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January 2013 Archives

January 1, 2013

Blogging: So 2013

Welcome back to This Side of Lost.

I’ve been thinking about firing up the old blog again for a while. There are a number of factors that have been encouraging me to do this.

  • It’s been a long time -- almost four years -- since I was blogging anything close to regularly. I’m a different person now.
  • My life is in a very different place than it was when I stopped blogging. There are other reasons to do it now that I’m interested in exploring.
  • A backlash against Facebook, Twitter and other social media that seems to perform a simulacrum of maintaining relationships and sharing news while actually doing very little of the sort.
  • Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Anyway. The start of a new year seems like a good time to do it. So, as a New Year’s resolution, I’m stepping out on the ledge again and declaring that I hope to post at least once a week. Think I can do it?

If I focus on just catching you up on the major life events since I left off, there’s plenty to write about. As a reminder (for me as much as for you), when I left off, we lived in Danbury, Samantha had just ended her job at Vassar and I was a little ways into my second year at my previous job. Our daughter hadn’t arrived yet. Also several cars and a pet ago. So, yeah, things have changed a bit. Here’s a not-exhaustive list of possible future posts:

We Moved to Middletown
Samantha's Job at the AAS
I Did Some More Singing
Our Little Girl Arrived
We Adjusted to Life with Three
We Were All Not in the House A Lot
The Little Girl Turned One
After Samantha Called It Quits
I Got a New Job in Minnesota
We Moved to Saint Paul
The Little Girl Turned Two

So there’s a twelve step program for reviewing the recent past. I’m sure I’ll intersperse that with other things that come up as well. And maybe AFI movie reviews? Yes, we’re still plugging our way through the list! But I probably won’t try to catch up on those.

So here’s to a new beginning. I’d love it if you read along. Talk again soon.

PS - There are some cobwebs to blow out of the corners of this old joint. I'll do that soon. Pardon the somewhat out-of-datedness you may see around here.

January 2, 2013

Quit Driving Your Car to Work

Yes, I know I said I’d do some catch up. But I was thinking about something while walking home today, and I said to myself, “You should blog about this!” You know, because I have a blog.

That "something" was precisely what I was doing. Walking home from work. Because I walk my commute rather than driving. And it’s something you should be doing, too: getting to work in some other way rather than driving.

I’ve always wanted to be able to avoid a driving commute. And for most of my working life, I’ve been able to do it. During my two years in California, excluding a brief period when my bike was stolen (curse you forever, Los Angeles bike thief), I did it. And for the three years I lived and worked in Middletown, I did it.

A commute is a requirement in my life. If you work and are not one of the lucky souls who works from home, it is probably a requirement in yours, too. And the assumption is that commutes necessarily have to involve a car. I freaking hate that assumption.

Why is this important to me?

  • My health. The current understanding of how health and physical activity are correlated suggests that any regular physical activity, even walking for 30 minutes a day, is beneficial to your well-being. Alternatively, there is growing evidence that sitting for excessive periods of time is unhealthy. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my time at work sitting. If I have to commute, the last thing I want to do is sit during it.
  • Sustainability. Driving, alone, is one of the most inefficient modes of transportation available. Why should I burn gasoline getting to and from work if I don’t have to.
  • Thrift. Gas and automobile maintenance is expensive.
  • My safety. Cars are dangerous and the less time I can spend in one, the better.

I am not a car hater. I love road trips and I love driving. But there is something about the necessity of getting in the car ten times a week that I loathe. And I happen to think that this is why many people I knew in Los Angeles didn’t like driving to do social things -- because they spend all the time in their cars commuting. Of course they don’t want to get back in the car. That makes sense. But there’s no way I want to ever feel like that.

I realize that our infrastructure isn’t really built for this. Lots of people work in city centers and live in suburbs. Or your workplace is in a neighborhood you don’t want to live in. These are problems that aren’t easily solvable -- our cities aren’t designed for this. My point is that they should be designed for non car commuting. Support public transportation initiatives and bike lanes.

