The Use (and Misuse) of Confidential Informants
Published on September 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

I just read the September New Yorker piece about the rising use of young, untrained confidential informants by law enforcement.

Anyway, this is a piece that's very much worth reading. I hadn't given the issue of confidential informants a moment's thought, and Sarah Stillman's reporting really opened my eyes to a growing problem. Too many CIs appear to be turning up dead, leaving behind grieving families with unanswered questions.


There Will Always Be Good Movies and People Who Care About Them
Published on September 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

There's been a fair amount of handwringing from critics lately, about the supposed dearth of good movies and the death of film culture. Apparently, people just aren't lining up around the block for the latest Godard film the way they did back in the day, when people actually cared about the movies.

Writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir:

"Film culture, at least in the sense people once used that phrase, is dead or dying. Back in what we might call the Susan Sontag era, discussion and debate about movies was often perceived as the icy-cool cutting edge of American intellectual life. Today it’s a moribund and desiccated leftover that’s been cut off from ordinary life, from the mainstream of pop culture and even from what remains of highbrow or intellectual culture. While this becomes most obvious when discussing an overtly elitist phenomenon like the NYFF, it’s also true on a bigger scale. Here are the last four best-picture winners at the Oscars: 'The Artist,' 'The King’s Speech,' 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Slumdog Millionaire.' How much time have you spent, cumulatively, talking about those movies with your friends?"

O'Hehir then suggests that what people really care about these days is TV - "Breaking Bad," "The Good Wife," etc. Film, he says, has been replaced, and few directors generate the excitement that Truffaut and Kurosawa once did. (Click here to read read his whole piece.)

The New Yorker's David Denby and critic David Thomson take a different tack, arguing in the New Republic that the movies themselves have gotten terrible, as Hollywood invests heavily in comic book movies and little else. Denby's piece is despairing in tone, while Thomson's is sour - New Yorker critic Richard Brody is correct to suggest, in a response, that Thomson is dead to the movies.

So what's my response to all this handwringing? Well, here are some thoughts:


Being a Tourist in Autumn
Published on September 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent trip to see my parents, sisters, brother-in-law and niece.

Here's an excerpt:

"People flock to Maine during the summer, which is why the state describes itself as vacationland on license plates.

During July and August, the beaches and coastal restaurants are full of visitors and summer guests, and there’s a busy, energetic vibe almost every place you go. But come Labor Day, almost all of these people clear out. I’ve gotten caught in this mass exodus a few times driving back to Albany from my parents’ house — trapped in standstill, bumper-to-bumper traffic, an already-long drive getting even longer, my patience wearing increasingly thin.

As nice as Maine is during the summer, I like it even better during the fall, when the weather is still fairly pleasant and the tourists have vacated the scene.

I spent part of last weekend in Maine, hanging out at my parents’ house.
We crammed a lot into 24 hours, eating lobster for dinner and steamed clams for lunch, and spending several hours at the beach.

There were no lifeguards and the surfboard restrictions of summer had been lifted, giving wetsuit-clad surfers the run of the place. The beach wasn’t crowded, though plenty of people were sitting in chairs and on towels, basking in the surprisingly warm sun and clear, brilliantly blue sky. Most impressive of all were the waves, which crested and crashed with a ferocity I hadn’t seen in quite some time."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Top Reads of the Week
Published on September 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Politics: Cabot Nunlist on why you should care about gerrymandering

Obervation: Sara Foss on noticing the important stuff

Create writing: Steve LeBlanc writes a poem

Sports: Sara Foss presents her week 4 NFL picks

NFL Picks, Week 4
Published on September 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 4 NFL football picks.

Click here to read them.

When She Sighs: A Poem
Published on September 26, 2012 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

She’d been waiting for a while
And when he stopped by
She was sleeping
It didn’t matter that he tried
When she decided
Turned off the lights

When she sighs
He feels so tired
He gets so tired

They met when he was on a high
He and his friends
Had found the good life
But coming down she realized
That he never would be
Content with his life

And when she sighs
He feels so tired
Even when his everything is beautiful

She’d been waiting for a while
And when he stopped by
He found that she had finished crying
It wouldn’t matter that he tried
She had decided that she’d move on
With her life

And when she sighs
He feels so tired
He gets so tired

When she sighs
He feels so tired
He gets so tired

Steve LeBlanc lives in Lebanon, N.H., with his wife, son and two cats. His many interests include philosophy, theater, music and writing.

