Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Feast of St. Bridget (Jones)

Happy Valentine's Day, my readers. I hope that you are staying warm and dry in the embrace of someone you love/like/paid for.

In case you were wondering, St. Valentine is indeed the patron saint of those in long-term relationships; however, if you are still looking for someone, you would do better to address your prayers to St. Raphael, according to this article from the BBC. The piece notes that

St Raphael is the patron saint for happy encounters
Which means that I unknowingly prayed to him a lot during my "bathhouse years" in the late 1990s...

And what about those of you who are looking for someone special this year? A spokesperson for the British Catholic Church has some advice:
"There is a lot of evidence to suggest that young people who have tapped into prayer groups have found partners," she said.

"Those who have exhausted traditional routes like online dating should try spiritual networks.

"Why not come along to a prayer group - it could be your lucky night."
Isn't it funny that online dating is now considered a "traditional route"? How things have changed in the last fifteen years!

As for meeting someone at a prayer meeting or church service, Fosco encourages it--especially if you're ugly. Interestingly, several of Fosco's homelier cousins met their mates that way. In fact, those types of gatherings may be some of the last situations in our society where physical attractiveness is irrelevant. After all, god loves your insides, right? The only problem is that most religions then encourage the production of numerous ugly children...

Saturday Story Hour: A.M. Homes

It's Saturday, the day of the week that we celebrate the art of the short story. We call it Saturday Story Hour.

Fosco is immoderately fond of American author A.M. Homes. She writes both novels and stories (and quite a bit of nonfiction). Her novels can be uneven, but her short fiction is excellent. She is willing to explore some of the darker areas of desire and is particularly good at evoking a skewed eroticism--an eroticism that speaks very directly to Fosco. (If you're interested in that part of her work, get a hold of her story "The Whiz Kids.") Her work occasionally makes it into anthologies of queer stories, but her interests are much broader.

She's always been interested in heterosexual marriage, but in recent years, her work has focused more on the ways in which loss and trauma intrude into that relationship. Fosco's favorite Homes story is the O. Henry award-winning "Do Not Disturb." That story is available in Homes's collection Things You Should Know, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2002, or McSweeney's 7. The story is about a doctor who finds that she has cancer and her cold antagonism toward her husband and friends.

For your Valentine's Day treat, Fosco has another Homes story about marriage and trauma: "May We Be Forgiven" (2007). There's more than marriage here, though--there's also adultery, sibling rivalry, and horrific violence. It's nastier than many of Homes's earlier stories; it's also sad and perceptive about the ways in which horrible things become everyday--the power that suburbia has to assimilate trauma. If there's a weakness in this story, it's probably the final bit of dialogue. I'll be interested to see what you think...

Read it, leave a comment, hug a loved one.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Famous Birthday Dinners

"Foodie Friday" concludes at Fosco Lives! Eat well this weekend.

As you may have noticed from yesterday's news, February 12 was a huge day for birthdays. Three of the greatest people in history were born yesterday. And because today is "Foodie Friday," it naturally occurred to Fosco to ask: "What did these great figures enjoy eating?" Here are the fruits of his research:

  • We already have a good idea of Abraham Lincoln's favorite foods, thanks to the Obama Inaugural menu. But, according to this strange little article, there is more to know:
    Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's wife, knew that her husband liked fresh fruit, so she kept fresh fruit around all the time. Lincoln was especially fond of apples, which he ate fresh, but also loved in apple pies.

    One of Lincoln's favorite meals was a simple fruit salad with cheese and crackers.

    There were two known main dishes or entrees that Abraham Lincoln loved; the first was chicken fricassee with biscuits, and the second was an oyster and scallop stew.


    Nuts were another favorite food of Abraham Lincoln's, and he ate them often.

    President Lincoln preferred to drink water above all other beverages, and seldom drank anything alcoholic.
    Well, that's all pretty straightforward. If you, like Fosco, don't know what chicken fricassee is, here is a a recipe that seems to give the general idea.

  • You hopefully heard that yesterday was also the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, probably the most important scientist of the last two centuries. But what did he like to eat? Darwin's wife, Emma, actually wrote her own cookbook. Here is her recipe for "Beef Collops," whatever the hell that might be:
    Cut thin slices from the rump or rib. Spread them on a table, season with, black pepper and salt —Dash each side with flour, have ready some butter in the frying pan, boiling but not browned, put in the collops, fry them on each side a light brown, take then out of the pan without any of the butter that is left, and put them into a stew pan with some good beef gravy, plenty of sliced onion, some soy and walnut pickle, let all stew gently till the collops are quite tender and the sauce a proper thickness — This dish requires to be served up very hot. — N.B. The onions should be baked a little while before they are sliced.
    I was onboard the whole way--until the "walnut pickle."

