Reconsidering Pentangle
Published on October 10, 2011 by guest author: Tony Are

The death last week of Bert Jansch (although overshadowed for most people by the death, and ascension to heaven on a chariot drawn by angels, of Steve Jobs), was a pretty sad moment for me. A pretty much forgotten musician (especially in the U.S) who played in a pretty much forgotten band that was part of a pretty much forgotten dead end in British rock in the late '60s. But what a delicate and beautiful dead end it was.

It's important to note first of all how terrific Jansch was. All the obits pointed out his influence on people like Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, and Paul Simon, and Neil Young said that Jansch was “equal to Hendrix.” You don't have to take my word for it, you can look him up on YouTube.

Unlike Hendrix, Jansch was a master of the acoustic guitar, playing in an all-acoustic band, and that was partly what made Pentangle stand out from louder and heavier “British Folk Rock” contemporaries like Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin (yes, Led Zep was part of this movement as well, and no, that doesn't make it any less of a dead end). And it is also part of what makes them pretty much just a footnote today.


Potato Season
Published on October 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about "potato season" in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"It’s fall now, which means potato season. Our late potatoes are still in the ground but we’ll be digging them out soon, drying them enough to shake the dirt off, then storing them in the basement to eat through the winter.

Potatoes grow well around here, and in a lot of the world. Originally from the Andes, they were brought to Europe and to Africa by explorers and colonists. They’ve become staples wherever they are grown: North America, Asia, the Baltic states.

My friend Romas is of mixed Baltic heritage — his mother is from the part of Lithuania where they grow potatoes, and his father is from the part of Lithuania where they grow wheat.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Anyway, Romas reports that growing up he heard the wheat-parent’s people saying: 'Any idiot can grow potatoes. It takes a real farmer to grow wheat.' And, as you might suspect, the potato-parent’s people had a different way of putting it: 'Any idiot can grow wheat. It takes a real farmer to grow potatoes.'

With a cultural rift like that, it’s a wonder his parents ever met. Or maybe that’s why they had to move to Cleveland, where they grow neither wheat nor potatoes.

Al Davis Was a Complicated Person
Published on October 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

One of the things I enjoy most when a person dies is the inevitable whitewashing of all their bad behavior. From reading the tributes to Steve Jobs, you'd think he was Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jesus all rolled into one. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed reading about his enthusiasm for LSD so much. (Gizmodo has more on why Jobs wasn't perfect.)

The death of Al Davis, the extremely flawed owner of the Oakland Raiders, has inspired the sorts of tributes you expect when someone dies. But I enjoyed these tributes. In his later years (i.e., when I started paying attention to NFL football), Davis was a laughingstock and disgrace, a petty tyrant whose poor management had basically run his team into the ground. So it was nice to learn about Davis' generous side, his rule-breaking side, his willingness to take on his fellow NFL owners, and promote women and minorities. Nevertheless, I appreciated this Slate/Deadspin piece, because it has the temerity to ask if one of the things that made Davis successful was his "assholery."


Bad Trend Alert
Published on October 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

Occasionally I hear people, mainly media pundits, express bafflement about the Wall Street protesters. "What do they want?" these people keep asking. "What is their message?"

Well, perhaps this article provides a clue as to what might be possessing scores of people to go out and protest Wall Street, and adopt the slogan "We Are the 99 Percent." According to Census data, incomes kept falling after the recession ended, declining more in the two years since the recession ended then they did during the recession itself. That's pretty remarkable. That means that there are a lot of people who were essentially doing better during the recession than they are now, during what is technically a recovery.

Explains the Times:

"Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent.

The finding helps explain why Americans’ attitudes toward the economy, the country’s direction and its political leaders have continued to sour even as the economy has been growing. Unhappiness and anger have come to dominate the political scene, including the early stages of the 2012 presidential campaign.

President Obama recently called the economic situation 'an emergency,' and over the weekend he assailed Congressional Republicans for opposing his jobs bill, which includes tax cuts that would raise take-home pay. Republicans blame Mr. Obama for the slump, saying he has issued a blizzard of regulations and promised future tax increases that have hurt business and consumer confidence.

