Jonah Lehrer Should Be Banished
Published on February 14, 2013 by Sara Foss

Earlier this week the Knight Foundation paid disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer, a plagiarist and fabricator of quotes, $20,000 to give a talk. This was, of course, a complete insult to real journalists, and perhaps a reason to never pay attention to anything the Knight Foundation has to say ever again. (The Knight Foundation has since apologized for being so stupid, but the fact that it took widespread outrage and condemnation for them to realize the error of their ways suggests that they have, at best, terrible judgment on journalistic matters.)

Anyway, Jonah Lehrer didn't murder anyone, and he should be free to continue on with his life. But I agree with Gawker's Hamilton Nolan - there's no reason Lehrer's future should entail journalism. Some people might think that Lehrer too smart and talented to be banished from the field of science writing forever, but this is absurd - there are plenty of smart, young writers out there who know better than to make up quotes and attribute them to Bob Dylan.

Also, Lehrer's speech was a bit much, what with his blathering on about how he needs a "new list of rules, a stricter set of standard operating procedures." Sorry, but this is nonsense. The rules of journalism are not the problem - Lehrer is. Because the rules of journalism boil down to two basic things: Don't make stuff up, and don't steal from people. It's not terribly complicated, and if Lehrer needs a stricter set of rules, well, he should probably do something else. The fact that he would give a speech touting the need for new rules is an insult to all the journalists who seem to understand the existing rules just fine.

Watching "Mama"
Published on February 14, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new horror movie "Mama."

Here's an excerpt:

“'Mama' is billed as a horror movie, but it’s more of a ghost story/fairy tale that derives its tension from vague fears about parenthood (specifically motherhood), rather than a malevolent entity.

Helmed by first-time director Andres Muschietti, 'Mama' bears the clear influence of producer Guillermo del Toro, the auteur behind horror/fantasy hybrids such as 'Pan’s Labyrinth' and 'Cronos.' The film is elegant, dreamlike and often disturbingly beautiful, and takes time to develop its simple story: Two young girls are kidnapped by their father after he kills his co-workers, and end up in a remote forest cabin after he drives off the road in a snow storm. Just as the father raises his gun to shoot the older girl in the back of the head, a shivery supernatural being emerges from the walls and kills him.

The film then jumps ahead five years, to the day when a search team finds the two girls, now feral, dirty and malnourished, living in the cabin. The children are brought back to civilization, where their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), set about integrating into their daily lives. Which isn’t easy, because the kids are really weird, especially the younger girl, named Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse). While the other sister, Victoria (Megan Charpentier), slowly begins to warm up to living in a house with a mother and a father, Lilly continues to feed on cherries (what the girls ate in the wild), runs around on all fours and refuses to be touched or held by Lucas or Annabel. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the girls haven’t entirely left the forest behind: The shivery supernatural being, called Mama, has followed them to the suburbs, and taken up residence.

'Mama' is at its best when it focuses on the children, and how Annabel, who is forced to raise them alone after Luke is hospitalized after a nighttime encounter with Mama, feels about them. Annabel has never wanted children, and she regards Lilly and Victoria with trepidation: She doesn’t know what these strange little kids are thinking, she suspects they might be dangerous and she worries that she is not up to the task of caring for them. (As time goes on, she also begins to suspect that someone is visiting the children during the night.) This preoccupation with children and parenthood places 'Mama' in the subgenre of horror films about “bad seeds” (although Lilly and Victoria are more damaged than bad) such as 'The Omen,' 'Who Can Kill a Child?' and the 2008 British horror film 'The Children.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Passion Pit, In Concert
Published on February 12, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review Monday's Passion Pit show in Troy.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve been a fan of the electro-pop band Passion Pit ever since their song 'Sleepyhead' hit the airwaves, but I developed more of an interest in them after I learned, via Rolling Stone, that band leader Michael Angelakos has been battling bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. I don’t know why, but this knowledge made Passion Pit’s music seem both more endearing and complex, as if the band itself is locked in a constant battle to balance its undeniably upbeat dance music with an angstier, more conflicted sensibility.

