Archive for August, 2009

Boston By Foot Tour of the Month – Preserving Boston’s History

Today I took Boston By Foot’s August Tour of the Month focusing on the Historic Preservation movement entitled Preserving Boston’s History.  The tour featured many familiar Boston landmarks and the guide informed us how historic preservationists saved many of them from the dustheap.

I’ve put a gallery of photos from the tour on my website.

Adaptive reuse kept Old City Hall alive after the municipal offices moved to Government Center.

Adaptive reuse kept Old City Hall alive after the municipal offices moved to Government Center.

Highlights include:

  • the site of John Hancock’s house on Beacon Hill, lost in 1863 and ever since has been the rallying cry for what can be lost with historic preservation.
  • the Charles Bulfinch portion of the Massachusetts State House which was almost demolished and replaced with a larger version of itself during an expansion
  • Old City Hall, an early example of adaptive reuse as the government building was converted for commercial office space and restaurants.
  • Old South Meeting House, one of the first buildings preserved due to historic events that happened there rather than being associated with one famous person.
  • City Hall Plaza, once a vibrant commercial district which was cleared for urban renewal and replaced with a sea of bricks.  At least the Sears Crescent survived.
  • The Filene’s department store building, currently gutted and vacant, holds the future of historic preservation in Boston.
Will Daniel Burnhams beautiful Filenes store building survive?

Will Daniel Burnham's beautiful Filene's store building survive?

If you missed the tour today, fret not as Boston By Foot will offer it again as part of its Tours of the Month in the 2010 season.

Photopost: Drumlin Farm

When I was a kid I liked to visit farm museums where I could see all sorts of farm animals and a different way of life from my suburban upbringing.  I’ve written about a couple of these magical places before – The Stamford Museum and Nature Center and Old MacDonald’s Farm.  As an adult I’ve found it difficult to recapture the magic when visiting farm attractions as they’re either dismally small and depressing or so over-commercialized and packed with stuff that really have nothing to do with a farm.

The tractor pulls the hayride in front of the big red barn.

The tractor pulls the hayride in front of the big red barn.

So it was with great delight that I visited the MassAudobon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, MA. It helps that I went accompanied by a toddler so everything was doubly fun.  It’s a place where one can commune with sheep, pigs, goats, cows, deer, owls, and chickens.  The tractor is vintage and it pulls a no-frills hayride around the farm.  Not only that, but better than any of the places I visited as a child this is a functioning farm, growing produce for sale and divvied up among CSA shares.  Drumlin Farm is a beautiful, educational, and magical place.

More photos below.

This classy tractor pulls the hayride wagon.

This classy tractor pulls the hayride wagon.

Caught this rooster in mid-crow.

Caught this rooster in mid-crow.

Onions are spread out on the table in the greenhouse.

Onions are spread out on the table in the greenhouse.

Beautiful golden flowers grow in the garden.

Beautiful golden flowers grow in the garden.

Boyce Field, part of the working farm.

Boyce Field, part of the working farm.

Beer Review: Staropramen Lager

Beer: Staropramen Lager
Brewer: Pivovar Staropramen Pražské Pivovary
Source: Draft
Rating:
** (6.5 of 10)

Comments: I’m going to say something about this beer that sounds like an insult but it’s not:  it’s like water.  Travel writer Rick Steves says that when you visit Prague the waiter will put a beer on your table upon seating just as you’d get a glass of water in the United States.  And I can imagine that this is the beer that waiter would serve.  It’s like water in all the positive aspects of water:  cool, refreshing, crisp and mild.  I expect it would be a good beer to drink at lunch when you have to go back to work in the afternoon.  Mind you, it’s still beer.  The glass I had featured a thick head that left behind beautiful lacing.  The light aroma was grassy and floral.  The flavor is grainy with a bit of sweetness and a touch of hops.  All in all just good plain drinking beer.

Beer Review: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

Beer: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Brewer: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Source: Draft
Rating: ** (6.6 of 10)

Comments: I’m not an IPA fan because this style of beer is typically very hoppy and thus very bitter.  60 Minute IPA is no exception to the rule but it is better than most IPA’s due to its complex flavor that is not overwhelmed my the initial wallop of hops.  It’s a hazy copper colored beer with a hint of caramel in its aroma.  That taste is hoppy but also contains a tangy citrus flavor and a pleasant aftertaste that may be the best thing about this beer.  The head of the beer is thick and long lasting leaving some very nice lacing right down to the bottom of the glass.