  • Last, but certainly not least among our February 12 bithdays, we have renowned author Judy Blume, who turned 71 yesterday. In a wide-ranging interview, Ms. Blume was once asked about her favorite food. Her response:
    Pasta, pasta, pasta! My all-time favorite.
    Clearly, she is one of the greatest living Americans. Let's hope she celebrated yesterday with a big plate of noodles.

"Wonder Years" Sex Scandal

From British tabloid The Sun, we have this creepy story:

Boy dad Alfie Patten yesterday admitted he does not know how much nappies cost — but said: “I think it’s a lot.”

Baby-faced Alfie, who is 13 but looks more like eight, became a father four days ago when his girlfriend Chantelle Steadman gave birth to 7lb 3oz Maisie Roxanne.

He told how he and Chantelle, 15, decided against an abortion after discovering she was pregnant.
Alfie, who looks like nothing so much as a very young Fred Savage, is four feet tall. Four feet tall.

Here is the picture of this nontraditional family:

I don't know about you, but for me there is absolutely no way to look at this picture and interpret it accurately: all I can see is a young woman with her two children. It's completely impossible for me to see those two crazy kids as a romantic couple.

In related news, the Octomom has offered to adopt all three of them.

[In less-related news, E! Online is actually running a poll as to who is the hotter MILF: Octomom or Angelina Jolie. Aside from the sheer stupidity of the question (Angelina Jolie is indisputably one of the hottest humans on earth), isn't it also in poor taste? I mean, for goodness sake, the Octomom is mentally ill! Should we really be calling her a MILF? Ugh.]

Rounding Up the Food

It's "Foodie Friday," so let's talk about food...

Fosco isn't really feeling ambitious on "Foodie Friday" this week, so he's just going with a post of food-related titbits:

  • Times food critic Frank Bruni reviewed The John Dory this week. The John Dory calls itself a "British Seafood Restaurant," which should make one ignore the whole thing. However, it is also the creation of a very serious chef, April Bloomfield, so we must take notice of it. Bruni gives the place two stars (which means "very good") and is generally enthusiastic. Fosco was stopped in his tracks by this paragraph:
    There are nervy surprises. For a while Ms. Bloomfield served pan-fried milt, which is basically cod semen, its flavor and texture not unlike that of sweetbreads. She blasted it with capers and butter, which is also how she blasts its replacement for the time being, monkfish liver, served not in the pâté-esque way of many Japanese restaurants but as a hulking, meaty, pan-fried lobe. I admire her immensely.
    That's right, my friends: cod semen. See above right.

  • You know what Fosco has been craving lately? A cocktail. Which is strange, because Fosco hasn't been drinking much the last few years (since his body got old). But, for some reason, Fosco has really been jonesing for a Pimm's Cup, like the one he enjoyed last summer at The Slanted Door. It's actually more of a summer drink, best enjoyed around Wimbledon-time (it's an English cocktail, of course), which may explain why it does not currently appear on Slanted Door's online bar menu right now.

    The thing about a Pimm's Cup is that it's difficult to make it correctly here in this country (as most bars lack Pimm's). However, as Camper English notes, the Slanted Door makes a very delicious approximation using gin &c. The other ingredient generally lacking around here is borage leaves; however, as English notes as well, cucumbers work almost as well.

    Now assume that Fosco doesn't want to try to make his own Pimm's Cup (authentic or approximated). Any ideas on where I could order one in the Bay Area?

  • Speaking of cocktails, did you see that you can now get Sweet Tea-flavored vodka? Now Fosco has been getting tea-infused liquors (especially gin) in his cocktails for a number of years now at several local bars, so this doesn't seem like much of an innovation. But I'm sure that this wider exposure of tea-infused vodka will be greeted with much rejoicing at certain SEC football games.

  • A couple new blogs (well, new to me) that I'm really digging! You may recall Fosco's extraordinary interest in the cuisine of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Well, it turns out that Jean-Georges has his own blog and it has absolutely gorgeous food pix.

    Also, if you're a silly Top Chef aficionado (like Fosco and Oz), you should be reading Skillet Doux. The Top Chef power rankings on that blog are pretty helpful. And there are also useful reviews of various Top Chef contestant restaurants.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious."

