Friday, October 30, 2009

Trails of Redemption, Always in Style: A Fun Fall Activity

by Shardae Jobson

For those who work in the business of entertaining the masses, it can be particularly challenging in the fall as the weather changes and people stay outside for a shorter amount of time. I know I’ve definitely kept my leisure time outside the home and school short when the weather gets colder. Yet, as much as I enjoy the comforts of home, unless it is truly below zero, I still want to be able to walk along the brisk, cool breezes around me and hopefully not have to stay in every night of the week. Living in Massachusetts, the weather is a constant Magic Eight Ball: one day all you need is a light sweater; tomorrow, I hope your winter weapons, better known as gloves, scarves and a hat aren't too far back in the closet. And this is only for the month of October!

While I always contend that Boston can seem like the most boring place on earth, I will take half of that statement back and say, it is not always. Promoters and producers in Boston, whether in charge of mini music and arts festivals or the clubs by the theatre district, do try and bring some fun to the Bay State’s capital. While some choices do look typical, iffy or are temporary, there are still some tried and true fun activities to do in town that allow you to be outside and frugal. I’m thinking of The Freedom Trail in Boston as a fun fall activity. Residents who grew up in Massachusetts may remember the Freedom Trail as a field trip back in the day. It is a (faded) red marked path of some of the most historic places in Boston--and the United States. Many of the landmarks on the trail are right in the city, so one wouldn’t have to travel far if they live in the surrounding areas. If you are visiting for the day, you will for sure walk right by a few historical treasures.

While The Freedom Trail Foundation offers assistance in enjoying the experience, the trail is like an open gallery, so you can be your own tour guide at your own pace. You will likely also cross paths with the Black Heritage Trail which recalls the places where African-Americans created new lives for themselves as freed Americans after the Civil War.

The stories of the trails are not dispassionate in their language or presentations; however, the historical context of some of the places are nearly overtaken by their new usage, such as Faneuil Hall, now a popular shopping center. Many tourists and those who live in Boston are still aware of the city's history laden parts, which is great for preserving where we’ve been and quite intriguing to see in person.

Now on your own, there isn’t necessarily a spot to start since you could wind up in a circle if you go through the whole cycle, but a great first monument to see is the 54th Regiment behind the Boston Common and across the street of the gold domed Massachusetts State House (also a part of the Freedom Trail). The 54th Regiment monument is one of the most popular sites of the Freedom and Black Heritage trails, depicting the black soldiers who courageously did their part in the Civil War. Every day are people touched by the beautiful tribute. It has been a prime destination on two separate field trips I had in elementary and high school.

From there, it's easy to walk straight into other important facets of the Freedom or Black Heritage Trail. For the Freedom Trail, staying along the left side of the Boston Common, the first mark you’ll see is the Park Street Church, still in use today and next to it is the Granary Burying Ground. This graveyard is regularly filled with people stopping by the burials of some recognizable names from our social studies textbooks including Crispus Attucks, the first African-American killed in the Boston Massacre; Samuel Adams; John Hancock; and Paul Revere. This is also one of the more prominently packed spots of the Freedom Trail.

Once you’re in the Downtown Boston area, there are more of this history lane’s destinations and even some highlights that are not included but are worthy of notice. On the right side of King’s Chapel is the restaurant The Last Hurrah where Malcolm X (then Malcolm Little) was a busboy when he first came to Boston in the early 1940s and (lovely rumor has it) JFK had dinner with Jackie O. before his presidency.

The Freedom Trail itself is actually shorter than expected in terms of its list, but if you haven’t been on it, it is exciting and educational without being dull. The red path will take you from the Boston Common, right into downtown and as far up as the Italian haven that is the North End, where Paul Revere’s House stands. While you're there, don't forget to check out "the skinny house" and that's all I'm going to say about that!

The most decadent spot on the Freedom Trail may be the USS Constitution, where ships in connection to some of the nation’s most known battles are situated. Today they are used in honor of the US Navy. This is for sure another one not to miss, as the boats are divine. I’ve found that every time I visited the ships, the children in attendance always get the biggest kick out of it, touching parts of the ships that they can with wide eyes in amazement. When I was little, my mother took me here for a special occasion, back in the early 1990s, and I remember being in awe myself.

While few spots are in some of the most metropolitan areas of Boston, there is history everywhere as stated before. After being done with the Freedom Trail there is even more waiting for you in Beacon Hill. You can pass by author Louisa May Alcott’s still-standing handsome home and more of the Black Heritage Trail, like the African Meeting House.

The trails of Boston are now traditional to visit and I hope will be celebrated in field trips for next generations in an age of too much though helpful technology. It’s light hearted in that you can experience it for yourself even within a crowd, but also carries a lot of weight in its gratitude for the importance of the past. So for tourists and Bostonians alike, you can catch the sale at Macy’s (I appreciate prices slashed so dramatically), and afterwards pass by commemorated buildings and be reminded of the many nameless and famous names that walked the paved streets before us. They are immortalized in respected graveyards, monuments and buildings where the people of the past used to sleep or find comfort before they became the luminaries we've learned so much about.

Undeaditorials / H1N1: The New Garlic

By Joshua Bottomley

Throw away those pesky crosses. Same goes for the holy water, see ya later! Those old school tools are for the Renaissance, man. If you really want to keep away legions of the Gothic undead you need the new flavor, H1N1. That’s right the Swine Flu. Temporary debilitation and fever have never sounded so good. Despite its shortcomings, Swine Flu is fast becoming the world’s most successful Vampire Repellent. Finally, Mexico has given us something that we can use.

According to recent studies performed at the Anne Rice School of Eternal Unrest, a little bacon in the blood stream has proven overwhelmingly successful in warding off nocturnal neck gnawers better than any antiquated means. While most Medieval towns and villages have been reporting higher mortality rates this Halloween season, homes afflicted with Swine Flu are being passed over like a bad kid at Christmas.

Swine Flu has become the popular Anti-Vamp Elixir because of one main reason. All vaccination shots are only offered during daytime hours. Your HMO’s ability to be a stickler for the rules is now humanity’s saving grace. Vampire Vlad Estrogon lamented, “Maybe if I get to the clinic by sunset I can squeeze a shot in, but after Daylight Savings goes into effect, I’m screwed.” The sons and daughters of Dracula have to be careful who they sink their teeth into now, for fear of being bitten by the Latin American sow disease. “Imagine spending eternity with the sniffles, what a bitch!” Vlad’s European coffinmate Delia Undgurden added, “Da, my father bit youngling with Swine Flu. After few weeks he could no longer stand the constant blowing of nose. He fell on own stake so no longer he have to deal with zee chafing.”

While Johnson and Johnson have already patented and packaged the handy H1N1 Nasal Spray, Cabo San Lucas alcohol entrepreneur Sammy Hagar has teamed up with the Mexican CDC to produce Pig Sty Tequilla, the only booze guaranteed to cause Swine Flu. Now you can party at the Titty Twister from Dusk ‘Til Dawn and never have to worry about getting a hickey from the talent.

Nobody wants to be the one missing in the group photo. The Twilight comparisons are already tired. Plus does anyone really like Bauhaus and Morrissey? Get with the program, get rid of the garlic and get yourself some Swine Flu.

Undeaditorials / Man In Kid Rock Costume Fights Man In Pancake House Costume; Universe Quits

Early this morning, the universe announced its retirement after a man dressed up as best-selling rap auteur Kid Rock was involved in an altercation with a man attired in what witnesses say was “a big pancake house get-up.”  Sources close to the universe says its reaction to the events stems from a quantum incident in 2007, when Kid Rock’s attack in a Georgia pancake house created a series of alternate universes, each one centered around Kid Rock, pancake houses, and combat between the two.

