The Golden Age of Dirty Talk
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at The Awl, Lili Loofbourow bemoans "the sorry state of sexual expression."

She writes:

"When did we forget how to talk dirty? Sexting transcripts are criminally boring. Craigslist ads read like chimp-generated remixes of the same five words. Is it the Internet? Why are Americans so bad at writing and speaking the thing they love thinking about and doing? You can measure a civilization's cultural capital by how it encodes its basest operations. By that yardstick, we're broke.

So, what would good bad language look like? Luckily, there was plenty of it in early modern London, where vulgarity had a vast vocabulary and even indecent proposals were decently couched. For an example of the latter we can look to a cheeky little pamphlet written in 1656 called the Academy of Pleasure. Author unknown (he knew better than to sign his name), it's an etiquette book for the morally flexible. What it offers is a) practical guidance in the art of preying on others (and, pretty broad-mindedly, how to avoid being preyed on) and b) criminal panache. If a 17th-century Londoner tried to scam you, he'd do it by announcing (grandly, irresistibly): “I have a task worthy the pregnancy of your spirit.”

I have a task worthy the pregnancy of your spirit: Save the slangforest. Breed dirty words. Bring synonyms back. Or just enroll in the Academy of Pleasure."


NFL Picks, Week 8
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 8 NFL picks.

Click here to read them.

Enough with the Drum Circles
Published on October 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

I visited New York City back in September, in the early days of Occupy Wall Street. My friend Susanna and I wandered by Zuccotti Park multiple times, and were intrigued by the motley band of folks gathered there. But we weren't impressed by the park's drum circle, because we are both anti-drum circle. This prejudice dates back to college, when warm weather brought the barefoot, drum-playing hippies into the quad. My friends and I generally gave these drum circles a wide berthe.

The drum circle at Zuccotti Park has inspired some interesting op-eds. Even sympathetic writers have expressed impatience with the drum circle; recently, The Nation's Katha Pollit wrote a fairly complimentary piece about OWS, but opened her piece with some anti-drum circle commentary:

"What a difference a few short weeks can make. The early word on Occupy Wall Street was that it was a motley collection of flakes and fools. 'Purpose in 140 or less,' tweeted CNN financial correspondent Alison Kosik, 'bang on the bongos, smoke weed!' (She’s since deleted that tweet.) New York Times financial writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of Too Big to Fail, asked on CNBC’s Squawk Box, 'Do we think that the whole Wall Street protest is overdone, real, not real? Were there really a lot of people down there? Were there a lot? I could never tell.' In a Times human interest column the archetypal OWS protester was 'a half-naked woman who called herself Zuni Tikka.' Arch condescension was definitely the dominant tone of mainstream coverage, and maybe a bit of it was even deserved: if you’re going to protest the policies of the Federal Reserve, you should probably know what it is, and speaking just for myself, the sooner the Zuccotti Park encampment loses the drum circle, the better. Men thumping away for hours on end, girls in tank tops vaguely dancing about—it’s just not the look you want for a movement that claims to be about getting rid of hierarchy."

That last sentence does a pretty good job of capturing some of my feelings about drum circles, for what it's worth.


Stop Telling Me Tony LaRussa is a Genius
Published on October 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm rooting for the Texas Rangers to win the World Series, and Tony LaRussa is partly responsible. For some reason, I can't stand him. Although I think it's more correct to say that I can't stand the fawning coverage of him. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed this short essay at The Classical, titled "Tony LaRussa's Illusion of Genius."

Sean Rowe and Marketa Irglova
Published on October 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm a fan of Troy folk singer Sean Rowe, whose album "Magic" was re-released on major label Anti- earlier this year.

Sean is currently touring Europe with Marketa Irglova, a Czech singer-songwriter best known for her starring role in the movie "Once" and her work with the folk-rock band Swell Season.

Here's a link to a video of Marketa and Sean performing a new song called "Old Shoes" in Paris.

Missing the Charms of Chatham
Published on October 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent day trip to the charming town of Chatham, and some of the things I wished I'd done. Such as: visit Chatham Brewing.

Here's an excerpt:

Saturday marked my first trip to the Columbia County town of Chatham.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was catching the film 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' at the Chatham Film Festival, which I wrote about yesterday (click here). But the trip also served as an introduction to the charms of Chatham.

