Top Reads of the Week
Published on October 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Sports: Tatiana Zarnowski on the Milwaukee Brewers, and Sara Foss on the Boston Red Sox.

Music: Tony Are on Pentangle, and Eric J. Perkins on Grouplove.

Film: J.K. Eisen on extreme cinema and Sara Foss on "50/50."

Cindy F. Fisher on overcoming the preschool blues.

Helpful Charts
Published on October 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

From Business Insider, of all places, comes this handy collection of charts attempting to explain what the Wall Street protestors are so angry about.

Click here to check out the charts.

Not the Strokes
Published on October 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Every once in a while a writer makes a declaration so absurd that I simply cannot process it. Such was the case earlier this week, when Slate's Taylor Clark proposed that The Strokes "Is This It" is the best album of the past decade. "No, it's not," I thought when I saw the headline. Right off the top of my head, I felt like I could name at least a half dozen better albums, including:

"White Blood Cells" and "Elephant" by the White Stripes

"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" by Wilco

"Boys and Girls in America" by The Hold Steady

"Good News for People Who Love Bad news" by Modest Mouse

"In Rainbows" by Radiohead 

"Return to Cookie Mountain" by TV on the Radio

"American Idiot" by Green Day

"Kill the Moonlight" by Spoon

And so on. I'm sure other people have their own preferences. Those happen to be mine. My point is, anybody who cares about music could engage in this exercise, because there are plenty of albums that are better than "Is This It." That said, I loved "Is This It" when it came out. My friend Taylor burned it for me, and I listened to it constantly. At the time, it felt like a breath of fresh air - a blast of swaggering, youthful New York City garage rock. When the Strokes came to Birmingham, I immediately purchased tickets to see them. And they were great. But I haven't really liked any of the Strokes subsequent work, and I don't find myself returning to "Is This It" very often.

Other writers have picked Clark's argument apartment. For instance, Matthew Yglesias is correct to point out that Clark's statement that The Strokes cleared "the way for other garage-influenced bands like the White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs" is ridiculous, since Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their debut EP before The Strokes' released "Is This It." Spencer Ackerman has more here.

NFL Picks, Week 6
Published on October 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 6 NFL picks.

Click here to see them.

Grouplove and the Importance of Context
Published on October 12, 2011 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins
In my first post on this blog, I gave my first impressions of a few new albums and mentioned that it is very rare for me to fall in love with an album after a single listen. And it is rare, but then it happened again shortly after that post went up. The album is Never Trust A Happy Song by Grouplove. 

Grouplove? Sounds like a bunch of hippies. Maybe they are a bunch of hippies. I don’t care. I just know that they sound like they’re having a lot of fun playing music together, and it’s an infectious sort of fun that has me playing this album at the expense of pretty much of a lot of other new music. Yes, there are handclaps and harmonizing, but there’s also some outright wailing on guitars. I don’t exactly know how to classify it. “Tongue Tied”, the track that first caught my attention when I heard it on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” (a great place to discover new music, btw), is one of those songs so catchy that you’re singing along before you’ve even finished hearing the song for first time.

But the album opener, “Itchin’ on a Photograph” is just as good. And really, I’m not hearing any duds or filler here.


Attack of the Human Centipede (And Other Examples of Extreme Cinema)
Published on October 12, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

When The Human Centipede (First Sequence) was released in the United States there were two distinct reactions to this movie about a mad surgeon who creates a “human centipede” by sewing three people together anus to mouth.

Reaction #1: “Who would ever want to see that?”

Reaction #2: “I’ve gotta see that!”

Apparently there were quite a few people who wanted to see that – myself included. And now we have The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

I haven’t seen the sequel, but I plan on seeing it. Given the buzz surrounding it, I doubt I’m the only one making such plans. But it would be a mistake to chalk up the success of Human Centipede as a fluke. There is an entire strain of extreme cinema that has garnered a following.

Earlier this year I attended a film festival where I watched Kidnapped, a graphic and unflinching movie about a family enduring a brutal home invasion. The audience turnout would have pleased the owner of any mainstream multiplex.

And though I was at home wincing and squirming as I watched Inside, I later discovered there are quite a few fans of this home invasion movie where a pregnant woman fends off a crazed female intruder bent on cutting the baby out of her womb and abducting it.

This all begs the question, what is going on here? Why do people want to see movies about human centipedes, home invasions and other twisted things?


Red Sox Blather
Published on October 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

So the Boston Globe came out with a grisly post-mortem of the Red Sox collapse today.

We learn many things about this team, such as: Starting pitchers John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester drank beer, ate fried chicken and played video games in the clubhouse on days they weren't pitching, and gained a lot of weight during the season. Which isn't really what you want from your starting pitchers, you know?

