Wednesday, December 05, 2012

War on Christmas?

John Stewart, in typical masterly fashion, just skewers the Christian Christmas Jihadists at Fox News in their annual "War on Christmas" outrage:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The War on Christmas: Friendly Fire Edition
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I made somewhat similar points back in 2009 in response to a "War on Christmas" poem I received by email. But Stewart's segment is so immensely superior in driving home the absurdity of the "War on Christmas" meme, that I just had to share it. One of my favorite lines: "Christmas is so big now, it's eating other holidays."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Texas Secession

Just a quick thought: Although I think it's pure foolishness and childish sour-grapes whining, there is a movement among some conservatives disgruntled by Obama's re-election to call for states to secede from the Union.  I'd even say that this idea is being treated as a semi-serious thing, at least in terms of its symbolic significance, in some fairly mainstream corners.  In no state has this secession craziness received the biggest reception than in Texas.  Here's my zany contribution to the secession silliness:  Let Texas secede.  This would remove Texas's reliably "red" electoral college votes from the national presidential race and give Democrats an almost insurmountable ability to control the White House.  It will also even the score a bit more in the US House.  Then, when the state's demographic character changes such that a new Democratic and Hispanic majority emerges along with a reliably Democratic electoral college advantage in the state, a "blue" Texas can be welcomed back into the Union, cementing the Democratic party's lock on the Electoral College (and thus the Presidency) long into the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Resolution Update: Success!!!

It is done!  I met my New Year's resolution, made on January 1, 2012, to get my weight down to 170 lbs by the end of the year.  Today, at approximately 12:30pm, I had a formal weigh-in at my parents' house, using the very same scale that I used on January 1, 2012.

Both my mother and my father were present to witness and confirm my scale reading.

Not only did I meet my goal, but I actually exceeded it by 1 lb, weighing in at a svelt 169 lbs!!!!!

Although I did weigh in after a rigorous workout, it wasn't immediately after; and I spent about 3 hours following the workout during which I rehydrated.  Also, when I weighed in, I had on a long sleeve shirt, shorts, and socks.  So, I can honestly say that my 169 lb weigh-in was a pretty good, accurate measure of my functional, equilibrated weight.

Thus, I declare my triumph.  My goal is reached and I am free from the bonds of my resolution to make a $120 contribution to either SarahPac, David Vitter's re-election campaign, or the RNC.  However, what I have decided to do to commemorate my success is to pledge that $120 to another charity of my choice, one whose vision and mission I enthusiastically support. I haven't quite decided on which charitable cause yet, but I will do so over the next month or so.

So, to give you a sense of my real progress over the year, and to show actually how the transformation manifested itself across my entire body (and even though it's a bit embarrassing), I will deliver, as promised, a series of full body photos from January 1, 2012, along with the regular head shot from that date that I have been posting over the months, and also a series of full body shots from today, November 21, 2012, along with a head shot from today as well.  Fair warning: the full body shots are taken with me in a pair of red biking shorts (stretch shorts and tight-fitting), with nothing else on -- no shirt, no socks, no watches or other body adornments.

Here are the full body shots from today, the date of my triumph, followed by today's head shot.  The full body shots are (1) full front, (2) full left side profile, (3) full back, (4) full right side profile:

Now compare this visual evidence with my full body shots followed by my head shot from January 1, 2012.  The full body shots, taken with the same red & white bike shorts, in just about in exactly the same way, follow the same pattern: (1) full front, (2) full left side profile, (3) full back, (4) full right side profile:

I am actually embarrassed by these latter photos.  It's partly because I was pretty disgusted with myself at the time and was physically feeling gross, bloated, heavy, tired, and generally unhealthy, that I made the resolution in the first place.  But the transformation over the year is quite transparent, and I hope this visual evidence clearly demonstrates that, when I declare my weight to be below 170 lbs, there is no question about the veracity of the claim.

It has been a long, hard struggle.  Why it has been so much of a challenge is that I am really, at core, a true hedonist -- a "live-to-eat" person whose motto when it comes to physical exertion has been "no pain ... no pain."  But knowing that my habits were unhealthy and unsustainable, I had to make this resolution with such a bitter consequence if I were to fail, just in order to motivate me to succeed.

And succeed I did.  But I have to say that I do actually enjoy feeling healthy and nimble.  I have to say that I am pleased that I tend to no longer have a gluttonous disposition in my eating tendencies (my stomach just can't handle as much as it used to).  And I have to say that I like the way my body feels after a good exercise routine (even if I don't really enjoy the exercise itself so much).  And I have to say that I like the fact that I am much more conscious of the kinds of foods, and the amounts of it, that I put into my body over the course of a day.

After I had my weigh-in today, I celebrated by taking my parents out for lunch!  I had a club sandwich and a bowl of fruit.  It was delectable!  And now I can enjoy the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, and especially that Turkey I'm planning to deep fry, along with some yummy oyster dressing!

Then, come Friday, it's back to the gym to keep with my exercise routine and get back to healthy living, but in such a way that I can enjoy those infrequent occasions when I can eat a slice of pepperoni pizza without regret and without the impending sense that doing so may cost me to suffer unsavory consequences.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

MBH Pottery at the Palmer Park Arts Market

Well, it's once again that time of the month when my lovely bride will again be out at the Palmer Park Arts Market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. The market will be running this post-Thanksgiving weekend for both Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-4pm. My B-2/3 has been hard at work all month and has added significantly to her inventory of pieces. The weather for both days looks to be beautiful, so if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday presents, Christmas or Hannukah gifts, or any other kind of gift, please do come out to the Arts Market this Saturday and/or Sunday at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton Avenues and look her up. Of course, as usual, Michele will also be doing live demonstrations at her pottery wheel, so please come out, enjoy the market, and stop by to visit Michele to see how pots are thrown (and hopefully not at you!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Since I last wrote an entry on the books I read (which was back in February of 2012), I've since racked up pretty solid list of reading accomplishments.  Here's the list, which I'll just mention now and perhaps I'll write up some reviews of the books down the road.  But if you've read any of these books, please feel free to leave a comment on what you thought on any of them and I'd be happy to engage in a comment exchange with you:

William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (a re-read for me): Grade A+. [All I need to say is that Faulkner is a genius.]

James Agee's A Death in the Family: Grade A [One of the best depictions of dealing with grief in reaction to an unexpected and sudden death that I've ever read.  Also a Pulitzer winner.]

Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado: Grade B.  [I picked this to read because the title intrigued me.  And it's a fun read, with some clever writing moments, but nothing that truly stands out as exceptional.]

Dan Baum's Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans: Grade B-. [Most folks find this work interesting and well-written; but I weary of the essentializing of New Orleans in ways this book does.  It's not alone in this practice, but I just get more and more turned off by depictions of my city through the kinds of lenses that books like this one provide.]

Sybille Bedford's A Favourite of the Gods: Grade B. [The writing is good and the storyline is interesting, but it's a kind of genre piece of European aristocratic casualness that doesn't resonate with me.]

Teju Cole's Open City: Grade B. [It tries much too hard to be contemporary literary hip.  It also has a bit of hip pretentiousness about it that doesn't appeal to me; but the idea of writing reflections that come from the meanderings of a Manhattanite through the streets of the city is an intriguing one.]

Paul Harding's Tinkers: Grade C-.  [Another Pulitzer winner, but one that I just never did get.  I couldn't ever find meaning in the story and at times the plot seemed to be very labored and forced.  There were a few redeeming moments, but none that could save the book.  Not sure why it won the Pulitzer.]

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Grade C+.  [Since it's a timeless children's classic, I thought I'd give it a go.  It's an easy read, but a bit too simplistic.  The story is not as engaging or clever, and lacks the kind of human touch, as is the Judy Garland movie.]

William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: Grade A+.  [Again, all I can say is that Faulkner is a bona-fide genius.]

Michael Chabon's A Model World and Other Stories: Grade B.  [I love Chabon, but this is not his best work.  It starts out very slowly, but the stories pick up and gather momentum in the second half when it really turns into a bit of a novella.  I think Chabon is a much better novel writer than a short story writer.  But, I do admit, as usual with Chabon, the writing itself is superb in style.]

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray: Grade B.  [Another classic I just had to pick up.  I can see why it would enter the realm of the classics for its kind of radicalness in its day; but the story itself, though quite unique in its premise, does fall into a bit of that late 19th, early 20th century tediousness.]