As Fosco has mentioned previously, Fosco Lives! gets a lot of traffic from the "playboy pubic shave"-loving perverts in Korea. But yesterday, he saw something in his Korea traffic he's never seen before:

That would be the "word" which follows the IP address. This is the place that, in Fosco's other traffic reports, the name of the Internet Service Provider (e.g., "comcast") appears. Apparently, that "word" is the name of an ISP.

Fosco's curiosity was piqued, so he had to do a Google search. Here's the result:

This isn't very illuminating. However, my favorite part is the "did you mean" recommendation here.

Any Fosco Lives! reader who can explain this "word" to Fosco (or who can pronounce it) will win a Fosco Lives! prize!

Will Fosco Become A Biker Chick?

Fosco tends to be a bit blasé about the world of wheeled things (which you would know if you've ever seen his completely uninteresting car). Oz has been working to change this and he's succeeding; and so are pieces like this one, describing one of the wheeled infatuations of Fosco's old friend Nick Goddard (of the remarkable Goddard Family). You should check out the brief article just to see the fun pictures...

Apparently, Nick has a thing for Honda Hobbits (a type of moped that Fosco didn't know existed). And you know, for a person like Fosco who is absolutely terrified of motorcycles, Nick actually makes the Hobbit sound pretty appealing:

A week after I bought them I was rubbing shoulders with my best friend as we raced each other down the road. She was grinning from ear to ear and laughing hysterically every time she'd lay on the pathetic duck quack horn. It's situational. When you want a simple roller skate to introduce people to motorcycling, old mopeds are perfect. You don't need a license to ride them, they don't need insurance, you don't need a helmet, there is no battery, there is no oil and no top end, they don't need to be inspected, registration is $5 per year and it's an absolute riot to ride around with someone who has never ridden before. Heck, my sister, who always tells me to ride safely and would never let her fiance get a bike, begs me to let her borrow them. You can even take them on the subway.
Which makes it all sound pretty fun, no? Although, of course, Fosco would still wear a helmet. And he would probably want to double check on that insurance thing. Let's not get too carried away...

New Yorker Roundup: Florida Ruins Everything.

The most recent New Yorker is not completely a John Updike tribute (although there is quite a bit of that). Yesterday, Fosco called your attention to the amazing Steven Millhauser story (that didn't seem a hit with the commenters...); today, he wants to share another titbit with you.

The best article in this current issue is George Packer's reporting on Florida as the ground zero of the mortgage crisis (unfortunately, you must be a subscriber to read the full text). The area around Tampa has been hit the hardest. Packer describes why Florida has been uniquely susceptible to this crunch:

The state's economy depends almost entirely on growth--that is, on new arrivals and the wealth they generate in construction and real estate. "Until two years ago, this was a growth machine that was the envy of the world," said Gary Mormino, a professor of history at the University of South Florida, in St. Petersburg, which is across the bay from Tampa. "Florida, in some ways, resembles a modern Ponzi scheme. Everything is fine for me if a thousand newcomers come tomorrow. The problem is, except for a few road bumps--'73, '90, and they were really minor--no one knew what would happen if they stopped coming."

Only Nevada has a lower population of native residents than Florida. The state's growth machine did not depend on higher education or high-paying professional jobs; it depended on real estate and sunshine. Tourism and migration allowed Florida to become a low-tax, low-wage state, where living was relatively cheap. "The Florida economy has been based on selling Florida," David Reed, who runs the Florida operation of an investment fund called CapitalSouth Partners said. "Our growth is all about population growth. When you take that away, what have you got?"
Apparently, pretty much everyone bought into this bubble of insanity:
By 2005, the housing market in Florida was hotter than it had ever been, and the frenzy spread across all levels of society. Migrant farmworkers took jobs as roofers and drywall hangers in the construction industry. Nearly everyone you met around Tampa had a Realtor's license or a broker's license or was a title agent. Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer and a Democrat, said, "When the yardman comes and says he's not going to mow your lawn anymore because he's going to become a mortgage broker, that is a sure sign that something is wrong." Flipping houses and condominiums turned into an amateur middle-class pursuit. People who drew modest salaries at their jobs not only owned a house but bought other houses as speculators.


Jim Thorner, a real-estate reporter in the Tampa office of the St. Petersburg Times, said, "There were secretaries with five to ten investment homes--a thirty-five-thousand-dollar salary and a million dollars in investments. There's no industry here, only houses."