“I really feel that everything that can be done, has been done now, and there [is] really no more reason for my purpose in existence after Kid Rock destroyed my space-time continuum” said the universe in an exclusive interview with Katie Couric. When pressed for comment, Kid Rock’s lawyers claim that “Mr. Rock denies all culpability in altering inter-dimensional fluctuations on the grounds of being highly intoxicated in a Georgia strip club the night after the fight, and therefore unable to warp space-time beyond his power as to wear the American flag as a poncho.” No comment has been heard from the pancake house’s camp, due to the house in question falling into a black hole.

Fans of the universe stay dismayed about its retirement but not unsympathetic, as the after-effects of what MIT is calling “The Kid Rock-Pancake House Superparadox” are revealing a shenanigan-fueled series of alternate continuities where man evolved as sentient piles of pancakes until building automatronic robots created from juvenile stones, the two of which having begun a world-shattering war the left the alternate Earth barren and desolate. Other timelines include situations where Kid Rock’s parents were killed by a morbidly obese pancake house patron when he was a child, prompting him to dress up as a Jenny Craig impersonator and fight crime during the night, as well as one timeline where a homosexual Kid Rock marries IHOP co-founder Albert Kallis.

Clearly, this most recent re-enactment of the Superparadox by two drunken college students improvising Halloween costumes is the final straw for the universe; having to witness an infinite number of mentioned worlds centered around Kid Rock. “Y’know, it’s not like I want to quit so early in the game,” said the universe, “it’s just that at this point, I’ve seen every event that will happen in the lens of Kid Rock fighting a man in a pancake house. Even if, say, the lead singer of Creed gets into a fight at an Abercrombie & Fitch store and starts another quantum chain reaction, it won’t matter because I’ll just be seeing everything through Scott Stapp instead.” When asked if it has any plans now that it is retiring, the universe concluded that it was “going to commit suicide by overdosing on No-Doze and fluffernutter, but not before [it figures] out where it all went wrong.”

Undeaditorials / Trick-or-Treat Enthusiast Replaces Teeth with Candy Corn

Painstville, KY--Dell Dentless of Paintsville, Kentucky has a lot to smile about today. “I feel like a new man,” Dentless says, and all because of his new set of candy corn teeth implants.
Dentless, 53, who has recently come into a large sum of money after the mine he had worked at for 45 years unexpectedly closed, explains, “Well, it wasn’t shut down so much as it fell down, and on most my kin.” The newly retired man said that shortly after the accident a lawyer from the mining company gave him a small slip of paper, “which he called a ‘check.’” Dentless went on to say, “When I found out that I could barter with the bank over that slip of fancy paper for money, I was already over the moon.” He quickly added, “Moonshine that is, and when I came to and re-reckoned it all out, I was over the moon again but upright.”

The man’s new smile is a result of a life-long obsession with sugar and candy. For Dentless, the act makes perfect sense: “What tooth I did have was not so good anyway; at least candy corn, when they chip off and fall apart in your mouth when you chew, tastes good and doesn’t scratch on the way down. And I do love me some candy.” Halloween was his favorite childhood holiday, but it wasn't about dressing up or scaring his friends, it was all about the score of candy. However, the man will not be giving away candy corn to trick-or-treaters this year, but, through a giant multicolored smile, Dentless assured us that he has “got things covered if [he] run[s] out of Zagnuts.”

When asked what other plans he has for his money, Dentless said, “I’ve got two words for you: Twizzler fingers.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New England in the Fall: Escaping the City

I had a momentary panic attack the other day, and I told my boyfriend, Will, that I needed to escape the city for a day and breathe some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. After all, we are quickly approaching the days of sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow. The fall season in New England offers an amazing color palette, beautiful sunny and crisp afternoons, and plenty of fun activities. Fall in New England is that bittersweet season that serves as a reminder of the impending doom of winter while also bringing beautiful afternoons and crisp, cool evenings.

Will was as helpful and sweet as ever; he promised me a day in New Hampshire where we could drive on scenic roadways, admire the fall foliage of New England, and pick our own apples. So we packed up some coffee, borrowed a car, put on fuzzy sweaters and sunglasses, and headed out for our beautiful day in New Hampshire.

The drive was breathtaking, and since we are normally city-bound and without a vehicle, we didn't mind that it took a little over two hours to reach Lebanon, New Hampshire, where Poverty Lane Orchards is located. Certainly, there are places to go apple picking closer to Boston, but Will and I wanted to go a bit further north to make sure we got to see some really pretty fall colors and to make it a longer day trip out of the city.

As we approached the orchard, I was struck with the raw beauty outside the car window. Even to reach the orchard, we had to turn onto a scenic tree-lined road, with only the occasional farm or small family home every few miles before we arrived at our destination. When we got out of the car, the crisp fall air and the bright sunshine immediately relaxed us and put us in a wonderful mood.

We went to the farm stand, where we were given our apple picking sacks and a layout of the orchard. We decided to forgo the tractor ride on bales of hay and walk up to the orchard ourselves; the ride looked fun and inviting, but there were a few too many children on those hay stacks, and we wanted to enjoy the tranquility of the orchard and the peace and quiet that the long walk would give us.

There were apples trees everywhere – absolutely everywhere. Will and I slowly walked through the grass and basked in the afternoon sunlight as we began to pick our MacIntosh and Cortland apples. We sat under the trees and shared an apple. A friendly orchard dog came up to us with a tennis ball, and we played fetch with him. We stayed in the fields of the orchard until the afternoon sun began to slip below the red and golden peaks of the trees that surrounded us.

The people at Poverty Lane Orchards were tremendously friendly and helpful; we picked almost 20 pounds of apples, and picked up a gallon of pressed apple cider and two bottles of sparkling cider, and they happily helped us gather all of our purchases to carry it back to our car. As we pulled out of their makeshift parking lot and left the orchard, I turned to Will and thanked him for a wonderful day out of the city. With an orchard that provides tractor rides, wonderful produce, and a friendly staff, Poverty Lane Orchards is certainly worth the drive to New Hampshire.

And as for those 20 pounds of apples, we did use them all up. And they were delicious.

For more information on apple picking at Poverty Lane Orchards, please visit their website at Their fall farm stand will be open through Halloween.

A Less than Haunting Event

The Somerville Arts Council has been working with the Somerville community creating several different programs over the past four years. Now in its fifth year the council has accomplished several successful programs such as Artbeat – an annual 2-day music, arts and crafts event – and Art Without Walls – a group pf programs dedicated to the youths of the Somerville community. Art Without Walls creates an outlet for kids that may not otherwise have the opportunity to be involved in events and programs, such as historic plays and neighborhood cleanups.

The Art Council’s, Art Without Walls is a great addition to the Somerville community and, “strives to make and sustain a connection between the artistic community and Somerville’s general population,” ( The Council leads historical tours through the Union Square area of Somerville, and along with Art Without Walls and the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission, puts on different historical productions that the public can enjoy.

The most recent production put on by the council took place on October 17th in Milk Row Cemetery on Somerville Avenue. The Ghosts of Somerville Rise Again, promised to be a haunting and historically educational performance – a seemingly perfect combination for a lazy, cold and cloudy October afternoon.

I discovered the event online. When “haunted boston” was typed into my search engine several different links popped up. I scrolled through, most of them bar and club events (too expensive), until I came across the Somerville Arts Council event – The Ghosts of Somerville Rise Again. It sounded great, $5, a historical re-telling of lives of the more prominent figures that lived in that area of Boston during the Civil War, it was in a cemetery and boasted complimentary hot cider and donuts.

The event was scheduled to begin at 4 PM and worried about being late and interrupting or distracting the actors playing the ghosts, I arrived promptly at 3:45. I walked into the cemetery and up to the tables to pay for my ticket. “That’ll be 8 dollars please,” said the woman standing behind the table. I questioned the price to which she replied, “No, children ages 8-12 and seniors are five dollars… I don’t think you’re 12 and you’re not a senior either, so that’ll be 8 dollars.” Completely thrown off by her snippy tone I handed over the money.

