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The Complete Works Of ...
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I discuss how owning every CD recorded by a band or musician gets tougher as you age.

Here's an excerpt:

"There was a time in my life when, if I really loved a band, I wanted to own all their albums.

And for a while I was successful.

I owned every Violent Femmes album, every Mighty Mighty Bosstones album, every Indigo Girls album. But at some point it became harder and harder to be a musical completist. My tastes changed, and I no longer felt the need to run out to the store and buy the new Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins album.

Other artists I like just as much as ever, but began to question how many of their albums I really needed to own. For instance, I own seven Beck albums. And I like them perfectly fine. But when you come right down to it, I don’t consider Beck one of my top 10 favorite musicians, and seven CDs is a lot of music to own by a guy you feel pretty good about, but have never fully loved. 'No more Beck,' I told myself, already worried about the day, 20 years in the future, when I look at my CD rack and realize I own 27 Beck albums for no apparent reason. I feel the same way about Spoon and Nine Inch Nails. I love these bands. But do I need all their albums?

There are a few bands that have inspired me to collect their entire discography. Most of these bands were fairly short-lived, such as Nirvana and Morphine. Nirvana recorded three studio albums and released a terrific compilation album and an excellent live recording before Kurt Cobain committed suicide, while the jazz-rock band Morphine released just five studio albums before lead singer Mark Sandman died of a heart attack. I also own every Replacements album, because they are my favorite band, although I keep meaning to upgrade their early album 'Stink' from tape to CD. And every Afghan Whigs album. All of these bands left me wanting more, which might be why I love them so much."

Click here to read the whole thing.


My Niece Was Right About Tyler the Creator
Published on October 24, 2011 by guest author: Tony Are
When MTV's Video Music Awards were broadcast back on August 28, they were mainly only background for me. It's been quite some time since any of the nominees or performers were anyone I was really passionate about, and I'm not really the biggest fan of award shows—especially this one, which has in recent years played out more like a reality-TV program based around an awards show. But my niece was posting about it on Facebook from her Blackberry as it was happening, and I ended up posting back (such is the state of communication between relatives in this modern world). This past week I've been thinking about our conversation, and I have to admit she was right about Tyler the Creator. But that meant that now I had to go back and think about how music means what it means.

I had been following Tyler's Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All crew for a while—I downloaded all the original free ”tapes”—and I won't (and you shouldn't) underestimate how powerful the music was. There's an aspect (which was sort of where I was coming from) of similarity between the upheaval this bunch of nihilistic skater kids caused in the overblown, overstuffed world of rap music and the upheaval that the first punks in 1976 and '77 caused in the overblown, overstuffed world of rock music at that time. I would still recommend checking it out if you haven't—for instance, “Earl” by Odd Future crew member Earl Sweatshirt (whose underage career and mysterious disappearance was explored in a New Yorker piece by Kalefa Sanneh). Propelled by Tyler's understated backing tracks of looped drums and occasional synthesizers that are closer to the aural wash of “Industrial” metal than to most hip hop, Earl slings miraculous rhymes that slither and pounce, like mad beat poetry: “Yo Im a hot and bothered astronaut crashing while / jacking off to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating applesauce / Sent to earth to poke Catholics in the ass with saws / and knock blunt ashes into their caskets and laugh it off...”

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The Virtual Village
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

I find social networks fascinating, and Facebook particularly fascinating. I know people who manage their accounts carefully, and think long and hard about whether they want certain people to be their Facebook friends.Teachers can be especially careful, as they don't necessarily want pesky students and parents snooping around their Facebook page and digging up dirt. Other people are simply wary of dredging up painful high school memories, or cluttering up their feed with comments from people they barely know or haven't seen in years.

My attitude is quite different. I'll basically be friends with anyone, as long as they're not a serial killer, and even then I might think long and hard about unfriending them, especially if I've known them since I was a kid. This is partly because Facebook is good for networking - I've used it for work, to track down sources and set up interviews, and sometimes comments and articles posted to Facebook alert me to interesting events and possible story topics. But it's also because I view Facebook as a virtual village, where people from every phase of my life gather together and gab. Sometimes the gabbing is interesting, and sometimes it's not. But I like seeing what people are talking about, and the variety of opinions and ideas is refreshing. Of course, sometimes people say things I don't like. This is something I'm OK with, because I feel it reflects the diversity of beliefs out there in the world.

