The Suicide Cluster in Minnesota
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

I finally got around to reading the excellent Rolling Stone story about the suicide cluster in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota - nine teenagers in two years. Because four of the dead were gay or perceived as such, the article focuses on the anti-gay climate in the district, and the district's bizarro Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which has just been repealed.

This is the sort of article you read and feel like almost every adult in it should be punched in the face FOR DOING NOTHING WHILE CHILDREN KILL THEMSELVES. Some of the adults actually indicate that if you're "choosing" to be gay, then you're choosing a lifestyle where you're more likely to kill yourself, and that's your responsibility. Another thing I picked up on is the general sense from these jokers is that being gay will send you directly to hell, and being harassed and bullied and urged to become straight isn't as bad as all that, especially if you do reject the dreadful "homosexual lifestyle" and thus spare yourself a trip to hell.

You don't have to be gay to be offended by the stupidity of the Anoka-Hennepin school district. You just have to be a decent person. And if you've been bullied in school, as I was, you'll relate to the frustration of watching a bunch of cowardly adults refusing to do anything about it. You might even relate to the feelings of one kid who, having just completed his freshman year, couldn't believe he had to SUFFER THROUGH THREE MORE YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL. I remember feeling that way myself - three more years of this crap? It does get better, as they say, but sometimes that can be hard for 14 and 15-year-olds to understand.

The Rolling Stone story also pairs well with the recent New Yorker story on the Rutgers suicide last year, which involved a gay student and an insensitive roommate who thought nothing of violating has privacy and gossiping about him with other people.

Top Reads of the Week
Published on February 17, 2012 by Sara Foss

Travel: Keith Ross on living in Key West

Morality: Sara Foss on sin

Parenting: J LeBlanc on being the bad cop

TV: Lesley Foss on giving up cable and watching "Numb3rs"

Movies: Sara Foss on "The Artist" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Real Estate: Adam Rust on becoming a landlord

Etiquette: Sara Foss on how to behave in a swimming pool

Swimming Pool Etiquette
Published on February 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about something I think about quite a bit: how not to behave at a public swimming pool.

Here's an excerpt:

"I swim laps at the YMCA frequently, and I’m pretty happy with it. Sure, I have my complaints, but as long as I can swim laps with a minimum of hassle, I’m OK.

I do, however, become greatly annoyed whenever I witness an egregious breach of pool etiquette. Sometimes I just hear about such breaches from other swimmers. For instance, this week one of my lap-swimming friends reported that when she attempted to share a lane with a female swimmer, the woman directed her to another lane, saying, 'You’re going to splash all over the place and I can’t get my face wet!'

My immediate reaction: If you can’t get your face wet, maybe a public swimming pool is not the place for you! The Y has treadmills — go use one. But don’t ask the other swimmers not to splash. That’s unreasonable. My mom doesn’t like to get her head wet due to some sensitivity stemming from a childhood case of frostbite, but she’s never gone to a public pool or swimming hole with the expectation that she could avoid water. In any case, my friend did what the woman asked and found a different lane. But she’s a much nicer person than I am. If I’d encountered this woman, I would have tried to splash her. And I bet I could have made it look like an accident, too, because hello! You’re at a pool! There’s water everywhere!"

Click here to read more.

Volcano-Boarding in Nicaragua
Published on February 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the Morning News, Christopher R. Graham writes about one of the more insane things I've ever heard of anyone doing: slide down an active volcano on a piece of sheet metal at 55 mph.

Here's an excerpt:

"An hour outside of Léon, in Nicaragua, stands the volcano called Cerro Negro, the most active in the country. Most recent eruption: 1999. Cerro Negro is a polygenetic cinder cone, which means black ash and cinders from past eruptions accumulate up and around the central crater; it grows like an anthill, basically. Prevailing winds are east to west, towards the nearby Pacific coast, making the western slope steep and smooth-ish, where the smallest rocks and most of the ash eventually blow and settle.

In 2002, French cyclist Eric Barone came to Cerro Negro to break the land speed record. The volcano’s 720 meters high; the western slope is 35 degrees near the top, increasing to 41 degrees about halfway down. My trigonometry was always weak but never covered how to measure a convex hypotenuse; let’s say a straight-line distance of one kilometer.

Barone broke the record by traveling 107 miles per hour. Imagine blinking—and at the same time traveling from one end of a football field to the other. I’ve never even been that fast in a car.