She gave me my change and I shuffled along down the table and reached for a pamphlet. A second woman was standing there ready to serve the hot cider and donuts and to pass out the pamphlets. She handed me the paper then the cider, “that’s one dollar please and a donut of your choice.” “A dollar?” I said, she looked at the woman I had just been involved with for confirmation, the woman nodded at her and then they both nodded at me. I gave them the dollar and chose powdered.
What happened while trying to get into the cemetery was odd but paying a little more than I thought I would be paying wasn’t such a big deal because the money goes to supporting the Arts Council. I’m ok with that, plus I was going to see ghosts talk history and the cider was nice.

The show began at 4:30, I was freezing, 45 min standing in a cemetery with a tiny cup of cider will do that to you. I was glad it was finally starting. The cast consisted of younger kids 10-15 and older adults. The main characters were Sarah Wardwell, a convicted witch that was buried in Milk Row in 1692; Samuel Tufts, a farmer buried there in 1828 and William Farmileo, a British soldier buried there during the revolutionary war.

The skits started out well until people, children and adults, started forgetting their lines. Samuel Tufts played by Markus Nechay forgot his lines several times – shuffling through his satchel for the script. Kids forgot their lines too but that was cute and forgivable. The script was interesting but hard to focus on because of numerous mistakes (I’m pretty sure Mr. Tufts made some facts up while struggling for his script) and microphone malfunctions. At one point Reverend Phineas Howe told the audience he was going to turn off his microphone because the crackling was causing him to forget his lines.

I understand that this was just a community production, but I expected more, or maybe I just expected something completely different. At the end of it all I’d been outside for 2 ½ hours (45 min longer than I should have been), freezing and out 9 dollars. I didn’t really learn too much about Somerville that I didn’t know, other than the Market Basket next to the cemetery used to be farm land, but I kind of assumed everything was pretty much farm land at some point.

Though the program was less than haunting, the kids involved all had a good time and seemed to have worked very hard on their lines and costumes and that’s really the point of a production like this. It is important for communities to have these programs and with our support (yes my 9 dollars and yours) programs like Art without Walls can grow and open up opportunities for inner city youth. I’d gladly brave the cold again if it meant helping to grow children’s arts programs in and around Boston.

To keep up with the Somerville Arts Council check out their website at and help support our local programs.

The Versatility of the American Press Serves Democracy

The press is the fourth branch of government which America’s founding fathers didn’t consecrate in the Constitution; nevertheless, they knew its existence was inevitable and necessary in a republican democracy. Thus, George, James, Alexander, Benjamin and a few other fine gentlemen proclaimed in the immortal document, that Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech or the press. Americans heeded the call and throughout the nation’s history the press has been a key player in shaping America’s political history. The American press has kept alive an objective discourse about the meaning of democracy, the press has been a partisan to particular political causes, the press has been a watchdog of corrupt politicians, the press has pandered to populist political causes, the press has made public the intimacy of politics and political officials. In short, the press is versatile and has adapted to the ever-changing political expressions of American democracy and government. In 2009, although the basic aforementioned characteristics of the press remain intact, the making and presenting of political news is now more democratic. As a result, modern political news-making is designed to capture and fulfill the political views of very specific audiences.

The past is prologue. The press helped give shape to the federal government during Washington’s administration, by giving intellectual breadth to the notion of federalism. Federalists and Antifederalist fought a tenacious intellectual battle, courtesy of pen names, Publius and Cato.

The press also served as an agitator, by helping the American nation rally behind President Mckinley with the famous rallying cry, “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain”! A cry which ignited the Spanish-American War of 1898, courtesy of William Randolph Hearst.

The press served democracy by bringing down the corrupt Nixon administration. Courtesy of the press, Nixon failed to win the hearts and minds of the American people. Nixon’s political base the “silent majority,” remained silent, and thus he was forced to resign in the name of peace with honor, courtesy of Bob Woodward and Deep Throat.

Finally, the press brought to the living room of every American, President Bill Clinton’s sexual intimacy. President Clinton gracefully, and only through the cadence of a good old boy, was forced to explain to American people his intimate moments inside the White House, courtesy of cable television and Kenneth Starr.

In 2009 the freedom of the press is as vibrant as ever. CNN, the Drudge Report, Twitter, the Washington Post, You Tube,, this is the twenty-first century’s landscape of the American press; a motley collection of political news media outlets consisting of cable television, web blogs, traditional newspapers, websites and smart phone communication platforms. In essence, the diverse media outlets reflect the newsmaker’s urge to find a niche audience.

In a political landscape where every footstep, every utterance and every breath of politicians are recorded, analyzed and debated on a real time never-ending news feed, America’s national elected officials have adapted to the change by using political news media outlets to fight back the scrutiny, clarify to misinformation and most importantly present their own account of civic matters. Internet based political news media outlet,, reported on 9/23/09 in an article titled “ For GOP, revenge is tweet,” that 101 Republicans and 57 Democrats use the social networking platform, Twitter, for communication about politics through short messages which are sent to computers and cell phones. As cited by Politico, David All a Republican internet strategist said, “ every effective communications professional or major association needs a real strategy for utilizing Twitter at all times, especially where real-time responses is crucial.” Elected officials now have the ability to shape news directly by circumventing journalists and presenting their “news” of politics through personally crafted words, rather than relying on the words of interpretation.

The press has recast itself from its past role as a crude agitator, to a more sophisticated and deliberate orchestrator of political spin, primarily targeted at niche audiences of particular political persuasions. This form of the press is particularly evident on cable television. On the CNBC show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” newscaster Keith Olbermann presented a nightly, unwavering, diatribe against President Bush for nearly eight years, where he ended each show by reminding his constituents how many days Bush had left in office. In this case Mr. Olbermman served an audience, mainly those paying for cable news and those who were unequivocally anti-Bush or of an anti-conservative ideology.

The presentation of political news is also personality driven. Journalists often become celebrities in their own right and shepherd their loyal followers from the corporate owned cable news show or newspaper, to the personal an independent world of the blogosphere. Such is the status of Lou Dobbs, who contributes to America’s political discourse through his bread and butter issue, immigration. In his show on CNN, Lou often blames many of America’s social ills on undocumented immigrants. Mr. Dobbs has used his celebrity on CNN to build a loyal audience and draw it to his talk radio show and his blog. In essence, Mr. Dobb’s brand of journalism is characterized by his accessibility to his followers across various media platforms.

New to the political news media scene is video sharing website You Tube, a democratically controlled video sharing media website. During the 2008 presidential primaries,You Tube was the platform through which political opponents to Barack Obama’s candidacy for president of the U.S. voiced their opposition. Mr. Obama’s opponents posted videos of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, giving a sermon which was described to be wholly anti-American. The infamous “God Damn America” sermon served as an anti-Obama ad, that although not directly connected to Obama’s official opponent the Republican Party, it served to advertise the view of the GOP that Obama was unfit to be president. Finally, political news is also broadcasted via the “chain email” blast. Such chain emails and their respective website launching pads, whose authors are often dubious, have made the bogus claims that President Bush was a conspirator in the 9/11 tragedy and that President Obama is Muslim and not a native born American. Although You Tube and the chain-email serve other purposes other than presenting disreputable and suspicious political news reporting, they are in essence also used to inform an audience interested by political news delivered in hysterical and unfounded snippets.

In hindsight, every transformation of the press has added a new strand to its fiber of versatility which has allowed it to be resilient while under the strain of democracy. In its newest phase the press is more democratic, that is, the press is no more solely the work and province of the professional journalist. By the same token, biased media has been part of America’s democracy since the first shots were fired over the fields of Lexington and Concord. Democracy is a difficult and complex form of civic organization. There is no such thing as objectivity, every news story has a slant and a political angle. However, the press must be valued for what it is. The press is simply an inextricable part of America’s democracy.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Surrounded by a picturesque landscape, a cathedral of liberalism and an archive of an American dynasty; the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a place which distinguishes itself for its celebration of culture.

