What is Frat Rap? And Can it Be Stopped?
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Thanks to The Awl, I am now familiar with an emerging rap subgenre: frat rap, which had one of its first big mainstream hits in 2008, with Asher Roth's "I Love College."

Writer Danny Gold suggests that Roth has talent, but that he also spawned a whole new generation of frat rappers - mostly upper-middle class white guys who rap about getting high and the joys of spring break. He writes, "Frat rappers are multiplying, like an incurable virus hellbent on killing hip-hop."

In his piece, he takes a look at the oeuvre of a former Google employee who has renamed himself Hoodie Allen and started rapping about being a "real f---- hustler." "There’s something about a former Google employee thinking it’s okay to rap that makes the veins in my forehead throb" Gold writes. "He makes me more ashamed for Long Island Jews than Bernie Madoff. ... Listen to me, white rappers from Long Island: Nobody wants to hear you rapping about how you made it and you’re hustling. Stick to what you know. If you worked at Google, I want to hear you rapping about f----- algorithms or some s---, not how you’re grinding every day. You are not grinding every day. You have health insurance. Shut up."

Anyway, click here to read Gold's piece, which has convinced me that frat rap must be stopped or, at the very least, ignored.


Five Songs
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list five songs I'm really enjoying on the radio. Not to give anything away, but the list includes new music by the Jayhawks, the Beastie Boys and Wilco. Click here for more.

Also, check out this video for the Beastie Boys/Santogold collabortion "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win."

Our New Poet Laureate
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Times has helpfully compiled some poems by new poet laureate Philip Levine, whom the paper describes as "the voice of the workingman."

Here's Levine's 1991 poem "Fear and Fame." 

"Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin’s
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I'd stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down on me and the smoking traces puddled
at my feet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I’d sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like Christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I’d cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and Swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and a third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men."

Some People Are Just Bad At Math
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've always been bad at math, and it's always been the subject I've worked hardest to understand. I even read a book called "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences" to try to overcome my math phobia. Anyway, I'm delighted to see that science has proved what I've always suspected to be true: Some people just aren't good at math, and no amount of effort is going to fix the problem.

According to a new study by a team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, people who are are bad at math are probably born that way. Another key finding: numerical talent does not appear to be linked to overall intelligence. Which, frankly, comes as a huge relief.


On Blinky Palermo
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at his visual arts blog Get Visual, David Brickman writes about Blinky Palermo, a German painter who died mysteriously in 1977 at the age of 1933, and "whose short, intense life's work is the subject of a retrospective at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson and at Dia:Beacon."

Click here to read the entire piece.

On Still Not Getting By in America
Published on August 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Barbara Ehrenreich book "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America" is being re-released with a new afterword in honor of the tenth anniversary of its publication.

I read "Nickel and Dimed" five or six years ago, and although I didn't find it quite as revelatory as others, I thought it was a smart and often quite funny look at what it's like to toil away in a low-wage job. If anything, it made me appreciate some of the perks that come with working at a newspaper, such as being able to use the bathroom whenever I want and even treat myself to an ice cream sandwich from the vending machines downstairs.

What's interesting is that Ehrenreich's book was written before the recession, during an ostensible boom time, and her subjects had little hope for a better life. I made a similar discovery when I wrote about poverty at the DG. Minimum wage jobs, I learned, will not pay the rent. On top of that, they're hard work - much harder, for the most part, than sitting at a computer writing stuff. (My brief career as a convenience store employee also taught me that.)

This week posted the new afterword to "Nickel and Dimed," which looks at what Ehrenreich describes as the increasing criminalization of the poor.

Also of interest is political science professor Corey Robin's original review of "Nickel and Dimed." Here's an excerpt:

"Touring West Virginia during the 1960 presidential campaign, John Kennedy was accosted by a miner demanding to know whether he was indeed 'the son of one of our wealthiest men.' Kennedy admitted that he was. 'Is it true that you’ve never wanted for anything and had everything you wanted?' the miner pressed. 'I guess so.' 'Is it true you’ve never done a day’s work with your hands all your life?' Kennedy nodded. 'Well,' the miner drawled, 'let me tell you this. You haven’t missed a thing.'

Mindless drudgery or moral elevation? In the Western tradition, work has been both, and for good reason. On the one hand, work, whether physical or intellectual, can be fulfilling. Reversing the usual stereotype, Karl Marx criticized Adam Smith for lamenting the burdens of work and failing to grasp that 'the overcoming of . . . obstacles' was a basic component of human freedom. Work pressed men and women to develop their full capacities, a prerequisite for the realization of self. Less romantic types have celebrated work for the relief it provides from the misery of the human condition. Without work, Sherlock Holmes confesses to Watson, there is only tedium—and cocaine. 'My mind,' he says, 'rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.'