Shortly after passing the radar gun, the forks on Barone’s custom bike snapped and he ended up 100 meters past his wrecked frame. During the three-month hospitalization, someone else came to Cerro Negro and broke his record."

I can be a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but I can tell you right now that I will never, ever try volcano-boarding.

Click here to read Graham's piece.

Men and Women in the Media
Published on February 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

Amanda Hess at GOOD magazine writes about a recent report from the Women's Media Center on the "state of women in the nation's newsrooms, radio stations, and film sets."

Basically, men still dominate these organizations, which has a real effect on coverage - what gets covered, what doesn't, and how these issues are discussed. And though overall newspapers are doing a better job of hiring women, women's voices remain sorely under-represented on opinion pages and in management positions - if you want to know what white men over the age of 60 think about something, the newspaper is a great source of information.

Thank God there's an Internet, and you can seek out a diverse range of voices!

What! No Cable?!
Published on February 15, 2012 by guest author: Lesley Foss

I moved in with my boyfriend John last summer, and after many talks we decided we would skip a cable package and bill. I will admit that for me this was a hard decision. I love TV. I love mystery shows, comedy shows and yes, it’s true, I love reality TV.

Not shows like "The Bachelor." I’ve never gotten into "The Bachelor" or "The Apprentice," but I do confess to liking ALL the "Housewives" shows on Bravo and I even like "Jersey Shore. Yet at the same time I enjoy reality shows like "Survivor," "Pawn Stars" and "Top Shot."

How would I survive with no cable at the apartment? I mean, there is the Internet, and I can catch shows a week after they air, which is fine with me. John had another solution to my problem. He already had Netflix streaming. I could go on and get all sorts of TV shows. I could get older TV shows that had aired years ago or I could get current TV shows, just not the current season. To me that sounded fabulous! Shows with no commercials! What’s not to love?!


On Sinning
Published on February 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

I really hate the expression "love the sinner, hate the sin."

Whenever I hear this expression, I always feel like going out and doing something positively sinful. Which is not, I think, the speaker's intended effect. Regardless, the expression seems to tap into my contrarian side.

Lately, I've decided that the best way to deal with "love the sinner, hate the sin" is to give it a slight alteration. My preferred expression: "love the sin, hate the sinner."


A Very Small Chameleon
Published on February 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

The world's tiniest chameleon has been discovered in Madagascar.

Click here to learn more.

Fixing Up A Foreclosure
Becoming a Landlord
Published on February 14, 2012 by guest author: Adam Rust

I am hoping that I can get an answer to one of the big problems with the foreclosed property that I am buying today.

HUD was clear that something is wrong with the water. They hire people to inspect each home before they sell it and then they publish the results. HUD says that the pipes will not hold pressure. They are willing to escrow $550 against the problem. That does not help me, though, because investors can’t qualify for that money. Besides, the inspection might be optimistic. There is always the chance that water will spill out inside the walls and I will have to tear down sheetrock and replace not just pipes but wiring and insulation.

I know that there is some risk involved with what I am doing. You have to buy these houses “as is.” Some of them are a wreck. Sometimes people do awful things before they get kicked out of their home. Things like pouring gasoline down the sink drain, or putting a wrench in the disposal, or taking a sledgehammer to a few walls. This home has its appliances still intact. Most people take them before they leave. Often they rip them out of the wall.

When my wife told one of our friends that we were going to buy a home with the intent of renting it out, she said “Oh, so you want to be a slumlord?” I am afraid that her opinion is not that exceptional. Lots of people seem to think that there is something suspect about being a landlord.


A Year Spent Watching Romantic Comedies
Published on February 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

I enjoyed this essay over at Jezebel in which the author, Chloe Angyal, reflects upon what she learned while writing about romantic comedies for her doctoral thesis.

The romantic comedy is my least favorite movie genre, but there are some good ones, and Angyal makes a compelling case for why the genre matters.

The 11-Year-Old Criminal Mastermind
Published on February 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

Courtesy of the Albany Times Union comes an entertaining-yet-sad story about an 11-year-old kid who has been arrested twice in the past month, first for breaking into a local frame shop and stealing money from the register, and now for stealing a car and driving it ten miles.

Here's an excerpt:

"Sunday's incident was the boy's second felony arrest in 15 days.

The fifth grader, a wiry 5-foot-4, 120-pound child who police say looks older than 11, was arrested on Jan. 28 for allegedly breaking into a frame shop in Center Square and nearby parked cars.

