Near and Dear to My Heart: Life Update

Life update…

Since the frequency of my posts can be measured in months nowadays, I have to give updates about things that I’ve already forgotten about.  Here we go:

Engagement:

The real biggie that happened since the last entry is that Jess and I are now engaged!  I surprised her one night after dinner by getting on one knee and producing a ring.  Jess, being the non-superficial type, focused on me, ignoring the ring, and questioned several times whether the proposal was real.  I asked her to look at the ring.  It was real.

Good times.  She’s my angel on earth.  We have a tentative date of June 2011 in Milwaukee.  By then, we’ll hopefully be back in the Mil all settled down with jobs.  Seems far off, but it’s right around the corner!

Partly to celebrate our engagement, we headed off to Nashville to explore their downtown and see Here Come The Mummies, an awesome funk band.  One of the great things about being in Bloomington, IN is its central location to cities that I hadn’t previously been to.  Trips to St. Louis (hopefully) and Cincinnati (this past weekend) are definitely in the works.  We’ve gotten to know Indy (Indianapolis) fairly well, and I’d like to think up a good excuse to spend some time in Louisville.  Quick drives, downtown exploration, a sports game or show.  Always a good time, and seeing other places provides a great frame of reference to compare Milwaukee to.

Enjoying the views atop Carew Tower in Cincinnati before the Brewers game.

Enjoying the views atop Carew Tower in Cincinnati before the Brewers game.

Classes:

As predicted, this past semester was a busy one.  But, it’s also been very productive and useful.  I’m quickly gaining formidable knowledge on government revenue systems and economically valid cost-benefit analysis (clue: the CBAs you read are almost never valid and tend to be pretty bad).  I’m learning all about secured transactions for bar purposes, which is akin to taking really nasty medicine everyday that will eventually increase your health in a couple of years.  The crown jewel is my course in state and local government, which basically manages to bring everything that I’ve been focusing on these last couple of years into a neat little package.  That class was mountains of fun, and has been the most informative and beneficial class for career purposes that I have taken while in Indiana.

Jess’ Back…

One thing that came and went in between blog updates was the saga of Jess’ back.  A decade ago, she was diagnosed with bulging discs, and didn’t think much of it at the time.  Well, early in the year, she was exercising and did something wrong with her back that caused some pain.  After a few visits to her doctor, followed by continuing and eventually debilitating pain, followed by visits to a back specialist, followed by two cortisone injections and more debilitating pain, Jess decided to have surgery on her back.  It was a micro-lumbar discectomy, where the surgeon takes disc material (the gushy stuff that acts as a cushion between vertebrae) that is impacting on her nerve out of her back.  We watched the video of this procedure, and saw that the surgeon took out an unusually large amount of disc material (perhaps half the disc), which means that Jess very well may have to have a fusion at that spot sometime later in life.  This whole episode lasted over three months, and back pain completely monopolized Jess’ life.  She couldn’t walk upright, sit on soft surfaces, turn in bed without extreme pain and care, sleep well, or really do much of anything that involved more than a little physical activity.  It was hell.  She’s definitely tough, I’m fairly certain I would have gone insane during that period of time, but she managed to hold up fairly well all things considered.  After the surgery, she felt considerable nerve relief, and was just left with sore back muscles due to the surgery and the weird use/non-use of those muscles over the last few months.  She is recovering pretty nicely and is doing much better now.

Summer in Bloomington:

I decided to skip out on another summer in Milwaukee and stick around Bloomington this summer for a number of reasons.  First, I didn’t want to ditch Jess in a lonely city again, especially after proposing to her and after seeing her back issues (the surgery and aftermath were in the summer).  Our relationship, which has spanned for a little over five years now, has involved four summers and one school year’s worth of long distance time (which I estimate to make up about a third of our time together).  That’s a lot of long distance, and I’ve grown really tired of it.

