Reading "Freedom"
Published on November 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the Jonathan Franzen novel "Freedom," which I plowed through on my vacation. 

Here's an excerpt:

"I recently finished Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed novel 'Freedom,' about a year after everybody else read it.

For the first 150 pages, I felt like throwing the book at the wall, even though I couldn’t put it down. That’s the thing about 'Freedom': It’s highly entertaining, compulsively readable ... and often insufferable.

But it gets better, steadily improving as the narrative progresses, and after I got through the first third, I found 'Freedom' much easier to take. On many levels, the book is a joy to read — a witty, nuanced, hyper-realistic satire. But on another level, I often felt like Franzen — and, specifically, his take on family, society and politics in the 21st century — was full of crap. His characters are sharply drawn, and I really felt as if I knew them. But this was also part of the problem. At almost every turn, the characters fulfilled my expectations for them. It was only at the end of the book, when Franzen brings his story to a poignant close, that I felt as though I could begin putting some of my reservations aside."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Why America's Voting System is a Disgrace
Published on November 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

David Frum has some insights into our voting system, and why it's so terrible.

Click here to read them.

Why I Love Voting
Published on November 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my love of Florida, my bafflement at apathy, my hatred of Florida and general disgust at all vote-suppressing states. (Yes, Ohio, I mean you!) 

Here's an excerpt:

When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to vote and when I turned 18 I registered.

I was too young to vote in the presidential election of 1992, but I’ve voted in every major election since. I voted absentee in New Hampshire in 1996 while attending college in Ohio, as an Alabama resident in 2000 and as a New Yorker in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

I love voting, and I’ve never understood people who consider it some kind of onerous burden. Nonvoters usually leave me speechless, but this year I attempted to persuade a few of them to go vote, with mixed results. Some of them have reasonable arguments about the futility of voting in a country where everything hinges on the Electoral College; others are simply apathetic, and I find it much more difficult to talk to them, mainly because apathy is something I just do not get.

My voting experiences have always been uneventful, and this year was no different.

I walked up to my polling place around 9:30 a.m., got my ballot, filled it out and scanned it in the fancy new voting machine. The whole process took about five minutes — about 20 minutes less than it took me to contest a parking ticket at Albany City Hall earlier in the week — and I headed to work full of satisfaction. Come what may, I had done my civic duty.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on November 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) ****

The Quiet Man (1952) ***

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) ***

The Last Station (2009) ***

Top Reads of the Week
Published on November 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

Gay Marriage: Keith Ross on why it should be allowed

Technology: Margaret Hartley on navigating her moron phone

Politics: George Costanza's Number One Fan on the presidential election, and Sara Foss on how the election was a victory for math.

Travel: Sara Foss on her trip to Colorado

Movies: Sara Foss on "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"


NFL Picks, Week 10
Published on November 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 10 NFL picks.

Click here to read them.

Post-Election Thoughts
Published on November 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

The election marked an important victory for Democrats, and the various constituencies that comprise the party - women, blacks, young adults, Hispanics, gays, etc. - but also for common sense and math.

As an avid reader of statistician Nate Silver, I followed the war on math and common sense with interest. Silver has a reputation for pinpoint accuracy in his analysis of polls and electoral predictions, and he has been projecting an Obama victory for months, in direct contradition to the conventional wisdom that suggested this would be a close election. Not everybody liked Silver's analysis, and as the election grew closer, the attacks on him grew.

These attacks came from two sources: pundit hacks, who find it hard to believe that math is a better predictor of election results than intuition, and Republicans, who decided to invent their own reality in response to Silver's numbers, which they found distasteful.


Lessons from Sandy
Published on November 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleage Margaret Hartley writes about we can learn from Hurricane Sandy in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

Sandy, first a hurricane and then a “superstorm,” didn’t do much more than kick up a bit of wind up here. And in a region that hasn’t fully recovered from last year’s tropical storms, Irene and Lee, we can consider ourselves very fortunate.

I was fortunate myself, getting out of New York City a day earlier than planned on the second-to-last train to leave before Grand Central Terminal closed down. I had planned to stay in the city an extra day, visiting my daughter, but figured if I didn’t get out Sunday I’d be stuck there through midweek. As of Wednesday, there was still no train service, so I would have been camping out at my friends’ apartment, playing board games by candlelight, which is how they spent most of last week.