'It's not like he's 16, or 15, or even 14,' Lavin said. 'And he would seem to be going from bad to worse.'

In both cases, police said the boy acted more like a seasoned criminal than a child more than three years away from his first day of high school."

This story prompted me to reflect upon the bad things I did in the fifth grade. Here's what I came up with: Occasionally I snuck onto the school grounds through the alleyway, which wasn't allowed, and I also enjoyed climbing up to the roof of the school. And that's it. I was a pretty good kid in the fifth grade.

The one advantage of becoming a criminal mastermind when you're 11 is that you have plenty of time to turn your life around. As much as I enjoy stories about 11-year-old thieves, I'm hoping Albany's budding young criminal gets his act together.

Published on February 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Linsanity.

The gist: Jeremy Lin is terrific, and his ascendance is something to be celebrated.

Also, I wrote about Linsanity before this evening's Knicks-Raptors game, in which Lin hit a tiebreaking three pointer with less than a second to play.

Linsanity, indeed.

Click here to read my post.

Also, click here to visit Dan Wetzel's weekly podcast, in which he discusses the rise of Jeremy Lin.

Lessons in Parenting
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Published on February 13, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

Before we had children, my husband assured me that he would be the tougher one in terms of discipline. Now that our son is walking and asserting his independence, the issue of discipline is finally upon us and I am finding that I tend to be the “bad cop” while my husband is the “good cop.” The reason for this is simple: I am at home with the baby during the day and thus am constantly re-directing him as he approaches a light socket with a ill-disguised gleeful smile or reprimanding him for trying to crawl off the changing table or biting me. There are fewer opportunities for my husband to be the enforcer of discipline.

Knowing my expertise at diapering, feeding, and putting clothes on a squirmy almost one-year-old, my husband began to avoid doing these things when he was home. Not out of laziness, but because he knows how much the baby dislikes having these things done to him and that I can accomplish them quicker, causing the baby less distress. However, we realized that we had begun to compartmentalize our tasks withregard to our son so that my husband dealt primarily with playing and soothing and I dealt with the things that tend to involve a lot of wrestling. So, we resolved to make a conscious effort to change this.


Why Do We Scapegoat?
Published on February 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Last week was kind of lousy. The Patriots lost the Super Bowl, and then I came down with a horrible plague. Both events caused me to look for scapegoats. Which isn't unusual: When bad things happen, people often look for scapegoats. The question is: Why?

Over in my weekly column at the DG, I ponder this question. 

Here's an excerpt:

"I came down with a nasty little plague this week, and I immediately went looking for someone to blame.

Who was responsible for my sickness? Where had it come from? How did I get it?

As usual, Facebook offered some clues.

When I glanced at the site on Monday evening, I noticed that my cousin was complaining about having a stomach bug. I had seen her two days earlier at a family gathering. But I didn’t blame my cousin. I blamed her 1-year-old daughter. Little kids are germ magnets, and it seemed highly probable that the lone child at Saturday’s party was the culprit.

Being sick makes me sad, and throughout the week I was often struck by pangs of sorrow. But when I wasn’t feeling sorrowful, I felt angry. And in my angrier moments, I wished there was someone I could lash out at. A 1-year-old child was not a suitable target.

Then my dad informed me that my entire family had gotten sick after Saturday’s get-together, except for my youngest sister, Lesley, who had been sick prior to the event. 'So this is Lesley’s fault?' I asked. For some reason, I found it strangely satisfying to blame Lesley for the plague.

Is it normal to look for a scapegoat when you’re sick?"

Click here to read more.

This Winter Blows
Published on February 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about why this winter blows in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last week I gave up on winter. It seems like it’s never going to snow, the lakes are never going to freeze, so why hold out hope?

I stopped wearing my winter jacket, and stopped complaining about my son hijacking my boots every morning. He can have them. I’m not going to hunt down my cross-country ski poles, or finish knitting my husband’s extra warm ice-fishing hat, or my new mittens. I started wearing whatever mismatched, too-small gloves I could locate — a green one on the right hand and a black one on the left. That will do.

The neighbor kid I drive to school said I’m wrong, that there’s plenty of cold and snow coming. But the birds say I’m right.

On an early morning early last week, I heard a phoebe singing, something I don’t generally hear until mid-March. The sun was shining and it wasn’t that cold. But still, shouldn’t she be in Mexico this time of year?"

Click here to read more.

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