Addiction, Celebrity and Ordinary People
Published on February 23, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at The Fix, a website about addiction and recovery, Maer Roshan has an interesting piece about the media's intense focus on celebrities with substance abuse problems, such as Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, and how the press seldom addresses the underlying causes of addiction.

Maer writes, "But substantive stories about alcoholism and drug addiction remain largely outside the media purview—focused on the tribulations of A and C-list celebrities, they're often ghettoized in gossip sites and channels like VH1. For all the daily hand wringing about celebrity overdoses and DUIs, there is precious little real reporting on the growing scientific understanding of the disease, the tragic lack of access to treatment or insurance coverage, or even the growing number of promising drugs that have begun to make real progress against this condition."

The whole piece provides a thought-provoking take on addiction, celebrity and the media, and you can find it here.

Two Recommendations
Published on February 23, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I recommend a local wine bar, and a local dixieland jazz band. 

Click here to learn more.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like
Published on February 22, 2012 by guest author: A Espeseth

Even as the Wisconsin protests in February and March of last year continued to gain momentum, achieving a recall election for the state’s sitting governor, Scott Walker, seemed to me a far off, dim hope. Gathering the 540,208 signatures needed to initiate a recall struck me as completely implausible. Strangely, it may have been witnessing the tens of thousands of people at the rallies that allowed me to imagine multiplying a population that size, and then trying to collect signatures from it. Of course I knew I didn’t have to collect half a million signatures by myself - at least, technically I knew that - but I still carried an oppressive feeling that I was alone in this fight.

Governor Walker had ignited the massive weekly gatherings and occupation of the capitol building shortly after he took office. With rapid passage, his budget bill all but dismantled public labor unions, cut off significant funding for public services, including education, and was just the beginning of enacting, without public debate, a lengthy list of policies detrimental to a wide swath of Wisconsin residents and their rights.

My sense of loneliness in the effort does seem hard to justify when surrounded by so many people willingly and vocally expressing the exact same frustrations and anger I felt. Perhaps it was my belief that this passion I was witnessing - even over so many weeks, and gaining strength at that – would dissipate as short attention spans inevitably drifted to new issues and lack of leadership and organization doomed any plans for the more directed protest of a recall campaign.

I had seen bad organization in political campaigns before. Actually, that’s all I’d seen. Not that I was an old hand at being involved politically, but the few for which I’d volunteered left me disillusioned that my efforts had in any way bent the trajectory of political space and time. I typically volunteered in order to channel my frustrations and angst into productive use. I wanted to make an impact on the outcome of a campaign that otherwise seemed to be teetering on the edge of failure. I knocked on doors, I called people - compete strangers to me - reminding them to vote.


Best Canned Beer
Published on February 22, 2012 by Sara Foss

I've noticed that canned beer is making something of a comeback.

For a long time, my main experience with canned beer involved drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon in college. This stuff is awful, although my feelings about PBR might be strongly influenced by the fact that it was sort of a beer of last resort, and we typically ended up drinking it long after we should have stopped drinking beer altogether.

More recently, I've enjoyed the occasional can of Utica Club, which is sold at one of my favorite Albany bars, as well as Miller Lite, which my landlord keeps stocked in her fridge.

Now Esquire has posted an item ranking the "best canned beers to drink now." Number one on the list is Dale's Pale Ale, which I've had on a few occasions and which comes from Oskar Blues, a brewery that has been canning all of its beers since 2002.

Click here to read the entire list.

Pirating Movies
Published on February 22, 2012 by Sara Foss

This post, by Mike D'Angelo, has generated some controversy within the film community. 

Why the uproar? Because D'Angelo admits that he pirates movies. He writes:

"... I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about it, frankly. When I was given the opportunity to pay a reasonable fee to rent, I happily did so, and was more than willing to kick in the Blu-ray surcharge that both sites imposed. Now that that option has been withdrawn, my non-piracy choices are (a) spend $30 or so to purchase a movie I don't (in most cases) wish to permanently own, or (b) not watch the movie. Neither of those is acceptable to me. Furthermore, I can't see how my downloading these films is depriving anybody of income, since I delete those I don't love immediately after viewing them and buy physical copies of those I do love—or, if I can't afford them right this second, add them to a wishlist. Either way, I watch the file and then nuke it. The only films that I've downloaded illegally and then burned to disc are The Arbor and Godard's A Married Woman, and that's only because there's no Region 1 Blu-ray of those two titles. (I don't have a region-free player.)