But work can also be the misery of the human condition. It often requires demanding physical effort. It takes men and women away from more satisfying activity. It can be mind-numbing and oppressive. There is a reason, after all, that work is a biblical curse."


Crazy Like a Fox: Herzog and Cage in "Bad Lieutenant"
Published on August 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

I finally got around to watching the 2009 film "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," which bears only a passing resemblance to the cult 1992 Abel Ferrara film "Bad Lieutenant." Both films are about a bad lieutenant, but that's really the only thing they have in common.

In the 1992 film, Harvey Keitel played the lieutenant as the world's most spiritually broken man; the movie is a bleak and devastating journey into his hellish everyday existence, which involves doing copious amounts of drugs, drinking too much, forcing female suspects to provide sexual favors and neglecting his family. Nicholas Cage, who stars in the 2009 film, does all of those things, but is slightly more sympathetic, maybe because director Werner Herzog turns the off-putting material into a comedy.

Not everyone thinks "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" is a comedy. I told some a friends I thought it was a comedy and they were like, "It's so dark." And I was like, "Yeah, but it's a comedy! A dark comedy, but a comedy nonetheless!" Cage's derangement is played for laughter. His life is so out-of-control that at one point he hallucinates and sees iguanas. I often laughed as he raced around New Orleans, trying to put out fires that were often of his own making. (Thinking Tom Cruise in "Risky Business," another dark comedy about a man's darker side.)

Keitel's bad lieutenant does not inspire laughter. I'll be honest: I didn't really like the original "Bad Lieutenant," and should probably revisit it. The earlier film is deadly serious, and raises challenging and provocative questions about sin, Catholicism, guilt, forgiveness and redemption. Herzog's film, on the other hand, mostly ignores the big questions, functioning more as a character study with an especially black and devious heart.


On Wild Areas and Wildflowers
Published on August 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

My colleague Maggie Hartley writes about wildflowers and the drudgery of mowing the lawn this week in her environmental/nature column Greenpoint. Here's an excerpt:

"Last month my friend told me it was time to work on the 'Wilton meadow project.'

It took me a minute to figure out what she meant: It was time to mow the lawn.

My friend hates mowing her lawn, and while she’s created a neat, trim suburban look in the front to keep her neighbors happy, she lets the backyard go wild as long as she can. She ends up with wild berries and wildflowers, and long grass for the cats and toads to play in. Eventually she tackles the tangle, chops it back down to lawn, and then lets nature take its course again.

I have other friends in suburban Wilton, in a neighborhood with even more perfect, chemically treated lawns, mowed in attractive diagonals. And like my lawnmower-hating friend, this family keeps a magazine-perfect front lawn and a more natural backyard. They have a patio area where they encouraged moss to grow over the paving stones. Sitting out there with the wind in the trees feels more like hanging out in a fairy garden than being in a neighborhood of homogenous vinyl-clad houses. Except that you can hear the Northway through the trees."

Visit the DG to read the entire piece.


Watching "Captain America"
Published on August 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

Overall, an enjoyably patriotic superhero movie.

Chris Evans makes for a good Steve Rogers, although I can certainly imagine other actors in the part. I'd also say that if you're going to see one comic book movie this summer, check out the excellent "X-Men: First Class," which I wrote about here.

You can read my review of "Captain America" here, but here's an excerpt:

"'Captain America' and 'X-Men: First Class' both draw upon World War II for inspiration, and thus have an engaging retro feel. But 'X-Men: First Class' was a surprisingly subversive and complex film, while “Captain America” is the opposite: an old-fashioned, patriotic yarn that reaffirms and celebrates basic American values such as truth and justice. “Captain America’s” protagonist, Steve Rogers, is one of the least complicated comic book superheroes I’ve ever seen; if thrown into 'X-Men: First Class' and forced to hold his own with Professor X and Magneto, he’d seem like a boy among men.

But you shouldn’t interpret that statement as meaning that I didn’t like Steve Rogers, or that I didn’t find him worth cheering for. Far from it. Steve Rogers is my type of hero — a bullied weakling from Brooklyn who never backs down from a fight, has the heart of a lion and finally gets his chance to show the world what he’s capable of when he’s selected to participate in a special military program. He’s simple and also a little bit dorky, but inherently decent. Which is also a good description of the film."