Karen Johnson-Crowther, another real-estate agent in Fort Myers, showed me the sales history of a property in an upscale gated community which she had recently bought at a foreclosure auction. Building had begun in 2005. On December 29, 2005, the house sold for $399,600. On December 30, 2005, it sold for $589,900. On June 25, 2008, it was foreclosed on. Johnson-Crowther bought it in December for $325,000. I said that the one-day increase in value must have been some kind of record, and she looked at me pityingly: "No."
What we have here is an entire state that drove off the cliff of irrational exuberance--and took billions of dollars in "wealth" with them.

And you know the strangest part? I can't understand why anyone would want to live in Florida in the first place...

Buy Gay Stock

According to yesterday's Gawker, the New York gays aren't taking the recession too seriously:

"The gays love a recession!" trills the New York Observer this morning. Gay nightlife and shopping is in full swing, despite the ruined economy. Childless wonders are taking over Manhattan again. Isn't it fabulous?
I don't know. Is it fabulous? I think I'd like to know more. Gawker asks the right question, of course:
Are the gays powering through these very early stages of the Big R because they really aren't affected? Or is this a highly delicate balancing act of desperation, denial, and willful ignorance?
Sadly, I don't think you'll lose money betting on gay ignorance. And lo, we have a quote from one of the interviewed gays:
"Gays love a recession because we hate the capitalist economy that's found in the hetero-normative patriarchy anyways. I say burn the motherfucker down! Right? Fuck Prop 8! Who gives a fuck? We should burn down Wall Street and take over New York."
Ummm. Right. Sure thing.

You know, Fosco definitely has sympathy for criticism of Wall Street and capitalism. But it's usually more persuasive when the critic isn't wearing white leather chaps (and only white leather chaps).

As for this gay, Fosco cannot really say that the recession has been affecting his spending that much. But, I think that's mainly because Fosco is still poor--just like he was before the recession. Plus ça change...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Joke of the Overnight

Fosco isn't quite sure how to feel about comedian Demetri Martin. On the one hand, he's working partially in the cerebral tradition of Stephen Wright--a tradition that Fosco enjoys. On the other hand, he's sometimes too cutesy by half.

I guess he has a new show (premiering tonight) that I probably won't watch. However, I did catch part of an old standup special last night and he had several really great lines. My favorite:

"I went whale watching once, it was very similar to watching people on a boat become disappointed."

That's kind of a great joke. To me, at least.

The End of the World (As We Know It)

And how do you feel?

Last Saturday, Fosco offered you a short story by Steven Millhauser. Well, today is not Saturday, but Fosco thinks you should take a brief (less than ten minute) break from your Wednesday to read this recent Steven Millhauser story (from The New Yorker). In this very short story, he imagines what an invasion from outer space will actually look like (if it eventually does happen). It's purposefully lacking in drama, which makes it all the sadder.

Millhauser's whole point here is that, when we finally do encounter an alien life form, in all likelihood that life form will be completely uninterested in us. And yet, it may still kill us all.

We have been invaded by nothing, by emptiness, by animate dust. The invader appears to have no characteristic other than the ability to reproduce rapidly. It doesn’t hate us. It doesn’t seek our annihilation, our subjection and humiliation. Nor does it desire to protect us from danger, to save us, to teach us the secret of immortal life. What it wishes to do is replicate.
This is the problem with all of our "humanity under attack" movies, from Signs to Independence Day to The Happening: they are all about us. But, no matter what we'd like to think, the universe does not particularly care about humanity. If we ever encounter an alien life form, we are likely to register--if we register at all--as completely irrelevant. And that's actually really scary.

Once again, Steven Millhauser does something amazing.

Cleveland Rocks? Not So Much.

Fosco loves city rankings. He could look at a different list of city rankings every day (10 Pinkest Cities! 10 Worst Smelling Chinatowns! 10 Itchiest!). So naturally, he can't resist's ranking of the Ten Most Miserable Cities in the US.

But what do they mean by "miserable"? Here is the methodology:

We compiled our rankings by looking at the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., which meant those with a population of at least 378,000. We ranked those metros on nine factors: commute times, corruption, pro sports teams, Superfund sites, taxes (both income and sales), unemployment, violent crime and weather.
Of course, there are aspects of this method that we could disagree with (are income taxes really a good proxy for misery? Don't taxes often provide important, life-improving social services?). Even so, the resulting list does seem to be pretty face valid--after all, I think most people could name Detroit, Buffalo, Flint, and Cleveland as miserable, miserable places.