Secondly, I wanted to save money.  Time up in Milwaukee involves more rent, more utilities, and numerous other expenses.  Jobs that simultaneously paid money and provided direct experience that’s relevant to what I know I want to do, given the economy and the current state of local government, didn’t seem to exist.  I spent one summer taking out loans for the chance to work in Washington D.C, and while the experience was fantastic and useful for my growth, my engagement and close proximity to graduation have me thinking about my financial situation.

So, I’m down in Bloomington ramping up on the civic participation research that I did during the school year (it also involves civic participation at the local level now, a subject near and dear to my heart).  Meanwhile, Jess and I have been enjoying Bloomington’s FANTASTIC weather and laid back summers with lots of grilling and backyard activities.  It seems like every single day here is gorgeous, and I have not taken that for granted, knowing that the move back to Milwaukee comes with the unfortunate side effect of a return to unpredictable and generally awful weather most of the year (living elsewhere makes one appreciate the fact that Milwaukee has unusually sour weather and that most people don’t have to deal with that sort of thing; I’ll admit to being very bitter about Milwaukee’s weather).  I’ve gotten into yard work quite a lot and I really enjoy working outside.  Also, I ordered mlb.tv so that Jess and I can watch Brewers games on the internet (it’s $10/month, which is an incredible deal for the displaced fan).  Bringing the laptop outside to watch games while grilling or tending to a fire have been a frequent and pleasant occurrence.

Nonetheless, despite our frequent visits, I miss summer in Milwaukee, which you really can’t beat.  I had a blast last summer and I’m very much looking forward to moving back, which will start with my individual trek back to Milwaukee next May to study for the Wisconsin bar (unless the bar goes away).  This is currently my last of many summers away from my hometown, and we’re making the best of it while eagerly anticipating our return to the Mil.

Milwaukee:

Anticipating my return to Milwaukee, I’ve been about as active in local issues as someone residing over 300 miles away can be.  I’ve expressed my views and interests in other forums than this one, most notably Twitter.  I also like to comment on Urban Milwaukee, a great urbanism-geared site that provides a quality and necessary source of news and opinion on local issues (see some of my choice cuts in the comment sections here here and here, which when combined with all of my Twitter postings probably provide a good broad look at my views on Milwaukee politics and policy).  Lastly, I occasionally write on Cream Citizen, a local social networking site that also centers on local issues.  My latest was an examination of the legal issues dealing with the Milwaukee sick leave ordinance and the associated lawsuit against that ordinance.  That was a great opportunity to put my local government education to use while educating myself and others about state and local law as it specifically applies in Wisconsin.  Putting that together was a ton of fun, which confirms the suspicion that I’m a big nerd.

A broad look on my stance: 1) Milwaukee is in need of bolder and more intelligent leadership at all levels of government (City, County, State delegation) in order to improve the functioning of the City (particularly its revenue system and expenditure decisions) and to fight back against the perpetually harsh treatment of Milwaukee by the State; 2) The racial climate (with its correlates of poverty, education, jobs etc) must be improved considerably, and I have not seen a public official in Milwaukee who has truly attempted to take this on in a productive way.  Milwaukee ignores its racial tension at its own peril as this tension infiltrates and creates inertia on every important political and policy issue in direct and indirect ways, and Milwaukee’s ceiling will forever remain too low as long as the racial issue continues to be ignored; 3) Citizen participation in local affairs must be improved immensely, and the current level of transparency and public engagement in local government is not good right now; 4) The above three things are incredibly intertwined, and Milwaukee must see and appreciate that in order to move forward.

On National issues…

A lot has been going on nationally since Obama officially became President, and I’ll defer to the rest of the world when it comes to commenting on much of it.  It’s absolutely remarkable to be living during this period in our nation’s history.  One way or another, future generations will look back at these times like we look back at certain periods (the various wars, the Great Depression etc).  A lot of things are happening and a lot of changes are coming down, and I hope that my generation will be able to look back and be proud of what we did for our country during these times.  Certainly, we need to outclass those pesky babyboomers, who turned the nation of the “greatest generation” into a nation riddled with debt and false entitlement.  We have a chance to be the “next great generation.”