John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces (another re-read for me): Grade C-.  [Another Pulitzer winner that I don't think deserves the award.  I remember thinking it to be funny and clever when I first read it years ago in college; but having read it again as a more seasoned middle-aged guy, I found it to be just crude and vulgar.  I rarely got a chuckle at all at the gross and absurd shenanigans of Ignatius Reilly and his awful cast of supporting characters.]

Herman Melville's Moby Dick: Grade B+. [I finally got to this American classic and can now click it off my literature bucket list.  I read it in its complete, unabridged form.  It's remarkable for its depiction of whaling and of the anatomy of the sperm whale in such fine detail.  The plot of the Pequod's voyage and Ahab's drama is only about 15% of the novel, and it's o.k., though not as good as one is always led to believe it is.  Nevertheless, I do think Melville is a great American writer and this work is worthy of being read.]

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl:  Grade B+.  [I'm usually not one for crime/mystery novels; but this one is well-written, clever, and fun to read.  But I do have to say that the character personalities are quite disturbing.]

Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge: Grade A-.  [Another Pulitzer winner and a collection of short stories.  Well-written and very well-developed characters.  I think it deserved the Pulitzer.  The themes of the stories can be depressing, but the way the stories are told comes across as gentle and warming, even if they are not necessarily fun stories.]

Heinrich Boll's The Clown: Grade B.  [A Nobel winning author.  This is perhaps his most famous work.  It's heavy going and can be tedious at times, but you can definitely appreciate the talent of the author.  The main character and the plot can be wearying to contend with, but the theme of the oppression of conventional religion is interesting in its portrayal.]

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Resolution Update

OK.  The moment of truth has arrived.  It's been ten months and 18 days since I made my New Year's Resolution.  It feels like forever.  What a rollercoaster so far.  And it's not over yet!

But, I am pleased to say that after my workout today, when I stood on the scale at the Gym, I weighed in at 169.6 lbs.  So, it would appear that I've hit my target and fulfilled my New Year's Resolution (and thus won my bet), except ...

1.  I haven't had independent confirmation of this, which I will need to do.
2.  It was immediately following a fairly rigorous workout, so I imagine that it involved maybe a couple of pounds of water weight loss, which I may have (and probably did) gain back a bit as I rehydrated throughout the day.
3.  It was a weigh-in with just my shorts on.  Add on a shirt and some socks and I would have probably tipped the scales at slightly over 170 lbs.
4.  And perhaps the scale at the gym is slightly off, though it's been my measure the whole year and so I feel that I can fairly count on its accuracy (or at least its consistency) in charting my weight loss progress.

Nevertheless, I know that I'm basically there, and it's perhaps just a matter of days before I can weigh in solidly under 170 lbs in a random weigh-in at any hour with basic clothing on.

But these are just minor quibbles.  I will remain disciplined and continue with my diet and exercise regimen until I get to that point, even if it takes a couple more weeks.  I'm not worried.

But I do think it merits (and you're probably waiting for) some visual accountability.  Well, here's a picture from today:

And compare it to my picture from last January 1, 2012:

I think it's pretty clear that it's quite a transformation.  Once I get independent confirmation of reaching the goal, I'll post that information here on the Upchuck along with some full body shots from January 1 compared to some full body shots on the day of my triumph!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Resolution Update

Last January 1, I made just one single New Year's resolution.  It was to get my weight down to 170 lbs by the end of 2012.  If I fail in that resolution, I have to do something that would, to me, be extremely psychologically and emotionally painful.  (Click the link to read what that is.)

For a while, I was keeping regular weekly updates as to my progress on this resolution, even posting weekly pictures of myself as visual evidence.

Along the way, I kinda gave up on the blog and so my Resolution Updates went by the wayside along with it.

However, I have not forgotten this resolution, and I am still intent on meeting it, though I haven't reached it yet.

Here's kinda how it's been since the last I posted on this subject...

If you check the archives of my Resolution Updates, you'll see that at one point I got as far down as 170.6 lbs (on March 7), but never crossed that 170 lbs threshhold completely.  I certainly didn't get independent verification at the time.  Since then, my weight has fluctuated more or less between 175 lbs and 185 lbs, and my diet/exercise regimen was inconsistent and spotty.

I really think that my ideal weight is probably in the 175-180lb range; but that's no matter, because I agreed to get down to 170 lbs, and I will honor that pledge or pay the piper.

As late as a month ago, I was hovering in the 183-185 lbs range.  But knowing that my time to reach my goal of 170 lbs was drawing to a close, and knowing also that the holiday feasting season would soon be upon me, I resolved again to tighten things up and have been pretty disciplined in getting back on a careful and healthy diet, as well as a regular exercise program.

I will be posting visual evidence tomorrow of where I am, but I can report now that my last weigh-in was 171.4 lbs.  And I've resolved to stay disciplined until I hit my goal and have it independently verified, even if it means that I have to forego diving into that succulent turkey I'll be deep frying this coming Thanksgiving Thursday.  We'll see what tomorrow's weigh-in brings.

Sometimes, I think that I have subconsciously kept myself from reaching my goal too early, even though it was well within reach as early as last March, so as to make sure that I made at least some modicum of effort to stay on top of my weight all year long.  And I'm glad, in the end, that it has worked out this way, because even as my weight started inching up again at various points throughout the year, I always had the spectre of this resolution hanging over my head like a Damocles sword to force me to make an effort to keep my weight under some kind of control and not to let myself get too far beyond redemption.  It has been good to feel and look healthier over the course of the year so far.

So drop by the Upchuck tomorrow to see some pictures of where I am; and wish me luck as I make my final push to get to my goal.

Back to Upchucking

Well, it's been a long, long stretch of emptiness on the Upchuck. I think I'm missing it a bit. In a way, I've kinda substituted Facebook for blogging. Doing so has its merits, for sure. I have a ready audience of some 800+ readers through my FB friends. And my blog type status updates on FB are guaranteed to elicit response from at least a core group of folks. However ...

I'm not so sure I like using Facebook in this way. I also like Facebook just as a way to keep up with friendships and family; and my blogging style can be kind of alienating to some folks on Facebook that does some damage to my friendships on FB. For instance, since I really heated up my polemics on FB during the Presidential election campaign, I've noticed that my FB friends numbers have dropped a bit. Just a handful or so, but it's something I noticed. And I don't really like it.

I think why I'm bothered by this is that a lot of my FB friends are on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, and these are people whose company and camaraderie I have enjoyed for over 30+ years. Many of my High School buddies are conservative. Many of my childhood friends from elementary school and the old Kenner/Metairie suburbs are conservative. And I like them all. They are really good people at their core. And I don't like to think that they maybe find my politics a bit distasteful, off-putting, and perhaps even offensive. Now let me say that I am by no means apologetic or sorry for my politics, and for expressing them publicly and forcefully; but I am bothered by the idea that I may be pushing myself in the faces of those good people who might prefer not to be subject to my rants. So, I think I'm just going to do my best to try to keep my politics here on the Upchuck, and to try to minimize that stuff on Facebook.

All this to say that I'm putting the Upchuck back into business. I make no promises as to how often and frequently I will be putting up blog postings, but I'm going to try to keep my rants here for the most part. I may link to my blog from FB; but I think that provides enough distance and remove such that my FB friends won't feel so directly besieged by my rants, such as they are.

And I welcome any who want to engage me to do so here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Benedictions, Courage, and Cooperation: Obama and the DNC vs. Romney and the RNC

I'm still trying to sort through what it means that Cardinal Dolan agreed to congregate with and give a benediction and his blessing to all those baby-killing gay marriage advocates.

At the very least, it undeniably means Obama had the courage and self-confidence to invite one of his fiercest critics from the realm of the Catholic hierarchy to share the stage with him. In my mind, it's just one more example (at the very DNC no less!) of, as Bill Clinton so eloquently noted, Obama's willingness to cooperate with those who disagree with and even criticize him on policy matters. Can you imagine the Republicans inviting one of the nuns from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to give the benediction at their convention!?!? No? Neither can I.

Secondarily, it means fundamentalist conservative Catholics have to watch, horror-stricken I'm sure, their man-of-the-cloth playing nice with those godless heathens.

It also means that one doesn't have to have the words written down for God to be invoked by and present in the person of his official representative in America, literally, on the Democratic Party platform! (By which I mean the actual, physical stage at the DNC!)

