Carl Wilson in Slate: What you can learn about music—and humanity—from the YouTube comments on Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”

Posted on | November 28, 2013 | Comments Off on Carl Wilson in Slate: What you can learn about music—and humanity—from the YouTube comments on Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”

A nice post from Carl Wilson in Slate the other day. You’ll want to check out the whole thing for sure, but here’s a little appetizer:

This is the insight that both Slutsky and Barber have flashed on intuitively, I think, in choosing the comments on songs (out of all the YouTube offerings): that music, because it can be background and foreground, because it is about sculpting time, often insinuates itself into our lives more in the way that people and events do than in the manner of a movie or a painting. It’s a medium of echoes, inherently conversational. The way that we address it, whether coherently or inchoately, is in turn musical.

As an alum of the University of Michigan, I always think of Ann Arbor when I hear Bob Seger (especially “Mainstreet”, but “Night Moves” can do it too). I also think about growing up in Champaign, Ill, another midwestern college town.

Like a number of other artists who hit in the mid 1970s, Seger was over 30 and a grizzled rock vet by the time “Night Moves” finally hit. And while I enjoyed his work during my teenage years, his popular songs from that period (similar to those of groups like Fleetwood Mac) often reflect what I would consider to be the concerns of a people who are now firmly adults (something I’ve realized when I’ve listened to these songs over the last couple of decades).

One of those concerns is undoubtedly the dawning realization that time is not standing still. I don’t know about anyone else, but in my late 20s and early 30s I had my first experience of feeling my youth was starting to slip away. That engendered a pretty heavy wave of nostalgia. Then, that passed. Now, at 50, I realize that 30 was still quite young (and I sometimes have nostalgia waves about that time). I bet my mom, who will soon be 81, feels the same way about being 50.

It’s apropos that somebody would single out Bob Seger and “Night Moves” for this sort of discussion, because it is, of course, a song about nostalgia and the very time sculpting qualities of music that Carl describes above. (“Woke last night to the sound of thunder, how far off I sat and wondered. Starting humming a song from 1962. Ain’t it funny how the night moves. When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose. Strange how the night moves. With autumn closing in…”)

The same is true of many other Seger hits from this period (e.g., “Old Time Rock and Roll”, “Against the Wind”, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”, “Still the Same”, “Like a Rock”). Unlike his earlier regional hit “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”, which is very much in the present tense (ain’t good lookin’, and you know I ain’t shy…), Seger’s post-Night Moves work is filled with nostalgic paradise lost stories in which music regularly plays a starring role.

On this Thanksgiving morning, I think it’s time to go put some Seger on and think about the good old days.

Who’s Screwing You Worse: iTunes Radio, or Pandora?

Posted on | November 27, 2013 | Comments Off on Who’s Screwing You Worse: iTunes Radio, or Pandora?

Digital Music News strives to answer that age old question.

Short answer: It depends.

Another thought: If nobody knows who you are, it probably doesn’t matter who is screwing you.

Like Billy Preston once said: “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.” 

Digital Music News: Top TV Producer: “It’s Amazing That We Still Pay Artists Anything for Music…”

Posted on | November 27, 2013 | Comments Off on Digital Music News: Top TV Producer: “It’s Amazing That We Still Pay Artists Anything for Music…”

Because it’s all about exposure right?

Personally, I find this attitude to be B.S, and I hope people will think twice before falling prey to it. 

That being said, it’s also important to remember the following: If your song gets played on television in a commercial or on a television show, you can still make performance license money from that, even if you don’t receive an upfront licesing fee. I’ve known people who did quite well just of the performance royalties.

So the most prudent approach is to take each licensing opportunity on a case by case basis.

Beyond that, the collapse in master/sync fees also underscores that there is a lot more “good enough” music out there these days. Recording technology is much more available (and affordable) than it was 20-30 years ago. Many more people have learned how to use it. So licensees have more options to choose from.

–from Digital Music News.

Lessons Learned in the Church of Dissonance: Father’s Day Thoughts on Edwin London (1929-2013)

Posted on | June 15, 2013 | 1 Comment

Edlondon1969bAs I’ve mentioned before on this weblog, there wasn’t much Judeo-Christian worship in our family growing up. Nevertheless, there was always plenty of religion in our home. Through the years, my brother and I absorbed large helpings of an eclectic gospel authored by our father, Edwin London, the founder and sole rabbi of the Church of Dissonance.

When we were growing up, our church didn’t yet have a name. It was more of a free flowing set of ideas and attitudes–a way of being, or an outlook, if you will. The name came much later, courtesy of our buddy Pete Sheehy.

At a summer barbecue around 1999 or 2000, I was describing to Pete the childhood experience of attending my father’s atonal, contemporary music concerts, and how hard my brother and I found it to sit still through music so difficult to absorb that 10 minutes of it often felt more like an hour.

“That sounds a lot like it was for me going to church when I was a kid,” Pete interjected.

“You’re right,” I responded, “I guess we were raised in the Church of Dissonance.”

Since that day, I’ve intended to record the most important lessons of our church for posterity. And now, on Father’s Day, in the year of Edwin London’s passing, I think the time is finally right.

So I give you 17 lessons learned in the Church of Dissonance (“COD”):

1. Avoid cheap beer, rot-gut whiskey, and sweet mixed-drinks.

When I was in high school, my mom cut a cartoon out of the New Yorker and put it on the wall in the breakfast nook of our kitchen. There was a guy sitting at a bar talking to the bartender. The caption read “The good Scotch James. My body is my temple.”

Drinking was not frowned upon in the COD. But drinking low-end alcoholic beverages was. On more than one occasion, I got advice along the following lines from my dad:

“If you don’t like the taste of an alcoholic beverage on its own, don’t drink it mixed with other stuff to hide its flavor. Very little good ever comes from doing that. If you can’t afford to drink the quality, good tasting stuff, save your money until you can.”

As I enter my 35th year of drinking on a semi-regular basis, I’ve found my dad’s advice on these matters to be solid. I don’t always follow it (I do enjoy a limeade Shandy; sometimes, I make it with cheap beer), but when spirits are involved, dad was right: If one anticipates a long night of drinking, it’s best to avoid the Well and confine the mixer to an H20 derivative (e.g., ice, water, or club soda).

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Trichordist Claims 45% Drop in Working Musicians. BLS Data Tells a more Complicated Story.

Posted on | May 28, 2013 | Comments Off on Trichordist Claims 45% Drop in Working Musicians. BLS Data Tells a more Complicated Story.

Please Note: An earlier version of this post attributed the blog post discussed below to David Lowery. Subsequently, I have learned that Lowery is not the author of this post. I have revised this piece to remove references to David Lowery, and I sincerely apologize to Mr. Lowery for any misunderstanding.

A recent post on the Trichordist quoted data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) indicating that the number of working musicians has decreased by 45% since 2002. It included the following graphic to illustrate this point:

The Trichordist’s statistics seemed shocking. Could they really be right?