Here's the top ten:

10. St Louis
9. Miami
8. Buffalo
7. Detroit
6. Flint, MI
5. Modesto, CA
4. Cleveland
3. Chicago
2. Memphis
1. Stockton, CA

Fosco has visited seven of these cities and he can heartily agree with all of them, except Chicago. Chicago is something of a surprise, because it's actually a pretty great city. However, the weather is cold. And most Chicagoans have a punishing commute. And the Cubs suck SO MUCH ALWAYS. And corruption... well, we know a little more about that than we might like.

If you're not a Californian, you might be surprised to see two CA cities on the list. But here's what you need to understand: just as California is divided along a horizontal axis into NorCal (good) and SoCal (bad), the state can also be divided vertically into the Coast (good) and the Central Valley (bad). The Coast contains places like San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. It's people are well-educated, attractive, and tolerant (for the most part). The Central Valley is like a little taste of Oklahoma. It contains cities like Stockton and Modesto. There is no reason to ever venture into the Central Valley. Ever.

You know what makes me sad? I'm sad that South Bend, Indiana is too small to be eligible for the list. Because, well, I think I know where it would place...

The Surreal Life

I don't watch the Grammys. I don't know who MIA is and I don't care. I've already read plenty of criticism of her pregnancy costume. And I have no intention of reading anything more about her, even this article in the NY Times.

But I do have a well-attuned antenna for the absurd and I think you just have to appreciate the breathtaking strangeness of our world when you see a story teaser like this one (from the Times online front page):

There's just something deliciously bizarre about a rapper named MIA, wearing a polka dot pregnancy panel, being accused of promoting a violent guerrilla faction in a tiny Asian nation. There is something very surreal about globalization, no?

Jonathan Turley Says Smart Things

With a couple of exceptions, Fosco doesn't care much for lawyers. But he is having an intellectual love affair with Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University School of Law. This guy is one of the smarter talking heads that Fosco has ever seen on television. Here he is on last night's Countdown, talking about Bush's war crimes:

You know why I like him? Because he says stuff like this:
We need to be honest. There is great love for President Obama and I have great respect for him. But you cannot say that you believe that no one is above the law and block the investigation of the war crimes by your predecessor. It is a position without principle; it is because you believe it's politically inconvenient. And by simply saying that you will do a special commission--it's like you have special justice. But at the end of the day, no one believes that people will be prosecuted for a known war crime. And what do we do when we do that? When we do that, then we will become accessories. Those crimes by President Bush will become our crimes; his shame will become our collective shame. That's what happens when you protect someone accused of war crimes from even an investigation.
He says lots of other good stuff in the clip above--this is just the highlight. I think he's exactly right: we cannot let Bush/Cheney go uninvestigated. Sorry, Obama: "looking forward" just isn't an option here.

Hey, I just learned that Jonathan Turley has a blog! Bonus!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'll spend my Christmas with you

I know that Christmas is the last thing you want to be thinking of in the middle of February, but stay with me here. You may remember Fosco's hoot-out in favor of Owl City yesterday. Well, today he has one more titbit of Owlish pop goodness to offer you. This is Owl City's Christmas song (do yourself a favor and listen to it):

Fosco doesn't quite know what to make of the strange Jesus reference--is Adam Young a crypto-Christian? (The answer is yes, apparently. When did Christians start making listenable music?). Even so, Fosco is willing to overlook it (as he overlooks the Christianity of his beloved Sufjan). You may remember Fosco's pre-Christmas list of great Christmas songs--well, this one just went to the top of it.

Reformation Bait

Catholicism just keeps getting weirder (well, not special underwear weird, but close). It seems that the Pope has revived that old medieval curio, Madonna the Papal Indulgence. If the term sounds vaguely familiar and slightly sketchy, you might be remembering your Lutheranism. Apparently, opposition to the sale of Papal Indulgences was one of the sticking points for Martin Louis the King Jr. Martin Luther in that whole Reformation thing. Well, now indulgences are back--and just as powerful as ever!

According to this article in the Times, the Catholic Church has quietly begun to offer indulgences to its congregation. Essentially, an indulgence offers a reduction of punishment in Purgatory. As the Times notes:

According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and say their Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory, before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

It has no currency in the bad place.
Before we talk more about the theology here, I have to think about that last sentence. What an amazingly cryptic statement! I can't believe the Times editors let that line stay in the final copy. What could it mean? Is "the bad place" hell? (And lest you think that the sentence is merely the topic sentence of a longer, more explanatory paragraph, allow me to assure you that the final sentence stands alone in the article as its own complete paragraph. How odd!)