But that's just me. Some people find it difficult to tolerate comments they find distasteful, and often their reasons for unfriending people are perfectly valid. A gay friend of mine, for instance, decided to unfriend a classmate from high school because he was actively lobbying on Facebook to overturn California's gay marriage law. My friend said, "It's OK if people are conservative. But if they're actively anti-gay, I don't see why I should have to read what they say." This seemed logical, and I briefly considered unfriending my anti-gay high school classmate. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. He remains in the virtual village, writing comments I often find offensive. At some point, I might get sick of him. But for right now, I'm leaving him alone, because he's just one voice among many.

Over on Salon, Kim Brooks wonders whether her Facebook page has become a liberal echo chamber, after an anti-president Obama comment caused her to unfriend an old high school classmate. She writes:

"A few months ago, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I thought it would be a good idea to become Facebook friends with some people I knew in high school. Nostalgic, bored, procrastinating, emotionally unguarded after wrestling the kids into bed, Facebook’s algorithmic magic produced these old classmates’ names and before I knew it, I’d reached out to them with a click.

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The Scrabble Scandal
Published on October 23, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've been completely fascinated by the alleged cheating scandal at the Scrabble World Championships.

And I'm not the only one.

In Slate, Stefan Fatsis attempts to debunk some of the more sensational aspects of the story, interviewing players and officials to try to gain a better sense of what occurred.

He writes:

"As soon as I saw the ubiquitous reports about the strip-search/tile-stealing allegations at the 2011 World Scrabble Championship, I cringed. Like the freak-out earlier this year over GRRL and THANG getting added to the Scrabble word list (they are, just not in North America) and last year’s “news” that the game is permitting the use of proper nouns (it’s not), I suspected that the truth was buried under a big pile of tiles. When it comes to Scrabble and the media, the most applicable letters are LCD."

Click here to read the whole thing.


A Rational Rage
Published on October 23, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my weekly column at the DG, I write about the murderous rage I flew into last weekend when I got lost hiking.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last weekend I went hiking and briefly became separated from my group.

The separation probably lasted about 20 minutes, maybe 25. But it was long enough to send me into a murderous rage.

We had hiked approximately 10 miles, with a few more to go, when I slipped into the woods to go to the bathroom.

'You guys go on ahead,' I said.

My hiking party took my advice, and by the time I emerged from the trees, they’d vanished. This was curious in and of itself — every other time we’d stopped for a bathroom break, the group had drifted about 15 to 20 feet down the trail and come to a halt, their conversation still audible to the person peeing in the woods — but I didn’t dwell on it. Instead, I went charging down the trail, eager to catch up.

But after a few minutes, I became concerned.

Where were they? Why hadn’t they waited? I had always waited for them. Were they playing a trick on me? Were they trying to mess with my mind? Or had they simply forgotten about me? I started walking faster, and as I walked, I became increasingly furious.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I had done something wrong. Too much time had elapsed; my hiking party was no doubt aware of my absence, and none too happy about it. I looked for trail blazes, and found one. Was I going the wrong way? No. As I stood there, pondering my predicament, it started to rain. I decided that I should turn around, that something — I wasn’t sure what — had gone wrong.

I felt a little frightened, but also irate. I wanted to find my hiking party — which comprised my sister, a close friend and the close friend’s 11-year-old son — and scream at them. And maybe strangle them as well."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Top Reads of the Week
Published on October 21, 2011 by Sara Foss

Parenting/Family: Cindy F. Crawford on how her daughter won't stop eating stuff, J LeBlanc on co-sleeping and Sara Foss on how sometimes you get the children you deserve.

Sports/Recreation: Cindy Pragoff on taking up running, Sara Foss on the appeal of a ninth-inning rally beer and Ann Williamson on rooting for the Detroit Tigers.

Books/Writing: Dan Schneider wonders why there aren't more poetry blogs.

Cinema: J.K. Eisen on the Barbara Stanwyck movie "Baby Face"

Work: R.B. Austen enacts some workplace revenge.


Workplace Revenge
Published on October 20, 2011 by guest author: R.B. Austen

My last day at work was bittersweet.

I had been downsized in mid-August, and hid out at my company's satellite office until the end of September, which seemed preferable to awkward conversations in the office. In addition, my desk had already been given away to my supervisor, Edith. She had moved into my seat about three weeks before I was told that my position would not be included in next year's budget.

