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.

2012 Resolution Update

This week has been one of ups and downs; but given the circumstances I was fairly disciplined.

I had to attend three dinners outside of the home as part of some special events this week. They could not be avoided and all of them were rich food options, even though I tried to prepare for them by reducing my caloric intake the rest of the day.

My saving grace, though, was a dedicated high-calorie-burning workout schedule that I stuck to like a pit bull, even when I was tired and distracted by other things.

All said, I was still pleased with the outcome.

Last Sunday, I weighed in at 192.6 lbs.  This week, I broke the 190 lb barrier -- but just barely.  I weighed in today at 189.4 lbs.  This amounts to a 3.2 lb drop for this week.  And it was hard work.  Still, 3 lbs in one week is pretty admirable given that I need to average 3 lbs in one month to keep pace with my goal.  I'm building up a pretty good reserve just in case I need them.

Anyway, visual evidence... Here's this week's head shot:

Compared to the picture snapped on Jan. 1, 2012:

My naturally round face makes it hard to see much change, but I think the progress is now becoming clearly pretty evident, especially around the jowls and neck lines.  Every Sunday I also take a series of four full body shots (front profile, left side profile, right side profile, and back profile) to be able to track the weight loss evolution over my full body during the course of the year.  And the change in these pictures is pretty pronounced.  Perhaps at the end of this year I'll put together one of those slide shows where one can see a full year's worth of change in rapid presentation format -- both in the head shots as well as the four full body shots.

On to week four and the end of the first month!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Segregation, Black Culture, and Conservative Colorblindness

Today, as I was on the stationary bike trying to get in shape, lose some pounds, and meet my New Year's resolution, I was listening (again) to an NPR Jazz Profiles episode.  This particular episode focused on Nat King Cole as a singer.  As usual, the profile was simply outstanding, as every single one of them is.

But what got me thinking as I listened to the profile (and it could have been any number of profiles about pre-Civil Rights black jazz musicians) is how disingenuous and thoughtless is the current conservative pretension to embrace a kind of "colorblindness" when it comes to race -- even in matters of cultural expression and identity.  I have argued on any number of occasions about the existence and value of expressions of ethnic and racial identity through social and cultural outlets and traditions.  I contend that there is such a thing as culture linked to race and that not only is this not a bad thing, but should actually be embraced and celebrated as part of the rich diversity of our country's racial and ethnic heritage.

But I can't tell you how many times I've been called a "racist" by conservatives who pretend to embrace a "colorblind" attitude when they read my thoughts on the subject and think that my position amounts to perpetuating a society where things are determined exclusively by skin color.  I think these people conflate and confuse racism with simple racial identity.  There is a difference between political oppression and discrimination on the basis of race and an acknowledgment that black culture exists and that black people identify with this culture because of their race.

And as I was listening to Nancy Wilson narrate the profile of Nat King Cole, it dawned on me that the history of racial segregation and discrimination must be considered as a force that actually conditioned the creation of black culture.  A shared culture linked exclusively to race was, I think, partly born of black people (and other marginalized peoples) forced to live in a segregated world that was defined by race and ethnicity.  Let's just take music as an example (and jazz music in particular).  White jazz performers who catered to white audiences were identified by a particular kind of jazz music.  Just listen to Stan Kenton and his orchestra, or Benny Goodman and his orchestra, or Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, etc., to get a feel for the way white jazz bands performed.  On the other hand, black jazz performers who catered to black audiences were identified by a very different style of music.  Chick Webb and his orchestra, Louis Jordan and his "tympany five," Cab Callaway and his orchestra, Count Basie and his orchestra, Duke Ellington and his orchestra, etc.  Even the musicians and commentators in the Jazz Profile series often speak of this difference.  And we can apply this differentiation to other aspects of culture as well -- food, religious traditions, dance, linguistics, etc.

The difference in culture was born out of a forced difference in association.  Might I be so bold as to suggest that if there weren't racial segregation and discrimination in this country, there might be a more universal "American" culture shared by all without disaggregations because of race.  But we have what we have today because of our history of racial segregation and discrimination.

