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Looking Back at the Malice in the Palace
Published on February 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

If you're an NBA fan, you probably remember the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons back in 2004. What happened wasn't an ordinary fight. It was scary. Players were fighting fans. Chairs and other objects were being thrown. People were in danger.

The brawl had real ramifications. It sent the Pacers into a years-long decline, tainting the careers of athletes such as Jermaine O'Neal, who probably deserved better. And it reinforced the unfortunate opinion that the NBA is a league of thugs, and prompted the league to take any even more dictatorial approach to dealing with players on a range of issues, such as dress.

Over at Grantland, Jonathan Abrams has created an oral history of the brawl, interviewing many of the players and coaches and even a few fans who were there that day. The person who comes off the worst is Ron Artest, AKA Metta World Peace, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone who saw the footage of the brawl or has followed his career. His former teammates remain irked about the fact that they supported him even though he incited the brawl, only to see him issue a trade demand the following season. There's a lesson here: Loyalty is all well and good, but it's important to invest your loyalty in people who deserve it. Ron Artest, quite plainly, did not deserve it.

Anyway, the Grantland piece is pretty fascinating, and also kind of sad. Click here to read it.


The Underground Park
Published on February 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

Here's a story about a cool project: A group of New Yorkers are hoping to create an underground park called Lowline.

Similar to the High Line urban park, which occupies an abandoned railway, this park would be located in an abandoned trolley terminal on the Lower East Side.

I'm in favor of parks, particularly parks in unusual locations. Hopefully the underground park will raise the money it needs and reach fruition.


Lessons in Parenting
Rediscovering Children's Music
Published on February 28, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

One of the things I dreaded about having children was feeling obligated to listen to children’s music. My associations with the genre were of over-enthusiastic, high-pitched voices and melodies drowned out by a cacophony of instrumentation. The very thought of it was enough to make me want to put off having children just a little bit longer.   

I didn’t always feel this way. I listened to a lot of children’s music as a child and loved it. It was the memory of what it sounded like, as recalled by my adult self, that was causing me problems. When my son was around four months old, it finally happened. My mother sent me two albums of “classic” children’s songs. I put them on, grimacing at the thought, but was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed them.   

Don’t get me wrong - if there’s one thing I hate, it is over-produced children’s music. Especially if the perpetrator feels the need to add a “modern beat” or some equally obnoxious flair to the music. But these two albums were surprisingly straightforward in their interpretations of some classic songs that I had forgotten I ever knew.

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Watching "The Iron Lady" and "Albert Nobbs"
Published on February 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "The Iron Lady" and "Albert Nobbs."

Click here to see what I thought.


Driverless Cars?
Published on February 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about whether we really need driverless cars, a topic I've written about myself.

Here's an excerpt:

"There’s been a lot of talk lately about the development of autonomous cars, cars that could be programmed to essentially drive themselves to wherever it is that we’re going.

These cars use multiple sensors, radars and video cameras to note the distance from other vehicles, local traffic and road patterns, stop signs and traffic lights. They are programmed with maps and speed limits, and use artificial intelligence to detect and react to unusual situations.

Robotic cars could drive closer together, getting more vehicles onto existing roads. By all accounts, such cars would be safer because robots don’t react emotionally, or get drunk or distracted, or fall asleep at the wheel.

Remote cars could free drivers to read, nap or, more likely, to engage in the electronic stuff that people endlessly engage in. Former drivers could eat breakfast, or use their laptops, or talk and text on their phones — without being distracted by the task of driving.

I would love not to be distracted by the task of driving. I spend way too much time in my car — my commute is almost 40 miles and it gets even longer when I have to drive a passel of high school kids to the community college, something I do almost every weekday morning."

Click here to read the whole thing.


New Radiohead
Published on February 28, 2012 by Sara Foss


Fixing Up A Foreclosure
The Challenges of Dealing With Section 8, Part II
Published on February 27, 2012 by guest author: Adam Rust

Adam Rust is purchasing a foreclosed house and fixing it up for renters. This blog post is part of a series about that process.

