Archive for the ‘ Personal Life ’ Category

A Case Against the “Hallelujah Chorus” at Easter Services

Retrato_de_HandelAll right, ministers and church music directors everywhere.

Let me start out by saying, I feel your pain. I get it. I understand the trend, I really do.

Attendance is down, costs are up, and you get two days a year to try and impress the casual churchgoers enough that they come back for boring ol’ non-Easter, non-Christmas services.

That means breaking out the big guns for C&E. I get it!

But trust me on this one: the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah is not your friend.

Sure, it’s a crowd-pleaser. Sure, everyone knows it. And no one can deny that it’s dramatic.

Trouble is, it’s also hard to sing. Not by the standards of professional choruses, maybe, but it’s a big piece with multiple parts going in multiple directions at once. Novices are going to get confused and wander all over the place, trying desperately to find the familiar melody they know from TV commercials regardless of where their voice is actually supposed to be.

A talented organist using his instrument to its full capabilities can play most of those parts at once, giving everyone at least some guidance, but let’s be honest here — how many churches these days really have both an organist and an organ that can rise to the challenge?

Even if your congregants can find the right part, the singing is fairly challenging for an amateur with a cold start. These aren’t the hardest parts in all of choral music, but they do require a good sense of pitch and a strong set of pipes to get where you need to be and sound good while you’re there. (I, for example, can easily hit even the lowest notes of the bass part, but only in a savage growl more suited to Rammstein than Handel.)

And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the “Hallelujah Chorus” isn’t even about Easter. (Seriously, it’s not. Look it up. Some Day of Judgement shit going on there.)

So let it go. Drop the Handel singalong from the Easter program — please.

There’s plenty of good, hearty, brass-quintet-friendly Easter stuff in the hymnal. Flip through it and find some.

The urge to impress on Easter is understandable, but trust me, untrained voices floating all over the place in search of their “And he shall reigns” is anything but impressive.

Language Learning and the Words That Escape You

There’s a whole genre of “How to Learn a Language in X Days” webpages out there, and they’re surprisingly entertaining.

Not useful, mind you, but entertaining. Something about the juxtaposition of phrases like “it’s easy!” and “you can too!” with advice like “practice with a tutor for at least four hours a day” and “travel to a country where this is the majority language” just tickles me.

Like…yeah, absolutely. Anyone can learn a new language, if they don’t have to work, and can travel at leisure. I could do a lot of things if I had that kind of time and money.

So like most people, I ignore the scammy and/or over-enthusiastic webpages out there, and just bumble along with some language software and recorded lessons, which does well enough for an unpaid hobby.

And I’ve noticed something over time: no matter what the language is, or how I’m learning it, there are always a handful of words that just will not stick, no matter what I do.

I’m trying to pin down the rhyme and reason. I am deeply curious to know what combination of sounds, parts of speech, and god knows what other factors it is that makes a few specific things constantly impossible to memorize.

Or maybe it’s just psychological: my most recent bugbear has been the Dari word for “friend.” I can remember everything else I’ve learned since I started, just about, but that one is always a gaping hole in my memory whenever I reach for it. Says something about my subconscious priorities, doesn’t it?

Want an AA to Go With That MA?

MaunualLet’s play with acronyms!

I went to a SLAC school, which depending on who you ask is either a Selective Liberal Arts College (an official organization), a Small Liberal Arts College (a general description), or a prophetic homonym.

That was six years ago; in a stunning display of the math/science skills you get with that kind of education, I will be attending my five-year reunion this year. (It’s a “cluster” thing. Don’t ask.)

The schedule is about what you would expect of such things: 5ks and bike rides and something called a “golf scramble,” which sounds a lot like what we did when Security came after us for streaking past the president’s donor golf brunch thing back in my sophomore year.

One recurring event every morning of the reunion caught my eye, however:


There’s one of those every day. Much respect to my AA peeps — it is an important thing for some people — but I can’t help but wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience that, when planning reunions, the committee sits down and thinks “Have we provided enough support for our alcoholic alumni this weekend? Let’s make sure we’ve got a meeting for them every morning.”

Okay, I take that back. I don’t have to wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience at all.

My Life Since the Last Photodump, Part 1: California

You know what I’m great at? Taking pictures with my iPhone.

(Not, like, I take great pictures. Just that I’m great at pulling it out and snapping a photo whenever there’s something cool going on in my life. Which there almost always is, because my life is very cool; hence, lots of pictures.)

You know what I’m terrible at? Doing anything with those pictures.

They just sit on my iPhone, amusing me whenever I flip back through them but otherwise not doing a whole lot. God knows I never get them onto Facebook — I think the last major trip or event that I successfully turned into a Facebook “album” (or whatever they’re called) was a Milwaukee museum trip in 2010 or 2011.