An employment drop of 45% in a ten year period is pretty extreme, even given the current state of the music business. Therefore, I thought it might be worth a visit to the BLS website, to dig a little deeper into the Trichordist’s numbers. Fortunately, the Trichordist was kind enough to cite its sources in the image above. Unfortunately, it did not include hot links to these sources in its blog post, and I’m kind of lazy. So rather than hand-typing those links into the brower,  I first did a web search on “BLS musicians” to see if that would take me to the right place. I ended up at a page titled “Occupational Outlook Handbook” (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/musicians-and-singers.htm).

This page did not contain the data that the Trichordist used to make the chart above, but it did indicate the following:

  • that there were 176,200 jobs for musicians and singers in 2010.
  • that the number of musician and singer jobs was expected to grow 10% by the year 2020.

At this, point, I was getting confused. Why were these numbers different than the Trichordist’s?

Not only were the numbers from the “Occupational Outlook Handbook” completely different (and significantly larger) than the Trichordist’s numbers, they also indicated job growth over the next 10 years, not job shrinkage (which is what the Trichordist had asserted was happening). So I bit the bullet and hand-typed in the links from the Trichordist’s chart above, which are as follows:

http://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag711.htm#about;

http://www.bls.gov/oes/2003/may/oes272042.htm

When I got to those pages, the numbers were the same as those cited by the Trichordist above. But I was still left wondering why the BLS website had more than one set of musician employment numbers.

It turns out that the Trichordist’s numbers and the Occupational Handbook numbers were drawn from different surveys that used different methodologies.

The 176,200 figure comes from the Industry-Occupation Matrix Data, by occupation (the “Matrix”). You can find that here. The Matrix data is further broken down by industry, and you can download the raw data for an industry in .xls spreadsheet format. (The raw data for musicians and singers is available here: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/ep/ind-occ.matrix/occxls/occ27-2041.xls.)

The BLS has this to say about where the Matrix numbers came from. The methodology of the Matrix is explained here. This paragraph from that discussion seems particularly instructive (especially the last sentence):

Base-year employment data for wage and salary workers, self-employed workers, and unpaid family workers come from a variety of sources, and measure total employment as a count of jobs, not a count of individual workers. This concept is different from that used by another measure familiar to many readers, the Current Population Survey’s total employment as a count of the number of workers. The Matrix’s total employment concept is also different from the BLS Current Employment Statistics (CES) total employment measure. Although the CES measure is also a count of jobs, it covers nonfarm payroll jobs, whereas the Matrix includes all jobs.

So where do the Trichordist’s Numbers come from and how do they relate to the numbers from the Matrix?

The numbers from the Trichordist’s chart were drawn from the Occupational Employment Statistics program (OES) (http://www.bls.gov/oes/), a data source that seems to share some methodological similarities with the CES (which was referenced in the paragraph above).

The OES FAQ explains the methodology underlying the OES. For our purposes, the most salient information is as follows:

“Employees” are all part-time and full-time workers who are paid a wage or salary. The survey does not cover the self-employed, owners and partners in unincorporated firms, household workers, or unpaid family workers.

It appears that the numbers used in the Trichordist’s chart exclude both self-employed workers and owners of unincorporated firms (i.e., the partners in a partnership or the members of an LLC).

It’s not trivial to omit self-employed workers and owners of incorporated firms. Of the total musician and singer jobs in 2010, the data from the spreadsheet I linked to above indicates that 75,000 (42%) of those jobs stemmed from self-employment. I don’t know about you, but it definitely makes intuitive sense to me that this percentage would be pretty high, as lots of musicians are self-employed/sole proprietors or operating in a partnership or LLC (i.e., an unincorporated association).

Update: In a Facebook comment thread on this blog post, I gave some more concrete examples about common situations for working musicians and how they are captured by the BLS data I looked at. One of the commenters suggested that it would be useful to have it in the main blog post as well. So I’m adding it here.

(a) Let’s say we have a band. They make their entire living from music. The core group is two people. They are organized as a member-managed, LLC with two members. The LLC is taxed as a partnership. They don’t receive a salary. They get their money in the form of distributions from the LLC. This money flows through to each of their 1040s on a k-1 and is treated as self-employment income.

Let’s say that two other musicians also regularly play in this band (perhaps they are the drummer and bass player), but they are not members of the LLC (i.e., they don’t hold equity in the company). These musicians may also pick up work playing gigs with other people when the main band isn’t active. Both in the context of their main band and on any other jobs they do, these musicians get paid as 1099 contractors. So all their income in a year is also from self-employment.

None of these musicians are counted in the OES data the Trichordist has cited, but these musicians are apparently counted in the Matrix data. The scenario above is a very real scenario, especially for the so-called middle class of musicians (i.e., people who are making enough money from playing music to subsist without another job). As the Matrix data shows, the median income of the musicians in their survey was around $22/hr. That works out to a yearly gross income of around $42k (40 hours a week for 48 weeks a year). So half the musicians in the Matrix data made more than that and half made less. I suspect that a lot of full-time musicians in the $20k-$40k range fit the scenario I’ve spelled out above (either co-owner of a partnership or LLC or a sole proprietor receiving living mostly from 1099 contractor income).

(b) Now, let’s think about a more successful band. I don’t know anything about the particulars of Wilco, but I get the sense that Jeff Tweedy is the only equity holder in Wilco, Inc. (or Wilco, LLC). So all the other guys are likely hired guns from a legal and financial standpoint.

In a situation like that, where a band is successful and has more predictable cash-flow, there’s a much better chance that these hired guns won’t be 1099 contractors anymore. Instead, they will be salaried employees of Wilco, Inc., benefits will be paid, exclusivity may be required, etc.

Musicians in the Wilco situation would likely be counted in the OES numbers that the Trichordist cited. And to the extent that the OES numbers say that these kinds of musician jobs have shrunk significantly since 2002, that’s no small thing. For those kinds of jobs are good jobs, and we should all probably be fighting for a world in which there are more jobs like that for musicians. But that’s a different issue than the one the Trichordist has put on the table (i.e., the changing character of musician jobs vs. a change in the absolute number of musician jobs).

Where does that leave us?

I’d love to get a more nuanced picture of things than I have now. Even with the additional info from the Matrix, a lot of important questions remain unanswered. But based on the info I found on the BLS website, I will say this: If the goal is to understand how many working musicians and singers there are over time, the job numbers used must include self-employed workers; otherwise, they aren’t suitable to that task. If we had, say, Matrix data from 2000 that could be compared to the 2010 Matrix data, maybe we would find that the trends in that data are the same as the trends in the OES data that the Trichordist used for its chart.

But absent that sort of data, it seems like the broadest claim one can make based on the OES data is that payroll-based jobs for musicians have shrunk since 2002. However, once we narrow things down to that claim, it significantly muddies the causal link that the Trichordist is trying to make between the rise of digitial music and fall of musician jobs.

