Shared Songs
Published on September 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about how music is one of those things you share with your friends, and how certain songs and bands are meaningful because they remind you of people you care about, and the fun times you had together. For instance, I will always love "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, classic Prince, "Whenever God Shines His Light" by Van Morrison and the UB40 cover of "Fools Rush In."

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the column:

"My friends and I tend to have similar musical tastes.

This is a matter of personality, but also of shared experience: We’re drawn to the same stuff, which explains why we became friends, but we also spend a lot of time together, and the stuff we do when we’re hanging out often takes on special meaning.

My college roommate and I both arrived at our dormitory with boxes full of CDs and tapes, and one of the first things we did was compare our vast collections and make comments about our likes and dislikes; an early bonding experience involved recording snippets from favorite songs for our answering machine message. Much to my delight, my roommate possessed a lot of music that I had never heard before, and I soon found myself listening to a whole new set of bands. Her music eventually became my music, too.

I love different songs for different reasons, but there are a lot of songs I love simply because my friends love them, too.

They range from Van Morrison songs I listened to while working at camp to the raw, late 1990s punk songs that my roommate was so fond of, to the carefully selected pop and rock songs on a mix tape given to me by a friend in high school. I like Van Halen, because my high school boyfriend used to play them all the time, and I also have a secret fondness for Seal, because he was popular with the staff at one of my summer jobs."

NFL Picks, Week 1
Published on September 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I post my football picks.

Here's an excerpt:

"New Orleans Saints at GREEN BAY PACKERS — There’s some chatter about the Packers having some kind of Super Bowl hangover and losing to the Saints. I don’t buy it.

ATLANTA FALCONS at Chicago Bears — The Bears managed to do fairly well last year, although if I remember correctly they were my least favorite winning team, and Jay Cutler my least favorite winning quarterback. Meanwhile, the Falcons kept getting better ... and they should continue to get better this year.

Buffalo Bills at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — If mighty Matt Cassel doesn’t play, I am changing this pick. But the Chiefs should be able to handle the Bills, who had a feisty stretch last year, but are unlikely, in my opinion, to be very good.

Cincinnati Bengals at CLEVELAND BROWNS — I don’t think I can pick the Bengals to win a single game this year. But I like the look of the Browns, at least right now, as they have a promising QB in Colt McCoy and a good running back in Peyton Hillis.

Detroit Lions at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS — This is supposed to be the Detroit Lions’ year. (Whoever thought we’d be saying that?) QB Matt Stafford isn’t injured, and everyone seems to think they’ll finally be able to capitalize on their potential. However, I am skeptical about their ability to beat a decent Buccaneers team playing at home."

Click here for more.

I also enjoyed these football haikus at The Awl, and this ongoing football discussion at Slate.

Leaving the GOP
Published on September 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Mike Lofgren retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Congressional staffer, including 16 years as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees. He recently penned this essay, titled "Goodbye To All That," about why he left the GOP. Lofgren isn't the only dismayed Republican out there, but his essay has been getting a lot of attention. Here's an excerpt:

"Barbara Stanwyck: 'We're both rotten!'

Fred MacMurray: 'Yeah - only you're a little more rotten.' -'Double Indemnity' (1944)

Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy."

Lofgren, I sense, is never going to work in D.C. again. He devotes most of his attention to the Republicans, but his critique of the Democrats isn't exactly favorite. Among other things, he writes:

"... Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. 'Entitlement' has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is 'entitled' selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them 'earned benefits,' which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the 'estate tax,' it is the 'death tax.' Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash."


The Blooper Wall
Published on September 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

All Over Albany posted a photo of a DG headline that's been immortalized at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Apparently, the Newseum walls are covered with blooper headlines.

All Over Albany theorizes that maybe someone at the Gazette was having some fun when they wrote this headline. My theory: Probably not. Anyway, you can check the photo out here.

My 24-hour Solitary Camping Retreat
Published on September 7, 2011 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski

I spent a night camping alone on Cape Cod the other weekend, right before the hurricane hit.

I didn't stay long enough to have any good stories; no destruction, no heavy winds, no storm surge. For me, it was just an exhilarating swim in the glass-clear bay on a sunny Friday afternoon (during which I laughed like only a child or a crazy person can), putting up a tent by myself for the first time (someone should have taken a video and posted it on YouTube) and finally going to sleep to the deafening chorus of insects.

Since I was a child I've fantasized about living in the woods by myself and emerging a more self-sufficient person, and this is the closest I've gotten so far.