For the first part of Adam's two-part series on the challenges of dealing with the Section 8 program, click here.

I showed my house to thirty or forty voucher holders. Four signed a lease. Every time, their contract fell through because of a hold-up from the Housing Authority. I began to realize that there was a big problem with the program.

Neither of the narratives on the left nor the right of the political spectrum square with what I experienced.

Conservatives might agree with the idea of market-based vouchers, but the architects of right-wing opinion still don’t show much love for Section 8. It is a “no-strings-attached welfare program,” according to Howard Husock from the Manhattan Institute, “[through which] urban liberal Democrats waft benefits to their constituents … [resulting in] increased dependency and the undermining of neighborhoods.” Some attacks are more ad hominem: the right-leaning critics will say that voucher holders are a bunch of shiftless welfare moms armed with the privilege of a voucher and a careless disregard for other people’s property.

The idea that landlords were prejudiced against voucher holders was off, too. This is the narrative from the left. People will tell you that landlords prejudicially refuse to accept vouchers because of prejudice. Many will assume that taking a voucher means over-charging for rents and putting off repairs. Whenever land-lording comes up during coffee with one of my environmentalist friends, he always tells me about the house on his street with eight cars parked on the lawn and people sleeping outside during the day in the summer. I imagine that he feels very safe to voice this perspective, as he is on the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Charles Murray has recently written a book that goes into great detail about the two Americas. To paraphrase one of his points, he says that we have archipelagos of the richest and the most-well educated surrounded by vast stretches of physical space made up of neighborhoods full of people struggling to make ends meet. Whereas most rich people used to live in mixed-income areas, now there are thousands of neighborhoods where every home costs four or five times more than the median price in the country. Ultimately, what is lost is any social engagement between the two groups. Well-off youngsters co-mingle at Brown and Berkeley when they are young and in clusters of McMansions in their adult years. This social history came across in the advice I got from my well-off non-landlord friends. “Be sure to check their credit,” some said. “Don’t just decide you like someone.”

My landlord friends differed. “Ask for a copy of their credit score? Why? So you can see the same 580 to 620 number again and again? Credit score is meaningless. Don’t even waste their money. Go see if they kept their place in shape.”

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My First Movie Experience
Published on February 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my first movie experience.

Click here to read it.


The White House War on Whistleblowers
Published on February 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Last week White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed sadness over the death of journalists Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid overseas, saying they had died "in order to bring truth."

This prompted ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper to ask how the administration's praise for journalists working in foreign countries squared "with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?”

It's true. The Obama administration has been prosecuting whitleblowers aggressively - something that Obama indicated he wouldn't do when he was campaigning for office. 

According to David Carr at the New York Times:

"The Espionage Act, enacted back in 1917 to punish those who gave aid to our enemies, was used three times in all the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the current president took office.

Setting aside the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is accused of stealing thousands of secret documents, the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.

In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business."

The Carr column, which you can find here, explains why the Obama's use of the Espionage Act is bothersome. The piece pairs well with this New Yorker article from May about the government's case against Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency.


The Hammer to Nail Awards
Published on February 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

If you find the Oscars bloated, pompous and disgusting, you might find the film website Hammer to Nail's list of the best films of 2011 refreshing.

The awards go to American independent films produced for $1 million or less, and you can find intriguing titles such as "Pariah" (opening this week in Albany) and the excellent "Martha Marcy May Marlene" among the winners.

Click here to see the whole list.


Fixing Up A Foreclosure
The Challenges of Dealing With Section 8, Part I
Published on February 26, 2012 by guest author: Adam Rust

Adam Rust is purchasing a foreclosed house and fixing it up for renters. This blog post is part of a series about that process.

During my conversation with my home inspectors last week, the topic of Section 8 came up. Some people may not know what Section 8 is, so I thought I might take advantage of a lull in the process of buying a foreclosure to talk about this program.