This and that…

March Madness

March Madness came and went, and I went through my yearly obsession with brackets.  This year, I put together my own regressions designed to predict the winner of the tournament.  One of my regression correctly predicted North Carolina to win the title (the other two wrongly predicted Louisville).  A second set of regressions, using the same independent variables, a different dependent variable, and an historical weighting, were designed to predict first round upsets.  I narrowly missed on several predicted upsets (VCU, Utah State) and the upset regressions predicted Cleveland St’s victory over Wake Forest.

Overall, my regressions began to began to break down around the Elite Eight rounds, and the three brackets that I produced from a mix of various regressions and subjective analysis headed south in a hurry!  I blame this on a misguided strategy of having the three brackets be identical through the Final Four, which required a great deal of trust in the Final Four predictions of my regressions.  I think I was lulled into thinking more of the regressions than they deserved because of the fantastic forecasting that these models produced on the 2008 tournament.  The problem with that, of course, is that the 2008 tournament was the only one where all four 1 seeds made the Final Four.  It was unusual in the high amount of success that the top seeds had, and regressions tend to pick a lot of chalk.

So, I’ll go back to the drawing board next year.  My regressions now have one more year of data to work with, which will definitely help (the three of them go back to 2004, 2006, and 2007; the 2004 by far produced the best results this year).  I’m not going to repeat the identical Final Four strategy of this year for sure.  Next year’s strategy will probably be a compromise of this year’s strategy and my past strategy, which is identical Sweet 16, deviation from there, and one contrarian champion pick.  I’ll probably go with identical Elite Eight and one contrarian pick.  Hindsight is 20/20, but my contrarian champions this year would have probably been Michigan St or Villanova (probably Mich St, I got to watch them a few times years and they impressed always).  Oh well.

The moral of the story is that I love regressions, and working with them in various environments gives a good indication of their relative strengths and weaknesses.  Computers can’t predict the future, but good regression models can always provide useful insight.

Brewers

Last summer I grew accustomed to watching the Brewers everyday while living in Milwaukee.  Down here, I don’t have access to the Crew on TV very often, so I invested in mlb.tv and have been watching the Brewers all the time.  My fanhood is becoming more zealous seemingly by the day.

At the beginning of the season, I made it my personal mission to hype up Rickie Weeks and attack any Brewers fans who seemed to not acknowledge his success and who weren’t seeming very happy about his success, as if they root for him to fail.  Certain players get a lot of grief from fans for their performance while other players playing as poorly or worse get a pass, and Weeks has always caught the short end of that stick.  I seem to identify with players like that, and so I was exceedingly proud of Weeks’ early season efforts, where he was having an All-Star caliber year.  His wrist injury created a devastating loss for the team, who had no replacement at leadoff until the recent trade for Lopez (love the trade).

The following was written prior to the Lopez trade:

The Brewers need pitching and they need a leadoff hitter.  I’m not sure whether they can make a trade that would get them over the hump for the playoffs or not, so I’d be a little gun shy about trading prospects for a difference-maker again.  My preference would be to trade J.J Hardy for a leadoff hitter under contract and to let the pitching be.  Hardy will likely be replaced by Escobar at some point anyways, he may have decent value on the trade market, and this could be enough to squeak the Crew into the playoffs if Parra and Bush come back strong in the second half.

Obtaining a quality pitcher would require the loss of too much value in the farm system, and the Brewers do always have to have an eye on the future.  It’s okay to mortgage the future in certain situations, last year being the best example.  I’m not sure this team is good enough to be worthy of that sort of long-term risk.  Trading Hardy for a leadoff hitter sets the team up nicely for the future while providing a possible opportunity for success this season.

Addendum: The Lopez trade was even better than my vague proposal involving J.J Hardy because they gave up less and seemed to have received a quality guy in return.  Nice work!

Watching the Brewers has been a pleasure, and it’s great to get that feeling of Milwaukee pride when rooting for the home team.

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