Watching "The Artist" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Published on February 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review two new and Oscar-nominated movies.

Click here for more.

One Road Out
Published on February 12, 2012 by guest author: Keith Ross

It was twelve years ago, sitting at a bar on the limited seacoast of New Hampshire after work, having a few relaxing beers, that the conversation first started. “You know why I love this place....” slurred one of the locals, who’d been drinking since my shift began about nine hours prior.

“Seabrook?” I question, looking over my shoulder at the eerie sphere of the nuclear power plant, which the servers told the tourists was a observatory. This part of the seacoast had speakers all over the telephone poles to make the locals feel safe that when the meltdown happened, cause they seem to always eventually happen, that they would have plenty of notice to evacuate. What these naive locals didn’t know is that the speakers didn’t work. They were for comfort, like diet shakes. It made you think you were doing something positive, but nothing changed. Seabrook, and all the surrounding
communities, were full of bridges, which will close when the meltdown happens. We lived in the kill zone. But, hell, it made for an excellent sunset, over the harbor, viewed from the docks, or the bar, behind the plant.

“No, the bar.”  He sneers. Shoots the girlie shot that the bartender, my girlfriend, had "invented" that evening. “It reminds me of Key West ...”

That is when the seed was set. Three months later I landed in a land that I did not know. The joke is that I did not even know it was on the map. The best it was explained to me is that it was off the coast of Florida. No one mentioned it was in the Caribbean. Granted, I believe that the actual geographic location of the sea is south of Cuba, but the soul of the island definitely lies in the sea of pirates. So when people ask me why I moved from the Canadian border to Key West, there really is no reason. In all honesty it just seemed a good idea at the time. I like to tell the people the road ended. No one ever asks why I stayed.


Tuba Theft is Plaguing America
Published on February 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Did you know that a rash of tuba theft is plaguing music departments in Southern California?

This is pretty remarkable. I think there was, like, one tuba player in my high school band. So why are tubas suddenly so popular? According to the New York Times, "the growing popularity of banda, a traditional Mexican music form in which tubas play a dominant role" is to blame.

Until reading the tuba theft article, I was unfamiliar with banda. So I found a video, and posted it below.

That Evil Safety Net
Published on February 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Turns out most people need, use or somehow benefit from a government-subsidzed safety net!

And if this is true, can the safety net really be so evil?

Anyway, this New York Times story has the scoop.

Hopefully Ayn Rand is spinning in her grave!


I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Published on February 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

I particularly enjoyed this tribute to Houston by the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot.

Top Reads of the Week
Published on February 10, 2012 by Sara Foss

Music: Roger Noyes on the art of the pedal-steel guitar

Memory: Steve LeBlanc on the girl at the pool

Buying a car: Sara Foss on her new Subaru Legacy and also on how to replace a lost title at the DMV

Parenting: J LeBlanc on purchasing baby gear

Movies: Sara Foss on joining the "Mystery Team" cult

Things You Can Do
Published on February 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

Most people think it takes 7-10 days t replace a lost vehicle title through the DMV. 


If you need to replace a lost title, you can actually do it very quickly.

Like, in two days.

I learned this when I traded in my 1997 Subaru Legacy. When I drove my car up to the dealership, the guys handling my transaction asked whether I had my title, and I shook my head. I hadn't given the title a moment's thought, and had no idea where it was. I ran home, and searched my filing cabinet. I found all kinds of documents in there - the title to my 1995 Ford, which died seven years ago, records of magazine subscriptions I purchased a decade ago, veterinary records from Birmingham, Ala. But I could not find the document I needed.


B-Sides and the Pet Shop Boys
Published on February 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

As a Pet Shop Boys fan (and a music fan), I enjoyed this Guardian piece about the band's new B-sides collection, "Format."

All Hail Jeremy Lin
Published on February 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

Jeremy Lin is Asian, a Harvard grad and a devout Christian.

In other words, he's like nothing you've ever seen in the NBA before.

He's excelled in his handful of starts, which begs the following questions: Why hasn't this guy gotten a chance to play quality minutes before? Is his sudden success a fluke? Or is he the real deal?

Some links:

Kyle Wagner at Deadspin

Zach Lowe at the Point Forward

Les Carpenter at ThePostGame

Dave Zirin at The Nation

Cord Jefferson at GOOD magazine

The Art of the Pedal-Steel Guitar
Published on February 8, 2012 by guest author: Roger Noyes

My friend Philip reminded me the other day why I took up the pedal-steel guitar. It may seem like a country music cliché, but I had just recently laid my dog to rest and desperately needed a way of focusing my attention on something productive, to rid my grief.

In a time of trouble, the idea of learning pedal-steel guitar simply had a deep resonance, like the sound of the instrument itself. It gave me a much-needed platform to pass time, absorbed in a complex task. And, of course, it very appropriately tapped into the musical tradition of heartbreak: country music, where most people have heard the pedal-steel guitar (even if they don’t know what it is) and where many a dog has been lovingly laid to rest. (I miss you Della.)

For those unfamiliar with the pedal-steel guitar, its sonic textures can be chime-like, mimicry of feral meowing, reverberant echoes, atmospheric touches, pure twang, bend and release and slow volume swell.