Unfortunately, my timing was off, and I kept missing out on Chatham’s various charms.

For instance: I’ve long wanted to visit Chatham Brewing, which is literally down an alley and is only open on Saturdays. I first read about the brewery on All Over Albany, and was immediately intrigued: a semi-secret brewery that fills growlers out of a space about the size of a two-car garage sounded like a place I absolutely had to visit. Chatham Brewing is typically open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, but last weekend they appeared to have expanded their hours to accommodate the film festival crowd, and had even placed a sign out on the sidewalk directing people down the alley. As soon as I saw the sign I thought, 'I wish I brought my growler.' And because I was rushing to a movie, I didn’t have time to stop at the brewery, which was closed by the time I emerged from the theater. So I will have to go back to Chatham.

However, I did have a chance to try Chatham Brewing’s I.P.A. at the Peint O Gwrw, a pub in downtown Chatham, and it was pretty good.

Peint O Gwrw was also an interesting stop, because in addition to a fine beer menu, they also serve three kinds of absinthe. I’ve only tried one kind of absinthe, the French-made Lucid, and thought it would be interesting to sample the other two kinds available at Peint O Gwrw. There was some discussion of having an absinthe nightcap, but I decided that drinking absinthe at night when I planned to drive back to Albany was a bad idea. So, again, my timing was off, and I am going to have to return to Chatham to visit the brewery and drink absinthe.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Favorite Childhood Games: A List
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

15. Rock, Paper, Scissors (Seriously. This can be fun.)

14. Box Dodgeball (Great for recess.)

13. Hide and Go Seek (An oldie, but a goodie.)

12. TV Tag (I was once thrown out of a supermarket for playing this game in the aisles.)

11. British bulldog (Fun, but dangerous.)

10. Duck, duck, goose (I once thought this game was only for little kids. I've since learned that people of all ages can play it.)

9. Ga-ga (A form of dodgeball, I don't think I've played this since I was 14, but man is it fun.)

8. Buffalo tag (We made this game up at camp - basically, everyone pretends to be a buffalo, and runs around charging people.)

7. Marco Polo (I think I am the undisputed champion of this gam.e)

6. Musical chairs (The more competitive the better - this game once inspired an avant-garde youth group play at my church.)

5. Sleeping Lions (If you ever want to get a group of campers to settle down, this is the game to play. More than once I've quieted a wild room full of kids by telling them to lie down on the floor, pretend to be a lion, and see who can sleep the longest.)

4. Sardines (This reverse hide-and-go-seek is even better than hide-and-go-seek.)

3. Fruit Basket (Especially fun if you enjoy bashing people over the head with a rolled up newspaper.)

2. Capture the Flag (Lots of fun when played in the woods, and even more fun when played in a large, open field with a group of rowdy campers.)

1. Tag (The standard version.)

Cool-looking Moby Dick Book Covers
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

"Moby Dick" is one of my favorite books, and the New York Times Sunday Book Review features a cool slideshow of "Moby Dick" book covers.

The book covers come from the collection of Albany resident Bill Pettit, who owns 180 versions of the book.

Earlier this year, Pettit talked about his collection with All Over Albany; click here to read the interview.

Click here to check out the book covers.

Robyn Does Coldplay
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Yesterday I wrote some scathing remarks about Coldplay, a band I really do not like.

I especially do not like Coldplay's new single, "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall."

But I love this cover of it by Swedish singer Robyn.

Winter Nesting
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how humans and animals alike are preparing for winter.

Here's an excerpt:

"We brought a couple of fistfuls of hay inside for the rabbit last week, and instead of eating it she spent about 15 minutes constructing a tunnel to sit inside of.

My son laughed. 'Look at Willa! She looks just like Tulip!'

Tulip is the little pig who lives in a room off the chicken coop. In the fall and winter she constructs handsome tunnels out of straw to sleep in, and when she wanders outside or into the coop’s vestibule she generally has pieces of straw clinging to her back. Often she has a young hen standing on her back too, but that happens year-round. She is a comfortable pig.

And she keeps comfortable even in the winter, which she officially hates, by making her straw nests to keep out the chill.

The rabbit lives inside so she doesn’t really need a nest or a tunnel. And soon after she made one, she started eating it.