Those arguments may be heard repeatedly this week, as the Senate begins debating the jobs bill. The full bill — a mix of tax cuts, public works, unemployment benefits and other items, costing $447 billion — is unlikely to pass, but individual parts seem to have a significant chance.

The full 9.8 percent drop in income from the start of the recession to this June — the most recent month in the study — appears to be the largest in several decades, according to other Census Bureau data. Gordon W. Green Jr., who wrote the report with John F. Coder, called the decline 'a significant reduction in the American standard of living.'"

So the next time someone acts all confused about the protesters and why they're upset, I suggest waving this article in their face.


TV on the Radio, Live
Published on October 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about TV on the Radio's concert at Skidmore College, which I attended on Friday night.

Here's an excerpt:

"I really like TV on the Radio, which is why I went to see them Friday night at Skidmore. I own two of their albums, and I’ll likely pick up their latest, “Nine Types of Light.” But until I saw them live, I’d never really thought of myself as a huge fan of the band. I think I must be, though. I know most of their songs, and would definitely pay to see them again.

I wouldn’t say I like TV on the Radio as much as my top five or 10 favorite bands, but they’ve definitely crept into the top 20. When you get older, falling in love with a band gets harder, so this is a bit of an achievement. Most of the bands I really love I fell in love with in high school or college. Of course, TV on the Radio played in a college gymnasium, for a mostly college-aged crowd, and so maybe that made it easier to put myself back in a college mind-set, where music is a vehicle for transcendence, going to a show is one of the most exciting things you can do and your favorite bands feel more like trusted friends than rock stars.

We arrived for the TV on the Radio concert promptly at 8, which is when the doors opened, and ended up sitting in the bleachers for over an hour, waiting for the opener to take the stage. Since most of the concerts I attend these days start at a reasonable hour, with a minimum of waiting, this brought back memories. Going to see music in college involved a lot of waiting; the worst offender was Radiohead, when I caught them at a club in Cleveland shortly after the band’s sophomore album, “The Bends,” came out. “What kind of perfectionist band is this?” my friend Dave grumbled, as we waited endlessly for Thom Yorke and company to take the stage. So when TV on the Radio finally came out, I felt like I’d been waiting for them for hours. (In fairness, the opening act, a Canadian new wave band called Austra, was really pretty good.)"

In short, TV on the Radio is a really good band, and you should go see them if you get the chance.

Also, the song below, titled "Dancing Choose," sounded awesome live.

But Is It News? Tell Me Something I Don't Know
Published on October 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I wonder why people considered Sarah Palin and Chris Christie not running for president news. And I take some shots at political reporting, which is, for the most part, pretty terrible.

Here's an excerpt:

"Earlier this week the country’s political reporters breathlessly told me something I could have told them 12 months ago.

Sarah Palin isn’t running for president.

Then they told me something else I already knew — that Chris Christie isn’t running for president.

This was reported months ago, but then the speculation flared up again, forcing Christie to once again announce his intention to remain governor of New Jersey.

I glanced at the news articles about both Palin and Christie but didn’t really read them.

I decided a long time ago that Palin’s main goals were being famous and being on TV, and that what’s known as her unfavorability numbers — the percentage of voters who already have a negative opinion of her — were far too high for her to win and that she knew this. Every time a newspaper article wondered whether Palin was running, I shook my head. I am not especially good at math, but I’m smart enough to know that when more than half the country can’t stand you, you cannot be elected president of the United States.

Then there’s Christie.

I follow politics closely enough to know that Christie keeps saying that he’s not going to run for president, and although you can’t always trust politicians to keep their word, I’ve decided to believe him. So far, this has been a sound decision. And if he changes his mind, I’m sure he’ll make a big announcement, and I’ll hear all about it. I’m actually grateful to Christie for staying on the sidelines, not because of any deep-rooted opinion about what a Christie candidacy would be like, but because I don’t want to read 7,000 stories about his weight and whether he’s too fat to be elected president. Those stories are stupid, and now we’ll be spared.

Unfortunately, equally stupid political stories are likely to take their place.

