clubs."

In the column, I briefly mention how boredom inspired me and my friends to write a story called "Richard is Skinny!" during our unbelievably dull eighth grade earth science class. The more I think about it, the more I think boredom is a crucial part of the creative lifestyle; without it, we might be content to simply digest art and entertainment created by others. I hate boredom; I consider it something that must be nipped in the bud as soon as possible. And if it isn't, I find myself dreaming up new projects ... such as this website.

A New Take on Beijing
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

I enjoy Tom Scocca's writing. He's sharp and sarcastic, and unafraid to challenge mainstream reporters and assumptions. His new book, "Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future," about his experiences living in the city at it prepares to host the Olympics, has been released, and Deadspin has printed an excerpt, which you can find here. In the meantime, here's a taste:

"Getting to know Beijing was like doing archaeology with someone shoveling new dirt and rubbish down into the pit on top of you. Old Beijing itself was a phantasm—a name for certain elements in an ever-churning city: hutongs, poverty, eunuchs, public lavatories, cabbage piles, bicycles. Constituent parts of something inherently unstable. Two hundred years ago, a courtyard house was an aristocrat's mansion; now, it was cluttered with the possessions of fifteen families at once. Real, bustling life. Or you could see another house on another lane, restored, its gate repainted, a garage door set in the wall for the new owner's Audi. The huddled former inhabitants moved on. Or you could go to the Wangfujing shopping street downtown and see a replica of Old Beijing, with mannequin inhabitants and real goods for sale, in the basement of a shopping mall."

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