The loss of a payroll job doesn’t necessarily mean that the person in question was unable to find a nonpayroll job as a musician. Indeed, a lost payroll job might well be replaced by a new non-payroll job in the economy. Therefore, the absolute number of musician jobs may not have shrunk at all. Instead, it may be that the character of musician jobs has shifted.

Having said that, the loss of payroll-based musician jobs may still be significant. As in other industries, the loss of such a job can mean that a musician is exchanging a job with benefits, etc. for an independent contractor situation, where pay and benefits are not as good. So there may well be economic losses involved. But it seems highly speculative to draw conclusions about the nature or cause of these sorts of economic losses from the BLS data cited in the Trichordist’s blog post.

Perhaps the Trichordist will dig further into this question, find more data, and then share what it has learned with the rest of us.

This post has been moved to the link below

Posted on | May 23, 2013 | Comments Off on This post has been moved to the link below

This post was updated for a variety of reasons that are explained elsewhere, and the permalink needed to be changed as well. You can find the updated version here:

http://www.jawjawjaw.com/2013/05/28/trichordist-claims-45-percent-drop-in-working-musicians-bls-data-tells-a-more-complicated-story/

This Post Has Been Moved

Posted on | May 23, 2013 | Comments Off on This Post Has Been Moved

This post was updated for a variety of reasons that are explained elsewhere, and the permalink also needed to be changed. You can find the updated version here:

http://www.jawjawjaw.com/2013/05/28/trichordist-claims-45-percent-drop-in-working-musicians-bls-data-tells-a-more-complicated-story/

Seven Reasons Why I remain all in for Mayor McGinn

Posted on | May 17, 2013 | Comments Off on Seven Reasons Why I remain all in for Mayor McGinn

Picture of Mayor Mike McGinn

Mike McGinn

Update: Unless something significant changes as the late returns are counted, it looks like Mayor McGinn will be facing off against Ed Murray in the general election this fall. This promises to be as bare-knuckle a political fight as we’ve seen in Seattle in quite some time.

For many people, I expect it will be a difficult choice. And if you are here reading this post right now, I’m guessing you’re in the process of trying to figure out what decision to make.

As you do that, I suggest you consider the following: University of Washington professors Robert Plotnick and Sandeep Krishnamurthy recently noted that a mayor’s biggest impact is typically on the long-term economic development of a city.

While in office, there are many immediate issues a mayor has very little control over. But a mayor can significantly affect  things like zoning, infrastructure policy, and education policy.  These, in turn, create the blueprint for a city’s future.

Remember, it isn’t just about what the mayor will do in the next few years. It’s about how the mayor’s long-term vision affects what the city becomes 10, 15, or 25 years from now.

Too often, as a voter, it’s easy to focus on the last few years or the next few years. People sometimes don’t consider how much time it takes for certain plans to be put in place and executed. They just see all those condos going up around town the last few years and they become “McGinn’s condos,” even though many of these projects were initiated before he took office.

So whoever you choose in the general election, try to avoid being short-sighted like that. Look at the big picture and the long-arc of neighborhood development.

That’s what I tried to do as I wrote up this long blog post. And if you take the time to read the remainder of it, you’ll see that many of my reasons for sticking with Mayor McGinn relate to his long-term vision.

Simply put, it’s a vision of Seattle’s future that makes sense to me.

***

Big news. Tim Burgess has dropped out of the Seattle Mayor’s race. That leaves three front-running candidates: Mayor Mike McGinn; former Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck; and current Washington State Senator (and sort of Majority Leader) Ed Murray.

I’ve voted for all of these guys at one time or another. Murray and Steinbrueck are icons of liberal Seattle politics. McGinn was more of dark horse when he won the last mayor’s race. But he is arguably even more progressive than the other two. So it’s a tough call for sure. And there probably isn’t a truly a bad choice in the bunch. That being said, at this point I remain all in for McGinn. In fact, I’m probably more all in for McGinn right now than I was the day I voted for him in the last election.

I know, McGinn’s Don Quixote windmill act on the Seattle Viaduct Tunnel got very tiresome. It stretched my patience to the breaking point, and it definitely didn’t make a great first impression on a lot of other voters either, digging McGinn into a hole he’s been digging himself out of ever since. Along the same lines, I’ve heard that McGinn has not always been well-liked by insiders down at City Hall.

But observing things from afar, I like what I’ve seen from McGinn since the Viaduct issue was put to bed. He seems to have learned from that experience (see e.g., his work on the Sonics arena deal). On a lot of issues that are important to me, I’ve liked his approach. So I’d like to see what happens if he’s given another four years to implement his long-term vision for Seattle.

With that in mind, here are seven reasons why I currently support McGinn for re-election.

1. If you believe that bringing the Sonics back to Seattle and building a new arena in SODO is about way more than basketball, then you should support McGinn.

It’s easy to see McGinn’s involvement in the Sonics deal as pure political opportunism. I mean, why has he jumped on this bandwagon when he was so against the Tunnel? It has to be a plea for the hearts and minds of over-emotional Sonics fans, right? Sure, that’s got to be part of it. There have definitely been political benefits for McGinn in aligning himself with this cause. But if you look more closely, you start to understand why this deal fits into McGinn’s vision of Seattle in a way that the Tunnel does not.

It isn’t just about getting the team back, although that would mean a lot to plenty of people. It’s the proposed location of the new arena that places this deal squarely in the wheel-house of the McGinn vision for Seattle. From a long-term urban planning standpoint, the proposed site in SODO is a no-brainer, because it intersects perfectly with all of the major transportation modalities in our city (including the forthcoming East Side Link Light Rail). This sort of public transit connectivity is exactly what McGinn wants for our city.

Team McGinn/Constantine did a miraculous job making the new arena a possibility (with a nice assist from Tim Burgess). Losing this site would be a tragic missed opportunity for our city. Now that it’s clear we are not getting the Sacramento Kings, we’re going to have to play the waiting game and hope for an expansion franchise. But if the political winds shift, allowing the current arena plan to unravel, it could undermine the entire deal for the current investor group.

To my mind, the best way to preserve and protect the current plan is to maintain the status quo at the city and county level. McGinn and Constantine apparently have a good working relationship with the Hansen/Ballmer Group. They already understand the ins and outs of the deal. They are a known commodity to the NBA, and they have a vested interest in making sure the deal survives.

Conversely, Steinbrueck was a member of the Seattle City Council in the years leading up to the departure of the Sonics from Seattle. And while it may not be fair to say that Steinbrueck was a part of the problem in that era, he definitely wasn’t a part of any solution then (and lately he has definitely been a part of the problem). The same goes for Murray. He was down in Olympia when the legislature gave the Heisman to David Stern and the NBA. So irrespective of the role he may or may not have played in that interaction, he’s still going to be that guy from Olympia in the eyes of the NBA.