Yes, there is a black culture shared by the young black woman in Oregon and the elderly black man in Georgia.  This shared culture is defined by race.  Being "black" has meaning.  And to try to "erase" that shared culture by adopting this contemporary conservative meme of "colorblindness" is not only naive (in that it ignores history) but it is also, I would argue, racist in and of itself.  It's basically a claim, under the insidious guise of colorblind equality, that being culturally black in America, even given the realities of our history, is an unacceptable expression of racism.  The conservative folks whose ancestors demanded a separate world for black people because of race now seek to claim that the cultural legacies of this world that was forced on black people by segregation, legacies that remind and celebrate the black experience in America, should cease to exist.  And how arrogant, patronizing, condescending, and outlandish is that?!?!

Cal Thomas and Evangelical Propagandizing

Every once in a blue moon, Cal Thomas emerges from his conservative theocratic funk and writes something sensible.  Here's the crux of the column:

The Kingdom of God functions best, said the One who ought to know, when it is invisible, or hidden. In his numerous parables, Jesus spoke of it being like a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), or as tiny as a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). As for prayer, He said to do that privately, not in public “…like the hypocrites...” (Matthew 6:5-6)

Those who spend a lot of time arguing for the inerrancy of Scripture seem to gloss over these instructions when it comes to politics and football.

Why do many evangelicals feel the need to see their faith on public display? Are they that insecure about the One in whom they claim to believe? His Apostle, Paul, said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) Was he kidding?

I’m sure Tim Tebow is as fine a man as everyone says he is; everyone except Bill Maher and other “apatheist” detractors. But the Jesus about whom Tebow frequently speaks and to whom he drops to one knee to publicly praise, said to go into your closet and pray in secret and then your prayers will be heard.
He ends the piece with this admonition:
Instead of intensely focusing on football and the next election, perhaps evangelicals ought to pray more; in private, of course, and with the right motives.
I couldn't agree more.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mitt Romney's Theme Song/Video

At least what I would choose for it.  Ya gotta click here to find out.  It all fits.

Newt's An Ass

The man who made Bill Clinton's marital infidelities "exhibit A" in the popular media blows a gasket when the tables are turned on him for exactly the same reason.  And then he has the gall to blame the media for doing to Republican Presidential Candidates what he would have them do to an an actual sitting President!!!  And the most sickening thing is that the South Carolinian Republicans ate it up.  The "family values" conservatives who think we need more "family values" in the public discourse defend and cheer an egregious violator of these values for wanting to keep it hushed and out of the public discourse.  I'm sympathetic to keeping one's private lives and private indiscretions out of the public square; but that's not the world that these conservatives want.  And yet they chafe at this world when it applies to themselves looking in the mirror.  The hypocrisy is rank and disgusting.  And, yes, Newt is an ass, both for how he actually treated his second wife and for his desire to have an "open" marriage, and for his brazen audacity in chastising the media for calling him on it.

Thoughts on the Tebowing Phenomenon

Much has been made recently of Tim Tebow's spirituality on the field, particularly his religious genuflection as a testament to his Christian faith.  Sally Jenkins wrote an article in defense of Tebow's expression of faith and wonders why so many people are bothered by it.  Here's a fairly lengthy quotation from the piece that gets at the crux of the issue:

What’s more interesting is why Maher, and other political commentators from Bill Press to David Shuster, feel compelled to rip on Tebow simply for kneeling.

“I’m tired of hearing Tim Tebow and all this Jesus talk,” Press said, adding a profane suggestion that Tebow should shut up. They act like he’s trying to personally strip them of their religious liberty, manipulate the markets, and take over our strategic oil transport routes.

What is so threatening about Tebow? It can’t be his views. Tebow has never once suggested God cares about football. Quite the opposite. It’s Maher and company who stupidly suggest a Tebow touchdown scores one for Evangelicals whereas an interception somehow chalks one up for atheism. Anyone who listens to Tebow knows he doesn’t do Jesus talk, he’s mostly show and no tell. His idea of proselytizing is to tweet an abbreviated Bible citation. Mark 8:36. He leaves it up to you whether to look it up. When he takes a knee, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s an expression of humility. He’s crediting his perceived source, telling himself, don’t forget where you came from. On the whole, it’s more restrained than most end-zone shimmies.