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and Catholic Charity

I'm probably a bit overly attentive to this than most people are, but as a Catholic who was quite turned off by Ayn Rand's dismissiveness of Christian charity (hell, ANY charity) in her objectivist philosophy, I find it quite curious that Paul Ryan thought it fit to provide his Congressional staff with gifts of that avowed atheist's book "Atlas Shrugged" rather than a copy of the bible or Saint Augustine's "City of God" or even G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy."

To me, if he absolutely had to put essential reading materials into the hands of his staff as one of his first actions with his staff and as a signal of the values he hoped to inculcate in his office culture, his decision to privilege Rand's and her godless selfishness over God and His call for self-sacrificial charity in what to push his staff to read tells me a good bit about his moral priorities, none of it all that admirable.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Original Composition for Michele. Happy 19th Anniversary.

Flushed in love, I glimpse another, worn by years,
Reach for the mottled hand of his frail bride,
Sitting silently, softly, at his side,
Their partnership never long in arrears,
Seasoned surely by shared worries and fears.
But in this singular touch does abide,
I note, a settled, quiet love applied,
Which had to, had to!, plow through track and tears.
Stopped cold by this, I, with my love felt strong,
So new,  so …  bursting, in charge and retreat,
Hope if the years do pass likewise for us,
I would be so placed to take your hand thus,
And recall that first time our paths did meet,
To tell in a touch we did not go wrong.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

What My Kids Are Listening To: Fun. "We Are Young" with Janelle Monae

I think this song (if not the video) is awesome, too:

The acoustic version, which I like more:

Resolution Update

Wow!  It's been way too long since I last posted.  I've really dropped the ball in keeping up with my weekly Resolution Update postings.  That fits a pattern with me, as my B-2/3 will tell you.  I get all enthusiastic about a project and can maintain the enthusiasm for about 3 months or so, and then I gradually slip away into lethargy or lose focus and interest.

That has happened here.

March was mostly a lost month for me.  I travelled a lot and got way off my regular routines.  My exercise and eating habits were also very scrambled.

You know, when you travel to conferences or overseas, you often find yourself eating out a lot or faced with conference banquet food and the need to be social over meals and drinks.  When you couple that with lack of access to regular exercise facilities, it makes for a real diet and exercise routine buster.

So, I got off my exercise regimen and ended up going stretches like 3 or 4 days without being able to get to a gym or a pool.  I did manage on occasion to find a suitable hotel rec room with some exercise equipment that I did use; but this was very irregular.  And I also did try to go on some longish walks when I could swing it.  And even though I ate more high-calorie, rich foods than I would normally eat, I also tried to stay away from the worst of the junk food or too many desserts.

And I also wasn't able to keep track of my weight like I had before, either.  And I just stopped altogether in having my picture taken regularly.  I need to get back into having my picture taken for some visual accountability.

Nevertheless, over the past week, I've managed to push myself back into a routine of sorts; and I am now doing much better in terms of a regular workout schedule and better eating habits again.

Since tomorrow is Easter, since I have the time today, and since I haven't posted an update in a while, I thought I'd provide an update today instead of tomorrow.

I was worried that I would be approaching the 180-185 lb. weight range after my 2-3 week dissipation; but I was surprised to find that my body is apparently still geared up to burning high amounts of calories from my previous rigorous 2 month regimen.  After my workout today, I weighed myself and I clicked in at 173.4 lbs.  So, I'm still well within the range of my goal and haven't slipped so much as to be disheartened by the lapse.

I try to look at this in a positive light and think that because I got really close to my goal before, but didn't quite hit it, if I can keep myself within range but not yet there, I will maintain the incentive to keep at it and not give up completely.  I think subconsciously that's what I'm doing to myself, because I know deep down that once I hit my goal, get it verified, and fulfill my resolution pledge -- thus freeing me from the painful penalties I would have faced -- the temptation to become too lax and let myself slip back into old habits would be very strong and irresistible.   So perhaps I subconsciously am keeping myself from hitting my goal just to keep myself going on the resolution pledge.

I'll try to be more regular in providing Resolution Updates on the blog.  Wish me luck and motivation!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Resolution Update

Well, it's been a while since I posted anything on the blog, much less kept up with my Resolution Updates.

But I've got good reasons, and they're not just because of laziness.  In part, towards the end of the week before last, I got sick with a pretty nasty cold, which kept me off the bike and out of the pool.  And then, when I was just starting to feel better, I took off for a brief trip to Costa Rica last Sunday, early in the morning.  I didn't return home from Costa Rica until Wednesday, late afternoon, of last week.  From then, it was just the business of getting back into the work groove, which always picks up around this time of year.

So, circumstances of illness, followed by overseas travel, coupled with an orientation towards a "break" from the normal routine (after all, last week was our Spring Break week at the university), meant that I fell way off the diet and exercise bandwagon.

I actually wasn't able to (or more exactly, didn't want to) get back into the diet and exercise regimen until yesterday.  Needless to say, I was somewhat trepidatious of getting on the scale after more than a week of laxity.

But before I post the results of my latest weigh-in yesterday, I have to let everyone know that on the last day I exercised and weighed in, which was Wednesday, March 7, I weighed in at 170.6 lbs.  I still don't consider that as having met my resolution goal for a couple of reasons.  First, it still was greater than 170.0 lbs, and my goal is to get to 170.0 lbs.  Second, it wasn't independently verified by a neutral party or observer.  And third, it was right after a workout and I think the official tally needs to take place some hours after a workout and after a meal and rehydration re-calibrates my weight in a more accurate way.

Even still, I got very close to my goal.  But then I got sick, travelled abroad, and just took a longer break than I expected.

Which leads me to yesterday...

After my workout of yesterday, I gingerly got on the scale, and my weight was back up to 176.8 lbs.  I have to say that I was expecting worse, especially since the whole time in Costa Rica, I was really indulging in some rich, heavy meals, and wasn't exercising at all.

Which means to say that I've got some more work cut out for me still.

And I can't say that I'm not too unhappy about it, because one of my fears is that once I hit my goal in the proper way, and have it verified, the temptation will be to relax my vigilance on the healthier lifestyle I've been mostly living since January 1.  So, the motivation is still present and I am now back on the wagon, so to speak.

I did take a picture yesterday, but I haven't yet uploaded it to my computer off my camera.  When I do, I'll post it for some visual evidence of where I am.

So, there you have it.

Until the next update ... healthy eating and regular exercise!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Resolution Update

OK.  I'm a day behind, but I have a good excuse.

I was participating in a Posse Plus Retreat and was really occupied with retreat activities for most of the weekend.

I did return Sunday evening, but I just didn't have time to settle back into my home routine and get my resolution updates in order.

So, I'm posting an update now, on Monday, one day later than normal.

Last week, I weighed in at 174.8 lbs.  As of this afternoon, I weigh 173.2 lbs.  Closer and closer to my goal.

I have found out something interesting, though.  I have usually been weighing myself at the end of my daily workouts in the gym.  I usually work out for about 1.5 hours just before lunchtime, having only eaten a very light breakfast.  The scale is kinder to me then.  But the few times when I have done a workout after lunch later in the evening, the scales are less generous -- sometimes by a good 2-3 lbs.

So, I am facing a dilemma about what will be an appropriate weigh-in moment to track my resolution outcome.  I think that what I will need to do is to try to find an appropriate middle ground.  Weighing myself right after my workouts is probably not an accurate reflection of my stable weight; but weighing myself within a half-hour or so of eating a meal is probably also not an accurate reflection of my stable weight.  So, what I will use as the measuring point for my resolution accountability is to find a mid-point between the end of a workout and a recently full belly.  Anyway, I'll think about how to do this some more.  For now, some visual evidence:

Sunday, March 4, 2012:

Compared to January 1, 2012:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Santorum the Troglodyte

This medieval joke of a candidate actually called Barack Obama a snob for, of all things, wanting to make sure that every American who wants to go to college can actually do so:

Let me tell you how infuriated I was to hear this.  First off, Santorum's negative representation of the value of a college education is a slap in the face of every working-class person who wasn't able to go to college, but who thinks of college as a sure path for upward social and economic mobility for their children and grandchildren.

It's offensive to people like my parents who never even graduated High School, much less attended any college class, but who sacrificed incredibly to make sure that college was not only an option, but also a reality for me and my siblings.

What Santorum is doing by propagating this line of horse manure is encouraging people against the values of higher education and reducing them to a life devoid of the opportunities that a college education can provide.