My daughter was more fortunate, never losing power at her midtown dorm. And with schools closed throughout New York City, she and her dancer colleagues caught up on their sleep. “We’ve all been napping,” she told us in one of her many storm and post-storm updates. During the height of the windstorm the residents sheltered in the downstairs lounge, but after a few hours they were allowed to go back to their rooms.

We’ve all seen the photos from the city — subway tracks flooded, tunnels filled with water, water pouring through doors and over streets. The power of water is awesome, and seeing images of cars pushed around, boardwalks smashed, beaches and dunes rearranged, and streets buckled is frightening. My brother’s New Jersey neighborhood saw floods, fires and power outages; my mom in Connecticut couldn’t get out of her driveway to get to a shelter because of the trees and wires tangled together.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Published on November 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new coming-of-age film "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

Here's an excerpt:

"The coming-of-age film is one of my favorite genres, which might explain why I’m willing to give certain coming-of-age films, such as the flawed-but-likable 'Youth in Revolt,' a bit of a pass, while coming down harder than necessary on the ones that rub me the wrong way, such as 'Thumbsucker.' Because here’s the thing about coming-of-age films: Most of them are flawed. They tend to be overly earnest, wildly implausible and cliched. I love 'The Breakfast Club,' but the film critic Pauline Kael was on to something when she described it as 'a movie about a bunch of stereotypes who complain that other people see them as stereotypes.'

The new coming-of-age film 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but is still worth seeing for its sensitivity, occasional wisdom and depth of feeling — the film is quite perceptive about the ways in which misfit teenagers relate to each other. One of my gripes about coming-of-age films is that they often revolve around characters who are desperate to be popular, rather than focusing on the kids who really couldn’t care less about any of that, and are just hoping to make it through high school with a handful of good friends and some good memories; since I was one of these kids, I know that they exist. Fortunately, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' has a good sense of how high school misfits think and behave.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Election Day Music
Published on November 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

"Election Day," The Replacements

Go Vote!

Saying "I Miss You" on a Moron Phone
Published on November 5, 2012 by guest author: Margaret Hartley

Since our teen daughter graduated and moved away from home, we’ve been mailing postcards and packages, sending emails and making phone calls. And we’ve resorted to low-tech forms of high-tech communication, which generally means an inept mom attempting to send a text message on a little pay-as-you-go cell phone — the kind you can buy for under $10 and then add minute-units by buying a card at the supermarket.

I’ve had that little phone for years, primarily to prevent my husband from panicking when I’m heading home from work on a snowy or icy night. In the past I rarely remembered to use it — or to charge it, or buy time for it, or to take it with me. On a snowy night I’d rather stop at a convenience store to use the pay phone, and maybe get a cup of coffee, too, and take the time to walk around a little and scrape the ice off my windshield.

That was then. Now I take the phone with me wherever I go in case I happen to be in a place that has cell service, which is pretty much anywhere on Earth except where I live. Because my daughter might need to get a hold of me.

I approached texting slowly, only after I figured out I couldn’t hear anyone talking through the little phone if I happened to be in a noisy place, such as anywhere but the top of a mountain. I’d be in New York City, taking the daughter to ballet auditions, and the phone would ring. I’d panic first, unable to get it out of the pocket of my backpack before it stopped ringing, or unable to figure out what button to press to find out who was calling. But even after I finally figured out how to answer it, it didn’t matter.

“What?” I’d yell. “I can’t hear anything!”

How could I? Generally there was a subway rumbling under ground, a helicopter flying overhead and a couple of guys jackhammering through the sidewalk right next to me.


Dr. John and the Blind Boys of Alabama, in Concert
Published on November 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the Dr. John and Blind Boys of Alabama concert at the Palace Theatre in Albany, which was great.

Here's an excerpt:

"One of my favorite bands, the Afghan Whigs, recently got back together and started playing gigs again. I’ve been tracking the tour all over the country, hoping that it will land somewhere near me, and although it’s come as close as New York City and Boston, I haven’t been able to get to it. Then, on my recent trip to Colorado, my friend Melissa informed me that she and her husband were attending the Afghan Whigs show in Denver on Oct. 30, two days after I was scheduled to fly back to Albany, and I was immediately overcome with the most intense case of concert envy I’ve ever had. When Melissa sent me a photo and sound clip of the band performing my favorite Afghan Whigs song, 'What Jail is Like,' it just got worse.