I decided to go after I got the itch to see the ocean, or at least, some big body of water. But I didn't want to make a big production of a trip to the beach, with a hotel room and vacation days. I just wanted to go and spend a few hours. By myself.


Though I decided to brave a little rain and possibly heavy traffic on the way out of the Cape, there were definitely signs that others had decided against doing so. The state forest campground where I stayed was surprisingly empty. The man at the front raised his eyebrows when I told him Friday afternoon that I was there to check in. For a second I feared he would turn me away right then.


Watching "The Help"
Published on September 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

Yes, I watched "The Help." Predictably, I felt sort of blah and ambivalent about the whole thing. Here's an excerpt from my review for the DG:

"I had no expectations for 'The Help,' and mainly went to see it because people keep asking me if I’ve seen it, and because 'Fright Night' was only showing at 9:30, and I didn’t feel like going to the movies that late. So I’m pleased to report that 'The Help' is not terrible, and I could even understand, from time to time, why people love it so much. And I think the movie actually improves a little upon the wobbly source material, trimming some of the fat from the narrative and casting actresses who know how to flesh out underwritten parts.

There are some genuinely moving moments in 'The Help,' and the movie’s eye for period detail is sharp — it’s one thing to read a description of a fancy society dinner and try to imagine it, and quite another to see all the white people in their fancy clothes sitting down to eat, while black maids in uniforms stand silently against the wall and wait for orders.

In some ways, both the book and the movie feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. The book could have been harder-hitting and tighter, while the movie surrounds its few genuinely moving moments with broad comedy, overheated and melodramatic side plots and a view of the civil rights era that’s just a little too soft. Like the book, the film would have benefited from focusing more on Minnie (Octavia Spencer), Aibileen (Viola Davis) and their fellow maids, and reducing Skeeter’s (Emma Stone) role in the story; American cinema is filled with the stories of white people who put themselves at risk to befriend and help black people, and 'The Help' fits squarely into that canon — a canon that includes 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 'Mississippi Burning' and 'Driving Miss Daisy.'"

However, I did really enjoy this piece, in which Los Angeles film critic Betsy Sharkey, who grew up in the Deep South, remembers the black domestic who helped raise her, and reflects upon the film.




Sara Foss

Sara Foss is based in Albany, N.Y., and works at a newspaper in upstate New York. She got bored at work one day, and decided to start Rule of Thumb.


Rule of Thumb is a freeform online magazine that features content on a wide variety of topics.

These topics include, but are not limited to: art, music, literature, sports, politics, current events, travel and work.

We will consider publishing anything that isn't stupid, and welcome reviews, lists, essays, memoir and original poetry and fiction.

Rule of Thumb is geared toward people who would occasionally like to read something interesting, funny and with a point of view. We believe that there are a lot of interesting people out there, with interesting things to say, and that it would be nice to provide a forum for them to share their thoughts and discuss the issues of the day.

The opinions expressed on Rule of Thumb reflect the views of the writer, but not the publication at large.

To contribute to the magazine, ask a question or make a suggestion email

Record Collecting for Girls
Published on September 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Courtney E. Smith has a new book out, called "Record Collecting for Girls," which sounds very cool. I haven't read the book, but apparently it functions as a "music-nerd manual," according to The Hairpin, in which "Smith tackles such pressing musical issues as guilty pleasure songs, Top Five Lists, and what it means to like The Smiths too much."

The Hairpin posted an interview with Smith in which interviewer and interviewee express a bunch of opinions about music that I also happen to have - so many, in fact, that a friend of mine asked, as I read snippets of the piece aloud, "Is this interview really with you?" Among other things, Smith and I appear to feel the same way about the Smiths and Bright Eyes, and I think she's right that the Nenah Cherry song "Buffalo Stance" stands the test of time.

Cool Treehouses
Published on September 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

When I was a kid, I always dreamed of living in a treehouse, and I still think they're very cool. If you feel the same way, check out this post on Webcoist, which contains pictures of 15 amazing treehouses from around the world.

Post-Vacation Blues
Published on September 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Wall Street Journal ran this piece looking at the post-vacation blues - the depression that sets in once summer is over. I often experience mild to moderate depression when the summer is over, because it marks an end to my exciting summer adventures, and so I felt like I could understand what the author was talking about.

Here's an excerpt:

"There are few studies or statistics on the end-of-summer malaise, but therapists, career coaches—even marriage counselors—report an increase in people seeking help in early fall. 'Change is always hard and this is a time when both nature and our lives are changing,' says Betsy Stone, a psychologist in Stamford, Conn.