I don’t know exactly what we’re going to wind up reading about during the presidential campaign, but I can guarantee that at least 90 percent of it will be pointless and dumb. Much of it won’t even qualify as news, at least not in any conventional sense. Instead, it will focus on things like whether eating arugula or being a lousy bowler means a candidate can’t connect with ordinary voters, or whether anonymous reports of temper tantrums behind the scenes mean a candidate is too unstable to be president. All of this blather will take place far, far away in a media fairyland, where politics is little more than an entertaining contest, similar to fantasy football or 'American Idol.'"

The History of the Vampire Squid
Published on October 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

The website Vulgar Army has been compiling political cartoons and other propagandistic illustrations that use the octopus as a symbol, often of corporate and political oppression. So, no, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi was not exactly breaking new ground when he described Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

Anyway, the website is cool, and the pictures are interesting. Click here to check them out.

View From Hadley Mountain
Published on October 9, 2011 by Sara Foss


Columbus Day Weekend

Steve Jobs and LSD
Published on October 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

There's a lot to say about Steve Jobs, but some of the more interesting pieces written in the wake of his death have focused on a lesser-known facet of his life: his use of hallucinogenic drugs. Apparently, Jobs described taking acid as one of the most important experiences of his life, and credited the drug for his success. A piece in Time magazine titled "Steve Jobs Had LSD. We Have the iPhone" explains:

"Days before Apple founder Steve Jobs died, the New York Times ran an op-ed proclaiming that 'You Love Your iPhone. Literally.' Our infatuation with our iPhones is not mere addiction, but genuine love, the piece asserted, because brain scans proved it. There's no doubt that Jobs' computers were the first of their kind to engender such widespread and ardent passion. So why did 45 neuroscientists write an angry letter to the Times disputing the science behind the contention?

The paradoxes of love have perhaps never been clearer than in our relationships with Apple products — the warm, fleshy desire we feel for such cold, hard, glassy objects. But Jobs knew how to inspire material lust. He knew that consumers want something that not only sparkles and awes, but also feels accessible, easy to use, an object with which we want to merge and to feel one and the same.


"Family Jewels" & Wedding Rings: Gene Simmons Gets Married
Published on October 6, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

When people learn that I’ve been a Kiss fan for nearly 30 years and have seen the band in concert 13 times, there’s a question that is inevitably asked.

“I bet you watch Gene Simmons Family Jewels, don’t you?”

Actually, no.

Given that I’ve never been a big fan of reality shows and see the show as something separate from the band – this isn’t The Kiss Family Jewels – it’s not appointment television for me. Nevertheless, even a Kiss fan not into the reality show knows that the most recent episodes have chronicled the rocky path leading Kiss bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons to pop the question to Shannon Tweed, his girlfriend of 28 years and the mother of his two adult children.

Gene has played up the bad boy rock star image for a long time. He’s bragged about the thousands of groupies he’s “encountered,” has proudly proclaimed he’s been “happily unmarried” to Shannon for years and has been eager to instruct men on the financial dangers of marriage – or, should I say, divorce?

As a longtime Kiss fan, I'm now being asked another question.

“What do you think about Gene marrying Shannon?”


NFL Picks, Week 5
Published on October 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer my week 5 NFL picks.

Here's an excerpt:

Philadelphia Eagles at BUFFALO BILLS — The Eagles are desperate, but the Bills are coming off a loss, and they’re really pretty good. I never thought I’d say it, but right now I have more faith in Ryan Fitzgerald than Michael Vick.

CINCINNATI BENGALS at Jacksonville Jaguars — The Bengals are not good, not by any stretch of the imagination. But the Jaguars are horrific, and I predict Cincinnati will shock the world by posting a winning record after Sunday’s game.

TENNESSEE TITANS at Pittsburgh Steelers — It’s probably foolish to bet against the Steelers at home, but I’m going to do it. I don’t like the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger is playing lousy and the team just isn’t quite right. The Titans look pretty good, though. And Matt Hasselbeck is kind of cool.

Kansas City Chiefs at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS — The Chiefs are coming off a win — quite possibly their only win of the season. But they’re a terrible team, and this is a golden opportunity for the Colts to pick up their first victory. They’ve put a scare into much better teams, and I expect they’ll stomp all over Kansas City.