Beer Review: Buzzards Bay Black Lager

Beer: Buzzards Bay Black Lager
Brewer: Buzzards Bay Brewing
Source: 12 oz Bottle
Rating: *** (7.1 of 10)

Comments: This dark beer looks like a stout but as the name should imply it doesn’t taste like one.  The aroma and flavor is malty and smoky with some hints of chocolate.  There’s also a nice tingle of carbonation on the tongue.  This is a good beer in a unique style and I’d like to try it again on tap.

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (30-21)

Previously:

30. Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco (1998)

An English singer/songwriter/radical and a rock/alt-country band from Chicago join to record tunes for the lost songs of Woody Guthrie and produce a masterpiece.  Once again it proves the timelessness of great music.  Favorites include “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” and “I Guess I Planted.”

29. This Are Two Tone (1983)

I was about a decade late discovering the UK’s Two Tone ska revival, but as soon as I heard The Specials “Ghost Town” on my radio I wanted to hear more.  I went to my local record store who of course did not have anything by The Specials, but I decided to check the compilations’ area where I found this gem and my life was changed.  Other highlights include “Gangsters” and “Rudi, A Message To You” by The Specials and “Rankin’ Full Stop” by The Beat.

28. Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction (1988)

Nirvana gets the credit for bringing so-called alternative music to the masses but Jane’s Addiction lead the way with this terrific album of funky hard rock.  Favorites include: “Jane Says,” “Ocean Size,” and “Mountain Song.”

27. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy (1988)

Hip hop at its best with a strong rhymes containing a serious social and political message over some densely-layered and funky samples.  Tracks that are still strong and relevant twenty years later include “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.”

26. Lifes Rich Pageant by R.E.M. (1986)

Another torch bearer carrying the underground music of the 1980’s to the mainstream of the 1990’s was R.E.M. who started out with very esoteric, experimental recordings early on and gradually became more radio friendly.  This album captures them striking a balance between the two extremes and includes some of the band’s best song such as “Fall On Me,” “The Flowers of Guatemala,” and “Swan Swan H.”

25. Shamrock Shake by Echolalia (1997)

This obscure album was recorded by a Williamsburg, VA -area Celtic folk/rock band who then vanished into the ether.  They are a band who follows the Celtic punk zeitgeist of the Pogues including a cover of “Boys from the County Hell,” but also their own material such as the topical “Serbian’s Wake,” but were best in their interpretations of timeless standards such as “The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel.”

24. Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans (2003)

This album was a gift from my brother-in-law that introduced me to a great Canadian rock band performing intelligent and chipper rock songs about death, depression and hating Winnipeg.  Highlights include the title track, “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute,” “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)” and “The Reasons.”

23. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)

I think enough ink has been spilled explaining the greatness of OK Computer that I need not add to it, but here are my favorite songs from the album: “No Surprises,” “Karma Police,” “Airbag,” “Lucky,” and “Paranoid Android.”  What are yours?

22. Distillation by Erin McKeown (2000)

I attended the new artists showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2000 and after a series of waifs singing about their sad lonely lives, Erin McKeown took the stage and had people singing, dancing and cheering for her two songs.  Later this album was played between sets of some other bands on the main stage and people were singing along to that!  Find out why by listening to catchy and clever tracks like “Queen of Quiet,” “Blackbirds,” and “Fast As I Can.”

21. The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses (1989)

This album was another discovery in a library back when I was in high school.  I listened to it for years and loved it before realizing that other people liked it too.  In fact New Musical Express named it the best British album of all-time in 2000. Not too shabby.  Highlights include: “Shoot You Down,” “I Am the Ressurrection,” “She Bangs the Drums,” and “I Wanna Be Adored.”