Section 8 is a federal housing program that pays rents for low-income households. More officially known as the “Housing Choice Voucher Program,” Section 8 is administered by local housing authorities but governed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The way it works is straightforward: private landlords contract with the local Housing Authority to rent to a person with a Section 8 voucher. The voucher holder picks their home, which should mean that landlords are forced to keep their homes in shape. There is a systematic check in place to make sure this happens. If a lease is signed, the housing authority sends out an inspector. If your house passes, then the lease is recognized and the tenant moves in. The amount of the voucher is factored by the income of the tenant that holds it, but the general rule is that the tenant is expected to contribute one-third of his or her income to their overall housing costs. The landlord collects a portion of the rent from the tenant and the rest is direct deposited from HUD on the 1st day of the month.

In theory, Section 8 should work out to everyone’s satisfaction. When I bought my first rental home, my entire focus was based on finding a voucher holder. My contractor was unequivocal: “Get that government money. It hits your account, rain or shine, every month.”

Understand that I lean progressive. I work for a non-profit organization that advocates for people to get a decent mortgage. I did not intend to gouge anyone. You get what you give. Make a nice house for someone and then you can expect to be treated fairly. I put a fair amount of money into a three-bedroom ranch. I doubled the size of the kitchen, I added carpet and tile, I refinished the hardwoods, and I put in lots of insulation.
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How Much Do You Know About Politcal Sex Scandals?
Published on February 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Atlantic presents a five-question quiz.


My Oscar Picks
Published on February 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I provide my Oscar picks.

Click here to read them.


Top Reads of the Week:
Published on February 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

Playing an Instrument: Barry Wenig on the difficulty of finding time to practice

Friendship: Sara Foss on the joy of making new friends

Protest: A Espeseth on volunteering for the Scott Walker recall effort in Wisconsin

Parenting: J LeBlanc on a trip to the children's museum

Poetry: Dan Schneider on the trouble with poets

Movies: Sara Foss on "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Music: Sara Foss on how some bands age well ... and others do not


Notes On Poetry, Online And Otherwise
The Trouble With Poets
Published on February 23, 2012 by guest author: Dan Schneider

It’s not too often that disagreements in the poetry world get reported in the greater press, but recently the Guardian wrote about how Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Professor of Poetry, tore down British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s idea that texting is a new form of poetry.

In a lecture entitled “Poetry, Policing, and Public Order,” Hill said, “When the laureate speaks of the tremendous potential for a vital new poetry to be drawn from the practice of texting she is policing her patch, and when I beg her with all due respect to her high office to consider that she might be wrong, I am policing mine.” Hill contends that texting is not a form of poetic compression, just abbreviation.

He then dismisses her poem, “Death of a Teacher,” which reads: “You sat on your desk / swinging your legs, reading a poem by Yeats // to the bored girls, except my heart stumbled and blushed / as it fell in love with the words and I saw the tree / in the scratched old desk under my hands, heard the bird in the oak outside scribble itself on the air."  Hill responds, “What Professor Duffy desires to do I believe – and if so it is a most laudable ambition – is to humanise the linguistic semantic detritus of our particular phase of oligarchical consumerism. And for the common good she is willing to
have quoted by the Guardian interviewer several lines from a poem by herself that could easily be mistaken for a first effort by one of the young people she wishes to encourage.”

Hill has previously written about his belief that “difficult” poetry is actually the most democratic since it assumes the reader intelligent enough to grasp its meaning, but this seems a little stinging. He does go on in his lecture to praise another poem by Duffy, but the whole poetry dust-up made me start looking into the idea of “difficult” poetry and what people mean when they say a poem is “difficult.”

My former high school students, of course, would say almost any poem is difficult, and they have a point. Poetry, even the most outwardly simple of poems, poses difficulties, since there are elements — line breaks, sound effects, visual effects — that cannot be captured by its paraphrase. This makes high school students and probably a good deal of the population nervous, perhaps because the poem is demanding that its reader give up control over what is making meaning. Many readers unfamiliar with poetry may not trust that the writer will take care to give enough sign posts directing how the poem should be read.

As I delved into online resources on difficulty in poetry, I found many writers who can do it greater justice than I can, so I now defer to some experts on the topic.


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