Trade Deadline Thoughts
Published on March 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

I enjoyed the NBA trade deadline so much that I'm starting to think I like NBA gossip and upheaval better than the game itself. Anyway, here are some of my initial thoughts:

Mike D'Antoni resigns from the Knicks - One of the biggest pieces of trade deadline news involved D'Antoni's resignation, rather than an actual trade. I wouldn't have been surprised if he was fired at the end of the season, but his decision to resign so soon after the excitement of Linsanity took me by surprise, and is probably an indication of how much D'Antoni disliked dealing with Carmelo Anthony and the doofus who owns the Knicks, James Dolan.

The Knicks are clearly a team in trouble. They have two stars, Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, who aren't really stars, although Stoudemire, to his credit, isn't a mopey malcontent, and understands how to play team basketball (if not defense). Sure, the Knicks are playing a tougher schedule, and they were bound to settle down after their exciting and somewhat implausible winning streak. But the winning streak showed what the Knicks were capable of - they shared the ball, they looked like they were having fun, and they had swagger. Once Anthony returned, that all went away.


Mitt Romney's Dog
Published on March 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

New York Times columnist Gail Collins is obsessed with Mitt Romney's dog.

She's written about how he once strapped a dog carrier to the roof of his car, loaded his Irish setter Seamus into it, and drove to Canada on vacation, stopping to clean off the car when the dog soiled itself, about 50 times.

I read a lot of media criticism, and media critics have generally criticized Collins' dog obsession. They say Romney's treatment of Seamus on that long-ago road trip is trivia, and should be irrelevant when considering whether he would make a good president. For the most part, I agree with this, but when I mentioned the Romney dog incident to my family, they were aghast. "Why haven't we heard more about this?" my mother wanted to know. Everyone seemed to agree that there had to be something seriously wrong with anyone who would strap their dog to the roof and drive to Canada. They didn't think this detail was trivial at all. They thought it was revealing. 

Anyway, the Washington Post has written a piece about poor Seamus, and the role he's playing in the current campaign. Regular people who like dogs - which is a lot of people, by the way - don't think the story is trivia. Like my family, they think it's pertinent and worth talking about. Who knows? Maybe the media critics are wrong.

Cheap Eyeglasses
Published on March 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

If you're like me, and have less than optimal vision, you're probably irritated by 1. the crappy vision coverage provided (or not) by your HMO and 2. the cost of eyeglasses and contact lenses.

For reasons I don't fully understand, our health care system treats eyes as a luxury, as if people only wear glasses and contacts solely for reasons of fashion, rather than to see.

In any case, I always appreciate an article about efforts to make eye care cheaper, and GOOD magazine has a piece on two organizations that are bringing affordable glasses to people who can't afford huge markups. It pairs well with this 2010 Alternet piece by Anneli Rufus about cheap eyewear alternatives.

Rufus writes:

"Perhaps because prescription glasses are where medicine meets fashion, they're among the world's most overpriced merchandise. Imperfect eyesight isn't your fault: You can't make yourself nearsighted by eating too much fudge. Yet if your health plan excludes vision care, you've spent years at the mercy of a $64 billion industry characterized by 500-percent markups.

This has begun to change over the last few years. A knowledge-is-power, power-to-the-people, Web-driven DIY wave is rocking the optical industry's very foundations. Dozens of companies now sell prescription glasses online, frames and lenses included, for as little as $7.95."

After reading Rufus' article, I vowed never to pay several hundred hundred dollars for glasses again. The pair I own actually cost about $250, and I've had it for about five years, but I see no reason to pay that much money for something that should be much, much cheaper. I don't see why anybody else should, either.

Five Songs
Published on March 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list five new songs I'm currently enjoying.

Click here to see what they are.

Things to Do, Things I've Done and Things That Have Happened
Life is a Fragile Thing, Or So They Say
Published on March 14, 2012 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

Life is a fragile thing. Or so they say. Or at least that’s how it seems to me these days. My body is weaker and more brittle than it used to be, and my care of it has accordingly grown more cautious. But that isn’t how things used to be. Life used to be extraordinarily difficult to extinguish. Let’s admit it - we lived with reckless abandon as youths. We placed ourselves in petrifyingly precarious situations, and played daringly dangerous games to amuse ourselves. Somehow or other most of us are still among the living. Life is fragile these days, and that is a sobering thought. But let’s take a minute to celebrate just how tenacious life was when we were young. We can do so by remembering some of what we have managed to survive:

1. Infanthood is exceptionally dangerous. I’ll tell you why. I’ve always thought that the most dangerous thing you can do is to place your life in the hands of another person. After all, most people are pretty inept. This is one reason I have such a fear of flying. I don’t trust that the pilot is going to be paying sufficient attention while the plane is taking off or touching down. I don’t know anything about flying a plane, but when it comes to landing a plane I’m flying in, I’d like to handle that myself thanks, because I don’t trust you, pilot. The same thing goes for surgery. I’ve never liked the idea of getting unconscious while a relative stranger prepares to cut you open with a knife.

