Font Talk
Published on August 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've never been a big font person, but I have seen the documentary "Helvetica," so I'm familiar with the theory that Helvetica is the typeface that represents the soulless corporate world, while other people consider it the perfect font.

Anyway, the New York Review of Books recently posted an attack on Helvetica by Edward Mendelson, which inspired Ravi Sarma to come to the font's defense on his blog. 

I don't have a dog in this particular fight - Zapf Dingbats, anyone? - but it is a welcome distraction from all of the idiotic debates over important issues that are currently taking place in this country.

The Last Shark Hunter
Published on August 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Interesting essay in The Week by Juliet Eilperin about the last shark hunter in Miami, Mark Quartiano.

Here's an excerpt:

"IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a 21st-century incarnation of Captain Quint, the obsessive shark hunter from Jaws, Quartiano comes pretty close. While he’s a friendlier, more service-oriented version, the Florida charter-boat captain has built his entire professional reputation on his ability to slay the scariest sharks in the sea. Quartiano used to hunt sharks for his own amusement off Miami Beach, but he’s spent most of his career ensuring that other anglers can tell their own big-fish stories. He started out working as a police officer and then became a firefighter, at which point he managed to work four days a week and fish the other three days. Once he cobbled together enough sponsors to support himself by fishing full-time, he made the switch, and at this point he’s the only charter operator who still targets sharks. By his own estimate, he has killed at least 100,000 sharks over the course of his career: As he likes to joke, he’s outlasted his competitors, as well as the scores of sharks he’s hauled on board over the years.

Quartiano models himself in part after legendary shark hunters like Frank Mundus, who fished off Long Island in the 1950s and ’60s—when there were still plenty of sharks around to catch. Mundus earned the nickname Monster Man for the sharks he caught off Montauk, N.Y., and claimed he was the inspiration for Captain Quint, though author Peter Benchley said the character was a composite. Mundus caught two massive great whites in the course of his 40-year career, but eventually he embraced conservation, retired to Hawaii in 1991, and largely gave up shark hunting. Quartiano, however, has yet to temper his pursuit.

In fact, Mark the Shark prides himself on finding new species to kill in order to satisfy his customers, like the thresher sharks he’s managed to cull from a nearby area where they gather to give birth. He is no longer allowed to catch threshers under state law, which complicates this task. While he’s careful to adhere to state and federal rules, he thinks people apply a double standard when it comes to shark fishing. 'You get people who don’t like to hurt animals, but they’re mostly hypocrites,' Quartiano once told a local magazine. 'They want to release everything; meanwhile they go home and eat big juicy steaks.'"

Click here to read the entire piece.

Jokes Vs. Pukes
Published on August 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Speaking of jerks ... At my high schools, and most high schools, jerks are often associated with athletics. (And I say this as someone who loves sports, and played sports in high school.) They might not play sports themselves, but they tend to orbit the athletes and use this connection as a way to assert and define themselves. I'll never forget the time some drunk student spectators decided to throw things at the marching band. Ostensibly, we were all rooting for the same team. Schools are, of course, complicit in this behavior, as they celebrate and deify student athletes at the expense of everyone else. And only certain athletes ... you'll never see a school-wide pep rally to support championship cross country runners, or cross country skiers.

Anyway, there's a good piece in The Nation's sports issue that looks at what the writer, Robert Lipsyte describes as jock culture. He suggests that the influence of jock culture is vast and far reaching, and I think he's right. In fact, I wish the piece was longer, with more examples. But it's a good start. Click here to read it.

Don't Be A Jerk
Published on August 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Don't Be A Jerk - a good rule of thumb, don't you think? In my print column this week, I suggest that maybe the world would be a better place if people weren't jerks. And if jerks weren't tolerated.

Visit the DG to read it.

Inspired by Winslow Homer
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

We Fosses love Winslow Homer.

And so I was pleased to see that the August 2011 issue of Harper's Magazine features paintings by Steve Mumford, a Maine native and artist who, inspired by Homer, decided to embed with the 3/6 Marines in Marjah, Helmand Province, in 2010, and with the 2/3 Marines in Nawa, Helmand Province, in 2011.

In a post on the Harper's Magazine website, Mumford explains his decision to go to Afghanistan, and how Winslow Homer influnced him. He says:

"I grew up looking at Winslow Homer’s paintings and watercolors in Boston’s museums, and occasionally in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; I loved their drama and their seemingly straightforward realism. What I found moving about Homer’s work was that it wasn’t directly about the morality of the Civil War, so much as it sought to recreate the experience of the soldiers. His art rarely read as propaganda. It showed the powerful bonding among men on the front lines, as well as the terror. Homer had experienced it and drawn it.

It hit me unexpectedly that I could go to Iraq as an artist. By early 2003, it was already too late to be embedded, so I flew to Kuwait and haunted the fancier hotels until a couple of French journalists offered me a ride to Baghdad in their SUV. Recently, after many trips to Iraq, and with the country’s attention shifting to the worsening situation in Afghanistan, I joined the Marines in Helmand province to continue drawing America’s war zones."

Harper's has posted a couple of Mumford's drawings, as well as a gallery of Homer's famous Civil War studies for the magazine. Click here to check out the work.


Philip's Bike Commute
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

My friend Philip Schwartz at the Albany Business Review has been blogging about bike commuting. This week, he tried to quantify the money he's saved and the gallons of gas he hasn't used. Click here for more.

Watching "Beginners"
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I reviewed the new movie "Beginners" this week. I'd say about three stars. Good, but not great.