I also understand that there are good reasons why this won’t work for everyone independent of city design. You and your spouse’s workplaces aren’t close together. You own a house and it’s far away from your workplace. You have to take your kids to daycare on the way. But if these aren’t problems for you, what’s your excuse? Do you live less than 5 miles away? You can bike that in under 30 minutes. Do you have trouble fitting in time to get some exercise? You have to commute every day, right? There you go. Trying to save some money? How about not buying gas every week? (And don’t give me any excuses about the weather. That’s what thermal underwear is for.)

Mostly, I just want people to stop looking at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that I walk to work and that I like it that way. I mean, maybe they’re just jealous. Why don’t you join me? We’ll find out together.

January 8, 2013

Catching Up: We Moved to Middletown

This is the first in a series of posts catching up from where I left off.

It was January of 2010. Samantha's job was over, thus relieving us of our need to live in Danbury in order to split commutes. With no immediate job prospects for her, all signs pointed towards moving to Middletown to be closer to my job, which is what we did. After doing some hauling of boxes over several days of commuting, we rented a truck and loaded it (all by ourselves!) one Saturday morning. We did have help at the other end, thankfully, especially since we moved into the second floor of a house.

We ended up spending three years in that house. It definitely was not perfect: our landlords were quite absent to the point of being neglectful sometimes (more about a critical failure on their part later) and all the stairs were a hassle, especially after our daughter arrived. But the location was perfect: a five minute walk to work. The space was a good size and very comfortable. We enjoyed living there. I'll talk more about life in Middletown as I go on, I'm sure.

Also during that time, Samantha worked at Wesleyan on three month cataloging project. (This was the Brief Period of Co-Employment mentioned earlier.) That was very nice and we spent a lot of that time wishing things would have worked out differently so it could have always been that way.

I remember the first three or four months of that year as being very pleasant. We settled in and explored Middletown. We had a housewarming party. We watched the Winter Olympics. We visited our friends on the Cape. My brother-in-law came for a visit. I started a fantasy baseball league at work. Good stuff.

January 10, 2013

The Hall of Fame Voting is a Joke

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the 2012 round of voting yesterday. It was the first time on the ballot for some of baseball’s most impressive modern day players: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling. But guess what? None of these players were voted in. In the case of Bonds and Clemens, possibly the best hitter and pitcher of their generation, not even 40% of the voting body (the Baseball Writers Association of America, or BBWAA) deemed them fit to join the Hall. In fact, nobody made the cut this year.

The reasons for this aren’t mysterious, however. Rumors and allegations of steroid use have swirled around Bonds, Clemens and other players on the ballot for years now. And many writers are taking a stand that the players they believe used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) do not belong in the Hall of Fame.

This is, in the most delicate terms, bullshit. Here’s why.

First off, the fact that many of these players actually used PEDs has hardly been conclusively proven. At no time during almost any of the players’ major league tenure did they test positive for PED usage. The lone exception is Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive months before his last at-bat. To be clear, many of these player’s careers took place before 2004, when the new drug policy took effect and random testing started. Before that point, PED usage was disallowed but infractions were largely treated by looking the other way (more on this later). So all we are left to work with is a couple muckracking books, a witch hunt of a report (in which players are named with insufficient evidence to prove any wrongdoing), and a lot of anecdotes. This is the evidence with which we are to convict baseball players? God forbid anyone should be tried and convicted under such conditions.

Now, even granting the likely possibility that many of these players did use PEDs, there is hardly evidence to support the fact that performance enhancing drugs actually, you know, enhance performance. Once again, we can cherry pick single achievements like home run records. But the statistics used to measure performance in baseball are prone to statistical variation like anything else. How are we to tease out the influence of PEDs among differences in league-wide competitive levels, baseball park dimensions, opposing teams' defense and pitching, and weather conditions, to name a few? Go ahead and try. Take the list of players named in the Mitchell Report and the list of players who have been suspended for PED use and show me the evidence. I'll wait.

Now, let's grant both of these assumptions correct -- that players used PEDs and it affected their performance. Even after doing this, there are still problems with this stance.