But infanthood is more dangerous than either of these things. It is not simply your livelihood being in the hands of another person for a short period of time. Rather, it is your livelihood being in the hands of one or two extremely sleep-deprived people for 24 hours a day, for about twelve months (I guess that’s how long we’re considered infants). I’m amazed my own son made it to twelve months, and my wife is a great mother, and I at least have made an effort.


New Jack White
Published on March 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

The new Jack White sounds pretty good. Here's a sample.

Goodbye To All That
Published on March 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

Ex-Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith fulfilled a dream I'm sure many people have: Blasting his former employer in an extremely public forum (the New York Times) and making the whole world sit up and say, "Hmmm, maybe there's something wrong there."

In his op-ed in the Times, Smith describes a "toxic and destructive culture" that puts profit motive ahead of clients. He writes:

"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are."


Fixing Up A Foreclosure
A Snag in the Buying Process
Published on March 13, 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.

I had a report due - something that I had been working on for way too long - when my realtor called me. “Have you been over to the house?” she said. “Or has Reneta called you?”

“No,” I said. “But what’s up? Should she have called me?”

“You didn’t hear about the water coming out of the ceiling? And there’s supposed to be a big crack?”

"I think I’ll go over there now."

"Well, good, because Reneta is there and she wanted you to see it. Just so you’d know what is going on."

*  *  *

The house is about six miles from my office. While it isn’t that far away, getting there involves going through an area that has yet to be developed. It feels rural. You have to drive over a railroad track, which wouldn’t seem like a disruption except that the state has never graded the road. You have to go over a berm. There is a great barbecue place on the right. At a certain point, the country goes away and the suburbs roar back to sleep. My new house is in the middle of that new suburb. They have managed to build thousands of houses on this side of town in the last 15 years. They’ve managed to do that without constructing any apartment buildings and very little in the way of retail. There is a big road to the south where there are a few grocery stores and car dealerships, but there is still a big gap between commerce and cul-de-sac.


On Ricky Rubio
Published on March 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

I was really saddened by news of Timberwolves' point guard Ricky Rubio's season ending ACL injury. Rubio has helped revitalize a terrible franchise, and his nifty passing is a joy to behold. His game has flaws - too many turnovers -  but he's exciting and young and I was eager to see him play. Now, he's out. It's a sad thing.

If you miss Rubio's exceptional playmaking as much as I do, you owe it to yourself to check out this piece in The Classical, first posted in January. Subhead: Ricky Rubio is Doing Something Beautiful. Sigh. Heal quickly, Ricky Rubio!


The New Misogyny
Published on March 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Is there a new misogyny?

Kathleen Geier thinks so.

Click here to find out why.

Watching "Pina"
Published on March 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the Oscar-nominated documentary "Pina."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new Wim Wenders film 'Pina' was nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary category, but calling 'Pina' a documentary really doesn’t do it justice, or come anywhere close to describing the unique and transporting experience of watching it.

The movie is an homage to German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009. She and Wenders had been planning to collaborate on a film that would depict four of her works using cutting-edge digital 3-D technology, and her death prompted the director to shift gears. 'Pina' features extensive footage of the four works Wenders and Bausch selected, 'Rite of Spring,' 'Cafe Müller,' 'Kontakthof' and 'Vollmond,' as well as archival footage and testimonies from the dancers in Bausch’s company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. There are also excerpts from unnamed pieces, where one or two dancers perform in unusual, mostly urban locations — an elevated railway, an industrial site, a park.

You don’t need to know very much about modern dance to enjoy 'Pina' (I know next to nothing about it), but if you actively dislike it, this film probably won’t be your cup of tea. Unlike a conventional documentary, the film doesn’t provide a lot of information — viewers seeking hard facts about Bausch are better off surfing the web. What Wenders wants to do is pay tribute to Bausch as a creative spirit, and to immerse viewers in her work. He often films the dancers’ movement up close and from unusual perspectives, which, along with the use of 3-D, the hypnotic soundtrack and Wenders’ typically sharp eye for location and color, helps contribute to the feeling that the dance is unfolding all around you."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Eric's February Favorites
Published on March 12, 2012 by guest author: Eric J.Perkins

If February is any indication, 2012 could be a pretty epic year for music. I found myself buying 3-4 albums a week - it was like being bombarded with good tunes. The music was the perfect pick-me-up for what is usually my least favorite month. Here were a few of my favorite releases ...