New Bjork!
Published on August 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Check out Bjork's new single, "Virus." 


Annals of Online Dating
Published on August 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

In recent years, online dating has become normalized. Most single people are doing it, or have done it, at one point or another. Recently, there's been a spate of interesting articles/essays on online dating.

My favorite, titled "Online Dating Is Eroding Humanity," appeared in Comment is Free. In it, author John Walters suggests that online dating is fast turning love and relationships into just another commodity.

Here's an excerpt:

"Online matchmaking is premised on the notion of making rational choices. It is perhaps fitting that the language of economics and business has finally – in our late capitalist society – permeated the most irrational, the most human of all areas: the interpersonal. Internet dating is like shopping at LoveMart. We watch and read the adverts (people's profiles) and – based on what we are told is factually relevant data – we then, allegedly, make a rational decision to try the product. The more choices available (ie the more popular a matchmaking website), we are told, the better for those making the choice. Yet it is these intrusions by business speak into the very inner workings of society that should be of great concern.

This is further emphasised by the manner in which these processes are explained by proponents of online dating, as "opening up options" and "putting yourself out there". One site,, offers both efficiency ("Receive your compatible matches straight away") and informed choice ("Choose who you'd like to get in touch with"). The irrational and unpredictable nature of something very human – love and the interpersonal – is turned on its head and transformed into a rational product."

Also fairly recently, The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten examined the phenomenon of online dating; his piece focused more closely on how the sites work, how the stigma of online dating has mostly gone away and what motivates people (particularly women) to try online dating.

And this piece in Slate took a look at how, the most popular online dating site, works.

Camp Songs
Published on August 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Do you love the song "One Tin Soldier"? Or "The Rose"? How about "If I Had a Hammer," "Lord of the Dance," or "On the Loose?"

Over at the DG, I write about some of my favorite songs from summer camp. We mostly sang these songs at vespers, our evening worship. Thinking about them kind of made me miss singing them. And camp.

The Glass Art of Chihuly
Published on August 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Chihuly exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston ends today, and I hope people got a chance to see it, because it was really good.

I wrote about it here and my friend Eric Perkins wrote about it on his blog Ray Bradbury's Love Camel. (He also talks about Winslow Homer, which makes his post doubly exciting.)

What's Up With Obama?
Published on August 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

There's been a lot of discussion out there in the blogosphere, as well as the print media, about Obama, his leadership style, whether he's a disappointment and the impact of the dismal economy on his presidency.

This piece, published in the New York Times over the weekend and written by psychology professor Drew Westen, has been getting a lot of attention.


Most Decadent Dessert Ever?
Published on August 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

I am a sucker for decadent desserts, but I tend to find them disappointing.

They are usually too big, and thus make you feel sick; when it comes to dessert, sometimes smaller is better. Decadent desserts often sound enticing, but somehow miss the mark; many restaurants, in an effort to be innovative and hip, create amazing-sounding desserts that don't quite work as well as they should. For instance, a few weeks ago I ordered a chocolate-coconut cupcake with a lime sauce, and it was good, but not great. Too big, and not enough of the lime sauce (which was so good I could have eaten it by the spoonful). And the cupcake was a little too thick and doughy.

Anyway, the other night I visited Toll Gate Ice Cream in Delmar, N.Y., a delightfully old-fashioned restaurant and ice cream parlor. For dinner I got a grilled cheese hamburger - basically, a grilled cheese sandwich, but with a hamburger in the middle. And it was delicious - exactly what I wanted. For dessert, I decided to splurge. (Not that I hadn't splurged at dinner.)

The last time I visited the Tollgate, about a year ago, I regretted not ordering the most decadent sounding item on the menu, and I decided that I simply couldn't make the same mistake a second time. The item I coveted: a warmed doughnut, with ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry. It sounded excessive. And I've been eating a lot of ice cream lately - probably too much. But I felt like I had to have it. I selected mint chocolate chip ice cream, and waited eagerly for my decadent dish. Would it be as good as I wanted it to be?

For once, a decadent dessert lived up to - even surpassed - my expectations. My doughnut sundae was absolutely amazing. The warmed doughnut blended perfectly with the mint chocolate chip ice cream (who knew this was such a winning combination?) and the chocolate sauce and whipped cream just added to the fun. It was also the right size - I didn't feel sick after eating it, but the restaurant didn't skimp on the crucial ingredients, either.

In any case, that doughnut sundae is the best decadent dessert I've had in a while. And, yes, I will definately have it again.

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