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Bach Is Best
Published on December 6, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about solo violinist Jennifer Koh, and her show "Bach and Beyond" at EMPAC last weekend.

Click here to read more.


NFL Picks, Week 14
Published on December 6, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 14 NFL Picks.

Click here to read them.


The Case for a Four Day Week
Published on December 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

I've long advocated a four day week. Mainly because three day weekends are so much better than four day weekends. But there are other good arguments to be made for why we should all be working less, and Bill Ivey makes some of them over at Alternet, in a piece titled "Don't Slave Your Life Away."

Click here to read it.


Watching "Lincoln"
Published on December 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Lincoln."

Here's an excerpt:

"Most biopics are, at best, average films — anchored by great performances, but undermined by conventional and unimaginative filmmaking. And yet I’ve always had a soft spot for the biopic. I almost always learn something from these films, and even the most mediocre ones generally inspire me to read more about the subject of the movie I’ve just watched.

I was pleased to discover that the new Steven Spielberg film 'Lincoln' is a very good biopic — one of the best of recent years. Like all biopics, “Lincoln” has its flaws, but what’s good about the film is really, really good, and very much worth seeing and thinking about.

The movie’s greatest accomplishment is its earthy portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Here is a Lincoln who feels like a real man rather than simply a revered historical figure or some kind of saintly politician. I was actually kind of amazed by how well the film conveyed what it might have been like to listen to Lincoln tell a story, or sit on his cabinet, or serve on the White House staff. He always comes across as the smartest person in the room, deeply committed to saving the union and ending slavery, but acutely aware of the compromises that are needed to accomplish his goals. We see him as a husband and father who still grieves the loss of his son and struggles to deal with his difficult wife. This Lincoln is funny, shrewd, sad, tired, talkative and observant. One of the movie’s best images depicts him striding down a corridor, alone. In a weird way, the film makes it both easy and difficult to relate to him. He was obviously a man of great intelligence and gifts, but one who found himself worn down by the demands of his job and domestic life. Credit, of course, should go to Daniel Day-Lewis, for his amazing portrayal of the 16th president."

Click here to read the whole thing.


I Hate Local Music
Published on December 3, 2012 by guest author: Tony Are

I hate local music.

Well, I sort of hate it — that is I hate thinking of local music as “local music,” and I hate being told that I need to support it.

I guess I should explain. Over the last month or so, at least seven of my Facebook “friends” have forwarded some version of a “support local music” meme. They are mostly musicians, or people with an active interest in music, and some of them are in what you would call “local bands”, so I guess I can understand why they thought they agreed with this enough to pass it along. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that something was bothering me about this whole deal.

First of all, when people say “local music” I'm not sure they are thinking about what it means. I live in NY, so for instance, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, and Madonna are all “local.” But I don't think I'm being implored to be sure to catch the “MDNA tour” as it blows through town. The idea seems to be supporting struggling, mainly unknown artists from your home town — you know, the ones playing in that bar just up the road. Now that seems like a worthwhile thing. But supporting local artists is not like supporting your local farmer. Fresh eggs and tomatoes are actually better than the ones that have spent time in the distributor's warehouse. And there is the thing about cutting down your carbon footprint, although I guess the jury is still out on whether buying local really makes a significant difference. But art is a different type of thing, a form of communication that intends to make you feel something, to re-connect with the world in a way that combines the artist's intentions with your own experience. It's a thought process made physical.

And that has nothing to do with being local. One of the problems with the meme is that it cuts out the art. I'm pretty sure that's not the intent, but focusing on the local support ends up in that place. Yes, supporting art needs to be about fostering a creative community where new things can be invented before being tried out on the national stage. But what we need to be encouraging is aspiring to make that flash of communication between the artist and the audience revelatory. That's a tall order — it's hard, and frankly, a lot of art doesn't make it. But even an attempt to do this creates its own type of pleasure, and when it does happen — that's when it all becomes worthwhile. What people need to be supporting is good music, not local music — and by good I don't mean only music that I happen to like, but I mean any music that is made by someone trying to connect something profound within themselves to an audience.

 (More)


Stars in the Dark
Published on December 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the pleasures of living in a place where it's dark enough to see the stars in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"When our daughter came home for Thanksgiving, she noticed perhaps the only thing she had missed since moving to the big city: stars.

Well, maybe she missed her dog and her little brother, a little. But mostly it was stars.

We sent her outside one evening to turn off the chickens’ light and to throw a chip of hay to the ox, and she was gone so long we sent the boy out to look for her. She was stargazing, and she got her brother to look up, too.

We are lucky to live in a dark place. On a clear night, we can see the Milky Way, check for constellations, look for shooting stars.

'In the city, if I see one star, I get so happy,' my daughter said. She and a friend tried to go stargazing one night, at an organized viewing party on Manhattan’s High Line park along the Hudson, but it was raining. She was distressed to find her high school friends, also home for Thanksgiving, had not given any thought to the sky.