I don't pirate movies out of some sorry sense of entitlement. I pirate movies because at the present moment I know of no other means of watching a high-definition copy of an older film without buying it outright. And that's ridiculous."

I don't believe in pirating movies, but I can see where D'Angelo is coming from, and if I was in a similar position I would be tempted to do the same thing. But I'm still finding most of what I want to see through Netflix and GreenCine, and I don't have a Blu-ray player, so I'm still able to watch pretty much whatever I want to watch without doing anything illegal.

Lessons in Parenting
There's a Bear in There!
Published on February 21, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

We recently purchased a membership to a small, local science museum. It is an ideal place to take our son when I don’t have other activities for him. This museum has many hands-on exhibits for older children, but also an area especially designed for young children. In this area there are exhibits that teach about air, sound and color, but that is not what you hear the children talk about the most. There is also a small tunnel for them to crawl through. If they go to the left, they will see a small aquarium that is totally hidden from view from the outside. To the right is the bear’s den.   

This is about as scary as it sounds, given that it is in a play space for small children. It is small and dimly lit with a big mound of real, furry bearskin reposing in one corner and taking up a sizeable portion of the den. A sign outside the den explains that this bearskin comes from a female bear that was hit by a car in northern New Hampshire. That alone was enough to discourage me from peeking inside, but I am a chicken when it comes to such things. My son is probably too young to be afraid of it; one day, my husband went in with him and he crawled all over the bear, even pulling up and tapping it with the palms of his hands.

Older children, however, speak of the bear in hushed tones.


Why Women Should Write Sports
Published on February 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

Last week GOOD magazine posted an item on the lack of women in journalism.

This week, they have an interesting piece explaining why women should write sports.

Click here to read it.

David Foster Wallace's 50th Birthday
Published on February 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

For what would have been David Foster Wallace's 50th birthday, The Awl has helpfully compiled links to 46 DFW-related pieces of writing.

Click here to check it out.

Watching "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"
Published on February 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the Oscar-nominated "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," which I enjoyed a great deal, and also "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which I didn't like nearly as much, but didn't hate, either.

Click here to read my piece.

And Another Thing!
Practice Makes Perfect
Published on February 20, 2012 by guest author: Barry Wenig

I have a dirty little secret in my bedroom closet. It isn't hiding beneath a pile of old clothes, and it doesn't require batteries. It's not something I wear when my wife Mary goes out. It has four strings and it mocks me every time I walk past it. It's a bass guitar.

Technically, it's not even my bass. It belongs to my friend Steve and his brother Greg. They lent it to me (along with a small amp) a few years ago when they were talking about starting a band. The idea was that I'd get lessons and be able to contribute.

So, I took lessons, and tried to practice, but other things seemed to crop up. Things like work, yes. But also things like movies on television, reading, singing around the house, brushing the cats ... in short, anything I could think of to avoid practicing the bass.

Practicing a musical instrument? It sounds like work ... because it is. My brother Jeff, now 53, has been playing electric guitar since he was 13. He's very good. I have vivid memories of him practicing for hours in our house in Queens, N.Y., and later in Suffolk County on Long Island. He's always played, even though he put playing in a group on the side for a number of years when he got married and started a family.

I'm no Jeff, but my attempts to practice whatever instrument I wanted to play at the moment have been paved with good intentions. It's the follow-through I've had problems with.


Some Bands Age Well ... And Some Don't
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I contemplate some of the bands I liked in high school and college, and whether they've aged well.