So why does Tebow’s expression of faith make people so silly-crazy? Why do they care what he does?

Because he emphasizes the aspect of his talent that is given, not earned.
I've been thinking about this a lot, because the Tim Tebow phenomenon bothers me, too; but I can honestly say that Jenkins' explanation in my case is completely false. My discomfort with "Tebowing" is not that he's emphasizing "an aspect of his talent that is given, not earned." I really have no issues at all with that. What bothers me is that Tebow has always consciously played into the Christian culture wars, and I don't see his Tebowing as an innocent gesture of his faith. It may not be a spiritual proselytization, but I think it is clearly a political commentary on the idea of pushing faith in the public square.

In fact, that's why it's his particular gestures of faith on the playing field, as opposed to the hundreds of other gestures of faith that athletes regularly display on the playing field, have resonated so powerfully not only among the likes of Bill Maher, but also among the likes of Pat Robertson. There are hundreds of baseball players who make the sign of the cross as they come up to bat. There are basketball players who emblazon Christian symbols on their bodies (i.e. Jamario Moon). In NASCAR racing, Christian symbolism is extensive.

So why does Tebow elicit so much attention concerning his expression of Christian faith? To get the answer, all one needs to do is to remember how Tebow and faith became so prominent an issue. Remember the anti-abortion Tebow commercial that was supposed to air on Superbowl Sunday? This happened while Tebow was still a quarterback at the University of Florida. And there was no question that this was a politically motivated culture war sortie.  Moreover, Tebow himself supported and promoted it.

What bothers me is that Tebow himself has very much played a part in politicizing his faith; and any subsequent expressions of his faith on the field in full public display must be taken in this context. My discomfort is with that.

I really and truly don't care that Tebow has a strong faith and is confident to express it publicly. And it wouldn't even cross my mind as anything bothersome if he were to do in on the field without the politicized context that he himself has shrouded it with. And the simple fact is that I get uncomfortable when I know that anyone has politicized his faith and then foists that faith on me against my will. I don't watch football as a political statement in the culture wars. And Tim Tebow, unfortunately, has made his expressions of faith into political statements. That is why it bothers me. And that is why I think Andrew Sullivan is on to something about why Tebow's faith on the field should be problematic for Christians.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 Resolution Update

My only New Year's Resolution for 2012 was to get my weight down to 170lbs by the end of the year.

On Jan. 1, 2012, I weighed in at 206 lbs.

After one week, on Jan. 8, 2012, my weight had dropped to 197.8 lbs.

Today, the scale reports my weight as 192.6 lbs.

Visual evidence from today:

Not as dramatic a drop as the first week, but a 5.2 lb decrease in one week is still notable.  And it shows that my first week's big drop was not a fluke, as I had feared it might have been.  So that means that in just two weeks, I have lost 13.4 lbs.

Here's my Jan 1 photo for immediate comparison:

I think the difference is notable; but you be the judge.  Even still, this is all academic.  What really matters is the end goal of reaching 170lbs.  And I can tell you that getting down to that weight will not be easy, especially since I have stepped up my exercise schedule and will be building up some high density muscle mass.

I have to say that I have not been 170 lbs since high school/early college.  Back then, I was probably in the best shape of my life.  And there are certain aspects of one's physique that come with age that simply can't be turned back: a slower metabolism, higher bone density, etc.