I would bet any amount of money that if Santorum went around and asked each of the members in his audience what they feel about elitist liberal college intellectuals, he'd get a pile of vicious hatred and resentment spewed forth about us college-educated types.  That's what he's angling for.  But if he went around to each of these folks individually and asked them if they thought college was important for their children and could be helpful to their futures, I'd bet dollars-to-doughnuts that 99% of them -- at least those who actually care about the future well-being of their children and grandchildren -- would answer affirmatively.  Snobs would they all be, if Santorum had anything to say about it.

In fact, there's not a person I know, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, etc., etc., for whom the prospect and opportunity to take advantage of a college education would elicit an outright negative response.  Lay a college scholarship on the lap of any parent for his or her kid and see if that scholarship is brushed off as nothing more than a losing proposition, a vehicle for liberal indoctrination, and the machinations of "snobs."  Anyone who would do such a thing is a fool, and Santorum is encouraging people to be fools.

The irony is that Santorum himself is college-educated.  The vast majority of this country's most productive and innovative and entrepreneurial and materially successful individuals are college educated.  And there's no question that college education is positively correlated with such success and accomplishment.  To say that Obama is a "snob" for wanting Americans to have access to a college education is one of the worst and most cynical displays of medieval feudalistic thinking I've ever heard come out of the mouth of a modern politician.  And to think that this person is a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination!  To think that this troglodyte has a realistic shot at it!  There is a fundamental rot in the GOP that has made this possible.

And let me also turn to something else Santorum says in his regressive sermon.  He said that the reason why Obama wants folks to be college-educated is because he wants them to be shaped in his effete liberal intelligentsia image, and not in the working-class, non-college educated image of the folks sitting around in that room!  It's almost too absurd to even fathom imagining this is what Obama wants.  First off, the very people in the audience all likely want college for their kids and understand its value.  Second, where is the responsibility Santorum places on the folks in that very room for making sure that their kids are raised according to the wholesome values of hard-working GED holders?  What kind of backhanded insult is it to all the parents in that room who have college-age kids that Santorum implies that their parenting sucks so badly that when their kid steps onto a college campus, they will instantly be brainwashed by liberal college professors.  My God!  What is the matter with this man?  What is the matter with the GOP?  Where is the dignity and self-esteem of the people who would listen to Santorum excoriate them for believing that higher education is a good thing and then cheer him for his suggestion that they keep their kids uneducated and tied to the assembly line like they themselves may be?  What kind of parent listens to a political candidate who crushes a part of the American dream leading to upward social and economic mobility and cheers him on for it?  It is absolutely, gob-smackingly, unbelievably, mind-blowing absurdity.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Resolution Update

OK.  Back to the regular Sunday updates.  Sorry I missed last Sunday, but it was Mardi Gras.  More importantly, it was Thoth Sunday. And I was simply unable to post anything last Sunday.

Today, however, is a different story.

Backdrop: I'm back to my regular rigorous exercise regimen and back to a carefully managed diet.

On Thursday, I posted a mid-week resolution update and weighed in at 181.0 lbs.  That must have been a fluke, because on Friday I weighed in at 177 lbs, Saturday was 176 lbs, and today, after my workout this afternoon, which I just completed, I tipped the scales at 174.8 lbs.

One has to wonder about the reliability of the scale at the gym, but I figure if I use the same scale consistently, even the vagaries of the machine will be consistent over time.

In any case, I've only got less than 5 lbs to go to meet my goal.  If and when I hit that goal, I will get independent verification from a number of sources whom I will ask to confirm the results.

Here's my headshot photo from today (the hair is wild, but that's because I'm letting it grow back in from a really short cut):

Compared to my January 1, 2012, picture:

The change has been dramatic.  Even moreso in person, and when looking at my body.  Everyone notices and I have to admit it's a good feeling.

Anyway, that's where I am.  Until next week.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Currently Reading: Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist"

This Dickens classic is perhaps his second best-known book, following A Christmas Carol.  But how many have actually read the original?  I, for one, knew the story primarily from an abridged version of the novel in my younger years, followed by seeing the story both on stage in its well-known musical theater production as well as in the multiple movie versions that exist.  I never actually read the original until now.  And it's my first full read on my new Nook e-reader.  And I'm loving it!  I have the complete Dickens on my Nook, and I can't wait to read more.

Dickens has an incredibly witty and sarcastic way of criticizing the social and cultural absurdities of his day, even while telling tragic stories of abuse and deprivation.  One can easily see why he is considered one of the great writers of the past 200 years.

When I finish the book (and I'm about two-thirds of the way through now), I hope to post some reflections and thoughts.

I should mention now, though, that while I am enjoying the story, there are some parts of it that I find disturbing and troubling, especially his anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jewish characters in this particular novel.  While I understand that one needs to place this in its proper temporal context, it still doesn't diminish the blatantly shocking way this portrayal offends modern sensibilities of basic human decency.  I would have expected better of Dickens.

Koran Burning

There is this growing outrage on the part of conservatives for the Obama Administration's expression of regret and apology for the burning of many Korans in Afghanistan.

What strikes me about this attitude is that it represents everything that American shouldn't stand for.  First off, how outraged would these critics be at Afghanistan if it came to light that their military accidentally burned copies of the Christian Bible?  One can't be sure, but I'd venture to say that there would be some upset American Christians calling for some Afghan blood if such a thing were to happen.  Second, and more importantly, why would we ever want to lower ourselves to standards that we would and do abhor in others?  We are better than those who would burn Christian Bibles and not apologize for the disrespect to Christians that such an action would convey.  The descent into an "eye-for-an-eye" mentality is so un-Christian and un-American that it's mindboggling when coming from those who would fashion themselves as the pinnacle of Christianity and uber-American patriotism.  Third, it says a lot that conservatives would be so incensed by Obama's taking the high road, the Christian road for that matter, so as to take an action that is in every respect the morally correct thing to do, and then use it to effectively demean and belittle one's own country's President.  What does it say that these so-called patriotic Christian conservative so hate Obama that they even betray their own country's interests and their own Christian faith in this misguided criticism of Obama. Obama did the right thing both as a Christian and as a patriotic American in expressing his regret and apology for this incident, and anyone who can't see this is blinded by a hatred and vengefulness that borders on a questionable patriotism and a questionable Christianity.

I swear, the conservative derangement at work here is disturbing and confounding, though not surprising at all.

Blue Jays Win State Soccer Championship

Just got back from watching the Blue Jays pull a come-from-behind victory against St. Paul's, in a rematch of last year's state championship, which St. Paul's won 2-1.  This year, the Jays prevailed with a score of 3-2, with two goals in the last 10 minutes of the match.

And to top it off, in the Division I girl's state soccer championship game, the Mount Carmel Cubs defeated the St. Scholastica Academy Doves by a score of 2-1.

Some considerations: (1) Each of the Championship matches involved teams representing all Catholic Schools from the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area.  That says something in itself.  (2) More importantly, though, the two Southshore Catholic Schools from Orleans Parish took it to their Northshore rivals from St. Tammany Parish in good, healthy competition.  And I have to say, as a Blue Jay alum and a huge partisan of Orleans Parish culture over St. Tammany Parish culture, I take special relish in having schools from the oft-maligned "sin city" of New Orleans prove to the suburbs of the Northshore that much good does reside in and come out of New Orleans proper.

Congrats Blue Jays and Cubs!  (And I do tip my hat to St. Paul's and St. Scholastica, too.)  Congrats to the Catholic League of High School Sports for fielding an all-Catholic Schools Division I boys AND girls state championship soccer matches!

Also, a special thanks to that good samaritan, whoever you are, for chipping in a dollar to help cover my ticket.  Some misinformation about the ticket prices left me a dollar short at the ticket booth, and this wonderful lady in line behind me just gave me a dollar to make up the difference.  And even if she was rooting for St. Paul's, this lady's generosity was the best thing about the night for me.  That's what the Catholic League is REALLY all about!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  You were an angel tonight and God is surely blessing you for your kindness!