So let's get the theology straight here: even if you confess a sin and are absolved, you will still be punished for that sin in Purgatory. Unless you manage to gain a plenary indulgence, which buys you out of that purgatory time. And the person who decides if you get to skip purgatory is some creepy geriatric like Pope Cowboy XVI here? Hmmm. Who comes up with this stuff?

Not to mention that there appears to be fine print:
  • offer only good until next sin.
  • limit one coupon per customer per day.
And people wonder why Fosco is an atheist. Does any of this actually sound like the will of a supernatural being? Or does it sound more like the cheap thrills of an authoritarian bureaucratic apparatus?

From the Annals of Insult Journalism

Yesterday's online Santa Cruz Sentinel contained this article about a local show of wild cats (like tigers, cheetahs, mountain lions, &c.). This was the first sentence:

Covered with almost as many spots as some of the wildcats she'd come to see, Abby Smith walked right up and asked her question?
Let's just ignore entirely the misplaced question mark at the end and ask this question: did reporter Isaiah Guzman just rip on this poor girl? Is he making fun of her acne? Does she have a lot of moles? Birthmarks? Chicken pox? Is she dating Chris Brown?

Alas, no. Later we learn that she's just wearing a lot of leopard print. But the sentence is funnier without that knowledge.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Two Great Tastes...

On "Music Monday," it's all about the music. Kind of like MTV. Oh wait.

If you don't visit, you probably should--especially if you like the collision of two (or more) songs to create something that Larry Lessig would approve of.

Here are some recent highlights:

Fosco wishes he had any talent for music-mixing, because he has this great idea for a Henryk Górecki vs. Ministry vs. Liza Minelli mix.

RIP Blossom Dearie

It's "Breaking News" on Music Monday.

Fosco is sad to note the passing of adorable jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie (incredibly, that was her real name). You can read the Times obit here. Dearie was known for her "sly, kittenish voice" and the way she

confided song lyrics in a playful style below whose surface layers of insinuation lurked.
There is something very pure about her voice, which can become surprisingly suggestive with the right song (like "Teach Me Tonight" for example). To Fosco, she sounds like the 1950s bottled. And that's not a bad thing.

Even if you think you aren't familiar with Blossom Dearie, you may be wrong--especially if you were a kid during the reign of Schoolhouse Rock. Dearie lent her voice to several of the musical PSAs, including "Unpack Your Adjectives" (below):

"You can even make adjectives out of the other parts of speech, like verbs or nouns." Word.

Coveting: Concert Tix

"Music Monday" is all about... MUSIC! (and Monday)

How much does Fosco want to go to this concert?

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Opening Night Gala
Thursday, October 8, 2009

The answer is "SOOOO MUCH."

Not only is it the debut of El Dudamel as Music Director, and not only will he be conducting Fosco's beloved Mahler 1, but it's also the premiere of a John Adams commission called "City Noir." And as we all know, John Adams is Fosco's favorite composer (and Fosco has already managed to see two previous Adams premieres in the US, so why stop now?). Tix aren't on sale yet for nonsubscribers, but there is no way that Fosco is going to miss this--no matter how he has to beg, borrow or steal. Dear Reader: how can you help Fosco's dream come true?

You Should Give A Hoot About Owl City

Music Monday! It's Music Monday! Rejoice!

If you like The Postal Service, you already like Owl City--you may just not know it yet. Owl City is the same brand of "synthpop with a an earnest tenor voice and slightly odd lyrics." In fact, if I had heard any of the Owl City songs without attribution, I would have assumed it was new Postal Service material.

Does this mean that Owl City is derivative? Well, yeah, somewhat; however, there are some subtle distinctions. Owl City is a bit more upbeat than Postal Service. Also, there is just something a little "sparklier" about Owl City's sound. And the lyrics are a bit more surreal at times. But even if Owl City were a complete Postal Service clone, it wouldn't matter--the songs are just too good to worry about it.

I've been listening to the "Of June" EP (available at iTunes, luckily) for several days now almost nonstop, ever since Oz heard the song "Hello Seattle" on internet radio at work and knew I would love it. And it's pretty easy to love. As the review at CDBaby notes:

If your electronic household appliances wrote love songs while you were away on vacation, their happy pops and clicks would sweep through the neighborhood and you would return home to find chipper crowds of people singing along to fluffy pop melodies drifting from the windows.
If only...