Here's an excerpt:

“'Beginners' features a precocious Jack Russell terrier who occasionally speaks in subtitles, and it still manages to be a decent movie. When you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. Because when I saw the talking dog, I braced myself for an overly cutesy, twee and annoying little film. And 'Beginners' does have its cutesy, twee and annoying moments. But it’s also a heartfelt and moving film, and director Mike Mills balances the quirk and sincerity fairly well."

Visit the DG to read the whole thing.

The Beluga Whale/Mariachi Band Video
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm sure everybody on earth has seen this, but I couldn't resist putting it up. (Also, I am trying to teach myself how to post different types of media. The whale in this video looks very happy - do whales like mariachi music - but I have a friend with a phobia of mariachi bands ("they're always sneaking up behind you in restaurants and playing music," she complains) and she insists that this whale is being tortured. Another friend suggests that living in captivity has resulted in an extremely sheltered worldview. "This whale clearly does not get out much," she wrote. "Of course it thinks mariachi is good music! You don't see Def Leppard standing on the other side of that glass playing 'Let's get rocked,' which I think the whale would enjoy." Whatever. I say: Let the whale enjoy its mariachi music!

Why Super Mario Rules
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I hardly ever play video games, but if I did, I'd be a retro-gamer - someone primarily interested in the games of yesteryear. I used to think I was just a technological luddite, but I've since learned that there are lots of people like me - people who think Super Mario 1 and 3 are among the best video games ever made, regardless of how much the graphics and overall complexity of video games have improved. I still have my old Nintendo, and if could figure out how to hook it up to my flat-screen TV, I'd probably still be playing Mario, Tetris and Megaman.

If you love Super Mario as much as I do, check out this interview with Jeff Ryan, author of "Super Mario: How Nintendo conquered America."

Writerly Food
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

My friend Seattle food writer Hanna Raskin recently blogged on the eating habits of great writers, which are actually pretty weird. For instance: Lord Byron drank vinegar. And F. Scott Fitzgerald ate tinned meat.

Check out Hanna's post here and the New York Times illustrations that inspired it here.

The Head and the Heart in Woodstock
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I saw Seattle-based Americana band The Head and the Heart play in Woodstock, N.Y., last weekend. Great band. And great venue. Read my full review at the DG

Poetic Interlude
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've never been one for romantic poets, and I'd heard mixed things about the 2009 Jane Campion film "Bright Star," which tells the story of the uncommumated love affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. (Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25). The title of the film refers to one of Keats' poems, which was written for Brawne. Here it is:

"Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death."

The film itself is pretty good. It even manages to make sewing seem sexy.

Why Do We Work?
Published on August 2, 2011 by Sara Foss

The purpose of work and the culture of the workplace are two things I think about often. I mean, does sitting in an office all day really improve anybody's quality of life? I don't think so. Now, at long last, someone - Mark Kingwell, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, is arguing that work is actually a self-regulating prison, and that we'd be a lot happier if we had more time for idling. Personally, I'd love to idle more.

Here's an excerpt from the essay, titled "The Language of Work":

"The most basic material conditions of work – office size and position, number of windows, attractiveness of assistant, cut of suit – are simultaneously the rewards and the ongoing indicators of status within this competition. Meanwhile, the competition sustains itself backward via credentialism: the accumulation of degrees and certificates from prestigious schools and universities that, though often substantively unrelated to the work at hand, indicate appropriate grooming. These back formations confirm the necessary feeling that a status outcome is earned, not merely conferred. The narrative of merit encourages the false idea that such status is married to intrinsic qualities of the individual. In reality, the status is a kind of collective delusion, not unlike the one that sustains money, another key narrative of the system.

The routine collection of credentials, promotions, and employee-of-the-month honors in exchange for company loyalty masks a deeper existential conundrum – which is precisely what it is meant to do. Consider: It is an axiom of status anxiety that the competition for position has no end – save, temporarily, when a scapegoat is found. The scapegoat reaffirms everyone's status, however uneven, because he is beneath all. Hence many work narratives are miniature blame-quests. We come together as a company to fix guilt on one of our number, who is then publicly shamed and expelled. Jones filed a report filled with errors! Smith placed an absurdly large order and the company is taking a bath! This makes us all feel better and enhances our sense of mission, even if it produces nothing other than its own spectacle."

Click here to read the entire post.

Swimming Home
Published on August 2, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my print column this week, I touched upon swimming, childhood, John Cheever, Burt Lancaster and more.

Here's an excerpt:

"Growing up, I spent almost every day of the summer at a public beach called Manahan, where I took swimming lessons, played with my friends and jumped off the raft in the deep end. I also swam in a nearby river, which was colder, but also a little more exciting: fish were a frequent sight, as they glided past arms and legs, and there was a small waterfall you could swim to, and sit on the rocks or float in the swifter current.

Back then, I didn’t realize how lucky I was.

These swimming holes were a short drive from my house, and they were also free. I assumed every kid enjoyed a childhood like mine, one centered on swimming and playing with friends, and it wasn’t until later, when I was an adult, that I learned that this wasn’t the case.

Many people live in places that lack access to a good swimming hole, and although pools are an adequate substitute, they really aren’t the same. Lakes aren’t made of concrete and plastic, for one thing. Their water is fresh, rather than chlorinated, and their boundaries tend to be less defined — you often feel a little less restricted and crowded when swimming in a lake. Also, lakes are often pretty, with lovely views of trees and hills and water, and even a little bit mysterious: Swimming past the point where you can stand is a genuine and timeless thrill, especially at night."

To read the entire post, visit  the DG.

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