A picturesque setting. The journey leading into this museum begins on a narrow road flanked by a colonnade of American flags. Upon arrival the visitor finds the museum, a timeless brilliant white structure made of sharp geometrical shapes balanced by a grand central glass pavilion, from which drapes Old Glory in her stars and stripes. Built on the Columbia Point Peninsula, the museum overlooks the historic Boston harbor. On one side of the museum grounds is a vista of Boston’s skyscraper skyline, while on the other extremity is a collection of Boston’s scattered islands which serve as the gateway to the Hub and the unfading Atlantic.

An archive of an American dynasty. Inside the museum, the exhibit rooms tell the story of the Kennedy political dynasty. The protagonist of the museum is the late President John F. Kennedy. However, the entry exhibit quickly introduces the visitor to Mr. Kennedy’s supporting cast, the Kennedy family. Every wall of the museum bears a memory of Mr. Kennedy’s rise to the nation’s highest political office, while also noting the contributions of his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Each portrait depicted a seminal moment in Kennedy family life: The humble house in Brookline, followed by the stately dinners with the Queen during his father’s stint as American ambassador to England, to the summers spent sailing off the Kennedy compound in the Nantucket Sound. Each portrait depicted a tightly knit family, always together, always enjoying each others company, always supporting each other in every setting, whether humble or stately. The museum portrays the Kennedy political dynasty, as a tale of kindred spirits who accompanied each other throughout their journey in life.

The cathedral of liberalism. The JFK Library and Museum celebrates the vision of liberalism cultivated by President Kennedy. The museum’s “White House Years” exhibit, tells the story of an American president who embraced FDR’s vision of the New Deal. As FDR, President Kennedy saw the American presidency as a catalyst for social progress in American society. This exhibit portrays a president who used the power of the federal government to bring civil rights to the disenfranchised and to eradicate poverty. In addition, the “Kennedy Press Conference” exhibit portrays a president who actively sought to dictate the legislative agenda of the country, by influencing the formulation of public opinion through the media. President Kennedy was the first president to truly master the art of unscripted press conferences on television. Furthermore, Kennedy held true to the American liberal brand by fighting Communism around the world; from the exhibit of the Cuban Missile Crisis to his involvement in Vietnam, the JFK museum portrays a president who was convinced of the exceptionalism of republican democracy.

However, the JFK museum also portrays a president who gave a new streak to liberalism. The “1960 Presidential Election” exhibit, commemorated President Kennedy’s famous remarks, “Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce...ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.” The JFK museum presents a liberal who is calling for government to be a patron of the sciences, but who also calls for Americans to not become too dependent on social welfare programs, but to be self-reliant to and contribute to their country through public service.

The only disappointment of the museum is its inability to fully show how the 35th president got his political skills. President Kennedy was the product of the bare-knuckles politics of Boston. The museum occasionally shows pictures of his legendary grandfather John F. Fitzgerald, “Honey Fitz”, former mayor of Boston, a true political animal, and the man who introduced the family to the rough and tumble politics of Boston in early 1900’s. Furthermore, the museum only makes timid references to Mr. Kennedy’s Irish immigrant heritage. The city of Boston, as in President Kennedy’s time, continues to be a hub of diversity, a city of immigrants who breath life to Boston’s political culture by continuing with Boston’s hallowed tradition of a politics defined by tenacity. In sum, the museum does a disservice to the residents of Boston, many of them of Irish descent and many of them immigrants, who look to public service, as the Kennedy’s did, to cultivate roots in American culture.

Nevertheless, the JFK museum will charm anyone with a passion for American culture. An archive of the American national memory, visit the museum dedicated to the 35th president of the United States and from the Columbia point peninsula get a vantage view of Boston’s skyline and the political horizons which President Kennedy strove to reach.

JFK Library and Museum video

Fall Fun

Fall Fun
To say Salem, MA takes Halloween season seriously is an understatement. While waiting for my Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour, I walked around the Salem Market, to my surprise it was like a Halloween wonderland. There were vendors selling t-shirts, tour guides trying to persuade eager tourists to take their haunted tours, locals parked on the side of the road with their PT Cruisers with Halloween paraphernalia participating in the Salem Witch Rally Car Cruise. All the while Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was playing through the square.
After waiting approximately 30 minutes my tour was about to start. We all met outside the office for the tour guide to take us around. The guide emerged from the office dressed in 1600’s Salem attire a black suit, long over coat, top hat, and in his hand he carried a lantern. The guides name was Adam; he has lived in Salem his whole life and has been a tour guide for 6 years. After introducing himself he started the tour, we walked the dark streets and graveyards with nothing but candlelight from the lantern. The first stop on the tour was the Lyceum Restaurant. It was said that the restaurant was haunted by the ghost of Bridgette Bishop. Bishop was the first person executed by the Witch Trials on June 10, 1692. The Lyceum was built directly over where Bishop’s house used to stand. Another fact about the restaurant is the first long-distance phone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell in the restaurant.
The next stop on the tour was the Howard St. Cemetery. This is where Giles Corry was executed by the Sheriff George Corwin. Corry’s wife was arrested for witchcraft, trying to get his wife freed was also sentenced as a conspirator. Corry wouldn’t plead guilty or not guilty at the trial. This stalled his sentencing, so Corwin took Corry to the Howard Street Cemetery and threw him in the ditch placed a board over him and began to place heavy rocks on him, until it crushed his ribs. He wouldn’t give Corwin his plea and he died in that cemetery and haunts it to this day.
We then walked a few blocks to the John Ward House. It is the oldest standing house from the Witch Trials period. Ward was a strong believer in the witch trials and frequently lent his house to the town to examine women to see if they are witches. There are stories that Ward haunts the house, people will hear footsteps walking around and nobody will be there.
Adam then led us to the Gardener-Pingree house. It’s supposedly haunted by the spirit of Captain White, who bought the house after retiring from the high seas. He would tell tall tales at the local pubs in Salem. One tale he said there was a treasure in his house hidden. One day three men broke into the house to look for the treasure; they ransacked the house and couldn’t find the treasure and slit Captain White’s neck.
The last stop of the tour was the Witch Trail Memorial. It was right next to the 1630 burial ground in Salem. The stones used to build the walls were stacked onto each other; no mortar was used to keep the stones together. This is supposed to represent the stones stack on Giles Corry. There were also stone benches one for each person that was killed in the Witch Trials. They have the name and the date of death on each of the benches.
If you live in Boston, it’s well worth the trip. Salem is approximately a 25 minute car ride from UMass Boston. There is also a train you can take there from North Station using the Newbury/Rockport line. The tour is a great way to see Salem and have a night out. For people 21 and over they have pub crawl tours also.
Tour Information
Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour
Salem Historical Tours
8 Central Street
Salem, MA 01970
Ph: 978-745-0666
Nightly 8 PM
April 1 - October 5
Nightly 7 PM and 8 PM
October 6 - 31
Adults $14
Seniors/Students/Military $10
Children (6 - 14) $8

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Creative BLITZ for Industrial Titans KMFDM

Industrial pioneers KMFDM are doin’ it again with their latest release BLITZ, marking the band’s latest attempt to return to their signature experimentalism of electronic beats and pounding guitar grooves. After driving home a series of more metal-inspired albums since 2002, KMFDM are digging back into the techno and funk styles that defined the band when they formed back in 1984. The album as a whole seems to act as a “Best Of” compilation without actually being a compilation, each song representing a different era of KMFDM during its 25 years of ultra heavy beats.