We also learn that Terry Francona was dealing with problems in his personal life throughout the season, and that questions were raised about his use of painkillers, and whether it was interfering with his ability to manage.

We also learn that Sox veterans such as Jason Varitek and David Ortiz failed miserably as leaders, and that Sox players whined so much about a scheduling change that they were invited to party on John Henry's yacht.

The article is filled with dirt, and it seems pretty clear that numerous people with axes to grind and blame to shift spoke with reporter Bob Hohler. Nevertheless, the article confirms what pretty much every Sox fan suspected was true as the season progressed: This Sox team was an unlikable, entitled mess, a far cry from the beloved idiots who won the World Series in 2004, or the resilient and talented bunch that won it all in 2007.

After reading the article, I decided it was time for Josh Beckett to come down from the Wall of Awesomeness. He's been there since 2007, but that was four years ago, and his photograph no longer deserves to occupy the same space as Prince, George Clooney, Bill Belichik and Indiana Jones. JLet's face it: Josh Beckett just isn't awesome anymore, and he hasn't been awesome for a long time. My colleagues seemed a little taken aback when I tossed his picture in the trash, but whatever. I've had enough.

The one person I'll defend is Terry Francona. I'm not saying he's a perfect guy, and that he didn't make mistakes. But the information in the article seems like part of a larger smear campaign, an attempt to discredit Francona after he suggested management didn't always have his back. Some have argued that the article represents ownership's attempt to blame the players for the collapse, and divert blame from the front office, but why shouldn't we blame the players? There's plenty of blame to go around, but I'm perfectly fine with blaming the players for at least 70 percent of the collapse, if not more.

Now we learn that Theo is going to the Cubs. I'm not particularly sad about this. I like Theo, but maybe the organization could use a change. I'm not of the mindset that there's only one person on earth with the talent and smarts to serve as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, and I'm fairly confident that the Red Sox will hire well. Right now, the leading candidate for the job appears to be fellow Lebanon High School alum Ben Cherington, which makes me proud. And I wish him luck cleaning up the mess Theo's leaving behind, because he's going to need to need it.


Poetic Interlude
Published on October 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'd never heard of the Swedish writer Tomas Transtromer until last week, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Here's his poem "The Outpost." (For more information about Transtromer, check out this article in Slate.)


I’m ordered out to a heap of stones
like a distinguished corpse from the Iron Age.
The others are back in the tent sleeping
stretched out like spokes in a wheel.

In the tent the stove rules: a big snake
that has swallowed a ball of fire and hisses.
But out in the spring night it is silent
among cold stones waiting for day.

Out in the cold I begin to fly
like a shaman, I fly to her body
with its white marks from her bikini -
we were out in the sun. The moss was warm.

I flit over warm moments
but can’t stop for long.
They’re whistling me back through space -
I crawl out from the stones. Here and now.

Mission: to be where I am.
Even in that ridiculous, deadly serious
role – I am the place
Where creation is working itself out.

Daybreak, the sparse tree trunks
are coloured now, the frostbitten
spring flowers form a silent search party
for someone who has vanished in the dark.

But to be where I am. And to wait.
I am anxious, stubborn, confused.
Coming events, they’re here already!
I know it. They’re outside:

a murmuring crowd outside the gate.
They can pass only one by one.
They want in. Why? They’re coming
one by one. I am the turnstile.

Watching "50/50"
Published on October 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new cancer comedy "50/50."

Click here to read all about it.

Championing Obscurity: Becoming A Brewers Fan
Published on October 12, 2011 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski

Talk about a high-pressure situation.

The Milwaukee Brewers are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship series. It's a make-or-break moment. I'm sure the Brewers are tense, and so am I. I'm nervous because last year at this time, I was barely conscious of the series, and now "my" team is one of the last four standing.

Right? I think what I just wrote is correct, but maybe I should have someone read it over, just in case.

I didn't ask to be a Brewers fan. I would have been happy to be left out of the discussion during baseball season. But my workplace is baseball crazed, and at the beginning of the season a Yankees fan co-worker asked me which team I favored.

"I don't really follow baseball," I confessed with a shrug. I figured that was the end of the conversation.

It wasn't.


Mommy Making It Work
How to Overcome the Preschool Blues
Published on October 12, 2011 by guest author: Cindy F. Crawford

What do you do when your four-year-old already hates school and he hasn't even gotten to kindergarten yet? That's the dilemma I'm in with William, who will be five in November.

He's in a 4K class that took school up a notch from preschool to get him and his classmates ready for elementary school next year. It's a lot of discipline, teaching them to sit still and pay attention so the kindergarten teachers can move right along to spelling and arithmetic.