But winter is coming and the outdoor animals know it. The ox is getting his winter coat, the outdoor cat is bulking up. The chipmunks and red squirrels are digging holes into the feed pumpkins and taking out the seeds to store in some crevice somewhere for winter eating.

We’re hoarding food, too: a freezer full of summer vegetables, shelves crammed with jars of jellies and tomatoes and pickled vegetables, baskets of winter squash, onions and garlic, bags of potatoes.

Outside with the squirrels is the pile of feed pumpkins — most of them bruised, nonsaleable specimens from a friend’s farm — meant for the ox and chickens and pig to eat. Once Halloween passes, that pile will get even bigger, with leftover squashes, gourds and pumpkins from a couple of farm stands, and we’ll keep chopping them up for feed even after they freeze.

The animals are eating more now, and we’re adding extra layers of straw or pine shavings for their bedding and sealing cracks in the doors and walls of the sheds they live in.

Keeping fed and keeping warm through the winter is something people and animals have worried about for as long as there’s been winter."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the film "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which I saw at the Chatham Film Festival.

Here's an excerpt:

"The film, which is based on the novel of the same name, tells the story of a Columbine-like school shooting. But what makes 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' worth watching isn’t the story, which for director Lynne Ramsay is a secondary concern, but the film’s fractured, nightmarish style: The movie is an auditory and visual triumph, where images and sounds seamlessly melt into each other, signifying changes in mood, location and time. There is dialogue but it’s minimal, and rarely expository. And the film builds to a shattering conclusion, even though the tragedy at the heart of the story is never a secret.

'We Need To Talk About Kevin' cuts back and forth between the present and the past, showing us glimpses of travel writer Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) life before she became a mother, after her son Kevin was born and following Kevin’s imprisonment for an unspeakable crime. We gather that Eva once had a loving husband (John C. Reilly) and a daughter, and that the family lived in an expensive suburban home, but that today Eva lives in a small house that is a constant target for vandals, and is happy to get a job doing clerical work at a travel agency. Eva is a community-wide pariah, slapped by angry mothers in public and treated with scorn at an office holiday party. Interestingly, the only person who shows her genuine kindness is one of her son’s victims.

Swinton is outstanding, as usual, but the actors who embody Kevin are amazing; the child version, played by Jasper Newell, is one of the more disturbing kids ever to grace the screen, reminiscent of Damien in 'The Omen.' He was simply born bad, although the film suggests that Eva was not exactly the world’s greatest mother; in one scene, she tells the toddler Kevin that before he was born, she was happy. This is an unforgivable comment, but it’s understandable; Kevin is a difficult, manipulative child. But he only shows that side of himself to Eva. Some have criticized the film for making Kevin too evil, but I didn’t have a problem with that.

For one thing, the story is told from Eva’s perspective, in a highly-stylized manner; the film is essentially an arthouse horror movie, and it presents a version of the world that’s more fluid, fractured and portentous than everyday life. There’s exactly one scene where Kevin seems like a normal boy: In the first scene in which he appears, when he says he doesn’t want any breakfast, and his father gives him a hug. Later scenes reveal the truth about Kevin (Ezra Miller, very scary): that he has the classic traits of a psychopath, and that it’s only a matter of time before he does something truly reprehensible. (This characterization isn’t far-fetched. In the non-fiction book 'Columbine,' author Dave Cullen suggests that one of the killers, Eric Harris, was a psychopath, who exhibited troubling behavior from an early age and had little respect for human life) As the film progresses, the relationship between Eva and Kevin becomes more interesting, and complicated. Eva doesn’t like her son, but he is her son, and she feels a certain motherly love and obligation toward him."

To read the whole thing, click here.

Lessons in Parenting: Joining the Club
Published on October 24, 2011 by guest author: J LeBlanc
I must confess: I enjoyed being pregnant. Granted, there were certain inconveniences: back pain, difficulty sleeping, frequent trips to the ladies’ room, but it gave me a sense of empowerment. Suddenly people of all ages were more deferential around me: holding open doors, offering to help me carry things.
I even found it amusing to watch the internal waffling in their faces when they weren’t sure if they should congratulate me, followed by relief when I smiled back and told them how far along I was. It baffled me that virtual strangers seemed genuinely happy for me; one woman grinned and gave me an involuntary squeeze on the arm, as though she could not contain herself. The problem was, I didn’t expect all this goodwill to last after the baby was born.
My husband says that everybody loves a pregnant lady. I would say that the corollary to this is that everybody does NOT love a baby, or small children—especially if they are crying. A recent article on Shine details a rash of new and potential bans on children, citing a population filled with ever-more childless adults as the impetus. It seems that there is a growing population that would prefer for children to be neither seen nor heard, whether in the first class cabin or at a Harry Potter screening.