  1. Steroids are the latest in a line of questionable things that baseball players have done to gain unfair advantage over the years. Corked bats. Doctored baseballs (the favored tool of Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame class of 1990). Hell, steroids aren't even the only PED or even the most prevalent: amphetamines have been far more commonly used in baseball and for far longer than steroids. The BBWAA has elected dozens of players who most likely used and benefited from "greenies" to the Hall of Fame. Where is the outrage there?
  2. If this is a moral issue, spare me. The Hall of Fame is full of "multiple virulent racists, drunks, cheats, brawlers, drug users and at least one acknowledged sex addict" (thanks to Bill Pennington for his excellent and timely article). Baseball players are far from saints and what does that have to do with their baseball performance, anyway?
  3. It's patently obvious that no one involved with the actual business of running a baseball team and playing the game cares about players who have been found guilty of PED usage. Ryan Franklin, suspended for usage in 2005 and named in the Mitchell Report, was held in such low regard by the baseball community that he... um... went on to sign million-dollar contracts with the Phillies and the Cardinals and was voted to the All-Star game in 2008. Michael Morse, suspended in 2005. The horror! He signed a 2 year, $10.5 million contract with the Nationals last year and received votes for Most Valuable Player in 2011. Guillermo Mota, suspended in 2006. What shame! Was a valuable part of the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The modus operandi in baseball is players get caught, they serve their time and they come back again. No one cares.

Finally, the most infuriating problem with this stance is how bald-faced hypocritical it is. Baseball writers ate up the steroid era with a spoon. They loved it. Long paeans about the majesty of the home run chases and the explosion in offense. They were right there, in the clubhouse, face-to-face with the evidence of PED usage. Everyone benefited from it, from the players to the owners to the writers. How much did they care about all the cheating and the "immoral behavior" then? Enough to say absolutely nothing about it the whole time. And now they're going to stand as the guardians of honor at the doors of the Hall of Fame? The writers' refusal to take a stand when it benefited them the least entirely negates the stand they are taking now that it benefits them the most. It makes me sick.

The Hall of Fame is about baseball performance. Nothing else. For many years, the BBWAA had the sole vantage point with which to make judgments about the quality of baseball performance. But that time is over. Now it seems that the BBWAA wants nothing else but to make Hall of Fame voting all about themselves and the cockamamie storylines they build about Jack Morris pitching to the score and Jim Rice being the most feared hitter of his time.

Hall of Fame voting is becoming a joke and not a funny one. Jim Rice wasn't the most feared hitter of his time; that was Barry Bonds, who holds the all-time baseball record for walks. He belongs. Jack Morris isn't a Hall of Fame pitcher. Roger Clemens, with his seven Cy Young awards, is. He belongs. As do many of the other players who appeared on the ballot this year. The Hall would be stronger for including them. It's as simple as that.

January 18, 2013

Choirboy Problems

For the discerning choir nerd, moving back to Minnesota is a dream come true. There is a plethora -- one might say, a cacaphony -- of choirs in the Twin Cities area. Choirs of every size and shape exist, from massive symphonic chorales to GLBT-friendly show choirs to professional early music ensembles. It's an embarrassment of riches for the choral music lover. It's one of many reasons why we wanted to come back here and for years I have been looking forward to reengaging with the choral singing community here.

But I've just realized that I'm kind of dreading it as well.

I'm coming face to face with it right now and I'm trying to figure out why. I think there are a few reasons contributing to the feeling.

  • The wide variety of choices is a double-edged sword for someone who has difficulty making decisions (that's me).
  • It's the middle of the choral season (which tends to run from September to June like schools and churches). So trying to join a choir right now is not the usual process and I don't know how to navigate that.
  • My personal expectations have changed. It's been eight years since I've sung here and I've been spoiled by my experiences in LA and Connecticut. I want to join a top-tier choir and I'd like to get paid. But I don't know if my skill level and the odd circumstances of trying to join up in January really allow me to be that picky.
  • I don't really know who is top-tier these days. I've been away for a long time so my knowledge of the scene is rusty and I only have hearsay and websites to go on.
  • We're settled in so I don't have any excuses to put it off any longer.
  • Kantorei, whom I sang with from 2002-2004, is beating down my door to come back and for all of the above reasons I don't know whether to take them up on it or not.

I need to start making decisions and contacting people soon. Argh. Can all of the conductors in the area just have a pow-wow and decide where I should go? That'd be great.