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

In a few short years, Ven Etten has gone from one of many Brooklyn singer/songwriters - though to her credit, a singer/songwriter with a beautifully melancholy voice and a knack for good hooks- to making a much bigger sounding album with some pretty big indie rock names. The move to more instruments and more production has not made her songs any less personal, however. A lot of what I like about Van Etten comes back to her voice--I think she could sing the phone book and it would give me a chill. That said, my favorite track off this new album is "We Are Fine," and the song gets a big boost by Beirut's Zach Condon on guest vocals. I can't remember the last time I heard a song so tragic and somehow uplifting at the same time.


Fertile Ground
Published on March 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Want to learn how to compost?

My colleague Margaret Hartley explains how in her weekly column Greenpoint over at the DG.

Here's an excerpt:

"Before you plant anything, it’s a good idea to think about your soil. The best thing you can do for your soil is to add organic matter, and the best way to do that is to compost.

If you’re a composter, you know what I mean. Kitchen scraps and yard waste, animal manure if you have animals — all get mixed together with a little rain, sun, heat and time. When it’s all finished, you end up with rich, black earth, full of earthworms and ready to produce beautiful plants, flowers and vegetables."

Click here to read more.


Film Capsules
Published on March 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some recent films I've watched, mostly on DVD. The list includes Harmony Korine's Gummo, and the new Studio Ghibli production "The Secret World of Arrietty."

Click here to read more.

Reconsidering the Monkees
Published on March 11, 2012 by guest author: Tony Are

“Hey, hey, we are The Monkees,
You know we love to please/
A manufactured image/
With no philosophies...”

- ”Ditty Diego/War Chant” from the album Head

Marge: But it's true. They didn't write their own songs or play their own instruments.

Psychiatrist: The Monkees weren't about music, Marge.  They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval [Marge smiles, relieved]

-The Simpsons, “Fear of Flying” (season 6, episode 11)

When Davy Jones died about a week ago, I didn't initially give it much thought, except for the usual “gee, that's too bad” that we tend to say when some celebrity who we kind of liked dies. Also, when you get to my age, there's also the “gee, he wasn't that much older than I am” factor, which is a bummer, but is soon forgotten as other things press on. But then I started looking at the obits, including this one in the New York Times and I realized that even after all this time the unfortunate Monkees are still not getting their due. Even before Jones' untimely death, a music-obsessed friend of mine (I guess that pretty much describes all my friends, but I digress) who is working on a meta-project examining the music made between 1967 and 1974 told me he was leaving the Monkees off the list of music to be considered (you can take a look at the music he did include here). They can't even get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - where even the talentless Red Hot Chili Peppers and TV-creation-playing-in-front-of-genius-sidemen Ricky Nelson are inductees.

To me it's kind of weird to have to defend the Monkees at this point, but I guess it just has to be done. It's amazing how the critical prejudices of the 60s have filtered down to the current time. Yes, it's absolutely true that they were “manufactured” in the sense that they didn't come together organically, but were assembled for a TV show, based largely on their charisma in front of a TV camera. And then, instead of working their way up the ladder of success from their basements, to clubs, to arenas, they were given a jump start with a popular program, which was based loosely on a de-fanged version of “A Hard Days Night” (and later on, more than a bit of “Help”).

Before they were ever a band they were four actors “playing” a band on TV. The “downside” of their historical legacy, if you want to call it that, is that they demonstrated for the first time a successful method for the entertainment industry's “good old boys” to try to “rein in” what had become an increasingly tumultuous and unpredictable period, especially in music. RCA and Columbia/ Screen Gems' ability to “create” a successful musical group that appealed to “the kids” (or at least some section of them) was the first step in the decade-long struggle by the entertainment companies to bring back “stability” to the industry. They also demonstrated, at a time when rock music was starting to “grow up” and demand that its listeners become more sophisticated, that you could still tap (and expand) what's now called the “tween” market of impressionable middle school to-junior-high-schoolers and cash in big time. Seen this way, MTV videos, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, The Twilight series, and Lana Del Ray are just the latest exits on a freeway that started with The Monkees.


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