'Do you have stars in Burlington?' she asked one friend, and he said he hadn’t noticed.

'Can you believe it?' she asked us. 'How can you not notice?'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Jovan Belcher Thoughts
Published on December 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

There are a lot of things that are troubling about the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide.

Over at Slate, Justin Peters writes that the NFL has a domestic violence problem, and that the Belcher murder-suicide is merely the latest, and one of the most horrific, examples of it. Personally, I am sure that the NFL would prefer that its players not beat their wives or girlfriends. But that doesn't mean they're doing what they need to do to punish players involved in such incidents, or develop programs designed to reduce them.

Because the Belcher story is so horrific, it's appropriate to question why the Chiefs game wasn't just cancelled, which is how normal humans would react to a murder-suicide committed right under their very noses. Lest we forget, Belcher killed himself in front of his coach. Over at The Nation, Dave Zirin suggests that the NFL really blew this one.

"The pretense of both the NFL and Chiefs owner Clark Hunt for playing as planned was that the team captains and Coach Crennel wanted to take the field. Even if we accept this at face value, and we shouldn’t in a league as tightly controlled as the NFL, it’s difficult to understand why this was their decision and not the decision of the league in conjunction with mental health professionals. The Chiefs and the NFL are also taking pains to say that professional grief counselors would be present at the game. I have not been unable to unearth who these people actually are and what their credentials might be, but how serious can they be about their presumed oath to “do no harm” if they are sending Chiefs players into harm’s way under relative states of shock? I have interviewed a great many NFL players and they always say that the playing field is most dangerous when you are distracted. It’s difficult to not see the NFL’s insistence that this is the decision of the Chiefs organization alone as an exercise in public relations as well as a shield against their own liability."

And, finally, there's the victim: a young woman named Kasandra Michelle Perkins, whom Belcher murdered before killing himself. With all the speculation about whether concussions contributed to Belcher's state-of-mind, there's been little discussion of Perkins, who certainly deserves better than being a footnote in an ongoing story about brain injuries and whether playing a violent sport contributes to violent behavior off the field. For more, visit this piece over at the Feminist Wire and Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon.


John Waters, Christmas Films and More!
Published on December 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the John Waters Christmas show in Albany, and list some of my favorite Christmas films, with an emphasis on the more demented and horrific ones.

Here's an excerpt:

"I generally do not get very excited about Christmas-themed events. In fact, I try to avoid them. I like the singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, but when she brought her Christmas variety show to The Egg a while back, I wasn’t interested.

However, I had a much different reaction when I heard that the film director John Waters, a leading auteur of trash cinema, was bringing a Christmas show to The Egg. I knew immediately that I wanted to go, and not just because I’ve always regretted not seeing John Waters when he visited my college campus, although that was part of it. No, I wanted to go because a John Waters Christmas show sounded completely demented, and I like demented things.

Waters basically told stories and jokes, many of them quite tasteless (which is exactly what I expected, because he’s John Waters), for more than an hour before taking questions from the audience. He reminisced about the time vandals stole the baby Jesus out of a nearby creche when he was a kid, how the neighborhood banded together to find the perpetrators, and how even at a young age he related to the vandals rather than the upstanding citizens from the neighborhood. He also described stealing Christmas gifts from people’s cars, his friend and muse Divine’s obsession with Christmas decorations and his own obsession with Alvin the Chipmunk. He said that his favorite Christmas movie is 1980’s 'Christmas Evil,' adding, 'I hate the normal [films].'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Recent Viewing: Films
Published on December 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

Burn After Reading (2008) ***1/2

The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) ***

Withouth You I'm Nothing (1990) ***

Bandslam (2009) ***


Too Much Giving?
Published on December 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I discuss whether it's possible to give too much, as well as my hatred of the book "The Giving Tree."

Here's an excerpt:

"It takes my family almost the entire day to unwrap Christmas presents.

We do stockings before breakfast and tackle the gifts under the tree after we eat. And in recent years, the number of presents has grown. There are gifts under the tree for my brother-in-law, and my sisters and I give more than we used to, having become grown-ups with jobs.

But neither the existence of my brother-in-law nor adulthood can fully explain the surge in presents. Much of the blame lies with my parents, specifically my mother. Whereas most parents begin cutting back on gifts for their adult children at some point, my parents have taken the opposite tack.

My father has recently shown some signs of wanting to restore some sanity to Christmas morning, and last year, as our gift-giving stretched into the afternoon, he turned to my mother and said, 'You got too much stuff.'

At Thanksgiving, my father made an announcement.
'Christmas is going to go much faster this year,' he said. 'Your mother and I are only giving each other one present.'

The new rule apparently has an exception: stocking presents. That makes me wonder how many gifts my mother will attempt to cram into my father’s stocking.

I don’t like buying gifts, and giving them makes me anxious, but I do enjoy getting them.

However, I can acknowledge that perhaps there is such a thing as 'too much.'

Click here to read the whole thing.


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