If the current Sonics/arena deal dies and the Hansen/Ballmer Group disbands, we may still eventually get an NBA team in our region, but I suspect the arena will not be in SODO. Instead, it will be out in the suburbs. As a South Seattle native, Christopher Hansen seems to be a person with a real personal investment in keeping the team inside the Seattle city limits (in their way, the Nordstroms are also south of I-90 guys). Hansen has shown great creativity and resourcefulness, formulating a plan that addresses all of the many constraints imposed by I-91. He and his partners are also apparently willing to spend the money to get it done in the SODO location, even if it could be done more cheaply in the suburbs. I have my doubts that another ownership group is going to be willing to go the extra mile to keep the team inside Seattle.

This to me would be a great shame. At its best, an urban area is like a circle. A circle needs (and can only have) one center. In our region, Seattle is that center. I believe very passionately that it should remain that center. For better or worse, professional sports is something that can help to define the center of a place. Moving the Cleveland Cavaliers from the ex-urbs back to the City Center was an important step towards making the City Center of Cleveland relevant again (especially in the winter months). If you look at most American cities that have a strong, vibrant City Center, their sports teams play downtown.

I understand that a lot of my progressive brothers and sisters don’t give a shit about professional sports. The most ideologically pure among them believe that until every poor person has been fed and every homeless person housed, no public money, financing, or other support should be spent on anything else. And that’s a noble position to take. But in my experience, a lot of average people start to get social justice fatigue after a while. They look around and say, “what are my tax dollars getting me?” Rightly (or more probably) wrongly, they start to question the efficacy of contributing money to the public coffers.

For many people, professional sports is a community touchstone. It’s one of their little life pleasures. It makes living in an urban area feel more worthwhile. It makes them more enthusiastic about paying city and county taxes. This is particularly true of people who live in the suburbs. Many of these folks don’t work in Seattle either. The only time they come to Seattle is for a ballgame. If they don’t have to leave the East Side to do that, then they’re rarely if ever coming into the Center City at all.

I don’t see that scenario as a win for our city. The day those people don’t ever feel the need to come into Seattle is a very bad day for our city. Long-term, it’s probably even worse than the potential loss of jobs at the Port of Seattle.

As much respect as I have for Peter Steinbrueck, I think he made a misguided decision to align himself with the Port of Seattle against the Hansen/Ballmer SODO arena plan. It would be one thing if I thought the Port was really going to work hard to preserve shipping jobs in SODO long-term. But I don’t.

To me, SODO is a lot like South Lake Union was 20 years ago. At the time of the Seattle Commons vote, I heard a lot of talk about how we needed to vote “no” on the Commons to protect the light-industrial and warehouse space in SLU (“the soul of working Seattle”). I have a soft spot for that kind of space and that kind of soul. So I had a lot of sympathy for that position. Ultimately, I voted against the Seattle Commons.

But in the end, my architect friends (and Dan Savage) were right. They said that voting “no” wasn’t going to save the historical usage profile of that space. Re-development was going to happen in SLU, no matter what. The question was whether we wanted a nice new park to be part of it. Twenty years later, we’ve got the re-development. We just have no park. Mistake made by me. Lesson learned.

SODO seems like a similar deal. We have two good ports in our Metroplex: Seattle and Tacoma. Over the long haul, there’s a good chance that our economy won’t need both of them. Provided the Seattle economy continues to grow and prosper, the value of the land in SODO is going to appreciate at a faster rate than the land in Tacoma, because it is already worth considerably more right now. Eventually, it will become so valuable that it will not make practical or economic sense to use it for shipping anymore.

When this happens, it will make more sense for the shipping traffic to go to Tacoma. And moving forward from there, the Port’s long-term play in SODO isn’t going to look that different than a lot of other players down there (i.e., more about real estate development than cranes and cargo containers). In this regard, the history of the Port of San Francisco should be instructive. Under the headers “Modern Developments” and “Future Developments, the following projects are listed in Wikipedia article I linked to above:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf (tourist attraction)
  • Pier 39 (shopping center and popular tourist attraction)
  • Ferry Building (an upscale gourmet marketplace)
  • F Line Historic Streetcar (tourist attraction/transit)
  • Exploratorium (Museum/tourist attraction)
  • Cruise Terminal (Point of entry and exit for tourists)
  • AT&T Park (baseball field)
  • Warriors Arena (Basketball arena)
  • E Line Historic Streetcar (tourist attraction/transit)
  • Pier 70 (a site filled with historic buildings that is slated for re-development)

To my eye, none of the items above have anything to do with maintaining a working port in San Francisco. Similar to our region, the Bay Area also had two port locations. But over time, as real estate prices rose, San Francisco ceased to be a working port and the land was re-purposed for other uses. The port in Oakland has apparently picked up the slack.

Long-term, I expect that things will play out similarly in Seattle. So the question isn’t whether real estate development down in SODO is a good idea. It’s who is going to have a place at the table to decide what sort of development happens down there and when it’s going to happen. Which brings us to #2 below.

2. If you believe that economic development south of James Street is important, you should vote for McGinn.

The re-development of South Lake Union is at the front of everyone’s mind right now. It’s exploding, and it seems like that’s the future frontier. But from a planning and policy standpoint, it’s more in the past than in the future. The last 20 years have been leading up to the present moment in SLU (i.e., from the proposal of the Seattle Commons plan until now). And while there are still ground wars going on about zoning, building heights, and stuff like that, the really big decisions have already been made.

The new re-development frontier is in South Seattle. The next 20 years are going to be about the area from James Street down to Spokane Street (or maybe even Michigan Street). That’s where the action will be, because it’s the only central place in Seattle that hasn’t really been developed much.

Twenty or thirty years from now, the area I’ve described is going to look really different. The planned re-development of Yesler Terrace is going to transform southern First Hill/Capitol Hill into a very different (and presumably more upscale) neighborhood. This will undoubtedly flow down into the International District, which is fast becoming a major transit hub for the entire region.

The new tunnel under the Viaduct will open up lots of development opportunities along the waterfont (which was the whole point, yes?). This will spill west into Pioneer Square, which will rise again as a popular live/work neighborhood, particularly after the East Link starts service in 2023. At that point, people will be able to easily commute by rail out to the suburbs for work, while living in the city (or live in the suburbs while commuting into the city for work).

Most of the development described above seems to be driven either by old-school establishment players (e.g., the waterfront and Pioneer Square) or Paul Allen/Vulcan development (e.g., Yesler Terrace).

But potential re-development in SODO seems like more of a wildcard. That’s where the new arena comes in. It is the catalyst for development south of Atlantic Avenue and east of 1st Avenue. Basketball and hockey turn that area into a year-round affair. That’s a huge thing for people who are interested in opening bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. It means there won’t be a three-month dead zone between January and April each year, when there aren’t a lot of events happening. I don’t know whether it will make sense to put housing in this area too. But I do know this: It’s not likely to make sense to put housing down there without more business development happening first.