Album opener “Up Uranus” is a clear example of this, with frontman Sascha Konietzko’s deadpan recital of the song’s manifesto lyrics coupled with the rumbling background guitars appearing severely reminiscent of early work by the group. This is even further cemented by the track’s title represented as a on the album listing, a callback to KMFDM’s seminal 1997 release Symbols, the title of said album being listed as (you guessed it) random symbols. “Davai” features Sascha belting out in Russian to a totalitarian beat, while “Potz Blitz!” has him slamming his voice in German; the divide from each track showcasing the group’s devotion to its source sound while noticing the recent developments in Deutschland’s dance-metal scene. Human League cover “Being Boiled” interprets the song’s original peacemonger message to a more industrial set of horn and strings, and would stand out as the strangest bit on the album if not for side-songtress Lucia Ciaferelli’s central entries.

Her contributions “Bait & Switch” and “People of the Lie” in particular feel out of place due to their smoother, darker rhythms and dark-electro crooning reminiscent of the band’s brief hiatus project MDFMK at the end of last century, while “Never Say Never” is more of a fusion work between Lucia’s feminine electronica and the band’s testosterone-laden chugging rhythms. Finally, the requisite satire ballad of every KMFDM joint appears in “Bitches,” continuing the album’s retrospective tone with a fairly downtempo proclamation of the how the band “hi-jacked your bedazzled soul for ransom to be paid in gold” and were “only in it for the money, to dip [their] fingers in your honey.”

When this tour of KMFDM’s back-catalogue ends, the result for listeners depends on how much of the group’s signature drug they’ve downed during their career. Life-long fans will enjoy Konietzko and Ko.’s risks at returning to their roots after introducing themselves to newer generations through the same unrelenting industrial metal utilized by musical descendants Rammstein. Even the choice to include beats similar to the MDFMK side-experiment is an appeal to all followers, despite the more contemporary techno of that project largely considered a bust despite positive reviews. People awaiting an entry into KMFDM’s world may want to look elsewhere, unfortunately, for the very qualities of this album’s diversity can also come off as haphazard plotting to the uninitiated. Consider the dissonance in mood between the discothèque “Strut” and the schoolyard beatdown drumming and verbal diarrhea of “Me & My Gun.” Tracks reminiscent of the band’s earlier works may not be pleasing to the modern, uncultured ear either, having been frankensteined from a dead age of smoky ‘80s Goth clubs where swaying was an acceptable form of dance. “I have to admit that BLITZ represents a creative move that might put off those who have grown attached to KMFDM's brash, epic guitar-driven sounds…” said Greg Burkart of’s What The Fear, later claiming that “…these guys do it better than any dozen other electronic dance acts on the scene right now…” Indeed, while new listeners would do better to check out earlier entries in the catalogue such as WWIII or XTORT, older fans are in for a treat with BLITZ’s new-old-school approach and fresh creative intent.

All Images (c)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Green Revival: The Beginning of Fall and the Return of “The Big Ticket”

Sept 22nd 2009

Boston athletics seem to have been experiencing a strange fluctuation in the cosmic balance of good and bad as of late. The Sox clinched the Wild Card at the end of September as the Rangers lost to the Angels. Good. This occurred the same cold September night that they lost to the Blue Jays at home. Bad. Tom Brady is healthy and back holding things down in Foxboro, leading the Pats to an early regular season record of 3-1. Good. Tom Brady is healthy and holding things down in Foxboro, leading the Pats to an early regular season record of 3-1. Bad. Wait…the Pats really already lost a game already with Brady? That game was not only to the division rival Jets but the Pats offense couldn’t even put the ball in the end zone? What the hell is going on? Relax, it isn’t so bad; keep in mind we’ve won our last two games since the Jets loss and Tommy’s looking better with every game. Still, September has maintained a strange equilibrium that requires some stability, but don’t worry; it is the beginning of autumn after all.

The leaves will fall, covering up the sidewalks and the loses of old; loses like the Yankee’s four game sweep of the Sox in August and September’s disappointing loss to the Jets. Autumn brings with it the reintroduction of our favorite Patriot’s, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins sweat suits and the re-release of Sam Adam’s Octoberfest. We retain the continuation of football season; hopefully we’ll look on as Brady, Belchichik, Moss and Maroney put up the numbers we’re used to seeing against the Ravens, Titans, Bucs, and Broncos. The fall brings the commencement of postseason baseball and daydreams of watching Papelbon and Youk suiting up in jock straps, dancing like animals beneath a celebratory champagne shower. Yet let us not forget, although the leaves may be changing to browns, oranges and yellows, October still brings with it some Green.

The precursor to winter introduces the beginning of professional basketball season. With the NBA pre-season opening up October 7th finally the sports gods have provided something to bring stability the back to the gravitational shift of the Boston athletic universe. That’s right: it’s the return of the dynasty, the green, the garden, the Truth; October means it’s time for the Celtics to hit the hardwood.

After last year’s disappointing end to the C’s playoff run with a 101-82 blowout at the hands of the Orlando Magic in game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals; some fans, and even more haters are voicing speculation about this year’s shot at a Championship run for the Celtics. Yet there is overwhelming justification for last year’s loss and plenty of reason to look forward to next season; enough evidence to remove the doubt from the doubters and the smirks from the haters.

To begin with the let’s not forget the fact that the Celtics franchise, with 17 championships under its belt (more than any other team in the league), went 62-20 during the 2008-09 regular season finishing first in the division and second in the conference. They accomplished the best start to a season by any NBA team EVER with a 27-2 record. They averaged 100.9 points per game and held their opponents to 93.4 ppg. This was not a season just to shrug off; the C’s did big things. That being said they still lost to the Magic in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. This is where the aforementioned doubt about the upcoming season comes from, but the loss is equally as justifiable as it was disappointing.

On February 19th, Kevin Garnett suffered a knee injury that would aggravate him throughout the remainder of the regular season. Although he made brief on court appearances throughout March, his influence was minimal and by the end of the month he was out for good; for good means for the rest of the season, playoffs included. Garnett was the heart and soul of the Celtics defensive campaign; although the young guys battled hard to make up for his loss down low there’s no question that the things had changed without the general “holding down the block.”

So the Celts headed into the playoffs without KG around to cause big men across the league to tear up at the thought of “The Big Ticket” swatting their garbage into Donnie Whalberg’s courtside lap; this is the main essentially leads to the Celt’s playoff downfall. Add to the equation an enormous, perhaps superhuman force for the Green’s young guns to match up against and the rest is history. To put this in easier terms to understand; The Celtics lost to the Orlando Magic.

Dwight Howard plays for the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard is seven feet tall, weighs two hundred and sixty five pounds, and averaged over fifteen rebounds in the playoffs. Dwight Howard’s nickname is Superman. I once saw Dwight Howard request a maintenance team to bring out a twelve foot hoop during a dunk contest so that he could dunk on a twelve foot hoop brought out by a maintenance team. Dwight Howard hammered viciously on that twelve foot hoop. What I’m trying to establish here is that he’s a freak, and even though he’s a freak the Celts still brought him and his squad to seven games in the semis without KG to get in his way.

As stated earlier KG was and is the backbone of the Celtics defense, so it needs to be taken into account the fortitude and depth of the team that made it as far as they did without him. This cast including young names like Big Baby Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo and veterans like Paul “The Truth” Pierce and Ray “Jesus Shuttleworth” Allen absolutely killed it. Of course a championship would have been nice but there’s always the unimaginable and the unfortunate circumstances that are going inevitably going to result in a loss once in a while. Still, Now that KG’s healthy and everyone’s in full form there’s no reason to consider last year’s season a disappointment or a sign of concern for this year’s run; so put away the tissues and black veils Boston fans it’s a new season and Kryptonite KG is back and ready to battle Superman.

