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Published on September 30, 2011 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski
Last week my co-worker passed out a "job list" from a local martial arts academy that was developed to motivate youngsters to complete chores like making their beds, treating classmates with respect and cleaning up after meals. Those who succeeded, the sheet said, would get an "attitude stripe" at the end of the week, which I assume is the martial arts version of a gold star.

Anyway, it spurred me to think about what I'd put on my own list, a job list that's relevant to adults. Here's the work in progress:

________

Job list

Clean:
Declutter total pigsty that is living room
Scrape caked-on food off dishes
Throw away nasty rotten food in fridge
Lug trash to curb
Wash out litter box before cats stage revolt

Self-care:
Get enough sleep so I'm not total zombie at work
Plan meals instead of eating Wheat Thins for dinner
Remember that walking to car does not count as exercise

Work:
Try to get there on time. For real.
Stop rolling eyes so much

Financial:
Balance checkbook in private so sobbing doesn't alarm people in cafe

_________

Tatiana Zarnowski lives in Ballston Spa, N.Y., and she hopes to earn an attitude stripe this week.

NFL Picks, Week 4
Published on September 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 4 NFL picks.

Here's an excerpt:

"BUFFALO BILLS at Cincinnati Bengals — Is it time to believe in the Bills? Sure, why not. Of course, this could be a classic let-down game, in which the Bills falter after conquering the mighty Patriots. But I don’t think they will. They are playing the Bengals, after all.

Carolina Panthers at CHICAGO BEARS — Umm, no. I do not see Cam Newton leading his team to an upset victory over Chicago. Stranger things have happened, but my sense is that the Bears will destroy the Panthers.

TENNESSEE TITANS at Cleveland Browns — The Titans are playing a little better than I expected, while the Browns are playing a little worse.

DETROIT LIONS at Dallas Cowboys — Gutsy wins aside, the Dallas Cowboys are just not very good. But the Detroit Lions are. Why stop picking them now?

Minnesota Vikings at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — This might be the blahest game of the week. For woeful Kansas City, it’s an opportunity to beat another team. For the Vikings, it’s another chance to demonstrate profound terribleness."


Lou Reed + Metallica = ???
Published on September 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

One of the weirder musical collaborations in history will be released to the wider world at the end of October, when the Lou Reed/Metallica album, titled "Lulu," comes out. The Metallica fans I know seem kind of horrified at the whole idea (I have no idea what the Lou Reed fans think), but if you're dying for a sample, click here.

 


The X-Files Is Funny
Published on September 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

I used to love "The X-Files."

I haven't watched the show or thought about it all that much in recent years, but this week I found myself nodding my head in agreement at a Splitsider essay about how "The X-Files" is actually a comedy, in addition to being a horror/sci-fi/paranormal detective show. Maybe it's because I watched "The X-Files" every Sunday night with my college housemates, but I often found myself laughing at "The X-Files."

I'm sorry, but Mulder and Scully were very funny, and the show was never funnier than when it appeared to be taking itself extremely seriously, which was about 95 percent of the time. I remember an episode that brought the comedy and romance to the fore for a change, and it was actually something of a flop - not very romantic or funny at all. In the end, comedy of "The X-Files" worked best when the show played it straight.


Have You Seen the Amazing Two-Faced Cat?
Published on September 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

Seriously, this is amazing.

Here's an excerpt:

"Frank and Louie the cat was born with two faces, two mouths, two noses, three eyes — and lots of doubts about his future.

Now, 12 years after Marty Stevens rescued him from being euthanized because of his condition, the exotic blue-eyed rag doll cat is not only thriving, but has also made it into the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records as the longest-surviving member of a group known as Janus cats, named for a Roman god with two faces.

'Every day is kind of a blessing; being 12 and normal life expectancy when they have this condition is one to four days,' Stevens said, stroking Frank and Louie's soft fur as he sat on her lap purring. 'So, he's ahead of the game; every day I just thank God I still have him.'

Frank and Louie's breeder had taken him to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where Stevens was working at the time, to be euthanized when he was just a day old. Stevens offered to take him home, but experts told her not to get her hopes up.

Janus cats almost never survive, and most have congenital defects, including a cleft palate that makes it difficult for them to nurse and often causes them to slowly starve or get milk in their lungs and die of pneumonia. The condition is the result of a genetic defect that triggers excessive production of a certain kind of protein."


Red Sox Gak
Published on September 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

Today at work someone asked me I remembered the Red Sox collapse of 1978.

"Not really," I said. "I was three-years-old."

Then my colleague asked me if I expected the Red Sox to make the playoffs.

"No," I said. "But what do you think?"

"I don't think they'll make it," he said.

We shook our heads sadly, and moved on.

I didn't have a lot of hope for the Red Sox, but that didn't make the end any less devastating. Or abrupt.