A big component is what some researchers dub Post Vacation Syndrome (PVS), characterized by a combination of irritability, anxiety, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and a feeling of emptiness that lasts up to a few weeks after returning to work. Some people get a mild version every Sunday night after getting the weekend off. Surveys suggest that 35% to 75% of workers in Spain, where many businesses close for the month of August, suffer from PVS."

Generally, it's a good idea to be skeptical of news articles that describe a trend that can't be quantified, but I'll make an exception in this case. Also, I'm happy to know that there's an official name for my year autumnal malady, PVS. My favorite observation in the article might be this sentence: "Several studies have found that vacations do lift peoples' spirits, but the effects don't last long." Right, because you have to go back to work.

Meanwhile, Mother Jones posted some handy charts from the magazine's July/August issue that show how much productivity is up compared to wages (translation: there are few jobs, but the people who have them are doing more work for less gain), which countries don't requre paid maternity leave and paid annual leave (hint: the U.S. is one of them) and comparing how much time women spend doing chores around the house than men (um, women do more chores).

Hmmm, maybe people get depressed about going to work because it's exhausting and endless and the demands are ever-increasing. OK, now I'm making myself depressed again, so I think I'll end this post.

A Wedding at a Brewery
Published on September 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over the weekend, I attended a wedding at Brooklyn Brewery, which was awesome. Over at the DG, I write about some of the beers I tried, and the excellent bacon appetizer I ate at 1 in the morning.

Here's an excerpt:

"The Brooklyn Brewery makes many excellent beers, and there were maybe 10 on tap during the cocktail hour that preceded the ceremony and the reception. I sampled about half of the available beers, deliberately staying away from the Brooklyn Blast, a double IPA with an alcohol content of about 9 percent. I did taste the Blast, and it was delicious — hoppy and citrusy, without the syrupy aftertaste you might find in other sweet-tasting beers with high alcohol contents. But I felt that drinking the Blast at a wedding was a recipe for disaster, and occasionally took it upon myself to inform my fellow wedding-goers of its high alcohol content. I invariably got two responses: 'What? Nine percent? Oh my God!' or 'I know. That’s why I’m drinking it.'

Anyway, I tried the Brooklyn Brown, the Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn Pennant Ale, the Brooklyner Weisse and the Brooklyn Radius. They were all good, but my favorites were the Radius, a Belgian pale ale that is only available at the brewery, so I recommend going there and trying it, and the Pennant, a very tasty pale ale brewed in honor of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. Now that I think about it, I also tried the brewery’s East India Pale Ale, while hanging out at the apartment of my friend Michelle, who served as a groomsmaid at the big event, on the afternoon of the wedding. Around 3:30 the groom arrived at Michelle’s apartment with his suit and a six pack of East India Pale Ale, so we all had a beer while making remarks about the groom’s attire and assisting him in buttoning his shirt cuffs. In any case, the East India Pale Ale was both delicious and refreshing on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, and after Michelle and the groom cleared out, I walked down the street and bought some Indian food."

The Need For Women in Comics
Published on September 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over the weekend I attended a wedding, for friends who met while working at DC Comics. The man who officiated the ceremony hired the bride, and during his brief remarks he made a comment about the need for women in the comics industry.

Over at ComicsAlliance, Rachel Edidin, an editor at Dark Horse Comics, writes about this issue, and proposes some solutions. Here's an excerpt:

"At the same time, we need to stop grouping women in gender-based creative and marketing ghettoes. Womanthology is a valuable project because it's a vivid and inarguable demonstration of both the volume of female comics professionals and the demand for comics of, by, and for women. But it's not a panacea, nor a substitute for not only hiring but seeking women across the board. Likewise, Marvel's Girl Comics did a great job of spotlighting a great many women who do want to work in superhero comics, and the wonderful range of perspectives and styles they'd bring to that table, but because it was a self-contained project, none of that made its way into the main Marvel universe.

And to make a place for those women, we need to radically redefine not only how we discuss the question of women in comics, but how we discuss and define comics, and in particular, superhero comics. This change must take place at a systemic level, and it must be spearheaded by publishers, because they're the only ones with the money and market power to affect a paradigm shift on that scale.

If, as Dan DiDio implied, superhero comics are hiring only a few women because only a few both want to work in superhero comics and possess aesthetic and narrative sensibilities to match superhero comics' current climate, then perhaps we should be asking different questions. Instead of, 'How can we make more women qualified to make these comics,' perhaps we should be asking, 'How can we define a line of comics that welcomes and uses the skills and sensibilities of these women?'