Photo courtesy of

Red Tape

As I sat at the long wooden table tapping my fingers to the beat of my pulsing heart surrounded by ten other anxious girls I awaited the start of the highly anticipated Teen Voices Orientation for Editorial Mentors Summer 2009. I had never interned at a magazine before and I was excited to see who I’d be working with. A voice came from the far end of the table. “My name is Jessica Moore. I am the new editor of Teen Voices magazine and I will be working with you this summer.” Her reddish-brown hair matched her red dress and accentuated her clear blue eyes. Her smile was welcoming and her voice soothing bringing ease to those around her including me. Immediately an admiration was born within me. She’s so young and already an editor, I thought to myself. What did she do? How did she get there? Her name instantly came to mind at a given assignment months later so I quickly jumped on the opportunity of learning more about her path to success.

Originally from Oxford, England, Jessica moved to the United States with her family as a teenager residing in College State, Pennsylvania. “I realized my passion for writing in the sixth grade.” Her wide smile showed off her white glistening teeth as her mind wandered down memory lane. “I was interested in journalism of all types. I used to say I wanted to be like Connie Chung, which now I’m not so sure about. Her journalistic skills seem to have gone by the wayside.” After graduating high school she went on to pursue her Bachelors of Arts degree at Penn State University. I quickly wondered if she had any internship experience considering I am on the quest for another internship opportunity myself. “Yes I interned at a magazine that covered local events. It was a good experience overall. They helped me write a cover story on the dean of the college of arts and architecture – my first cover story and first introduction to the fact that your writing will always be pulled apart and worked over until you barely recognize it.” She laughed softly as she winked at me. Soon after graduating from Penn State Jessica moved to Washington D.C. to work for a publishing company while she completed some graduate work at Georgetown University. “I ended up living there for ten years. It was the best place for me to be, given where I was going with my career. I was never wild about the city, but doors kept opening for me career wise, so I wasn’t too compelled to leave.”

After gaining enough experience in the online publishing field Jessica decided to take the plunge into news. Her first job in the journalism field was at PBS’ The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, a station that reaches over 65 million people and has been continually honored by the industry’s most popular award competitions. “I was extremely lucky that my first real exposure to the field was with people who I consider to be among the best in the business. I learned an incredible amount from them.” Her answer compelled me to ask about specific journalists she looked up to. I quickly flipped the page of my writing pad. I didn’t want to miss any names. “I was consistently impressed with the anchors at The News Hour –Ray Suarez, Gwen Ifill, and Jim in particular. They take this business incredibly seriously and are among the few journalists who don’t allow their personalities to become more important than the story. More of a Walter Cronkite approach than you see from most journalists in 2009.”

I was suddenly reminded of a question I was asked not too long ago. Do you follow any blogs? I asked her. She looked up to the ceiling as she pondered. “Not for hard news, but yes –I read New York Magazine’s blogs on fashion and culture, The Cut and Vulture. I also read Gothamist, Pitchfork, New York Times Arts Beat, Media Decoder, and Nicholas Kristof’s blog.” Then without hesitation she promptly included that she does however rely primarily on BBC, NPR, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. She trusts and feels good about the effort they put into checking their sources and they go deeper than the surface of the story.

With no fear of change and of new possibilities Jessica constantly kept an open mind to newer, better career opportunities leading her to apply to several job openings in promising cities. When a career door suddenly opened in New York City she packed her suitcase and headed to the Big Apple. There she took a position as Managing Editor for Digital Media at Sesame Workshop. “I was responsible for telling Sesame Street’s story on the web, which meant writing about the international productions, talking about the mission, working on how best to get the word out that the company is doing so much more than just producing a show for kids. They’re working in health, hygiene, peace building, and so much more. It was a great experience, and very different from anything I’d done before, because it was more communications than journalism. And of course, it was a nice side perk that the job was in New York, which is as amazing as everyone says it is.”

In June 2009 after being offered the position of Chief Editor of Teen Voices magazine, an intensive mentoring and leadership development program for teen girls in Boston, Jessica didn’t think twice. Once again she packed her bags and without looking back she grabbed the opportunity with both hands. A big smile crept on my face as her eyes twinkled with excitement. She was obviously very proud of the organization she currently worked for. “Our mission is to support and educate teen girls, amplify their voices, and create social change through media. Through this program, and with submissions from girls around the world, the teens create an internationally distributed online and print magazine by, for, and about teen girls.”

I became curious about her role as an editor for the magazine. I had taken an editing course before but I knew it must have been more than just correcting grammatical errors. “It very much depends on the day, week, and month. Right now I'm in the process of wrapping up our fall print issue, so I spent most of today proofing layouts from the designer, working with interns to get images for some articles, answering questions the designer had. I'm also in the middle of putting together the October online issue, so I edited book reviews, got content from the interns who had interviewed teen activists. And we're redesigning our site and our print magazine, so I'm spending some time each day working on one or both of those projects.” There are many perks in being Chief Editor, having leeway to effect change is definitely one of them. According to Jessica that’s her favorite part about being a Chief Editor –not having to fight through a lot of red tape in order to make a change.

Enough about work, I told her. What do you like to do for fun on weekends? “I see a lot of live music, take ceramic classes, check out new restaurants and bars with my beau.” Although she’s not much of a sports fan she does admit she loves ice skating and does occasionally watch a football game every now and then. As a resident of Boston no more than four months Jessica is loving the fall weather and being able to get out of the city easily.

As the interview reached its end I asked Jessica to provide words of wisdom for students who are interested in the professional writing field, preparing myself to absorb her advice. “Read -- a lot! Think about why certain writers capture your imagination and then work out how to put it into practice in your own way.”

With her ambition and courage Jessica Moore will certainly find herself in bigger and better positions. I shook her hand, looked into her eyes and thanked her for taking the time to meet with me. I left feeling confident that I had learned something and inspired to take plunges myself.

Bracing the Fall at Patriot Place

By Joshua Bottomley

Summer is over, like it or not. Time to put away the swimming trunks, suntan lotion, bat and glove. Now it is time to pull on the boots, hoodie, and grab a football to toss around while examining the fall foliage in your backyard. Wait. Your boots are worn out? Your sweatshirt is too thin? The football got lost? There are no leaves in your studio apartment not to mention the lack of a backyard? Fear not, Bostonians, the answer lies only 40 minutes south of the city.

Patriot Place is the new shopping plaza set in the shadows of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro MA. Back in the day, the old Shaeffer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium created a dreary outline against the November sky, but now, thanks to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, there is a bustling haven for football fanatics and consumers alike right where that old relic once stood. Whether it is eating out, catching a movie, grabbing gifts for yourself or others, even learning about New England’s 50-year old football franchise, Patriot Place has you covered.

Most people don’t recognize Gillette Stadium as the focal point of a shopping center, but those who do venture to the hallowed ground are in for a treat. The mall of stores has everything from Aeropostale to Victoria’s Secret. Bed Bath and Beyond, Bath and Body Works, Claire’s, Christmas Tree, Express, GNC, and Old Navy are just a few of the standout stores included in the arcade. “So what?”, you might be saying, “You can find those stores at any local retail outlet.” Yes, this is true, but you will not find them in such a unique setting as Patriot Place. The mall is outdoors. Gone is the echo of screaming children off of tempered glass ceilings, gone are the squeaking of sneakers on linoleum and tile. Gone are the gurgles, splashes, and white noise of wishing waterfalls. In their place, an impeccably manicured landscape wrapping around one of the most beautiful sports structures ever. For leaf peepers, the stretches of Interstate 95 and Route 1 that lead to Patriot Place are perfect for viewing the change of seasons.

Besides the obvious shopping aesthetic, Patriot Place also offers entertainment. The Showcase Cinema De Lux is a state of the art movie theater. Currently showing 12 different films for your enjoyment, this cinema excels in more ways than one. Not only does Showcase have the ability to show movies in 3D, it also offers a luxury option to dine IN THE THEATER, with your own server, catering to your needs as you relax and take in a flick. If dining in the theater is not your desire, the Studio 3 restaurant located in the lobby also has a full menu to indulge in before or after the film. In addition to these options, the snack bar also includes extravagances like Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs, and Baskin Robins, a welcome alternative to Twizzlers and Snocaps…but they have those too.

