Monday, February 27, 2012

Es tut mir sehr leid

I have been trying to update about once a week, as per ElfArmy's suggestion. For those of you keeping score, that is not happening recently. For one thing, I have my comprehensive exam on Wednesday, so that sort of kills the mood for deep thought. Life has also been quite... impossible... recently, so I've been thinking a lot about that, and I try to keep my life out of my blog, for the most part.

So, I hope to have something more interesting, oh, say on Thursday. And next week is Spring Break, maybe I'll roll up my sleeves and post twice!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sex: Is it secret? Is it safe?

This post will focus much more on the latter question than the former, I just felt the need to make a Lord of the Rings reference. If thinking of Gandalf and sex in the same thought has an adverse effect on your libido, just consider that my little Valentine's day gift to you. If it does not, well, consider it a gift anyway ;) Anyway, considering that it is Valentine's Day, or was, and the major kerfuffle going on in United States politics, I thought it would be appropriate to take today to talk about contraception or, more understandably, birth control.

Some politicians are trying to mandate that employers provide their employees with health care plans that cover birth control. This is quite in line with the "American way," of requiring employers foot the bill for health care. Furthermore, since employers are not allowed to hand their employees a box of band-aides and call that their "health care," I imagine there are current standards for what health care plans must cover. This simply adds birth control to said list.

Problems arise because some religious sects within our nation feel that birth control is immoral. And I don't just mean that using birth control is immoral, but apparently buying it is also immoral. They are consequentially claiming that being required to provide their employees insurance that covers birth control is a violation of their freedom of religion.

While I am a fan of religion being a person, rather than public, matter, I feel that we already have certain limitations on freedom of religion. No matter how devout I am, human sacrifice is just going to be illegal, because the government's mandate to respond to harm to its citizens outweighs its mandate to let them do whatever they want in the name of their beliefs.  I feel that hiding behind a pulpit as one tries to manipulate women and dictate what they may or may not do in the name of reproductive health is a similarly odious example of religious abuse. To use a perhaps less inflammatory metaphor, this would be like a religious group arguing that their teachings encourage physical health, so they should not be forced to provide health plans to their employees covering treatment for type II diabetes or heart surgery. If their employees were all kool-aide drinking initiates then this might be acceptable, but insofar as a religion employs people from outside the fold they have a responsibility to treat them in a manner that society deems respectful.

That said, I do sympathize with the opposing view on some level. I do agree that paying for contraceptives should not be a church's responsibility, or Microsoft's or any employer's. And I think the same thing about heart surgery and cancer treatments. If we claim to be an enlightened, civilized culture, the healthcare available to our citizens should not be used as a stick to bully them into employment, and their health should not be made contingent on finding a job. At the philosophy conference I attended last weekend a radical Marxist made the following comment regarding Occupy Wall Street's efforts to reform capitalism, "Reforms can only show the limits of the system to be reformed." As soon as he said that my mind jumped to the contraceptive debate, as whatever validity the religious objectors have only stands as a criticism of the current, employer provided, healthcare system. However, as the US is unlikely to have a compassionate epiphany in the near future and attempt to reason out what alterations to the healthcare system would be required to extend its coverage to all our citizens, let us, for the moment, concentrate on expanding the number of women who have their own control over their reproductive health. If they, subsequently, use this freedom to adhere to the teachings of some church or another, then I say that they are truly expressing their religious freedom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SparX Recap

I spent the month of January concentrating on improving my lamentably shabby Lindy Hopping abilities. To this end I attended a wonderful four week intermediate Lindy series by Swing Ann Arbor on Wednesday evenings. The culmination of my month was attending the SparX workshop in Cleveland, OH last weekend. In the hope that you will find my misadventures amusing and that I will be better able to remember the weekend, I feel I should record the weekend happenings before I go dancing this evening and forget it all.

We departed East Lansing around 5:30 but, due to an error in the Google directions, we went a bit out of our way on the approach to Cleveland and didn't make it to the hotel until a bit after 10. However, we managed to get checked in, then promptly got lost trying to get to the dance hall. In my defense, I was trying to locate it using a map on which it was not marked, furthermore, when I asked for directions I was sent off the wrong way, despite being kitty-corner to the building at which I was attempting to arrive. Soooo close, maybe I should just be a better stereotypical guy and just stop asking for directions. Finally, around 11, we managed to find the dance hall, in time to catch the finals of the Solo Jazz competition and social dance for a few hours.

I wimped out and left early, at around 1:20 AM, so I could beat the group back to the hotel and grab a shower. My plans changed on the way back when my stomach reminded me that the only food I'd had in the last nine and a half hours was a strawberry strudel stick on the ride down. At the hotel I was told there was a 24 hour McDonald about 4 blocks away. It turned out to be more like 10-20 blocks away, and only the drive-thru (sic) was open 24 hours, but a 40 minute walk alone through sketchy Cleveland neighborhoods at 2 AM was a good way to cool down after dancing, and I think it makes a rather amusing story. Failing to find food, I showered and went to sleep.