Now, when William is in the "school" part of his daycare from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., he does fine. He likes the "centers," which are comprised of puzzles, playdoh, books and - his new favorite - science. The science center has hooked him up with tests on what floats and magnifying glasses that let him see ants up close and personal. There's a computer program he likes a lot, too, that has him constantly begging to use my MAC laptop for who-knows-what-games, and YouTube for videos of toy trains recorded by fellow train enthusiasts.

After the school time, when structure ends and free time kicks in, is when William - who has flaming red hair and the personality/temper to go along with it - gets into a mess of trouble. He stops listening to the after-school teachers, and turns obstinate.


All The Single Ladies
Published on October 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at The Atlantic, Kate Bolick takes a look at how more women are staying single, ponders why that might be and suggests that traditional marriage is no longer society's highest ideal. 

Here's an excerpt:

"What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.

In the 1990s, Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington, noticed an uptick in questions from reporters and audiences asking if the institution of marriage was falling apart. She didn’t think it was, and was struck by how everyone believed in some mythical Golden Age of Marriage and saw mounting divorce rates as evidence of the dissolution of this halcyon past. She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux.


The 50th Anniversary of "The Phantom Tollbooth"
Published on October 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

At The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik considers a classic of children's literature.

Here's an excerpt:

"Our cult of decade anniversaries—the tenth of 9/11, the twentieth of 'Nevermind'—are for the most part mere accidents of our fingers: because we’ve got five on each hand, we count things out in tens and hundreds. And yet the fifty-year birthday of a good children’s book marks a real passage, since it means that the book hasn’t been passed just from parent to child but from parent to child and on to child again. A book that has crossed that three-generation barrier has a good chance at permanence. So to note the fiftieth birthday of the closest thing that American literature has to an 'Alice in Wonderland' of its own, Norton Juster’s 'The Phantom Tollbooth'—with illustrations, by Jules Feiffer, that are as perfectly matched to Juster’s text as Tenniel’s were to Carroll’s—is to mark an anniversary that matters. (And there are two new books for the occasion, both coming out this month from Knopf: 'The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth,' with notes by Leonard Marcus; and a fiftieth-anniversary edition, with a series of short essays by notable readers about the effect the book has had on their lives.)

This reader, from the first generation, received a copy not long after the book appeared, and can still recall its curious force. How odd the first chapter seemed, with so little time taken up with the kind of persuasive domestic detail that fills the beginning chapters of the first Narnia book or 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler' or 'Mary Poppins.' We’re quickly introduced to the almost anonymous, and not very actively parented, Milo, a large-eyed boy in a dark shirt—a boy too bored to look up from the pavement as he walks home from school. Within paragraphs, a strange package has arrived in his room. It turns out to be a cardboard tollbooth, waiting to be assembled. Milo obediently sets it up, pays his fare (he has an enviable electric car already parked by his bed), and is rushed away to the Lands Beyond, a fantastical world of pure ideas. The book breaks the first rule of “good” children’s literature: we’re in the plot before we know the people."

Want To Own an NFL Team?
Published on October 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm a Patriots fan, but I can see the appeal of owning a piece of the Green Bay Packers, the league's only publicly owned team.

This week, the team announced a stock sale; each share would likely cost $200 and include full voting rights. The sale will help fund $130 million in renovations at Lambeau Field, and it's refreshing to say a team raise money by offering people ownership rights, rather than threatening to move out of town unless taxpayers foot the bill for a rich person's vanity project.

According to the AP:

"The stock sale would be the fifth in Packers’ history. There are currently 112,205 shareholders who own a total of 4.75 million shares.

Just as businesses have to enter a quiet period before going public, the Packers say they can’t reveal much until regulatory issues are resolved.

'We intend to keep our fans informed of further developments to the greatest extent possible,' said Jason Wied, the team’s vice president of administration/general counsel.

If the team gets final approval, the stock sale could begin within weeks. Christmas shoppers take note, though: Shares of stock can’t be resold, and transfer of shares is generally limited to immediate relatives and heirs.

Nathan Bitzer, 36, is already a shareholder, but he plans to buy a share or two for his daughters, ages 3 and 4. The St. Paul, Minn., resident said being a part-owner is a fun privilege even if the share has no resale value.

'I put `NFL owner’ in my Facebook profile,' he said. 'It’s a pretty unique thing, even though I acknowledge it’s pretty useless. I mean, it’s not like I’m chumming with (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones or (Minnesota Vikings owner) Zygi Wilf.'"

The Packers have been a publicly owned nonprofit corporation since 1923. The team held its first stock sale that year, followed by sales in 1935 and 1950 that helped keep the franchise afloat while other small-markets teams were going under."

Film Capsules
Published on October 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I provide some brief summations of films I've recently watched on DVD, including "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and Werner Herzog's "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?"

Click here for the entire piece.

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