Their hit song 'Take A Walk' might make you feel like dancing, but the lyrics — 'but then my partner called to say the pension funds were gone/he made some bad investments now the accounts are overdrawn/I took a walk' — suggest mounting dread and desperation. Or at least the terror of living through the financial crash after you’ve gone and lost all of your investors’ money.

For better or worse, most of Passion Pit’s music is not that topical. The band played the RPI Fieldhouse on Monday night, and Angelakos revealed himself to be an energetic and generous showman, eager to get people dancing and waving their hands in the air. From the first songs, which included 'I’ll Be Alright,' of the band’s 2012 release, 'Gossamer,' and 'The Reeling,' from their previous album, 'Manners,' it was clear that Passion Pit is a band that doesn’t slow down, and there was a brief period where I was beginning to feel a bit exhausted, as many of the band’s songs are delivered in the same heightened, and synth-heavy, emotional pitch.

I really like 'Gossamer,' but the second half of the album threatens to dissipate into clouds of vacuous electro-pop, and I worried that the concert would do the same. Fortunately, the band kicked things into another gear when it slowed down and played 'Constant Conversations,' an R&B-style make-out song in which Angelakos seemed to be channeling Prince (or perhaps Beck in his 'Midnite Vultures' phase).

Click here to read the whole thing.

Living Through 2012: My Year in Music
Published on February 12, 2013 by guest author: Tony Are

Living Through 2012: My Year In Music

(in which an eccentric music buff contemplates guitar/drum pop duos, Taylor Swift, a couple of songs about abortion, choosing aesthetic sides, and what sort of truth guttersnipes may or may not know, while briefly discussing 10 cool things)


This started because Sara was wondering if I would do a year-end music wrap. First I said no. Then I changed my mind. The reason for this wavering was that I figured out quite some time ago that my relationship to the mainstream of the popular music thought-o-sphere is something like one of those comets that is on a long elliptical orbit around the sun. Sometimes I'm completely in sync with the music everyone seems to think is wonderful, like I was last year. I had a copy of every album on most of the “best of” lists, and mainly agreed with the so-called “critics” about the veracity of each.

But this year, not so much. Now I will say that I'm not sure that 2012's offerings were quite up to the level of the year before. A lot of interesting stuff happened in 2011. Although the critical glow around tUnE-yArDs has dimmed somewhat, Merrill's unique rhythmic constructions, combined with DIY ethic, seemed refreshingly new. Kanye West and Jay-Z joined forces to attempt a blockbuster and nearly pulled it off. PJ Harvey and Wilco made albums that at least recalled the work that drew us to them in the first place, even if they didn't equal the quality. In 2012, a lot of people just seemed to be waiting for something to happen, and it never quite did. A lot of the more solid albums I heard, like The XX, Japandroids, and even Jack White, seemed to be riding on pretty well-worn tracks. I had been eagerly awaiting Beach House's followup to the beloved “Teen Dream,” but “Bloom” just seemed to be recycling the same dream pop with even more distancing layers of studio cream filling. And the so-called “EDM” and “dubstep” that is now echoing through the halls of middle schools all over the country is just a less interesting version of the electronic dance music that we were listening to in 1996. Even many of the albums I liked quite a bit — Frank Ocean, Tame Impala, Taylor Swift — were not so much breaking new ground as they were retrofitting.

This could be because even people much younger than me are searching for something that resonates on a deeper level. I was at a party at Christmas time that was mainly musicians and their friends, ages from around 18 to mid-thirties (if you don't count me) - the kind of people who are creating much of the music people are listening to now. It included all sorts of people, from a hip hop artist all the way to pop-dreamer Daoud of Art Sorority for Girls. Different people played DJ from the host's vinyl collection. What did we listen to? Pet Sounds, Rumours, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea — all with much nodding of heads. The newest of these albums is 15 years old, the oldest 46. When I was their age I wasn't listening to any 46-year-old albums (although in retrospect, I probably should have been). But it was clear that these people thought there was something captured on those old albums that struck a deeper, louder chord than what has recently rolled off the assembly line.


Why Do Scream At Each Other?
Published on February 11, 2013 by Sara Foss

A flow chart for understanding "When Doves Cry."

Enough Snow For Skiing
Published on February 11, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at DG, I write about how we finally got enough snow to ski over the weekend.