But I am determined.  We shall see.  But I do have one caveat to my Resolution that requires some clarification.  My resolution was to get down to 170 lbs over the course of 2012.  Once I hit that goal, regardless of when it happens, I will have met my resolution.  So it doesn't matter if the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays of 2012 lead me to end the year at 175lbs (or greater).  And even though the long-term goal is to maintain a healthy weight well into the future; once (and if!) I hit 170lbs, my goal is fulfilled.  Just wanted to make that clear now, rather than later.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Up Series

A friend of mine brought to my attention this fascinating documentary series about the lives of 14 British citizens as they have evolved over the past 54 years.  The series started in 1964, when the kids were 7 years old.  And there have been regular updates every seven years.  The last completed set was when they were all 49 years old, which was about 6 years ago.  This year, filming for "56 Up" should be underway, completed, and released.  The people who are the subjects of this documentary series came from very different socioeconomic and class backgrounds; and to see their lives evolve over all these years is just captivating. I'm sure there are lots of folks who would criticize the films for a variety of reasons; but I found them quite revealing, useful, and respectfully done.

Every film up to "49 Up" can be live-streamed through Netflix.  I've managed to get through all of the films in the series and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Check it out for yourselves and see if you also enjoy it.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on the series for some background.  But be forewarned that there are some spoilers in this wikipedia entry.

Saints Dirge

It's quite a thing that the Saints could turn the ball over 5 times and still be a hair from winning the game.  In fact, they should have won the game.  But San Francisco played the game of their season; and they deserved to win.  So congratulations to the 49ers.  The Saints will have to wait until next year to make a run for it again.  Now, on to Mardi Gras.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Romney Can't Win Against Obama

Those who believe ABO (Anyone But Obama) might have second thoughts after seeing this:

Abso-frickin'-lutely devastating.

Even still, I don't think it's going to have any impact in derailing the Romney nomination; and if Romney gets the nod, you watch this video [produced by a Republican(!) SuperPac, no less] go viral during the general election.  Watch Obama pound Romney on this point over and over and over and over until the words Bain and Romney becoming synonymous and prevalent in every household living room.

And then watch horrified and disgusted working class conservatives stay home on election day.

Really, if this video comes to define a Romney general election candidacy, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that Obama will win the poorer, working-class South.

And anyone from the current GOP field but Romney will be perceived as much too extreme by the general voting population to also stand a chance against Obama.

Now that this attack has been launched, the GOP is virtually sunk in the upcoming election.

Conservatives, get ready for another four years of Obama.  And be glad for it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on LSU vs. Bama in the BCS Championship Game

We Green Wave fans have no real standing to mock the LSU Tigers for last night; but it remains true that the embarrassment suffered by the Tigers was so complete and so profound that it unfortunately diminishes the whole rest of the season.  That was one of the most pathetic displays of football that I've ever seen.  The coaching was atrocious, the decision-making questionable, the enthusiasm and spirit lacking, and the play (especially by the QB) tentative and skittish.

What should be remembered fondly as an impressive undefeated season leading up to the BCS Championship game, will now be remembered as the season of the most historical and ugly collapse in LSU history.

I don't know of any LSU diehards who will speak of this year's 13-1 record with any amount of positive feeling.

This is the way the season ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

Roll Green Wave!

What My Kids Are Listening To: Adele - Set Fire to the Rain

Granted that Adele has a nice voice, but I don't see the huge appeal.  Even still, the squirrelly girlies love her:

Sunday, January 08, 2012

2012 Resolution Update

Well, it's now one week since I put myself on the line and made a New Year's resolution that, should I fail to achieve it, will require me to make a $120 contribution to causes that I just can't stomach.  I had 52 weeks to reach my goal.  Today marks the end of the first week which means I only have 51 more weeks to do it.

What was my resolution, you ask?  Well, assuming you haven't clicked the above link yet, I'll summarize: I have to get my weight down to 170 lbs by the end of 2012.

On January 1, 2012, I put up a "Fitness Check-In" posting, with an accompanying picture.

I weighed in at 206 lbs.

I promised to try to maintain a weekly update of my progress, and that's what I'm doing right now.

I stepped on the scale just a bit ago and my current weight is (drum roll!): 197.8 lbs!