Here's an excerpt:

"My friend Beka saw Jane’s Addiction in concert a few years ago, and thought they were terrible — a bunch of has-been alt-rockers acting like it was still the mid-1990s. I’m going to see Jane’s Addiction in two weeks at the Palace Theatre, and I’m interested to see whether I share Beka’s opinion. (I recently learned that Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell and his wife, Etty Farrell, appear on the reality TV show 'Married to Rock,' which in my opinion is not an encouraging development.) In preparation for the concert, I’ve been listening to Jane’s Addiction a little, and trying to assess whether the band stands the test of time.

My conclusion: Yes, Jane’s Addiction’s music is still pretty compelling, if you can ignore the band’s juvenile celebration of drug use and unbridled hedonism. (The song 'Whores,' where Farrell sings 'I love them whores they never judge you,' is pretty dumb.) The 1990 album 'Ritual de lo Habitual' features catchy, propulsive, metal-tinged anthems such as 'Stop!' and 'Been Caught Stealing,' but also works as a concept album, with long, dreamy, complex pieces such as 'Three Days' and 'Of Course.' More than 22 years later, I can find much to admire in Jane’s Addiction’s body of work. The band took risks, and they helped bring alternative rock into the mainstream, which was something to be grateful for if you were living in rural New Hampshire, as I was, and the only musical options were pop and classic rock. And the music holds up pretty well. Not all of it, but most of it."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Cool Pictures of Icebergs
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Want to see some cool pictures of icebergs?

Click here.

The Writer Vs. The Fact Checker
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

The new book "The Lifespan of the Fact," which is based on seven years of email exchanges between a writer (John D'Agata) and a fact checker (Jim Fingal), has generated a lot of interesting commentary. My biggest question, based on the Harper's excerpt I read, essentially boiled down to: Is this writer really as huge a jerk as he appears?

Well, The Awl has answered my question, posting a new transcript of exchanges between D'Agata and a different fact checker. And D'Agata comes across as, yes, a big, fat jerk. Here's an excerpt:

"Darren: Hi, John. My name is Darren, and I'm the intern at Room Service that will be fact-checking your piece. It was a thrilling read. My concern is that the Chicago Cubs didn't win the World Series in 1987.

John: “Piece?” I’m afraid I’m not sure I know to what you’re referring. Little help?

Darren: Hmmm. The essay you wrote for us. It’s great. :) There are just a few questions.

John: Oh. Essay is... better? I prefer to think of what I do as an experience. At a minimum, I expect five-sense engagement with any competent reader. I’m talking taste buds. Smell. Otherwise I should hang it up. Or you should do some better reading. Either way, you won’t need to fact-check this, uh, “piece.” How adorable. Print it or kill it.

Darren: Maybe we can compromise? Everyone here wants to print it.

John: Is English really your first language?"

And so on.

Here are some other good links on "The Lifespan of a Fact":

Dan Kois in Slate

Laura Miller in Salon


Who Picks the Oscars?
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Why are Oscar voters so stodgy?

This post over at Gawker provides some clues.

New Friends
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

In my weekly column over at the DG, I write about the challenges and joys of making new friends. This is something I have to keep doing, because my friends keep moving away. In fact, I've finally concluded that I'm attracted to the sort of people who are more likely to move.

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"My biggest complaint about the Capital Region is that people seem to come and go so quickly.

After I moved here, I worked hard to make friends. And when you’re an introvert, making friends poses a bit of a challenge.

But I’m actually pretty decent at it, having gone to camp as a child, moved once as a child, attended college in Ohio and spent the fi rst three years of my professional life working in Alabama. At all of these stops, I made friends quickly and easily, and often with people I didn’t expect. In fact, I would say that’s been one of life’s biggest lessons: to keep an open mind about the Friend Potential (FP) of the people I encounter.

For instance, I wasn’t sure how I felt about my college roommate when I met her. She was a gregarious extrovert from South Dakota, while I was a reserved New Englander. I assumed we would learn to coexist, but doubted we would ever be close — we were too different. But I soon learned that having an extroverted roommate was useful, because extroverts attract people. And we had more in common than I initially thought: similar values, tastes in music, senses of humor, etc.

But if there was a lesson to be learned, I didn’t learn it."

Click here to read more.

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