Previous Posts By This Author: Life is a Fragile Thing, Or So They Say

The Girl at the Pool

Glenn Gould at 80
Published on September 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

Glenn Gould would have turned 80 this week, and I honored the occasion by playing my CD of his 1955 performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Here's The New Yorker's Richard Brody with more on Gould.

Also, visit this NPR piece for more on Gould.

Oh No! There's Going to be a Bacon Shortage!
Published on September 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Grim news for lovers of all things pork.

The Bigot's Son
Published on September 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

If you're like me, you view the publicity-seeking Westboro Baptist Church as a hateful band of lunatics. And they are. But a Salon interview with the son of Rev. Fred Phelps, the church's crackpot leader, reveals that there's a little more to the story.

The son, Nate Phelps, is an outspoke advocate for LGBT rights, and is actively speaking out on the hate perpetuated by his father's church (and others like it).

Click here to read the piece.

Summer Crashes Into Fall
Published on September 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the transition from summer to fall.

Here's an excerpt:

"When my teen girl left the nest a few weeks ago, I had to clean out the trunk of my car to fit all her gear in it. Turns out I’ve been carrying that box full of ice skates with me all summer long, just in case I drove by a frozen lake.

Let me say right here that carrying a box full of ice skates of various sizes and styles is not a good way to improve gas mileage. But moving the box out of my trunk does give me an opportunity to go through it, to get rid of the ones that no longer fit anyone and get the blades sharpened on the ones that do. Because it will be skating season again before too long.

Right now we’re perched on that point between summer and fall, where the days could be hot and full of ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, and the nights could be cold, with a winter squash cooking in the wood stove. Frost is coming soon and the garden is starting to look it."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Film Capsules
Published on September 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some of the movies I've watched on DVD lately, including Peter Jackson's splatter alien horror film, "Bad Taste," and the Marlon Brando film "One Eyed Jacks."

Click here to read it.

Oil and Water: Mixing Sanity With Politics
Gerrymandering - Why Should You Care?
Published on September 24, 2012 by guest author: Cabot Nunlist

Cabot Nunlist is writing about important policy issues in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.

For starters, read this excellent Wikipedia entry on the tactic for a refresher:

In case you are allergic to Wikipedia, here is a quick refresher: Gerrymandering is the process of drawing Congressional districts in such a way as to clump voters from the other party into as few districts as possible, in order to increase the total number of seats your party has in Congress. This is typically done using demographic data to make oddly shaped districts that lump voters from a particular party into the district, or including small slices of the other party’s voters in larger districts of your party’s voters.

So okay, this seems a little shady in general, but why should you care if it’s your party that's doing the gerrymandering?  After all, it should lead to more seats for your party in various legislatures, right? It does do that, but as usual there is a catch.

For starters, non-competitive districts that heavily favor one party or the other lead to the party primaries being proxies for the actual election. Whoever wins the Democratic primary in a district that has been drawn to fence in all the democrats is definitely winning the general election, regardless of what a scumbag he/she is and how good the Republican opponent is. Guess who votes in disproportionately large numbers in primary elections? The lunatic fringes of both parties, that’s who. So the candidates that get elected from these districts represent an increasingly polarized political viewpoint that makes it nearly impossible to get anything done in Congress and also in no way represents the actual views of the country at large. 


Noticing the Important Stuff
Published on September 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the stuff I notice, like doughnuts and deer, and the stuff I don't notice, like handbags and shoes.

Here's an excerpt:

"My parents often accuse me of being unobservant and uninterested in the world around me.

Whenever I visit, they make a point of remarking on all the things I haven’t noticed, ambushing me with questions like 'What do you think of our new floor?' or 'What do you think of the garden?'

My vague responses inevitably disappoint them because they’ve done all this work on their house and the garden, and very little of it registers with me. 'I cannot believe you have not gone out back to look at the garden yet,' my father kept saying when I visited in July. 'Now that you have your own garden, I would think you’d be a little more interested!'

Personally, I wasn’t sure what the rush was: I was visiting for a whole week, and the garden wasn’t going anyplace. Eventually I wandered over and took a look at it, and I did notice things I wouldn’t have noticed in the past, like how neat and tidy it is. Now that I have my own garden, I understand how much effort is involved in getting a garden to look pretty and organized as opposed to wild and unruly, which is what my garden looks like."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Top Reads of the Week
Published on September 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

Politics: Cabot Nunlist on the 47 percent controversy

Birthdays: Sara Foss on why adventurous birthdays are better

Movies: Sara Foss on "Sleepwalk With Me"

Sports: Sara Foss on which NFL teams will win in week 3

NFL Picks, Week 3
Published on September 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 3 NFL picks.

Click here to read them.

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