In just one week, I've managed to drop a bit more than 8 lbs.  Now, I should qualify that a bit by saying that when I first weighed in, I had long pants on (with keys and wallet in the pockets) and was wearing shoes.  Today, I stepped on the scale with just shorts and a T-shirt (no shoes), and without the keys and wallet in my pockets.  So you can probably add another pound or two to the above current weight to get a more accurate comparison to day one.  But even still, I've had a good first week.  However, I know it's going to be a long slog because it hasn't been an easy week.  I've basically cut out all sweets, alcohol, and high fat content foods from my diet.  I've also reduced all my meal portions by at least a half, I limit my in-between meal snacks to just a couple per day and keep the portions small (just enough to assuage the hungry feeling when it starts to get distracting), and I don't have late night snacks just before I go to bed.  I've also managed to walk back and forth to work (a good, brisk 25-30 minute walk each way) for 4 of the 5 weekdays of last week, and the other day I rode my bike back and forth to work.  And I managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the gym for some additional light workouts.    It's been hard and I hope I can sustain the commitment, though I know all future weeks won't be so austere (and I don't plan for them to be so).

Anyway, what about visual accountability?  Well, I do have a new head-shot picture from about an hour ago.  I'm not sure much is noticeable, but I do think there's a little hint of some weight loss around the edges.  You can be the judge.  Here's the latest picture (notice my tribute to the Saints!):

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Obama and the Steadily Improving Economy

Latest unemployment figures, coupled with other national economic indicators, point to a sustained and continued future improvement in the overall economy.  This bodes extremely well for Obama.

Even though some conservatives may argue that this growing recovery could have been even sooner and more robust without Obama at the helm, the fact is that national economic signs are positive.

The conservative position has to be "don't mess with a positive thing" or "if it ain't broke, no need to fix it."  Well, even if that's not the conservative position, that's how many folks are gonna be thinking.  Obama's got us on a path that brought us off the precipice of a major depression and seems to be turning things around.  And it doesn't matter if that could have been done sooner and better.  Fact is that it's working now, and it would be more risky to foist wholesale change in another direction than it would be to just plod along in what seems to be working.  Since NFL playoffs and the BCS championship game are on the mind, I'll give a football analogy: if you've got a quarterback leading a team that his plodding its way slowly but surely to the goal line, you don't just risk this successful strategy by putting in a run-n-gun rookie quarterback to try to shake things up and potentially put more points up more quickly on the scoreboard.  Better to go with what you know is working and what you know will still lead to victory, then to take the chance on the unknown wildcard and end up blowing it all to hell.

If economic indicators keep going slowly, but surely, in their current positive direction, Americans are going to be more likely to want to keep the current President at the helm.

The Rise of Rick Santorum and the Conservative Movement

I've been thinking about what the rise of Rick Santorum means for the Democrats and Obama, for the GOP, and for this country in general.  His rise is nothing but good news for Obama and the Democrats; it's a kind of watershed moment for the GOP and for conservatism generally; and for the country it's another harbinger of the last gasp of fundamentalist social conservatism.

In some respects, the rise of Santorum is even more worrisome than that of Sarah Palin.  Sarah Palin was never a serious political personality.  She has always been much more of a kind of reality show entertainer; and though her appeal to socially conservative evangelicals was substantial, she really didn't come across to me as a hard core social conservative the way that Santorum does.

In any event, should Santorum get the GOP nomination (which I highly doubt), his social conservatism will not only scare the liberal base of the Democratic Party into turning out in droves to vote for Obama, but political independents and moderates, who tend to be much more socially liberal, will also turn out in large numbers for Obama.  The fact is that we live in a much more secular and socially tolerant country then at any point in this nation's history.  The only rallying cry that conservatives have that may be effective against Obama and the Democrats is that of a smaller, more balanced-budget-conscious, and less intrusive (socially and economically) government.  Yet Santorum fails on this front.  He is really a one pony show -- social conservatism -- buffeted by an intrusive and, if necessary, big government approach to imposing his socially conservative values.  Libertarians and true small-government conservatives know this about Santorum.  And I think that they'll be just as worried about a Santorum presidency as liberals and moderates would be.