It's going to take more than an imprint, or a few titles, or a few big names. It's going to take rebuilding not only the borders, but the center of comics -- industry, medium, and market. For as long as we keep those alternative voices and narratives on the margins, they'll fail, not because of what they are, but because they have been made marginal. We need to set about deliberately creating a new status quo, one in which those narratives and the voices behind them are popularly recognized and valued -- critically and financially -- as a significant and definitive portion of the comics canon: not fringe, not alternative, but a vital, central component of a diverse whole." 

The essay reminded me last week's hilarious post on The Awl, about the "Try to Sit Like Impossible Mary Jane" Spider Man contest.


Thoughts on "The Parallax View"
Published on September 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

I recently watched the 1974 conspiracy thriller "The Parallax View," in which Warren Beatty plays an investigative reporter named Joseph Frady who uncovers shocking secrets about a political assassination.

The film was directed by Alan Pakula, who helmed another great conspiracy theory about journalists, "All the President's Men." Last week, the Columbia Journalism Review took a look at "The Parallax View," which is the less famous and more ludicruous film, but also bracingly cynical and incredibly dark. Watching it made me wonder why nobody has made a great conspiracy thriller since the 1970s. (An exaggeration, but it certainly feels that way.) Doesn't it seem like the failures of the past ten years should have produced a whole new crop of great conspiracy thrillers? And yet it hasn't happened.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the CJR piece:

"In the end, the truth dies with Frady. No story is ever written. The sinister Parallax Corporation continues to operate in surprisingly conspicuous quarters, churning out assassins. All of Frady’s risk-taking and hard work seem not to have mattered—it’s an even bleaker picture, in terms of journalistic efficacy, than the existential crisis that grips the business today. Do we matter? Maybe not.

But Pakula’s message is not an indictment of the journalist, but of the machine and the power structures the poor hack is up against. Pakula made this film in what was something of a golden era of journalism, when people had far more faith in the press than in politicians and their official narratives. Be wary of the powerful. Be wary of the corporate. Be wary of worn-out editors who have gotten too comfortable in the newsroom.

And yet, sometimes the good guys lose. Whereas journalists are triumphant truth-tellers in All the President’s Men, in The Parallax View the journalist is a tragic hero on a lonely—and, as it happens, futile—quest for truth in a world that won’t allow it. Indeed, it was a reflection of the times. While much of the Watergate story had been unraveled on the front page of The Washington Post by the time The Parallax View was released, it wasn’t until later that summer, when Nixon resigned, that journalism ultimately prevailed."

No, Hurricane Irene Was Not Overhyped
Published on September 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over in my column at the DG, I elaborate on my feelings about Hurricane Irene. The piece touches upon several different themes, but one thing I feel particularly strongly about is my overall disgust for pundits like Howard Kurtz, who wrote about how Hurricane Irene was overhyped BEFORE THE STORM WAS EVEN OVER. He should actually apologize for that column, which was an absolute embarrassment, but famous pundits don't generally apologize, acknowledge that they're wrong, or correct themselves, so I doubt we'll hear a word about HOW ABSOLUTELY WRONG HE WAS any time soon. 

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"The floodwaters were still rising when some people began wondering whether the storm was simply a lot of hype.
On Sunday at 11:15 a.m. (you know — when it was still raining cats and dogs up here), The Daily Beast posted an op-ed by media critic Howard Kurtz suggesting that the media coverage of the storm was overblown. Hurricane Irene, he wrote, wasn’t such a big deal. “Hurricanes are unpredictable, and it’s a great relief that the prophets of doom were wrong about Hurricane Irene. But don’t expect the cable networks to downgrade their coverage the next time a tropical storm gathers strength.”

What kills me is that Kurtz felt comfortable writing this before the storm had even ended. Apparently media critics are also meteorologists who can see the future? Perhaps he was thinking, 'Well, it didn’t destroy New York City, which is the only place on Earth that matters, besides Washington, which wasn’t destroyed, either. So it wasn’t that bad a storm after all!'

Other clowns wondered whether officials overreacted to the storm, which is now estimated to be one of the 10 costliest disasters in U.S. history. That sounds pretty bad to me, but what do I know?

In any case, I’m assuming that the naysaying clowns weren’t among those affected by the storm, that they didn’t lose their power for days on end, that their houses are still standing, that they aren’t surveying their businesses and wondering whether they can reopen, that they aren’t trapped in a small Vermont town waiting for food and emergency supplies to be airlifted to them. Maybe they looked out their windows on Sunday and thought, 'This storm doesn’t seem that bad' and never realized that there’s a great big world beyond what you can immediately see."

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