Friday, February 24, 2012

MBH Pottery at the Palmer Park Arts Market: Tomorrow, Saturday, February 25, 2012

Well, it's once again that time of the month when my lovely bride will again be out at the Palmer Park Arts Market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. The market will be running tomorrow, Saturday, February 25, from 10am-4pm. My B-2/3 has been hard at work all month and has added significantly to her inventory of pieces. So, even though the weather looks to be a bit iffy, if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday presents, very early Christmas or Hannukah gifts, or any other kind of gift, please do come out to the Arts Market this Saturday at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton Avenues and look her up. Of course, as usual, Michele will also be doing live demonstrations at her pottery wheel, so please come out, enjoy the market, and stop by to visit Michele to see how pots are thrown (and hopefully not at you!)

What My Kids Are Listening To: Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa "Young, Wild, & Free"

Can't say I'm too thrilled with the lyrics or the entire message, but when the moderately cleaned-up version gets played over and over on the local pop station, it's impossible to keep it from the kids.  All we can do is put it in proper perspective.  All that said, the rhythm is catchy:

Social Conservatism's Big Government Agenda

Most conservatives will argue that they are for smaller government; but those who identify as social conservatives are decidedly not, even if they argue that they are.

I was having a conversation with a conservative friend who was lamenting the state of morality in this country.  He wasn't doing so in any kind of patronizing or bombastic way, just noting that our society seemed to have lost some of its mooring and that the laissez-faire social attitudes that seem to be more and more defining of our culture have led to something that he couldn't quite define, but something that he thought just wasn't "good."

He didn't want to take it so far as to say that government was the place where this social malaise needed to be rectified, but he was suggesting that government should have some kind of role in encouraging people to live better lives, more moral lives.  He didn't suggest how this should be done, just that he thought it would be good if it were done in some way that didn't restrict freedom.

But I don't see how this is possible without ceding to the state some kind of control over our lives.

I suggested that the resolution to his concern was really looking more at individuals and in trying to cultivate a sense of personal honor and dignity at the individual level, and that the state should be responsible not for telling people how to live by a particular moral code, but rather promoting programs and policies that enhanced the dignity of the individual.

That is what I think the liberal project is when it comes to the state.

I don't want an oppressive government telling me how to live my life.  But I do want government, as a representative of the collective will of our American society, to find ways to remove obstacles to the realization of a dignified life for individuals such that they themselves arrive at a way of living that is "good."  Hence my support for universal health care, a living wage, and other such agenda items.  Do they represent coercion at some level?  Perhaps.  But it is the only way I know to regulate our society and to fulfill the obligations of the social contract with minimal impact on individual freedom and maximum impact on recognizing the dignity of the individual.  On this point, the Catholic Church's social teachings are exemplary; and I just wish more Catholics (and especially the hierarchy) would pay as serious attention to them as they do to sexuality.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mid-Week Resolution Update

Well, I finally made it to the gym to re-start my exercise program and get back on the weight loss track again.

I did put myself on the scale to see how far back Mardi Gras set me.

I was suspecting that I would be in the low to mid-180s, and I was please that I was on the very low end of this range.

I weighed in at 181.0 lbs., which is maybe 3-4 lbs up from where I left off.

As I get back to my pre-Mardi Gras eating habits, I suspect that the pounds will again start to melt off; but it is pretty amazing how slowly one loses weight, and how quickly one can put it back on.

But I still only have a mere 11 lbs. to lose to make my goal and I have until the end of the year to do it.  This means that I have to lose about 1.1 lbs per month.  And if I can't do that, shame on me.

I have been taking pictures regularly and will post up some pictures again when I get back to my regular Sunday Resolution updates.

Mind and Soul Deadening GOP Primary

As a liberal, it would seem obvious to many that I find the remaining crop of current GOP hopefuls to be abhorrent.  But what I've noticed across the conservative blogosphere is a creeping malaise and disgust with the four GOP wannabe's left standing.  There is a marked enthusiasm gap growing among conservatives and Republicans, and this listlessness and apathy has been evident in the very low numbers of Republicans participating in the primary contests.  That doesn't bode well for Republicans in November.

RIP Francis "Uncle Bubby" Huck

The last of my grandfather's siblings has passed away after a brief illness.

And so passes another generation.

I have fond memories of Uncle Bubby taking me and my brothers out to the country to "shoot the guns."  We used to have a great time out there on his rural property in Osyka, Mississippi.  At the ages of 12-13 or so, we used to pile into Uncle Bubby's van early in the morning, stop off for Eclairs and coffee on the way to the country, and smoke cigars (yes, we did that!) while we crunched through the forests with our single-barrell 12-guage shotguns looking for squirrells or other varmints to pelt.

We used to stay in a rustic cabin that was heated only by an old-fashioned, cast-iron wood stove.  I remember heating our coffee cups on the top of this stove and even frying up our breakfasts of scrambled eggs and bacon on this stove.

In many ways, it was an idyllic time.

Uncle Bubby continued to make treks up to the country even with the next generation of my nephews.

He was a life-long bachelor who held many views about people and politics that I did not agree with; but he was a good-hearted man who shared what he had generously with others.  He will be missed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoth Ride

My ride this year was awesome.  As usual, I'm always sad when it's over.  But you can't enjoy the event if it doesn't occur and if it doesn't have a beginning and an end.

I saw lots of friends, old and new, on the route this year.  It was great.  The weather was gorgeous, which really makes all the difference.  And the fraternity among Thoth riders is always a joy.  I have some pictures I'll post soon.  Until next year!

Blogging Self-Nudge Update

Lately, I haven't really had much to say or write about on the blog, so most of my postings have been rather perfunctory just to keep up with my blogging Self-Nudge.  And I'm a bit behind on that front, too, though not too far behind that I can't catch up and still adhere to my blogging self-nudge guidelines.

That said, I think what all this is telling me is that it's time to declare a hiatus to the blogging self-nudge at the end of this month, which is just as well, since I'll be gearing up for some work-related travelling in the months of March and April and probably won't be able to blog that much on the road anyway.

So, heretofore, I formally declare the end of my obligations under the blogging self-nudge arrangement starting with March 1, 2012.  I am still obligated to meet my quota through the month of February or else pay the price if I don't, but February will be the last month of my self-nudge obligation until I decide to re-institute it.

That doesn't mean I won't be blogging.  I will, if for no other reason than to chart progress on my New Year's Resolution; but I won't be subjecting myself to the pressure to put up posts just for the sake of it.

Resolution Update

OK.  The debauchery is over.  I did manage to take pictures on Sunday, but I wasn't able to get to the gym to weigh myself.  So, no Sunday update this past week.  I promise to get back on track this Sunday, with updated weight and picture.

I tried to exercise over the Mardi Gras break, but it was very sporadic.  And I did have a good time eating and imbibing.  You almost can't avoid it over Mardi Gras.  But, I didn't overdo it too much.  At least not like I used to in previous years.

All that said, I am getting back to my regular exercise routine and readjusting my eating patterns again to get back on track.

I have no illusions that I haven't added weight since my last check in, but I'll find out exactly how much I've put back on today when I hit the gym.

I suspect I'm back in the low-to-mid 180s.  But who knows?

At the very least, I've given myself until December 31, 2012 to reach my goal, which I know now is eminently doable.  In fact, I suspect I can reach it by the end of April, if not a bit earlier.

Stay tuned for more Resolutions Updates, which will recommence now that the craziness of Mardi Gras is behind us and now that the Lenten season is upon us.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blue Jay Soccer

The Jesuit Blue Jay soccer team has won its semifinal state tournament soccer match, which means the Jays will be heading to the State Championship game.  Way to go, Blue Jays!

Another Take on the Contraception Controversy

I thought this was an interesting rejoinder to the complaint that the government is compromising religious liberty in the whole contraception situation, all the while some of the very same religious groups in some states are advocating for requiring women to get vaginal ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion.

Hail Thoth!

Riding tomorrow!  Hope to see you on the route!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What I'm Listening To: Wild Cherry - Play that Funky Music

Yet another classic funk number that forms part of my Funky Grooves bicycling playlist:

Mardi Gras Updates

OK.  So, my B-2/3 is marching with the Cameltoe Ladysteppers in Muses tomorrow.  If you don't know her, you won't have any trouble spotting her.  She's the really beautiful, elegant, spirited, and talented one!  Kidding, Ladysteppers!  Kidding.  She's not the only Cameltoe Ladystepper that fits that description!  They all do; but my B-2/3 certainly is one part of that number.  Let's hope the weather cooperates.

And then there's my ride in the Thoth parade this year.  If you're one of The Huck Upchuck's occasional readers, and plan to be at the Thoth parade, feel free to drop me an email and I will fill you in on my Float details.