While there are certainly credible arguments about the value of professional sports to the overall economy of a city or region, it seems indisputable that sports can be a significant economic driver for particular neighborhoods within a city. Just today, there was an article in the New York Times about the current efforts by the Chicago Cubs to renovate Wrigley Field, the hundred-year-old baseball park on Chicago’s North Side, and an acknowledged economic driver within this neighborhood. (I can attest to this fact, as I used to live 3 blocks away from Wrigley back in the late 1980s.) Apparently, there are some 80 bars and restaurants within a mile of Wrigley Field, plus a bunch of other businesses that depend of baseball for their survival. In many respects, one might even say that this neighborhood has grown and prospered in concert with the baseball park.

I believe that the Port of Seattle has been pushing back so hard on the proposed SODO arena, because of the economic development possibilties I’ve sketched out above. The Port would prefer a scenario where they (and their buddies) control development both along the waterfront and in SODO. The last thing they want is competition. If over the course of the next five to ten years, Hansen and his people get lots of cool stuff happening east of 1st Ave S, it potentially dilutes whatever the Port may try to do along the waterfront (think about how light rail proponents worked to kill the monorail).

Personally, I think more competition down there is a good idea, especially to the extent that it brings new voices and new ideas into the system. I think McGinn will do a better job fostering that sort of competition and dialog than Murray or Steinbrueck (after all, his wagon is pretty seriously hitched to Hansen’s wagon at this point, and his opposition to the Tunnel shows that he’s not afraid to lock horns with the Port). I also like the idea of Hansen, a South End guy, being involved in the re-development of SODO (and I have to think he will be if the arena happens). That’s probably one of the real potential payouts for Hansen on the arena and the teams: ancillary development in the neighborhood.

Development around a new arena also seems more likely to benefit residents of South Seattle than will the waterfront development (which does very little to connect South Seattle to downtown). The more stuff that’s happening proximate to the SODO and Stadium light rail stations, the more attractive it becomes to live in the neighborhoods south of those stations along the light rail.

If a vibrant entertainment area is happening year-round, and it’s easily accessible via rail from Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach, more people will view those neighborhoods as desirable places to live. This will undoubtedly lead to more small business development in those neighborhoods as well. (The area around the Othello station in particular feels loaded with possibilities.)

Moreover, as development creeps south from Pioneer Square towards Spokane Street, it will start to connect up with the Georgetown neighborhood, which means that Georgetown will probably benefit in much the same way as the above referenced neighborhoods. It’s also easy to see how South Park, White Center, Skyway/Renton, and Burien could benefit from a more active and vibrant SODO, because if a neighborhood or municipality feels closer to a vibrant center, it is typically more attractive to people (especially younger people).

3. If you think that Seattle would be a better city with more streetcar-based transit to places like Ballard, Fremont, and the U-District, you should vote for McGinn.

As McGinn’s commitment to the SODO arena plan underscores, improved public rail connectivity is an area of emphasis for McGinn. He’s fast-tracked planning on more streetcars, and I think the best way to keep that ball rolling is to give him another four years to develop his vision. Murray, on the other hand, has taken heat from transit advocates for his position on things like sub-area equity. These advocates worry that the policy positions of a Mayor Murray might cost the city of Seattle another grade-separated train line in the near term. For me, that’s a significant concern, because I’ll soon be 50 years old, and I’d love to take a train from Beacon Hill to Ballard before I die.

4. If you think that it’s important to make Seattle more Bicycle-Friendly, you should vote for McGinn.

This is pretty much a no-brainer. I’m not a huge bicycle activist guy myself. But I think making Seattle more bike friendly is a good idea (even if I don’t always agree with every action McGinn has taken on this issue). I can’t imagine that any other candidate will make this issue more of a priority than McGinn, who is a huge bike guy.

5. If you want reform of the Seattle Police Department to be completed expeditiously, you should vote for McGinn.

I know McGinn has mixed reviews on police reform, especially his handling of the negotiations with the Department of Justice. But I’m also not sure that anyone else would be doing a better job. By any objective measure, it’s a huge mess. Did Steinbrueck make any kind of meaningful contribution on this issue during his tenure on the City Council?

Perhaps McGinn could have done more. Perhaps he could have made some different choices. Perhaps he could have worked on having a more cordial working relationship with City Attorney Pete Holmes too. But let’s be real. Holmes would also like to be mayor, and he’d be running right now if he thought he could win. At this point, his best play long-term towards that goal is to win another term as city attorney and help make police reform a reality.

Let’s also be fair to McGinn. He didn’t make all these problems. But they did finally come home to roost during his administration. In the wake of the Viaduct fight and the damage that it did to his popularity right out of the gate, he also wasn’t sitting in the strongest position to deal with this issue. So I’m guessing McGinn had to tread extra carefully with the police department. As a result, I suspect the police department figured that they could rope-a-dope until the end of McGinn’s term and hope that a new mayor (e.g., Burgess) would be more friendly to their interests. Mostly, it seems like that is what has happened.

Now, Burgess is off the table. If McGinn is elected again, he won’t have the Viaduct fight dragging him down. Re-election will also give him more of a mandate, demonstrating that the voters of the Seattle share his vision of the future (including police reform). This will give him more leverage on that issue.

Continuity in both the city attorney’s office the mayor’s office would also likely benefit implementation of the DOJ Settlement. Indeed, even though he has had a tempestuous relationship with the mayor, I hope Holmes is re-elected too. Nobody knows the terms of the DOJ settlement any better than McGinn and Holmes, and they won’t have the excuse that the terms of the settlement didn’t happen on their watch. Therefore, it will be easier to hold them accountable if the reform process stalls.

If we bring a whole new team in now, the first year of the next term will likely be spent getting the new team up to speed, rather than taking concrete actions on reform. Undoubtedly, a new administration will also be tempted to try and re-engineer the reform plan. (I know we’re dealing with a court oversight situation, etc., but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any room for a new administration to try and play new games around these issues. Those who would rather not see reform in this area are no doubt salivating at the thought of a leadership change right now, because that is probably the most effective path to mucking up the reform process.)

6. If you think it is important for the mayor to support the local music community, you should vote for McGinn

This is more of a toss-up for me than some of the other issues. In their elected capacities, neither Steinbrueck nor Murray has a bad reputation vis a vis the music community. (Indeed, Murray has taken a leading role in led the successful effort to eliminate the “Opportunity to Dance Tax” in Olympia, which is a big deal for club owners.) But neither Steinbrueck nor Murray has been the mayor. That’s a whole different deal than being on the city council or in the state legislature. People have been known to change their tune once they sit in that chair, because they have to answer to a lot more constituencies. McGinn is the mayor. The music community helped elect him. It seems like he has had a good track record of repaying that loyalty with support and attention to concerns of the music/club community (e.g., extended bar hours). Absent more compelling evidence than what I’m seeing now, I say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

7. If you think effective snow removal is important, you should vote for McGinn.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lived on top a hill my entire 21 years in Seattle. I spent a number of snow storms on top of Capitol Hill. I spent most of the 2008 Christmas blizzard on top of Beacon Hill (and I’ve been through a few more snow storms up on Beacon Hill since then). In addition to allowing the Sonics to skip town without a fight, we all know that Greg Nickels did a thoroughly mediocre job handling snow removal during that 2008 blizzard. Remember the rubber-edged plows he authorized that simply packed the snow down and let in freeze into a thick sheet of ice? That was a good time up on Beacon Hill.