Book Review: Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston

Author: David Cay Johnston
Title: Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2007), Edition: Abridged, Audio CD
ISBN:  0143142968

Summary/Review:

I listened to this audiobook that details the cushy relationship between corporations and politicians that has allowed the rich to become exorbitantly rich at the taxpayer’s expense.  The book is mostly anectdotes of corporate socialism in action:

  • A railroad crash that kills passengers is due to negligence of the company that owns the tracks, CSX, yet the corporation has been able to get legal protection from the government if the train damaged belongs to Amtrak and thus the government pays the legal fees.
  • The geniuses at Enron convince the governments of several states to lift regulations and allow the free market to bring about more energy at lower prices.  Yet neither happens as prices rise and rolling blackouts darken California.  Even after the accounting scandals bring Enron execs to court they never pay back the money stolen from the public purse and official documents are struck from the public record.
  • Cabela’s sporting goods store wrangles money from local governments to build superstores with “museums” and ask to pay no taxes and in return put local stores out of business and destroy the local tax base.
  • Sports’ franchises – with antitrust exemptions that prevent them from needing to compete in the free market – hold cities for ransom and pay for construction of stadiums with public money.  Most interesting is the story of the owner of the Texas Rangers who acquired the team, had a new stadium built on a tax increase, and sold the team for a tidy profit without ever investing a cent of his own money. That owner was the man who supported nothing but tax cuts and free markets as president, George W. Bush.

This quote from Kel Munger of the Sacramento News & Review sums it up best:

If taxpayers were only taxed for public services, we’d all be a lot better off. Instead, we’re taxed to support business propositions that could never make it in a truly free market economy. The people sucking wage-earners dry are not welfare mothers, illegal immigrants, the disabled, elderly, sick or needy. That giant sucking sound that comes from wage-earners’ wallets is made by rich folks with pumps at the end of their straws.

It’s a frustrating book, all the more so since in a sense it doesn’t reveal any big secrets.  Government handouts and legislation in favor of corporations at the expense of the citizens is a well-known fact of modern America that people either feel hopeless at changing or chose to be willfully ignorant (kind of like a Stockholm Syndrome to our corporate captors).  I’m not sure if Johnston’s chapter on solutions is much help.  Among other things he proposed the taxpayer fully subsidizing Congressional representatives to keep them from accepting money from corporate lobbyists. Still, knowledge is power.

Recommended books: Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century by Paul R. Krugman and What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank
Rating: ***

Book Review: Central Park in the Dark by Marie Winn

Author: Marie Winn
Title: Central Park in the Dark
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008.
ISBN: 9780374120115 

Summary/Review:

This series of essays follows Winn and her cohorts over a decade spent observing the wildlife of an urban place, New York City’s Central Park.  Winn tells of encounters with red-tailed hawks, grackles, moths, slugs, robins, and owls and brings to life the excitement of waiting patiently to be there for the fly out of your favorite bird.  The title comes from the need to be in the park before dawn or after sunset to observe the natural goings-on, something that is perceived as a dangerous thing to do.  There are a lot of elements to this book that make is natural for me to like – New York, Central Park, quirky people with unusual hobbies, discovering the unexpected in a very accessible place – and yet I didn’t like the book as much as I want to.  Perhaps its the heavy detail offered by one who’s into intensive scrutiny whereas I just want a general overview or perhaps its the bad jokes that get less funny with repetition.  One things for sure, this book is best read like birding – slowly and with great patience over many days, not rushed through.

Recommended books: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, Outside Lies Magic by John Stilgoe, and Pigeons by Andrew Blechman
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn

Author: Howard Zinn, Paul Buhle, & Mike Konopacki
Title: A People’s History of American Empire
Publication Info:
ISBN: 0805077790

Summary/Review:

When I was a kid I inherited my uncle’s Mad magazine collection which had some comic books mixed in including a three-part series about the Civil War.  This was a hagiographic history where all the soldiers called one another “Billy Yank” and “Johnny Reb” done in the style of Classics Illustrated. 

A People’s History of American Empire is a very different comic book history.  Based on Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as well as Zinn’s own life this is a graphic depiction of the times in American history where the nation failed to live up to the standards of liberty and equality for all.  Mainly this involves the repression of people within the United States (Indians, blacks, immigrants, and labor), wars in foreign lands (Phillipines, Vietnam, and Iraq) and intervention into the  autonomy of other nations (Iran, El Salvador, and many more) for the benefit of powerful and wealth American elite. A comic version of Zinn narrates the book frequently turning over the story to characters contemporary to the events described. Interspersed in this narrative are stories of the social movements in America such as Civil Rights, labor, and anti-war.