I always love Mardi Gras and look forward to my ride in Thoth all year long.  And it looks like (knock on wood!) the weather for Sunday appears gorgeous.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Resolution Update

Yes, it's that time of the week, once again. This week, I've been much less ascetic in my caloric intake and thus have moderated my weight loss to a better, healthier degree. My reported weight last Sunday was 179.8 lbs. This week it's 178.2 lbs. That's a drop of only 1.6 lbs. Much more modest than in previous weeks, but probably much more along the lines of what healthier weight loss should be. Visual evidence ... Today's picture:

Compared to that of January 1, 2012, when I started this project:

What was interesting about this week was that we had house guests the whole week and thus the social food culture of having guests was a part of our household dynamic this week. Which means, in short, that I had a few "splurges."  Additionally, I had more business "meal" meetings this week than usual, so my inclinations towards food asceticism overall were tempered somewhat this week.

Yet, I still got my full workouts in.  So even though I ate some tasty, high-calorie meals, I still managed to lose a bit of weight. Over the next few weeks, with Mardi Gras festivities kicking into full gear, I'm not even going to pretend to expect any weight loss. In fact, I may even put back on a pound or two; but I will still be exercising regularly and trying to regulate how much of a good time I'm planning to have this Mardi Gras when it comes to calories.

Even if the next couple of weeks set me back some, the good news is that I still will have 10 plus months to reach my goal!  Always a comforting thought.

Using the Nook

Today, for the first time, I actively used the Nook I got as a Christmas gift. And I really enjoyed it! I still am partial to the feel of a book with page leaves, but I found the Nook to be very appropriate and better-suited to the use I put it today.

I managed to rig up a way to secure the Nook to the stationary bicycle we have in our home in a way that would allow me to work out on the bike, to be able to read on the Nook, and to be close enough to my hands to be able to "turn" the pages on the Nook.

It worked like a charm, and I got through four complete chapters of Dickens's Oliver Twist while I put in my time sweating on the bike. I've tried to read on stationary bikes before, but the requirement to hold the book in one hand and free up the other hand to turn physical pages every minute or two was just too cumbersome, especially since I tend to push myself on the bike and need my hands to hold on to the fixed bike handles for stability and balance. With the Nook, all I had to do was reach over a couple of inches with my left hand's thumb and swipe/scroll to the next page.

And the best thing about it all was that in the process of reading, I lost all obsessive attention to the clock and the time of my workout seemed to fly by. That Nook is going to help keep me healthy and exercising! And as time goes by on my new and intense exercise regimen, I'm gonna need all the help I can get!

Dog Tragedy

My youngest daughter, whom I call here Squirrelly-Girlie the Younger, is a great dog lover. She studies books about dog breeds, she visits the dog park regularly and makes friends with all the dogs there, she is getting ready to head out to see Barkus (a dog parade) with my B-2/3, and she's just a sweet, loving soul when it comes to "man's best friend."

That's why what she and I witnessed yesterday was so traumatic. We saw a beautiful "Pug" dog get hit and run over by a car. If that wasn't bad enough, the circumstances during which we witnessed this were, from my perspective, a bit creepy.

This is what happened...

I drop the two Squirrelly-Girlies off at their local Dance studio for their Saturday morning dance classes. Usually, they are at the studio from about 10:30am to 3:00pm, taking various different classes.

Yesterday, though, we had a bit of an alteration to our routine, because SG the Elder had won a Gold Key Prize for poetry and was being recognized at a city-wide ceremony held at the UNO campus at 1:00pm. So, I had to pick up SG the Elder a couple of hours earlier than usual from the dance studio.

After I dropped off the Squirrelly Girlies at 10:30am, I went to the gym for a workout. Once I finished with the workout, it was time for me to pick up SG the Elder. So I was driving back to the dance studio when, just 4-5 blocks from the studio, a dog (it looked like a dalmation to me) darted out in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and just missed hitting the dog. I was a bit rattled, but very glad that I missed the dog. From there, I proceeded to get SG the Elder, leaving SG the Younger at the studio. From there, my B-2/3, SG the Elder, and I went to UNO and participated in the ceremony for SG the Elder. This event lasted about one and one-half hours, after which we headed for home, where I dropped off my B-2/3 and SG the Elder and then continued on the way to pick up SG the Younger at the dance studio.

I picked up SG the Younger and we started for home. As we were about 2 blocks from the dance studio, I started to tell SG the Younger about my near miss with the dog earlier in the day. Just as I was telling her that a dog had darted out in front of me earlier, all of the sudden, right at that moment in the story, we saw just in front of us a young man sprint across the street being chased by the Pug, who must have broken free of her owner to give pursuit, because we saw her leash trailing her. As the dog sprinted across the street in front of us (and we were far enough back to slow down easily to miss her), I pointed to the Pug and said to SG the Younger as part of my story about the earlier incident: "Just like that dog there!" It was all so quick you have to imagine it like this...

ME: "Oh, yeah, SG the Younger, I wanted to tell you that when I was coming earlier to get SG the Elder from Dance, a dog darted out in front of me, [and then the Pug chase scene instantly unfolds in front of us in a matter of seconds] just like that dog there!!!"

I didn't even have time to tell SG the Younger that I had missed the dog earlier and that it crossed the street safely when the Pug doubled back to go back to her owner and ran right in front of a car coming down the two-way street opposite the side we were driving on. That car had no time at all to adjust and ran right over the dog, right in front of our eyes. Being in the driver's seat, I saw the whole thing unfold clearly and saw the dog go under the tires of the other car. Fortunately, SG the Younger was in the back seat on the passenger side and didn't see the actual impact itself, though she did see the dog when it sprinted across the street in front of us the first time before it doubled back and she did see the dog on the street after it got hit.

Of course, we immediately pulled over to run and help the dog. SG the Younger got out and came with me. We were the first two to arrive at the side of the dog, who was still breathing. There was no external bleeding, but it was clear to me by the way the dog was laying on the street that her back was broken and that she had serious internal injuries. A few seconds after we arrived by the dog, the dog's owner and a couple of other witnesses had arrived and we quickly came up with a plan to put the dog in a makeshift stretcher (using someone's old sweatshirt) and carry it to the back of an SUV to transport to the animal hospital. This all took maybe 3-4 minutes. SG the Younger saw it all. Although she was quite traumatized, she was so glad that we stopped to help and it made her feel like we did what we could to comfort the dog and her owner. SG the Younger said a prayer over the dog, and petted her. She said that she petted her to make sure the dog was still warm, and thus -- in her mind -- still alive. And the dog was, of course, still warm. But, I had noticed that the dog had stopped breathing, and so I wasn't so sure about her still being alive.

The whole incident lasted about 5 minutes from impact until the time we left the scene, but it definitely made and impression. For my part, I just couldn't believe the creepy coincidence of the timing of telling my near-miss story to SG the Younger and witnessing at that very moment the incident repeating itself, but with a different and tragic outcome.

I'm not usually one to get emotional over pets, but I have to admit that I was very moved by this whole experience.

I only hope that today at Barkus, SG the Younger will get to see the happiness and joy of dogs in the streets on parade and be able to put yesterday's tragedy into its proper perspective.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Hail Thoth!

10 days until parade day! I'm getting pumped! Every year, it starts to sink in that the ride is approaching when I can tap into the 10-day weather forecast. Got most of my throws. Still need to get a few little things yet, but I'm ready to go. What's gonna be especially great is that my brother will be riding alongside me, along with two high school buddies. Anyone interested in my float information can send me an email and I'll clue you in.

What I'm Listening To: Parliament - We Want the Funk

On my funky grooves bicycling playlist:

My favorite part are the horns in the background.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

2012 Resolution Update

Yes, it's that time of the week again -- Sunday ... Superbowl Sunday. And I have to file my report on my own "championship" quest (of a sort): My 2012 Resolution!

On Jan. 1, I committed myself to get my weight down to 170 lbs by the end of the year or face a severe (to me, at least) penalty. Boy what a motivation that has been!

I started off the year on Jan. 1 at 206 lbs. Here's my mug shot from that day:

I've been posting weekly updates every Sunday since then.

This week, I'm pleased to announce that I've crossed another critical threshhold -- I broke 180 lbs. Today, after my workout, I stepped on the scale as usual. And the scale registered: 179.8 lbs!!!