Most Red Sox fans, myself included, basically gave up on this team sometime in the middle of August. They weren''t really all that likable, though they had likable components, and if I wasn't a Red Sox fan, I'd probably be celebrating their totally deserved and completely appropriate demise. When I spoke to my dad tonight, he informed me that my mother was through with the Red Sox, and that his friend Dana refused to watch them again this season. Forget the national media, and the storyline about Red Sox fans being besides themselves with grief. This isn't 2004, when we were all glued to our screens when the Sox were down 3-0 to the Yankees. We loved that team. This team is another matter. For some reason, we can barely stand them.

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Music Review: Opeth "Heritage"
Published on September 29, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

After Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt recorded two demos for the Swedish band’s latest album, he came to a realization. Though the songs were good, even mining the same musical vein as 2008’s “Watershed,” something wasn’t quite right.

His heart just wasn’t into making another “metal” Opeth album. The singer/guitarist would later recall in an interview for FaceCulture that he had taken that style as far as he could take it. So Akerfeldt deleted the songs from his computer’s hard drive, literally wiping the slate clean before taking the band in a new direction for their 10th album.

The result is “Heritage,” an album showcasing a band that has reached a milestone in its evolution. While Opeth has never been afraid to push musical boundaries, most notably in 2003 when they eschewed death metal growls and distorted guitars to create the haunting songs on “Damnation,” “Heritage” doesn’t have the feel of a momentary musical departure for the band, but a long-standing goal that has been achieved. Akerfeldt has even said it feels like an album he’s been destined to make since he was 19.

“Heritage” features lush, progressive arrangements. There are no death metal growls. And the guitars don’t so much hammer and pummel in a metallic style as swirl, crash and cut through a musical landscape where Mellotrons and acoustic guitars create an otherworldly atmosphere and Akerfeldt’s voice floats and weaves through the arrangements.  The album has even garnered the attention of National Public Radio, which gave “Heritage” a positive review and made the entire album available for streaming online.

The 70’s progressive rock references will be abundant as people try to describe “Heritage.” King Crimson and Yes will be evoked as will Jethro Tull thanks to the use of a flute. But make no mistake, the band is never lost within its influences. It has made a compelling musical statement that is distinctly Opeth.

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Too Much Email?
Published on September 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

Chris Anderson has an interesting piece in the Washington Post about the "problem" of email overload.

I put the word problem in quotes, because while I'm sure email overload is a problem for a somewhat famous media figure, I doubt it's a huge concern for the average joe. For instance, Anderson writes, "One afternoon, after yet another tiring sparring session with the 200-plus messages in my inbox, my colleague Jane Wulf and I made a list of the most burdensome e-mails we’d encountered that day." I get a fair amount of email, but not 200-plus messages a day. And if a message seems particularly burdensome, I delete it. Or ignore it. Most of my contacts seem to have the same attitude.

Anyway, Anderson and Wulf created something called the Email Charter, to help people deal with the vexing problem of too much email.

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Public Art in the Capital Region
Published on September 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at his visual arts blog, my DG colleague David Brickman writes about public art, specifically the controversy over an abstract 9/11 sculpture in Saratoga, and the exciting Living Walls project in Albany.

Here's an excerpt:

"Amid all the hubbub surrounding the 9/11 anniversary, there was the unfortunate story of how this significant piece of art has been turned into a political football by various folks in Saratoga Springs, who decided they didn't like either the initially approved siting of the 25-foot-tall abstract memorial, or a second proposed location (for a good overview of the debacle, read Tom Keyser's coverage from the Times Union).

It always galls me when people who otherwise do not involve themselves with art suddenly feel entitled to act against it when they see something they don't like being given prominence in public. A couple of significant examples from the recent past include the removal of a long-standing sculpture, which critics compared to a collapsed staircase, from its spot near a government building in downtown Albany; and the very controversial and expensive removal of a monumental Richard Serra sculpture from a public square in Manhattan.

In the Saratoga case, the smell is the same - if this were a bronze image of a thoroughbred horse or a ballerina or a heroic firefighter, I am sure there would have been no outcry. But it's not. It's an abstract sculpture made of 9/11 tower steel, and some people are uncomfortable with what it represents to them, so they consider it their right to spontaneously become public art critics."


You Should Go To Iceland
Published on September 28, 2011 by guest author: Beka Smith

I went to Iceland on vacation and loved it. Here are five cool things I saw.

5. The Blue Lagoon: Icelanders get most of their power through geothermal plants. One of the byproducts is a pool of milky blue liquid that’s surprisingly beautiful and good for your skin. It’s like going to a spa on Venus or Mars.

4. The mid-Atlantic rift at Þingvellir National Park: You can literally walk along the crack between the Earth’s plates, which tower far above your head. The park also has lovely waterfalls, which are so common they're almost not worth mentioning.