Fortunately, there was a cure for what ailed me: the Dr. John/Blind Boys of Alabama concert at the Palace Theatre last Thursday. I’m a fan of both artists, but it was the prospect of seeing Dr. John and the Blind Boys take the stage together that really got me excited for this show. A New Orleans native, Dr. John plays a dynamic mix of blues, rock, jazz, funk and boogie woogie, while the Blind Boys are a gospel group known for their spellbinding arrangements of traditional songs, as well as soulful covers of popular hits. Both Dr. John and the Blind Boys have been around forever, and easily qualify as legends; the story of the Blind Boys, who first sang together in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Ala., really is interesting, as the group performed primarily for black audiences until the early 1990s, when their album 'Deep River' was nominated for a Grammy."

Click here to read the whole thing

Jerry and Tom Get Married
Published on November 4, 2012 by guest author: Keith Ross

When I first meet Jerry I wouldn’t have guessed he was gay. I was new to the island, straight down from northern New Hampshire. He was a redneck from West Virginia, with a thick southern drawl and rotten crooked teeth, emanating Southern masculinity. I thought the other guys at work were messing around with me until I met his “wife,” as everyone put it, Tom.

Jerry and Tom (not their real names) were seemingly polar opposites. Tom was also a southern boy with a thick drawl as well, but no one would doubt which team he batted for. Tom was thin as Jerry was thick. Tom was a lady as Jerry was a man. Tom defiantly was the wife as Jerry was the husband. Tom fit every single stereotype of a gay man in the Florida Keys as Jerry fit into the redneck stereotype. Except Jerry was gay and married to a man. Well, in all our minds they were married, no matter what State or Federal law says. They loved each other, they wore wedding rings, they had committed their lives to each other. They lived as husband and husband.

Jerry and I had become close friends. We would sit at staff parties and talk, a lot about hunting and fishing, and other redneck stuff. I had grown up in the mountains of New Hampshire and had close to the same upbringing as Jerry had in the mountains of West Virginia. The main difference is that my parents and I are college educated, and Jerry had come from a long line of illiterate Appalachians. I would joke with him about the Hatfields and McCoys and he would tease me about "live free or die." We argued politics and religion. No topic was off the table. He talked a lot about his love for Tom, their relationship, and their families.


Presidential Election Thoughts
Published on November 4, 2012 by guest author: George Costanza's Number One Fan
When George W. Bush won the presidential election in 2000 and then again in 2004, I swore I would do everything in my power to make sure the Democrats won in 2008 and was pretty ecstatic when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. I told myself that I would just take the next four years off from worrying about the direction of my country with Obama in office.
My only regret is that Obama is not quite as strong a politician as I thought he was going to be. But he did get health care passed. As opposed to previous elections, I find myself more moderate and don't see a Romney presidency as a reason to go live in Canada.

I started out liberal. I went to a very liberal school in Ohio, the most liberal school I knew with a normal class schedule,  i.e., not Evergreen, Antioch or Hampshire. However, pretty much right after college, I got disillusioned with the far left. In the Fall of 2000, I interned for a liberal political magazine based in New York City, which championed the battle of Gore v. W. Bush as Tweedle-Dee vs. Tweedle-Dum, and told voters in non-battleground states to vote for Nader. I even went to a Nader rally in New York with my press pass. I do think of Nader as a hero - he did get us seat belts.

To Colorado And Back
Published on November 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my Colorado vacation, which took me to Denver and Vail.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve been to Denver a number of times to visit my friends Dave and Melissa, but when I began planning my most recent trip out there, I decided I wanted it to be a little different.

The last time I went to Denver, I had a broken wrist and Melissa was eight months pregnant. We watched television and played board games. As vacations go, it was pretty low-key.

I wanted this trip to be a little more exciting. I love hanging out and playing board games, but I didn’t want to spend my entire trip in Dave and Melissa’s living room. I wanted to get out of the city and see some of Colorado’s incredible scenery. I wanted to go someplace new.

And my wishes were granted.

My trip coincided with Dave’s work retreat in the town of Vail, home of the famed ski resort. None of us ski (and the ski season doesn’t begin until later this month), but we were all looking forward to a few days in the mountains, and a break from daily routine. As soon as we got on the road we began to relax, and it wasn’t long before sharp, rocky peaks covered with pine and aspen were looming above us, and the landscape had the look and feel of an old western. The sight of a herd of bison off Interstate 70 cheered me immensely. I was far away from home, and it felt great."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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