Blacks and the Civil War
Published on December 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been blogging about the Civil War for quite awhile - one of his more interesting assertions, which I largely agree with, is that the Civil War was not a tragedy - and this month he has an excellent article in the Atlantic titled "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?"

He opens his piece by writing about a school trip to Gettysburg:

"I remember riding in a beautiful coach bus, as opposed to the hated yellow cheese. I remember stopping at Hardee’s for lunch, and savoring the res­pite from my vegetarian father’s lima beans and tofu. I remember cannons, and a display of guns. But as for any connections to the very history I was regularly baptized in, there is nothing. In fact, when I recall all the attempts to inculcate my classmates with some sense of legacy and history, the gaping hole of Gettys­burg opens into the chasm of the Civil War.

We knew, of course, about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. But our general sense of the war was that a horrible tragedy somehow had the magical effect of getting us free. Its legacy belonged not to us, but to those who reveled in the costume and technology of a time when we were property.

Our alienation was neither achieved in independence, nor stumbled upon by accident, but produced by American design. The belief that the Civil War wasn’t for us was the result of the country’s long search for a narrative that could reconcile white people with each other, one that avoided what professional historians now know to be true: that one group of Americans attempted to raise a country wholly premised on property in Negroes, and that another group of Americans, including many Negroes, stopped them. In the popular mind, that demonstrable truth has been evaded in favor of a more comforting story of tragedy, failed compromise, and individual gallantry. For that more ennobling narrative, as for so much of American history, the fact of black people is a problem.

In April 1865, the United States was faced with a discomfiting reality: it had seen 2 percent of its population destroyed because a section of its citizenry would countenance anything to protect, and expand, the right to own other people. The mass bloodletting shocked the senses. At the war’s start, Senator James Chesnut Jr. of South Carolina, believing that casualties would be minimal, claimed he would drink all the blood shed in the coming disturbance. Five years later, 620,000 Americans were dead. But the fact that such carnage had been wreaked for a cause that Ulys­ses S. Grant called “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse” invited the damnation of history. Honor is salvageable from a military defeat; much less so from an ideological defeat, and especially one so duly earned in defense of slavery in a country premised on liberty."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Worst Owner in the NBA
Published on December 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Wages of Wins Journal has selected the Orlando Magic for its worst management of the year award.

This makes perfect sense. All-Star big man Dwight Howard (who's sort of a dunce, but also a world class talent) wants out, largely because he's unhappy with his teammates. (Gilbert Arenas, anyone?) And this week Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide announced his retirement after admitting that he contacted Howard at 1 a.m., saying "I was playing paddle with friends and had a couple of glasses of wine. Maybe Dwight thought it was inappropriate to talk business after a couple of glasses of wine... Maybe I should have waited until the morning."

Yes, maybe.
Anyway, bad sports owners abound, but Wages of Wins makes a compelling case for declaring the Magic the worst management in sports. Click here to read it.

Melies at 150
Published on December 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Having just seen "Hugo" (click here for my review), I felt compelled to post this link to Mubi Notebook's compilation of links to articles about George Melies 150th birthday.

NFL Picks, Week 14
Published on December 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 14 NFL picks.

Click here to read them.

Christmas Music -- WTF?
Published on December 7, 2011 by guest author: Tony Are

I live in a large city (so large, in fact, that it is the largest city in the U.S.) and at this time of year every store, restaurant, outdoor vendor, elevator loudspeaker, subway busker and group of faux military-clad musicians on street corners are all playing Christmas music. In my immediate neighborhood on the main shopping strip, they have rigged up an outdoor speaker system that plays the stuff 24 hours a day at near heavy-metal volume. It has become a sort of surreal backdrop with different versions of the same song coming from a variety of sources as you walk down the street. It happens pretty much the same way every year, starting sometime after Halloween and ending rather suddenly on January 2nd.

Obviously, the point is mainly to get us in the mood to shop, and to create some patina of “Christmas Cheer” on the increasingly depressing daily grind that passes as a lifestyle for most people. But I have to admit I kind of like Christmas music. Certainly not all of it — in fact, not most of it. But there is just so much of it that even narrowed down to my very absolute favorites, it still would take about seven and a half hours to play all the way through the songs in my “Xmas Favorites” playlist in my itunes.

What has always intrigued me about holiday music is that it is kind of a challenge to songwriters and musicians. It's a very limited subject matter with a pretty specific set of rules, both sonic (more sleighbells, anyone?) and lyrical (it's better if you mention snow no later than the second verse). And unlike any other genre of music, no one holds it against you if you record the same song that hundreds of other people have already recorded.


Watching "Hugo"
Published on December 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Martin Scorsese film "Hugo."

Here's an excerpt:

"There’s been some discussion about who, exactly, the new film 'Hugo' is for. Is it for children? Families? Film buffs? Film critics? Is it like 'The Muppets' — something that’s more fun for adults than kids?

'Hugo' isn’t for everyone, but it is for people who love the movies. Its director, Martin Scorsese, is one of the greatest living filmmakers, but he is also an enthusiastic advocate for film preservation, and 'Hugo' is both a work of art and a compelling argument for why film history matters. You don’t need to know who Georges Melies was to enjoy the movie, but it helps. And if you don’t know who he is, it will make you feel like learning more about him. (I was familiar with Melies heading into the movie, but I still headed straight for Wikipedia as soon as I got home.)"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Extreme Cinema: The Serbian Standard
Published on December 7, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

A Serbian Film might well become the standard to which all movies in the extreme cinema genre are compared.