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3. The sheep: If you drive anywhere outside of Reykjavik you will see thousands of sheep wandering around unpenned. They look remarkably happy and fulfilled. They’ve mutated to fit the island’s climate, with what looks to be twice as much fur as normal. Their wool also has a water resistant property that makes warm Icelandic sweaters.

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Watching "The Guard"
Published on September 28, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "The Guard."

Here's an excerpt:

“'The Guard'” is a trifle but, as trifles go, it’s pretty fun.

The film borrows from a number of movie conventions — the fish-out-of-water tale, the buddy-cop story, the whimsical Euro comedy and the post-Tarantino darkly funny crime film — but somehow manages to feel fresh.

This is largely due to the shambling presence of the great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, who plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a corrupt, lonely cop who might or might not possess a core of decency. Boyle works in Connemara Gaeltacht, a rural, Gaelic-speaking region populated by people who, like Boyle, would prefer to be left alone and have a deep-rooted suspicion of outsiders and big-city folk. In the film’s opening scenes, Boyle is taking a nap in his patrol car when a deadly crash wakes him from his slumber; within moments of arriving on the scene, he has fished around in one of the victim’s pockets, and stolen his drugs. We also see him drink on the job, and forego investigating a murder to hang out with prostitutes. But he’s kind to the prostitutes and a loving son to his dying mother, so we sense he’s not that bad a guy."


Finding Your Bully
Published on September 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Salon has started a new series that I find rather interesting. The online publication is inviting readers to get in touch with "someone who made your life miserable as a kid," interview them, and write about it for Open Salon. In the first post, writer Steve Almond talks to former classmate Sean Lynden, who made his life miserable in the eighth grade.

Here's an excerpt:

"I hadn't seen Sean since our high school graduation, nearly 30 years ago. I'd gone on to become a writer and teacher in the Boston area. All I knew about him was that he still lived in California and worked for a venture capital firm. I was certain that he'd decline my request. But I'd underestimated him. He wrote back:

Hey Steve -- happy to talk. Your story is interesting as I honestly don't remember that. Then again, given human nature I find it easy to believe that I may have forgotten or purged a memory where I was the villain.

A few days later, we talked by phone. What follows is an abridged version of our conversation. (I've changed a few names, at Sean's request.)

So, like I said, I wanted to talk about this brief, intense period of time when -- and I realize this is a memory, so it's totally subjective -- but it felt like you really hated me.

Really?

Yeah. It was mostly in this metal shop class we took together.

I definitely remember taking that metal shop class in eighth grade. And I was thinking about it, since you sent that original email, and I do remember being in a relationship with someone where I was the bully or the dominant, because I remember feeling that. But I never would have put two and two together and thought it was you.

I had this sense of being totally frozen out. And it was clear, or it seemed clear to me, that you were calling the shots. You were the alpha of that group.

It's funny you would say that, because this was around the time that Billy Dempsey entered the picture --

Yeah, I remember Billy coming up to me at the lockers, I think you were there for this, and threatening to kick my ass.

I don't remember that, but it wouldn't surprise me. The thing is, we had this very tortured relationship where I spent the entire time trying to prove myself to him. Billy was athletically more gifted than me and he was fearless and willing to get into fights with anybody, whereas I always saw myself as an egghead nerd. So it's quite possible, I could easily see, if there was an opportunity for me to prove to Billy that I was his equal in terms of being the macho guy I would have grabbed at it."

The interview goes on for a while, and it's pretty compelling. I've always wondered what bullies are thinking. Like, what motivates them to get up in the morning and be mean to other kids for no apparent reason? In any case, Almond's interview provides some clues.


Malcolm Gladwell on the Economics of the NBA
Published on September 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at Grantland, Malcolm Gladwell takes on NBA commissioner David Stern and his claim that the NBA is about to fall to economic ruin.

Among other things, Gladwell argues that owning an NBA franchise is not a business, because teams are more like luxury goods, and that the economics of basketball teams are not actually about basketball.

Here's an excerpt:

"Earlier this year, NBA commissioner David Stern was interviewed by Bloomberg News. Stern was expounding on his favorite theme — that the business of basketball was in economic peril and that the players needed to take a pay cut — when he was asked about the New Jersey Nets. Ratner had just sold the franchise to a wealthy Russian businessman after arranging to move the team to Brooklyn. 'Is it a contradiction to say that the current model does not work,' Stern was asked, 'and yet franchises are being bought for huge sums by billionaires like Mikhail Prokhorov?'

'Stop there,' Stern replied. '… the previous ownership lost several hundred million dollars on that transaction.'

This is the argument that Stern has made again and again since the labor negotiations began. On Halloween, he and the owners will dress up like Oliver Twist and parade up and down Park Avenue, caps in hand, while their limousines idle discreetly on a side street. And at this point, even players seem like they believe him. If and when the lockout ends, they will almost certainly agree to take a smaller share of league revenues."