January 23, 2013

Holding One Accountable

When I restarted my blog this year, by happenstance, another friend of mine also recommitted herself to blogging, on the same level of one post a week. But she was more hard-core than me; she set conditions for when she failed to post. She has encouraged her readers to call her out and give her the topic of her next post when they do. As it happens, she did miss a post last week, and, as requested, I pointed it out, though I felt bad about doing it. But I don't feel so bad anymore now that she's posted some very nice thoughts as a result.

Anyway, having taken advantage of such an accountability system to dictate someone else's blogging, I feel it would only be fair to do the same here. And maybe it will encourage you to check back. So as of now, if I don't have a post up by the end of the week (and I'll define the end of the week is Sunday night), you, gentle reader, are asked to make your disappointment and consternation known and as a reward, may dictate the topic of the make up post. (I suspect my wife may make the most use of this!)

Anyway, this post heralds the return of another long-standing blog tradition, the In Other News section! In this edition, marvel at our social exploits!

  • We went out for dinner with Gillian and Chris (her then-boyfriend, now-fiancé! very exciting!). A local Mexican spot was visited and everyone approved.
  • We invited our friend Kate over for dinner and to watch the Golden Globes. We made chicken mole, which was challenging to find a certain ingredient for but was ultimately worth the trouble as it was quite tasty. Kate is a connoisseur of popular culture and a delightful companion for events such as this.
  • We went out for free appetizers hosted by a new employee group at my workplace. We met some fun people who all seem to be younger than me. Sigh.

So, there. It's tough to be social sometimes with a two-year-old, but we're making it work. What have you been up to socially?

January 25, 2013

Shame on You, Glee

Back in 2005 when I was still in graduate school, my wanderings about the Internet brought me to a delightful cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back by a fellow named Jonathan Coulton. (Here's the original for comparison.) Coulton reimagined the crass rap classic as a lackadaisical, folksy, and extremely white ballad, and it's brilliant. He wrote a melody and an arrangement and basically just used the words. I've long been a fan of out of genre song covers so this one was right up my alley. In the years since, Coulton has made a name for himself with fans of smart and geeky music.

Fast forward to last week, when this video came to the general attention of the Internet. It's a track for an unreleased episode of the television show Glee, featuring a cover of Baby Got Back. Take a listen. Sound familiar? Yeah, you're not the only one who noticed:

By the way, if it's not clear to you that Glee ripped off the cover, arrangement, melody and basically everything else entirely, please note that Coulton at one point changes the lyrics to say "Johnny C's in trouble" instead of "Mix-A-Lot's in trouble." You'd think maybe that Glee would avoid linking their version quite so closely to Coulton's, wouldn't you? But nope. That lyric remains unchanged in Glee's version.

There is no attribution to Coulton for the arrangement. Coulton was never contacted, was never asked permission and never received any compensation. The larceny is so obvious that many people were doubting if the Glee track was legitimate, and whether FOX would be so bold as to really do this. But the episode aired last night. And Coulton's been in touch with FOX about it. You can see from Coulton's blog that FOX says "they’re within their legal rights to do this, and that I should be happy for the exposure (even though they do not credit me, and have not even publicly acknowledged that it’s my version – so you know, it’s kind of SECRET exposure)."

Now, FOX may well be right that what they did was legal. From what I can understand from the articles above, the legality issue is still unclear. Still to be worked out is whether or not FOX actually scammed Coulton's audio track and used it in their recording. (The evidence in that department is pretty damning.)

But even if what they did was legal: sweet mother of mercy, really? How hard would it have been to ask the man and give him credit? He's a nobody compared to a major national network television show. And that's precisely why FOX didn't. Because they figured they could get away with it.

I watched the first season of Glee and enjoyed it for the most part. Eventually the terrible acting and plot lines drove me away. But this has pretty much guaranteed that I'll never watch the show again and will actively disparage it to everyone I know. Glee and FOX should be ashamed of themselves for blatantly and remorselessly stealing the creative work of someone else.

About January 2013

This page contains all entries posted to This Side of Lost in January 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2009 is the previous archive.

February 2013 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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