All of this might indicate that I did not exactly "get along" with my supervisor. Part of my morning commute included brainstorming topics to discuss with her during the course of the day. Otherwise, we would have no interactions at all, except for her daily outflow of grammatically incorrect and creatively spelled emails. Eventually I gave up on my brainstorming effort, as I concluded that no communication was better than a conversation with Edith. She showed no interest in what I was doing or planning. I usually "play well with others," so this was very frustrating for me. In the winter, my husband and I instituted a five minute house rule, in which I could only vent about work for five minutes before moving on to something more positive and less maddening.

I have my friend, Sarah, to thank for my parting gift for Edith. Having endured my many work complaints, Sarah's immediate response when I told her that I had been downsized was "Revenge!" Knowing Sarah very well, this made me a little nervous, as I started to imagine what fiendish plan she might concoct. A week later she presented her solution: the Annoy-a-tron, available at ThinkGeek.com. This is a small device that produces an annoying beep every two to eight minutes. The noises are such that in an office, or really anywhere, they sound like an intermittent fax beep or text message alert. The Annoy-a-tron's genius, though, is that it just keeps beeping, thanks to a long battery life. And that it's easy to hide, thanks to a little magnet. Overall, the device seemed like such a subtle, thoughtful way to part company.

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I'd Like Some Different Opinions, Please
Published on October 20, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at Think Progress, Alyssa Rosenberg comments on the New York Times' announcement of their expanded online opinion pages, noting that only one contributor is a woman.

Rosenberg writes, "The plan announced by the paper certainly leaves room for more female contributors, whether in the 'Frequent Op-Eds that will be exclusively available to online readers' 'Op-Docs, opinionated, short-video documentaries, with wide creative ranges, about current affairs and contemporary life from both renowned and emerging filmmakers'; the 'among others' category in the new Campaign Stops blog, for which all announced contributors are men, or the 'Additional enhancements to the Global Opinion section.' But it’s absolutely true that of all the names of people who are meant to get us excited about this new section, only one, that of naturalist Diane Ackerman, is a woman’s.

... And more to the point, it’s always astonishing to me that the folks who put out these press releases, and these white dude-heavy lineups, don’t seem to understand how they look to other people, to other potential consumers. If you’re surrounded by older white men all day, I understand that might not look aberrational to you. But do people seriously not recognize that what is normal (and desirable) for them is not necessarily normal or desirable for everyone else? That doesn’t seem particularly hard to consider. And yet it’s a small cognitive effort that a lot of publishers seem to have tremendous difficulty making."

If there's one thing newspapers and magazines are good at, it's finding middle aged white men to write opinions for them. Gender is an issue for papers, but so is age (not to mention race, and sexual orientation); I'd like to see more op-ed pieces written by women, as well as the occasional piece by someone under the age of, say, 50.

The lack of diversity in newspaper opinion pages is actually more infuriating once you get a little older. When I started working at newspapers, I was 22, and I felt awfully young. But now I'm 36, and I still feel awfully young whenever I look at the opinion page, which generally reads like a series of lectures delivered by people my parents' age, or older. My enduring hope is that one day I'll wake up, look at the opinion page, and suddenly feel like I relate to some of the voices represented there. I fully expect this to happen ... in about 20 years, if newspapers still exist.

In the meantime, I'll just seek out interesting opinion writing on the web.


They're Making a Lorax Movie!
Published on October 20, 2011 by Sara Foss

The track record for cinematic adaptations of Dr. Seuss books is not good, but I'm excited about the concept of a Lorax movie. For one thing, the Lorax is a pretty grim environmental fable, with a memorable refrain - "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees" - and some haunting illustrations depicting the devastation caused by industrialization. All of which makes me optimistic that "The Lorax" will actually be a good film, rather than a cinematic atrocity starring a mugging comedian.

To see some footage and read a little more about the film, click here.


Generation X Has Been Here Before
Published on October 20, 2011 by Sara Foss

Courtesy of Gizmodo, a rant called "Generation X is Sick of Your Bullshit."


NFL Picks, Week 7
Published on October 20, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 7 NFL picks.

Click here to read them.


Lessons in Parenting: Never Say Never
Published on October 19, 2011 by guest author: J LeBlanc

Parenting is a little like teaching: even the inexperienced have strong opinions about how it should be done. I was no exception. Early in my first pregnancy I decided that I would not co-sleep with my baby; he would sleep in his crib and not in my bed.