Interesting Travel Writing
Published on October 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Recently the DG ran a travel piece on Libya, and I joked, "Oh, yeah, I'm definitely going to take my next vacation in Libya." (I am taking my next vacation in the British Virgin Islands, if you're curious.) I'm sure Libya has a lot of cool stuff to see, but are people really clamoring to travel to a war zone? Of course, you never know. I felt sorry for the American hikers who were arrested and imprisoned by Iran for hiking near the Iranian border, but I also wondered why were hiking there in the first place. There are a lot of places to hike. Why pick one of the most volatile places on earth? Why not go to the Andes, or the Himalayas,  or the Rockies?

But I digress.

Anyway, this week I stumbled upon an interesting piece in Guernica, in which the writer Kate Grace Thomas describes traveling to Libya to write a travel guide for Lonely Planet, only to run smack dab into a revolution. So maybe people do go to Libya on vacation, after all. Here's an excerpt from her piece:

"As a freelancer, I was pleased that editors wanted my stories. They wanted soundbites from press conferences with the rebels’ National Transitional Council. They wanted analysis on Qaddafi’s most prominent son and heir apparent, Saif Al-Islam, and his now-curtailed plans for modernizing Libya. He had been close to modernizing his father’s regime when the revolution began. There had been talk of small gains towards political reform, of releasing some prisoners, of serving alcohol in some tourist hotels. But the moment he moved closer to the gearstick, wrapping his palm around his father’s like a kid learning to drive, the sandstorm began and trapped them behind a valance of dust. The editors wanted to understand why this began. They wanted to know when this would end. I wrote and sent them the stories. Days passed in a haze of smoke, adrenaline, deadlines.

But war was never my beat and my Libya stories were not supposed to be about it.

In December, before the revolution began, I had driven through the western gate of Ajdabiya looking for honey. Farmers sat in deck chairs by the side of the road, chewing on warm cigarettes and selling large amber jars of the stuff. Honey season was over, but the bees that fed on the shmari berry—a tart, orange fruit that grows up and down the Libyan coast—still produce liquid gold.


New Phantogram Single
Published on October 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm a big fan of the Saratoga Springs-based band Phantogram, so I was excited to learn that they have a new single out called "Don't Move." Here's a video of them performing the song at the Seattle musical festival Bumbershoot.

Philip's Bike Commute
Published on October 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the Albany Business Review, my friend Philip Schwartz blogs about bike commuting. This week, he asks whether the bike commuting season is over.

Here's an excerpt:

"My spring-to-autumn bike commuting season has almost come full circle. Still, there’s plenty of ride time left.

Early- and late-season rides have a lot in common, mainly mornings that are darker and colder, whether it’s April or September. Once we change the clocks—daylight savings ends Nov. 6 this year—my bike commuting season comes to a close. As evenings grow dark around 5 p.m., my rides home are a bit unnerving (and who am I kidding, the cold isn’t that fun either).

But this still leaves more than a month and a chance to squeeze out another 400 commuting miles—miles that won’t be put on my car."

Fred Shuttlesworth, R.I.P.
Published on October 5, 2011 by guest author: Sara Foss and Cindy F. Crawford

Some thoughts from Sara Foss and Cindy F. Crawford on the passing of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth:

From Cindy:

Birmingham lost a legend today with the death of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

He withstood bombings, dogs and hoses and bigotry to become the instrumental leader who brought Birmingham to the forefront of the civil rights movement. The city is now trying to celebrate the movement as a key part of its own history and place the Magic City at the forefront of the game-changing turnaround of racial attitudes and prejudicial laws that impacted the entire country.

Growing up in Alabama, we were forced to take a class in ninth grade called “Alabama history,” and while we all made fun of it and questioned its relevancy, I always reveled in the civil rights history section of the class. I think it is keenly important to teach native Alabamians our complicated history, good and bad, to ensure we understand how far we’ve come and identify how much further we still need to go to reach full equality.

Shuttlesworth was a key player in the civil rights movement, and to the students he seemed more like a character in a novel or movie than a real-life hero.


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