Here's an excerpt:

Some Capital Region residents have expressed disappointment in last week’s snowstorm, but not me. The six inches or so that we got in Albany seemed perfectly adequate, and after clearing off my car, I decided to go cross country skiing.

One of the great things about cross country skiing is that you can just go out and do it for free. But you do need snow and the January thaw, when temperatures climbed into the 50s, pretty much wiped out my local cross country skiing options. I usually ski at the Albany Pine Bush, though I sometimes venture out to Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes, and Omi International Arts Center, the sculpture park in Ghent. But on Saturday I was in a bit of a rush, and decided to try skiing a little closer to home, at the Corning Preserve.

I had never skied at the Corning Preserve before, due to lack of snow — the snow seems to melt more quickly down there. But I knew I was guaranteed to find snow the morning after a storm, even a disappointing storm, and so I made the short drive to the boat launch. Much to my amazement, the city of Albany had already cleared the bicycle path, so I carried my skis across the footbridge and put them on after I got across, in the wide open field on the other side.

The snow was light and powdery, and since there was only about a half foot, it wasn’t too hard to break trail. Breaking trail is good exercise but not exactly my favorite thing to do, and as I skied, I imagined how much better life would be if, instead of clearing the bike path, the city had laid down a cross country ski trail or two.

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Coffee Habit
Published on February 10, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my new habit - drinking coffee.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve been drinking coffee lately.

This wouldn’t be a major announcement for most adults, but for years and years and years I didn’t drink coffee at all.

Two of my closest friends in college, Melissa and Ed, drank a lot of coffee. Yet despite spending many, many hours in their company, I never picked up the habit. Which is a bit odd, as I am a social drinker by nature and didn’t have any qualms about drinking lots of beer in their company.

But for some reason, I feared coffee. I feared I would become addicted to it, and require a cup or two every morning just to make it through the day.

Some people don’t drink coffee because they don’t like it.

But I’m not one of those people.

I like coffee just fine.

I can drink it black, and I can also drink it with cream and sugar. I like coffee shops, and coffee-flavored things like ice cream. So why I felt the need to resist giving in to the temptation of drinking coffee, I don’t fully understand.

Now, it is true that I’ve never been a big drinker of warm beverages, so perhaps the temptation just wasn’t that great.

I seldom drink hot chocolate or tea, with the exception of the three years I lived in Birmingham, Ala., when I drank tea all the time, mainly because my good friend Adam drank tea all the time. Adam is something of a connoisseur of fine teas, and he brews a variety of high-quality, loose leaf teas. We often spent our evenings hanging out in his living room, having long talks over hot cups of tea.

After Adam moved away, I tried to maintain this habit of drinking loose leaf tea. I purchased a special teapot, and ordered loose leaf tea from Upton Tea Imports, a specialty tea company based in Massachusetts. But I quickly found that I drank very little tea without Adam around, despite my fancy new equipment and carefully selected flavors of tea, and concluded that hot beverages were just not my thing.

But perhaps I was wrong, because I’ve had no trouble developing a coffee-drinking habit."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 10, 2013 by Sara Foss

King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963) ***

Gojira (1954) ****

Django (1966) ****

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009) ***

Les Miserables (2012) ***

Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998) ***1/2

Thirst (1979) ***

Top Reads of the Week
Published on February 8, 2013 by Sara Foss

The Way We Live Now: Procrastination as a Lifestyle by Sara Foss, and Life Without a Laptop by Dan Schneider

Movies: Sara Foss on "Les Miserables"

NBA Notes
Published on February 7, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer some of my thoughts on the NBA - my favorite league, bar none.

Click here to read them.

Watching "Les Miserables"
Published on February 5, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "Les Miserables."

Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t want to see 'Les Miserables.' But then I saw the preview for the film, and I remembered something I had long forgotten: I like 'Les Miserables.' Or at least I did when I was 15, and the high school band and chorus traveled to New York City to see it on Broadway. I remember playing my 'Les Miz' tape constantly, and even playing some of the music on the piano. That tape is now buried in a box in the hall closet, and the piano music remains at my parents’ house. But it’s safe to say that I have some lingering affection for 'Les Miserables.'