Family history was divided on the subject: My husband’s mother did not co-sleep with her children and advised against it; my mother co-slept with me as an infant and didn’t see anything wrong with it. I did not bother to ask my mother about her experience when making my decision. I simply decided, as many parents do, that it was not safe—there was too much potential for rolling over onto him in my sleep, not sleeping myself for fear of rolling over onto him, or of him falling out of the bed. I was convinced and firm on this point …. at least at first.

Then I read The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha, which is a favorite resource for baby-related topics. Dr. Sears was as convinced that co-sleeping is safe and natural as I was convinced otherwise. He claimed that the mother has an innate sense that her baby is next to her and won’t roll over, and that mothers in indigenous cultures have been co-sleeping safely since time immemorial. It got me thinking. I swallowed my pride and called my mother. She had never come close to rolling over on me, although I did fall out of the bed once (not a long fall) as an older baby. I liked the idea of snuggling up with my baby, who was to be born in midwinter, and priced guardrails for the bed.

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Pre-Code Cinema With a "Baby Face"
Published on October 19, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

Lily Powers does her best in Baby Face to lead a life that would make Friedrich Nietzsche proud.

The 1933 film follows Lily, played by Barbara Stanwyck, as she leaves her hardscrabble life in a steel town for New York City, where she sleeps her way up the corporate ladder. Throughout the film, viewers watch Lily crush out any sentiment as she teases, manipulates and uses any man she believes can help her get ahead.

Baby Face is a remarkable film for a number of reasons. It was made during the pre-code era, a period of lax enforcement of movie production codes that lasted until 1934. It resulted in movies that deal with sex and violence with a frankness that would not be seen on the silver screen again for decades.

Baby Face not only exemplifies the daring nature of pre-code films but is noteworthy because cuts had to be made to the film to satisfy censors even during this period of lax standards.

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A Found Poem on Costumed Dogs
Published on October 19, 2011 by Sara Foss

This post at the Albany Times Union, about whether dogs should wear Halloween costumes, inspired some snickering at work today.

"I really need to stake out a position on that," I said.

"Maybe the Republicans can discuss it at their next debate, along with Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan," someone else said.

Apparently my colleagues and I aren't the only people who thought the post was hilarious.

The writer Daniel Nester, who teaches at the College of St. Rose, has transformed the comments inspired by the post into a found poem, which you can read here.


I Want a Rally Beer
Published on October 19, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I discuss the Red Sox beer-in-the-clubhouse scandal, and the concept of rally beers, which I absolutely love.

Here's an excerpt:

"Recently my friend Hanna asked where I stand on the beers in the clubhouse scandal currently roiling Red Sox nation.

According to a Boston Globe investigative report, pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett often retreated to the clubhouse to drink beer, play video games and eat fried chicken on days they weren’t pitching. Insiders say that this behavior suggests that the pitchers — who were absolutely terrible in September, when the Red Sox blew a nine-game lead and missed the playoffs — weren’t fully committed to the team.

I told Hanna that I don’t have a problem with beers in the clubhouse, per se. After all, the 2004 Red Sox famously drank shots of Jack Daniels before beating the Yankees, and were glorified for it. The real issue, I think, is that Lackey, Lester and Beckett were not on the same page as their teammates, preferring to drink by themselves rather than join the group in the dugout. Sometimes drinking promotes a convivial atmosphere. Sometimes it does the opposite. In this case, it appears to have done the opposite.

That said, I absolutely love the way baseball players talk about mid-game drinking. These players don’t just drink during games — instead, they have something called rally beers. 'It was a ninth-inning rally beer,' Lester told the Boston Globe, in an interview where he admitting drinking during games. Lester’s admission wasn’t the first time I’d heard a player talk about rally beers. Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski recently admitted to drinking beer in the clubhouse, saying, 'It’s just, sometimes you just need a rally beer. If you’re in extra innings and you’re in about the 15th inning and you really need to get going again, that sometimes works for you.'

Let me go on record as saying that I’m a huge fan of the rally beer concept. I don’t think it should be restricted to baseball. Why can’t we all have rally beers? For instance, maybe letting everyone in the newsroom have a rally beer at 4 p.m. on, say, Wednesdays would make it easier to get through the rest of the week. One of my colleagues suggested that this would be unprofessional, but I don’t really care. Professionalism is overrated, in my opinion. I mean, I’m not proposing we also play video games and eat fried chicken at 4 p.m. But I think a rally beer would be fine. I already have a beer cozy that says 'It’s Five O’clock Somewhere' sitting on my desk. A rally beer would just complete the picture."

Click here to read the whole thing.


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