If you are looking for a bit to eat but aren’t in the mood for a movie, don't fret, the dining options offered at Patriot Place are vast and range from affordable comfort food to fine dining establishments. For families craving a quick burger try Five Guys Burger and Fries, an up and coming chain that gets rave reviews across the board, or Bar Louie, a buzzing social atmosphere with inventive sandwiches and cocktails that are fun and fulfilling.

If it is a special night, Davio’s at Patriot Place is perfect. With a menu reminiscent of its Boston and Providence locations, Davio’s offers topnotch cuisine and stellar service. Out with a group of friends? Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro has an eclectic selection of wines from all over the world, and food selections designed to be shared.

The CBS Scene Restaurant is a combination of upscale eating with a hi-tech sports bar feel. The atmosphere is provided by the plethora of televisions on the walls, as well as the games projected on the screen behind the bar, documenting every play, pitch, shot, and score around the world of sports. And in the rare occasion there isn’t a sporting event on, anywhere, on earth, each table has its own television and speaker, which allows you to scroll through reruns of The Brady Bunch, I Love Lucy, and other CBS staples.

Speaking of Staples, there is one of those as well. But if you are more of an outdoorsman/woman, Bass Pro Shop is a must visit destination. From tents, to canoes, to fishing poles, to outdoor wear this enormous outdoor mecca is almost as big as the wilderness itself. A hiking trail and cranberry bog are located right behind the store, where you can break in that new pair of Timberlands.

But, if you are longing for less of the daytime and more of the nightlife, Showcase LIVE music venue is a great option. This 16,000 square foot, state of the art music venue is now a tour stop for national acts as well as a haven for local artists and tribute bands.

Finally, no trip to Patriot Place would be complete without a trip through history. The New England Patriots Hall of Fame is an interactive wonderland, utilizing technology to the fullest. Projections, audio, video and touch screen technology all provide the most visceral sports museum experience ever. From playing referee and analyzing replays, to being in the huddle with Tom Brady, the Hall of Fame is the cherry on top of the Patriot Place cake, and it is also attached to the Patriots Pro Shop, were all the gear from your favorite pigskin pals can be found.

In a time where so much shopping can be done online and the neighborhood mall has become a blasé weekend repetition, Patriot Place offers an alternative setting and has enough bells and whistles to make you want to come back again and see what you may have missed. The only downside is that you can’t go on game day. Well, you can...but be prepared for the traffic.
<a href="" target="_new" title="Pats Hall of Fame Tour">Video: Pats Hall of Fame Tour</a>

Patriot Place is located off of Route 1 in Foxboro, MA between I-95 and I-495. top photo by Joshua Bottomley
middle photo courtesy of Newton Roofing

The Achilles’ Heel of American Capitalism

The fall of banking giant Lehman Brothers was commemorated this week by financial newspapers, while the Obama administration called for a renewal of federal government led regulation of the financial sector. Should the federal government take the lead in governing the culture of capitalism?

Undoubtedly, the federal government must more thoroughly regulate the American financial sector. Since December 2007, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the GDP of the United States has shrunken significantly, unemployment has risen to 9.7%, the value of the dollar has fallen and the trade deficit has grown. In sum, the stability of the U.S. economy has been rattled to its core, resulting in the greatest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

The current U.S. recession began with the deregulation of the financial sector by the federal government. “Greed is good,” proclaimed Gordon Gecko, rich financier played by Michael Douglas in the 1980’s hit movie, Wall Street. The film highlights the excesses of the world of finance during the late 1980’s. By the early 2000’s, the Glass Steagall Act having been annulled by Congress and with the deregulation of the American financial sector reaching a climax, recently retired Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, called this era of finance an “irrational exuberance.” The Glass Steagall Act was established during the Great Depression precisely to prevent bank holding companies from owning other financial companies.

The Obama administration has proposed to expand the Federal Reserve’s power to regulate financial institutions. By expanding the power of the Federal Reserve, the Obama administration intends to make the 96 year old institution into a systemic risk regulator. Proponents of expanded Fed regulatory power, (see Brookings Institution report) contend that it was precisely the weak power of the Fed to oversee the financial sector, which forced the federal government to perform bailouts under the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP). Opponents to expanded Fed power (see The Heritage Foundation report), warn that centralizing regulatory power into one government agency will breed inefficiency and corruption; these critics propose a shared responsibility with other government agencies such as the Financial Services Oversight Council.

The Obama administration also proposes the creation of the, Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which will be vested with the responsibility to ensure that financial consumer products, such as mortgages and credit card products, are easier for consumers to understand. Critics charge that the latter agency will limit the credit services offered to consumers and stifle innovation of financial products. However, proponents for the creation of the agency argue that government oversight over consumer protection is long overdue.

The Obama administration must act quickly to reform government regulation of the financial sector. Capitalist purists claim that government regulation hampers the growth of capitalism by undermining the natural economic forces of supply and demand. However, the laissez-faire economic doctrine of deregulation of the financial sector which began in the 1980’s and culminated with the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, an act which is symbolic for restoring confidence in American capitalism during America’s greatest economic crisis, has failed to steer capitalism in a steady course of growth. Nevertheless, it’s not 1930 anymore and the world of capitalism and finance is more complex and has undoubtedly changed. History has repeated itself and the invisible hand of laissez-faire economics has proven that, on its own, it cannot correct or subdue the excesses of capitalism. Notwithstanding, government must avoid regulating excessively.The regulatory framework of the 1930’s must be consolidated to efficiently work alongside the invisible hand of free market economics in 2009.

By: Andres Leon

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blood, Booze, Bullets and Baseball - Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston

Any time a book can make me feel physically ill from the first few pages, I know it must be doing something right. Charlie Huston’s 2004 debut novel, Caught Stealing, opens with protagonist Hank Thompson pissing blood following a savage beating leading to catastrophic kidney failure. I’d say that qualifies.

“This is how life changes,” explains Hank, as he breathlessly launches into the second-person story about how his promising high school baseball career was ruined when he broke a leg trying to steal third base. “The bone sticks straight out from your calf, and you just stare at it.” Along with the traumatic car-crash death of his childhood friend, this leads to Hank moving from California to New York where, apart from the alcoholism and the sore feet from tending bar, he seems pretty content. “You’re a good guy, you’re tough and you have a reputation in your neighborhood for helping people out. It’s nice. It’s not the life you expected, but it’s nice enough for you.”

And that’s when this new pulp-crime classic really gets going with a deceptively simple Mcguffin of a plot: Hank is asked to watch his friend Russ’ cat while he’s away. There’s something else in the cat carrier, though: A key. And some very scary people are out to get it. The kind of people that will threaten to “Kill your ass an’ your family an’ your ancestors, kill your fucking house plants an’ all that shit.” People like Detective Lieutenant Roman, the corrupt Robbery/Homicide cop, Red, the fashionable Chinese kid with a real knack for inflicting pain, and bank-robbing brothers Ed and Paris DuRante. “I have to hand it to these guys,” Hank muses in a moment of self-reflexivity, “They all have great names.” Huston’s sharp, screenplay-style dialogue and profanely poetic prose put us right there with Hank as he runs all over Manhattan looking for safe haven, stopping periodically to check up on how the Mets are doing and trying to resist having the drink that could push his one remaining kidney over the edge.

Hank quips, “As alcoholics go, I’m really more of a dedicated amateur than a true professional. I tend to be more of a bingeing, life-of-my-own-party kind of drinker rather than a steady, dying-an-inch-at-a-time kind of drinker.” Huston pays special attention to Hank’s alcoholism, with his protagonist unable to stop thinking about all the drinks he can’t have even as he’s being pursued across the city by police and thieves. “Let’s face it,” he says, “everyone has to figure out a way to get through the day and booze is a very popular strategy.” His friends are no help either. He can’t even tell his former boss Edwin about the armed thugs gathered outside his bar without being forced to drink a shot of Wild Turkey with him first.