Adam Young is the musical force behind Owl City and he writes some gorgeously strange lyrics. On "Of June," he's clearly fascinated by distance and geography; he sings about skylines, mountains, and transportation. He loves city names. And his rhymes are charming in their simplicity. Here's a stanza from "Fuzzy Blue Lights":
If I was flying on a plane above your town
And you were gazing at the sky
Somehow I'd feel intact and reassured
If you began to wave goodbye
There is just something so sweet and comforting about those lines.

Wait until you hear this evocative verse from "Hello Seattle":
Hello Seattle, I am a manta ray,
Deep beneath the blue waves.
I'll crawl the sandy bottom of Puget Sound,
And construct a summer home.
And how can you resist this vision of the American geographical expanse?:
If I could open up my window
And see from Tampa Bay to Juneau
Then I would survey all those open miles
And line them up in single file
Everywhere I look I see green scenic sublime
And all those oceanic vistas are so divine
I just wish he had rhymed "Wasilla" instead of "Juneau."

Although he came to it a few days later, Fosco is also happy to recommend Owl City's full-length Maybe I'm Dreaming. It's a little less chirpy than "Of June" and the lyrics are more narrative. Some of the electronics are toned down a little as well. However, it's still great. Oz prefers it to "Of June." Fosco prefers "Of June." They're both right.

Here's a great line from "The Technicolor Phase":
If you cut me I suppose I would bleed
the colors of the evening stars.
And don't miss the California love song "West Coast Friendship."

Honestly, I could quote Owl City lyrics for the rest of the day--I'm just so infatuated with these songs right now. But instead, I'll give you an assignment: now that you've read this post, you have ten minutes to get a hold of an Owl City recording. Go.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Should Obama Help Elkhart?

Tomorrow, President Obama will make a speech in Elkhart, Indiana--a town very near where Fosco grew up (he still knows people who live there). It will be O's first visit with ordinary (trust me: very ordinary) Americans since becoming president. He will use the speech to play up the stimulus package and he couldn't have chosen a better place. Elkhart currently has the highest unemployment in the US (eighteen percent, according to Elkhart's mayor). This piece in USA Today offers the whole sad story about Elkhart.

You see, up until a few years ago, Elkhart used to call itself the "RV Capital of the World." They even have an RV Hall of Fame (Fosco has not visited yet, but Todd volunteers to give tours there on Sundays). Of course, the bad news for Elkhart is that the RV industry is not going to recover. Ever. The cheap-gas era is over. And I don't see "the electric RV" in my crystal ball. And the Senate Republicans can cut income taxes as much as they want (not that they really want to cut taxes for the lower middle class), but it's not going to bring RV jobs back to Elkhart.

I mean, I'm sure some of the Neo-Confederates would only be too happy to offer some low-paying, no benefits jobs to Elkhartians (let's open another WalMart!), but that's not really the kind of jobs that Elkhart needs, right? Hey, I have an idea: what if we invest in education and infrastructure! Maybe we could re-train some workers and set others to work on our crumbling transportation and electrical grids. Hmmm. I wish someone were proposing that kind of plan...

But do you know what's so maddening about Elkhart? The entire local economy has been "cratering" (to quote a geriatric schizoid) for over a year; and yet, this deeply racist and die-hard fundamentalist city still couldn't bring itself to vote for Obama last November. Fosco wants to fly back to Elkhart and grab each McCain voter by the collar and shake him or her: if the election had gone differently, do you really think John McCain would be giving a flying fuck about your hick-ass town right now? But hey--I'm sure you'd find unemployment less hopeless as long as there were fewer overseas abortions and a family of certifiable morons living in the Vice President's mansion.

At least some people in Elkhart have come around. As the USA Today article notes:

This area did not vote for Obama in November, but The Elkhart Truth newspaper is on board with that message now. "President Obama needs to help Congress understand that the stimulus package isn't about politics. It's about survival," the newspaper said in a Sunday editorial.
Maybe it would help if the residents of Elkhart (and other cities in Indiana) made a few calls to their elected representatives--and thought twice about voting for the Republican ones next election cycle.