For people who live on a hill (which is what, half of Seattle?), poor snow removal is a big deal, because it is very hard to get into and out of a neighborhood like Beacon Hill if the city has done a poor job plowing. I know, it doesn’t snow that often. But when it does, things get very chaotic in Seattle, even when snow removal is good. When snow removal is bad, things can be downright dangerous and scary.

Snow removal is a basic thing that city government just needs to get right. When it’s done wrong, it says something about a mayor’s ability to lead and execute on small details. That’s probably why Nickels failure on snow removal contribued to his loss in the last mayorial primary. It’s a hot button issue for many voters.

Against this backdrop, we should give McGinn his due. Despite his reputation for being an abstract, macro-level, idealist guy with his head in the clouds, the city’s response on snow removal has been significantly better since he entered office. Who knows? Maybe his East Coast upbringing gave him a better understanding of what good snow removal looks like (my own Midwest upbringing certainly colors my sense of what it looks like to get the job doen right). All I know is that his administration got it right on this most basic city service (and a lot of other ones too).

Doing the Things that Other People Won’t

Posted on | May 14, 2013 | Comments Off on Doing the Things that Other People Won’t

Malcolm Gladwell: Photography by Kris Krüg

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines “success” and the societal factors that go into determining it. He deconstructs concepts like innate intelligence and natural ability. He examines how the year of your birth affects your life prospects, whether math skills are teachable, and how people born in certain months typically end up doing better in school and certain athletic endeavors. He also discusses the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.

Outliers isn’t Gladwell’s best book, but I still enjoyed it. So when I had an opportunity to see him discuss it at Town Hall in Seattle a while back, I jumped at the chance. I’d heard a few recordings of Gladwell giving talks, and he seemed like such a natural speaker—articulate, funny, and fluid. But evidently, this is not an inborn gift. It’s the product of intense preparation: Gladwell writes out each presentation, revises it, and then practices until he has it completely memorized.

All of Gladwell’s hard work was certainly in full effect during his talk at Town Hall. He effortlessly worked through a series of stories from Outliers, adding commentary and jokes to keep things rolling along smoothly. Towards the end of his talk, he turned to the subject of personal motivation, asserting that while society’s exceptional performers certainly possess natural ability, the thing that separates them from the pack is their willingness to “do the things that other people won’t do.”

To illustrate this point, Gladwell related an anecdote contrasting two pro golfers: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. It seems to have been drawn from an on-line exchange between Gladwell and ESPN’s Bill Simmons. Here’s the salient portion of their exchange:

Gladwell:

I was watching golf, before Christmas, and the announcer said of Phil Mickelson that the tournament was the first time he’d picked up a golf club in five weeks. Assuming that’s true, isn’t that profoundly weird? How can you be one of the top two or three golfers of your generation and go five weeks without doing the thing you love? Did Mickelson also not have sex with his wife for five weeks? Did he give up chocolate for five weeks? Is this some weird golfer’s version of Lent that I’m unaware of? They say that Wayne Gretzky, as a 2-year-old, would cry when the Saturday night hockey game on TV was over, because it seemed to him at that age unbearably sad that something he loved so much had to come to end, and I’ve always thought that was the simplest explanation for why Gretzky was Gretzky. And surely it’s the explanation as well for why Mickelson will never be Tiger Woods.

Simmons:

On Mickelson and Sports Lent, I remember watching one of those 20/20-Dateline-type pieces about him once, and he was adamant about remaining a family man, taking breaks from golf and never letting the sport consume him … and I remember thinking to myself, “Right now Tiger is watching this and thinking, ’I got him. Cross Phil off the list. This guy will never pass me.” The great ones aren’t just great, they enjoy what they’re doing – that’s why MJ’s first retirement always seemed genuine to me. He had pretty much mastered his craft, and the media was wearing him down, and then his father was murdered, and for the first time in his life, basketball was looming as a chore for him. And he was smart enough to get away and recharge his batteries. I always respected him for that. Well, unless the real reason he “retired” was because of his gambling problems and an ominous “You screwed up, you’re gonna walk away for 18 months, and we’re gonna pretend this entire discussion never happened” ultimatum from commissioner Stern.

But I think there’s a certain amount of professionalism that needs to be there, as well, because there will always be days when you don’t feel like doing your job, and those are always the true tests. Halberstam has a great quote about this: “Being a professional is doing your job on the days you don’t feel like doing it.” I love that quote and mutter it to myself every time I don’t feel like writing because my allergies are bothering me, or my back hurts, or my head hurts, or there’s some random dog barking, or any of the other excuses I use when I’m procrastinating from pumping out something…..

I’ve thought a lot about this exchange since Gladwell’s talk at Town Hall (which happened before all of Woods’ marital issues hit the tabloids). At that point, Tiger’s image was untarnished. He was the 21st century, American, corporate ideal writ large in the sporting context—the guy with the entire world in the palm of his hand, the consummate competitor, the guy with the surgical focus, the guy who always puts winning first and eats guys like Phil Mickelson for lunch. In short, the guy who elicits a powerful man crush in the likes of Gladwell and Simmons: The guy who is willing to do what other people won’t do.

But back to Town Hall. As Gladwell was discussing Woods and Nickelson that night, I felt a powerful ambivalence welling up inside of me. Part of me is no less prone than Gladwell or Simmons to forming hero worshipping man crushes on high achieving dudes like Tiger Woods. So I get that impulse and its appeal.

Another part of me could barely hold myself back from standing up in the auditorium and shouting “No, that’s Bullshit!” Why do we venerate people like Tiger Woods, when it’s so obvious how unbalanced he is? Sure, he works hard. Sure, he’s good at what he does. Sure, he’s a winner, a champion. But what makes that inherently virtuous? What does his approach cost him and the others around him?

Isn’t there a shadow side to approaching life the way he does, particularly when the facade of Tiger can’t possibly be real? Hasn’t this story played out the same way enough times already? Whether it’s Tiger, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, the Paterno/Sandusky Penn State scandal, or the recent Lance Armstrong revelations, I always wonder, “Does it really have to play out this way again?”

Is encouraging people to be more like Tiger, or JoePa, or Lance really the best thing for our culture and the health of the world at large? Can’t you smell that Schadenfreude laying in the grass, just waiting for its moment in the sun? Isn’t Phil Mickelson the one we should venerate, even if he isn’t quite the competitor that Tiger is? Isn’t he the one who is actually doing it the right way, who has a healthier perspective, the one who hasn’t sacrificed all of his humanity to the alter of achievement?” Or does none of that matter?