By the time I remember to put photos up on Facebook it seems kinda stupid, because it’s not a “Hey, here’s a cool thing I’m doing right now!” update so much as a “Oh, yeah, I did this cool thing a year ago” update, which reduces the “you should give a shit” factor considerably (and it wasn’t all that high to begin with).

So guess what that means? This week you get to suffer through the photodump!

It’s cool, though. I’m mostly picking out the ones that are either funny, beautiful, or weird and interesting, and subjecting you to an absolute minimum of my goofy face. Without further ado:

Part 1: California, Summer 2013

I suspect I cleaned my phone’s memory out for this trip, since it’s where the pile of old photos starts. It was awesome. I went with one of my girlfriends at the time, who realized that the easiest way to secure me as a +1 for a wedding was to offer an excuse for camping. It worked.


Gas, however, was more expensive than I’ve ever seen it:


I suppose those prices are going to look awfully dated in another year or two. Ah well.

Most of it was what you’d think of as the default Yosemite experience: beautiful waterfalls, towering cliffs, and massive crowds on all the day-hike trails.


I think one of my favorite photos from the whole trip is this one, of crystalized sap on a live tree’s rockfall damage:


We were there for a wedding, which is why you get the slightly odd combination of me in a tie and Half Dome in the background:


The wedding couple were big backpackers. Best “Just Married” sign ever:


We took a few days to hike much less populated trails in the Sierra National Forest, where we found wild raspberries:


(We also found a lot of raspberry-seed-filled bear poop, which encouraged us to eat quickly and then get the hell out of the raspberry thicket before someone else came along for a snack.)

And on the way out we had just enough time before our flight for me to nip out and dip my feet in the Pacific Ocean. Good to check that one off the list!


So that was California. Ready to suffer through some more outdated pictures? Stick around, because that’s the plan for this week!

Insert obligatory joke about word count and pictures being worth a thousand here, yadda yadda yadda. You know the drill.

A Very Generation Y Valentine’s Day

Trader-Joe-logoWhat do you do when you’re a twenty-something in a major metro trying to class your dinner table up a little?

You go to Trader Joe’s, of course, where the same four basic cheeses are mixed, coated, and sprayed with every flavor and color imaginable to give them a thin veneer of exoticism. I’m honestly surprised they haven’t cut the middleman and started selling a “Toscano with Class” platter for dinner parties.

So when my girlfriend said that what she wanted for Valentine’s Day was a quiet evening in with a nice light snack and no outside interruptions, I did the twenty-something thing and went to TJ’s to put together a fancy-looking cheese board.

So did she.

Two completely independent and unconsulted shopping trips later, there we were, unwrapping two different kinds of brie, two different Toscanos, two different bleu cheeses, and (this was the kicker for me) two different helpings of pomegranate seeds, one packaged and one from an actual pomegranate. Apparently we both thought they’d make a sexy little accent piece on the cheese board.

About the only difference in our shopping trips, in fact, apart from some minor variations in the cheeses, was that she picked up a loaf of bread and I picked up some prosciutto. Some gender stereotypes for you right there.

Neither of us is really a Trader Joe’s shopping kind of yuppie in our day to day lives. But hey — sometimes you gotta spice Valentine’s Day up with a little roleplay, know what I mean?

And then make fancy mac and cheese for dinner for like a week straight.

Pimsleur’s “Don’t Use Our Lessons to Cause International Incidents” Disclaimer

From time to time in my freelancing life I work with an Afghan consulting company that generates data and reports for USAID.

This has had the unfortunate (at least to my parents’ worried minds) side effect of steadily increasing my interest in the country, to the point that this year I decided to try and pick up at least a little Dari. You never know when an interesting job opportunity is going to come up, and I needed a hobby anyway, right?

(Ha. Lies. I have no time for hobbies.)

After a thorough examination of all the language-learning options available, I was a cheap bastard and got the Pimsleur CD course from the local library, because free.

Yes, that Pimsleur. The sidebar ad guy.

Yes, that Pimsleur. The sidebar ad guy.

I was pleasantly surprised — the method is a little one-track, and leaves you with some glaring weak spots, but they’ve at least made an effort to get away from la plume de ma tante phrases of utter uselessness and mostly focus on things you might conceivably hear or say as an English-speaker traveling in Afghanistan.

Like all good language instruction recordings, Pimsleur’s CD uses both a male and a female voice. Beyond basic inclusivity, that has some practical learning benefits: the voices are easier to tell apart, certain inflections are a little clearer in one voice or the other, etc.

It also, however, presents some cultural problems.

I found that out in Lesson 5, which deals with colleagues dining out, when the “instructor” voice abruptly interrupted the two “speaker” voices with the following caution:

In Afghanistan, a man and a woman who are not married to each other or who are not related should not go out together. In cities, a woman may or may not be able to go out with a mixed group, and of course circumstances can change. For practice, however, we’ll assume that a mixed group of colleagues is acceptable. 

Translation: please don’t use the language skills we’re teaching you to cause an international incident, you idiot Westerner.