For all his faults, Obama has been much more of a "Liberaltarian" on social issues and where he has pushed for greater state involvement in the economy, it has been in sectors where the market appears to have failed to generate adequate responses to abuses and dysfunction that society as a whole wants addressed: regulation of the financial markets and banking industry, protection of consumers from market predators, and reform of the health care market that can insure access to adequate health care to all Americans at affordable prices.  Even though we can disagree over Obama's proposed solutions to these problems, I think most would agree that these are issues requiring attention and involvement by the government.  To have the government just sit back and do nothing, letting market forces decide outcomes in these areas, as some conservatives would advocate, is not something that resonates with a significant majority of the population.

So, the upshot is that a Santorum candidacy compared to an Obama candidacy, especially when it comes to a perception of who would be the more likely to thrust government into the private lives of individuals, has to fall out decidedly in favor of Obama.  I think most people, even libertarian-leaning or  small-government fiscal conservatives, would probably think that Santorum could actually be a worse choice than Obama.  And that's not to mention Santorum's saber-rattling when it comes to Iran at a time when this country does not want more war and is very disturbed by continued war-mongering rhetoric.

For the country as a whole, Santorum's social conservatism is a relic of bygone days.  Issues like gay marriage, DADT, faith-based government programs, absolutist anti-abortion stances, etc., are more and more settled in the direction of tolerance, even if not all out acceptance, by a growing majority of Americans in all social, economic, and even religious constituencies.  The Santorum surge is really nothing more than the frenzied anxiety of a dwindling social fundamentalist consistency who are very aware and very disturbed by their growing irrelevance to mainstream public opinion on social issues.  This constituency is backed into a corner by modernity, is acknowledging that there is no path out to survival, and thus is gearing up for its inevitable fight to an assured death.

Even if Santorum doesn't win the nomination, his ascendancy at a critical moment in the nomination process will require Romney and the other GOP contenders to parrot some of Santorum's big-government, socially-conservative ideals in order to try to strip off some of Santorum's support.  And this can only be of benefit to Obama and the Democrats.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Jim McCormick in Nashville

Kudo's to my high school and college classmate, Jim McCormick, for his growing success in the country music songwriting world in Nashville.

I just had a chance to catch up with Jim during our annual Class of '86 Jesuit High School Christmas lunch (In the picture I posted there, Jim's the guy in the back row under the wall-mounted TV set, on the right.)

I'm so glad for Jim's success.  Couldn't be happening to a nicer guy.  Jim's performing this weekend at Carrollton Station, and I'm gonna try to get out to see him.

Way to go, Jim!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011 Literature List

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon -- One of the better books I've read over the past year.  Told from the point of view of a boy with autism, but who is a genius at math.  The genius of Haddon is his ability to present a very convincing picture of how a young, autistic savant's mind would work, and all without coming across as patronizing in the process.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin -- If you want to know about rural Mississippi wrapped in a well-done murder mystery tinged with racial overtones, you'll want to check this out.  What I like about this story is that the typical racial narratives of life in Mississippi are reversed, with the white man subject to vilification and suspicion of heinous crimes while a black man, working for the local police, who has information that could vindicate this white man, doesn't come forward and let's it fester for a long time, some twenty plus years, until the situation comes to a head and the truth must out.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson -- This one takes a bit of getting used to as it's essentially a missive from an elderly minister to his young son.  It's purposefully slow-paced, but it has a kind of peacefulness about it that is very calming and soothing.  Very philosophical and theological.  If you're looking for action or for a plot that has twists and turns, this book isn't for you.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart -- At first, the brazen vulgarity and crass sexual materialism that hits the reader square in the face very early on can be quite a turn off.  But, this book, out of all the ones that I read over the past year, has probably stuck with me the most.  It's that kind of book that one constantly remembers and thinks about.  What makes it this way is the fact that the world Shteyngart paints is one that seems quite possible in the near future.  And the theme of the social alienation and coarseness that comes with a loss of privacy through advanced technology is, I think, probably very prescient.  It's a glimpse into a world what we can actually see the beginnings of today.