I don’t think I’m alone in this reaction. Indeed, as a society, we seem deeply ambivalent about this stuff. On the one hand, we have a tendency to treat people like Tiger Woods as if they were modern-day gods of Greek Mythology, with their outsized personalities, grand exploits, and superpowers. Many of us long to be like them. We fancy ourselves kindred spirits, working hard towards the moment when we’ll get our turn to claim our place in the sun and be recognized for our greatness. On the other hand, many of us also secretly enjoy it when people like Tiger fail, for somehow it validates that even if we never match Tiger’s worldly fame and glory, we’ll always have him dead to rights on matters of rectitude.

And in that moment of cognitive dissonance, whether implicitly or explicitly, we question the dominant success narrative of our culture. We remind ourselves that there are a lot of different kinds of success in this world, and the sort of success that Gladwell discusses in Outliers is of a very particular sort: success in the classroom, success on the athletic field, success on the big stage, success in the public sphere. Success at things with a clear, easy to measure metric attached to them. The sort of stuff that Corporate America is obsessed with, which probably explains why Gladwell has become such a popular speaker in those settings. (The day before his Town Hall talk, Gladwell gave the same talk on the Microsoft Campus in Redmond.)

Most of us righteously agree, at least for a minute, that maybe it’s not such a good idea to elevate this sort of success over all the other kinds. For venerating the “people who will do what other people won’t do” is saying that the end result is always more important than the process used to achieve it, and the main thing that gives any of us value is what we produce, irrespective of how it affects other people or makes us feel.

There’s very little room for friendships, familial bonds[1], empathy, or open-ended intellectual curiosity. It’s all about the bottom line, including the children we conceive and raise. If they don’t achieve in these terms, then the parent has to feel bad about that process too, even if the kid ends up having a relatively happy life, filled with loving relationships, cool experiences, etc.

But even at our most righteous, we can’t quite shake another discomfiting thought: Maybe this is just the ugly truth of how things really are, and most of us just don’t want to see it. Maybe all that stuff about work-life balance, caring about your fellow man or woman, and doing things the “right way” is just lip service, or bourgeois ethics designed mostly to maintain the status quo and keep the have-nots from catching up with the haves.

Or maybe these principles are a luxury that incumbent elites can afford, because the original sins of their forbearers, the ones that brought them to their current elevated station and continue to benefit them, have been erased by the passage of time.

In the three installments of the Godfather, Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone longs for legitimacy, to be clean, unsullied by the past sins of his father, like Kay (Diane Keaton), his WASP wife, and the WASPs he presumably went to college with. But of course their cleanliness is probably just an illusion too. Their power and privilege, so seamless and clean, is simply a function of more time and distance from the sin. Each progressive generation gets more abstracted from it. The provisional antecedents of the power become more obscured, the existence of the power more reified, until it is simply the default setting.

Everyone who lacks the benefits of incumbency faces the same dilemma faced by Michael’s father, Vito Corleone (Robert Dinero), in Godfather II. They don’t necessarily have the luxury of principle if they want to get ahead. All Vito wanted was to feed his family and make a good life for them in the new world. He didn’t set out to be an organized crime boss. He begins his time in America as a casualty of the Sicilian Mafia wars. But eventually he sees the situation for what it is: a no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario. And like Captain Kirk, he transgresses established ethics and societal norms, choosing “to do the things that others wouldn’t do,” break the existing rules, and “win” the game (“It’s not personal. It’s just business”).

From the looks of it, Vito is in good company. Whether it’s Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and their buddies taking performance enhancing drugs in the world of sports, or rock bands using performance enhancing drugs like speed and Cocaine on the stage, there’s a lot of transgression going on. John Calipari keeps taking teams to the Final Four. He may not be honest. He pushes the envelope on the rules. But he’s a winner. His players make it to the NBA, and winners write the history.

Besides, aren’t the sanctimonious rules of the NCAA just so much hypocrisy anyway. Aren’t they just empty piety covering up the way college athletes are exploited by a system that pays them very little and profits greatly on the back of their talent and effort? Or are all apprenticeships like that, inherently exploitative? If you work in a lab as a post-doc fellow, you’re probably not getting compensated the true worth of your knowledge and talent either. But perhaps that is part of the learning process. Perhaps the deprivation and uneven power dynamic is part of what creates an environment in which people are more likely to respond to coaching and instruction. Hard to say.

Undoubtedly, Gladwell might respond to my criticisms by asserting that he’s not advocating that people behave like Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong. He’s just reporting that successful people like Tiger Woods “do the things that other people won’t do.”

That’s a fair point, and Gladwell is certainly not alone in making it. Indeed, David Sedaris’s “Four Burners Theory” covers similar ground.[2] `But even if Gladwell isn’t explicitly advocating that people behave in this way, the message is clear. Hell, it’s clear from Gladwell’s own conduct. He’s one of those guys too. He writes and then re-writes the presentation. He memorizes and rehearses it until it’s seamless.

Most people don’t do that. The people who do aren’t like the rest of us. They’re rare. And because they do the things that other people won’t do, they also tend to play by a different set of rules than the rest of us (even when they pretend this isn’t so). Probably, like the gods of Greek Mythology, they always have.

Perhaps this is just more obvious in today’s media environment than it used to be. For nothing remains a secret very easily anymore and the media rarely protects celebrities today like it sometimes did in the past.[3] Particularly since the Vietnam War and Watergate, a lot of us have become cynical to the core. We’re just waiting for some dark shadow revelations to emerge from a story that seems too good to be true. And we’re always primed to tear the veil off of everything, because we can’t believe that anything, no matter how good it seems on the surface, couldn’t have something rotten lurking inside it.

Case in point: Here in Seattle, rookie sensation, Russell Wilson, burst onto the scene this past NFL season, quarterbacking the Seahawks to their best season in years. Like Tiger and Lance before him, he seems too good to be true. He always says the right sports clichés and does the right things (e.g., “the separation is in the preparation”). But as much as you want to feel good and embrace the Russell Wilson story all the way, it’s gotten hard to do that, because your heart has been broken so many times. So you’re just waiting for an unimaginably heinous story to break about a domestic violence situation between Wilson and his wife or allegations that he has been molesting 8-year-old boys at the local Children’s Hospital he visits every week.

Makes me sad to think about it. But how can you not think about it when things like this seem to happen almost every few weeks? I started writing this piece not long after the Tiger Woods scandal broke. Then it got stalled. The Lance Armstrong revelations inspired me to pick it back up and work on it more. In between those two events, we had the Penn State scandal and the Suzy Favor Hamilton scandal. Since then, there have been more allegations about Alex Rodriguez using PEDs. Who knows what will be next?

Maybe Gladwell’s next book should be a look at the psychology of high achievers such as himself. Perhaps then we could better appreciate how the tendencies that allow a person to “achieve” in one area of life increase the likelihood that they will transgress societal norms in other areas.[4] And with this knowledge, maybe we’d get clear once and for all that Charles Barkley had it right about not being a role model. Then, we’d be less inclined to elevate these people so unrealistically in the first place.