The next morning ostensibly there were try-outs for workshop tracks 3 and 4. We arrived, watched the people who wanted into level 5 tryout, then were informed that anyone who wanted to do level 3 was welcome to do so. I found this somewhat disappointing, because I really did want to know if I was "level 3 material," whatever that means. I guess I am not immune from desiring external validation (which is why you should comment). However, just guessing from my ability to follow the lessons and from the follows with whom I danced, I think level 3 was a fine place for me.

The first lesson was on finding places when dancing to improvise and be yourself. Although I didn't really take too much away from this one, Karen and Andrew were very amusing instructors and it was quite the enjoyable lesson to attend. We did a variant on Sailor Kicks (that destroyed my quads, by the way), a pass-by that ended with interpretive flair and worked on improvising in the space between hand-to-hand Charlestons. The second lesson was also by Karen and Andrew, so more fun, and it concerned dancing without physical connection. We did a toss out from hand-to-hand into a scarecrow slump, and some sort of variant on a free spin after a tuck turn that I should ask about tonight, because I am a bit blurry on that move, but I enjoyed it.

After the "morning" lessons we went and got lunch. This was at almost 2:00, if you are keeping track you may have noticed I didn't mention a breakfast, so I was very happy to get to lunch. We went to a delicious smoothie place north of campus, and I got a turkey/guacamole sandwich and a orange/mango/strawberry/banana smoothie that was the first smoothie that was everything I have wanted from a smoothie since I moved out of the dorms and stopped going to Main Squeeze as an undergraduate, nigh unto five years ago. Like I said, I was very happy to get lunch!

Following lunch we had the final track workshop for the day, this time taught by Kevin and Jo (happy Birthday Jo!!!). They were amazing! The entire time was spent drilling the difference between leading half counts (a step every other beat), full count (a step every beat), and triple steps (three steps every two beats, did you really need that one explained?). While this may seems like a very technical detail, I think being able to communicate nuance through connection is one of the most important and fulfilling things to develop. Once you are able to cleanly lead stylistic changes, then you can really do a ton of interpretative things secure in the confidence that your point will come across in your connection. Unfortunately, I have a lot of work to do on my connection, including toning it down, but I always take joy in drilling a technical detail.

Enough gushing Kenny. We had our first elective next. While I started out in Aerials, because the class was quite daunting I ended up in Solo Charleston, which finished off whatever quad strength I had left. I would like to eventually go through the Aerials lesson, because I think it is an interesting and visually appealing part of swing dancing, but I was quite happy to finally learn how Jump Charleston works, because it is also quite fun to watch! The Charleston lesson threw a ton of moves at us, some of which I actually sort of could do, but most of which I will have to work on a lot more if I want them to feel right.

Dinner was a mediocre shawarma wrap, but I'm starting to get the feeling that all shawarma is mediocre, because when I got it in Corvallis I was similarly unimpressed. I guess I just don't like shawarma, but it was fun to see more of Cleveland near the campus. After dinner was open dancing and the Jack and Jill competition, both of which were fun. There was also a great Shim-Sham where I grabbed an amazing follow after the routine on accident, so much fun!!! My one peeve was that they kept doing show off circles during songs fast enough to be challenging single-time swings. However, I cannot complain too much because watching people Lindy Hop to a song that I forced to stay on my toes to single-time to is incredible. This was also when the instructors would really strut their stuff, and boy did they have stuff to strut.

After the main dance in the dance hall ended, we went to the later dance. There I got to break out a bit of West Coast as the DJ played some contemporary pop music. However, I was quite exhausted, so I ended up just going downstairs and listening to live blues. On a related note, I am somewhat excited to learn blues at Pirate Swing next month, as long as I can avoid uncomfortably close dancing with people I don't know well. This ended Saturday's festivities, at around 3 AM.

Sunday we had our last track lesson, which started blessedly after noon. This was a routine designed to highlight using one's own position and momentum to lead a move. However, since the movie was rather involved and challenging, I had enough trouble remembering what I was supposed to be leading without worrying about trying to lead it correctly. By which I mean, if I remember what is supposed to be happening a beat or two too late, no matter how well my lead goes, it will not be well led. Oh well, more to work on! Just so I remember, the routine was a tuck-less tuck-turn with a hand swap, followed by a linear tuck-freespin where I turn against my frame's rotation (which was the first thing causing me trouble), picking up in left to right for the oppositional triples, to a hand pass into a tuck-freespin for each of us, finishing left to left for a passby and another tuck-freesipn.

Last two lessons were both by Kevin and Jo. First was on slides, which made me want to pick up some proper dancing shoes. However, my worn nearly away street shoes were slippery enough for me to biff it on a slide when one of my legs shot out from under me as I was trying to switch which foot was in the lead, earning me my sliding dust and a gold star. The second lesson was much more up my alley, as it focused on the nitpicky, technical, and seriously important skill of counterbalancing. As someone in the car noted on our way home, everyone should be required to attend such a lesson.

This ended the workshop portion of the weekend. There was one last, small, social dance filled with exhausted dancers trying to get in just a little last dancing. Then we left and came home. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my newer shoes with me, which is sad, but my older ones are more comfortable anyway, as long as the ground stays dry so their many holes don't become an issue. It was a quiet, tired car that returned to East Lansing, but what an absolutely wonderful weekend!