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Bad Trend Alert
Published on September 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Looks like health insurance costs are rising sharply.

Question: Wasn't health reform supposed to prevent this sort of thing?

I mean, what was all that talk about "bending the cost curve?"

Not that I understood a lot of that talk, because it sounded like it was lifted from a technical pamphlet written on Mars.

Of course, most of the provisions in the health care bill haven't gone into effect yet.

So maybe things will get better.

But my suspicion is that health care costs are going to keep rising.

 

 

 


First Impressions
Published on September 27, 2011 by guest author: Eric J.Perkins

Generally, I'm a big proponent of listening to an album at least 2 or 3 times before deciding whether I really like it or not. Some albums are just not designed to be absorbed and appreciated immediately. But for many artistic mediums, you have to rely on first impressions. I wouldn't read a book 2 or 3 times before reviewing it; I wouldn't see a play multiple times before deciding whether I liked it or not. First impressions are not necessarily as important in music, but they're a jumping off point.

I usually think about first impressions when a Big Release Date rolls around. On any given Tuesday of the year, there are often at least one or two albums coming out that I want to hear. A few weeks ago, there were 7 albums that I wanted to hear. If an album comes out on a day like that, it has to do a little more to prove itself. I'll eventually listen to these albums multiple times, but for the first week or so after I get them, it's pretty stiff competition for play time. It is very, very rare for me to listen to an album for the first time and really like the whole thing. Of the many hundreds of albums I've listened to over the years, that has happened maybe 4 times.

What's more likely to happen on a first listen is that a few tracks will jump out as singles. Sometimes they're the "real" singles, sometimes I like them for my own personal reasons. If it's an artist with whom I'm familiar (and I'm familiar with all the artists below to some extent), then I might mentally rank the album relative to the discography. That's pretty much what you'll find below. My opinion of these albums will likely fluctuate after more listens, but these are my thoughts after the first hand shake.

Blind PilotWe Are The Tide

Of the many albums released on 9/13, Blind Pilot’s sophomore effort was the only one I pre-ordered. I loved 2009’s 3 Rounds and a Sound, so I was looking forward to the follow-up. What I forgot about their debut album was that though I grew to love it, it was a bit of a slow burn. More importantly, I didn’t really fall for this band until I saw them live. None of the tracks off We Are The Tide jumped out at me after the first listen, but I suspect that if I manage to see them on tour, the better songs would begin to resolve themselves. The album is pretty mellow rock, and frontman Israel Nebeker’s voice is soft and soothing…almost too soothing at times. Blind Pilot is starting to remind me of the New England-based band Guster. Guster always put on great live shows, but they were rarely able to capture that energy in the studio. Blind Pilot definitely has some song-writing chops, but there’s a big enough gap between their live show and their studio work that casual listeners might miss their potential.

Mason JenningsMinnesota

There’s a reasonably good chance that I will check out Mason Jennings albums indefinitely based solely on how much I enjoyed 2004’s Use Your Voice. That was a rare album in which I liked nearly every song. Albums released since then have been a little spottier, but I always like at least a few of the songs. Based on the first listen of Minnesota, this album will be no different. Jennings’ music has grown increasingly darker over the past few years—some of the songs on 2009’s Blood of Man were downright scary. With the opening track of Minnesota titled “Bitter Heart," you know you’re not about to pay a visit to Happy Land. That said, two songs did jump out at me after the first listen that could end up on my own personal Mason Jennings Greatest Hits list. “Wake Up” is a poignant look at alcoholism, devastating but very much worth a listen or ten. That song is weirdly followed by the brightest song on the album, “Well of Love.” With a catchy chorus, a broad range of instruments (including horns!), and better production than any other track on the album, “Well of Love” sticks out like a sore thumb from the other songs presented here. Or maybe all the other songs are sore fingers, and this track is the thumb that actually feels good.

St. VincentStrange Mercy

The music of Annie Clark--the voice, writer, and pretty much everything behind St. Vincent--is difficult to classify. It’s beautiful and jarring at the same time. A song can drift along for a few minutes and sound almost ambient in its quietness, then a wall of sound comes crashing down and Clark’s voice goes from sweet to borderline harsh in an instant. It’s not for everybody, and with the possible exception of the single “Cruel," there’s certainly nothing particularly radio friendly on Strange Mercy.

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That said, I enjoyed my first listen a lot. Some songs feel a little over-produced, making Clark’s voice a bit fuzzy, and I occasionally found myself distracted by wondering what sounds were being made by real instruments and what were purely electronic. But I think once I get past that distraction, this album will only get better. It might not be quite as good as 2007’s Marry Me, but it’s an improvement over 2009’s Actor. After a single listen, I’m already debating whether I should go see her live this fall. I’d really like to see how she pulls these songs off in front of an audience.

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