At the same time, perhaps it would also allow us to focus more attention on those areas of achievement that Gladwell has excluded from Outliers. For most people don’t get 10,000 hours of training when they begin the process of rearing children. Yet, some people manage to be better than other people anyway. Some people build and nurture a wide community of friends and associates (“Connectors” to use a term from another Gladwell book). Some people are always there in a crisis when a friend needs an understanding ear or help up off the carpet after they’ve fallen down. But only in rare circumstances are the accomplishments of these people foregrounded.

As former NFL coach Tony Dungy apparently has said, “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching; it’s doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage.” Those words have got a pretty good ring to them. They definitely don’t describe the Captain Kirk, Kobayashi Maru scenario from the Starfleet Academy. But they do describe the Mr. Spock Kobayashi Maru scenario from the Wrath of Kahn.

There, faced with a no-win situation, Spock can’t just reprogram the computer simulation, change the background constraints, and prevail. Instead, he must sacrifice himself, so that others may survive. That’s a mighty high bar. Most of us don’t ever reach it. But it’s something to strive for.

Indeed, while I’m not a religious person, it seems like our faith (wherever we may find it) is what inspires and supports us in striving to act with integrity—even when nobody is watching, even when we never get a gold star, and even when so many messages in the culture make us feel foolish for doing so.

It’s a good thing that a lot of people still seem to have this sort of faith or we’d be really screwed. But sometimes it still feels like an endangered species that is being asked to carry too much of the load. And I worry about what may happen if we don’t collectively work harder to re-factor our priorities and foreground the values that support this sort of faith. For living these values doesn’t just ask us to do what other people won’t do. It also asks us to do things that many people don’t do.

They’re not necessarily the same things that Gladwell is talking about in Outliers. But they definitely pose their own challenges. Often, they are even harder than doing the things that people like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong do to excel in their respective endeavors (i.e., deferring short-term gratification to achieve something bigger in the long-term). For at least in this life on earth, there isn’t much glory attached to doing the difficult integrity things that a lot of other folks don’t do. And that’s kind of a shame, because these seem like the things that actually deserve the most glory and attention.

So maybe one of these days, if we’re lucky, somebody will write a contemporary, best-selling book venerating people who have managed to do well these less sexy, but no less important, things.

Maybe they’ll write out a great speech based on the book and revise it until it shines. Maybe they’ll memorize their speech. Maybe they’ll be booked to give it at places like Town Hall and Microsoft. Maybe it will become a sensation and inspire a more public conversation about how the rest of us can better emulate the people described in the book.

In the mean time, I guess the best we can do is have that sort of conversation ourselves with the people we know, however imperfect or unpolished it may seem, and try to live those ideas everyday, even when nobody is watching. From small things (big things one day come).


  1. In the wake of the Lance Armstrong mea culpa, it was heartbreaking to hear the story about Armstrong telling his son, who defended his honor, that he had lied to him about his PED use.
  2. The “Four Burner Theory” encourages us to look at our lives as a stove with four burners. Burner one represents family. Burner two represents Friends. Burner three represents health. Burner four represents career. According to Sedaris, to be good at one of these areas of life, you must turn down the flame on one of the other burners (e.g., to be really good at career, either friends, family, or your health needs to be mostly ignored). To be great at one of these areas of life, you must turn down the flame on two burners. So it might be possible to be great at career and keep the burner of family on. But you’ll probably need to turn off the burners of health and friendship. In my experience, many people do end up turning down one burner to focus on the other three. But only a select few, the “people who will do what other people won’t do,” can stomach losing two of the four burners.
  3. It’s a little crazy that former Olympian (and fellow UW-Madison Badger) Suzy Favor Hamilton, could embark on a secret career as a high-priced escort and believe that if she shared her real identity with clients it would nevertheless remain a secret. But on another level, while perhaps a bit naive, maybe it wasn’t completely crazy to think that people would keep it in confidence (or at least mostly in confidence). Probably, the story didn’t leak out because one mean dude called TMZ. It was more like somebody used her services, bragged about it to a buddy and told him not to tell anyone else. Of course, that buddy had to tell at least one other person. Eventually, along that chain, the message of discretion was lost. The rumor got into the hands of somebody with a monetary interest in determining whether it was true. With a little digging, they determined it was true. The rest is history.
  4. More Suzy Favor Hamilton, because her story is so rich and, well, she’s a fellow UW-Madison Badger. In addition to being a world class middle distance runner, she apparently also became a top-ranked escort. Undoubtedly, her decision to get into the escorting business was driven by a lot of different things. Other than noting that this isn’t something that most upper-middle class professional women do, I’m not here to judge her actions or motivations. But one thing seems clear from the news accounts. Once she committed to being an escort, she was in it to win it. She wasn’t going to be a mediocre escort. And I wonder if the competitive aspect of that business was one of the draws for her. For while she could no longer use her body to strive to be the best middle-distance runner in the world. being the top-ranked escort in Vegas was apparently still a realistic possibility. As dude pushing 50 myself, I can tell you that best “beer gut” is about the only body-related competition where I’d have any realistic shot of being top-ranked. So however weird it might seem to a lot of people, attaining top-ranked escort status in Vegas as person over 40 is something that most people could never do even if they wanted to. Therefore, whatever one thinks about the propriety of her actions, I don’t find it that hard to understand how they filled a psychological need for Favor-Hamilton.

The Internet Can Be Strange and Sad: Happy Birthday Yancy Noll (RIP)

Posted on | April 10, 2013 | Comments Off on The Internet Can Be Strange and Sad: Happy Birthday Yancy Noll (RIP)

The Internet can be very strange. It can also be very sad. Yesterday, I received a calendar alert in my e-mail inbox informing me that today is the birthday of Yancy Noll.

In and of itself that wasn’t strange. Windows calendar sends those alerts out all the time for various friends of mine.

The thing is, I don’t know Yancy Noll. The only reason I know his name is because he was was shot dead in his car on September 3, 2012. At first they thought it was a road rage incident up in Lake CityBut now there’s some thought that it might have been a thrill kill.

I think Noll would have been 44 today. Google indicates that people thought he was a good, kind-hearted dude. It also indicates that he was a wine steward at the Broadway QFC. I guess he must have been a work buddy of another friend of mine who also worked in the wine department there.

Probably, Noll ended up in my address book because we were both included on some group e-mail from that buddy. So perhaps I did meet Yancy once or twice, maybe at my buddy’s bachelor party or at his wedding. Or maybe he sold me wine

His birthday must have gotten on my calendar because he included it as part of his hotmail or Windows live profile. (Memo to self and everyone else: Make sure you know what those privacy settings mean on your web services. Otherwise, who knows where your birthday alerts will go?)

In any event, while I didn’t really know Yancy, I wanted to send my thoughts and prayers to any of my friends who did know and love him and honor him on his birthday. He left this world way too soon under very unfortunate circumstances. At the end of the day, it’s cold comfort, but let’s hope his killer is brought to justice.

Update December 11, 2014 @11:54 PM PST: The verdict in the Yancy Noll murder trial just came in. Dinh Bowman was found guilty of first degree murder for killing Noll.

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