This week's mug shot:

Last Sunday, I weighed in at 184.2 lbs. So I've lost 4 lbs in one week. Still perhaps too much, but I am confident that this weight loss is not coming at the expense of a healthy and balanced diet and exercise regimen.

I've consciously been upping my caloric intake over the past week. Perhaps what is happening is that I'm also getting stronger and my cardiovascular system is able to endure more extended workouts, so my workouts are incrementally getting more vigorous and a tad bit longer. Depending on the day, I ride the stationary bike from between 30-60 minutes and then I go for a swim which, also depending on the day, covers from 1/3 to 1 mile in the water.

I'm still trying to keep my eye on how much weight I'm losing each week, and I really want my goal to be more along the lines of a maximum 1-2 lb loss per week, so I've got some more work to do here. But I'm not too worried. I'm feeling better and I definitely have more energy during the day. I'm sleeping better, too. So, it can't be all that bad. Anyway, it is what it is and that's my report for today. Now, on to the Superbowl!

Superbowl Prediction

Patriots 38, Giants 17.

This is gonna be a blowout. The Giants have gotten pretty lucky up to this point. The Patriots are solid all around. And the Patriots are gonna remember how the Giants ruined their perfect season and give a little playback. It's gonna be a game with a lot of emotion coming from the Patriots side of the bench. Oh, and Gronkowski's da bomb!

Friday, February 03, 2012

What I'm Listening To: Glenn Miller - I've Got A Gal in Kalamazoo

And as a special bonus, you get to see the Nicholas brothers give us a wonderful tap dance performance.  They just don't do it the same way these days, and they can't even approach doing it better.  Enjoy:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Mitt Romney's VP Options

They are plentiful and varied.  If Romney's smart, he'll do two things: (1) he'll avoid like the plague the social cons and populist demagogues like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, etc.. (2) He'll pick someone like Marco Rubio who can make a dent in the Latino community's overwhelming support for Obama.

If he's smart, he'll avoid picking a Romney-esque clone -- what the GOP base would call a RINO -- like McCain or Snowe or Collins, etc.

But if the potential GOP VP candidates are smart, they'll avoid hitching themselves to the Romney wagon, because there's no way Romney's negatives won't rub off on them and taint them -- and Romney's negatives are substantial.

In short, its a lose-lose scenario all the way around.

Frankly, I just can't see how the GOP wins this thing come November.

Mrs. Upchuck Makes the Paper

As part of the Camel Toe Lady Steppers Mardi Gras marching and dance troupe.  Check out this article to find out more about the group.  And you can even see my B-2/3 in the featured photo donning bits of her costume.

Religious Freedom and Contraception

I don't see how religious liberty is in any way constrained by the government's determination that institutions which are not "religious" in the sense of proselytizing or conducting religious ceremonies, and who serve a clientele irrespective of faith or belief or religious conviction, not to mention who employ people of differing faiths or beliefs or religious convictions, have to give the option for contraception to its employees in whatever health insurance plans are offered through the employer.

The opposition to contraception is a moral teaching, and allowing individuals to make the choice about it is not constraining religious freedom but advancing it.  To restrict one's ability to contract with a healthcare provider for contraception is the real constraint on freedom.  Those who have a religious conviction in opposition to contraception have the choice not to avail themselves of this healthcare provision, should they choose not to do so.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 Resolution Update

Well, it's Sunday again, which means it's that time to provide an update on my 2012 New Year's Resolution to reduce my weight to a healthy 170 lbs.  There are still a couple of days to the end of the first month of 2012; but today marks four full weeks into the 52 week year.  With 48 weeks to go still, I'm in great shape.

To rehash: I started out the 2012 New Year at 206 lbs.  This was my shoulder/head shot on that day:

Now, four weeks later, I tip the scales at a healthy 184.2 lbs.  Here's today's head shot photo:

My face has probably given all that it can give in terms of an indication of my weight loss.  I'm still hoping to get rid of that last little bit of double chin and chubby cheeks; but I'm naturally made that way.  I come from a long line of distinguised "round" faces!  But what is more striking these days in terms of visual evidence of the weight loss are the full body shots I've been taking every Sunday just wearing biking shorts.  I suspect it will be more in the mid-section of my frame where future weight loss will be much more apparent.  My daughters and I looked at my side full-body profile shots from Jan. 1 and then at the ones from today, and they gasped at the difference.  Maybe one day, I'll post them up on the blog, too.

In terms of weekly movement, as you'll be able to note from last Sunday's update, I've lost about 5 lbs over the course of the week.  I went from 189.4 lbs last Sunday to 184.2 this Sunday.  But I did put the brakes on things a bit since last Wednesday and I've increased my caloric intake a bit so that I'm not literally starving myself.  My goal now is just to make consistent progress, maybe 1-2 lbs loss a week from now on until I hit the 170 lb goal and then try to maintain.  We'll see how it goes.

But do visit again to check in and keep me honest in my goal, because I cannot fail!

PS: With this posting, I will have also completed another month (for a consistent half-year now), and thus fulfilled my obligations, of my blogging self-nudge, too.

Bill Maher on President Obama, Saul Alinsky, and the Unhinged GOP

Bill Maher really exposes what I think is one of the biggest problems with the GOP, and which is reflected in the current GOP primary candidates' rhetoric: they have crafted an image of Obama that is so far removed from reality and so way out in stratosphere that to even perpetuate it indicates a kind of mental delusion.  Here's Maher exposing this as it relates to the linking of Obama with Saul Alinsky (a person, by the way, whom no one really seems to know, but whose name sounds enough like Stalin and Lenin and Russian Communists in general to whip up an unthinking, but delusionally "patriotic" Obama-hating mob:

The real irony here, for those who really are in the know, is that Saul Alinsky and his "Rules for Radicals" is quite influential in the grass roots activism of the Tea Party movement.   The "rules" that Alinsky teaches actually have been deployed quite effectively (and sometimes quite intentionally) by grass -roots conservative activists.  What conservatives tend to object to is not the fundamental recipe Alinsky developed for effecting social change, but that he taught them to poor people, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups cut out of power and on the edges of effective participation in our political system.  In a political system that claims to be of the people, by the people, and for the people irrespective of social class, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religious conviction, or racial/ethnic identity, one would think that any freedom-loving, grass roots advocacy conservative would celebrate anything that mobilizes Americans to find their voice, to speak up, and to challenge authority when it contravenes what they believe is in their best interests, as something essential to, worthy of, and, yes, exceptional in the American idea of democracy and individual sovereignty.

What I find to be revealing about the attempts to link Obama hatred with Alinsky is that what conservatives seem to project is a very elitist and exclusive understanding of American civic life in which only the "right" people should be organizing and participating in grass roots activism.  And if it's not the "right" people, by whom they mean "real" Americans such as Tea Partiers, wealthy businesses, and the like, exercising their voice and collective power through organizing, then it's both un-democratic and un-American.

Shame on conservatives who play this game and attempt to create such a narrative about Obama as if it were a bad thing when that is precisely the game that the current conservative anti-Establishment insurgency is engaged in itself.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jazz Drummers

I don't know much about many jazz drummers, but of the little that I do know, I'm having an internal struggle with three of the greats on this instrument.  First, there's Chick Webb whose career at the Savoy was explosive, albeit short.  And I love his driving rhythms.  Then there's Gene Krupa whose legacy was steady and consistently impressive.  I particularly love Krupa's drumming with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.  And, finally, there's Max Roach.  He's perhaps the most innovative and well-rounded drummer I've ever listened to; and I think his talent really far exceeds that of either Chick Webb or Gene Krupa, but it's hard to compare them all together given that they represent very different performance styles.

So my question to you jazz aficionados who know a bit more about drummers: how would you rank the three and why?  And if you want to throw any other drummers into the mix as someone I need to consider (such as Art Blakey or Paul Motian, etc.) in the top tier, let me know why.

Good Saturday

In my efforts to try to temper my exercise and weight loss asceticism, I went a bit off schedule today.  I ate a healthy breakfast, then went for a swim after dropping the Squirrelly Girlies off at their dancing lessons. The swim was a modest one, and I didn't push it tacking on my usual stationary bicycling regimen.  Even still, I did put in a good 30 minutes of swimming.

Then, I met up with my brother who is riding with me in the Thoth parade and we went shopping for some specialty throws.  That's always an exciting thing to do.  After that, we went and had lunch together at "Dat Dog" -- and this is where I relaxed a bit on the intensity of my New Year's Resolution.  I ordered a hot sausage dog with the usual fixings.