Dawn of the Tebow Era
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

My friend Dave is a Broncos fan, so I like to kid him about evangelical quarterback Tim Tebow.

"How do you feel about the Tim Tebow era?" I asked Dave last year, after Tebow got some playing time.

"If only he were Jewish," wrote Dave, who is Jewish.

After Tebow engineered the Broncos' come-from-behind win on Sunday, I emailed Dave again.

"I am totally sold on Tim Tebow," I wrote, struggling to keep a straight face as I typed. "He is going to take the Broncos to the promised land. Figuratively, not literally, of course."

Dave's reply was somewhat skeptical, and possibly prophetic. "I am still a heathen non-believer," he wrote. "All we did is beat an 0-6 team with a 52-yard field goal. I forsee lots of interceptions in our future."

Dave is right to be skeptical. What Tebow did was impressive - and winning is ultimately what matters - but the win came against a truly terrible team, and Tebow stunk up the joint for three-quarters of the game. But whatever. The Tebow era isn't going to be boring, and surely that counts for something. 

Here are two of my favorite Tebow pieces: 

"Tim Tebow's Passion Play" by Mobutu Sese Seko at Et tu, Mr. Destructo

"Seven Articles of Faith as Regards Tim Tebow" at Slate/Deadspin



Occupy Newsrooms
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

Newspapers aren't particularly well run.

This is a basic fact that anyone who's spent more than two weeks working at a newspaper could probably tell you. Almost every newsroom contains talent, but it's undermined at every turn by wrong-headed managerial decisions and a basic cluelessness about what people are interested in reading about.

In his media column at the New York Times, David Carr takes a look at some of the more venal characters currently screwing up newspapers, while giving themselves handsome bonuses. He sets his sights on the leadership at Gannett and Tribune, but his critique goes beyond that, occasionally getting at the heart of what's wrong with journalism.

Carr writes:

Almost two weeks ago, USA Today put its finger on why the Occupy Wall Street protests continued to gain traction.

'The bonus system has gone beyond a means of rewarding talent and is now Wall Street’s primary business,' the newspaper editorial stated, adding: 'Institutions take huge gambles because the short-term returns are a rationale for their rich payouts. But even when the consequences of their risky behavior come back to haunt them, they still pay huge bonuses.'

Well thought and well put, but for one thing: If you were looking for bonus excess despite miserable operations, the best recent example I can think of is Gannett, which owns USA Today.

The week before the editorial ran, Craig A. Dubow resigned as Gannett’s chief executive. His short six-year tenure was, by most accounts, a disaster. Gannett’s stock price declined to about $10 a share from a high of $75 the day after he took over; the number of employees at Gannett plummeted to 32,000 from about 52,000, resulting in a remarkable diminution in journalistic boots on the ground at the 82 newspapers the company owns.

Never a standout in journalism performance, the company strip-mined its newspapers in search of earnings, leaving many communities with far less original, serious reporting.


Hating Coldplay
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've been hating Coldplay lately. It's too bad, they seem like the nicest guys. But I really can't stand their music. My friend Beka says it's like listening to margarine, and I think she's right. Unfortunately, there's a new Coldplay album, and the band's relentlessly boring and overwrought music is getting constant airplay. Which suggests that Coldplay is almost universally loved, but that simply isn't the case.

In the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones explains why he doesn't like Coldplay.

Here's an excerpt:

"The tunes are there, usually three to an album, but that is something you could say of even their weakest contemporaries, like Maroon 5. What puts them up into some higher level of accessibility must be an averaging of Martin’s guarantee to never shock or offend anyone—which parents value—and the toy soldier brand of pageantry and celebration that underpins so many songs. Coldplay keep throwing massive parades for themselves, without explanation or merit. Some folks just love confetti."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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