Huston also crafts Hank into such a likeable, genuinely nice character – a stark departure from your average ‘noir’ tough guy – that the things that happen to him seem all the more horrible. And believe me, things do get very horrible. The book pulls absolutely no punches with the violence, but it doesn’t try to be glib about it either. As Hank points out, “I have fought very little in my life, but what I have noticed is that even when you win, you get hurt.” Violence has real consequences in this book. That being said, if you’re faint of heart or weak of stomach, this book is absolutely not for you. You should know whether you’re planning on sticking with it by the time you get to the almost unbearable scene about 50 pages in where Hank is tortured to the soothing sounds of the Beach Boys. “I have a secret. The secret is, I don’t know where the key is. So these guys can do whatever they want and I just won’t talk. […] Lucky me.” Watching Hank slip from his decent, normal life into a life of violence and crime is pretty disturbing as well. Even as he keeps his mordant sense of humor about him, it’s clear from early on in the book that there’s no going back.

Huston makes New York a real character too, with his transplanted-from-California protagonist offering all sorts of nifty cultural insights, such as Hank Thompson on the East Village: “Condos, boutiques, and bistros are popping up like fungus. But murders, muggings, and rapes are way down, so when people bitch about gentrification I usually tell them to fuck off.” Baseball, Hank’s favorite pastime, has a definite presence as well, and Huston gets a lot of humor out of Hank trying to take time out of being pursued by killers to see how his beloved San Francisco Giants are doing. “Now the Mets and the Giants are all tied up for the wild card with one game each left. Tonight. And I’m gonna miss those too. Because I’m gonna be at a fucking showdown.”

With his deft ear for dialogue and his breathlessly page-turning sense of pacing, Charlie Huston has firmly placed himself as one of the best new crime writers of the decade. Not only is Caught Stealing one of the best crime novels of the past ten years, it’s one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. The misadventures of Hank Thompson would continue into the sequels Six Bad Things and A Dangerous Man, both of which are also great reads, and several of the pet themes that pop up in this book would come up again in some of his later novels. Hank’s childhood hobby of breaking-and-entering would become the focus of The Shotgun Rule, and another protagonist with fear of motor vehicles going back to a prior tragedy would appear in his latest novel, The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death. But for the sheer exuberance that only comes from a first-time novelist with a lot to say, Caught Stealing is where it’s at. Huston’s new novel My Dead Body, the fifth and final book in his horror-noir Joe Pitt series, came out Tuesday, October 13th, and should be available at cool bookstores everywhere.

The Gloved One

By Joshua Bottomley

That glove, it shimmers even in the dimmest light, captivating an audience that is holding in one, collective breath, waiting with an insatiable anticipation as to what’s going to happen next. Millions scream when his eyes appear from under the fedora. Eyes that examine soul, and can do things to you, control you, and make you imagine things that just don’t seem possible. That’s right, parents, lock up your children, Freddy Krueger is coming back to Elm Street.

There are two things I need to make clear. One, I don’t like remakes. I think it is lazy and asinine to be remaking these franchises that were either perfect the way they were, or are still too young to warrant a facelift and boob job. Some I boycott because of exorbitant amounts bad press and some I won’t see because of an invisible bond I have with a certain cast of characters that I look at as my extended fantasy family. Two, I am a liar. I begrudgingly admit that some of them are half way decent.

This list could include movies like Freaky Friday, which initially starred a young Jodie Foster earning her acting chops, and was then morphed into Linsday Lohan right before she learned how to chop coke, or Zac Efron romping around in 17 Again a role that was originated in all it’s “WHOA” glory by a fresh faced Keanu, way back in 1988. But no, I do not wish to delve into the sugary syrup, but rather the corn syrup. The red, thick goop. Oozing. Viscous. The kind that slowly drips off five fingertip blades, blades that drag across metal pipes producing a piercing wail soon to be mimicked by its listener. Freddy’s Back. And he is pissed off.

The trailer for the new, A Nightmare on Elm Street, has just seeped its way onto the interwebs and it looks gooooooooooood . Never have I been this excited for a franchise reboot. There has been a mixed bag of releases during this new trend and the horror genre seems to be putting the most films in the can. Whether this is due to cheaper budgets, or the absence of a star driven cast is debatable, but while the mainstream is watching Denzel in The Manchurian Candidate, horror buffs have received, Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes, My Bloody Valentine, The Last House on the Left, and Prom Night, not to mention the ever-growing pile of foreign flick re-dos like The Ring and The Grudge.

While Rob Zombie had a decent take on Halloween, it still fell flatter than Will Shatner’s singing voice, and Friday the 13th failed because that hockey mask is more played out than the phrase “played out.” But, Freddy….Freddy is king. Yes, he became more of a vaud-villain in his last few go-arounds, but the first three Nightmare on Elm Street movies were topnotch fright fests. I was ten years old when I watched Freddy tear out a young boys tendons and parade him through a mental institution like a puppet before sending him off the roof, while waving. Grinning. Laughing. It was awesome. Twenty years later my veins still ache when I watch that scene in Dream Warriors.

Robert Englund was a craftsman when it came to donning the hat and glove and he became THE icon of the 1980’s horror boom. The guts n’ gore biz is cresting another wave, so the suits n' ties know that Freddy Krueger’s return to the Cineplex will usher in a new generation of children ready to “never sleep again.” The reason for Freddy’s immense popularity over the other slashers of the era is that Freddy has a face, albeit grotesque. Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees are both silent, humongous, masked characters that could never be hurt until their film’s final five minutes. Freddy had a sneer, a voice, and he was prone to being beaten up, almost masochistically at times, before lacerating his sleeping prey. His ability to communicate drew fear from his victims, even if it drew a few giggles from the audience.

I believe those giggles are gone. We live in a post-Dark Knight era. And the campiness of the 80’s horror genre, I’m afraid that train has sailed. These current “reimaginings” are trying to take on a darker, drearier tone, even in the horror game. So, away with the cheesy one-liners.

Englund helped make Freddy a household name, but now that his street is being repaved, someone else had to throw on the red and green sweater. Enter Jackie Earle Haley, fresh off a career-resuscitating gig in Watchmen. Now Watchmen certainly garnered mixed reviews and not many, besides its hardcore audience, really got what the film was saying. They also never read the graphic novel. But it was unanimous that Haley BECAME the demented anti-hero, Rorshach. His crazed persona carried what was a very tedious film. Every time Rorshach had a voice over, it captured the heads in attendance. And that scene in the prison, it was gore-gold.

Like Dracula, it is going to be hard to reinvent Freddy. Haley’s biggest problem is that he is going to be the first to do so. Dracula has been done numerous times varying in degrees of success and failure, but there are so many to compare each other too that it is hard to keep track. Jackie Earle is only going to be compared to one Freddy, the O.G. My only hope is that the producers somehow squeeze Bobby Englund into a cameo. He deserves it so much. But how can they do it while not making it a comedic shout out?

I don’t want comedy. I don’t want pop culture. I want blood. I want boiler rooms. I want a teenage girl held upside by an unseen force that slices her abdomen while her not so bright boyfriend yells, “Tina!” I want Johnny Depp to get swallowed by his bed and be regurgitated in a gravity defying puree. I know that I won’t get everything that I want, but I’ll damn sure be in line to buy a ticket. And that is more than I can say about the majority of these remakes, which I usually wait to be burned on DVD or just ignore completely. Except for Dawn of the Dead, that was harsh! My advice to you is, check out the trailer. I realize that its six months until the release but I’m going to watch all eight of the originals to gear up for this flick, and try to save up on some sleep. “One, two Freddy’s coming for you.”