And later, I ate a regular healthy dinner with my family.

It was a higher calorie intake day (and a lower calorie burning exercise day) than I have been subjecting myself to lately, but it felt good to be in control knowing that I can do these things and still feel comfortable with being able to meet my goal.

I wanted to slow things down, and I'm trying to do just that.  But the key for me is not to let this day become the beginning of a longer and more sustained letdown from the healthier routine that I have been living lately.  And I have to say that I do have this tendency to obsess and go gangbusters for a sustained while, only to have an equally intense wave of lethargy and inactivity.

Here's where the New Year's Resolution "nudge" will hopefully help.  As long as I have that guiding me, I think I may be able to regulate and sustain a healthier exercise and eating regimen, even when that intense first phase gets tempered.

I will still be posting pictures every Sunday (so expect one tomorrow!) along with a weigh-in update.  And that, too, I think will help keep me honest without being overly excessive in carrying out the plan. After all, I did set a modest goal of 3 lbs weight loss per month for a reason.  Let's see if I can be content with that.

Already, I have to say that I am very pleased with where I am today and wouldn't be upset at all if, after this Resolution year is over, I can maintain my weight and practice better living at around where I am now.  Still, I have the resolution to meet, and I will do it.  I think I'm entering a new and critical phase of the plan, so let's hope luck is with me!

What I'm Listening To: Count Basie - One O'Clock Jump

Again, as part of my walking to work commitment, I get to listen some NPR Jazz Profiles episodes. That's one of the side benefits whenever I find myself walking long stretches. Anyway, I was listening to the 3-part profile of Count Basie, which was just wonderful. Every time I listen to a Jazz Profiles episode, it makes me want to read all the great biographies and autobiographies of these great jazz legends. One day, I'll get to them.

But one of the reasons why I chose Count Basie's profile to listen to is because I have been enjoying listening to him and his orchestra in my "Big Band Bicycling" playlist.

One of the tunes I have on this playlist is also the one tune that came to define Count Basie's orchestra: One O'Clock Jump. So, as a tribute to Count Basie and the enjoyment I've been getting from him lately, here's a rendition of the tune:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mid-week Resolution Update

Today, after a particularly vigorous workout, I weighed in at 185.0 lbs.  That's an almost 5 lb. drop from Sunday.  I've been averaging a 1.5 lb drop per day.  That can't be good and it has me a bit worried.  I've tried to be more vigilant about my caloric intake and its distribution across various sources of calories (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates); but I think it's clear that I'm way under-nourishing myself.  I shouldn't be losing this much weight this quickly, and I worry that not only am I burning fat cells, but I'm also cutting into muscle cells.

So, I'm going to try to slow things down and try to increase the amount of calories I'm ingesting.  I've read that one should never slip below 1200 calories per day, and I don't think I've been that ascetic; but I do think that I'm staying under 2000 calories, but burning a lot in a rigorous exercise program (probably upwards of 3500 calories per day counting the number of calories one normally burns in a sedentary state, plus the added calories burned through exercise).

I want to lose weight, but I want to do it in a healthy manner, and I have to carefully look at my diet and exercise regimen to find that appropriate balance between cutting weight and keeping up a healthy, balanced, and sustainable supply of energy through food.

Any tips or advice are welcome.

Obama's Idea of American Unity and the Bin Laden Mission Analogy

Some conservatives are critical of Obama's analogizing the Bin Laden raid and military cohesiveness and unity in the execution of it as almost approaching a dangerous "fascist" or "technocratic statist" idea of America. (See Conor Friedersdorf, Prof. Mondo, and even my esteemed Andrew Sullivan [see Sullivan's 10:17 pm comment]).

First off, I find this richly ironic as conservatives are the first to criticize President Obama for being anti-everything patriotic in the military, a "divider" and not a uniter. They are also the first to complain bitterly about those of us who disagree with them as not part of "real" America. Yeah, yeah ... try to wish this away, but the fact is that America's ideological division and messiness is never celebrated by conservatives as a fundamental part of who we are, but is rather alien and foreign to America -- it is the other "faux" America and is not really who or what we are. And any claims to a feeling of an American-ness that we share in opposition to forces arrayed against the project that is America, in all of its messiness and division, are always questionable when a liberal Democrat makes such claims.

I wrote the following in a comment at Prof. Mondo's blog that captures my problem with this line of critiquing this part of Obama's speech:

I think Obama understands America and Americans pretty darn well if you want to refer to the average person. You (and Friedersdorf) can read a (nearly) fascist meaning into what Obama was saying, but I think folks who don’t hold Ph.D.s or who haven’t studied closely the fine variations of governing ideologies such as totalitarianism, fascism, democracy, republicanism, corporatism, etc., will know exactly what Obama meant. He was saying (as he hinted at when he directly prefaced this part of his SOTU address when he noted that the soldiers on the Osama bin Laden mission were probably both Democrats and Republicans) that in spite of our differences, we all share what it means to be an American and that this matters (or should matter) when push comes to shove and the very idea of America is in question. In fact, I’ve even heard some conservatives make the point that when a foreigner seeks to demean our country’s President it doesn’t matter that we do it ourselves. We get to do it because we’re Americans, and it’s our birthright; but if some foreigner wants to do it, well then we’re going to stand with our President and defend what he represents as an American because it’s also a slight on us if we don’t. For instance, I may not have liked George Bush, and I may rail on him all the time, but I’ll be damned if I won’t come to Bush’s defense as an American when some foreign yahoo tries to belittle and demean him. That’s what Obama was conveying, and I think most Americans knew exactly that and agree with it. It has to do not with the messiness of difference, but with the commonality of our American identity.

Obama's Bad Milk Joke in the SOTU

Yes, that “spilled milk” joke was pretty atrocious; but there is a difference between Obama’s bad joke and the usual bad jokes told by other candidates.  And it is the fact that Obama knew it was a bad joke and told it anyway.  You could see from his body language and facial expression when he started the joke to when he followed it through to the punch line that he knew the absurdity and corniness of it.  But there’s something appealing and even comforting about a person who is confident enough and self-assured enough to acknowledge in the moment a bit of corniness in an attempt at humor.  That bad joke, in my mind, did not reflect a “tone-deaf” and “out of touch” Obama, but instead had the effect of humanizing him.  It made Obama seem so much like all the rest of us who have either told jokes ourselves that fell flat or who have cringed in hearing a bad joke being told.  Watch that clip of the SOTU again and see if you don’t find yourself laughing along with Obama not at the joke, but at Obama himself for even attempting it knowing it was a clunker.  The GOP narrative of Obama being an arrogant elitist just doesn’t wash when you see moments like this, even for those who disagree with Obama and find his policies problematic.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Classic" on the Reading Night Table

One of the things I'm trying to do over the course of the year is to turn to some of the classic literature that I should have already read long ago, but never got around to doing. The choice of the moment is Herman Melville's Moby Dick. I've read a very abridged version of this story as a child, but I've never read the real, massive thing. It's such an American classic that it would be a shame to go through life not having read it. In fact, it's pretty pathetic that I haven't read it yet. So, I'm doing it -- reading the thing slowly -- two to three chapters per week -- and squeezing it in between the other novels that I have going right now. And so far, I've really enjoyed what I read. One of the most pleasant surprises for me is Melville's erudition and knowledge of classical mythology. I was expecting detailed knowledge of seafaring and whaling terminology, but not so much of an extensive vocabulary and historical knowledge outside of this realm. As I said, very enjoyable a read so far.

What I'm Listening To: Coleman Hawkins' All-Star Octet

Now that I'm back riding the stationary bike fairly regularly again, I'm back to my Big Band Bicycling.  One of the tracks that I thoroughly enjoy is "The Sheik of Araby" performed by Coleman Hawkins' All-Star Octet.  This tune was recorded in January of 1940 (and you can hear it on a soundtrack collection from the Ken Burns documentary "The War").

Building on his October 1939 recording of "Body and Soul," you can hear clearly in "The Sheik of Araby" during Hawkins' tenor saxophone solo towards the end of the recording a definite Bebop rhythm, pacing, and sound that would become immortalized by the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and others.

It's fascinating to listen to an early Charlie Parker piece and then to "The Sheik of Araby" by Coleman Hawkins.  I love Charlie Parker and his pioneering work with the Bebop style, but I have to give Hawkins the true props for being Bebop's real first practitioner and innovator.