That lingering affection helped carry me through the film version’s rougher patches. 'Les Miserables' is a long movie, with some misguided stylistic touches, but it’s well-performed, and the novelty of hearing famous actors such as Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe sing almost all of their lines never wears out its welcome.

Adapted from a Victor Hugo novel, 'Les Miserables' tells the epic story of Jean Valjean (Jackman), who is sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, breaks parole, takes on a new name and becomes a respected mayor and factory owner. He is pursued relentlessly by Inspector Javert (Crowe), a humorless law and order type, and his cover is blown when he rescues a prostitute, Fantine (Hathaway), and agrees to care for her young daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). The story then jumps forward 10 years. Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried) and Valjean live under assumed names, trying to keep one step ahead of the dogged Javert. France has also changed, and we meet a group of young men, and a boy named Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), who are preparing for revolution. One of the young men, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), falls in love with Cosette.

Director Tom Hooper, who won a best directing Oscar for 'The King’s Speech,' takes this material very seriously, and his film is a Big Emotional Experience, designed to make you feel like you want to stand up and sing 'Do You Hear the People Sing?' right along with the cast. I was fine with this, and I thoroughly enjoyed following the story’s twists and turns, and humming along to the music, and having my heart ripped out again and again. Hooper presents 18th century France as a cruel, violent and grimy place, which is the right decision, although I kept wishing Fantine and Cosette had been allowed to take at least one bath, and he has a showman’s knack for staging spectacular set pieces."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

The Crazies (2010) ***

The Vanishing (1988) ***1/2

The Window (1949) ***1/2

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ***1/2

Louisiana Sky (1948) ***

Life Without a Laptop
Published on February 4, 2013 by guest author: Dan Schneider

"Because I can!" might be as good an answer I could give to the question "Why write on an iPad?" But my real answer would be because my seven-year-old poured juice on my laptop last weekend and fried the logic board.

I could say that the last few days without a computer have been a blissful return to a simpler life with fewer distractions, but that is not true. I miss it. I miss knowing that I can get back to the work I started a week or three years ago. I miss seeing my kids' faces in the photos fading up on the screen saver. It makes me realize just how much of my life depends on my computer working well.

OK, that's a bit of an overstatement. My life as a stay-at-home dad doesn't depend on the computer all that much per se, but there’s something about not having my computer which makes me feel cut adrift.

Perhaps the predictions of how people will outsource their memories and thought processes to computers and smart phones are really coming true and I am starting to see the symptoms with the removal of my digital memory. I could recreate some of what’s on my computer, but there’s work dating back from college, which, although probably not useful in any real way, I want to keep around. From time to time I find myself going back to it just to see how I wrote a poem or story then or how I thought about the courses I studied.


Procrastination As A Lifestyle
Published on February 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about one of my bad habits, procrastination.

Here's an excerpt: 

"Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been running behind.

It all started when I was sent to readiness — an extra grade between kindergarten and first grade. Officially, I ended up in readiness because I was socially withdrawn and had poor motor skills; unofficially, because I was young for my age. While my better-adjusted peers from kindergarten went marching off to first grade, I joined the immature kids who had trouble tying their shoes and remembering their phone numbers.

I spent the next several years trying to get to where I thought I should be.

My reading and writing skills were quite good; my penmanship and coloring, not so much. So I spent a great deal of time learning to color within lines, instead of just scribbling wildly all over the place, and to write neatly. After spending second grade in a lower-performing math group, I acquired flashcards and got my mom to teach me the multiplication tables over the summer. I vowed never to be assigned to a lower-performing math group again.

And I wasn’t.

But this gradual transformation into a good student was accompanied by the development of a bad habit: procrastination.

When I fell behind, it wasn’t because I was struggling to master my work, but because I had chosen not to do it until the last possible second. Occasionally, my tendency to push deadlines as far as I could got me into trouble. But as the years passed, I became pretty adept at gauging just how long I could avoid doing something and still get everything done.

Occasionally, someone would suggest that there was another way to do things — a saner and healthier way."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Thoughts on "The Hobbit"
Published on February 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer my thoughts on "The Hobbit," which I finally got around to watching.

Click here to read them.

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