In the Company of Angels, by Thomas E. Kennedy -- This was a difficult read because it probes the depths of deep psychological wounds that result from systematic torture on the one hand (one of the main characters is an exiled torture victim of the Chilean military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s) and from domestic abuse on the other hand (the other main character is a Danish woman whose adult life was characterized by harsh physical abuse from her husband and subsequent boyfriend, compounded by the suicide of her only child at a very young adult age).  But the writing is elegant and the description of Copenhagen and Danish life is quite satisfying.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot -- The only non-fiction book in this current list, this book is exceptional for its ability to tell the history and probe the ethics of cell tissue research in a way that any average, non-biologist or non-geneticist, can read.  It's also a very readable sociology of race in the context of scientific experimentation and the evolution of protection of the rights and privacy of human subjects in scientific research involving human tissue samples.

Distant Star, by Roberto BolaƱo -- Another short book that explores the depths of the mind and actions of a Chilean torturer and sadist.  However, the narrative is so compelling, well-written, and readable that the horror of the profile of the story's main subject personality, while not obscured, is certainly muted.  In other words the beauty of the writing belies the terribleness of the story that is being written.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, all by Suzanne Collins -- Because my oldest daughter has read them, and in anticipation for the upcoming movie release based on the book, and given that some of my friends whose reading choices I respect have given this series glowing reviews, I thought that I should read them, too.  And they do not disappoint.  While the story can get a bit cliched at times -- i.e. the suffering underdog hero always wins in the end against the evil authority -- the actual story concept is pretty creative: in a post-apocalyptic United States, subordinate and oppressed zones dominated by a central power have to send teenage kids - a boy and a girl - to fight to the death against one another until only one is left standing -- hence, the "hunger games."  As usual, the first in the series is the best; but the follow-up books hold their own, even though they aren't as good.  The writing is crisp and clear, and the narrative in each book of the trilogy is action-packed from start to finish.  It's an adolescent reader's version of a cross between the Mad Max story, Gladiator, and Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" told in epic format.  And, yes, good and freedom conquers evil and totalitarianism in the end.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell - One calendar year in the life of 13 year old British boy who suffers with a stutter, deals with being bullied at school, craves to belong and be "cool," while his parents' marriage dissolves and ends in divorce.  The language and storytelling is very good, and one gets a really good sense of how life for an adolescent boy in semi-rural, small-town Britain was in 1982-1983.  As someone who was a young teenager in the early 1980s myself, I particularly enjoyed the pop cultural flashback that this story engendered: Thatcherism, Reaganism, The Falklands War, and  the punk/pop culture of Adam and the Ants, Madness, and Blondie made this, in a way, a nostalgic read for me, too.

I'm sure there are more to add, especially from the non-fiction categories that my work and teaching require; but I'll leave them for another day.

Currently Reading

David Foster Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System

I've read a lot about David Foster Wallace and have heard people speak very highly of his work; so I figured I had to read something of his.  But I didn't just want to dive into one of his more recent, and better-known works.  So I opted for The Broom of the System.

I'm only just 80 pages in to a 450+ work, so the jury is still out on a final assessment.  But I'm enjoying what I'm reading so far.  It's a bit bizarre and kinda campy, but it is clear that Wallace is a very talented writer and manipulator of language.

What has really grabbed my attention so far are the fantastically absurd and yet hilariously clever character names.

To wit: "Wang Dang" Lang (and no, he's not Asian); Mindy Metalman; Richard "Rick" Vigorous (and though it hasn't come up yet, I know that another nickname for Richard is "Dick" -- and I think it's not coincidental that Rick Vigorous is apparently much less than "vigorous" in the "package" department); Judith Preitht (think Judas Priest with a lisp), etc., etc. 

Then there's Rick Vigorous's business partner, Monroe Frequent.  They are co-owners of a publishing company at which one of the novel's principle characters, Lenore Beadsman, works as a phone switchboard operator.  So, we hear Lenore at work answering the switchboard phones with the constant refrain: "Frequent and Vigorous."

And I know from chatting with folks who have read the entire thing that there are even more great character names to come.

So far, though, I haven't quite gotten a clear sense of the main plotline or problem, if there even is any; but the writing is fun and enjoyable to read.