Another Obama convert (sort of):
It feels that way to Ed Neufeldt, a father of seven who lost his $20-an-hour job in September. He had been building RVs at Monaco Coach for 32 years when his boss came out of a meeting in tears and announced that the company was closing its plant, putting 1,400 out of work.

Neufeldt, 62, has two children living at home, and two of his grown daughters and their husbands — all four also RV industry workers — are out of work as well.

When his unemployment runs out next month, "I don't know what I'm going to do," Neufeldt says. "I've been trying to find a job, but there aren't any jobs out there. I can't even get a minimum-wage job."

He didn't vote for Obama, but he's backing him now. In fact, Neufeldt will introduce the president at Monday's town-hall-style meeting. "Sometimes you don't care too much for the coach," he says, "but you're praying for him to win."
After eight years of a president who essentially ignored large portions of the electorate because they didn't vote for him (remember black people in New Orleans?), I think we finally may have elected someone who is willing to help all Americans--regardless of whether they can reciprocate with votes/donations. And while Fosco suspects that there are a number of people in Elkhart who don't really deserve Obama's help, it makes it all the more moving that they are going to get it anyway.

I hope Obama can help Elkhart. And I hope Elkhart can bring iself to acknowledge him when he does.

Must We Defeat the South Again?

Here's a fascinating analysis by Michael Lind, suggesting that our main obstacle to progress is not Republicans, but the South. As Lind notes:

The votes against Obama’s stimulus package came from a Southern confederacy of Republicans and conservative Democrats. Their message to America? Drop dead.
Word. Could we maybe lose the South now? Please? (Sorry, Jill--maybe you could relocate to Santa Fe?)

This Post Is So Gay

Fosco is no fan of the phrase "that's so gay" when it's used to mean "that's so stupid" or "that's so lame." After all, it's really just a simple matter of effective communication: the phrase "that's so gay" needs to be reserved for things like rainbow vinyl platform heels and Ryan Seacrest. To use the phrase for other purposes is only to diminish its potency.

Luckily, there are now PSAs to put a stop to that. At the site, you can read about the campaign to change unthinking linguistic homophobia:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens experience homophobic remarks and harassment throughout the school day, creating an atmosphere where they feel disrespected, unwanted and unsafe. Homophobic remarks such as “that’s so gay” are the most commonly heard; these slurs are often unintentional and a common part of teens’ vernacular. Most do not recognize the consequences, but the casual use of this language often carries over into more overt harassment.
Stopping harassment is a good thing, of course. And the posters for this campaign are actually pretty decent (as these things go):

Reminding teens (and college students) that they may be unintentionally hurting the feelings of their peers seems like a pretty reasonable approach here. After all, this is a campaign whose primary targets are well-meaning kids who don't know any better (as opposed to hard core, nasty homophobes).

But sadly, not all parts of the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign are quite as well-designed. For one thing, there is this strange appeal to originality, encouraging kids to replace "that's so gay" with something more "original." As if the problem with "that's so gay" is really that it's a cliche. And of course, I think we can all imagine how this strategy could backfire:
BEFORE: That's so gay!
AFTER: That's as lame as anonymous bathhouse sex!
AFTER: That's so lispy!
AFTER: That's so Indigo Girls!
It turns out that originality may actually pose a bigger problem. (The last thing we need is more creative homophobic slurs.)

Even stranger as a tactic is the "Say What?" graphic on the left side of the site. The graphic offers a cluster of words that you can click on to learn each "true definition." But is the problem here really that kids don't know the "true" definition of the word "faggot" (you know: a bundle of sticks)? I don't see why learning that "true" definition will do anything to reduce the word's use as a slur. Fosco is even more puzzled by the inclusion of a word like "gay" on the "true definition" graphic. What good does it do to teach kids that "gay" used to mean "happy" when it just doesn't mean that anymore--and no one, especially not the gay community, would advocate that we stop using the word descriptively (as opposed to pejoratively)?

Even stranger is the inclusion of a word like "cougar" on the "Say What?" list. Sure, cougar is "supposed" to mean "a large, carniverous wildcat"; but isn't that partly the point of our current slang usage? The expansion of word meaning through metaphoric association is a common process in everyday English and "cougar" is a fine example of this. Methinks that the "definition police" are getting a little carried away here. Word acquire new definitions all of the time; the question we should care about isn't whether the new definition is "true," but rather whether the new definition is designed to be hurtful to a group of people. And by that standard, I really have to question whether "cougar" is really a slur on par with "faggot."

Trying to combat harassment through definitional authoritarianism? That's so gay.