A lot has been written about the controversy surrounding this movie, which features a relentless parade of sexual violence that tramples every taboo imaginable. But this film, available for streaming at FlixFling, is more than a macabre spectacle in which director Srdjan Spasojevic has put cruel and nightmarish scenes on the screen that shock audiences and earn an NC-17 rating.

Spasojevic takes his audience into a bleak world where hopelessness and brutal exploitation seem to be the only certainties in life. The desperation is palpable from the outset of the movie, where the movie’s central characters are struggling for a better life.

It has been said this film is an allegory about the betrayal and vicious exploitation of the Serbian people. Viewers might not make that connection, but it’s likely A Serbian Film will leave them with a haunting sense of tragedy and hopelessness unlike any movie they’ve experienced. It’s an experience that makes A Serbian Film a success in conveying life in a world where you’re either a victim or victimizer.


You Should Drink Applejack
Published on December 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at Slate, Troy Patterson explains why this is the season to drink applejack, which he describes as a cider brandy.

Patterson suggests buying applejack produced by Scobeyville, N.J.,-based Laird & Company, "America's first commercial distillery and the producer of as much as 95 percent of its applejack." (He notes that Laird & Company boasts that it once lent its applejack recipe to George Washington.)

But there are other places to get applejack, especially now that certain parts of the country are experiencing a mini-craft distillery boom. Located about 30 minutes from Albany in the village of Valatie is Harvest Spirits, a small distillery based at the family-owned apple orchard Golden Harvest Farms. Derek Grout, son of the owner of Golden Harvest Farms, runs the distillery, and he has created an excellent applejack, which I've sampled a couple times. (I keep meaning to go back and buy a bottle.) He also makes vodka, brandy and grappa, and is working on a black raspberry vodka, peach schnapps and frozen applejack, which the website describes as "like an apple pie in your face."

Sounds delicious! I can't wait to try it. In the meantime, maybe I'll seek out some applejack.

Mommy Making It Work
Two Birthdays, One Party
Published on December 6, 2011 by guest author: Cindy F. Crawford

I guess I’m only fertile one time a year.

My first kid was born on Thanksgiving five years ago and the second was due on Christmas two years ago. But she came three weeks early. So I have two kids with birthdays two weeks apart.

Last year I held two separate parties so that my oldest, William, who has bright red hair and the personality to go with it, wouldn’t steal his sister’s thunder on her first birthday. That went well, but it meant I had to drag family together on Thanksgiving, then William’s birthday a week later, then Alli’s birthday two weeks after that and Christmas just three weeks after that.

It was too much.

So this year, I combined the parties. One venue, one date in the church fellowship hall with ride-on toys and a small bounce house. Makes sense, right? Yes, but there were a few glitches in the dual birthday party that I would try to fix next time around.


Oldest Dog Dies
Published on December 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

A friend of mine used to have a really old dog.

"How OLD is that dog?" people would ask.

This was a bit rude, I thought.

Although I often wondered the same thing myself.

The dog came to my friend late in life, and lived much longer than anyone expected. "I don't think she has much left," my friend Bruce remarked after a visit where the dog seemed particularly doddering. But the dog lived for at least four more years. One theory is that the arrival of a younger dog helped prolong her life. But eventually her time was up. As my dad once put it, dogs are kind of like balloons - you know it's not going to end well.

This week the world's oldest dog died in Japan at the age of 26. That's definitely older than my friend's dog, although not too much older than the other old dog my friend once owned, who lived to the ripe old age of 22.

I own two cats, and I'm expecting them both to live into their twenties. Or maybe forever!

Police Conduct
Published on December 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

This New York Times story about New York City cops being racist on Facebook pairs well with this piece on The Awl about a new grassroots movement taking aim at the aggressive tactics routinely used to police poor neighborhoods.

Black Keys Day
Published on December 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

In honor of the new Black Keys album "El Camino," here's the single "Lonely Boy."

Lessons in Parenting
Having a Baby After Thirty
Published on December 5, 2011 by guest author: J LeBlanc

Someone once gave me a book with this title. It was published over three decades ago and featured questions on the back such as “Is it safe to have a baby after thirty?” and “What psychological problems do ‘older parents’ face?” I put it on a shelf somewhere and forgot about it until after the birth of my son, when I got a laugh out of reading the back cover.

I was much more intrigued by a report on NPR that coincided with the year I turned thirty. Rather than raising questions about safety, it raised questions about adjusting to the lifestyle of a new parent after age thirty. Several parents were interviewed, some saying that they wished they had had children in their twenties. Giving up dinners out, going to the movies - in short, being able to do more or less what they wanted during their free time would have been easier if they had never had the opportunity to get accustomed to that way of life in the first place. Their voices sounded weary and a little disappointed, as if they’d expected parenting to be less difficult, or maybe that they would magically not miss the things they used to be able to do.


Film Capsules
Published on December 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer short reviews of movies I've recently watched on DVD, including "Tetro, "The Last Wave" and "Park Row."

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Plight of the Bees
Published on December 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley considers the plight of the bees.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last week the winter-loving boy and I spent some time doing yard cleanup, in hopeful anticipation of some ski-worthy snow. We try to get the lawn mowers, rakes and garden implements into the shed before we need to pull out our collection of snow shovels and cross-country skis.

We couldn’t help noticing the old beehives by the shed are listing to one side and showing signs of dry rot.

They’ve been empty a long time.

When my husband first moved up north from Florida, he brought his expertise as a beekeeper with him. Happy to leave his Southern worries about Africanized bees behind, he quickly set up bee yards in farm fields in the region, fencing off small corners of borrowed fields for a handful of honeybee hives and paying the farmers rent every fall with 5-pound jars of honey."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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