That's what's currently on my reading table.  But I wasn't a literary slouch over the past year, either, even though I didn't read any of the books I resolved to read last January.  I did do a fair bit of reading; and I think I will reflect and put together a list of what I did manage to read.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Fitness Check-In

My New Year's Resolution was to get down to 170 lbs by the end of 2012.

I stepped on the scale this afternoon to post my baseline weight.

I weighed in at 206 lbs.

That means I need to lose exactly 36 lbs to reach my goal.  This averages 3 lbs per month.

I'll try to post a picture (just a shoulder and head shot) every week on Sunday evening so there's at least some visual accountability.  So, here's today's picture:

Sorry for the "hat head."  It ain't pretty, but it is what it is.  My daughters are mortified that I'm posting this online.  But, hey, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.  Since my face is usually the first place where any weight loss tends to reveal itself, I promise "prettier" pictures down the road.

Off we go!!!  And wish me luck.

Universal Calendar/Universal Time

Imagine the simplicity of a world where every day of every month falls on the same weekday every year in perpetuity.   Imagine the simplicity of a world where everyone is on the same time clock.

Steve H. Hanke and Richard Conn Henry have come up with just such a plan.

With regard to the need for regular time adjustments in the calendar that currently necessitate the need for an extra day in February every 4 years -- the "leap" year?  Well, Hanke and Henry account for that as well, adding an extra week to December every 5 or 6 years.

They conclude their article thusly:

Our proposed temporal and calendrical changes would eliminate the sources of an untold number of errors and generate immense benefits. Conference calls would be unambiguously scheduled. At present, a conference call is, say, scheduled for 3 PM Central Daylight Time, and conferees across the U.S. have to figure out when to pick up the phone. All that would be history — no more time zones, no more daylight savings time. One time throughout the world, one date throughout the world. Refill dates for prescription drugs would be the same day of the month, every month, every year. Business meetings, sports schedules and school calendars would be identical every year. Today's cacophony of time zones, daylight savings times, and calendar fluctuations, yearafter- year would be over. The economy — that's all of us — would receive a permanent "harmonization dividend."
Ingenious, if you ask me.  I can't see a downside to this other than the temporary confusion that might occur initially in making the shift; but we humans are very adaptable creatures and I'd bet we'd be just fine after a few months or so.

I'm 100% on board!

[H/T: Andrew Sullivan]

New Year's Resolutions

Well, I have to admit that I failed pretty miserably with my 2011 Resolutions.  Of those five resolutions, I only succeeded with one.  I kept my promise to keep political commentary off Facebook.  The other four I bombed.  I didn't write any books.  I didn't write any academic articles.  Of the five books I said that I would read, I only got around to the Federalist Papers (and I didn't even read these in their entirety).  And I did not do one lick of work on the "display" room.  I know, I know ... pretty pathetic.  Even still, I'm not too down on myself for these failures.  I did accomplish a lot this year in other areas.  But I do think that I need to be less ambitious for 2012.  That said, I am only going to put forward just one New Year's resolution for 2012 -- and I'm going to incentivize it following my blogging "self-nudge" model.

Here's the resolution: I resolve to drop my weight to 170 lbs by the end of 2012.

That's going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 30-35 lb weight loss.  I will be weighing myself tomorrow and will use that weight figure as my starting point.  If I fail in my resolution, I commit myself to contributing $120 to one of the following three causes: (1) SarahPac; (2) The RNC; or (3) The David Vitter re-election campaign.

Here are some strategic sub-goals I will be setting for myself to help me keep my main resolution:

1. To lose at least 3 lbs per month.  If I lose more than 3 lbs in one month, I can carry over the excess into future months.
2. To post a weekly tally on my blog along with a photograph of myself so that I have a visual public record of my progress and so that there is some measure of visual accountability.  I'll try to do this on Sundays.

Again, the main goal is to drop to 170 lbs.  As long as I reach this weight by December 31, 2012, I will have fulfilled my commitment, even if I have only erratically adhered to my strategic sub-goals.

Wish me luck!  And in the meantime, I wish you luck with your New Year's resolutions for 2012 and hope you have a great year.