I thought that was awfully thorough of them!

And the Banks are Made of Wood Veneer

I had the odd experience of visiting a Chase bank location today (odd, because I’ve been at a hippie-ass local credit union since moving to Wisconsin, and occasionally need reminders of how most of America does its financial business and how shitty that is).

The whole place seemed like the love child of a low-rent dentist’s office in a strip mall and the prison cell from Star Trek Into Darkness: fake wood counters with inch-thick glass windows above them. Guns wouldn’t do robbers much good, but a decent Sawzall could probably have them in and out in five minutes, with a cheap reproduction of a Monet in the trunk as an added bonus.

dum-dum-popsFor me, though, the encapsulating image was the bowls of lollipops behind the bulletproof glass.

Yes, behind. Each teller had a bowl of Dum-Dums at her workstation, generally backed up against the glass and hidden from her view by stacks of envelopes or manilla folders.

The wrappers had dust on them. The bowls were clearly not seeing a lot of use.

But they were still there, so that you could gaze at them through the inch-thick glass and fondly remember the days when everything was open-air and you just snagged a lollipop out of the bowl while your check was being cashed (or snagged five or six, if you were a little kid putting pennies in your first savings account and/or a stoned college kid with some munchies to feed).

There was something very telling about the whole thing, no pun intended. It’s not like some Chase official sat down somewhere and decided to cut the bowls of free lollipops. Some of the tellers might even occasionally remember that they’re there and throw a couple Dum-Dums under the slit in the glass along with your receipt. Like customer service in general, they’re still something the company thinks is probably a good idea — just not at the expense of other, higher-priority issues.

If only we might own those banks of marble, with their guards at every door, and share the bowls of candy that we have sweated for: Might Be Working, But One Idiot in Billing Can Still Fuck You Over

So I signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange back in December like I was supposed to.

It took a few tries, but the website wasn’t as bad as all that. Within a day or two of starting the process I’d signed up for a plan with Physicians Plus. confirmed the enrollment and told me to get in touch with my insurer about paying the first month’s premium to activate the plan.

In theory they just send you the bill. (That’s what both and the Physicians Plus website tell you.)

But I didn’t get a letter from or a bill from Physicians Plus, so I finally called on Dec. 30 and asked what was up. The lady I talked to said they’d send me a paper bill.

Fast forward two more weeks, when I call and say “uhhh, what’s up with that paper bill you never sent me?” They tell me “shit, we couldn’t actually do that, it had to be online, and also now it’s past the deadline so we can’t retroactively bill you; reapply and maybe we’ll start coverage in March if we feel like it.”

In other words: One idiot in an insurance company’s billing department lied to me in December, so despite doing everything I was supposed to well ahead of deadline (plus some proactive phone calling of my own) I’m uninsured until March.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m too pissed to be funny today.

Also, don’t ever work with Physicans Plus. Seriously, just don’t. What a bunch of fucking incompetents. 


Ready for My New Year

What’s a week here or there?

I rang in the actual new year with a nap, from which the fireworks at midnight woke me only briefly, as I tried to shed my inevitable holiday illness. (I’m a healthy person until I go visit my family. We all have the same immune system. Anything that gets one of us gets all of us. I am going to paint a giant white cross on the door and hope the plague doctors burn the house down next time I visit.)

That did not make for a very go-get-’em sort of start to the year, and between illness, travel, and playing catch-up on small stuff I never really took a moment for either reflections on 2013 (meh) or plans for 2014 (woo!).

But a week later, I’m finally ready for my  new year. Bring it on, 2014, starting tonight. 2013 was a good year but not a great one — a rebuilding year, as they say in the sports biz, badly needed after the much less pleasant 2012 — and I’m ready to start exceeding expectations.

On the agenda: a larger income, a wider variety of publishing, and some new language skills. No resolutions needed — I’m already working on all of those.

Let’s do this thing.


A Misanthropology Manifesto for 2014

We’re back, bitches!

Misanthropology101 returns for another year, and once again we have no mission, marketing, or business plan — just the way you readers like it, right?

In fact, that aimlessness is part of this year’s goals. No SEO optimization, no demographics; no goddamn writing-for-the-internet that isn’t actually writing at all.

You know who our target audience is? Fuck you, that’s our target audience here at MA101.

The only goal for this year is to write entertaining shit. If a random person lands on the blog somehow, he or she should walk away entertained by the good writing and interesting topics. (English-language fluency will, admittedly, help, but that’s all the demographic crap we’re going to insist on.)

Because fuck it. I’ve got other monetized assets. This one can stay focused on writing, not on revenue. More dick jokes, more idiots that we elected being idiots; more public relations cock-ups of the first order — roll out, MA101 2014!

But starting tomorrow, because Jesus fuck it’s cold today. I’m going back to bed. What’s the trending hashtag for the Midwest’s cold snap? Fuck it; we don’t hashtag here. See you tomorrow!



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