I particular found it interesting in the parts that covered events I’d only heard of or knew nothing about, such as:

  • The Black 25th Infantry who fought valiantly at San Juan Hill but were denied credit.
  • The Jitterbug Riot
  • The counter-cultural protests of R&B fandom in the 1950’s.
  • The Diem Regime and South Vietnam “essentially a creation of the United States.”
  • The Second Battle of Wounded Knee
  • Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

This is a good introduction to the other side of American history in a brief and well-illustrated manner.

Recommended books: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
Rating: ****

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (40-31)

Previously:

40. Rubber Soul by The Beatles (1966)

Picking Beatles’ albums for this list is challenging.  How do I leave any out?  Rubber Soul is among the Beatles’ most innovative and sophisticated works with a number of great songs, so I can’t leave it off the list. Favorite tracks include: “Norwegian Wood,” “The Word,” and “I’m Looking Through You.”

39. Escondida by  Jolie Holland (2004)

Got this CD as a gift (thanks Camille) and was bowled over by Holland’s timeless voice and the crazy percussion on “Mad Tom of Bedlam.”  Wow! Other highlights include “Sascha,” “Amen,” and “Damn Shame.”

38.  Live Noise by Moxy Fruvous (1998)

Moxy Früvous was  one of those bands were never quite the same on studio albums as they were in concert.  This live collection captures the band’s on-stage banter and improvised songs as well as their greatest hits. “The Drinking Song,” “Michigan Militia,” and “Johnny Saucep’n” are among the musical highlights.

37.  The Roches by The Roches (1979)

Another public library discovery, the debut album of the Roche sisters captures their beautiful harmonies and witty & insightful lyrics.  I never liked any of their later work, but it’s easy to love an album that begins with the autobiographical theme song “We.” Other standouts are “Hammond Song,” “Mr. Sellack,” and “The Troubles.”

36.  When I Go by  Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer (1998)

The first of three masterful albums for this folk duo.  Carter’s dream-inspired lyrics and Grammer’s haunting fiddle made for music both fresh and old-fashioned at the same time as in the title track. Some other memorable tunes include “The River, Where She Sleeps,” “Lancelot,” and “Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love.”

35.  3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul (1989)

I’d probably listen to more rap music if De La Soul’s mix of clever wordplay, eclectic sampling, and inspired mixing were the standard. Hip tracks include “Say No Go,” “Plug Tunin’,” and “Jenifa Taught Me.”

34. Theorems and Compositions of the Last Action Rocker by Hum Machine (2003)

This Wisconsin rock band falls in the category of “bands with a guy I sort of know who seem to have vanished from the internet” (see Johnny Most).  Good thing I still have this rocking album. Favorites include “Twisted Niche,” “Bring it on Pepeon,” and “Mechanical Devices.”

33. Viva by The Velveteens (1998)

Speaking of obscure bands, The Velveteens are a ska punk band from the College of William & Mary that I saw play once at Homecoming and liked enough to pick up their album before they vanished from the face of the earth.  Memorable pieces include “Wasted With the Cooper,” “Port Authority,” and “Yak Farm.”

32. Live at Tir na nÓg by  Vinal Avenue String Band (1999)

This folk/bluegrass/old time band featured Kris Delmhorst, Sean Staples (later of The Resphonics and The Benders), and Ry Cavanaugh and played a weekly gig at the tiny Tir na nÓg pub in Somerville.  I was a regular patron on those nights and while the band and the pub are no more, this recording survives. The Gillian Welch cover “Tear My Stillhouse Down,” “Tir na nÓg,” and “Front Porch Song” lead off the highlights of this album.

31. Channel 1 – A Compilation Of Output Recordings (2000)

Twisted Village is a record store in Harvard Square that specializes in all manner of music with no commercial potential.  Not having much knowledge of what to pick up there I decided I couldn’t go wrong with a compilation and scored this beauty.  The album contains some great electronic music – some tracks are for dancing, some are for meditating.  “Calamine” by Four Tet, “High-On Tech” by Sonovac, and a cover of James Brown’s “Superbad” by LB are among the many strong tracks.

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