Mechanically, it is the musical equivalent of a nautilus machine. For the player, every limb gets a workout. One hand slides an aluminum bar across the strings, altering the pitch as the smooth metal passes up and down the neck, while the other hand picks. The left foot presses floor pedals that are connected to spring-loaded rods in the undercarriage of the instrument, bending the pitch of specific strings. The knees pivot in and out on levers that likewise alter the pitch. The right foot seesaws on a volume pedal that allows certain chords or notes to swell. This all happens in a miracle of coordination; thus it is more than a little ironic that an instrument with such a slippery sound demands such an incredible steadiness of execution.


Oscar Movies
Published on February 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer short reviews of the Oscar-nominated films "Warrior" and "A Better Life."

Click here to read them.

Paul Pierce is Awesome
Published on February 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

Last night Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird on the all-time leaderboard for second most points scored in franchise history.

Over at Celtics Hub, Pierce and coach Doc Rivers reflect upon this impressive achievement. The comments I appreciate most come from Rivers, and highlight why Pierce, as exasperating as he can be, is such a valuable and beloved member of the franchise.

"You know, here’s the part I wish people wrote more about Paul: Paul had a chance to leave us when we were bad. And instead of moaning that he wanted to go to a championship team, he stayed. And he said, ‘I simply want to be a Celtic and I trust that we’re going to win a title some day.’  He had no reason to believe that, at that time. I mean, we were pretty awful. And to me, I wish people talked about his loyalty more, because I think that’s special, especially in this day and time, when everybody’s jumping from team to team. And that’s their right, too, I don’t begrudge that with anybody, but I do think it’s special that Paul Pierce decided that he wanted to be a Celtic for his life. And I think that’s pretty cool. In this day and time, in any sport, I think that’s special."

Having suffered through the bad years, I appreciate Pierce's loyalty, and his willingness to build a championship caliber team in the city that drafted him. I fully believe players have the right to seek greener pastures, just as any frustrated worker might, but there's something special about a player who spends his entire career with one team, and finally raises a banner to the rafters.


The Maps We Loved As Kids
Published on February 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Awl has produced a great piece on the maps we wandered into as kids, i.e. the maps featured in children's fantasy books such as "The Princess Bride" and "The Hobbit."

Click here to check it out, and see how well you remember these magical lands.

Things to Do, Things I've Done and Things That Have Happened
The Girl at the Pool
Published on February 7, 2012 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

It was about ten years ago. I must have been twenty five.

I entered the indoor pool area from the men’s locker room. It was a weekday night in the middle of winter, the end of a long day. My line of work at the time was financial analysis. The constraints this line placed on my vision and movement tended to undermine my sense of possessing a physical presence in the world. That particular day I had barely strayed from the lonely cubicle, and had not exchanged words with anyone or listened to public radio. It had been nothing but computer and fluorescent brightness for sight, keyboard tapping and self-breathing for sound. My existence had dwindled over the course of the day, so that I endured merely as cinematic sight that night - a filmic reality in which dialogue played no part.

I had gone to the pool to break the spell and to get a bit of exercise. A few winters before I had been in tremendous shape, running and lifting and swimming my way quite vibrantly through the entire season. But recently I had fallen off, and it had been several months since I had enjoyed a calming cardiovascular swim through indoor pool water.

The change to swimsuit and the shower had chilled me awake. Not having been swimming recently, and given my winter wardrobe, I wasn’t used to so much of my skin being exposed to non-apartment air. The shower was warm, but stepping out from under it was stepping wet through a cold draft. I awoke for the first time that day. My body and vision found the locker room shivery bright white. I quickly crossed the shower and grasped the slippery metal handle of the door to the pool. I opened the door and entered the indoor pool area.


In Honor of Dickens
Published on February 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

In honor of Charles Dickens' 200th birthday, I am posting this New York Times Magazine story about Dickens World, a Charles Dickens-themed attraction located in the English county of Kent.

Here's an excerpt from the piece by Sam Anderson:

"Five years ago, I flew to England to see the grand opening of something improbable: an attraction called Dickens World. It promised to be an 'authentic' re-creation of the London of Charles Dickens’s novels, complete with soot, pickpockets, cobblestones, gas lamps, animatronic Dickens characters and strategically placed chemical 'smell pots' that would, when heated, emit odors of offal and rotting cabbage. Its centerpiece was the Great Expectations boat ride, which started in a rat-infested creek, flew over the Thames, snaked through a graveyard and splashed into a sewer. Its staff had all been trained in Victorian accents and body language. Visitors could sit at a wooden desk and get berated by an angry Victorian schoolteacher, watch Dickensian holograms antagonize one another in a haunted house or set their kids loose in a rainbow-colored play area called, ominously, Fagin’s Den, after the filthy kidnapper from 'Oliver Twist.' The park’s operating budget was $124 million.

Dickens World, in other words, sounded less like a viable business than it did a mockumentary, or a George Saunders short story, or the thought experiment of a radical Marxist seeking to expose the terminal bankruptcy at the heart of consumerism. And yet it was real. Its existence raised a number of questions. Who was the park’s target audience? ('Dickens-loving flume-ride enthusiasts' seems like a small, sad demographic.) Was it a homage to, or a desecration of, the legacy of Charles Dickens? Was it the reinvention of, or the cheapening of, our culture’s relationship to literature? And even if it were possible to create a lavish simulacrum of 1850s London — with its typhus and cholera and clouds of toxic corpse gas, its sewage pouring into the Thames, its average life span of 27 years — why would anyone want to visit? ('If a late-20th-century person were suddenly to find himself in a tavern or house of the period,' Peter Ackroyd, a Dickens biographer, has written, 'he would be literally sick — sick with the smells, sick with the food, sick with the atmosphere around him.')

Click here to read the whole thing.

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